Monday, June 30, 2008

Those Damned Editors!

© Hugh McCraken 2008 all rights reserved

Authors need editors.

I don’t say this as an editor looking for work, but as

From my own experience I know that a writer becomes too emotionally attached to the story and the characters to be able to take the detached, dispassionate view of the manuscript necessary for the final preparation for publishing.

Modern publishing is an expensive business and unfortunately this has resulted in most, if not all, of the major publishing houses seriously curtailing their acceptance of manuscripts from new or unknown authors. It seems sometimes that the route to getting published is to be famous or infamous in some other field and you will be published regardless of the quality or even the real interest of the book. Previous best selling authors with a good track record are the obvious exceptions to this. Where then are our new and developing writers to come from if no one will publish them?

Some, like the author of the Harry Potter Series, strike it lucky although even she met many previous rejections before someone spotted her potential. There are many good writers who do not get beyond the impersonal “Thanks but no thanks” rejection, often following an, at best, cursory glance at the manuscript by an inexperienced junior of the publishing house.

Unfortunately, a large number of rejections are the fault of the author. Such rejections can be avoided by studying a publisher’s lists. What does that house publish? There is little point in submitting a fantasy novel to a publisher which specialises in serious, literary fiction. Yet many first time writers employ a scattergun approach hoping for a lucky hit and simply waste time and postage.

I have even had an author whom I had edited on a freelance basis question my suggested list of publishing houses on the grounds that some I had omitted “might just be interested.” This she said despite the fact that two of the houses she was anxious to try had never published her genre, Young Adult Science Fiction, and in their submission guidelines explicitly said they would not accept such submissions.

I made the mistake of approaching a publishing house in London, England with my murder mystery, THE KNOTTED CHORD, only to get a very nice personal letter from the company president to the effect that he had thoroughly enjoyed the book himself, but that his readership was not quite up to such an unpleasant topic and the provincial setting would be unfamiliar to them. He did send me their list and I saw that although they did publish mysteries, all in the list would be classified as cozies set in rural England and THE KNOTTED CHORD was certainly much stronger meat. The provincial setting was, incidentally, Toronto. Perhaps a mistype on his part for colonial? However, I did learn to research publisher’s lists.

This type of misdirected submission does occur frequently.

So it is essential to know the target market and concentrate on publishers which cater to that field. Get the submission guidelines and for each publisher, for each submission, tailor the submission to the requirements. It is surprising how many manuscripts are rejected out of hand before they have even been seen by an editor because some office junior doing a triage of submissions can at a glance see they don’t fit the guidelines.

Manuscripts should be checked and double checked for punctuation, spelling, grammar, and typos. Spellcheckers cannot be relied on to produce fault-free manuscripts. They are useful, but authors must reread the manuscript thoroughly from beginning to end in spite of having used a spellchecker. The occasional spelling error will not particularly worry an editor but repeated errors such as, “here” for “hear”, which make it obvious that a spellchecker has been used carelessly without a reread will certainly result in the manuscript being returned for the author’s review if not an outright rejection. This is not, as some authors think, expecting the author to edit the work, but simply anticipating a professional submission ready for a critical edit.

I had one author whose manuscript was so full or errors of commission and omission that I gave up half way through my first read. In his reply to my letter explaining why I was returning his work he said, obviously I did not understand that the function of an editor was to “massage” an author’s excellent ideas into publishable form. I did at one time do such editing for a fee and there are many editors who will undertake such pre-edit work.

When an author is finally assigned an editor, it is time to put ego on hold. It is not easy to have someone who has not toiled and sweated over the manuscript say of some cherished piece of prose: This is not relevant to the story. It neither advances the plot nor the characterisation and adds nothing. Drop it.

Unpleasant though it may seem, this is the editor’s function. He or she comes to the manuscript fresh, a new reader with no emotional ties to it.

This does not mean an author cannot discuss recommendations and changes. Editing is a two way street. Something an editor does not like might well be better rewritten or rephrased by the author. What has to be avoided at all costs is for the author to adopt the attitude that his or her words are sacrosanct. This is a sure route to rejection of the current piece and all future submissions. For the publisher the editor’s word is final.

Many publishing houses still work with paper manuscripts, typed, of course, but others have moved to electronic submissions and it may be of some interest to outline how one such house, Bewrite Books, handles this.

The submission guidelines clearly state how the manuscript should be laid out including the font and size preferred.

The assigned editor will read through the manuscript in its entirety before considering any editorial changes. On a second read he or she will start to make comments. We use the comment function in Word for this and expect authors to be, or to become, familiar with this. Having gone though the whole manuscript in this fashion the commented version is returned to the author. The author in his or her turn can accept recommended changes or suggest alternatives, as appropriate, and attach his or her own comments. This email exchange continues until a comment-free version is achieved which is then the author/editor agreed final manuscript. The author and the editor both receive copies of the PDF created by Bewrite Books for final proofing before it is then proofed by at least two other readers. The author and editor cannot make any additions or changes to the PDF beyond correction of errors of omission or commission incurred in its creation from their author/editor agreed manuscript.

Having just submitted the final segment of my Hunt trilogy to my editor, I commented to a writing group I meet with, “The shoe is on the other foot and I am now remembering how bloody minded an editor can be.” However, when asked if this experience would soften my future edits I had to admit, “No, it wouldn’t.” An editor’s job is to get it right.

