Friday, November 6, 2015

On the Block #17: FIRST TUESDAY 11:40 AM

TITLE: First Tuesday
GENRE: Thriller

Why win an election when you can steal it?
When John Garner grabs the wrong piece of paper, he discovers our nation is under siege from within - and that his number one task isn’t getting to the bottom of the conspiracy before Tuesday’s presidential election. It’s staying alive.

“Hey, buddy! You.”

John Garner turned at the tap on his shoulder, stopping amid the hustle of Amsterdam Avenue. The man who’d accosted him was tall, a good four inches longer than John’s own 5’10” frame, with dirty blond hair that rested uneasily on the collar of his olive-drab pseudo-Army-surplus jacket. Or maybe the jacket was the real thing, though John was sure – almost sure – the Army had ditched olive-drab for desert camouflage fifteen years ago.

“Weren’t you just in that coffee shop?”

The man’s words sketched a question in form only – no upturned voice at the end, no doubt, more imperious accusation than query. Two sentences, and already the man reminded him of his second-year torts professor, a frustrated courtroom-wannabe who treated his students as hostile witnesses.
The man assumed the answer – correctly, as it happened – and kept speaking. “Did you pick up a piece of paper there?” Again, it sounded like “Where were you on the night you murdered your wife?”

John felt like shouting, “Objection!” Instead, he took a deep breath, refusing to let the man, a total stranger, spoil one of those unexpectedly warm fall afternoons that made even smart people believe winter would never beset New York. He decided that if the man were going to act like a litigator, he’d play dumb witness. “Piece of paper?” he asked, trying to sound artless, trying as well to avoid wrinkling his nose at the cigarette odor clinging to the man’s jacket.

“Yeah, paper. Like, you know….” The man gestured with open palms....


  1. This reads like a published work. You've done a good job of putting us in the scene from the start, and the tone speaks of espionage. We know immediately the problem for your MC and you create tension and suspense.

    What I think could be better is to move the description of the setting to the first paragraphs instead of the last. As is, it distracts from the tension you've built. Also, I was a bit confused at the last gesture. His meaning could be made a bit clearer or menacing.
    Drop the ending ellipsis; it's understood that something more is coming.
    Otherwise, nice work!

    1. I agree with Peter about showing the stakes and like the idea of showing the coffee shop first.

    2. Ending ellipsis is an artifact of posting it, trying (unnecessarily) to signal that it wasn't the end of the chapter. Sorry 'bout that.

  2. Intriguing concept. Just make sure that it's clear what the stakes are for John and why he's tasked with exposing this conspiracy. Why does he feel responsible for it?

    I'm suspicious that anyone involved in a big cover up would leave a paper on a coffee shop table to be accidentally picked up. It almost makes me wish we had seen more inside the coffee shop and the circumstances around John taking the paper. The key to a premise like this is to make it as believable as possible (unless it's a satire, which I don't think this is).

  3. The writing here is strong, but I'm not sure the opening in the right place. I'd almost prefer seeing John grab the piece of paper before walking out. What was he trying to grab instead? How were two seemingly identical pieces of paper in close proximity? And if the message was that important, why wasn't it watched closer? Unless of course later in your story you give a flashback, but if not, it would be great to see. That would allow us to understand if he's a completely innocent man (as the logline seems to suggest), or if he knew the paper was something valuable.

    It's hard to figure everything out in the first page, so if it's described at a later date, ignore me.:)

  4. I love the blurb. I wonder how you can steal an election. This is a funny entry. I liked the voice and want to know more about the character. Well done!

  5. [Author speaking] Thanks for the comments. I really appreciate them.

    Sussu, you can steal an election exactly in the way it goes down in this book - well, maybe not with all the dead bodies and such, but the mechanics of stealing the election are quite real. Rebecca and Peter, over time readers learn more about how the coffee shop thing happened - and you'll learn more about not-all-that-competent foot soldier in the army jacket as well. San and Peter, John winds up compelled to chase this down, though he spends the first third of the book trying not to get involved, because it's either figure out what's going on, or wait to be killed... which he realizes after two attempts on his life and a couple of dead bodies by the end of the day tomorrow (in book time). He doesn't learn the stakes until halfway through the book, or he'd probably run away. San and Peter, my first draft began in the coffee shop, but it didn't feel like the stakes mattered yet. He gets a phone call, grabs a forgotten piece of paper off the next table that fully appears to be scrap paper to write down the callback number, and thinks that's the end of it until the scene you're reading. I'd be happy to share more to see if you think it works the way it is with the coffee shop scene unfolding in bits and pieces as backstory, as he tries to figure out why some stupid piece of paper with gobbledygook on one side is worth fighting over.

