Thursday, August 17, 2006

Face-Lift 159

Guess the Plot

American Standards

1. After 7 years with the KGB, Vladimir finds his true calling as a lounge singer at a resort on the Black Sea. When competition arrives in the form of a blonde American expat from Vegas, Vlady must decide whether to use his training to knock her off or to fall in love.

2. Expat Putney Greel lives in the tiny English village of Boat Hole on Swip. He longs for a girlfriend who will meet his needs, but all the British girls have impossibly high standards. Will a visit back home bring him happiness?

3. The Westminster Kennel Club opened its doors to the press and public for its annual show, announcing a new breed of dog known as the American Standard. They were much talked about, but no one could find them.

4. Classic American songs like "Ain't Misbehavin'" and "Our Love is Here to Stay" are set to erotic prose that explores such American standards as hot sex and nachos.

5. When Lionel Goldstream is diagnosed with a terminal urinary tract infection, he quits his job at the porcelain firing plant and goes on a quest to visit every rest-stop urinal along Route 66.

6. Charged with finding an effective slogan to sell their cars overseas, an intern in the General Motors advertising department suggests "Built to American Standards," and dooms her future.

Original Version

Dear Evil Overlord of the Universe who Is a Scourge Unto Howard le Duck,

American Standards is a collection of four stories with a total length of 80,000 words. Each story has an emotional connection to a classic American song, and together they explore the role of physical intimacy in establishing and maintaining relationships.

In "Nothing Between Us" Jake has abandoned his college study at Cornell to work at home supporting his mother. When his neighbor, Thuy, [Thuy? How do you pronounce that? Thigh? Chewie?] returns from Yale for Spring Break, the inseparable friends [Who've been separated since they began college.] immediately fall together again. As they munch on nachos, they recount their faltering attempts at physical contact with girlfriends and boyfriends until the hidden question finally arises, "why are we always just friends?" [Possibly because your nacho habits have left you overweight, greasy-fingered, fiery-breathed untouchables.] Through the weekend, they begin to break the barriers down that have kept them apart, [Clearly we've got to get rid of that description of them as inseparable.] cracking jokes most of the way. This story is infused with the spirit of the song Ain't Misbehavin' by Fats Waller as sung by Dinah Washington. [Unless the book comes with a CD, we probably don't need to know who's singing the songs.]

In "North Shore" Ashleigh has been happily married for six years to Kenji when she has an amusing fantasy of the Hawaiian tradewinds forming into a kiss on the back of her neck – a kiss from another woman. The amusement turns to alarm, however, when the months go by and the fantasies continue and grow, becoming a need that she fears she can no longer contain. [Kenji, you lucky . . . Why doesn't this ever happen to Evil Editor?] She finally tells Kenji of her dreams, and the pair understand that they must either understand [They understand that they must understand, but do they understand that they understand that they must understand?] what's happening or simply fall apart, something neither is willing to do without a fight.

[Ashleigh: The Hawaiian trade winds continue to kiss me with the lips of a woman.

Kenji: But we've been back in Tennessee three weeks now.

Ashleigh: We need to understand this, or we'll fall apart.

Kenji: Screw understanding, babe, let's roll with it.]

Clueless, they decide to employ Gui-Feng, a high-class escort [and part-time Sumo wrestler] in Las Vegas. This story prominently features Gershwin's Our Love is Here to Stay as sung by Ella Fitzgerald. [I was thinking more along the lines of "Two Ladies," from Cabaret.]