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Hugh McCracken was born in Glasgow, Scotland and had his early education somewhat interrupted by evacuation during World War II. After taking a degree in Chemistry and Mathematics at St Andrews University he worked for some time as a Chemical Engineer before becoming a teacher.

He, his wife Lyn, and son David, relocated to Canada in 1967 where his second son, Iain, was born. While teaching in Canada, Hugh completed a Bachelor's degree in Education and a Master's degree in Educational Psychology at the University of Manitoba. Hugh now lives in Ottawa to be close to both sons, daughter-in-law Allison, and three grandchildren. For the past ten years Hugh has been a freelance writer and editor, although he started writing much earlier. Hugh is senior editor at BeWrite Books (UK).

Sunday, June 29, 2008

THE SCENT OF GOD, by Beryl Singleton Bissell

Book Review by Aaron Paul Lazar

THE SCENT OF GOD by Beryl Singleton Bissell is a work of fine art, reminiscent of a painting by Rubens or a haunting Saint-Saƫns melody. The beautifully crafted memoir offers words that glisten like gems on each page. Lush imagery, redolent with heady scents and vibrant color, transports the reader to locales ranging from the sanctified to the exotic. Readers will savor every chapter of this alluring tale.

The story begins in 1947 in Saddle River, New Jersey. Beryl, one of four siblings in a Catholic family, catalogs her mortal sins at an early age and is riddled with guilt when her mother serves meat on Friday or the family misses Mass. Her father’s binges and the rage and panic his drinking elicits in her mother, cause Beryl to seek comfort in nature. With her siblings, she happily tramps through the lakeside woods - swimming, fishing, tobogganing, and exploring abandoned farmhouses. In sixth grade, Beryl begins attending a private boarding school run by Catholic nuns who teach her about a God of unconditional love. This knowledge calms and thrills the young girl, who longs for stability and acceptance.

When Beryl is thirteen, her father’s drinking causes him to lose his position as vice-president of a New York bank, but he is offered an alternate position in Puerto Rico. When the family relocates to the tropical island, Beryl draws inward, avoiding friends and life outside the home. Beryl’s sister’s popularity and her mother’s critical harping about her weight increase her sense of displacement. Witnessing the drowning of a young boy, however, brings her face to face with her own mortality and the superficiality of earthly success. This new knowledge, in combination with a mystical experience of God’s love and the breakup with her “first love” -- a handsome young Puerto Rican boy -- set her on a course toward a life of commitment to God whose love is eternal and unchanging.

At the age of eighteen, and in spite of her parent’s initial disapproval, Beryl enters the Monastery of Saint Clare in Bordentown, New Jersey. With visions of becoming a saint, she thrives on the simple goodness of the daily processes in the cloistered nunnery, enjoying working in the bakery, her daily prayers, and the quiet camaraderie of her sister nuns. Her experiences in the monastery are lovingly and honestly recounted, providing a rare glimpse into this life.

Twelve years later, Beryl is deeply ensconced in the tranquility of the monastery when she receives the news that her father has taken ill, and that she needs to return home to assist her mother with his care. Returning to the island reawakens her senses.

“I woke that morning to the sound of waves crashing on the beach below, the pink and gold of the rising sun playing across my face. Despite my father’s condition and my mother’s frailty, I felt a wild surge of happiness. Eight floors below my window, a receding wave shimmered back toward an oncoming breaker, leaving a froth of bubbles to mark the edges of its ride. A solitary man jogged along the beach, the wet sand forming silvery halos around his footprints.”

In the course of caring for her father, and in the most delectable and surprising twist of this true story, Beryl meets Padre Vittorio, a handsome Italian priest who preaches at the local church of Saint Jorge. At first irritated by the man, Beryl slowly finds herself falling in love as she gets to know him better, igniting the most painful yet wondrous struggle of her life.

It would spoil the story to reveal more. Suffice it to say that the segment of the book involving Vittorio is sensual and captivating, never offensive, and completely addictive. Be forewarned that The Scent of God will lodge in your heart and invade your dreams for years to come.

Thankfully, the author is working on a sequel to THE SCENT OF GOD . This reader anxiously awaits the next chapter in Beryl’s delightful true-life saga.

* * *

Author: Beryl Singleton Bissell

Publisher: Counterpoint, a member of the Perseus Books Group
Publisher's Address: 387 Park Avenue South, New York, NY 10016-8810

ISBN-13: 978-1-58243-361-5 Price: $15.00

Publisher phone number and/or website address:

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Friday, June 27, 2008

A Word From A Book Publishing Solutions Architect

© Bill Frank 2008 all rights reserved

The process of writing, publishing and promoting a book overwhelms many writers. There are many actions to take to be successful and most writers are unfamiliar with them. Creating a best seller is a process similar to other processes authors may already be successful at doing, however. I urge writers to tap into success they’ve had with other processes.

I tell authors, writing and publishing a book is like hosting a banquet for many people. Most of us have given a successful party at one time or another, so we understand the process.

There are many aspects to the banquet: inviting the guests (marketing), cooking the food (writing and editing), serving the food (distribution) and entertaining the guests once at the banquet (building a community).

Many writers focus on preparing the food. The best chef in the world will fail, if the food doesn’t get to the table or no guests are invited to the banquet. The food goes to waste.

Finding a way to get the food to the table is critical to success. There are a variety of different ways. There are formal waiters in livery (large distributors), there are casual waiters (specialty distributors), there are short order waiters (wholesalers) and there is self-service (the Internet).

