Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Face-Lift 275

Guess the Plot

Who Wants to Marry a Cowboy?

1. Rodeo Bob has been trampled, kicked, and thrown. He's got metal knees and hips and a hook hand. His hair fell out and the suture lines from his brain surgeries criss-cross like a freeway interchange. He keeps his moustache and eyebrows waxed and twisted. He's worn real man boots, dungarees and snap shirts his whole life. The snuff rotted his teeth out. At age 30, he's ready to settle down. But where's the gal?

2. A down-on-his-luck reality TV game show producer tries to cash in on the popularity of Brokeback Mountain--but runs into unexpected difficulty when he finds he can only film the series in Massachusetts.

3. Bored with the company of sheep and cattle, Joe-Bob Lloyd moves to Boston to seek a two-legged companion. But he's turned down by members of all genders because he talks like a hick and smells like a horse. Will a new reality show give him a chance at finding someone... anyone? Anyone at all?

4. The Bachelor meets Rawhide, as 20 women converge on cowboy Riley's ranch, each hoping he'll choose her as his wife in his own personal reality show.

5. Frank is humiliated when his fiancee tells her friends that it really is just a ten-gallon hat in his lap -- and there's not much underneath it. Desperate, he answers an email with the heading "Soopers1ze Yr Ween1e." Now, thanks to his fiancee's gossip, he's in demand all over town.

6. After the Civil War, the widows of Littleton and their younger sisters send a desperate message to Tombstone, Arizona. Two hundred eager ranch hands quickly arrive and their bad manners inspire the ladies to ask -- who wants to marry a cowboy? But is there a better alternative?

Original Version

Dear agent-type person:

I have completed a contemporary romance novel, currently titled Who Wants to Marry a Cowboy? The novel is approximately 89,000 words long. I read your web site information and feel that your company would be the best to represent me.

What would you do if your life started to resemble a reality TV show? Ainsley Fairfax is finding out. She’s one of many women invited to spend time at the Crescent Ridge Ranch in Little Falls, Wyoming, to meet cowboy Riley Pommer. She doesn’t want to leave her life in Charleston, South Carolina - she has her floral shop to run - but she is being blackmailed by her mother. Sophia Fairfax wants Ainsley to marry hand-picked Edward Anders, an overbearing but thoughtful in his own thoughtless way accountant. According to Sophia, if Ainsley doesn’t go and see what dregs of society will be left for her if she doesn’t marry Edward, Ainsley’s beloved Gramps will be sent to a home for the elderly against his will. [This is sounding like Theater of the Absurd. When I'm having trouble making sense of something, I like to convert it into dialogue. Sometimes it adds clarity. Does this conversation sum up what we've learned so far?

Sophia: Ainsley, I want you to travel from South Carolina to Wyoming to meet cowboy Riley Pommer, a member of the dregs of society who's looking for a wife.

Ainsley: What? Where? Who? Why?

Sophia: He's choosing his wife from a bunch of women. Like on The Bachelor.

Ainsley: You want me to marry a cowboy?

Sophia: I want you to marry Edward. I figure once you've seen this idiot, even Edward will look good to you.

Ainsley: I don't need to go to Wyoming to meet an undesirable man. South Carolina's full of them.

Sophia: Either you go to Wyoming, or I put your grandfather in a home.]

Riley Pommer is finding out, too. [I have to go back to the beginning of the last paragraph to find out what you're talking about. That's too far.] His family thinks he needs a wife, and he’s had time to see the women who live near him. So, they branch out and bring to their ranch 20 women from around the country. [20 random women? How many women did they have to invite to get 20 to show up for this?] The Pommers have had a bad couple of years emotionally. Divorce, infidelity, and alcoholism have defined them, and Riley hopes that his agreeing to the wife gathering quest will change the mood around on the Cresent Ridge Ranch. [Nothing reverses a dysfunctional family's descent into despair like the arrival of 20 hard-up women fighting for one guy. I call the women hard-up because they apparently found the following invitation intriguing:

You are cordially invited to attend a gathering of women from among whom cowboy Riley Pommer will choose his wife. Be at the Crescent Ridge Ranch in Little Falls, Wyoming, Tuesday, March 12th. Ranch casual. Good luck! BYOB.]

