Pub Rants

Now This Is A Novel I Would Want To See

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STATUS: Sara and I might have set a record for how many full manuscripts we’ve requested within a three-week period. 12 to be exact. But seriously, we’ve seen some great queries, solid sample pages, and are reading lots of fulls. We are looking to take on new clients. But what I want to see is something really new, fresh, and original in terms of the story and supported by top-notch writing.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? JEALOUSY by Natalie Merchant.

I hear that writers are often asked about where they get their good story ideas—like there is a factory somewhere that generates them. I don’t know what works for writers but I do know what works me as an agent because it happened last night while I was reading the latest issue of Newsweek.

I read this quote and couldn’t help but think, dang, that would make a brilliant novel concept. That would be a novel I would LOVE to get my hands on sample pages right now. Why didn’t some enterprising young Latina or African American writer not think of this before?

Today, I’m going to give a free book idea for a novel I would love to see and read.

In Newsweek, Jennifer Bayer of Pereira, Colombia, was quoted saying “Violence is not sexy,” on a movement where girlfriends and wives of gang members refuse to have sex until their significant others cease all violence.

Bingo! What a brilliant novel concept–a modern retelling of the classic Greek play Lysistrada from a contemporary Latina or AA perspective. Aristophanes wrote this production in 411 BC and yet it’s still a timeless theme. Maybe this book already exists and I’m simply unaware of it but if not…

Good story concepts? They are everywhere.

40 Responses

  1. Anonymous said:

    Just for the record, a young “enterprising” Caucasian or Asian could write this novel as well. There are gangs of Caucasian young men where I live, as well as Yakuza(Japanese mob). So, it fits with all sorts of people.

  2. The Queen-a Athena said:

    Showing my age here, but I remember one of my favorite TV shows from childhood – Here Come the Brides – which also used this story. The setting was Seattle,in 1870. It worked very well then, too.

  3. Agent Kristin said:


    You are so right. Asian would be a cool perspective as well. Caucasian, sure, but that’s what is expected. I love the idea of what a multi-culture perspective can add. It’s yet another layer of something new or fresh.

  4. Kimber An said:

    Hmm, I don’t like it.
    1) Denied the wild thing, violent men become more violent. Not less. This is why male prisoners get conjucal visits from wives and girlfriends, and why sailors go nuts when them come into port.

    2) I can’t get enthusiastic about heroines who would be with violent men in the first place.

    I think it might be a good starting point, but when the women concerned realize Fact #1 they would have to progress or the story would die. Being science fiction, myself, I could see it taking the following directions:

    1) They kill off all the males over age 4 and raise the males under four to be subservient to women. Sure, they could raise them to be decent, but it’s more likely they would be bitter towards the male of the species after what they’ve been through. In fact, they might even go totally Amazon and only keep males around for breeding purposes or bank their sperm.
    2) They eliminate most of the male population, then surgically or genetically alter the rest to be non-violent and/or subservient. This is the backstory of a species encountered by the protagonists in one of my stories.

    This plot has actually been done several, if not many times, in science fiction with several variations. As Ms. Nelson mentioned, the original story is found in mythology. A lot of science fiction and fantasy are inspired by myth. Great stories don’t die. They simply get recycled.

  5. Hailey-C said:

    Lysistrata, “Classic comedy (5th century BC) concerns the vow of Greek women to withhold sex from their husbands until the men agree to end the disastrous wars between Athens and Sparta. Exuberant battle of the sexes with underlying anti-war theme.”

    I knew this was familiar. A friend of mine had a screenplay option that adapted this story to South Central LA, where gangsters’ girlfriends withheld sex to stop gang violence. Unfortunately, it was never produced .

