Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Face-Lift 192

Guess the Plot

Criminal Sexual Communication

1. A billionaire falls in love with a seventeen-year old girl, and uses email to entice her into his bedroom.

2. Bob, a compulsive talker, went to the Big House determined to stay away from those with designs on his body - until he discovered that there was only one way to get anyone to converse with him.

3. After AIDS B wiped out half the world's population, sexual intercourse was banned by the United Nations. A small group of horny revolutionaries have decided to overthrow the system.

4. Prison guard Lulu Lumbaugh has found the perfect way to get the convicts to settle down on Flash Friday. Now if she could only come up with something for the other six days.

5. Newlywed Lisa Carr hadn't expected fireworks and bells on her her wedding night, but she did expect her new husband to at least say something to her after the "I do." Her frustration is about to explode as she gives new meaning to the term, "shotgun wedding."

6. Drug gangs train prostitutes to pass on coded messages through various sexual positions. Is Detective Smith's favorite hooker trying to tell him something, or does she just really, really like him?

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor:

Did his emails entice her to have sex with him? Did he rape her? [That's five pronouns already. If I don't see a solid, concrete noun pretty fast, I'm outta here.] Did he do something even worse? When the billionaire opens the door of his penthouse wearing only lacy boxers, a hard on and a seductive smile, he expects his Dixie Darlin' but gets cops with an arrest warrant. [I always look through the peephole first when I'm wearing lacy boxers.] In the style of "if John Grisham wrote romance", this manuscript is complete at 102,250 words and I am seeking representation. [John Grisham writing romance? Don't make me laugh. That's about as believable as Nora Roberts writing a mystery.] [New rule, once we reach Face-Lift 200: no one may mention any authors so big that they don't have web sites with their own email addresses posted.] [An entire paragraph of plot, and the only name that gets mentioned in John Grisham.]

Criminal Sexual Communication takes the reader inside the hidden love affair between Alix, a rich and powerful man and Rachel, his soon-to-be ex-wife's 17-year-old half sister. [We don't care how rich or powerful he is; how old is this guy? 19? 54?] When the novel opens, Alix is in the midst of his divorce hearing where he hopes to oust the belle bitch so he can wait in peace for one last year to gain the soul mate he has claimed but has never touched - Rachel. But even very young Carolina girls know their place is in the front seat, so his plan to spend that year dabbling in romance in private and holding onto his reputation in public gains him an ultimatum.
To meet her demand he must court her publicly. When he does, he shows his hand to his vengeful ex-wife and soon police officers show up at his door with handcuffs and an arrest warrant. He is charged with enticing Rachel to commit sexual acts by email [If you could commit sexual acts by email, Evil Editor's mailbox would be overflowing.] [Right, minions?] and with rape and the fodder-hungry media hints he may have done more. [I thought you said he'd never touched her.] Consent would be a defense to both charges but the lady has disappeared. [One would think her disappearance would eliminate the key evidence against him.] [You're saying it's legal to entice minors to have sex if they consent?] Now Alix faces a trial where he must admit the jury and the world into his heart and his bedroom. In the courtroom he learns that perception is in the eye of the beholder for the witnesses paint a picture that portrays anything but the tender love turned torrid that he recalls. [What did he do that was witnessed?] All of this could be resolved with Rachel's testimony, but where is she? [Did anyone check the high school cheerleading squad?]

CSC is set in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina where I am a practicing attorney and draws on the area's rich local traditions. The story is based on a state statute that makes it a felony to attempt to persuade a minor to commit sexual acts by email. [I don't recommend committing sexual acts by email; IMing or a porn site are more efficient. Although email sex is much better than snail mail sex.] A synopsis and the full manuscript are available at your request.

Thanks for your consideration and I look forward to hearing from you,


Are we supposed to sympathize with any of these characters? You haven't made me care about anyone. Unless Alix is under 20, no one's likely to take his side. And Rachel's missing. It seems to me that if you want to use this law as your basis, you need a 17 and an 18-year-old, not a powerful billionaire and a high school kid.

In any case, I'd drop the first paragraph.

And the title, which sounds like a psychiatry text book.


Anonymous said...