Ainsley and Riley meet over fruit salad [No Wyoming cowboy eats fruit salad. Well, except the kind who would have invited 20 men to this party.] and discuss the habits of women trying to impress a man. Their affection grows over a lost calf, minced onions, [He falls in love with her because he thinks she's crying over a lost calf. Turns out she was mincing onions, and didn't even know the calf was missing.] and a mechanical bull. [Nothing kindles romance in the heart of a genteel Charleston lady like a session on a mechanical bull.] But when the other would-be wives realize something might be going on between the florist and the cowboy, [Where were they during the calf, onions and bull episodes? How did Ainsley get so much time alone with Riley?] they become cruel and organized. [A deadly combination. The Marquis de Sade was a pussycat until he developed his keen organizational skills.] The Bitch Crew wins, sending Ainsley back to Charleston [She doesn't even survive the first rose ceremony?] and Riley asking another woman to stay on the ranch. [Just to be sure I've got this straight, being asked to stay on the ranch is "winning"?]

When they meet again at a wedding a few weeks later, [The South Carolina florist is a friend of the bride and the Wyoming cowboy is a friend of the groom. What a coincidence.] Riley realizes the mistakes he made and sets out to win Ainsley back. He goes to her room hoping to make up, and though she at first is joyful that they can start over again, she soon realizes it took the words of other people for Riley to trust her again. [What other people? You said he realized his mistake when he met her at the wedding.] This is unacceptable to her, and she throws Riley out of her room.

Undeterred, Riley follows her back to Charleston where he enlists the helps of Gramps and her employee in proving his love. His persistence makes her realize that [he's an insane stalker, and she'll never get rid of him unless she tells her mother she's gonna marry him, and her mother freaks out and kills him.] it didn’t matter how he came to the conclusion that she was exactly who she said she was, [Pretty vague. Who did he think she was?] as long as he got there. He invites her back to Little Falls, and she demurs, worrying about Gramps and her shop.

One night alone after Riley leaves is enough to convince her she wants to be with him. Gramps gives her the encouragement she needs to settle her shop and head back to Wyoming. Once back at the ranch, she tries finding Riley, but first manages to get hot, dusty, dirty knees, [I'm thinking we don't need to know that her knees are hot, dusty and dirty in the query, even if it's a crucial plot point in the book.] and fly[a]way hair. Riley finds her that way, and doesn’t care what she looks like. He just cares that she’s there. [It would be funnier if he went through all this and then dumped her because her knees were dusty.]

If there is any more information you require, I will be happy to provide it.

I work as a technical writer and spend my evenings writing for my pleasure. I have a monthly article appearing in Gainesville Parenting magazine and will soon appear in the Gainesville Writers’ Group anthology, Killing Mr. Smith. I am also a member of the Florida Writers’ Association and I am looking into membership of the Romance Writers of America. [I recommend joining. It'll sound more impressive than saying you're looking into it.]

Thank you for your time and attention. I look forward to hearing from you at your earliest convenience.


It's too long. Your plot is the classic Cowboy meets girl, cowboy loses girl, cowboy gets girl. We don't need to know everything else--except possibly what girl sees in cowboy.

We do need to know how Ainsley happened to be one of the women invited. Also, I'd be more willing to buy her wanting to go to Wyoming to get away from her mother and Edward, than going because of this nonsensical blackmail scheme by her mother. It sounds like you couldn't think of any possible reason Ainsley would go, so you went with a totally lame one.

Plenty of romances have preposterous plots and still work, but 20 women agreeing to go to Wyoming for any reason is beyond belief. That they would all come in hopes of marrying one guy they've never met is insanity. I mean, if Evil Editor invited all of his hundreds of minions to his home for a Bachelor-type production, do you honestly think a single one of them would show?


Anonymous said...

Well yeah, that got some high scores on the convoluted and unbelievable scales. Very funny comments, EE. Is Romance always like this? I think American women have pretty much moved past the mom-chooses-our-destiny era so your heroine needs to get a lot more self direction, ditch the mom-grandpa baggage, and quit whining about silly stuff like the wind mussing her hair, for god's sake. Nobody in Wyoming would even notice that. They'll more likely think she's freaky for stiffing it up with hair goo.

Whether a cowboy can attract 20 women depends on his situation. If he's got a thriving multi-million dollar spread with a fabulous main house in Jackson Hole, he could attract 200 spunky bachelorettes in a minute with an ad in the Jackson Times. Though none would be as lame as this chick. Or, if he's a mere hired hand out in the flat eastern part of the state with just a few tumbledown shacks and scrawny cows on thousands of overgrazed acres and no water rights, he'd be hard pressed to attract flies -- so this florist might look pretty good.

shaded-lily said...

I mean, if Evil Editor invited all of his hundreds of minions to his home for a Bachelor-type production, do you honestly think a single one of them would show?

What, EE, you're not getting enough abject sycophancy from us? You have to go fishing for compliments?