    I agree, great story

  6. Anonymous said:

    Ms. Nelson,

    I sent you a requested partial that had a very similar theme last November albeit not with gang members. I’m currently reworking it but maybe not fast enough now…


  7. Anonymous said:

    I read that you represent sci-fi/fantasy. Does that include urban fantasy as well? I wrote a dark urban fantasy with an African theme, but after editing and re-writing, it came in at only roughly 62,000 words. My published writer friend said that it’s short, but query agents anyway, since it is the 1st book in a series. What do you think? You are a great agent, and I’ll take your advice.
    2nd Anon

  8. Kimber An said:

    Thanks, Lexie. Kristin’s idea is a starting point, like I said, but there’s got to be a whole lot more to make it a novel. The nice thing about science fiction (and I hear fantasy is similar) is I can take a plot like this off planet Earth. By giving the characters spots and feathers, instead of dark skin or blond hair, I can comment on racism, sexism, and genocide without limiting my readership to one human ethnic group, and without pointing a finger because there are no ethnic groups completely innocent of such things. If a writer wants to develop this into a novel, she has to ask herself ‘what if?’ And then she has to flesh it out from there. No, I’m not trying to pitch my own story here. It’s no where near ready for that and it’s not a stand-alone, and I’m too busy with SCD. But, best wishes to anyone who is! World- and alien-building can be such fun.

  9. BJ Nemeth said:

    Withholding sex just doesn’t sound like enough of a story to me. What about wives/girlfriends of gang members/mafia forming their own plan to set things right?

    Perhaps the women discover a larger plot that their men are going to put into motion, and rather than simply inform the authorities, they decide to handle things themselves?

    (Perhaps the women have accepted a certain “level” of lawbreaking, but decide that the men’s current plan goes too far.)

    I would love to see the complicated twists and turns in a plot like this, and it would require some very strong female characters. It might also lead to some very interesting character analysis as the women break the law to preserve the law, and some of the women might have a crisis of conscience as they’re becoming just as bad as the men.

    Avoid making the men look like cartoon villains with a dumb, easy-to-foil idea. The stronger the men are, the stronger the women will have to be to outwit them. (The general rule that your protagonist can only be as strong as the antagonist.)

    I’m a man, but I’d be interested in reading a story about women like this.

  10. Dakota Knight said:

    It’s interesting that you would equate a Columbian quote and gangs with a “great story” for African Americans and Latinos.

    Basically what you’re talking about is Urban Lit, and there’s plenty of it out there…some good and some bad. There most well-known urban lit authors out there now are Nikki Turner, Noire, Vickie Stringer, and K’wan, among others. There’s also a strong backlash against this form of literature in the black community, despite the success of the genre. So, to be honest with you, I don’t know how well that storyline would go over with the readership that kind of book would be targeted to.

  11. Anonymous said:

    I’m sure it’s a whole new can of worms- and not to sound overly sensitive- but I took that minority-having-the-edge thing/caucasian-being-expected thing personally.

    While it’s important to continue to recognize and incorporate all voices in contemporary literature, remarks like this make me wonder why the publishing industry feels the need to jump on a trend and sell it till it has died twice. I would think any writer, no matter what race or ethnicity, familiar with and inspired by Aristophanes would have the same starting advantage translating the plot into a modern-day comedy. If you pigeonhole the plot AND writer right off the bat (“A retelling of an acient comedy by an important black-latino-asian [and Asian? There are so many types of ‘Asian’!] writer” etc.), you’re not only doing the trend till it had died twice, you’re really limiting your audience, in the end.

    I guess I’m just thinking about all this because I was recently trying to figure out how to work a radical Muslim fundamentalist into my next novel- just to give the story more weight with my agent or editor? I have no idea. Whatever my motivation, it wasn’t very genuine. Luckily, I struck down the idea before I started making out a character map. It’s one thing for “Nip/Tuck” to tackle Scientology- quite another for an uknown novelist to stick in characters arbitrarily.


    Obviously, this post is not to knock Agent Kristin’s sensitivity to racial or ethnic matters. It’s her job to know what’s hot right now and where to sell it- and she moves fast when she spots a trend. It’s just kinda unfortunate for all those “hip, dark, sexy, minority-urban” writers because unless someone figures out how to re-package them, their days are numbered. 🙁

  12. Anonymous said:

    Somehow I cringe at the suggestion that Kristin’s “ethnic edge” remark has something to do with limiting the audience. As a black writer it’s just natural for me to write so-alled “ethnic” fiction, but I’ve often observed a kind of backlash these days, along the lines of anon 12:47’s “I would think any writer, no matter what race or ethnicity, familiar with and inspired by Aristophanes would have the same starting advantage…”
    It’s just not so. Every single one of my books was written with the knowledge that, as the books were supposedly mainstream and not for a niche ethnic readership, I had to make at least one leading character Caucasian – so that the Caucasian readership would identify etc. My editor insisted; no kidding. I do indeed welcome the day when Caucasians are as willing to read “ethnic” novels as we are to read books where the characters are by default white. If it takes a hot new trend to create such true equality, then I’m all for it. As it is, such books are at present rare and thus different, and that’s what gives them an edge. I don’t understand why anyone should find that offensive

  13. Patrick McNamara said:

    When I read the idea I was intantly reminded of the Suffragette movement. This is how women got the vote, or at lest how the legend goes.

