Wednesday, July 29, 2009

33 Query Contest

Times like these bring out the bitter in all of us—at least that's the story Nora McLorn is telling herself. Being a bartender in a Hollywood hot spot has morphed her into the queen of snark.

But who wouldn't be a tad bit resentful about serving suds to a bunch of badly behaving B-list actors, wanna-be Jonas Brothers, unwashed tribal tattoo chicks, meaty-faced bartards who try to climb over the bar, and people who over pronounce while ordering Pina Coladas—the same ones, mind you, who say Grande Carmel Macchiato with an accent?

What is a girl to do besides turn territorial and sharpen her tongue?

The trouble isn't that Nora has an alter-ego whom she christens Bitter Bar Girl; or that her New Age-addicted boss wants to lay her off until she reads a bizarre self-help guide; or the fact that she's conjured the book's quirky author; or even that Bitter Bar Girl's scope extends beyond the bar to affect not just her relationships with her family, friends and those with potential boyfriend possibility. Okay, perhaps these are the real problems.

Honed in the UCLA Writer's Program, BITTER BAR GIRL is a 67,000 word novel inspired by my years as an LA bartender where I gleaned a razor sharp insight, a dull headache, and an enviable list of hangover cures. I would love to send you a quick shot or are you in the mood for a bender?

I should just ignore the guy waving his twenty, but he leans so far over the bar I’m afraid he’ll fall into the ice bin.

“Weiss Bock,” he orders by way of a greeting.

“Sorry,” I say, “all we have is what’s on the list.”

He squints at the carefully hand-printed menu board. “You don’t have Moretti,” he says.

“It must be Bug the Busy Bartender Day,” I counter.

He doesn’t take the hint. Instead he runs his fingers through his tell-tale center part.

“What about cream stout? Irish oatmeal? Imperial?”

“No, not and none.”

“Fine,” he whines. “Just give me something Belgian.”

My temples begin to pulsate as I contemplate my fate. I can hear the murmur of the unserved; feel their scathing looks pinging off my skull as the swarming crowd five deep forms en masse to stampede. Something inside me gives way. A fissure opens and Bitter Bar Girl, my alter ego gushes forth.

“Are your parents siblings or are you just a dickhead?” she asks.

“Uh, I…” he sputters.

“All we have is what you see listed. So either cowboy up or get the hell out.”

“Heineken,” he bleats. I oblige and then leave to let him stew in his barley.

Good thing the owner is out of town because lately Bitter Bar Girl has ripened into a connoisseur of the cutting remark and once she unleashes, it’s hard to rein her in.


  1. I thought your query was excellent. The beginning of the novel had exactly the same tone as the query, which I think is very important. Also, great opening sentence! I love the guy almost falling into the ice bin.

    Perhaps I'm biased, but my novel (post #48) is also Hollywood-based so I was curious to see how you handled your novel -- and the tone you took.

    I've noticed it's pretty darn hard, if not impossible, when writing about Lotusland NOT to take on a snarky, sarcastic, funny tone. That's what makes your novel so much fun!

  2. I loved the voice of the sample page. Easy to read, with more than enough snark to keep me coming back for another round.

    The query was less appealing. I get that her alter ego is taking over her life, but I'm not sure what it is she wants. Does she want to be snarky? Is this the direction she wants her life to go? How is this affecting her relationships outside of work? You've got a lot of scenery (the people who frequent the bar, her boss), but not enough meat. What's at stake for her if she doesn't let go of this alter ego?

    Your writing is great, but the query doesn't really tell me what the book is about. Consider me hooked but wanting more.

  3. The paragraph starting with "The trouble isn't..." is really long and rambling and almost lost me. In the end, the only thing I know about Nora's problems in life is that she starts off mild mannered and ends up Bitter Bar Girl with a sharp tongue, a sharp tongue that gets her in trouble? The conflict isn't clear, it's lost in that rambling sentence. But I suspect this might be Meg Cabot's Queen of Babble with a bit of an edge, so I'd read on.

    ...on to the pages...

    Hmmm. I don't think I'd read on based on the page. I find it a little odd that the alter ego is so much of an alter ego that she slips from first person POV to third, like she's a separate person. Also, I am finding it a bit hard to sympathize with this character.

  4. Hooked. I'd keep reading just to find out what made Nora so bitter.

  5. Hooked. I'd like to make a slight suggestion regarding your query - you might consider breaking up the two very long sentences because they ran long enough that I started to notice (it took me out of the reading). But the first page is great and I'd definitely request more.

  6. The query was well-written and gave a good sense of voice, but I have no idea what happens (or might happen) in the story. What's the conflict? Or is it just about a bitter bartender and her day-to-day, in which case I'm not terribly interested. I would suggest paring or cutting the second paragraph (I get it, she's snarky) and using the extra real estate to tell me a bit more about what she wants, what's standing in her way, and who her allies are.

