Monday, January 28, 2013

Bouncer Post #73


Title: THE CAKE EFFECT
Genre: Women's Fiction
Word Count: 72,000

Query:

Lou is a talented but insecure chef in Milwaukee, struggling to keep her small French restaurant afloat while floundering in her fiancé's world of cocktail-infused schmooze fests and limp-bacon-wrapped water chestnuts.

During one disastrous day, she loses her fiancé, almost poisons a customer, and destroys a perfectly good coconut cake. Refocusing on what is important, Lou concentrates on her restaurant until she receives a lethal review from a local food critic.

Local food critic, Al Waters (byline AW Wodyski), hates Milwaukee. His goals are to get a column in a real city, survive food poisoning from the French restaurant he just reviewed, and escape Milwaukee's erratic weather. To celebrate his recent brilliant critique, Al visits a local pub where he meets the charming and very drunk Lou, the chef he unknowingly just skewered. 
Not knowing Al's secret identity and needing an escape from her crumbling life, Lou accepts Al's challenge to show him what makes Milwaukee so great, with the agreement they NEVER discuss work.
During their non-dates exploring the city's treasures, their friendship and attraction grows. When Al discovers his review damaged Lou's restaurant, he scrambles to hide his identity knowing Lou would never forgive him and he'd lose her forever.
First 250:

Lou hoisted up her gown and winced as she tottered across the parking lot. The sparkly four-inch heels looked so pretty in the box, but felt like a mortar and pestle grinding each bone in her foot. She missed her green Crocs.

Lou plucked at the tight elastic squeezing her into the sleek, black dress, the one her fiance Dev had given her, then scurried to catch up with him.  

"Overstuffed truffle and foie gras sausage," she said. 

"What?" Dev looked at her, his face crinkled in confusion. 

"It's a new dish, inspired by how I feel in these clothes. Maybe served over brown butter dumplings..." Lou tilted her head, visualizing the newly formed meal.

"Do you always need to think about work?"

Lou wilted and said, "I’m sorry. It helps distract me."

His features softened as he looked at her. "You’ll be fine. You look stunning."

Lou gave a feeble smile, stepping into the soft, yellow light of the Milwaukee Country Club's foyer, the cushy patterned carpet springing back with each step. Aged pictures adorned the buttery walls, telling the club's regal history. Many showed eager young men in white standing behind wealthy gentlemen in funny pants. Hunger for something more burned in their eyes. Lou understood.

To the left waited the dining room, full of white-coated tables twinkling with polished silver and crystal water goblets which clinked as the waiters filled them. Lou glimpsed the swinging doors to the kitchen, beckoning her like an old friend.

28 comments:

  1. A lot of fun and well-timed in terms of the current foodie/food-writer zeitgeist. I might suggest trimming out the bit in the query where she has a disastrous day and/or make clearer that the customer she poisoned is the critic. But otherwise, looks tight to me! -Robyn #101

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Good point Robyn. Thanks for the feedback.

      Delete
  2. Love it, especially the analogy of the mortar and pestle! Good luck!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Lisa. I do love my food analogies.

      Delete
  3. The foodie appeal to this is awesome, and the professional/personal conflict will resonate with tons of women entrepreneurs. The "you've got mail" style professionally star-crossed romance is fun and full of potential as long as you keep it fresh with enough unique elements.

    Having worked in kitchens, certain details are a little problematic to me. The chef's crocs are great. But a shoe to me is the mortar, and her foot would be the pestle. And why is a talented professional chef poisoning people? This is mostly minor stuff that can be fixed/explained, but...there are enough foodies and kitchen staff out there that it's probably worth the time to iron these things out. OTOH, I LOVE the part at the end of your 250 where Lou is looking longingly at the kitchen doors. That feeling of the pull of the milieu where one belongs is so universal.

    In the query, there are also a few little hitches that catch my brain, for example, Al didn't unknowingly just skewer the chef; he is unaware that the chef he just very purposely skewered is also the charming woman in the pub. Why would two people agree to spend time together but keep their professions secret, especially people like Lou who presumably work all. the. time. and can only think in work metaphors? Meeting a strange guy who wants to hang out but won't tell me what he does for a living would be a big red flag for me, and I don't think that's unusual.

    I like the flow of your writing. But after query + 250 I want to have a clearer idea of the major conflict. Is it Lou's world vs her fiance's world (as indicated in your query opening hook)? Is it Lou's insecurity undermining her professional success? Is it the fact that her friendship/romance with Al is destined to crash & burn due to their professional conflicts of interest?

    (Greyson, post #76)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Great points Greyson!
      You're making rethink my mortar and pestle analogy - damn I liked that one. ;)

      I, too, have spent many a year in restaurant kitchens, so I was very aware to reflect kitchen life accurately, or at least based on my wack-a-doodle experiences. The "poisoning" isn't actually poisoning. She undercooks a fish dish as a result of her crappy day. During that scene, she loses her rhythm and melts down, messing up a simple dish which happens to get served to the critic. It makes sense within the book, but it's clear I should adjust my wording in the query to give the right impression.

