Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Face-Lift 815

Guess the Plot

Mental Pause

1. When "Shrink-to-the-Stars" David Cohen's yacht Mental Pause is found aflame with the good doctor and three starlets dead in the galley, homicide detective Zack Martinez knows two things: whatever Cohen was cooking up, it wasn't kosher; and Zack's wife will now insist he take her on that Caribbean cruise.

2. Susan has always been a daydreamer. One day, when off in her own world, she is startled by the realization that reality has been paused. Can she use her time-stopping powers to save the twin sister she never knew she had?

3. Hillbilly boy genius Buddy Boone tests his newly invented human catapult joyride and crash lands near a cave inhabited by old old old people who seem to be comatose -- it's the Van Winkle syndrome!!! Nothing he does wakes them, and soon he, too, is feeling very very sleepy...

4. Jared has the unique ability to kick his mind into overdrive, making the world seem to move in slow motion. Now a freshman in high-school, he decides to conquer first the sports-world, then academics, all while juggling a few girlfriends. What could possibly go wrong?

5. When Sissy's rich husband dumps her for a young babe, she's forced to pause and take stock of her life. She takes a job cleaning up blood and entrails from crime scenes. Now if she could just solve a murder, maybe that handsome cop would finally notice her.

6. Alison's new years resolution in 2024 is to watch less Tube. Not easy when Clik-It hits the surgery shelves and all her friends get implanted. Out of fashion and out of touch, Alison wonders why everyone is wearing a suit and telling the same lame jokes. The comedy turns to horror when she realizes they're all channeling late night talk show host SamG TanG! Can she turn these zombies off?

Original Version

Your Evilness,

Growing old is not for sissies, as Cecelia “Sissy” Cavanaugh is about to find out. When her husband steals her designer luggage and runs off with a younger woman who has a tight tush and perky tatas, [If the guy cared about a tight tush and titillating tatas (note added alliteration), he would have simply suggested Sissy get liposuction and a tata job. Obviously it was the designer luggage he was after.] Sissy Cavanaugh’s posh road to happiness veers off course. [Roads don't veer off course. Cars do. Roads tend to stay put. If you need a metaphor for life, you could say her Cadillac of contentment veers off course. Or her Lexus of love. Or her Mercedes of marital mirth. Any luxury car will do as long as it's alliterative. I recommend just saying her life veers off course.] She must decide whether to ask her manipulative mother-in-law for a handout or get a job. Sissy chooses the path of least resistance—a job. A job that includes cleaning crime scenes. Only she doesn’t know that part. Yet. [You don't need those last two sentences, as you never show any significance to her not knowing . . . yet.]

Instead of enjoying manicures and sipping margaritas, she’s mopping floors, scrubbing toilets and trying to balance an empty checkbook. Fearing that her country club membership will be revoked, Sissy begins to build a life that doesn’t include tee times and garden parties. [Those last two sentences say pretty much the same thing. Combine them into something that transitions into the following sentence. For instance, Having traded manicures for a mop, massages for Mr. Clean (note alliteration), Sissy rises to the top of Millie Maid, Inc., then buys out the owner.] As her career takes off, [Careers mopping floors and scrubbing toilets seldom take off. Explain.] so does her personal life. She finds herself caught between three men: her cheating husband, a wealthy widower ready for love, and a handsome cop who gives new meaning to the words hot flash. [Don't insult her intelligence by implying that she's actually considering taking back that miserable cheating slimebucket.] [Marry the rich guy, have a life-long affair with the hunk, frame the ex for a murder, and live happily ever after.]