In "What a Difference a Day Makes" (as sung by Dinah Washington) Curt has done an impressive job of being handsome, intelligent, and imminently practical, yet oh so fired from his dream job and oh so alone after dumping any man he ever spent a night with. Then Owen smiles at him from across the gym locker room. Curt starts his usual seduction but Owen isn't playing the same game. Owen isn't playing a game at all. [Owen is a serial killer.] Can Curt change himself in 24 hours? The final story "Kicks" is inspired by Dolly Parton's bluegrass version of Cole Porter's "I Get a Kick Out of You." It stars Amy and Heather Lynn and, like the song, is a little country, a little classy, and a hell of a lot of fun. [The plots could be summarized more briefly, allowing you to expand on how the songs come into play. Am I supposed to put "Ain't Misbehavin'" on "repeat" and listen to it for an hour and a half while I read "Nothing Between Us?" Are the characters always listening to the songs? Thinking of a song title that applies to a romantic plot isn't especially difficult, so I assume there's more to it than that. Were the songs chosen first, and then the stories written? Do I need to know the lyrics to appreciate how the story is infused with the spirit of the song?]

Earlier versions of the stories "North Shore" and "Nothing Between Us" have been available on an erotic story web site, where "Nothing Between Us" has been the highest rated First Time story for 6 months so far and is narrowing in on 200,000 hits. Each has been heavily revised and can be removed from the web site as needed. All stories are erotic and romantic, but fit more solidly in literary fiction as a genre.

I look forward to hearing from you.



Now that I've read the whole thing, I realize that it's not clear whether Thuy is male or female. Same with Kenji, for that matter. You might work in a pronoun here or there to avoid misunderstandings.

Even if you want to give "Kicks" less air time, if the other stories get separate paragraphs, so should that one.

It might be worth looking at organizing it not by story, but by clumping the plots together in a bulleted list, and keeping the musical aspect separate.

Two long-time friends return home from their colleges and discover they want more than friendship.

A happily married couple contends with the wife's sudden infatuation with the wind.

A gym rat learns that exercise is healthier if you get it more often.

Two women abandon Nashville for careers as kickboxers.

Together these romantic and erotic stories explore the role of physical intimacy in establishing and maintaining relationships. Separately, each is infused with the spirit of a classic American song that . . .


Anonymous said...

Wow, I'm so glad he's done with mine now. Quite a relief!

Bernita said...

I'll pass.
Not my idea of
Makin' Whoopee!

HawkOwl said...

Um... Maybe American Classics would be safer than American Standards. American Standard only means one thing to me.

Stacia said...

Darn! I loved all the Guess the Plots so much...ecept, unfortunately, that one.

I actually think the stories sound really good, I just don't like the song conceit.

Anonymous said...

Whew! Not so bad. Of course the minions haven't weighed in yet...

First, thanks to all the brilliant alternative plots for my title. I love 'em. And kudos to EE for making my plot even more ridiculous than it in fact is.

I put all the info in here about the songs to explain why the collection is called "American Standards" but the truth is that the reader doesn't need to know the songs at all to enjoy or hate the stories. I could just cut all that, of course, which would give more time for describing the stories. I wanted to parody myself so badly with items like "The sequel is based on my experience one night with a fish and the Yanni box set."

I just really like the title "American Standards" because it has a lot of meanings. Since the erotic content is very high, the title brings up the idea of moral standards. Should we be reading such sexual material? Many of us feel a little uncomfortable being in someone's bedroom. And yet all of the stories are deeply romantic - all have Happily Ever After endings - of a sort, and in the end largely reinforce moral standards as sex is always best as part of a loving relationship.

Also, the characters in the stories frequently come from various backgrounds, which is causing the confusion on gender and name. Thuy is a Vietnamese female name. Kenji is a Japanese male name. Gui-Feng is a fake sounding Chinese female name (it is a fake name, she's an escort after all). You add in a hetero story, bi story, lesbian, and gay story, and yet see the commonalities of love in all of them, and you get to think about how Americans are all connected.

Finally, the stories are in fact inspired by the classic standards of the American songbook. I thought that combining a name like Gershwin or Cole Porter with high sexual content could again make one contemplate whether or not it should feel taboo to read an explicit sexual description. I want to convey that, despite the fact that the relationships often evolve in important ways in a bedroom, the nature of the relationship is as classic as Ella Fitzgerald and apple pie. Of course, maybe this is all just my hang-up, since the subgenre of erotic romance is off and running, and everyone and their mother is reading "Slave of the Pharaoh," "Lust Incorporated," and "Punishment Isle." Or something like that.

