Wednesday, May 30, 2012

#223-Revised 3x for the win

Dear QueryShark,

Na├»ve, 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)

Saturday, May 5, 2012

The ∑ of all queries

 Dear Most Exalted Shark of Snark:

JOHN SMITH (who's a girl, but her parents wanted a boy so they named her John, even though it's totally misleading because she's gorgeous with fiery red and orange tresses the color of autumn leaves, and sparkling forest green eyes that glisten with secrets) is the best friend of Aphrodite Pantaloonacy, who is actually our protagonist.

In a blinding fit of rage, John Smith (whom Aphro has nicknamed Elvis) runs off to Iceland, to better escape the ghosts of her past and the pitfalls of her own artistic temperament. While there, she plays ice hockey. They're's*** also an Amusing Scene with a Turkish ghost on holiday taking a bath (Turkish baths, etc.). But one day, when the sky churns with storms and across the see Aphrodite has a terribly chilling feeling of icy foreboding, Elvis falls down a rabbit weasel hole, killing her instantly.

In order to deal with her crushing grief, Aphro and the tortured-soulled boyfriend of Elvis, Maisie (who is actually a boy but his parents wanted a girl so they named him Maisie, go figure right?) flee to the mystical land of Genovia Canada Barbecuasia. It is a place where dragons roam free and the cursed are damned. Where blood can flow quick and fast or slow and at a snail's pace. It is here that Maisie and Aphro can find their dreams. It is here that Aphro can finally confront her destiny.

Since birth Aphro has had a birthmark in the shape of a question mark right in the middle of her snowy forehead. It is a gift from the Barbecuasian gods signifying that she is her mother's daughter. What this means, only Maisie can discover, because of the key his grandfather gave him that he's always carried around his neck that opens the chest where the true powers of Lord Carbunkle dwell.

Aphro, Maisie, the ghost of Elvis, Dandelion, Alkaline, Mjehrithuuqreaei, a baby, a snaggle-toothed troll, a shark with a devastating scents of humor, all these characters and more go on a piercing and heart/gut-wrenching journey of self-discovery and what it means to be a human. Also tacos.

As your eyes pour over each and every carefully selected word (you tell us to edit a lot so boy did I!) I know you will guffaw with laughter (The book is funny). You may even maybe snicker and chortle and giggle and titter and then maybe cackle a bit but only at the funny parts. The serious parts are the parts where I am fully and fervently convinced you will boohoo. I tested this out on test readers (ages 7-84) and there was so much boohooing that I "drifted away on a sea of beautiful tears" (Rosemary, age 67, Tulsa, Oklahoma).

I would be so honored if you would consider reading my 350,842 1/2 (people get interrupted mid-word sometimes) word gritty crime novel work of fiction, the first in a series of seventeen tomes sure to rival the epic sagas of Larry McMurtry, William Shakespeare, Homer [Simpson] and Barbara Walters. It is a compelling work of staggeringly-employed metafores in the timely and bestselling genre of young adult thriller hipster communist manifesto. It is rated X for explicit sex scenes.

I sent a joke once to a joke magazine and they printed my joke (I have included the magazine and highlighted the page for your convenience). Literature is my passion and I have named all my cats after literary characters. Please do not tell me that you do not have the time to read my manuscript, since I know where you live and I see that you stay up very very late at night reading, and there really isn't any reason you couldn't be up reading my stuff too.

Ever faithfully yours,

(name redacted) aka (pen name redacted)
***it took me this long to realize this wasn't the serious shark submission I thought it was.

Well played Redacted, well played.

Also, I think the underlying theme here is that ya'll are hungry for some more chums.