After investigators name a close family friend as a murder suspect, Sissy is assigned to clean the crime scene. ["Listen, Sissy, you've been doing such a good job scrubbing toilets, I've decided to see how you do as crime scene technician. Your first gig is a homicide at 56 Elm Street. Apparently the guy was cut in half with a chain saw. Blood and entrails everywhere. And when he died his bowels purged themselves. Add to that the fact that the body wasn't discovered for over a week. Oh, and when the cops entered the crime scene it was so gross they all puked. They'd just come from an all-you-can-eat burrito buffet at MexiSlop. The carpet is white shag, so better bring some bleach."] When her daughter finds out, she urges Sissy to embark on a mission to find evidence and steer the investigation in another direction. Sissy finds a clue in the most unlikely place—her own home. [It's her daughter's diary, in which she confesses to being the murderer. Although that doesn't necessarily prove anything; I understand back in '63 dozens of teen girls confessed in their diaries to having committed the Kennedy assassination just to find out if their mothers were reading their diaries. Actually that would be a good conflict for this book. The mother reads the diary, discovers her daughter is the murderer. Should she let the close family friend be executed in order to avoid the loss of trust that would come with revealing she read her daughter's diary?] [And yes, you may use this idea in your book.] Armed with this new information [What new information? Oh, right, the diary.] she sets out to solve the case and comes face-to-to-face with the murderer. [Her ex-husband. Now she wants him back even more, so she can sell her story to the tabloids after he gets the needle.]

Complete at 77,000 words, Mental Pause is women’s fiction. A formerly pampered woman discovers inner strength and self-reliance while learning that crime—someone else’s— does indeed pay. [I would replace the first sentence of the query with that sentence.]

Thank you for taking the time to consider my submission,



What's the clue she finds in her house? If you're keeping it secret because you don't want to give away who done it, note that I had no trouble guessing that anyway.

Her mission was to find evidence that would steer the investigation in another direction. Why doesn't she give the evidence to the cops instead of setting out to solve the case herself?

If you've been living the very good life, you ought to have enough assets available that you can hold out for a better job than toilet scrubber. She could probably get enough for her car and her jewelry to hire a ruthless divorce lawyer who'd see that she got the house and a healthy alimony settlement, not to mention child support.

Does solving the murder improve Sissy's financial situation or her life? Instead of telling us she's torn among three guys, did you consider focusing the query on the hunky cop as she helps him solve the case and he falls for her brilliant mind and they live happily ever after?

That all said, this has a certain appeal if you can make Sissy's rise from the ashes sound believable. Right now it sounds like she goes from inexperienced maid to CEO of a Fortune 500 company in about two weeks.


arhooley said...

I hate the title. And I agree with everything EE said.

Ellie said...

How much research have you done into crime scene cleanup crews? Admittedly, my own knowledge only comes from one acquaintance who did that for a living, but I don't think there's a lot of crossover between ordinary maid services and crime scene cleanup. There are bodily fluids, you have to have special suits and materials...his company specialized in hazardous cleanups (e.g. meth labs), not toilet scrubbing.

It doesn't sound like women's fiction. It sounds like a cozy mystery, albeit with a biohazard twist. And if she finds evidence, why doesn't she just go right to the police?

Blake Snyder used the term "laying pipe" to describe all the setup needed before the real story gets underway. The way this is presented, there's a LOT of pipe laying. Her husband leaves, she gets a job, she gets better at her job, she gets a crime-scene job ... and THEN we get the mystery and the amateur sleuthing and the three hunky dudes and whatnot. That makes me nervous about the book's pacing.

Anonymous said...

There was a 2008 movie, Sunshine Cleaning with a very similar core theme...

Dave F. said...

And if she finds evidence, why doesn't she just go right to the police?

I respectfully add that when confronted with this question in an interview, Alfred Hitchcock answered - then I would have no movie.

I might start with" "Divorced and down on her luck, Sissy discovers a clue to the murder of some high muckity muck in her own home and the suspects now include her ex-husband, her current lover and her estranged Mom with the cat problem."

That's a murder mystery not a romance.

If this is a romance then maybe begin: "Cleaning houses and crime scenes isn't glamorous but it pays the bills. When Sissy, the gay divorcee, meets the cop of her dreams at a crime scene, she's determined to turn her life of cleaning into being the wife of blue clad hunk by solving the murder."

or maybe: "Sissy never thought she would fall in love while cleaning a crime scene until she meets the man of her dreams. Can love bloom over cleanser and mops? Or will the killer and her lover leave her all hot and lathered?"

vkw said...

