Monday, January 29, 2007

Face-Lift 267

Guess the Plot

Gin and Sympathy

1. After her husband's architectural firm goes bankrupt, Dallas Grimes meets a wealthy philanthropist who promises her a million dollars if she accepts his indecent proposal: submit a query to Evil Editor for which all the fake plots will contain clever references to Miss Snark. Also, sympathy.

2. In this touching coming-of-age memoir, Miss Snark reveals her passion while touching lightly on her shortcoming. Profusely illustrated, sample cluegun included.

3. Jealous of Evil Editor's growing publishing empire, Miss Snark decides to go for a kinder, gentler image and pens her own book of writing tips. Sample tip #85: Rejection goes down easier with a gin chaser.

4. Miss Snark spends Friday night blubbering with two of the lesser gods: Gin and Sympathy. In the morning she burns the shoe boxes and computer containing her seven unpublishable novels, and gets a new tattoo in preparation for her blind date with Arnold Patterson, pizza driver. Is she at rock bottom yet? Or will Sunday be even worse?

5. Our heroine has trouble with her cussing, weight, smoking, and a certain beverage. When her best drinking buddy, Niles, is found murdered, she vows to secretly sober up until she finds the fiend who did it.

6. Fifteen years ago, our heroine had an affair with Eugene, a man with a tail. She got pregnant, but never told Eugene. Now her son wants to meet the father he never knew. But she just wants gin. Also, sympathy.

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

Dorothy Abramson has been a fag hag as long as she can remember. [Even Evil Editor, with his history of electro-shock therapy, heroin addiction, and the Burmese prison brainwashing incident, can remember back to the age of five. "As long as she can remember" may be an exaggeration.] Whether she's dancing till dawn with Nathaniel, holding Robert's hand through an AIDS test, or trading blows with the bigots who gaybashed Marshall, [Just so we're on the same wave length, is "trading blows" more gay slang, or is she brawling?] this self-proclaimed "fairy godmother to the fey" is the best friend a gay boy could ask for.

But it wasn't always that way. Once upon a time, Dorothy made the hag's classic mistake and tried to seduce her best friend -- his refusal broke her heart, and she vowed from then on to respect the impassable boundaries of intimacy. But when one of her beloved boys starts [I'd stick with the past tense here.] crossing lines of his own, and suddenly everything gets a lot more complicated.

Their affair is short lived: Eugene goes back to his husband with his tail between his legs, and Dorothy is left with nothing but a newly broken heart... and an unplanned pregnancy. Dorothy swears that she'll never tell Eugene, as she doesn't want to break up his marriage. [Here's where to return to present tense.] Fifteen years later, however, her teenaged son wants to meet his long lost father. Dorothy knows she should say no, but she can't help wondering if the boy who wandered once can be convinced now to switch for good. [This makes it seem like she is motivated less by satisfying her son's curiosity than by satisfying her own. Surely she's moved on with her life after fifteen years.]

Gin and Sympathy is an 80,000 word commercial novel detailing the life of a girl who follows her heart to the wrong side of the rainbow. I would be happy to provide you with a complete manuscript and look forward to hearing from you soon. I am enclosing an SASE for your reply, or you may contact me at _________

Thank you for your time and consideration.



Long-time minions will recognize this as a revised version of Face-Lift 117. That's where the rest of the laughs are, in case you were wondering.

Is this version better? I think so. It now sounds like it has a central plot, while it previously consisted entirely of lists, giving the impression it was a series of vignettes. Not that a series of vignettes can't work in a memoir, but the "son" aspect gives it more appeal now that you're calling it a novel rather than a faux memoir.

That term "fag hag" is rather jolting. Maybe not to those you see as your target audience, but possibly to those to whom you're sending the query. If it began:

Whether she's dancing till dawn with Nathaniel, holding Robert's hand through an AIDS test, or trading blows with the bigots who gaybashed Marshall, Dorothy Abramson, self-proclaimed "fairy godmother to the fey," is the best friend a gay boy could want.

But it wasn't always that way. Dorothy once made the mistake of trying to seduce her best friend. His refusal broke her heart, and she vowed to respect the impassable boundaries of intimacy from then on.

But when one of her beloved boys started crossing lines of his own, everything got a lot more complicated. Their affair was short lived: etc. etc.

. . . it might be less abrasive.

I assume "boy" is slang for man? It still sounds weird when talking about the 15-year-old son of a boy.

