Monday, July 31, 2006

Face-Lift 140


Guess the Plot

Common Ground

1. Allison accepts a job teaching high school English in Atlanta, the lesbian Mecca of the Southeast. When she falls for fellow teacher Brett, Allison understands why they also call the city "Hotlanta."

2. Velma runs the front office of the Madland News & Blues. When Forrester joins the staff as an investigative journalist, he asks her to get him coffee and the war starts. But then Velma's son is kidnapped and Forrester's assigned the story. Will they find a common ground?

3. It's 1944 and Millicent Penney has found a secret cache of frozen beef. During an air raid, she uses a hand grinder behind her blackout shades to turn it all into hamburger, the better to share.

4. Sick and tired of the lowfat-half soy-mocha-caramel-crappiatto nonsense that has replaced the morning cup of joe, Richard and Luna decide to open their own shop, selling plain coffee with a side of attitude.

5. A former cheerleader and Miss Texas is appointed Undersecretary of State and is given the unenviable task of securing peace between Israel and Palestine. Will her "Extreme Makeover" approach to the process succeed?

6. Ellen and Jake are accidentally transported to a parallel universe. Seattle is much as they remember it, except that, to their horror, coffee is outlawed as a toxic substance. Unable to get back to their own universe, Ellen and Jake open The Common Ground, a coffee speakeasy disguised as a used book store.


Original Version

"I think I found the perfect job for you. Just listen before you say no." [No.]

Allison Monroe had no way of knowing how those simple words would change her life, or that hers would not be the only heart affected. Complete at 75,000 words, Common Ground is a love story between two women [That's enough for me; send me the full manuscript, along with your research materials.] who seek the same goals, but follow very different paths.

An unexpected loss on Capitol Hill [What does that mean?] leaves Allison scrambling to find a new career path, and in a departure from her usual thoughtful behavior, she impulsively accepts a position teaching high school English. [No, no, a departure from thoughtful behavior would be taking a job as a prison guard or a stripper. Teaching English is a fine and noble endeavor.] [True, your chances of being murdered on the job are about the same with all three, but at least teachers get the summer off.] She is not sure how her shy persona will translate to the classroom -- or how her mature, reserved nature will adjust to Atlanta, the lesbian Mecca of the Southeast. [I checked my list of nicknames for Atlanta. It includes The Athens of the South, The City Too Busy to Hate, Dogwood City, Gate City of the South, Hotlanta, The Phoenix City, The Big Peach, and The New York of the South. To which I must now, apparently, add The Lesbian Mecca of the Southeast.] [Google informs me that every region has a lesbian Mecca. Iowa City: lesbian Mecca of the Midwest. Little Rock: lesbian Mecca of the Ozarks. Ketchikan: lesbian Mecca of Alaska.]

Brett Gallagher is young, brash and idealistic. Just out of a two-year stint working with Teach for America, she dreams of making the world (or at least the public school system) a more welcoming place for gay teens. She is charming and magnetic but seemingly incapable of an actual relationship, preferring instead one night stands and casual flings.

When the two women meet at an orientation for new teachers, sparks fly immediately, and the two women spend the summer getting to know each other better and falling in love. [According to the Cambridge Dictionary of American Idioms, "Sparks fly" means they argue angrily.] It is a difficult road because along with their political and personality differences, the constant parade of Brett's ex-lovers makes Allison jealous and insecure. [Even a sporadic parade of ex-lovers would probably be a bit of a bother. Why are her one-night-stand ex-lovers constantly parading through? Evil Editor's one-night-stand ex-lovers never seem to parade through.] She fears that even if Brett is genuine about her feelings, it won't take long for her to lose interest.

By early fall, the two women are enjoying the bliss of a new relationship. But all of that changes when there is an incident of homophobia at the high school where they teach. [It's a sad day when you can't even escape homophobia in a lesbian Mecca.]