[If you could commit sexual acts by email, Evil Editor's mailbox would be overflowing.] [Right, minions?]

Of COURSE. You'd have so much email that your ISP would contact you to make sure you weren't sending out spam or running an email scam.

The minions ALL have huge crushes on you, EE.

Author, I really want to sympathize with this guy. But I was the victim of inappropriate advances from a much older guy when I was sixteen, and with the query as it stands, I just can't. Even people who haven't had an experience like that are going to have trouble, I think, because of all the horror stories. Would it be possible to tell more of the query from Rachel's point of view? Even then, you'll have to be really careful, or it will probably seem that she's just being decieved by this guy.

I don't really know. It seems like it could be a really interesting story, but I just can't see how I could be brought to sympathize with an old guy who has the hots for a seventeen year old (unless, as EE said, he's really only 20 or something). I think that large age differences can work, definitely, but it's not coming across as something that would here.

Dixie, a/k/a "The Author" said...

Actually, consent is a defense if the minor is over 16. I added a year for the story. (Yeah, it's South Carolina but no -- I don't hear banjos, okay?)

The actual title of the statute is CRIMINAL SOLICITATION OF A MINOR. In SC there is no "rape." The title of that offense is CRIMINAL SEXUAL CONDUCT. I borrowed from that title for the book.

Sympathy? I don't know. I didn't like Alix much at first. He does redeem himself though.

The age differences are pretty big -- early 30s to 17. Rachel's background makes her mature for her age and besides -- what can Alix do? All Angelis men fall in love at first sight. He knew his almost-ex wasn't his mate --- he was rebelling against the family tradition and walked into it through the back door.

Thanks so much for the help and the criticism which is (I think) the most valuable form of help.

Jeb said...

I wouldn't read this book based on this query. I like Alix least of any of these characters. Why is the story focusing on the lecherous old man's troubles in court, and not on searching for the missing girl who barely avoided his email snare?

This sounds like something I saw over at Miss Snark's last year. I didn't buy it then, either.

beth said...

Never mind the unsympathetic characters--I couldn't get past naming the guy Alix, a girl's name last I knew. Though he does wear those lacy boxers...

marie-anne said...

Older men falling in love with 17 year olds is not romantic, despite what all those Harlequin romances of the '70's have you believe. And it doesnt matter how "mature" she is. It's inappropriate and I dont think there's one woman who's going to believe it. Older men might. Doesnt make it any less icky.

same anonymous as before said...

"The age differences are pretty big -- early 30s to 17. Rachel's background makes her mature for her age and besides -- what can Alix do? All Angelis men fall in love at first sight."

Okay, that's a little bit better. But it still sounds pretty fishy. Itt just goes against modern sensibilities in a large way for an older-than-thirty to be "in love" with a seventeen-year-old. If it were set 500 years ago, maybe.

Are there paranormal aspects to this story? The name "Angelis" along with your assertion that ALL of them fall in love at first sight (unusual enough in itself for one person) tends to make me think so. If so, this would be a lot more palatable than simply a lecherous man with a crush on a teenage girl, and you might want to make that clear in the query.

Like I said before, I think it sounds like a really interesting story, and I definitely think that books with unsympathetic main characters can work. I'm just not sure how well it will go over as presented. Maybe make it a little clearer in the query that he really is in LOVE with HER, not lust and not with her body.

Beyond that, I'm not sure what could make it easier for me to swallow. I'm sorry.

Good luck.

Dixie a/k/a "The Author" said...

To Jeb --

I'm a snarkling but this was never "snarked". This one is brand new - haven't even queried it yet.

Rachel doesn't avoid his email snare. If she did, where would the sexual act that could have been rape come from? Besides these folks knew each other before the emails. Maybe, they emailed because the "belle bitch" ex wife occasionally used Rachel's cell but she'd never go near her computer -- too much like work, isn't it. The ex would have hired someone to type something.

I agree with anonymous that some sexual advances from older guys are unwelcome, but that's not always the case. It really comes down to what was the relationship before the emails....and what was it afterwards.