Anyway, what I really wanted to get from submitting this is some idea how to handle 4 stories and 4 plots on a single page. EE has given some nice ideas on that, and I am deeply grateful. I think I will cut all the song stuff to a single sentence or two at the end. And how did I miss the "understand that they must understand" thing? Geez.

I will get to fixing this soon.

Oh, for the record, Thuy is pronounced like "Tee" or "Twee".

Dave Fragments said...

I agree. change the name.
American Standard makes porcelain receptacles.

Anonymous said...

When I was reading through the possible plots, I got to the correct one, cringed, and thought, "Oh, surely not..."

The premise didn't sound that bad in the actual query letter, but it still sounded a little flakey. I think EE's suggestion that you de-emphasise the connection to the songs is a good one. When a reader reads, they see the words on the page; they do not hear the music. The power and emotion of the song do not attach themselves to the text.

Reading your query, I'd be very suspicious that the writing wasn't "infused by the spirit of the song," but rather that it was attempting to use the song as a crutch because it didn't have enough passion of its own. If you had said that the story was inspired by - or strove to capture the spirit of - a song, that wouldn't bother me.

So I'd recommend the structure EE suggested: focus first on the story, and then mention the songs (but don't claim the music crept onto the page; I won't believe that).

Dave Fragments said...

Music in novels is tough.
The only example that comes to mind is Laura Esquivel's "The Law of Love" which had a CD of Puccini arias and Mexican dances as interludes. The book wasn't as successful as her first "Like Water for Chocolate"

Stewart O'Nan in "The Names of the Dead" has some lyrics floating around with the ghosts but not as a theme.

The stories sound like good romances. That's where you should focus your advertising or PR in selling them to a publisher. Think of how to describe your stories so that they appeal to others.

Anonymous said...

Yep, definitely got the idea now on the music thing, i.e., it's not working. So I will minimize that, and it can be a pleasant discovery for the reader if they happen to notice it. Unfortunately, that does mean I will need to find a new title - since I am not focusing on the connection to the standard songs and apparently every man reading my book imagines a urinal. For the way the songs are incorporated into the stories, of the 200,000 hits on the Jake/Thuy story, maybe 2 people have mentioned that the stanza I quote from Ain't Misbehavin' appears to summarize the emotion of the piece. Everyone else says its hot or it takes them back to their first experience or it makes them cry. I think I will concentrate on convincing a publisher that the story is hot and nostalgic, and it's connection to a song can be a little bonus for those paying extra attention.

It's nice to discover this before I send the query to agents.

For my new title, I am going to go with "erotic zombie deathfish in a negligee." It's hard to incorporate eunuchs into erotic romance. Deathfish, however, always get me hot.

Anonymous said...

Hey, when I read the title "American Standards," I was in fact thinking of the Great American Songbook. So I "got" it. But then that's because I'm a weird little musical-theater queen (at least part-time). I like the title. I like the concept.

Do the songs actually appear at the surface level in the stories? Bear in mind that at least three of the four are copyrighted, and both the Porter and Gershwin estates tend to be pretty stingy about rights issues. If there are at most minimal quotes from the lyrics, you're probably in the clear. But any more than a couple lines may be a problem.

Anonymous said...

*whips out negligee* There's nothing more erotic than a zombie deathfish in lace. Maybe one of your stories should feature this? Maybe as a steamy dream sequence?

Seriously though, I love the sound of North Shore - something about it just really appealed to me. The others sound a little generic, but that one has something about it. I'd read it.

Anonymous said...

bleh. Just not my thing, I guess. And the song thing would work if you could include a CD or something with the book. Otherwise, why bother?