Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Face-Lift 889

Guess the Plot

When Writing About Sex Is Better Than Actually Doing It

1. Never.

2. Always.

3. Rosie O’Donnell’s ex-girlfriends compile their experiences in this joint memoir.

4. When Lucy's husband dies, she copes by writing sexually explicit short stories and reading them at an open mic night. Luke catches her performance one night and decides he'd like to get Lucy in the sack, but can he convince her that writing about sex isn't as much fun as actually doing it?

5. Marie D’Lyones, courtesan to the King of France, flees to a convent and becomes a nun when the king dies. One of the most educated women there, she is assigned to work in the scriptorium copying texts. One day a new text comes in, a copy of the Kama Sutra. Will writing about sex send Marie back to her old life?

6. A recovering sex addict enters the world of cross dressing, adding hilarious consequences to a life on the run from one encounter to another. But when his mother catches him in her paisley shirtwaist, he is forced to claim he's just researching a book, and enters the sexless but lucrative world of nonfiction.

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

Lucy Halloran lost her beloved husband to a car crash. Her way of convincing herself that she's still alive is to write well-crafted, sexually explicit short stories. And read them monthly at an adults-only open mic night. [When an open mic night is adults-only, I assume it's because alcohol is served or off-color comedy is performed. Reading sexually explicit stories in a room filled with naked horny guys sounds like a recipe for disaster.]

When Luke McMelley’s sister drags him to an open mic night, hearing these x-rated words stream forth out of his high school crush’s mouth is overwhelming. Shocking. And most of all, enticingly obscene. [He leaps onto the stage, rips off Lucy's sheer tubetop, and once again open mic night devolves into a frenetic orgy. Just once, event coordinator Mildred Prood thinks, I wish we could get through more than half of the first story before this happens.] Even more than in high school, she is the girl of his dreams.

Lucy hasn’t had sex since her husband died. [That doesn't seem so odd. How long has it been since the crash?] But as maddening and egotistical as she finds Luke, he also awakens this need inside of her, a need [to hit the sheets with a maddening egotistical guy.] for more than just writing and performing. It scares her.

Luke is persistent. Like any good lawyer, he refuses to take no for an answer. [Is he a lawyer, or is he a plumber who won't take no for an answer, like any good lawyer?

Lawyer who never takes No for answer: Objection!

Judge: Overruled.

Lawyer: Bullshit!]

He knows Lucy is the right woman, the one who can tame his tomcat ways and make a respectable man of him. No matter how many times she retreats, or throws up a wall, he knocks it down. [Run, Lucy, run. Move to another state, change your name, and get a reliable taser.]

But when Lucy takes drastic steps to pick up the pieces of her slowly crumbling world, [I had no idea her world was slowly crumbling.] she instead turns to the arms of her husband’s best friend, Jonathan, who has waited patiently for this very turn of events. [Waiting patiently for your best friend to die so you can move in on his widow. Nice. Are we sure he didn't engineer the car crash?] As comfortable and easy as life is with him, will it be enough? Is comfortable and easy how Lucy wants to spend the rest of her life, especially after knowing fire and passion with Luke? [I had no idea they'd gotten to the fire and passion stage.] When Writing About Sex is Better Than Actually Doing It is an adult contemporary novel [By "adult" do you mean erotica?] of 75,000 words full of chance encounters. [Outside of Luke encountering Lucy at open mic night, what chance encounters are there?] But sometimes one deliberate action is enough to change the course of two very different lives. [Vague. What one deliberate action are we talking about?]

The full manuscript is available upon request. Thank you so much for your time and consideration.


A guy who doesn't take no for an answer is a guy who insists on getting his way. Would he let himself be dragged to an open mic reading night that he didn't want to attend? By his sister?

There are any number of ways to deal with the tragic loss of one's beloved spouse, but for some reason writing sexually explicit short stories and reading them at an adults-only open mic night has this ring of absurdity to it. You're thinking, I gotta get out in the world instead of sitting around the house feeling sorry for myself, so you look through the independent newspaper for some activity where you can meet people, and you reject book clubs and golf lessons and contra dancing and church potlucks and settle on reading erotic stories to a roomful of strangers. Which is not to say you should change the plot. Just make it sound more reasonable. Like maybe it's Lucy's sister who drags her to the open mic night.

The title sounds like a chapter in a nonfiction book. You need something like Memoir of an Eroticist or How Lucy Got Her Groove Back. But not those. So I Write Porn; Live with It.


Anonymous said...

Not clear what you have here. Is it about this?

After the death of her husband, Lucy meets new men. But each encounter quickly turns into a nightmare worse than the one before, until she realizes Mr. Right can only exist in fiction. Then she devotes her energies to writing erotica and enjoys her last decades as an eccentric best-selling author.

Jenna said...

Haha "'So I write Porn; Live with it'". Too good.

What does Lucy want more than anything? (Besides sex obviously). What is she trying to pursue or overcome? If it's been a while and suddenly heartthrob Luke walks through the door offering her all of his lawyer-ish pleasures...