What was the case here? The email doesn't have to be a snare to a stranger to suit the statute. It could be an email to someone the sender never meets and the act of hitting send can commit the offense. That act of hitting send could possibly commit the offense if there was already an established history too. In this case a lot happened before anyone pressed send and a lot happened later.

It looks like I need to work on the query first. BUT, maybe, just maybe........someday...if I make all the right sacrifices at the full moon or if I really find that darned lamp, rub it and the Genie shows up.... folks will be able to buy the book, read the story and see how it all ends up.

Thanks to everyone (and to Evil again).......

acd said...

what can Alix do?

WAIT TWO YEARS. He didn't get to be a billionaire (or stay that way) by being an idiot.

Author, your explanations made this story make even less sense to me. Your query needs to identify the sympathetic character, explain what's happening to him/her, and tell us why we should care. Right now this sounds like a "love conquers all, even laws designed to protect minors" and that is just not going to fly.

If you post a new version of the query in the comments, I'm sure we'll be happy to take a look at it again.

Carolina Wren said...

This query sounds like a rough draft. I would lose the first paragraph, give Alix's age as well as something of his background (or what's "in his heart," as mentioned in the letter), and tighten those choppy sentences.

Based on the query, this is not a novel I would be interested in reading, but I think there is some kind of audience for it. Sounds like a modern-day Lolita, in a way.

Best of luck to the author.

Dave Kuzminski said...

Sex with snails? I guess once you get them to take off their shells they might be attractive to some folks. ;)

Anonymous said...

Two thumbs down from me on this story line. However, if someone wants to write #6 I'll read it. -JTC

P.S. I DO NOT have a crush on EE -especially if EE is a HE HE.

whitemouse said...

To make your protagonist more likeable:

If the guy is in his thirties, say that; otherwise, I assume he's a old lech looking for his Anna Nicole.

If Alix and Rachel are soul mates, say that; otherwise, I assume he's a lech of irrelevant age looking for a hot piece of tail.

If you want to convince the reader (of the query) that this is a love story, focus on the love and the lovers, not on the scandal.

If the protagonist redeems himself at the end, say that; otherwise, we aren't going to know...

This query failed to make me care about reading the book also. To me, it sounded like there wasn't a proper plot so much as a guy defending his actions. I'd have to care about the guy before he started his defense to want to read more. Knowing that he redeems himself at the end wouldn't be enough.

flyingghoti said...

I could sort of start sympathizing with Alix if I imagined him as a gormless prat. If he were a naïvely hopeless romantic, falling desperately in love without stopping to consider the consequences, that would make for a much lower squick factor than if he's a sexual predator trying to get into the pants of an underage girl half his age. In my own experience (I don't want to talk about it) billionaires opening the doors of their penthouses wearing only lacy boxers, hard ons and seductive smiles fall squarely into the latter category. Especially if they're in the process of divorcing the elder sister of the jailbait in question, and double especially if they're named "Alix". Ugh. Just seeing the name makes me feel like I've been touched inappropriately.

Speaking of which, I'm straight, but whenever I see that picture of EE I start sliding up the Kinsey scale.

Anonymous said...

Ouch! Sounds like the only crime in hitting "send" this time was sending it to Evil Editor.

Dave said...

{{["If you could commit sexual acts by email, Evil Editor's mailbox would be overflowing.]"}}

Please don't take this the wrong way, but I'm not that kind of boy!

Your stalker said...

[If you could commit sexual acts by email, Evil Editor's mailbox would be overflowing.] [Right, minions?]

Aw gee, aren't my messages getting through to you EE?

Anonymous said...

All I can say to the lacy boxers, hard on etc is yuck yuck yuck.
The minions are right.
Any redeeming factors fade into nothing in the light of that one scene. The only people who would like this story are old lechers.
As the mother of a beautiful and sweet seventeen year old girl I feel totally repulsed, and nothing but loathing for Alix.

wrwonr said...

If you could commit sexual acts by email, Evil Editor's mailbox would be overflowing.

The old ways are best: committing sexual acts by fax.

Radicalfeministpoet said...