I agree with EE and despite the fact there are problems with the query and perhaps the plot (the number one being that this is 2010 and the first wives walk away with most of everything these days, even with a prenup) not the ex's nor the second wives who usually get nothing, it was interesting, I liked your voice.

And, let me quite honest here, I find evidence, a shred, a tiny shred and molecule of evidence that my cheating ex may be involved with the tiniest amount of crime: I'm in hunky cop's office, spilling my guts and I think most women would. Maybe its the mother-in-law.

So don't go in that direction.

M. G. E. said...

The plot has major credibility problems.

Hard to believe any older divorcee wouldn't get 50% assets, prenup or not.

Her decision to go with cleaning is strange. First it's a younger-woman's game, and she doesn't have any friends from high society who can have her run some sweetheart job?

Next, the idea that anyone in the cleaning crew is going to even recognize evidence that professional crime solvers missed is a bit unlikely. Even for fiction. But since you pose it as someone in her family, I can see her recognizing her husbands favorite coin on the ground or something like that.

Lastly, why women's fiction? This is being presented as something of a mystery, or crime drama. Is romance such a focus that you don't think men would enjoy the read? Have you left that romance focus of the novel out of the query?

Gwen Ever said...

I'm finding it hard to connect Your title with this story. Then I read that a rich woman loses her husband and now has to scrub toilets for a living while maintaining a country club membership? It is my observation that most, if not all, of the people cleaning toilets for a living would not have a country club membership. Why is the mother manipulative? Did she cut her off of the family money? Is that why she can’t find any other job except for maid service?

So, she does such a great toilet cleaning that she gets promoted to crime scene cleanup? Overnight? Because a close family friend is being looked at by the police so they decide that an acquaintance of the suspect in question should clean the murder scene?

Would it not make more sense that, if this woman was rich, to have some college before her breakup, enough to land a job in forensics with a few supplemental classes? She would still have to excuse herself because the suspect is a close family friend. Ellie is correct in observing that human fluids, body parts, and other remains have special procedures in their containment and disposal.

Maybe Sissy could become a blood splatter technician (not exactly a romantic profession), like the Dexter character on Showtime (without her killing people, of course) and then the romance could happen? Also, I like the suggestions Dave F. had to turn this more to romance than a gross crime scene murder.

Dave F. said...

I first heard the phrase "women's fiction" or "women's literature" back in the dark ages when women burnt bras to illustrate legalities and discriminations. It seemed like a silly political category since it described lesbian literature. I feel the same way about the "chick flicks" description of movies. It's like lumping video games into Pacman and Duke Nukem categories.

I don't know what this novel is about. However, if it is a detective story then call it that. If it is a romance, call it that.

I just read Peterson's "Married With Zombies" with is both a romance and zombies novel and lots of fun. I've also read Harris' "Dark and Disorderly" which is paranormal ghosts with a delicious side of romance. A few months ago, EE's book club had Dain's "The Courtesan's Secret" which is all romance and I enjoyed that as a diversion from my usual reading.

I consider dividing fiction into men and women types ridiculous. That's not a criticism of the author here. My point is basically that the categories are romance, sci-fi zombie and detective or police procedural, and paranormal. Those descriptors all have meaning. "Women's lit" sounds like something left over from ages past.

This could be a police procedural with romantic elements or a romance with murder mystery elements, or a plain murder mystery. This will save you so much time and grief.

M. G. E. said...

Her being related to the killer, can you imagine what kind of party the defense attorney would throw when they found that out?

More than likely, any evidence she discovered would be removed from the trial as well.

She might even be suspected of planting the evidence! Especially if the perp turns out to be her ex-husband!

Jeb said...