    All that said, the writing made me want to read the excerpt. The excerpt is fun, but didn't answer any of the lingering questions I had that went unanswered in the query. I think if you revise the query to include some of this info, then I'm interested to read more of your MS. The writing is strong and the heroine's humor is fun (so long as it doesn't get too negative too much of the time and cross from fun/funny into a drag)....Good luck!

  7. I like this query – it’s witty and your character’s voice really stands out. That said, I am not sure I would choose to read the book because it sounds like the plot surrounds how her bitchyness affects her life, which doesn’t really interest me. I did read your first 250 words and they were well written, but they made me dislike your main character from the get go. I would keep reading, but she would have to show at least some redeeming characteristics in pretty short order or I’d put the book down. This is just my personal taste; I know there are lots of people who really like snark! Good luck!

  8. Not hooked. You've got the snarky voice down but I've no idea what the conflict is or what's at stake. Why do I want to read the rantings of a Bitter Bar Girl? And I'm confused about the line "she's conjured up the book's quirky author." No idea what that means.
    This could be great but I wouldn't read on because I have no inkling of a hook or plot.

  9. Hooked. Query loses its focus toward the end and doesn't present a single primary conflict, but the first 250 words leap off the page.

  10. I decided to act like some agents, who are very busy, and make a partial form letter and then personalize it. I’m in this contest because I have difficulties writing queries, so my simple critique has to be taken with a grain of salt. I’m not going to address grammar or style, because, usually the agents don’t and you know who you are. I know what I like and am not sure of, so . . . I'm hooked. Always wanted to see bitter get its due course. I read your 250 and loved it...except you use she said and first a pretend agent, I'd think, this is good, read on, wonder if i'd work with her, maybe ask her to come back after an edit. The very best of luck...bitter I'm not going to win this contest with the likes of you around.

  11. Ha! Love the query and still like the snippet (I think you were in the last SA contest).

  12. The tone of your letter matches the snippet nicely, though I find the end too cute. The 'conjured' bit needs to be made clear. The writing is interesting without being distracting esp. things like "the scathing looks pinging off my skull"

  13. I kept going back and forth. First I liked the query, then I really didn't like it. At first I liked the snippet, then I thought it was a little too much, like you were trying too hard.

    I wasn't quite hooked enough to read more, but I feel like this has potential

  14. The query lost me in its lengthy list of faceless characters in the second paragraph and then finished me off with a further list in the fourth one. I have no idea what's at stake in the story and neither the query nor the partial offers any insight. I get the impression the book is a collection of smart-mouthed comments by a bartender with a split personality and that's not enough to hook me. Sorry.

  15. A quick P.S. - I meant to add that I'd remove all of the query's last paragraph after the words "LA bartender". The rest seems like a weak attempt to push humor on the reader, and the last sentence isn't appropriate unless the aspiring author has a personal relationship with the agent.

  16. Loved it. Would read it just for a lark and a breather from the serious side of things.

    I am with the others in saying that I didn't "get" the line about conjuring the book's quirky author. Made me wonder if that's where Bitter Bar Girl came from...but that can't be right.

    Only other thing that struck me wrong about the query was the long sentence beginning with "The trouble isn't that..." It's simply too long! The reader gets lost halfway through. Very different from the sample where your writing is tight and easy to follow.

    I understand the concept behind it (the problems are mounting up faster than the "speaker" can articulate them?) but that gets lost in the pile. Just break it up and I think you'll be fine.

    Loved your tone in the query which fed right into the sample. Hilarious! I can already see that the story would have me rolling.

    Good luck and keep 'em coming!

  17. Your voice is terrific. The first 250 is a fun read and I would turn the page.

    In the query I wanted to know the genre. I agree with above critters that I don't see a conflict set-up, but I loved your voice in the query and had to keep reading.

  18. This has a great voice and a lot going on...except I'm not sure what it's about, because there's so much else happening. It's the lists of thing after thing that loses me. More focus. Decide what's most important and stick with that.

    Also, what genre is this?

    The pages are intriguing; I've worked as a waitress (never a bartender, though), so I completely understand the "the murmur of the unserved" while waiting on dorks to make their choice. Cracks me up, reading it here. :)

    Bitter Bar Girl is also intriguing. I wonder if Nora's just putting on the personality like a mask (I'm an introvert, but I can convincingly pretend to be an extrovert, for example) to get through the night, or if she really does have some kind of MPD. I'm leaning toward the former, since people with MPD don't usually know they have that problem.

    However, I wasn't as grounded in the setting as I'd have liked. We have a bar, an ice bin, and a hand-printed menu, but I'm curious if it's a bar bar, a restaurant bar, or a hotel bar... And what's it smell like? Smoke? Beer? Unwashed masses?

    This isn't my kind of story, I think, so I'd pass, but it definitely has potential.