I'm guessing that Alex (to spell his name correctly) is not supposed to have our sympathy, which makes sense because he is a man, and men are scum. May I suggest, instead of making him a businessman of some sort (we assume that's where he got his billions, unless he won the Lotto), that you make him a surgeon? Surgeons are despicable and sadistic creatures wholly deserving of out contempt. Rachel could be, not some relative, but a student nurse. And the law in question would be the hospital's rule on sexual harassment. Finally, I wouldn't set this thing in South Carolina. You need at least one sympathetic character in the story, and to my knoweldge there aren't any south of the Mason Dixon line.

In any event, you are to be commended for keeping ray-guns and elves out of the story line. "Romance" ain't exactly literature at it's finest, but anything's better that SFF.

December Quinn said...

I agree with flyinghoti. YUCK on the "answering the door..." bit. Lacy boxers? He's about to be alone with his young soul mate for the first time after sending lots of emails, I guess, and he can't even be bothered to wear some clothes for her?

Not to mention, if he was married to her older sister, chances are he's known this girl since she was about 15 at the oldest. Which just makes it more yuck.

If we had a sense that the age difference bothered him too but there's this soul mae thing, that would help redeem it, but I can't help but agree with acd. Maybe it would be nice of him to wait a couple of years before seducing the seventeen-year-old-girl. The query makes him just sound like he's totally focused on the sex--there's no romance in it at all.

xiqay said...

I don't like the guy, who is cheating on his wife with her sister (half-sister is still sister). And the sister is just 17. (Hear Beatles playing in the background.)

And I don't like the missing 17 year old much. Unless she's mentally slow, she knows how to say no, especially to e-mail.

And I have no sympathy for your take that this law is unjust. The MMC needs to keep it zipped until he finds a suitable woman, nearer his age.

And the fact that he has loads of money makes him less sympathetic, because I don't (have loads of money). A billionaire can buy a lot of private investigation to find the girl if she'll help his defense. He can buy a great legal defense (Lawyer and all) and get off from the criminal charges. End of story.

Unless the girl is missing because he's truly evil and has done her in. Then I want the story from the detective's POV.

Not something I'm interested in.

EE, yes, we'd be sending you so much e-mail, you'd have to change your address to "hot male."

Cathy Writes Romance said...

Lacey boxer shorts? Huh? Why is he wearing lacey boxer shorts? I guess that's funny in the manuscript, but still. Huh?

"Rachel, his soon-to-be ex-wife's 17-year-old half sister" Huh?

BuffySquirrel said...

What is this, some kind of contest to see if the minions can be induced to dislike the author even more than his creation?

Every excuse that's put forward for Alix is more contemptible than the last, and seventeen isn't even underage where I come from.

(A crush, EE? Surely not--crushes don't last!)

Anonymous said...

I agree with EE that the title's got to go and you definitely shouldn't abbreviate it in the query you send out.

Other than that, you couldn't force me to read this even if you had pictures of me in lacy boxers. ;-)

BuffySquirrel said...

Oh, I see, the nick radicalfeministpoet is meant to be ironic. Sorry about being a bit slow on the uptake there!

EE, you're getting so famous you've attracted astroturf.

Anonymous said...

There are a lot of negative responses about the plot, but the plot doesn't bother me so much. Almodovar made a movie about priests molesting young boys, and it turned out to be about truth, lies, and the nature of fiction and art -- and it was unbelievably good. So a 30ish man and a 17-year-old soulmate don't freak me out.
My problem is simply that I found the query hard to follow. Confusing sentences, incomplete explanations (where is Rachel, anyway?). What is the book really about? The legal system? A love story? A kidnapping/mystery? If you rewrite the query to get to the heart of the book, maybe the "ick" factor of the plot won't be an issue.

HawkOwl said...

I totally agree with EE on the title. I thought it had to be non-fiction. And the first sentence is the opposite of a hook: it's meaningless and trite.

The plot sounds really dull, especially if he didn't in fact have really kinky sex with a minor and arrange for her disappearance. And even if he did, I'd make her less than 17. 17 is plenty old enough to be a total pervert of one's own free will. 14, now that would be disturbing.

Last but not least, I've never met anyone named Alix who was male. It would be more novel if Alix was female anyway.

Rei said...

I could have sworn it was going to be plot #3.

Novelust said...

It wasn't on Miss Snark's Crapometer, but the first chapter did appear on Elektra's.