The event brings to a head their contrasting views on life and politics, including how out they need to be at work. While Brett risks her job to lead an unpopular crusade to have sexual orientation and gender identity listed as a protected group in the school's student handbook, [I assume you're not saying that each student's sexual orientation is currently printed in the student handbook?] Allison would prefer to avoid what she sees as a losing battle and instead work more subtly to teach students about tolerance and diversity. This dichotomy places a great deal of strain on their fledgling relationship, [and sparks fly.] and both have to decide which compromises are worth making and how far they will go to reach common ground.

I hope you will be interested to read more about Brett and Allison. A full manuscript is available upon request. Thank you for your time and consideration.


Revised Version

When Allison Monroe unexpectedly loses her Senatorial election, she impulsively accepts a position teaching high school English. She is not sure how her shy persona will translate to the classroom--or to life in "Hotlanta."

Brett Gallagher is young, brash and idealistic. Just out of a two-year stint working with Teach for America, she dreams of making the world (or at least the public school system) a more welcoming place for gay teens. She is charming and outgoing, but seemingly incapable of an actual relationship, preferring instead one night stands and casual flings.

When Brett and Allison meet at an orientation for new teachers, they bond immediately; they spend the summer getting to know each other and falling in love. By early fall, the two women are enjoying the bliss of a new relationship. But all of that changes when there is an incident of homophobia at the high school where they teach.

The event brings to a head their contrasting views on life and politics. While Brett risks her job to lead an unpopular protest, Allison would prefer to work more subtly to teach students about tolerance and diversity. This dichotomy places a great deal of strain on their fledgling relationship, and each must decide how much she will compromise to reach common ground.

Complete at 75,000 words, Common Ground is a love story between two women who seek the same goals, but follow different paths. If you'd like to read more about Brett and Allison, a full manuscript is available upon request. Thank you for your time and consideration.


Notes

I merely did some shortening and polishing.

Sorry I decided to use only three coffee-related Guess the Plots. Overwhelmingly, that's what the minions felt was suggested by the title.

33 comments:

Anonymous said...

How could anyone be a shy politician? Or is she an assistant who gets canned when her boss loses?

BTW, what fun is it to have a love story between two women and then give one a predominently boy's name like Brett?

I'd ask more, but I've got to pack my bags and get on the first plane to the Lesbian Mecca of the South.

Macuquinas d' Oro said...

Try to find a better title. "Common Ground" isn't wrong, but it has no hook.

The rewrite is excellent. I would ask to see more.

I hope to be surprised, as I learn more of their backstories, to discover that Allison and Brett aren't just ordinary young women trying to sort their personal lives. You alluded to Allison's former job as a aide (?) to a Congressman, maybe a corrupt but very powerful woman in the Senate? I would like see this kind of past intrude and threaten Allison's new life.

Anonymous said...

It's not that easy to just "pick up" a job teaching high-school English. Is Allison's new job at a private school? If not, does she have teacher certification? Is she entering a midcareer switch-to-teaching program (which requires a drawn-out application process and a summer of training)? The Web site for the Atlanta Public Schools boasts that its teachers have an average of 15 years' classroom experience. Why would they hire Allison?

I hope you at least touch on these issues in the novel. Otherwise, the book has no credibility with anyone who's ever taught high school (dodging spitballs and bullets for ten months of the year and recuperating for the other two).

Annie said...

EE -- Your comments made me laugh and I'm thrilled that my query only needed "shortening and polishing" -- and amazed at the difference that made.

anonymous -- Allison is actually the press secretary for a congressman who loses his bid for reelection.

As for Brett's name, she's named after Hemmingway's Lady Brett Ashley. Her family actually calls her Brett Ashley all the time, but she just uses Brett as an adult. All of this is explained in the novel, but wasn't important enough to make it into the query.

Anonymous said...

Kudos to the author for stating the homosexual nature of the work early on. Hopefully the book will do the same if it gets to print.
-JTC

Dan Lewis said...

