Wednesday, May 30, 2012

#223-Revised 3x for the win

Dear QueryShark,

Naïve, beautiful, and a bit on the clumsy side, Emmy Starlight makes the unlikely climb from housekeeper’s daughter to Vegas showgirl to international singing sensation in 1963. The sweet young widow inspires America to believe we can be what we want to be. She dies in a fiery car crash just five years later. Her adoring fans never suspect the man behind the curtain - mobster Johnny Rosselli - who’d been pulling all her strings.

In 2006, Emmy Starlight stuns the world with the admission that her death was a hoax. She’s 70, alone, and tired of doing what she’s told. What she’s doing now is a show at the Stardust in Vegas. Its founder was a no-limits gambler who taught her to dream big, and she promised him she’d play his stage someday - but his suspicious death left the Chicago mob in control before it ever opened. Now the Stardust is set for implosion. And Emmy’s set to face the music. (I really like the double meaning here)

She’s rehearsing for her show when an armed felon bursts in, but not the one Emmy expected. This one claims to be her daughter – the daughter who was killed with Emmy’s husband in 1960. And she's telling the truth. The return of her baby is beyond even Emmy’s dreams. But now they need to find out why they’ve been kept apart... before the men who ordered the first murder get their second chance.

I am an actress with credits such as “this” “that" and “the other” I am also a tournament blackjack player with a passion for Las Vegas history and folklore.

STARLIGHT FALLS is a completed, 97,000-word novel that intertwines a current day suspense story with a historical Vegas fiction. Thank you for your consideration.

Do you like this better?

I sure do.

Now, what do you do when you "win" at QueryShark.

First, you congratulate yourself for sucking up a lot of criticism and revising without a single whimper or complaint.

Then you let this sit for a week.

Then you go back and look at it again. Look at every word. Is it the best word? Can two words be replaced by another without sacrificing energy or vitality of prose?

Once you're ready to go, you let it sit again. Look at it after that week.

Now you're ready to go.

Dear QueryShark,

Forty years after her “death,” superstar recording artist and Mafia moll Emmy Starlight stuns the world with her admission of the hoax.

When you have limited space to entice a reader one of the biggest challenges is making your main character sound enticing.  Here's a great example: superstar recording artist.  It doesn't convey warmth at all. In fact, just the opposite.  

Since I don't know very many superstar recording artists (ok, I know exactly one) but I do know quite a few NYT bestselling authors, let me use writers not singers as the example.

When I want to tell people about Charlaine Harris, I don't start with her success. I start with how nice she is. How generous to other writers. That's the stuff that makes her special to us all. Her bestsellers are nice and god knows she's earned them the old fashioned way (perseverance, dedication and craftsmanship) but the reason we love her most is cause she's good folks. Same with Lee Child. Same with a dozen or so other writers who regularly hit the list but aren't defined by it.

So how to convey that about your main character?  Describe her differently.  Was she "America's songbird?" Was she "Emmy the nightengale" What  endeared her to people enough that they remember her 40 years later?

This is why you write histories for your characters. Why you clip magazines for images that remind you of your main characters. It's how they become real.

At news of the When Emmy hears about the Las Vegas Stardust Resort’s impending implosion, Emmy emerges from exile for its farewell concert.

 I'm a big fan of starting sentences with the subject not a clause, particularly in query letters. I think it makes your writing sound stronger.  It's one of the things you teach yourself to notice in revision (those leading clauses) cause we all write like that ---on the first draft.

The reason I'm a fan of it particularly in query letters is that it's the easiest format for the reader to follow. There's no pause to think "oh, right, it goes with that person, not this other one."

The Stardust’s founder had been like a father to her, and she promised him she would appear on his stage. She never got the chance. His suspicious death left the Chicago mob in control of the Stardust before it ever even opened.

An armed woman bursts into Emmy’s rehearsal despite heavy security, screaming that she’s Emmy’s daughter. Emmy collapses at the memory of her child, killed in a 1960 car bombing, as ex-con Maddie Norman is hauled away. Despite the protests of Emmy’s loyal bodyguard, Angelo, she goes the next morning to find out what Maddie knows. The police have no record of the arrest.

And right here is where you go splat. We've got the basic premise of the book, now we're into such specific details that it's harder to follow.

Consider: Emmy, back in LV, is confronted by a woman claiming to be her daughter--a daughter killed in 1960. And she's telling the truth. What they need to find out now is why...before the men who planned the first murder get their second chance.

You don't need all the details you've provided here. We only need to get a sense of what's at stake and care about the outcome.