Brenda said...

Oh hell yeah, I'd be there in a heartbeat. If ELEMENTS OF STYLE is our ticket in, I have two copies, so I'm golden.

This query reads more like a synposis to me. I can't add anything that EE didn't hit on, but yeah, the reason for her going out there - I'm not buying it. And would a television network be involved with the setup? I'm thinking the only way 20 chicks would go out there to marry a stranger is if they think they can get famous on tv along the way. That's my theory for shows like The Bachelor anyway, which I never watch (I HATE reality TV - give me House instead.)

If you're thinking about joining RWA, JOIN. The benefits are priceless (imo) and join a local chapter as well.

Anonymous said...

Jesus F'ing Christ. It would take me years to come up with a plot as convuluted as this. I don't think I'm smart enough to. I have no idea why any of these characters would do ANY of these things, except to move the plot along.

Stacia said...

I'm sorry, author, but I'm not buying this premise at all. Even if onle one of them were being forced into this by their families, I wouldn't really buy it. Especially his motives--his family's been depressed, so he hopes committing himself to a stranger for the rest of his life will cheer them up?

You haven't really outlined your emotional conflict either. I gather there's something about her being upset he bases his opinion of her on someone else? So why does that upset her so much? Don't most strangers take the opinions of others into account at first, at least to some degree? I ask because the query makes it sound like she's sent home after sharing a couple of cute moments with him and not much else.

Focus on the set-up and the conflict. That's all.

Anonymous said...

Leg-waxing and tequila party at EE's house! Whoo-hoo! Any manuscript looks brilliant after three shots.

As for the query, I'll just agree that the plot sounds contrived and unbelievable. Work on your character's motivations; if it all makes sense in the manuscript, then you just need to get that across in the query better.

The query also sounds a bit too much like a synopsis. You need to encapsulate the main conflicts of your book using fewer words. Checking out Miss Snark's last Crapometer contest might help you learn how to do that.

There is a bit of clunky wording in your query also. For example, the first paragraph could be condensed to a single sentence, such as: "Based on your agency's website, I believe my completed 89,000 word contemporary romance would be of interest to you." (Remember that they get the opportunity to reject you first, so it might be better to phrase things such that you imply that you are right for them, rather than them being right for you.)

Anonymous said...

I mean, if Evil Editor invited all of his hundreds of minions to his home ...

I can see the invitation:

EE invites you to his home for a 1001 nights type production.

P.S. The winner will see EE's face (and who knows what else). Unfortunately, since she will then know EE's identity, EE will be forced to kill her in the morning.

I can see why EE would wonder if there would be any takers ...

OTOH, the author is welcome to use this idea as the start for her next book. :-)

Brenda said...

whitemouse: are those body shots?

(please say yes... please say yes...)

Anonymous said...

"When they meet again at a wedding a few weeks later"

Wow, the cliche 'small world' doesn't do this one justice.

Anonymous said...

I think the reason for all the absurd plotting is to get her into the wife contest without her consent.
Cos she's not that kinda girl.
Probably something marginally less silly would be better.

Stacia said...

Oh, yeah, and EE--I'm terrified of flying, but I would get on a plane to come to that party.

Brenda said...

December: Some things are too hard to resist, huh?

Marissa Doyle said...

Hey--we'd get to see if EE's toes really are marshmallow flavored!

Anonymous said...

I've written a new book idea down because of this discussion. From the guy's point of view. It goes something like this...

Artist Tom "The Tomcat" McCauley just wanted to live in peace. He wanted to give up producing six-figure fine art on commission and illustrate children's books. But his agent--concerned that she'd be losing out on five-digit commissions--was of another opinion. Using a fine-print codicil in their contract, she arranges a publicity stunt: Tom's very own version of The Bachelor, set at his ranch in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Soon, bikini clad wife wannabes are stalking Tom as he tries to settle into ranch living; paparazzi are buzzing his acreage in helicopters; and the local sheriff's department is fed up with his calls for help, threatening him with jail for disturbing the peace. Worst of all, Tom's overhyped playboy reputation puts him in dutch with the one woman who interests him at all: children's book author, Sheila Downey, whose allergies to dust, pollen, horses and men with libidinous nicknames like Tomcat make her even more unapproachable. What's a rich and popular guy to do?

And I'm not signing my name so you don't know where to throw the tomatoes.

writtenwyrdd said...

The boggles picturing the party theme, monster-flavored seraglio with leg waxing or drunken bash at the frat house?

Evil Editor said...

And I'm not signing my name so you don't know where to throw the tomatoes.