    One of the problems with Urban gangs in North America is that many of them are teen gangs, so the premise wouldn’t work. It could be a biker gang, but a beared, overweight guy isn’t the best subject for romance. And you are dealing with a rough crowd, so the violence could just as easily be turned towards the women. Another option would be organized crime, but that already has been somewhat overdone.

    Of course there’s already been one famous classic story with gangs used to modernize the story: West Side Story, the adaptation of Romeo and Juliet.

  14. Anonymous said:

    To Anon 5:51-

    I completely agree that writers should be able to write in their own voices, through characters whose experiences are most relevant/familiar to them. Having to stick a caucasian in at your editor’s insistence is as much of a stretch as a caucasian wondering if they should include a conflicted Muslim fundamentalist- both moves would be, in the end, to make the story sell-worthy to readers who probably wouldn’t have bought it. (Obviously, you’re dealing with the added pressure of an editor, whereas I was merely wondering what my agent would think of this plot-ploy.)

    It really will be an important day when publishers can market a book enthusiastically without having to push the color of the writer as its main qualifier. The problem is that, in the meantime, we really are creating a “backlash” situation. The way to a mainstream readership is not to flog a trend till everyone’s sick of it. Unfortunately, the ethnic label seems less about multiculturalism- more about a desperate race against time (aka readers’ tolerance) to divide and conquer yet another niche audience.

    Agents, editors, reviewers, and readers whose hearts are in the right place will find the stories that transcend the crappy pigeonholing. In the meantime, it just kinda sucks for writers; in wanting to get and stay published, they are often willing to pigeonhole themselves.

  15. GutterBall said:

    …without pointing a finger because there are no ethnic groups completely innocent of such things.

    Well stated. This is often forgotten until you put it in a group of alien beings who all hate each other openly.

  16. Elektra said:

    This is one of the things I know I could never do. Firstly, because, as someone else says, I would hate any character who sticks with a violent person. But mostly because the voice would have to be very, very urban, and I know if I tried it would sound forced and wrong.

  17. Anonymous said:

    “They do? I sure as heck don’t! Any woman who does is shooting herself in the foot.”

    ANY woman? You can’t speak speak for us all, ma’am. We’re not all constantly hungry.

  18. Anonymous said:

    I don’t disagree with the concept.

    With your approach, it sounds like you have a future in pitching screenplays and hiring people to write them for you.
    Best to call and get your hair extensions, nip and tuck, and implants now.

  19. SC said:

    This is probably the Irish in me, but I would think this concept fits much better with freedom fighters/terrorists (pick one) – set in Northern Ireland, Palestine, or some sci-fi/fanatsy universe.

    This setting deals with a lot of the problems raised
    – why would a sympathetic character be with a violent man? It’s easy to fall for a revolutionary. This kind of violence is much more targeted and at least believed to be directed towards a worthy cause.
    – Strong male characters. There are a lot of thugs in the IRA and Unionist gangs, but there are also a lot of men who honestly believe in their cause, and regret the violence. Mmmmm conflicted, tortured soul… There’s an interesting character for you.
    – Violence being directed back at the women. Yes, can and would happen in some cases, but a lot of these guys aren’t actually violent by nature, and keep their terrorist activities very far apart from their family life.

  20. Anonymous said:

    Kristin, your blog is invaluable to writers and your kindness shines through every time your delicate fingers tap the keyboard. And I would never say anything to hurt your feelings, but…

    Speaking as a Hispanic writer, I am so sick and tired of being expected to write “ethinic” rice & beans, welfare checks, oppressed immigrant, America is so bad to me so I won’t screw my gang banger husband as my only way to make a stand crap! P L E A S E!

    It’s so not who we are–assuming that getting to know your neighborhood immigrant was even of interest in the first place. It’s contrived crap.