Emmy’s return to her suite is greeted by the sound of Maddie’s chambering gun. She’s telling the truth. The women unravel the betrayal that deprived them of each other. (clunkity clunk clunk clunk) Emmy swears she’ll give everything she owns to help her daughter fix her broken life. They’ll be a family again.

Emmy’s lovesick bodyguard turns his gun on the intruder, refusing to let his goddess be taken from him. Angelo vowed decades ago to love, honor and protect her, neither needing nor deserving her love in return. And he’s already killed once to keep her all to himself.

Angelo sounds like a putz. Give him some edge here. This is LasVegas not Smallville.

Retired CIA agent Walter Manheim listens on a wire. He ordered Emmy’s death when she discovered his involvement with the mob in JFK’s assassination. This time he’ll get rid of her himself, if Angelo and Maddie don’t take care of it first.

I am an actress with credits such as “this” “that” and “the other one” I am also a tournament blackjack player with a passion for Las Vegas history and folklore.

STARLIGHT FALLS is a completed, 97,000-word novel that intertwines a current day suspense story with a historical Vegas fiction. Thank you for your consideration.


Better. Much better. Polish. Revise. Declunk. Resend.


Dear QueryShark,

Forty years after her “death,” superstar recording artist Emmy Starlight emerges from exile for the show of her life. Her fans aren’t the only ones eager for her return.

If you're using this as the enticement to read the book, it should be the start of the story.  I have a feeling that (based on the next two paragraphs) it's the climax.

As a young showgirl in the glittering playground of 1950s Las Vegas, Emmy accepts a leg up from enamored mob boss Johnny Rosselli and falls into a world of violence that claims everyone she loves. She’s beaten and raped when she refuses the advances of a high roller, and forced into a life of entertaining wealthy gamblers in the bedroom as well as the showroom. Emmy finds the courage to fight for her freedom when she becomes pregnant, but Johnny is willing to let her go only so far. He arranges her marriage to his nephew. When her husband and infant daughter die in a car bombing, Emmy becomes a killer herself, murdering the bomber in a bloody rage.

Johnny hides her at Tahoe’s Cal-Neva Lodge. She meets its owner, Frank Sinatra, who discovers her talent as a singer and skyrockets her to the top of the charts. Emmy becomes a close friend to Marilyn Monroe, consoling her through her affairs with the Kennedys. When Marilyn comes up dead, Emmy knows it wasn’t suicide. And when JFK is assassinated, powerful men decide that Emmy is a loose end they can’t leave in the wind. Still smitten, Johnny Rosselli fakes the hit and sends her into hiding.

All this is background to what you tell us is the plot: her return from a 40-year hoax.

If' that event occurs more than 70 pages in to the novel, you need a new way to introduce the query. If you keep this, I'm going to start skimming wondering when the real story starts. That's NOT how you want someone to read your book.

In 2006, tired of living in fear and spurred by the impending implosion of the Stardust Resort, (this sounds like a good event to begin the query) 70-year-old Emmy returns to keep a promise she made to its late founder. (what promise?) She stuns the world with the admission of the hoax. Her fans still remember her. So do the men who wanted her dead. (they're still around? How old are they now? 90?) And in risking her death, Emmy discovers a life and a love that she believed were long lost.

I am an actress with credits such as (yup, you should list this show)  (and that one)  and (if I knew more about current TV I'd know this one I'm sure.) I am also a tournament blackjack player with a passion for Las Vegas history and folklore.

An action-packed suspense story, STARLIGHT FALLS is a completed, 97,000-word novel that intertwines a current day mystery with a historical Vegas fiction. Thank you for your consideration.

Suspense is very often NOT action-packed and that's ok.  Unless you've got gun fights and ticking clocks and people hanging out of helicopters with hand grenades "action-packed" is probably not the best description.

Suspense keeps you on the edge of your seat more quietly but just as effectively.

Leave out the background and show us what choice she faces now and what the stakes are.

If you're writing a who really killed JFK book, you might as well just come out and say it.

Dear QueryShark:

Forty years after her “death,” superstar recording artist Emmy Starlight emerges from exile for the biggest show of her life. Her fans aren’t the only ones eager for her return.

A young showgirl in the glittering playground of 1950’s Las Vegas, Emmy dreams of lifting herself and her hardworking mother out of poverty. Enamored mob boss Johnny Rosselli puts her on the fast track to stardom, and in the path of violence. When Emmy stumbles on a secret that powerful men are determined to keep, Johnny fakes the hit that’s ordered and sends her into hiding.

In the first paragraph, Emmy is a superstar recording artist. In the second she's a showgirl. Two very different professions. And if she's young in the 50's she's up against all the social norms of that time period.