The invited guests determine which method is chosen to get the food to the table. Inviting the guests to the banquet begins with inviting yourself first. Then find other guests that match your interests. Identifying which guests to invite is critical to the book’s success. The guests must be suited to each other. Sending out the invitations to your banquet is nothing more than getting the word out: promotion, advertising, media appearances, etc.

Once the guests are at the banquet, the host must entertain them. This requires building a community—keeping in touch with those guests and making certain they are enjoying the banquet. Building a community is made easier with Web 2.0 technologies such as blogs, social networks, virtual book tours, newsletters, ezines, etc.

The mystery of writing and publishing a book seems easier if the steps are broken down in this way.

Stephen Covey writes, “Begin with the end in mind.” Nowhere is this truer than when writing a book.

Begin by inviting the guests (determining for whom you’re writing the book). Know clearly who your guests will be. Knowing the guest list determines what type of food you’ll cook (the way in which you’ll write the book), which waiters you’ll use to serve the food (which channels of distribution you’ll use) and what entertainment you’ll have (which steps you’ll take to build and keep your community).

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Bill Frank is a book publishing consultant, a book dilettante. He work with authors and small publishers to produce, distribute and market their books. He’s based in Ventura, CA.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

A Balancing Act

© Marta Stephens 2008 all rights reserved

It wasn’t long ago that I could pick up a book and read it from cover to cover without fighting the urge to grab a red pencil. Far be it for me to have noticed the author’s excessive use of tags, or cringe at his or her POV glitches.

I’ve always loved to read—loved the feeling of becoming one with the story. No, as long as the plot kept my interest I read. I marveled at the author’s ability to transport me into his fictional world—wished I could do that—never thought I would.

The image I had of writers was that of a wonderfully elite group of intellectuals who lived charmed lives. I imagined my favorite author lounging on a wicker chair on the front porch of his seaside bungalow, a drink in one hand, a pen in the other. He’d gaze across the shoreline at the incoming surf and methodically contemplated a plot while his agent and publisher eagerly wait for him to complete his next brilliant work.

My plots come to me while I stand in line at the market. My character’s dialogue comes into focus while I clean out a cluttered closet, and the scene of the crime takes shape as I scrub down the bathroom. I go to work every day from eight to five. The closest shoreline to our house is Lake Michigan which is four to six hours away, depending on who is driving, and believe me, life is anything but charmed. It is, however, becoming increasingly interesting. Such is the real life of a writer.

The release of SILENCED CRY was preceded by months of edits and stringent deadlines. The marketing and promotion end of things slammed into me like a runaway train that barely gave me a chance to stop and ask for directions. Needless to say, the experience placed me on a major learning curve. It also tossed my life off kilter and for the first time in several years I felt ... off balance.

I continued at a mad pace for nearly two years until I recently reached my limit. I had spread myself dangerously thin. The slightest new demand on my time felt like another weight on my shoulders. I was quickly losing the tug of war and didn’t like it. So I stopped and reminded myself to take a deep breath and say, “No.”

Gee, wasn’t that easy?

I cleared the slate and decided it was time for some time management; prioritizing and completing tasks within a certain timeframe. But more important was the need to assess the challenges I’ve been presented with on a daily/weekly/monthly basis and adjust my routine accordingly. In other words, balance my life. I should have known better, but I had became so focused on my writing the past few years that I might as well have flipped a coin to see what else would get done. Now, I never missed a family gathering, graduations, holidays, birthdays or any like that. But it was as if I was only half there because the writing kept lurking in the back of my mind like a genie ready to pop out of its bottle.

All first time authors face many unknowns and eventually we all get through them. Soon I’ll start working on the Oct/Nov launch of my second book. This time I’m feeling amazingly calm about it. In part, because I know what to expect. The blurb is done, the cover is in the works, my marketing plan is in place, and life is once again as it should be. Back to “normal.” Okay, so maybe my life will never be “normal” again, but I’m bound and determined to spend many a summer night lounging out on our patio with a tall ice tea in my hand and do some star gazing (a favorite past time). I vow to take time to watch my flowers and vegetables grow over the coming weeks and I’ll definitely spend more time with the people I love.

The king of balanced living, Aaron Lazar, suggested that sometimes breaking away from the usual rituals can open up our brain and make us see the light. I believe he’s right. Think I’ll get out my oils again and paint a scene. Maybe it will stir an emotion that will ... oh no, lead to another book!

* * *
Marta Stephens writes crime mystery/suspense. SILENCED CRY is available online at familiar shops such as all the Amazons, Barnes & Noble, Borders, Books-a-Million, and Powells. Other locations include, but are not limited to those listed on my website
Honorary Mention, 2008 New York Book Festival
2007 Top Ten, Preditors and Editors Reader Poll (mystery)

THE DEVIL CAN WAIT coming soon, fall, 2008.

Monday, June 23, 2008

The Cliffhanger

© Sarah Collins Honenberger 2008 all rights reserved

The lights flicker. A floorboard in the hallway groans. The woman in bed reaches into the bedside table. A mere 22 words and the reader has to turn the page to find out what happens next. How do you guarantee that your readers will turn the pages in your novel?

Writing something fresh entices a reader on the most basic level. A situation they haven’t read about before from a perspective that hasn’t been explored by hundreds of other authors. But the tension that keeps a reader hooked after five chapters or ten is something else altogether. Agents and editors call it NARRATIVE TENSION, and they reject nine out of ten books because it’s missing.