    We came to this country because some foreign, corrupt asshole screwed us over. And we’re blessed because kind strangers gave us an opportunity for a better life. The last thing we should allow is promotion of how some Hispanics have squandered that opportunity–that the only thing female Hispanics have to contribute to American society is not having sex with their gang banger husband!!! Arggg.

    Thanks for letting me rant. I meant no disrespect.

  21. Anonymous said:

    Anonymous #1 at 2:04 p.m. — you’re my hero! I think what you’re envisioning is called FICTION.

  22. Anonymous said:

    I’d be interested in reading a book about a planet so torn and de-populated by war that women seek sanctuary by barricading themselves….lets say the remains of NYC….and refuse to bear children until the men build a world fit to raise children in…then the plot line crosses cultural boundaries as the perpetuation of humanity is in the interest of everyone–and his mother. 🙂

  23. Kimber An said:

    Uh, yeah, but violent men don’t care about having children, to say nothing of taking care of them. They only want the wild thing and if their women won’t give it they will simply take it, and leave the resulting children to starve to death with their dying mothers. What? No one’s ever heard of formerly heterosexual men raping their cellmates in prison? I think it’s definitely a good idea to take this story into science fiction or fantasy because then you can dispense with human racism. But, the writer will have to have a thorough understanding of the male mind, the good and the bad.

  24. Anonymous said:

    I like the concept but not in the framework of gang culture. I’d like a good guy turned bad (and see WHY he turned bad), a guy we can care about, and have his strong, loving and ethical woman bring him back through, among other things, withdrawal of herself. I’d like to see him fight his demons to win her back.

  25. Anonymous said:

    Writing about gang life would not read authentic if you know nothing about it. I’m an AA writer and know close to nothing about gang life, nor do my friends. I’d guess most AA and Latina writers live a life far removed from gangs, and it wouldn’t occur to us to write this story.

  26. Ryan Field said:

    From an erotic point of view (though you’re all going to go crazy with this), the violent, rough, bad-boy image is part of the turn-on.

  27. Kanani said:

    Anonymous wrote: Speaking as a Hispanic writer, I am so sick and tired of being expected to write “ethinic” rice & beans, welfare checks, oppressed immigrant, …

    I agree. In my writing group, mine was the only protagnonist whose race was questioned. She isn’t asian, she isn’t pacific islander. Most likely, she’s irish-german. Her identity is based on the region and time of the setting. The people who questioned it? They were all white.

    But the expectations are there for almost every ethnic group. Asians and kitchen gods, asians doing well in school, sexually immature asians.

    Phew. Gimme a break. My family went to the first MacDonald’s. We drove Pontiacs. We loved Mickey Mouse. We ate soft tacos from the taco truck. We had Basque food on Sundays, Italian whenever we stopped in a local delicatessen. And we weren’t just asian, we were pacific islanders.

    So I wonder what to say to the agents who say ‘they’re into ethnic projects’ (not Kristin). I hope they mean that they’re into the entire spectrum of the human experience.

    I think there’s enough literary terrain out there so that there’s room for all of us, even if we choose to write out of our ethnic origin. A model? Kazuo Ishiguro who’s written as his novels from the POV of a white anglo saxon. No one questions his Japanese heritage. No one questions the authenticity of his characters.

    But the US? Sometimes it feels like we’re walking through a canyon of ethnic expectation.

    However, I’d say Kristin’s idea is an interesting one. More than likely it’s already a play. Better yet, make it an up to date opera. The tension, anguish, the political drive is all there. Make the setting, characters and cause strong enough and you’ll have a work that rings true with everyone, regardless of race.

  28. prnpbmp said:

    If I were to pitch this identical idea, which I won’t since I cannot write it, I can just hear the boo-hiss: “Lysistrata AGAIN? That is so not original. Can’t you send me something that hasn’t been done to death?”

  29. Anonymous said:

    @kristen an
    “Denied the wild thing, violent men become more violent. Not less.”

    let’s not pay too fast and loose with the stereotypes, shall we? some men are quite asexual, some women are quite the opposite… and violence is hardly an all-male or only-male trait.

  30. Anonymous said:

    oh, and also… female prisoners also get “conjucal [sic] visits”, so i don’t see how male prisoners getting conjugal visits is in any way proof of their violence. further, most of america’s incarcerated are in prison for NON-violent crimes… sheesh!