Written by A Guest Author February 15th, 2024

If At First You Don’t Succeed, Try A Little Less Sex

By Lisa Kusel

I wrote the first draft of “Love Lies Here,” my fourth novel, in a six-week burst of inspiration. My then-agent had just submitted my memoir about my family’s disastrous move to Bali to a slew of publishers and I needed something to distract me from that tortuous “now we wait and see if anyone buys it” time period that follows.

The book was loosely based on an adulterous scandal that riled the small town in northern California where I lived before I’d (stupidly) talked my husband into accepting a teaching job in Indonesia. The two couples at the heart of the affair were our close friends. We all had small children the same age, and we used to, before the secret relationship was discovered, meet up after work either at the local playground or at one of our three houses where we’d inevitably share elaborately-cooked meals long into the night.

For the sake of anonymity, I’ll refer to the foursome in question as Wilma and Fred, and Betty and Barney. Fred and Betty, it turned out, had been euphemistically seeing one another for over a year and when Fred mistakenly sent Wilma a sexy email meant for Betty’s eyes only, he got busted. Big time.

For a while there the drama hung, like orange smooty smog, over our clean peaceful valley in the mountains. But then, just when we thought all four individuals would go their separate ways, Wilma and Fred started couples counseling and decided to stay together. Soon after, Barney forgave Betty (even after he found her stash of hidden “toys” she’d never used with him), and moved back home.

When Betty and I got drunk together one night, she ended up sharing more than she probably intended, describing a few of the more salacious details about her trysts with Fred. She also let slip that the reason the affair started in the first place was because Fred confided in her that Wilma wasn’t into having sex, and he was the sort of man who couldn’t get enough of it. (If that’s not a heady invitation, I don’t know what is.)

Fast forward a few years to me sitting in front of my laptop not wanting to rewrite my WWII novel. Instead, I invented Kate Burke, a thirty-six-year-old suburban soccer mom in Vermont.  Despite an aversion to sex, Kate aspires to be an erotic romance writer. Her solution? Kate lets her husband Matt have affairs, then uses those affairs to write sexy bestsellers under a pseudonym. Their unconventional arrangement works great, that is until an intriguing young widow moves to their neighborhood.

I sent the completed manuscript to my agent who said, “What is this, Lisa? If it’s romance, it’s supposed to have a happy ending!” And, because I’d included lots of racy excerpts from the book Kate was writing in the novel, he felt it fell more in line with erotica, a genre his agency didn’t handle.

Since he was not the right person to peddle such a hybrid-like story, we amicably parted ways and I queried a friend’s agent who read the book in a day, signed me immediately, and stated, “This is going to sell for a million dollars.”

As if.

We received an offer from a new digital-only imprint, but after my agent pushed them to commit to a paperback and more money, they backed out.

Every other publisher she submitted the book to rejected it; most saying the erotica parts—while well-written and super steamy—made it hard to “position the book.” Many editors felt it “crossed too many genres.”

So, what did I do? I put it aside and started promoting RASH, the Bali memoir, but before I could get too far, I became the primary caretaker for my mother, who was slowly sliding into dementia. Then I got diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s B-cell lymphoma. (These are the sorts of distractions one would never wish on their worst enemies.)

After Mom died and I went into remission (knock wood), I re-read the book and thought, “This story is too good to leave idling on my hard drive. I’m going to rewrite it.”

I took out most of the graphic sex, gave it a happy ending, and retitled it “Goodlove.” I rom-commed the heck out of it. I began querying yet more agents and found Stacey Donaghy, a smart, fierce Canadian woman who fell in love with the manuscript. She told me it needed some editing but added, “I’ve been waiting my whole career for a book like this.” 

Brilliant agent that she was, she pushed me to do yet another intensive rewrite—basically she had me un-rom-com it and transform it back into the psycho-thriller I’d originally intended it to be. She also had me cull most of the remaining sex (okay, so maybe I did leave in some juicy tidbits—I couldn’t help myself).

We changed the title and sent it out into the world.

Within a few days, Blackstone Publishing made an offer.

“The Widow on Dwyer Court” will be published July 16, 2024.

As for the Flintstones and Rubbles, my real-life inspiration? One of the couples remains married, while the other eventually parted ways. Fortunately (or unfortunately), unlike my book, no one was murdered.

Bio: Lisa Kusel is the author of OTHER FISH IN THE SEA (stories), the novel HAT TRICK, and RASH, her Bali memoir. She lives with her family in Burlington, Vermont. Her debut thriller, THE WIDOW ON DWYER COURT, will be published in July, 2024.


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