For me, it’s the hardest thing about writing. As the author I’m fascinated with my characters and their dilemmas. I created them after all; they’re like my children. But readers have no such predisposition to love what an author loves.

Luckily you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. There are techniques to create page-turning fiction. Some are simple and some take lots of practice. Here are a few of the ways that work for other authors. From easy to harder:

Never start your chapters where the last chapter left off. Leave your character hanging from the cliff, and move to a different character in a different place. The reader follows you, but in the back of their mind, they’re wondering how this is going to bring them back to the man hanging over the roiling river.

Each character needs an issue or dilemma (or more than one). So that each decision he or she makes has a ripple effect on the other characters. If Mary decides to have the baby, Joe has to admit to his wife, he’s been having an affair. Your chapter is all about Mary, but your reader is madly reading to find out what Joe does when he learns Mary’s decision.

Unexpected actions create mounting obstacles. Bruce Willis in his DieHard series is the king. No sooner does he chase the bad guy up the tunnel in a stolen truck, then the tunnel starts to flood and he has to get out. Ian MacEwan in Atonement makes his protagonist envious and when she fabricates a tale out of envy, it has unexpected consequences. Her life changes, but so do the lives of everyone else in the story. Some writers use the ‘what if’ theory of writing here. They consider possible what ifs before they choose what will make the risk greater for their protagonist.

Careful here, because if you’re over the top with too many bad things happening to one person, a reader can turn away. Too incredible or too dark are the comments from agents who reject those manuscripts.

Another hint: Every decision has to have an up and a down side, so the reader has no idea which way it’ll turn out. This counterbalancing of forces—the cost of winning one thing is to lose another—is the stuff that makes a reader hang tough. They can’t predict and the only way to find out is to turn the page. John finds a letter hidden in his father’s desk. But it may tell him he’s not really his father’s son after all. Does he read it?

Keep in mind there are internal and external conflicts. The creaky floorboard and an intruder in the dark hallway are external conflicts. An internal conflict can be added to heighten the tension. Mary’s son died in a hunting accident. She hates guns. Or Tom fought off terrorists as a CIA agent years ago and he’s living a secret life away from the espionage world when the lights go out.

Internal conflicts are the link between your reader and your characters. A reader needs to like or at the least empathize with a character. Once the reader cares about Mary or Tom, they’ll care more when the choices get harder and the risk of failure is greater. Internal conflicts are also the stuff of classics. They produce the resonance that makes a story bigger than the simple action. More resonance means the book lives beyond the year it’s published. Why do men fight wars? How strong is a mother’s love? In Night by Elie Wiesel, a boy survives Hitler’s concentration camps, but it informs our understanding of endurance and commitment to family, the strength of the human spirit to overcome evil.

Think of your story like a Mardi Gras cake, that yeasty, swirled concoction with the hidden trinkets that predict your fortune. The cake is the story itself: the characters and their problems. The trinkets are the bits and pieces of narrative tension, baked into the batter so that they’re spread all through the dough. You don’t know which bite will yield the trinket that brings good luck or bad. But the cake’s too good not to eat. And the possibility of getting the prize is too tempting.
* * *
Sarah Collins Honenberger left New England for Virginia over thirty years ago, though she does some of her best writing by the ocean in Rockport, Massachusetts. Honenberger’s first novel was nominated for the 2007 Library of Virginia Fiction award. White Lies: A Tale of Babies, Vaccines, and Deception is a celebration of the power of friendship between two very different women, a small town divorce lawyer and the mother of a baby injured by a vaccine. Her second novel, Waltzing Cowboys, is scheduled to be released from Cedar Creek in January 2009. Trying to right an old wrong, an aging cowboy goes back to New York City to find the son he’s never met.

Honenberger’s short fiction has won prizes from Antietam Review, New Millennium, SouthLit, the HooK, and has appeared in other literary journals. She has taught creative writing at seminars and conferences for over a decade. An Oprah veteran for her essay, ‘Gathering Rosebuds: A Working Woman’s Manifesto,’ Honenberger writes about ordinary people and their struggle to find meaning in extraordinary events. More at

Saturday, June 21, 2008

SILENCED CRY by Marta Stephens

Hello, friends and colleagues. I've been out of town on business this week, and will be away July 4th for our annual vacation on Honeoye Lake, so I'm going to post a few reviews for the next few Sundays. I know you've heard a lot about Marta Stephen's wonderful book, SILENCED CRY. But you haven't read my review yet, have you? Here it is. ;o)

Heads up, mystery lovers. There’s a new crime writer in town, and her name is Marta Stephens.

Stephens’ debut novel, SILENCED CRY, is supremely addictive, propelling readers into the action from page one and corkscrewing through a wild ride of corruption, abuse, and villainy.

When Detective Sam Harper’s partner, Frank Gillies, gets a peculiar tip about a drug-related suspect holed up in a local bar, they hurry to apprehend him. The bust goes terribly wrong, and in one heart-pounding moment awash with bizarre twists, the suspect and Gillies end up dead in a rain-soaked alley.

Riddled with guilt and facing an increasing number of unanswered questions about Gillies’ past, Sam tries to move forward, but becomes exasperated when he’s placed with a new partner who hails from a corrupt precinct. In spite of their rocky start, Harper and Mann learn to tolerate each other. Their first case calls them to a construction site to investigate remains found in a sealed up wall. Horrified, they discover the remains belong to that of a baby girl – killed when she was only days old.