"Not tonight, I'm tired hunny."
"I object!"
"Bail is set at..$400"
"I'm not a hooker, get those handcuffs out of my face!"

...why does she say no? Seriously?! Isn't that every woman's secret fantasy? Is it fear? Is he a player big shot personality she can't trust despite his allure? Why does she turn towards boring old Jonathan?

I think the underlining issue here is that Lucy has to chose between playing it safe and taking a chance? To come out from behind her stories and live life again. I would strengthen this thread if this IS the arc of your story. Otherwise you have some interesting if not slightly cliched characters without the emotional background glue or sweeping climax. (It's just too easy).

Other Questions I'm curious about:

How has her husband's death effected her? Why or how does reading about sex fix that hole she feels? Or is that an outlet for the devastation of his death? A cooping method? Is it the sex part, really, that she misses about having a husband? How does the fact that she was Luke's dream girl from HS play into this? Who is Jonathon and why do you mention he's been waiting for her to come to him? DID he have something to do with his bff's death? Whether he did or not wouldn't hinting at it here heighten the drama? Otherwise he's a cardboard character here and you might as well not name him.

Think writing deliberately. Every sentence has to be there for a reason.

Clearly you've piqued my interest (no puns there EE)because your query has opened up more questions about what I would hope gets answered in the book.

Obviously sex-in-a-book+ handsome Luke= popular fav amongst women. If you can streamline the main issues and solidify an emotional background this could be a stimulating read.

Keep it up!

Anonymous said...

Oh, EE, your comments -- especially the Mildred Prood insert -- cheered a Really Bleak Day for me! Thanks!

PS -- I can think of many things to do to try and cheer myself up (reading EEs blog comes instantly to mind) but writing porn to read in public somehow never crossed my mind...

Anonymous said...

I don't get it.

Husband dies. Widow is driven to write porn and read it at open mic night because of her sexual needs. (Maybe she should have just gone on

Luke, high school crush, falls overwhelmingly in lust with MC, because of porn reading. (Maybe he should be introduced to Hustler).

But then enters dead husband's best friend who was not really that good of a best friend because he was secretly coveting the wife. (and by default must be secretly glad best friend is dead).

now I get it.


Voter said...

"It scares her."

WTF? That completely took me out of it. This chick writes erotica and reads it in a bar, but doesn't have any naughty desires...until Luke? Makes no sense.

Phoenix said...

What exactly is "adult contemporary?"

From the setup and word choices you've given us, it sounds like:
- Contemporary Romance
- Romantica (Erotic Romance)
- Erotica

I think you'll want to go with one of these and then write the query to the conventions needed for that category.

If it's Contemporary Romance or Romantica, you'll want to include a little more than that she has a choice to make. What obstacle prevents her from choosing or tosses one of the men out of the running? It's a fine setup, but there needs to be more follow-through story. And we need a dark moment when it doesn't look like she'll get either man. A hint about how that is orchestrated will help the reader feel more comfortable that this book follows convention. To that end, are you envisioning this as Category or Single Title? It seems too long for category but not fleshed-out enough for single title. And if you're not sure of the difference or the conventions, hie thee over to (the Romance Writers of America site) post haste.

If it's erotica, choice by itself might well be enough of a motivator. But 75K is pretty long for an erotic story without much plot. And if it's strictly erotica, you'll probably want to include the third option of having her cake and eating it too by dividing her attentions between both men -- separately in this case, I assume.

If you think it's more chick lit/women's fiction than romance, then that's not coming through at all in this query and I'm betting you'll want to rethink what plot points and word choices are here so that an agent isn't confused about its genre after reading the query.

Ink and Pixel Club said...

I'd change the first line to read "in a car crash." It sounds more natural and doesn't run the risk of anyone thinking that Lucy's husband came home one night and told her that he was leaving her for a car crash that he had fallen in love with.

I feel like except for the detail of the widow writing erotica and reading it at open mic nights, the story here is pretty standard fare. You've got the woman who has given up on love, the somewhat roguish guy who she will obviously end up with, and the nice, safe guy who will obviously be abandoned in favor of Mr. Right. I guess you can find these character types in any number of romance novels, but here, I don't get the sense that I'm going to be invested in the characters or a sense of why they're interested in each other. Luke in particular comes off as creepy with no redeeming characteristics. Why are he and Lucy interested in each other? Why the heck does Luke expect a woman he knew from high school and saw again reading erotica at an adults-only open mic to make him "a respectable man"?

Is it too late to change one of the main character's names? They're very similar and you don't want to risk readers confusing them.

Phoenix said...

@Voter: What types of stories do YOU write? Do you think the folk who write graphic horror and gruesome serial killer stories harbor those desires? Or the people who recite epic battle poetry around campfires during re-enactments want to fight in actual wars?

I think you'd be surprised at the number of people coming to this site and commenting -- now and in the past -- who've published erotica and who have stable marriages with kids, and/or are otherwise moral, decent folk who wouldn't dream of actually getting involved in the types of worlds they write about. Any more than the mystery writer dreams about picking up a gun and offing someone someday.