      Great point on the unknowingly skewering. I'll work on that. I hadn't though of it from that perspective.

      During the scene where they meet, Al does say he is a writer, Lou never follows up on it b/c she's quite tipsy and distracted. B/c Al doesn't want to talk about his job, he avoids the topic, so he never asks Lou what she does. Furthermore, Lou decides to use their excursions as an escape from all the bad stuff happening in her life, so she doesn't want to think about work when she is with him, hence the arrangement to never discuss work. Obviously, it is unrealistic for that to continue, which leads to the major conflict in the book and your final questions.

      The main conflicts are two-fold: thematically - Lou and Al finding the place where they belong and the challenging journey of getting there. Plotwise - it is the crash/burn of Lou and Al's relationship. Lou trying to make it work with Dev and his world is my inciting incident and sets up everything else.

      Grr. I thought I was so close, and now there is so much to rethink. Thanks for the excellent feedback. I'll be commenting on yours soon.

      Amy

      Delete
    2. Oh, I don't mean to imply you aren't close. More critique = this seems worth the time/effort (in my book at least). It's the polite silence you've got to dread, right? ;)

      Delete
  4. I really like your query! The food connection really drew me in. It made me think of "You've Got Mail" and "No Reservations." Your use of language and punchy dialogue is great. The only thing I'd work on is the last paragraph of your query. The rest of your query is so tight and full of voice and the last paragraph is so vague. Also, you give us Al's goals, but what are Lou's?
    Best of luck!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Jenni! Excellent point about not listing Lou's goals. I'd like to say it's b/c she isn't very goal oriented at the beginning (which is true), but that implies I'd consciously made the decision to not include them. :)

      Delete
  5. I freaking love books with cooks/baker/food in general, so I'm all about this. I think that your 250 are good. They paint a picture of what's happening while setting a tone and that's great. And you totally nailed the country club description. Those pictures really are everywhere! :)

    I agree with Greyson that I'd like to more about the conflict. Or, specifically, the stakes. For instance, if she did, indeed, give him food poisoning then he was justified with his review, so I'm not totally sold on that being a driving plot theme. And what are the stakes for Lou? Yes, she's somewhat starting over but what happens if she and Al don't get together? I know there has to be more (finicky word-limited queries...ruining everything ;) ).

    As to your hook, I like the imagery but it seems like more of an introduction to Lou than a hook. Including her ex in it makes me think that he's a major part of your MS but then your next sentence says that he's gone. The real meat of the MS, according to the query seems to be the budding relationship with Lou and Al so I'd suggest somehow removing the bit about her ex as that room could be used to flush out a theme/plot arc/character in more detail.

    Oh, and where is the elastic she's pulling on? How is an elastic squeezing her into a dress? If it's a strapless dress with an elastic top, then wouldn't it be holding her dress up, versus squeezing her into it? (Man, am I nitpick-y ;) ).

    Good luck!

    And thank you for your comments on my post! Totally solid points!

    Jennie (post #74)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Jennie (and I'm glad my comments were helpful). Easy question first - in a few sentences after the 250, you learn Lou has on Spanx to help her squeeze into the gown Dev bought her. It's just another example of how he doesn't really think about what would be best for her, which in turn is part of the initial conflict.

      I've played with where to start the story. While the core conflict is the relationship between Lou and Al, Dev does play an important role in the remainder of the story, and you need to see how Lou interacts with him before so you understand how she changes later.

      Wow, your questions are really making me think. There's so many little threads that we can't go into in a query. I'll try here and maybe something will resonate. Lou begins the story insecure about everything in her life, except for when she cooks. All the bad things that happen and her growing relationship with Al contribute to her character arc into a woman who knows what she wants and isn't afraid to go after it (sorry if I'm being vague here). Ultimately, her growth is such that it is irrelevant if her and Al get together. Her happiness isn't dependent on others, but herself. What's at stake for her is personal growth - which sounds lame, but makes all the difference. She ends the story knowing who she is.

      As to the hook, I wanted the reader to come away with the idea that Lou isn't where she wants to be, she's outside her comfort zone, her mind often wanders toward food, and Dev doesn't really get her. In other words, everything is not alright in her world, and a change is needed. But, perhaps I need something stronger. You've made excellent points. Thanks so much.

      Delete
  6. I like your premise - haven't read anything similar, which is always a good thing! And I love that she compares herself in a dress to specific foods.

    For some reason, "Lou wilted" seemed off to me. It's interesting that they'll never talk about work... that's unusual! Seems hard to do. Is that realistic?
    Good luck!