I see a lot of 'high-concept' romance elements in this one: the rich girl brought to a terrible low point by a faithless spouse even more spoiled than she is (lower than cleaning the country club toilets you used to puke into is hard to reach); the almost miraculous ability to succeed and grow beyond this awful job despite a complete lack of qualifications or experience; a hot new man you'd never meet if not for having been brougth so low; the manufactured conflict between solving the crime herself to impress hottie or taking the spoiled-rich-girl path of least resistance back into another rich man's bed.

This query makes a mistake in focusing on the non-credible career/crime/LEO elements instead of on the possibly more credible romance elements. That doesn't mean the story won't sell. In romance with any wider story than the cute-meet/obstacle/resolution format - sometimes called 'women's fiction' - any job/career and law enforcement elements will almost certainly stretch credulity beyond what mere mortals will stand. If those elements look really crude and fake on close scrutiny, it's because they're only backdrop to the romance. They're meant to be seen from thirty feet away, in dim light, while squinting, if you can ever drag yourself away from the really gorgeous people at front and center.

Just start over, author, and focus on the romance.

AA said...

"Federal regulations deem all bodily fluids to be biohazards, so any blood or tissue at a crime scene is considered a potential source of infection. You need special knowledge to safely handle biohazardous material and to know what to look for at the scene -- for instance, if there's a thumbnail-size bloodstain on the carpet, there's a good chance that there's a 2-foot-diameter bloodstain on the floorboards underneath it. You can't just clean the carpet and call it a day. You also need permits to transport and dispose of biohazardous waste. Companies that clean up crime scenes have all of the necessary permits, training and, perhaps most important, willingness to handle material that would send most of us running out the door to throw up in the bushes."
"Now, even if you get a job with a crime-scene clean-up outfit, you don't just climb into a biohazard suit and dig in when the next suicide happens. There's a good deal of training involved, including bloodborne pathogen training (learning the dangers, characteristics and proper safety procedures regarding the handling of bodily fluids), training in the proper use of protective gear and learning how to properly transport and dispose of dangerous waste. Candidates will also have to pass a 'gross factor' test to make sure they can handle the work without throwing up. This type of training ranges from a graphic visual presentation of photos from previous clean-ups to an actual clean-up of animal remains. Most of this preparation occurs through the crime-scene clean-up company, but it may also include training and certification programs offered by a trade group or the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)."
Source:, and five minutes of research I just did.

Phoenix said...

The problem with the suggestion to call this romance is that ... it isn't.

At least it doesn't appear to be from the way this query is written. The conventions of the traditional romance just aren't there at all.

With the focus so squarely on Sissy, I think women's fiction (today's acceptable term for what would have once been classified chick lit) is a fine genre to start with. Where the book would wind up on the shelf would be up to the editor and the publisher.

That said, I had a hard time with the maid to crime-scene-cleaning jump, too. I also recently read a survey where a majority of women said they don't generally use the word "tatas," even derogatorily, no matter how titillating those tatas may be.

You have the voice, author. Now you just have to make us believe.

AA said...

I have to agree with Jeb that this should be a romance. It doesn't work as a crime novel.

I disagree with Jeb on the point that credulity can be easily stretched as long as it's a romance. This smacks of the philosophy "the reader's too stupid to know the difference." This could be true of romance readers. I don't know, I don't usually read romances. I think it's more likely, though, that the readers are smart enough, and the writer him/herself is maybe not the sharpest quill in the inkwell.

There's always the possibility that your readers will know someone who works in the fast-growing and money-making industry that is being portrayed in the story. It behooves an author to do enough research on an industry to make a story about it at least somewhat credible.

I get the idea (from the query) that the five minutes of research I did just to comment on the subject is more than the author put in to the whole book, and that's just unacceptable. At least, I don't see an agent accepting the story if that's how it comes across in the query.

That being said, it's okay to stretch credulity in professional matters if the main focus of the story is romance. But that doesn't mean credibility goes out the window.

It's possible the author does mention the training/certification in the book and just forgot to put it in the query.