Readers will "believe" a lot of things--from talking cats to flying dragons--but what readers believe has to fit with the premise of the story. Thus when you set something in 50's Vegas it has to match what 50's Vegas was. And it wasn't an easy place for a young woman to become a superstar recording artist, particularly if she starts out as a showgirl.

Tired of living in fear, 70-year-old Emmy returns to keep a promise before it’s too late. She admits the hoax to the world and announces a comeback concert. Her fans still remember her. So do the men who wanted her dead. And it’s only in risking her death that Emmy can reclaim her life.

"Reclaim her life?" She's been someone else for 40 years. Why now? What does she want to reclaim?

And what happened to her hardworking mom? Don't mention a character and then drop her over the side of the queryboat.

I am an actress with credits such as (redacted) I am also a tournament blackjack player with a passion for Las Vegas history and folklore.

So, I googled your name and sure enough there you are on IMDB. And interestingly enough you did NOT list the one credit that would most appeal to publishing folks: the smart, well written show you were on from 1998-2000.

I mention this because if you've got nice credits in another artistic field, and you want to mention them, mention the ones most likely to appeal to your audience, not necessarily the most recent or most popular. A VERY smart, VERY WELL WRITTEN under appreciated TV show is likely to have a lot of fans in publishing (me for starters.)

An action-packed suspense story with broad appeal to today’s audience of non-traditional women, STARDUST FALLS is a completed, 97,000-word novel that intertwines a current day mystery with a historical Vegas fiction. Further materials are available upon request. Thank you for your consideration.

No no no. Don't tell me who it appeals to. You have to show me by how you write the query.
And I know further materials are available upon request. I bet you'd give me tea and cookies if I showed up at your house and  requested materials for a snack.You don't need to say this since we assume you're ready to show us a novel if you're sending a query.

(And it's clear from the comments section that you guys are a little touchy about this snack thing!)

You've erred on the wrong side of careful here. This is bloodless.

There's no sense of voice or style. There's no passion, no intrigue. Nothing enticing--and that's the death knell, cause the purpose of a query is to entice someone to read on.

Start over. Let your crazy out of the bag. Go nuts.  (Then revise)


Unknown said...

I would totally read this story. The author just needs to trim down her pitch and delve into specifics.

Alexa O said...

Sounds like a great premise. I hope the author revises the query and tries again!

KatOwens: Insect Collector said...

I am personally interested in historical fiction from the 20s to the 60s... and I'd love to see more of it. Vegas is such a world unto itself-- let that shine in your query... and show us how your story is distinctive.

Tintin said...

Aw, man, now I want to know what show you were on, author! :D

Your book sounds right up my alley--I love Vegas and its history, along with the 1950s as a time period. Good luck with your query!

Kimbra Kasch said...

Love that query critique.

patlaff said...

Finally! The shark is back.

John said...

I am not a fan of the time travel. First we find out that Emmy's been "dead" for forty years, then we flashback. I wasn't sure it was the same person until the end of the second paragraph.

Also, we don't get a sense in that second paragraph that she really made it big, just that she was on her way. And after forty years, who remembers the people who were almost big?

Dahlia North said...

When mentioning the decade, the correct short form of the 1950s is the '50s. If you put the apostrophe before the S, you are referring to someone in their 50's. It's too small potatoes for our Shark to pounce on in a critique, but I noticed it, and so will the literary agents you query.

Kristin Laughtin said...

I agree that there seems to be a disconnect between the first and second paragraphs and thus the timelines, and think some restructuring or tense changes could help. If you put the second paragraph in the past or even the pluperfect tense, it would show that the showgirl era of her life had taken place before she faked her death and the "now" of the story, when she's coming out of exile.

Jeff King said...

I agree with John...

Andrew said...

Dear Ms. Shark, One minor point, Vegas in the '50s was run by the mob. So were a lot of record labels. There are several historical cases that back up your writer and should not dissuade you. Given your youth, we understand why you might hesitate :)

Robin Lemke said...

I'd read this story too. And now I'm dying to know what show you were on, because I'm a huge fan of a smart, well written show that was on for those years... ;)

Anonymous said...

I also agree with John. Keep your timeline linear in your query. It's easier for everybody.

Now let's talk math. "70" caught my eye because my mom's about to turn 70. She was born during WWII. That means she was too young to be a Vegas showgirl or a rock star in the 50s, which wasn't 40 years ago, but 60 years ago. So is the book set in the 90s?

Ms. Shark, no offense, but the dew-knot-drop-in thing works both ways. If, when I was looking for an agent, one had shown up on the porch, I would have been more than a little freaked. (Though I might have offered tea just so we could discuss these stupid "captcha" thingies, which I've apparently now typed incorrectly four times.)