The cold case consumes Harper, who digs into the past with persistence and unparalleled drive. Strange connections with his and Gillies’ past pop up. Walt Harper, Sam’s father and an ex-cop familiar with the suspects, grows distant and secretive.

What is Walt hiding from his son? And could it possibly relate to Sam’s partner’s death? The answers lie embedded in a complex maze that will shock and satisfy the most assiduous crime mystery buff.

Stephens writes with a consummate skill. She’s serious about her craft, and it shows. Tight suspense, perfectly chosen verbs, natural and innovative beats, and authentic dialog propel this work to a level far beyond those works commonly found on the best sellers list. Stephens’ writing soars with focused intensity and her characters are real – they hurt, they fall in love, they suffer angst and explode with anger.

Stephen’s second book in the Sam Harper series promises thrills and intrigue matched only by SILENCED CRY. This reviewer will be first in line for his much-anticipated copy.


Title: Silenced Cry
Author: Marta Stephens
Publisher: BeWrite Books
Publisher's Address: 32 Bryn Road South,Wigan, Lancaster, WN4 8QR
ISBN number: 978-1-905202-72-0Price: $15.50
Publisher phone number and/or website address:


Aaron Paul Lazar writes to soothe his soul. The author of LeGarde Mysteries and Moore Mysteries enjoys the Genesee Valley countryside in upstate New York, where his characters embrace life, play with their dogs and grandkids, grow sumptuous gardens, and chase bad guys. Visit his websites at and and watch for his upcoming release, MAZURKA, coming in 2008.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Losing My Blogging Virginity

© Darden North 2008 all rights reserved

A trip to his 2008 Book Expo America book signing sparks author's personal interest in blogging.

This morning I noticed with much appreciation that a visitor to one of my website listings had clicked on the My Blog link sometime between midnight last night and eight o'clock this morning. However, I must confess that the unfortunate Internet night owl was gravely disappointed (at least I hope that he or she was disappointed, or maybe even just a little bit) by the blank space found there. Hopefully, she or he then went on to reference the many other listings on the site that I try to keep updated on a regular basis.

You see, I have never blogged. I am a forty-plus year-old blogging virgin. My excuse has been that every spare writing moment is needed to complete my third mystery/suspense/medical thriller manuscript FRESH FROZEN, due for release in hardcover later in 2008. But the truth is that I simply have never known how to blog, but then I have never tried until now. (Well, like most virgins, I have blogged one time before, but only one time, and I was very young.)

There I have pleaded guilty! I feel so much better.

When my first novel HOUSE CALL was released in hardcover in October 2005, blogging was not such a big thing, or at least if it was, I didn’t know it. Later, when my second book came along, POINTS OF ORIGIN, in hardcover in October 2007, I asked my webmaster to include blog capacity on my website. He then incorporated into my homepage an icon or widget (or whatever we call them now) entitled RECENT MUSING. My webmaster intended that to be a blog outlet, although not an interactive one. However, I have only used that venue as a method to make announcements, list recent reviews, or post awards or other recognition of my writing and publishing. I have never simply "mused" there.

My primary excuse for not blogging is the lack of time. However, it is notable that I do find time to eat between being a fulltime husband, father of two grown children, and feeder and bather of two small dogs -- all while maintaining an active obstetrics/gynecology medical and surgical practice. My wife and I do socialize with friends, and I maintain an interest in gardening and hunting. My tennis racket and golf clubs are gathering dust, unfortunately. Since, as I have learned, most authors (except the really big ones of whom we are all familiar) keep other money-earning jobs that keep the writing of books, short stories, poems, etc., afloat, I feel completely at home in the field.

Another recent first for me was attending Book Expo America. As the guest of my book distributor, AtlasBooks/BookMasters, Incorporated, I was scheduled for an individual book signing featuring my current novel, POINTS OF ORIGIN. Points of Origin is set in a charming, but greedy, Mississippi town. The contemporary plot centers on the death of a 19-year-old patient in the hands of Dr. Dan Foxworth which costs him his reputation, his fortune, his plastic surgery dynasty, and ultimately his own life.

My informal course in Book Writing 101 and the follow-up, Being an Author (and a Good One) 102, have taught me that, given the opportunity, one will tell any person even remotely interested about one's writing, particularly when traveling. The lengthy air flight between my home in Jackson, Mississippi, and the 2008 Book Expo America in Los Angeles afforded that chance on several occasions. Sitting next to someone reading a hardcover or paperback in a crowded airplane or airport creates the ideal opportunity, not to mention the prospect of broaching the subject of being a mystery/medical thriller writer with a taxi driver who leaves a novel on the front seat next to him.

Sadly, during my trip to and from L. A., I broke the rule I learned in Book Promotion 103 that one should always have a copy of one's book on hand to show-off or present as a gift in those instances. At least I had some of my bookmarks to hand out. A very nice lady from Hawaii heading to Houston for a family visit with her husband asked me for six personally autographed Darden North bookmarks and, of course, I was happy to give them to her. She said she planned to order copies of HOUSE CALL and POINTS OF ORIGIN for her children and real estate clients and include the bookmarks.

While the 2008 BEA was my first Book Expo America, I definitely plan to return in the future and truly wish that I had allowed more than one day on this recent outing. In fact, I never made it to the south end of the convention before the 5:00 PM closing time on Day 1. As I mentioned above, I was there at the invitation of my book distributor, who scheduled a book signing featuring my second book, POINTS OF ORIGIN for Day 1 of the convention that lasted well past three.