It seems like it would be impossible to keep knowledge of her son from Eugene. Surely they had numerous mutual friends. Did she claim the kid was someone else's? I doubt it; the kid hasn't met Eugene and he certainly would have met him if Eugene didn't think the kid was his. Did she move to Alaska? Maybe, but she's been a fag hag as long as she can remember, which would include the last fifteen years. Not that Anchorage doesn't have a thriving gay community, but . . .


none said...

Burmese prison? I knew we'd met before.

Do you still have my soap?

Anonymous said...

I'll note that the query contains a lot of cliches:

dancing till dawn
holding Robert's hand
trading blows
(Um. Yeah. My mind was in the gutter too when I read that.)
Once upon a time
broke her heart
crossing lines
tail between his legs

It has a bit more zip if you start it the way EE suggests. I, too, didn't much like the term "fag hag" right in the first sentence, and what comes after that sentence does get the point across by showing, rather than telling.

Blogless Troll said...

Great. For the rest of my life I'll be forced to giggle whenever I hear the phrase "trading blows."

writtenwyrdd said...

Author, I couldn't say whether this would be a decent read or not, obviously; but to lead in by using the very loaded term "fag hag," and then to go on in a manner that sounds patronizing to gays and lesbians? Are you aware that your target audience would include these same people you insult here?

My gay friends would want to toss you out the window for this letter's contents.

Anonymous said...

The query letter's a lot better than it was the first time, but the story still doesn't tempt me. Good luck.

Anonymous said...

LOL, bogless troll, LOL. At least you'll know you're in the presence of a closet minion if there's somebody else giggling at the same time!

Anonymous said...

Surely you can think of more focus for your plot than to simply have a woman who is attracted to men desire to hang out only with men who are not attracted to women. So now she's a middle-aged heterosexual woman who never had an actual boyfriend? Can she not get a clue? It just sounds like there's something a bit off upstairs, ya know? I don't know who your intended audience is, but this just doesn't seem like a premise with much commercial potential, which is what agents are looking for.

Anonymous said...

I remember this one. What still puzzles me about it is why would "fag hag all her life" Dorothy suddenly have hopes that someone she slept with once fifteen years ago might change his preferences.

Have to agree with Writtenwyrd--large chunks of your potential audience here would probably be grimacing and putting the book back on the shelf in Barnes & Noble.

Stacia said...

For people who like that sort of thing, I'm sure this would be the sort of thing they like.

Since I'm not really that kind of girl, it's not for me. But the query outlined the story well and gave us the hook, even if it does sound a bit like that execrable Madonna film of a few years back.

Anonymous said...

Wow, this went from bad to worse, eh minions? I was heartened by EE's critique, but the rest of y'all make me think I should just go back to the drawing board (if not throw myself off a bridge).


Thanks, whitemouse, for the note about the cliches. That was helpful.

Anonymous said...

How about this version?

Whether she's dancing till dawn with Nathaniel, holding Robert's hand through an AIDS test, or striking back at the bigots who gaybashed Marshall, Dorothy Abramson, self-proclaimed "fairy godmother to the fey," is the best friend a gay boy could want.

That is, until one day when Dorothy slips up and makes the hag's classic mistake: she tries to seduce her best friend, Eugene. His refusal brakes her heart, and from then on she vows to keep her relations with gay men strictly platonic. But when Eugene reappears in her life years later with some brand new (heterosexual) intentions, suddenly everything gets a lot more complicated.

Gin and Sympathy is an 80,000 word commercial novel detailing the life of a girl who follows her heart to the wrong side of the rainbow.

Does that sound less offensive/offputting to you?

Anonymous said...

honey, you can't say 'fey' without people thinking that you mean a different kind of fairy. Cut it. And give me a damn good reason why Dorothy is still so clueless about gay men that she thinks she can turn Eugene after all this time. Even the gay guys who are friends with them mock the hags who think they can turn them... no-one's going to want to read this story the way you've presented it.

batgirl said...

I like the revision above, but you might want to include the plot-point about the son, because his presence ups the stakes for the protagonist.

Anonymous said...

*pets author*

Now then; no talk of bridges. (And please ignore Sarkychick, who is not being helpful)

Keep writing, and keep believing in your writing. Query letters are just spin doctoring and salesmanship. If we're not responding to the query, that doesn't mean there's anything wrong with the book.

Here's some more specific comments on the query:

A lot of this deals with Dorothy's backstory. You probably want to emphasise the book's conflicts more, i.e. structure the query around what Dorothy's central problem is. Think in terms of:
- What is her goal?
- What obstacle prevents her achieving that goal?
- What are the stakes if she doesn't achieve her goal?
- What action does she take to achieve her goal, and does that action work, or does it lead her into an even bigger conflict?