    Lisa #85

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Lisa, thanks for the comments. Glad to hear you haven't seen anything similar.
      I'll play with wilted.
      It is unusual to not talk about work, but they both have their reasons. Al has to keep it secret and Lou is using him as a diversion. Lou does know he writes and just makes the assumption it is freelance work. Al is curious about what she does, but doesn't want to bring it up because he doesn't want her to start asking questions about his job. Also, each of their outings has a specific goal, so their conversations focus on Milwaukee and whatever it is they are doing. I address it quite a lot in the book from both sides, so it does make sense in within the story.

      Do you think taking that piece out of the query would solve the initial dubiousness of that plot point - or only make people question the premise more?

      I hope to get through your entry tonight. :)

      Amy

      Delete
  7. As a big fan of both "You've Got Mail" and the original "The Shop Around the Corner," I really like your premise. I think this will resonate very well, as it hits the foodie-craze that's growing and growing. You've definitely written a story that I think is sellable.

    I enjoyed your query over all. However, I think it loses steam at the end. You've set up an interesting plot with very whimsical characters, but the query needs to end on a more "will they? won't they?" sort of hook.

    As for your 250, I think it's very good and gives me a great sense of Lou's character right away. I sense that something big is happening that Lou has been anticipating, but I'm not sure. The lines "You’ll be fine. You look stunning" gave me that impression along with the heels. My only critique would be (if there is something big that Lou is anticipating in this opening scene) that we get some sense of it right away. Maybe have Lou, irked by her excruciating yet sparkly shoes, remark, "But today she had to look her best." Obviously, you can write something better, but I hope it relays the point.

    Hope this helps,

    Rhen #75

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Rhen!

      Thank you for the very kind words.

      I'm starting to think my hook needs sharpening (ba dum bump) of some sort. I like the idea of a will they/won't they angle.

      Re: your 250 comment. It is something big, but not for her. Dev is an attorney and it is his firm's big gala, a night Dev loves and Lou hates. She would much rather be in the kitchen than making pretty with the other attorneys and their spouses. Perhaps adding a stronger sense of dread in the opening sentences would be helpful. Dev does try to reassure her because he knows this isn't her favorite thing (he has a few good qualities).

      Thanks for your excellent feedback. Much to ponder.

      Amy

      Delete
  8. Amy--Funny that we have two Milwaukee settings! Queries aren't my speciality, so I am focusing comments on 250.
    Some very nice lines you have: "beckoning like an old friend" and "hunger for something more burned..." Nice imagery and you keep us reading. A few phrasing suggestions...
    but NOW felt like a mortar...adding a "now" would make this line more clear when we first read it. I like that metaphor but agree that it was a bit hard to figure out initially--it bumped me out.
    Dev looked at her, his face crinkled...Do you need to say he looked at her? Just be more concise. Another place too, you could take out "and said" with "Lou wilted and said," and it would be more effective. I think your tags, in general, can be shorter. Sometimes the best tags are action and you don't even need "he said."

    Good job! A food story should do well. Good luck to you!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Tracy - Woot Milwaukee (sorry, can't help myself). Excellent point about the tags. You're right, I don't need so many. I love easy to deploy fixes. :)

      Thanks for your feedback and kind words.
      Amy

      Delete
  9. Amy, pretty much all the comments I was going to make have already been made, and thank you for addressing the questions!

    I too was at first thrown at the "elastic" band reference in the first 250, but Spanx, that makes perfect sense! You may want to make it clearer without dumbing it down too much, because when I first breezed by the line, I had to pause and reread because that didn't seem right with how dressed up she's supposed to be. (Or it could be that i just read too fast, and didn't let it sink in.) I think the beginning though is perfect, as far as showing where she's been, and then I'm assuming the next few pages lead into her breakup with Dev and then everything else tailspinning out of control. I love books that give you a context at the beginning of the story. I agree with others that the query at the end could be tightened up. I'd definitely keep reading if I had pages, sounds like a fun romp!

    Btw, I agree with others too on the point of the foodie thing being really cool, and popular right now. I'm the kind of gal who loves watching shows about food/cooking, which gets my husband kind of grumbly because I don't cook ;-)

    Virginia #91

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Virginia for your great feedback. I will try to make it more obvious (though in the book it becomes clear very quickly).

      Amy

      Delete
  10. Sounds like a delicious and fun read. You're in!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Wooty woot! Thanks Bouncer Downton. You have made my day!

      Delete
  11. Did someone say Beta? Heck yeah! We could swap if you'd like an extra set of eyes before your (WINNING!) entry goes before the agents. I'm not sure how to message you on here. But I just followed you on Twitter--follow me back and I'll DM you my email.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Wow, this book sounds like fun! I think I'd read just for the delectable food descriptions and great voice (... like a mortar and pestle grinding each bone in her foot. She missed her green Crocs.) but I'm dying to read the scene where Al realizes who Lou really is!

    I agree with *drumroll* adding a little more mystery/hook at the end of your query to make it even more enticing. I liked your first 250, it gave me a very clear sense of who Lou is and I'm very willing to read on to get to the meat of the conflict.

    SO glad to see you're moving on! Congratulations! Rina #48

    ReplyDelete