Mister Furkles said...

Otis Redding became famous after his death because "Dock of the Bay" was released after he died. Before that he was known to some fans of Rhythm and Blues but nobody else.

If his death were faked and he returned from hiding after forty years (2007), how long would it take for his first concert to sell out?

So if "Show Girl" includes recording singles which become popular after her faked death, she might well be remembered.

Phire said...

Someone please figure out what show Ms. Shark is referring to, because my own pop culture knowledge is too sparse to actually launch a detective campaign, but "smart, well-written and underrated" is just my kind of thing. I imagine others would agree.

Eileen said...

As the Shark mentioned as the reader I need to know a bit about the catalyst- why does Emmy come forward now? You hint that there is a promise she wants to keep, but what made her wait until now and what does doing a comeback concert have to do with it? Since so much of the query is around her fame/music I sense it must be important, but I don't know why.

I also have a disconnect with her age the comeback concert idea. She would have had to have been HUGE for this to be a big draw with her music appealing not just to her old fans, but to current fans. For example, Connie Francis was very popular in the 1950's, but I'm guessing most people couldn't name a single one of her songs now. If she staged a comeback concert would they get people to come? Most people in their 70's don't go to live music events (the risk of breaking a hip while crowd surfing can hold them back.)

Now if Emmy was like Elvis it is a different story. If Elvis showed up now and said "Hey that whole dead on the toilet thing? PSYCH! I dyed my hair blond called myself Karl and have worked as a tour guide at Graceland for the past few decades" that would be a big story. His music is still popular and a concert would likely attract attention.

If the comeback concert isn't important to why she's coming forward now then I think it's acting as a distraction.

Good luck!

Theresa Milstein said...

Ooo, which TV show? There are so many that were great, but pulled too quickly. Must look this up.

I wish the woman would come back sooner. All the way into her 70s? I agree with Query Shark--it's a long time to live another life. There must be so many strings attached with that life. And how was she not recognizable all that time? It's an intriguing premise. Can't wait for the query rewrite.

I was confused about the flashback aspect too.

Rachel6 said...

One thing folks haven't mentioned is Emmy's age. Since she's 70 coming back, and it's been 40 years, she was 30 in the '50s. "Young showgirl" makes me think early 20s.

The other thing is "admits the hoax to the world". Was her "death" a really big deal back then?

All that said, this does sound like a great story. And please, for the luvvamike, tell us what show you were on!

Bill Scott said...

I like the premise of the story, most of it. The 70 year old making a comeback and her 70 year old fans being excited about it doesn't ring true to me. For the love of Betty White, the kids these days are calling Madonna a granny and telling her to retire.
To have her come back earlier might both widened your audience and put it in a more interesting time period — late 60s early 70s.

Ashes said...

Dear Query Shark, you may have our words. You may have our hearts, our souls, our manuscripts. But you may not have our cookies. Those are our cookies. No, Query Shark. No.

Natalie McManus said...

I quite like the premise, although I'll sit on the fence till the rewrite. I feel like I can see the hook, sort of - but it's out of focus. I am itching to see more of the hook. Great sharking, as ever.

Mister Furkles said...

The 70 year old making a comeback and her 70 year old fans being excited about it doesn't ring true to me.

Went to a Bob Seger (b.5/6/45) concert two months ago. It was in an NBA arena. It had sold out in less than a day. Half of the fans were in their teens and early twenties. Went to a wedding last summer. The bride was 22 and the groom a couple of years older. The music was 60s Motown. I guess yawl hate Gershwin and really despise that old Scott Joplin crap.

Great music finds new fans in every generation.

Me, I’d stop and listen to Josh Bell play two hundred year old stuff on his fiddle.

Criticus said...

One thing the Shark doesn't address, and which I've always been curious about, is how much star power can boost a book's potential. If this query author turned out to be a reasonably well-known actress (but not a superstar), would that make up for the book's faults and entice an otherwise hesitant agent?

Theresa Milstein said...

It's amazing to see the way this one progressed. What a great final query. I have a much better sense of who the protagonist and what's at stake. Congratulations!

Crystal Charee said...

I want to read this, based on the latest query. What I really love is that we have TWO women coming back from the dead and that the protagonist is 70 -- which you rarely see. The show biz stuff is fun too.

Jason said...

Really like the improvements, and especially the way you set up the two time periods.

I'm also guessing "Sports Night" for the show (not sure if this will make it past moderation) - right time period, and created/written by Sorkin.

Joy Slaughter said...

Aha! Avoid beginning sentences with dependent clauses--excellent. *runs back to query*