  6. Author, if I were you, I'd hold off on responding to critiques until after the auction. Answering individual comments in this way can come across as argumentative and it tends to give the impression that you don't take criticism well, which is probably not an impression you want to give when agents are looking at your work.

    1. Rebecca, sorry. I don't mean that at all. I'm very receptive to criticism and appreciate what folks have said. All I was trying to do was answer some of the questions. I'm used to writer's critique groups, where a lot of the Q&A is around choices - why did you make this choice? Was that a conscious decision? Will this hint play out later, or is it gratuitous? I not only take all of these critiques to heart, from here and elsewhere, I spend time with each one processing it against the book to see where and if and how I can improve. So to everyone who wrote something here, I apologize if in any way I made it seem either unappreciated or less than helpful.

  7. I'm not sure what is at stake here. What kind of conspiracy? Government, terrorism, personal vendetta, etc? Also, who is John? Is he a random dude, wrong place, wrong time? Sounds like an interesting premise, just would like to know what stands out here. Good luck!

  8. I thought this was done well, but I agree with the commenter who suggested starting a bit earlier. Perhaps let us see how he got that paper in the coffee shop. We'd get to see more of John, rather than the guy accosting him, so we'd get to know him a bit more before the confrontation.

  9. Interesting premise. I like a lot about this. I don't read a lot of thrillers, but it intrigued me enough to want to continue reading, so well done.

    I think some of this could be tightened somehow. The question that wasn't phrased as a question, for example -- I found that a bit long winded as I read it. However, I came to actually like that winding journey by the end of it! It started to build of picture of someone realising they are being interrogated, as opposed to your MC knowing it straight away. Evoked a bit of confusion that gave way to recognition by the end of it.

    '...spoil one of those unexpectedly warm fall afternoons that made even smart people believe winter would never beset New York.' I wished I had this picture in my head before this point. Perhaps there was an earlier opportunity to show and not tell this? (Or even show here - have him notice sun slanting a particular way, warming his skin, while he stares at the other man, feeling extra pissed because the day is so beautiful around him)

    I didn't mind where this started. I didn't feel a need to be in the coffee shop. But, of course, I don't have that version to compare this against. It would probably work well to start there too. Have a play, maybe, and see which works better?

  10. Great logline and intriguing premise. The kind of book I'd love to read.
    The excerpt starts with John walking down the street and being accosted by a man for a piece of paper. But the reader doesn't know if John knows he has the wrong piece of paper or if he picked it up by mistake. And I think that's why some have suggested that you open the story earlier. Either that, or make it clear to the reader right away whether John has any idea what that man is talking about.
    Although your descriptions are great, and sometimes humorous, it feels like they are slowing down this opening scene. Maybe trimming some of it would still give us a good sense of your MC and move the scene along.
    Great job! Good luck!

  11. You have a great logline! The beginning of the chapter flowed well, but I really wanted to know what came before this. It was very sudden, and I think it would work better if you gave us a little more of the MC before the confrontation, as other commenters have said.

  12. The mystery of this paper and whether the MC took it and what it is...It's intriguing, but I do have to say that I wish the internal narrative was tightened up a bit. It does paint the army jacket guy as accusatory and give us school/occupation background on John, but I think it's just a little long and mildly distracting in what should be a tense conversation.

  13. I, too, loved the logline and am's on. I liked the suggestions of perhaps seeing the MC grab the paper (surreptitious, accidental??). Might give an edge to the story right away. If intentional, might give us a sense of what is at stake. Very interesting premise. Much more to read--I'm turning the page.

  14. Intriguing idea. I like the description of the other man and the reference back to the professor.
    One thing that confused me is his reaction to being questioned. He did pick up the paper, which seems to put him in mortal danger, but he seems more interested in enjoying the warm fall day. If he doesn't know what is in the paper, why not just answer the question and get back to enjoying the day? If we saw the scene in the coffee shop it might help clarify it.
    As others have commented, I'd like a little more information about the setting.
    Good luck.

  15. Love the premise - especially opening it up with a question - but I didn't see how it related with the rest of the premise. Yes to more setting. Great concept - good luck!