I don't much mind unsympathetic characters, but I require them to at least be somewhat cool/threatening/funny. The query doesn't make me think he's worth reading about.

Daisy said...

I think the take-away message for the author from this discussion should be that, no matter how much you think the relationship is loving and justified in the story, the response from the vast majority of readers is still: "Older guy does teenage girl? In lacy boxers? Ick, no thanks." And, even if it is legal and she is "mature" for her age, 17 is too young for me at least to believe there is a real, non-skanky relationship here.

Zombie Deathfish said...

I'm sure if I understood the query, I'd object to it. As it was, I found it too wordy and hard to follow. I'm just a simple Zombie Deathfish, but I can't see the appeal in either character. Alix (shudder) is either an old lech or a young one. Rachel is a smirking strumpet who's happy to sleep with her sister's husband. Who do I sympathise with here?

Seger Rules! said...

You don't really need sympathetic characters in literary fiction--examples too numerous to bother with--but in genre fiction you really do need the "good guy" or at least if they aren't good guys at the start they need to be by the end after the comeuppance. If that happens to Alix we need to hear about it in the query.

Jeb said...

Thanks for the link, novelust. That is indeed what I remembered seeing (and only a couple of months ago - how time lapses).

Every explanation by the author (both on the crapometer and here) only highlights plot and character problems I've already begun to suspect.

If so much past-and-future plot has to be explained in an effort to convince readers it's a good story and worth keeping on with, it's a sure clue that the author is not getting across to readers with the text itself.

That's rather like viewing some modern art; without the accompanying explanation, it's only splashes of colour on a page. And, frankly, some of those 'colour combinations' - character traits as revealed here - are just plain ugly. They're driving readers/viewers away instead of contributing to the 'romantic' mood or, in this opening, the drama and suspense of the courtroom scene.

If Alix (and yes, the majority of readers will continue to trip over the 'girly' spelling whether it's culturally accurate or not) is not to come across as a tacky, spoiled lecher who deserves to be skint by his trashy ex-wife (instead of as a hopeless romantic who rescued the half-sister she heartlessly abandoned to a foster home) you need a new place to start and a personality makeover for Our Hero.

Please, author, don't TELL ME more details that may make this opening seem interesting 200 pages from now. SHOW ME an opening scene, and a query letter, that will make me care enough for a major character to sit through his initial appearance and want to read on.

Nikki said...

Dixie, if you make it obvious in the query that Alix is of Greek origin, you might not get all this stuff about the names.

In the U.K. the age of consent is 16. Alix could be 50 for all I care, and I wouldn't think falling in love with a 17 year old was inappropriate. I question the power relations between the two characters (in the first chapter on the Crapometer), which in my view does make it a little odd.

The lacy boxers made this look like a scandal book.

Anonymous said...

In the U.K. the age of consent is 16. Alix could be 50 for all I care, and I wouldn't think falling in love with a 17 year old was inappropriate.

Yup, Americans are just prudes.

Anonymous said...

EE said: "John Grisham writing romance? Don't make me laugh. That's about as believable as Nora Roberts writing a mystery."

Ahem, Nora Roberts writes a police procedural series set in the future under the name JD Robb.

As for the premise of this novel: Yuck. No matter how many times you say the protag is truly in love with the girl, he still comes across as a dirty old man with bad taste in underwear. The thing is, "mature" 17-year-olds aren't that mature, and a 30-plus guy who'd be interested in a teenage girl has a screw loose somewhere.

I think this story would work much better if it were written from another character's point of view, such as the mother of the girl, the cop on the case, even the "belle bitch" ex-wife.

HawkOwl said...

Anonymous in the UK - Remember how the British took over the world? In the days that THEY were the biggest prudes? And now they own... nothing? Yeah.

"You know what I blame this on the decline of? Society."

Anonymous said...

Almodovar made a movie about priests molesting young boys, and it turned out to be about truth, lies, and the nature of fiction and art -- and it was unbelievably good.

but I am pretty sure it wasn't a romance.

Anonymous said...

This is a minor point compared with the repellent premise, but I would never anything about a man who called his ex-wife "the belle bitch."