Wednesday, February 10, 2010

15 Secret Agent

TITLE: The Jackpot
GENRE: Suspense

When he stopped by his cousin Leroy’s in time for the late news five days before Christmas, Julius Wheeler was worth one hundred and ninety-eight dollars. His assets included eight compact discs, a green plastic picnic table, a broken iPod, and a mattress of questionable repute. He paid two hundred dollars a month for a one-bedroom apartment in Carrolton Oaks, a crumbling and crime-ridden housing project just inside the eastern border of Richmond, Virginia. Twenty hours a week, he cleaned the twenty-ninth floor of a large downtown law firm as a member of a CleanSweep work crew. He made seven dollars an hour.

“Hey, Julius, you buy a lotto?” Leroy asked.

“Yeah,” Julius said, cracking open a beer and taking a seat in the center of the threadbare couch in Leroy’s apartment. It sagged in the middle and was peppered with cigarette burns.

“How many?”


“Ain’t gonna win s*** buying one,” Leroy said, fanning out his tickets for Julius to see. “I got eight. Gonna make me rich. What numbers you play?”

“Just had the machine pick’em. Like it make a difference. Nobody ever win these things.”

“Bull****,” Leroy said. “You think like that, you be stuck in that sh**** apartment the rest of your life, and I be living on the beach. You come visit anytime.”

“We shouldn’t even be playing,” Julius said, thinking about his sh**** apartment and how much he preferred it to his eight-by-eight cinderblock cell at Red Onion State Prison.


  1. I like the voice here. I like all the mentions of numbers in the first paragraph, letting the reader know numbers are going to be important to the story even before we realize he's buying a lotto ticket--a *really* nice beginning in that respect.

    And I'm curious about why he's been in prison.

    I'd definitely keep reading.

  2. OK, this one is great. The characters, the scene, a hint a tension, its all there. I would SO keep reading.

    I could give you one wording change, but even that is a judgment call. Change "yeah," julius said, cracking open a beer and taking... to

    "Yeah." Julius cracked open a beer and took. . .

  3. The voice is wonderful, especially the dialogue. But what's up with the censored profanity? Is that your deletion or Authoress? Otherwise, I really got into this.

  4. I like this a lot. You have a good technique, but I'm not feeling the voice as much as I'd like to. The dialogue is good, but if you're writing from Julius' perspective, I'd like a little more of his personality in that first paragraph. It reads to me like the Emma Thompson narrator in Stranger Than Fiction, which works really well for that movie, but I don't think Julius is a Herold Crick kind of character. Being a former prison inmate and from the brief dialogue here, I can't imagine him being obsessed with numbers and times and all that. So, maybe my advice (take it or leave it!) is to speed up the pace of the first paragraph and, while I love the details, try to give us more of Julius' unique voice, even though you're writing in third person.

    I hope this makes sense and helps. Of course, good luck! It's obvious you're a great writer.

  5. I liked this as well. The details in the first two sentences really portray who this guy is really well, in an interesting way. The sentences after that, though, started to feel like needless detail. I'm wondering if you can transform those sentences somehow so they smoothly transition us into his POV for the dialogue?

    Maybe have him sitting there thinking about the two-hundred dollars he had to pay for his decrepit little apartment before Monday. That tells us some more of your details, but it also starts to move us into his POV. That sort of thing, I think, would really make this a winner!

  6. The voice is good. While I liked the list of Julius' net worth in the beginning, a part of me wonders if it might make better sense integrating it later on. Or not. If it's a pattern with the way Leroy introduces those around him, so be it.

    Also, I'm not seeing much of a story so far. Two guys drinking beer and discussing the lotto isn't filled with tension. The last line, where he alludes to his past time spent in prison, that gets closer to the goal, but so far, not much is happening. Your title makes me believe that one of them (probably Leroy) is going to win the lottery, and that's going to create the tension, but that's in the future, pages and pages away.

    Your voice, however, is great. I'd keep reading just for the voice, but something has to bring the tension to the surface, otherwise it's just two guys talking.

  7. I had a hard time getting through the first sentence - it's a long one - but after I did, I liked this.

    I don't know if I'm hooked, but I would keep reading to get a better sense of the tone. I liked the voice, and sensed some humor there. At this point I'm sort of expecting comic misadventures, but your genre says "suspense". The two aren't mutually exclusive though, and if this story has both, I'll be hooked.

  8. Have to agree about maybe breaking down the first sentence/paragraph to keep a snappy pace. Otherwise, voice is good and I would definitely keep reading.

    Lots to be curious about here, would definitely like to learn more about these characters.

  9. Ha! After writing in another critique that I don't like the POV character's first and last names used in their POV... I don't mind this one. Hooked!

  10. I didn't get a feel for Julius at all. I have a list of his possessions and net worth, but nothing on how he feels about his state in life, or the things he owns.

    And when we finally see him, he comes in, sits on the couch and cracks a beer. Again, there is no emotion, no internalization. Does he compare Leroy's stuff to what he has? Does he really expect to win the lotto? Does he just play out of habit?

    You start to get into it by the last paragraph, but I think you need more of that early on. We need more of Julius, I think, than a narrator telling us about Julius.

  11. I really liked this one. Love your opening paragraph. I agree with the previous comment that the list of numbers sets us up for the discussion of lottery tickets. I'm guessing Julius is going to get lucky with his single random-number ticket. Voice is nice and rolling. I'd read on!

  12. There's not much happening - two guys drinking beer - but I really liked it. I feel I've gotten a good sense of the characters already. I also like that they're not middle-class like a lot of main characters (mine included). I also liked Julius's internal conflict between his desire to win the lotto (if he really thought no one ever won he wouldn't have bought a ticket at all) and his feeling he shouldn't be playing.

  13. Oh and the writing is really good!

  14. I think there's some good dialogue here, but I felt that the voice may have been just a tad overdone. I don't know that much was gained by the profanity - I'm definitely not opposed to profanity, but as with anything to do with voice when it's written on the page, a little flavor goes a long way. The first sentence was also very difficult to read, and I wonder if it would have been better off just starting with the list of Julius' possessions.

  15. I enjoyed this one. I'm guessing he wins the jackpot and his life changes, eh?

    I liked the fact that Julius and Leroy have such opposite outlooks. I would definitely read on.