Spouting erotica in a bar is not something I can personally relate to (or know about), but I can see it as being something like a poetry slam in a coffeehouse. Except a lot more voyeuristic.

Anonymous said...

The premise doesn't work for me if the dead husband was beloved.

She could feel guilty about missing the sex and not him and that drives her to a therapist who recommends writing then reading at open mic well.

Bad boy could turn nasty/obsessive as she gets over her dry spell and comes to realize a few things leaving the path open for the good guy in time. That does seem too easy.

A woman finds a bizarre way of dealing with the celibacy and guilt her husband's death brings.

I am intrigued. Agree with the comments.

Joe G said...

I dunno, it seems obvious to me that writing and reading the erotica is supposed to take the place of her husband. The idea of moving on is what scares her, not having sex. I thought it was kind of a funny premise, but it is definitely absurd. It sounds like the plot of a porn movie.

Adam Heine said...

"He knows Lucy is the right woman, the one who can tame his tomcat ways and make a respectable man of him."

I know I'm not the target audience, but this line lost me. It sounds like something women want to do to men, not something men want women to do to them. I've never known a guy who thought, "God, I'm such a tomcat. I wish I had a woman to make me respectable."

Jayne said...

"Any more than the mystery writer dreams about picking up a gun and offing someone someday."

Little you know, Phoenix. ;-D

This line lost me too, but not for the same reason:

"I've never known a guy who thought, "God, I'm such a tomcat. I wish I had a woman to make me respectable.""

Except maybe a sex addict dreaming of changing his life without having to do any of the hard work, such as abstinence.

Sorry, author, but any man looking for the right woman to curb his bad behavior is a man who will later blame her for every time he goes off the rails in future.

Find another way to get across what he's really looking for, or resign yourself to readers, and agents, hating the hot guy and rooting for Mr. Boring (even though it's also pretty creepy that beta-man is hanging around waiting for her to recover from being widowed).

Hmm... a romantica/erotica in which the reader is rooting for NEITHER of the leading men? Could be a totally new concept here.

BuffySquirrel said...

The definition of a good lawyer being one who won't take no for answer strikes me as absurd. Surely a good lawyer would know when no is the answer.

Luke doesn't come across as romantic or sexy. He comes across as scary stalker guy. Does he also not take no to sex as the answer? Further, being expected to 'cure' your boyfriend of promiscuity isn't at all romantic. Any sensible woman would run a mile from this guy, perhaps during his latest visit to the STD clinic.

The names Lucy and Luke are too similar imo.

I think this query doesn't do the story any favours. Unless Luke is meant to be scary stalker and possibly rapist guy, in which case, well done.

batgirl said...

This is kind of an intriguing setup. I'd hope that the open-mike (sorry, the 'mic' spelling bugs me) erotica nights would continue through the book, since that'd make for an unusual background, something to spice up the old 'should I choose the hot bad boy or the safe dull guy?' conflict.

The query reads a bit as if you've taken all your best sentences from several drafts and put them together without quite filling in the cracks. Lucy's 'drastic action' is to hook up with the safe dull guy? You might want to be more specific there. And the sentence about a single action would probably be clearer if it didn't begin with a 'But' - was that sentence originally in the first paragraph?

Beth said...

I agree with EE that this just sounds too incredible.

He knows Lucy is the right woman, the one who can tame his tomcat ways and make a respectable man of him.

And that is where it become totally absurd to me (up until then it had about 75% absurd). No egotistical, set-in-his-own-ways tomcat wants a woman who will make him respectable. Huh uh. And really, with Lucy, it sounds like respectable is the last thing he wants. He sounds like a stalker who wants to get down and dirty with her.

And the husband's best friend just showed up out of nowhere, like a last minute add-on. Probably should mention him much earlier in the query.

Voter said...

@phoenix: I think you'd be surprised at the number of people coming to this site and commenting -- now and in the past -- who've published erotica and who have stable marriages with kids, and/or are otherwise moral, decent folk who wouldn't dream of actually getting involved in the types of worlds they write about.

Er, taking your erotica to a bar and reading it is getting involved in the world she's writing about.

Anonymous said...

From the writer:
Wow, thank you all so much for the comments. Totally appreciated. Lots of food for thought - have already made quite a few changes. It's amazing the things that seem totally obvious to me but don't translate well at all.

Zombie Deathfish said...

Both these dudes sound creepy as hell. I think Lucy is definitely better off writing sex than having it with either of them. Team Lucy!

batgirl said...

Hey author, thanks for being a good sport! When you get a revised version ready, you might want to send it to Phoenix's blog for more comments.

Lyvvie said...

I don't like the phrase "Throws up a wall" because either the person is a mutant termite and using an efficient manner of building their home or they are very ill and spraying vomit up the wall. Either way, not a nice image. I imagine Luke is so tired of Lucy throwing up walls, he's just figured if he knocks them down maybe she'll learn to barf in the toilet like everyone else.

That aside, I'm in agreement with others about it not being realistic that Luke would think he needs someone to change his tom catting ways. It's usually a woman who thinks she can change a man's tom catting ways with her Glittery Hooha, and in romance, she just might.