I am proud to announce that my book signing resulted in a sell-out, or should we say a giveaway? The appearance was a wonderful publicity opportunity for me. I would like to think that most of the people who came by to get a personalized, signed, free copy of POINTS OF ORIGIN had sought me out. But, I'm sure, most merely stumbled upon me, but then expressed genuine delight in having done so. One book was going to an English library in northern Israel, others to the extremes of North America, some staying right there in L. A. Hopefully, one or two copies find their way to a movie, TV, or cable producer. (That’s a fun thought, isn’t it?)

The turnout for my signing of POINTS OF ORIGIN (including a few copies of the paperback of HOUSE CALL) was particularly gratifying when I learned later that I was competing with simultaneous personal appearances by Barbara Walters, Michael Connelly, R.A. Salvatore, and Mario Lopez, to name a few, all autographing their books as well at Book Expo America. Fortunately, after my "sell-out," I made it to Michael Connelly's and Bob Salvatore's signings and was afforded the opportunity to exchange signed books with them. Both seemed like nice guys.

During my hurried, one-day experience, I made several other contacts including learning about opportunities to publish with e-books and audio books as well as talking briefly with a few reps at the major publishing houses. Of course, I supplied them with concise written information about my novels and writing. (Well, you never know.)

I do hope that this blog will be only one of many to come and hope that anyone who has read through this first effort has not regretted the experience. If so, please give me another chance.

Sometimes things get better with practice.

* * *
Author Bio: Darden North, MD, is an obstetrician/gynecologist practicing in partnership at Jackson Healthcare for Women, PA, in Jackson, Mississippi. He is a member of the American Medical Association, the Central Mississippi Medical Society and the Jackson Gynecic Society, as well as a fellow of the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology. He is completing his second term as chairman of the board of Mississippi Health Partners, a Physicians and Hospital Organization. North is a diplomat of the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology, maintaining current board recertification in his field.Born in Jackson and reared in Cleveland, Mississippi, he is the son of Evelyn Hays North and the late Linton Darden North. North and his wife the former Sarah "Sally" Buckner Fortenberry are active members of their community and have a son and daughter, William Darden and Anderson Eleanor. The family of four continues to make its home in Jackson with its 15-year-old cat, Tuxedo, and a 10-year-old Sheltie, Rogue. More recent additions are Valerie, an active Chihuahua puppy, and Bandit, a yellow lab puppy who attends Ole Miss with William.In addition to practicing medicine, North has entered the realm of writing and publishing fiction, recently completing his first mystery thriller novel while also pursuing interests in hunting, gardening and following the Ole Miss Rebels. He participates in the local Southern Writers Group and attended the 2005 Oxford (Mississippi) Conference for the Book.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Have We All Gone Mad?

Write, that's what we do. We lock ourselves inside a room with our computers and mugs of coffee or glasses of wine or whatever and type into the wee hours of the night until we can no longer keep our eyelids open. We dig into those dark little corners of our minds and conjure up wonderful characters, amazing story lines, and incredible twists and turns with only one goal in mind -- that readers will love our characters and stories as much as we love creating them.

That's the fun part. But the next step in the process will either make or break an aspiring author. Recently, I've heard more than one horror story from authors who are or have tried to get their foot in the publishing world's door. It goes something like this:

Okay, so it’s a bit exaggerated, but those who have been there understand where I’m coming from. Unfortunately, I don’t have an answer for how to avoid or how to handle that type of situation, except to say that success begins with you. So here goes, my ten tips of the day:

1. Don't give up!

2. Set a realistic goal and then focus on it.

3. Listen to the voice in your head but write from the heart.

4. Seek out a mentor; a knowledgeable, experienced writer who will push you forward -- someone who will force you to become the writer you never thought possible. Let him/her critique your work. Remember that pats on the back are nice, but they won't get you as far as an honest, straight-forward critique. Better to have your work scrutinized by a mentor (someone who actually cares and believes in you) than to risk rejection by an agent or publisher or, if your book gets published, a reviewer.

5. Time is precious. Ask for help then pay it back and forward.

6. Study the craft and research your work. It, or the lack of it, will show.

7. No pain, no gain, baby. Don't fall in love with your words. Nothing you write should be written in stone. Sometimes you have no choice but to rewrite that perfect line for the sake of the plot. If I had a penny for every word/entire chapters I’ve cut from my books, I’d have a fortune. So go ahead, cut and rework it! There's nothing better than to think you've done your best and then realize you've just topped your best effort.

8. Believe in yourself. If you don't, no one else will. Why should they?

9. And for God's sake, don't type "The End" until you know deep down, I mean really deep down in your heart that it's the best it can be. How will you know when it's "perfect?" Set your work aside for several days, weeks or months. Read it again with fresh eyes. Typos and awkward phrases will jump out at you, but if you can read through the piece without picking up the red pencil, you're probably close. Now go back to #4.

10. When you reach your goal, don’t forget those who have helped you along the way – go back to #5.

That's it, so what are you doing surfing the net? Go write!