Tomatoes? They just want your name so they know whom to acknowledge when they write the book.

Anonymous said...

But EE, I don't want to write the book. Unless you think it would sell, lol.

Anonymous said...

OK, author, I think you suffer from the Curse of the Technical Writing Day Job. I know this, because I too have been a technical writer. Somehow, I think the fact we spend all day figuring out convoluted products/systems/services and trying to boil them down into simple fact sheets/how-to guides/web copy makes us want to create super convoluted plots. I know that that has certainly happened to me.

But... years ago in tech writing school we had this acronym drilled into us: K.I.S.S.

Which means: Keep It Simple, Stupid.

(I know, I know--the "Stupid" part is mean, but I didn't make up the acronym. Just saying.)

And I think you can simplify your plot by applying this acronym... such as... make the gathering a reality TV show! A twist on the current Bachelor/Bachelorette craze. That's actually plausible. (Which might be a comment on the deterioration of our society, but anyway...)

Then, have your cowboy and cowgirl ACTUALLY fall in love. So now you have something fun, and funny, that could also be a subtle comment on current culture. (But no preaching! No one likes preaching! That's like too many WARNINGS in tech manuals! Puts people off!)

I also agree, though, that your heroine's motivation needs to be more than ditching her mom/grandpa baggage. What if winning means $$ to help poor old grandpa? Or she has some other less cliched reason to want the $$$? What if she actually DOES win this competition... but the twist is, she actually truly falls in love with one of the hired hands and him with her.

Oh, and please don't lump the other women together as the bitch brigade or whatever you called it. That's also kinda cliche and also demeaning to women.

Saipan Writer said...

I liked the title. I liked GTP's 2, 3 & 4. And wow, the story is #4.

There's a germ of an idea here that could be funny and fun.

But as EE and others have pointed out, what you've got so far isn't working. I'd say start over, join RWA, and don't give up. This could be done right and be successful.

Anon at 4:53--love the story. Who will be writing it? If not you and you have no takers, I'd give it a shot. (My brother is a hunky guy who rides horses--been married 3 times and has women throwing themselves at him. And I've dabbled in law for a few hundred years, so I could easily do the codicil part! Hmmm. This is starting to seem possible. Oh no, no, no--I've got other projects... Hmmm. A vacation and venture into romance? Hmmm...)

Anonymous said...

As EE and the minions have pointed out, author, you have one or two plot holes that need a bit of filling. I think you have the germ of a good idea here, you just need to sit down and think of some more plausible explanations for H/h's predicaments. Oh, and in some romance there is a VERY fine line between plausible and too contrived!

Maybe her floral shop is failing because her flower source got flooded in a hurricane or typhoon. And his family has the dough to set up a contest where the winner not only gets the cowboy, but a couple hundred thousand dollars to boot. Something where she really needs the money so isn't doing it just to meet a hubby, and her agenda, at first, is to collect the money, bank it, and get an annulment ASAP. But one look at him and that agenda gets rewritten real quick. (Just, no, don't make it a reality show for TV -- way too many books and queries floating around with that theme now. Unless it's something NO ONE has yet thought of, the market's too saturated right now.)

Then remember to keep her from doing too many crazy things for love. Romance readers can forgive the occasional lapse (and the occasional lapse can be quite endearing), but they also want a fairly savvy heroine. Ditching the flower store and going to Wyoming when she isn't darn sure he's not going to run just because she's mussed herself is not smart. But she CAN leave her employee in charge for a couple of weeks while she goes out there on a trial basis.

Just keep it light and keep it real.

And it could be fun for you to buddy up with some other RWA members and do some critique work. The help you can offer them and they can offer you may well be worth the $100 in dues...

writtenwyrdd said...

Okay, I confess, I'm anon 4:53 and saipan writer... I don't plan on writing this thing I was being funny. I don't write romance. You write it with my blessing. Or anyone else, for that matter. I do sf and fantasy.

Dave Fragments said...

This calls for a sing-a-long:

Mamma's don't let your babies grow up to be cowboys.
Don't let 'em pick guitars and drive them old trucks.
Make 'em be doctors and lawyers and such.
Mamma's don't let your babies grow up to be cowboys.
'Cause they'll never stay home, and they're always alone,
Even with someone they love.

That's just a little Waylon singing Willie Nelson to sleep.

shaded-lily said...

[fiddle and yodels]
I want to be a cowboy's sweetheart
I want to learn to rope and to ride
I want to ride on the plains and the desert
Out west of the Great Divide
I want to hear the coyotes howling
As the sun sinks in the west
I want to be a cowboy's sweetheart
That's the life that I love best.
[more yodels] etc.
--Patsy Montana (1935)

Brenda said...