Google hit number two for "lesbian mecca" is Toronto, the lesbian mecca of Canada.

Anonymous said...

"As for Brett's name, she's named after Hemmingway's Lady Brett Ashley. Her family actually calls her Brett Ashley all the time, but she just uses Brett as an adult. All of this is explained in the novel, but wasn't important enough to make it into the query."

And why would I care about the long, pointless history of her name? Mine was what we in the business call a rhetorical question.

born_liar said...

Well, damn. Here I've been down here in Florida all this time. Guess I need to move a few hundred miles north! :-)


And yeah, I didn't understand how someone could reluctantly become a teacher, either. Isn't that a job that's fairly difficult to get? I could see if it was in a very small town where there weren't many applicants, but Atlanta?

And I agree that Common Ground is a weak title. I would change it to something less vague. But just don't call it Atlanta Nights!

Malia said...

Ummm, I wouldn't consider Atlanta the Lesbian Mecca of the Southeast. Actually, there's only one small section of the city we refer to as "Midtown" that would be considered gay orientated.

Also, we've not been called Hotlanta for a long long time. We are now known as the ATL. ;)

And I'll counter what anonymous said with -- Atlanta is in desperate need of teachers and the process is not as drawn-out as you might expect. However a little research to lend credibility to this would definitely be helpful.

This is just an FYI and not a critique. I thought the rewrite was excellent and your story idea rather fresh.

HawkOwl said...

Toronto is the Mecca of everything in Canada that would use the word "Mecca." :)

I'm with Anonymous 2, how does she get a job as a teacher on an impulse? Most people I know who are qualified to be teachers are unemployed, so how does this one manage to just jump into it on a whim? Unless she was already an English teacher, took a sabbatical to do the campaign aide thing because the candidate supports gay rights, and the "impulse" part of the job isn't that it's a teaching job, it's moving to Atlanta. But if that were the case, she wouldn't be wondering if her shy persona can handle it. Actually, given that teaching certificates generally require doing at least one practicum, no teacher would really go into a job asking herself that. Not in Canada, anyway, but of course we're not the lesbian Mecca of the southwest. Oh, and why is she scrambling for a new career? Surely being a campaign assistant isn't the only thing she's ever conceived of?

I'd skip the whole backstory, or come up with something more solid. Just say she was a teacher in the Conservative Mecca of the whatever, and she moves to Atlanta on a whim after... her house burns down, or something.

Oh, and yeah, that was way too long of a synopsis. It wouldn't fit on the back of a coffee-table book, let alone a paperback. :)

Annie said...

Thanks for the comments, everyone.

anonymous -- the path she takes to the teaching job is explained in detail over the course of the first half of the book even though it's only glossed over in the query. I did extensive research on this subject because I agree whole-heartedly that without handling this issue correctly, the entire premise would not make sense and would turn off a large segment of my readers (ie anyone who knows anything about the public school system).

JTC -- the sexual orientation of the characters is established immediately. However, I'm planning to shop the novel to small publishing houses that focus entirely or primarily on lesbian fiction, so it's actually not anything too exciting/daring.

macuquinas d' oro -- Common Ground is just a working title. I agree that is has no hook, but I got sick of calling it "my novel" and actually pulled the working title from the last line of my query.

There is a lot more to these women than is covered by the query, obviously, but this is general fiction/romance not a mystery/thriller/adventure/etc, so there won't be any political intrigue or life-threatening skeletons in the closet.

Jessica said...

I like how in EE's rewrite, Allison is worried that she's too shy to be a teacher, but she isn't too shy to run for senate.

Ashni said...

An editor at Tor has said she's looking for more LGBT stuff.

Daisy said...