Marta Stephens writes crime mystery/suspense. SILENCED CRY (2007) is available online at familiar shops such as all the Amazons, Barnes & Noble, Borders, Books-a-Million, and Powells, Other locations include but are not limited to those listed on my website,
Look for THE DEVIL CAN WAIT in the fall, 2008.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The Blank Page

© Marta Stephens 2008, all rights reserved

Long before I decided to write fiction, my first love was art, so I can’t help but compare the writing process to the method I use when I oil paint. In both instances I begin with a white surface that begs to be filled. I start with an outline of the shapes (my plot), determine the perspective points (point of view character), and then decide the direction of the light and shadows (those wonderful subplots, twists, and turns). Obviously there’s more to consider when we write, but all the same, it is a layering process of writing, editing, and letting the prose rest. If you were to paint an object in the foreground of the canvas before the background was dry to the touch, you’d end up with a muddied mess. Writing is no different. It can’t be rushed.

When I start working on a new novel I consider the crime first. What happened, who did it, how, when, and why? It’s essential to the development of the plot. Next comes the cast of characters. Several of the characters such as Homicide Detective Sam Harper and his partner Dave Mann appear in all of my books, however, the villains change and I usually introduce two or three other protagonists. I write back stories on each new character to understand their motivation. A brief synopsis will give me a rough idea of the storyline; the order of the events and how I want the book to end. Details don't play a role at this point of the planning, all I'm trying to do is understand the big picture rather than the individual scenes and of course, all of this is apt to change as the story evolves. I also find that making a list of the chapters along with a brief 1-2 line description of what happens in each helps me keep an eye on the timeline. The characters and deciding how their paths will cross is the next critical step -- developing the subplots.

The second and most important thing for me to do is to get inside the character's head. I have to understand his motivation, what has led him to this point, how does the character feel physically, mentally, spiritually, and what external factors are affecting his behavior or decisions. Without a clear understanding of these things, it's hard to know how the character will act, react, and cope with the situation he is in. I also try to get a feel for what good or bad things are going on outside of the character's control that may affect him emotionally (i.e.: friends, family, job, relationships, weather, etc.).

Once I'm comfortable with the direction the manuscript is going in, I’ll type a chapter a day, let it rest for several days and then go back and work on the edits. I may go through this process six or seven times a chapter before I’m ready to move on to the next one. Eventually I’ll read the entire manuscript and start tweaking the prose and adding details.

My method certainly doesn’t guarantee that there won’t be rewrites. Bur regardless of the process used, there are no fast and easy solutions or magic wands to completing a novel. It's a never-ending process that takes patience, practice, and perseverance.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Words You'll Never Use (But Wish You Could)

English is an awesome, complex, infuriating, wonderful language. Many an English-speaking writer has held a long love affair with words, with their many nuances and combinations capable of evoking so much. It's said that a writer's toolbox should contain a multitude of words in order to paint the most perfect picture possible (without, yanno, actual pictures).

However, there are some wacky and wonderful words you just won't ever find in a book, unless the author is a) unbelievably pretentious, b) completely clueless, or c) going for that rush-for-the-dictionary reaction, because there is just no other word.

Here are just a few of the words you'll never see in one of my novels - despite my most fervent desire to use them:

Erinaceous: Like a hedgehog

Denefestration: The act of throwing someone or something out a window

Sturm and drang: Storm and stress (root: German)

Mesonoxian: Pertaining to midnight

Floccinaucinihilipilification: An estimation that something is valueless (go ahead and try to pronounce that one :-)

Nihilarian: A person who deals with things that lack importance (e.g., your boss)

Mungo: A dumpster diver (person who extracts valuable things from the trash)

Soodle: To walk or stroll leisurely

Groak: To watch people eating, and hope they'll ask you to join them

Blinkard: A person with bad eyes; or one who is dull and stupid

Artuate: To tear limb from limb

Tyrotoxism: To be poisoned by cheese

Ananym: A pseudonym devised by spelling one's name backwards

Widdiful: A person who deserves to be hanged

Nudiustertian: The day before yesterday

Pulveratricious: Covered with dust

Wamble: To stagger

Aren't these fun? I'd love to work some of them into my fiction. If only I had a character that was like a hedgehog; I'd use erinaceous in a heartbeat. Feel free to add your own weird words, or borrow some of mine. :-)

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm off to artuate a Nihilarian . . .

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Surviving the Submissions Process

© Cait Myers 2008 all rights reserved

If you’ve recently completed your novel, then I offer you my congratulations. I should also warn you, though, that it’s only after you’ve written “The End” that the real hard work and frustration begins. There is no simple formula for getting your work accepted by a publisher. It’s down to hard work, research, patience and a lot of luck. Here are a few tips which should increase your chances.

Before submitting your novel anywhere, you must be absolutely sure that it is ready. Have you proof-read it, once, twice, three times? I can almost guarantee that, if you place your manuscript aside for a while and then proof it again later, you will find something you’ve missed. If any of your family or friends have the time, hassle them to read your work and take on board their suggestions. And be honest with yourself; do you really think your work is good enough to be submitted? If you are unsure, leave this manuscript and work on something else for a time. Upon re-reading your novel a couple of months later, you may even decide to completely rewrite your work.

Once your manuscript is as perfect and polished as you can make it, the next step is to seek out suitable publishing houses. For the UK, The Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook or The Writer’s Handbook are good places to start. And, of course, the internet is a great resource. Most of the major houses will only accept submissions which arrive via an agent. If you’re looking for agency representation, then check out the resources listed earlier for suitable contacts. As a small, independent publishing house, BeWrite Books accepts submissions directly from the authors, so that is what this article will focus on. When hunting for suitable publishers, there are a few questions that you should bear in mind:

- Does the publisher accept direct author submissions?