I think people started on the shots before we got the invite to EE's.

Saipan Writer said...

Pass the firewater.

And where are those invites?

shaded-lily said...

If I got an invite, I wouldn't go. I couldn't go. I am not worthy to enter into His presence. I am not worthy to place my foot upon His threshold. Verily I say unto you, I am not worthy to shovel the snow off His sidewalk; nay, nor even to scoop the poop of His dog.

Evil Editor said...

You may shovel my snow.

Anonymous said...

Sod the cowboy songs; I think we need to hear from the cowgirls.

(*cues drum machine*)

Such a beautiful day, such a beautiful day
I think I'll wear my brand new negligee
Or I might change my mind
It happens all the time
Just speak to my ex-fiance

I'm gonna hunt the hunter
Gonna serve him well-done
Know where to hide, know where to run
Up goes the moon, down comes the sun
Cook my dinner while I shine my gun


Pack my bags and mount my horse
I'm gonna ride on into the next town
Spend all my money on absolutely nothing
Don't need no man to pay for anything

Ain't got no shame, nobody knows my name
I'm gonna ride on into the next town
There's goes Bill!
Couldn't hang for long
A female living with a song

~Imani Copola; Legend of a Cowgirl

GutterBall said...

Nothing reverses a dysfunctional family's descent into despair like the arrival of 20 hard-up women fighting for one guy.

Sure worked in my family. Of course, everything went back to dysfunctional when my brother got hitched.

And would that BYOB mean "bring your own boots"? Or "bring your own bedroll"?

Oh, oh! I got it! Bring your own bull!

I kinda get what you're insinuating with Mom's threat to Gramps, but you could probably put it a lot more succinctly if it's actually central to the plot and a real threat for Ainsley. Maybe just pare your opening paragraph to something like this:

Ainsley Fairfax's mother just gave her an unbearable ultimatum: either Ainsley goes to Wyoming to compete in some reality TV-like "catch a cowboy" game, or say goodbye to her beloved Gramps. Not that Mom actually wants Ainsley to marry a cowboy; on the contrary, Mom's all for Edward, a respectable accountant. Unfortunately, even Ainsley knows that nothing short of putting the grandfather she sees as a father would induce her to such a fate.

Stupid, I know, but you see how much of your query can be condensed if you find the right sequence. Right now, it seems like you have to keep going back and picking up threads, which makes this more a multi-page synopsis (which you'll probably still need for when the agent/editor requests pages) instead of a query. Does that help?

Dave Fragments said...

If you really want to read eye-popping cowboy songs, go look up
The Whorehouse Bells were Ringing
in the library. Or a Powells or Amazon.

Anonymous said...

I'm sure Gramps is a loveable, eccentric ol' curmudgeon. It's really hard to write one of them well; usually they're cringe-worthy.


Anonymous said...

I'm not sure how I missed this last night, but what a monster Mom is. She'll put her own father in a home because her daughter refuses to get married immediately to a man she doesn't love? Why the heck isn't the heroine in court battling to get power of attorney for her grandpa, and shutting that evil woman out of her life?

writtenwyrdd said...

What if Grampa is actually the father's dad? That's not an unheard of scenario: Mom can't stand the father in law, but she's stuck with him after the husband dies because there's no one else to take care of him. Gramps is close to the granddaughter, and thus a bargaining chip is born.

I have to say, after rereading the letter and the comments again, Author, I think if you made the motivations clear and believable, most of the plot elements could work. Try asking yourself for each of them, Would I like this person who does this thing? Would I want her for my friend? You can distance yourself from what you wrote and put yourself into a reader's response a little better with such questions. Good luck on it, though.

I think the party at EE's house is definitely cowboy attire only. Can I get away with Doc Martin's though? Or my felt lined Sorel's?

shaded-lily said...

I think the party at EE's house is definitely cowboy attire only.

Leather chaps. And nothing else.

....The horror! The horror!

Brenda said...

WHAT?! No bull whips? No spurs?!

Save a horse...

Anonymous said...

Okay, so there's 2 reasons huge masses of women will go to Wyoming.

1. Big Money;

2. EE's marshmallow socks.

writtenwyrdd said...

Brenda, bull whips and spurs are accessories! LOL!

Brenda said...

Ohhhhhhhhhh I see! Thanks for the clarication, writtenwrydd! Whew. What a huge relief. I'm not sure I could have attended without knowing those two things were acceptable. I have a reputation to uphold, after all.

Anonymous said...