As far as the names thing goes, unless it's really important to the story, I'd strongly suggest changing Brett's name to something more traditionally feminine, if only to simplify the cover copy. Think of it this way: you want people to know that the book is about a lesbian romance. As it stands, you need two sentences to get that across (one with the names, one to explain that Brett is a woman), whereas if she was named Laura or something, you would only need one. It just makes it easier for the browsing shopper to figure out what's going on.

And I know titles don't matter much at this point, but I agree that a new one should eventually be in order. Aside from the coffee thing, this one gives me a sense of preachiness, which I'm sure is not what you want. Not that I have any better ideas. I'd suggest "Learning Curves", mainly because it might make people think it's erotica, and your sales would go through the roof.

Anonymous said...

Ashni-
The "editor at Tor looking for more LGBT stuff"-
it links to a page entirely in Russian.

pacatrue said...

I just wanted to go on record that I think Brett is a fine name - but maybe that's only because I knew a woman named Brett. The main thing is that the author stated in the Comments that she is targeting lesbian publishers. I assume houses like Alison and Bella. Therefore, the readers will be very likely picking this book up in the lesbian/gay section of their bookstore and seeing the imprint of a publisher that does almost exclusively LGBT stuff; i.e., the gender of the participants won't be a mystery. All that said, I do find it a bit sad that this novel is slated exclusively for the lesbian fiction market. I've read one of Karin Kallmaker's books, a big name in lesbian romance, and thought her book was excellent and deserved a readership beyond the gay and lesbian community. It was too bad the marketing makes that more difficult.

Anonymous said...

No one ever leaves their two year stint in Teach for America "Young and Idealistic". People leave Teach for America, bitter, cynical, and old before thier time.

Anonymous said...

Don't forget Northampton, Mass., lesbian mecca of the northeast. You can even get married there.

Annie said...

Daisy -- thanks for the title suggestion. I like Learning Curves and I'll put it on my list of possibilities to ponder. (And while I certainly wouldn't classify this as erotica, it is a romance with love scenes that don't fade to black.)

As for Brett's name, it's pretty integral to parts of the backstory. I think you make a really good point though, and if I were planning to try to publish this with a mainstream publisher, I'd consider changing it. But since I'm only shopping this to lesbian publishers, I think that the vast majority of people who pick it up will already know that it's a lesbian romance. As much as I love to dream, I don't see this having big crossover success.

Annie said...

Pacatrue -- yes, Bella and Alyson are at the top of my list, along with Bold Strokes, a new up-and-coming lesbian publisher. I agree that it would be nice to target a more mainstream audience and there are certainly some lesbian authors (including Kallmaker) who are very talented. I would love to reach a wider audience and I'm sure other authors in the genre feel the same.

My dream is to someday crossover and write novels with strong lesbian characters who appeal to a mainstream publisher. But as this is my first novel (or at least the first novel I'm attempting to publish), I'm just focused on finding an lgbt publisher.

nut said...

To #6: how about a coffee speakeasy disguised as a cocane shop?

kis said...

Anyone pick up on the fact that Brett and Ashley are both traditionally male names?

And if you get published, please let the publisher know that the gay aspect of the story must be clear in the back cover blurb. I once picked up a fantasy novel described on the cover as a charming fairy tale for grown-ups. Seventy pages in, the two male protagonists are suddenly making love. It was a surprise, one that didn't make me stop reading(and the book is still one of my all-time favorites), but other readers may have been put off.

That said, there's a scene in my WIP involving two women, but it isn't central to the story, and if an editor asked me to cut it or tone it down, I'd be willing to do so. Of course, it didn't even offend my mom, so it's probably pretty tame.

BuffySquirrel said...

I think ashni turned a g into a q...

anna louise

Heyoka said...

kis: Now you've got me thinking of Gone with the Wind slash (Brett = Rhett).

Along those lines, which book was that "charming fairytale for grownups"? Like my TBR pile isn't big enough...

Also, I liked blurb #2! Somebody write that one, please.