I'd point out that the romance market probably has the largest amount of people trying to get into it right now, and crime fiction probably the second largest, so problems with the story aren't going to help the book's chances.

_*rachel*_ said...

Take EE's advice and add a little more about the murder mystery, and I think this'll do nicely. I like the voice that pops up in a few places, too.

And yeah, I know everybody's pointing out plotholes. But for some inexplicable reason, I'm still giving you the benefit of the doubt. The story sounds fun.

Dave F. said...

I'm going to defend parts of this plot.

I worked with hazardous chemicals all of my 30 years in industry and took and quite possibly taught all of the courses that AA describes. (I escaped Blood Born Pathogens.) We took the shoes from one researcher and sent him home in stocking feet because of mercury contamination. We took the clothes off one technician's back and left him naked with special soap in a specially constructed shower with lights that made the chemicals on his bare body glow. We shut down the entire chemical handling facility because someone brought them an old chemical in very explosive form and it took three days to work out a procedure to neutralize it. Think something like nitroglycerin. And ANTHRAX, since we were federal and feds died in those attacks, everyone knew what to do if confronted by white powder. There were no exceptions to learning that procedure.

And there is the solution to the cleaning lady problem. If this "maid service" branched out into industrial buildings, janitorial contracts, water removal and even crime scene cleanup, then they have written and published procedures and conduct training in those procedures.

The law requires procedures to clear hazardous waste and it requires training to do that. So it is entirely possible that this house-cleaning or maid services also has a crew trained in crime scene cleanup. This is not hazardous chemical spill response, that's different. This is more like asbestos removal and mold where anyone properly trained can do the job. This could also be cleaning water damage caused by broken water lines.

I would think that a cleaning service that could handle hazardous cleanups would be invaluable in a small town, township or rural county.

Angela Robbins said...

Mental pause sounds like menopause, and something more chic lit-y, and this is like a suspense or mystery with romantic elements.
I agree with ahooley: change the title.

I'm not sure about this crime scene cleaner thing, I'd think this is something some qualified would be assigned to. How about EE's favorite, the dead body cleaner upper?

["Listen, Sissy, you've been doing such a good job scrubbing toilets...] frickin' cracked me up, EE!

BuffySquirrel said...

Chick lit and women's fiction are not the same thing, and, derogatory though the terms are, they're used by publishers, and therefore it's not the author's fault if they use them too.

Phoenix said...

Well, yes and no, Buffy. Chick Lit is Women's Fiction, although only some WF is CL.

BuffySquirrel said...

I think you're confusing 'women's fiction' as a general idea--fiction that's intended for women--and 'women's fiction' as a publishing term. Chick lit is for the twenty-somethings and is about shopping and dating (yes that's a gross generalisation) whereas women's fiction is for the thirty-pluses and is more about marriage, divorce, rebuilding your life, etc (gross generalisation 2).

Phoenix said...

Buffy, we may have to agree to disagree or else these definitions are different in the UK than in the US.

I've never heard the age criterion applied to either chick lit or women's fiction. For example, Sex and the City is a poster child book of chick lit and its MCs are in their late 30s/early 40s.

I'm reading a crit partner's work about a woman in her early 20s that I would never describe as chick lit, but am happy to call women's fiction -- in the publishing sense as understand it.

BuffySquirrel said...

Or maybe I'm just 100 years behind the times. It could happen!

Dave F. said...

AFter reading the prior discussion of the differences between Chick Lit and Women's lit, I will repeat my advice:

This could be a police procedural with romantic elements or a romance with murder mystery elements, or a plain murder mystery. This will save you so much time and grief.

Phoenix said...

Dave, I think that advice ignores the audience and is a disservice to the author. From the story told in the query, it's neither a police procedural nor a romance. It can't be pitched as either of those. From the title, it's obviously geared to the menopausal crowd, hence women's fiction -- by either Buffy's or my definition.

And it matters because of the pool of agents and pubs the author will be choosing to pitch to.