by Chris Miller
Professional writers, those who get paid to write, are like prostitutes: some are better at it than others; but overall, really no better than a lot who do it for free, no better than many talented amateurs who do it for love—often quite a bit worse. It’s just that the pro is a lot less discriminating.
Suppose Harlequin wants a romance featuring female protagonist, Joan, an aloof, blonde-haired blue-eyed, full-lipped, pert-figured, 103 pound undercover officer with a Master’s degree in sociology living in Chicago’s Marina Towers with her Himalayan cat, Slinky.
Her leading man, Dan, is a fabulously successful commodities trader from Northbrook with piercing green eyes, a full head of curly auburn locks, chiseled features, an Audi A8, a pit bull named Chomp, and whose erstwhile prowess as a wide receiver for Michigan State has Greenbay talent scouts ever on his taut tush.
Of course Dan has a girlfriend. But it’s not working out. She only wants him for his boyish good looks, boff physique and hefty disposable income. She doesn’t appreciate his deep sensitivity and intelligence, his engaging sense of humor, or that beneath his veneer of bountiful and well-deserved happiness cowers a frightened and lonely little boy. She is just a gold-digging nympho.
Lots of men hit on Joan: drug dealers, loan sharks, cops, lawyers… pretty much every guy she meets (except for the gay couple inhabiting the apartment above hers who serve as non-threatening male friends and also as comic relief). But she has no use for any of her many suitors. They are only interested in her because of her perfect body, face and personality, and because she poses a challenge. They cannot see the creamy nougat inside her crunchy candy-shellac coating; that beneath her misanthropic and self-sufficient shell is a sentimental little girl just crying out for love.
As luck would have it, Dan manages to save Joan’s life fairly early on. Nothing personal. He sees her being chased by a crack-dealing thug pursuant to a drug deal gone awry, and clotheslines the dude. No big deal. Even though there is an undeniable spark of non-superficial attraction, she cannot transcend her career-induced feelings that all men are slime, and he, even though the wheels are coming off his relationship with his girlfriend, cannot be unfaithful. Besides, Joan strikes Dan as a kind of stuck-up bitch, treats him like she was doing him a favor, letting him save her life and all.
Naturally the thug’s lawyer sues, and the resultant civil trial threatens to strip Joan of her career and Dan of all his worldly possessions. Unwilling to bargain or compromise in what they know is right, and against their own best legal advice, they stand before the courts, co-defendants with a common plaintiff enemy, ready to lose everything. Meanwhile they do lunch; then dinner.
Now if you are a writer you probably already have some idea of where this is headed.
Dan, distraught after having discovered that his girlfriend’s been screwing around on him, has sex with Joan, whose defenses have been compromised by too much Dom Perignon, in a late-night strategy workup. He gently squeezes her firm full breast while she moans with unexpected pleasure.
You, as author, are now given some leeway in describing the ensuing sex scene before the post-coital pillow-talk scene before the morning after when she gets up and makes him coffee in his own kitchen, foreshadowing her domestication. As long as you focus on the emotional and don’t describe or specify any organs or orifices below the belt and don’t allocate more than a few sentences to it, you can write the sex up pretty much any way you like. You are, after all, the artist. That is what you are trained to do.
In case you are not a writer or have never read a romance novel: they have a falling out.
Believing they are about to lose, Dan leverages his entire fortune into a foolhardy long play on soybeans. Then he tries to plead sole culpability in their legal matter, to take the fall for both of them. But opposing counsel learns that he might be losing all his money and declines. And Joan, although she doesn’t care about his pending poverty, is hurt that he has tried to carry their cross on his own after all their nice lunches and dinners, and sex.
They stop seeing each other. Dan sits around his mansion and mopes while newspapers pile up outside his door. Joan takes crazy chances in the field. Her upstairs gay friends, sensing her emptiness and loss and newfound self-destructive bent, try to talk sense into her. As a result of their wise and sensitive coaching and also a near death encounter in an ecstasy lab, Joan comes to see that Dan is suffering too and that he was only acting in her best interests. In another even less erotic sex scene they profess their undying love for each other. They no longer care about material or professional things. They have each other.
Nonetheless and happily anyway, they win their case. In fact, they don’t just win—they triumph. The judge, who reminds her of her wise bespectacled father who died when she was very young, and who sees them as the son and daughter he never had, rains down shit upon the plaintiff, jailing him for contempt and perjury, and his sleazeball lawyer for counseling him. Dan asks Joan to marry him during a Cubs game at Wrigley field. Because there is no Jumbotron, he hangs a banner off the Goodyear blimp with his question on it. He can afford it. A drought has sent soybeans through the roof. She says yes.
I am a bigger whore than I have let on. I once wrote the manuals for a legal software system in which the word Statue had been consistently used in place of Statute. So maybe I’ll take the above job. It might be fun.