Annie said...

kis -- yes, I'm aware that both Brett and Ashley are traditionally male names. You'll have to take that up with Ernest Hemmingway, though, since it was his idea. Having read The Sun Also Rises, I would bet money he did that on purpose. (Though it should be noted that in his novel, Ashley was a surname.) Since my character was not born until 1981, I think it's safe to say her parents thought of it as a girl's name despite it's history.

As for the blub -- since the romance is central to the storyline, I cannot fathom a back cover that did not make that clear. Between that and the fact that it would be stocked in the gay/lesbian fiction section of the bookstore, I would be hardpressed to find sympathy for anyone who didn't figure it out before opening the book. (I'm also hardpressed to find sympathy for people who are offended by love between people of the same sex, but that's a whole other issue.)

buffysquirrel-- thanks for figuring out that link. I tried and gave up. Ashni, thanks for the suggestion.

Anonymous said...

While Brett risks her job to lead an unpopular crusade to have sexual orientation and gender identity listed as a protected group in the school's student handbook,

The school's student handbook? Shouldn't there be a district after school? As far as I know, school districts set policy like that and wouldn't leave it up to each individual school.

xiqay said...

Heyoka,
Blurb # 2 was my contribution! Glad you liked it.

I figured out the right plot (from among the fakes).

And I love EE's re-write. It makes the story sing.

I've never picked up a book from a gay/lesbian publisher, and now I know I'm missing out on some good fiction. I'll have to read more widely. I also look forward to you crossing over to mainstream publishers, for those readers, like me, who read voraciously, but in little circles.

kis said...

heyoka,

The book was Swordspoint by Helen Kushner. Not new by any means. There's a sequel too, I think, though I'd never be able to find it in this god-forsaken jerk-water burg where I live. Just a great story--half romance, half political intrigue, all within a fantasy setting.

And I'm not sympathetic to anyone who'd be put off by it, either, but I do acknowledge that such people are out there, and that after being offended they might never pick up another book by that author again. I'm more concerned with it hurting the writer. I think the publisher believed they'd get a greater readership if they played down the gay element--or pretended it didn't even exist. It may have helped sales for the one book, but hurt her subsequent titles.

Or maybe not. As I said, it was such a great book. It's one of the few that I've lugged around through eight or nine moves, and I still pick it up when I need to be inspired.

Evil Editor said...

The sequel, The Fall of the Kings, is available at Amazon.com and BN.com. There's also a third book called The Privilege of the Sword.

kis said...

You know, I keep forgetting about that whole inter-web commerce thingie. Of course, only a few months ago, I was a timorous internet virgin. Still, putting my visa number out into cyberspace feels a little like flashing my goods to a crowded room. I'm just not ready, EE.

Hey, maybe I'll get my mom to flash her--I mean, order the books for me. Thanks, EE!

Ashni said...

Buffysquirrel, thank you. Obviously my alphabet skills still need a little work. And Annie, it never hurts to start at the top when you're submitting!

The idea of putting WARNING: GAY PEOPLE in a blurb just to avoid offending homophobes is silly. If the romance isn't central to the plot (I'm thinking of Kushner here, not Annie's book), you just have to rely on word of mouth to pick up the readers who specifically look for that sort of thing.

Frankly, if anyone gets put off when two of my female leads tumble into bed about halfway through the book, I'm perfectly happy to lose them. They'd probably boycott me when they found out I got married in Northampton, anyway.

Anonymous said...

Ah, perhaps use congressional representative, representative, or similar in place of "congressman". Fireman, and policeman are also out of use, mainstreamed with firefighter and police officer. Also, most congressional representatives do not have a "press secretary they have a staff assistant, legislative assistant etc.

Keith Popely said...

Actually, Ketchikan is the unwed teeange mother capital of Alaska. There is no lesbian mecca. There's only a Bible-thumping, gun-shooting, Palin-worshipping Mecca. That's pretty much everywhere in the state.