Also, you've chosen a set of characters that a lot of (straight) people have trouble connecting to. The power of writing fiction is that you can make the reader deeply empathise with characters that they might normally shy away from in real life.

I think part of the reason people aren't connecting with your query's representation of the book is that they aren't connecting with Dorothy.

Love and heartbreak are pretty universal, even if the circumstances in which Dorothy deals with them aren't. Try to make the reader feel emphathy for Dorothy right away, and then the fact that her life is unconventional won't seem as big an obstacle to us getting immersed in the story.

You might start the query with something like:
"Dorothy keeps falling in love with her beautiful male friends. The problem is, you can't get much more inaccessible than gay, and that's what her friends all happen to be.

When Dorothy's best pal Eugene starts flirting with her one night, she thinks she's finally found a break in the chain of heartbreaks her life has become - the one beautiful boy who will love her back. When Eugene goes crawling back to his husband for forgiveness, however, she knows she was wrong and [DOES SOMETHING]."

Then you carry on with the next conflict, which is likely to do with her son wanting to meet his father, and Dorothy's feelings about seeing Eugene again. Keep concentrating on Dorothy's conflicts, and keep trying to make her deeply sympathetic.

And again - don't be disheartened. We all (except for EE) suck at writing query letters. Good luck with the next rewrite!

Evil Editor said...

Brakes should be breaks. And I'm not sure what people are going to think you mean by "hag," if you haven't already used the term "fag hag." At that point, if you're going to say hag, you may as well say fag hag. It's obvious what it means by now, while it's not obvious what hag means. Whether your target reader finds the term objectionable is another question, one I assume you are better equipped to answer than I am.

Dave Fragments said...

WOW, some of you have strange ideas about gay men.
The term "fag hag" was originally applied not to an unatractive woman, not by a long shot, but to the "escort" that some gay men used to "date" when they went to gay bars. You see, men hidden in the closet are very paranoid and having a woman on their arm when they walked into the gay bar, gave them something to hide behind. In this day and age, young gay men are much more open with their sexuality and many are thankfully not closeted. SO the need to have a female escort just to hide behind is becoming moot.

I don't care much for the term but I don't take offense at it. However, it dates the author and I suspect tells the author's gender. Like dudes, gag me with a spoon, but I saw the first Star Wars in the theaters and remember when movies didn't have start and end times (old, ain't I?)... ;)

There is also an idea that a gay man will NEVER have sex with a woman. Now that is just laughable. Lots of married men with families are gay. Think about McGreevey, Haggard, and some other men in the news.

WOuld a bizexual man living with another man take responsibility for his son? About as often as straight men do. Why would this be any different than the current marraige mess that heterosexuals have going for them

As for Bois - that's not boise! - It's boys mispelled BOI. It is the current term for a gay male lover. There are fifty year old men who refer to themselves as "Boi" ...
It's the stupid cult of youth.

Anonymous said...

Damn, I liked my GTP entry. Alas, it did not reference She Who Must Be Obeyed; thus, it did not make the cut.

And though after a long travel day it took me a moment or two to clue in to the "trading blows" pun, I gotta say that got the best of me. I am sure my neighbors in the other rooms of the Grand Hyatt are wondering what show I'm watching that draws such mighty guffaws. Well done, EE. As always.

Anonymous said...

It would be a huge giant mistake to interpret reviews of your fiction as affirming or devaluing your life. They have nothing to do with it. If you can't help making that kind of interpretation, don't get this project critiqued any more. Put it away in a safe place and write something that isn't even remotely about you and get that critiqued.

Anonymous said...

My biggest problem with the query is that Dorothy doesn't come across as very sympathetic. Her reasons for trying to bring Eugene into her son's life appear selfish and self-serving.

I do think there's a good idea in here, but you'd need to give me more reasons to empathise with Dorothy.

Anonymous said...

Sarkychick DID have something helpful to say. That is a true and real reaction.

The way the author presented her characters motivations was unclear, but this is how I would interpret it: If someone keeps falling for inacessible men, she has issues. That is what the real story is about, it seems to me.

Also a suggestion: Don't use the name Dorothy. For one thing, a twenty-years-plus running show called Beach Blanket Babylon Goes Bananas stars Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz (or it used to, it's been a while since I've seen it). And in general, the whole Wizard of Oz reminder is an unintentional joke.

Anonymous said...

Impassable boundaries of intimacy - don't you mean the impassable boundary of sexual orientation?


Anonymous said...

It tripped me up that this gay man has had a husband for 15 years.

Is this book set in the future? I don't know of any government that recognized gay marriage 15 years ago.