- Does the publisher’s catalogue include books of the same genre, style and target audience as your own novel?

- Are you happy with the reputation and the quality of the work produced by the publisher?

- If your novel has a specific genre such as fantasy, romance, memoir or children’s fiction, is there a specialist publisher you could submit to?

If your book fits a tightly defined genre, then there will probably be a niche publisher somewhere who caters for it. On the other hand, if your book defies classification, for example “contemporary fiction”, then you should seek out a publisher with a more general catalogue of titles.

Once you have decided on the publishing house you would like to submit to, find out their submission requirements. If you can’t find them on their website, then contact them directly and ask them to send you a copy by post or email. It is absolutely essential to read the requirements thoroughly and follow them word for word. I cannot stress this enough! Many submissions are rejected because a prospective author hasn’t followed the process correctly; an acquisitions editor will be wary of an author who appears to ignore the requirements, since this doesn’t bode well for a future working relationship. Also, if your book doesn’t exactly match the genre or word count requirements of the publisher, then don’t submit. Even if you’re convinced that your novel is an instant classic, you’d be wasting your time submitting it to the wrong publisher.

Once you’ve confirmed that your novel meets the publisher’s requirements in terms of genre and minimum or maximum word count, then you need to prepare your submission. Generally, a publisher will request a covering letter, a synopsis and a few sample extracts from the book, although this varies from house to house.

If your prospective publisher accepts electronic submissions, then confirm that the format of your work matches their requirements in terms of file format and size.

Be aware that many publishers will not accept pre-published work. If your novel has already appeared in print or eBook format, including self-publishing or “vanity press”, then it is essential that you make this clear with your initial submission. Similarly, you should point out whether or not you are submitting to multiple publishers.

Generally, a synopsis will also be requested. Synopsis writing is an art form in itself. There are numerous books written on the subject, and a quick internet search will give you dozens of articles on the subject. The synopsis will generally be your first chance to impress an acquisitions editor, and is equally important as your sample chapters. It must be well-written, typo-free and instantly attractive. It should also explain your novel clearly and concisely, without holding anything back. Don’t include any “teasers”. A well-written and presented synopsis that covers the book’s key themes, ideas and mood will get you a long way in the submissions queue. Try to explain concisely the “point” of your novel.

If a publisher doesn’t ask for the first three chapters to be submitted in chronological order, they may ask for a selection from your work. A good rule is to always send the first chapter, since this sets the tone for the whole novel. Our editors are certainly obsessed with great openings. Then, choose your next extract with care. Is there a particular chapter which captures the essence of what you wish to say? Is there a section you’re particularly proud of, or which captures some high drama? If family and friends have read your manuscript, ask them to suggest some memorable passages. If others were impressed by the prose, dialogue or plotting of a certain chapter, it could well impress the acquisitions editor.

In the cover letter, explain your motivation for writing the novel, and also mention any experience relevant to the subject matter. You should avoid bragging excessively though. Also, if you include any endorsements, make sure they are appropriate. An editor won’t be impressed by the fact that your mum thought this was the best book ever! It is also a good idea to avoid comparing your work to other authors. If your work has similarities, then the editor will recognize this.

Before making your submission, re-read it carefully once again. A spelling mistake or grammatical error can make the difference between acceptance and rejection. If the publisher asks for three-thousand words as an initial submission and there is a mistake in that small extract, then the publisher will naturally assume that there will be many more in the complete manuscript. Many of the mistakes will be simple ones, and the spell-checker in your word processing software is a great help, but no substitute for a painstaking proof-read.

Be Prepared

Many publishing houses receive an avalanche of submissions every day, and some won’t even look at your work unless you are represented by a literary agent. Others will read each submission carefully and assess each one on its own merits. This process takes time, so you should expect a month or two to go by before you hear any response. If anything changes in the meantime, for example you move house, or have your work accepted by another publisher, or decide to re-write your novel, or you plan to self-publish instead, then it is essential to inform the publisher. Although things may seem quiet, it could be that your manuscript is circulating amongst the acquisitions editors, who will be frustrated if they later learn that their efforts have been wasted. This could lead to a blacklisting with a particular publisher.

If a publisher expresses interest in your novel, then the next stage of hard work begins. You may believe that your novel is finished, and you may even have paid to have it professionally edited, but in any case, a reputable publisher will assign you an in-house editor. Be prepared to consider all their suggestions and work with them. Their aim is not to dilute your work, but to improve it. You may have to accept some criticism and make changes that you may not completely agree with, but part of the process of being published involves accepting the professional opinions of your editor. A good editor will strive to create a strong relationship with an author in order to “get inside their head” and help the writer realize their vision. As an author, you must be flexible and open to advice.

If, on the other hand, your work is rejected, take it in good grace. A rejection doesn’t necessarily mean that your creation is awful; it could just be that it doesn’t fit in with a publisher’s tastes. Just because one publisher knocks back your novel, this is no reason to give up. Re-assess your work and you may find areas for improvement. Then, submit to another suitable publisher. Many authors hope for feedback from acquisitions editors as to why their work hasn’t been accepted, but this isn’t always possible. Frequently there aren’t enough hours in the day to offer a detailed critique of every rejected manuscript.

The Work Itself

As I’ve already said, there is no simple answer on how to write a novel that will be published. In the vast majority of cases, an author’s first work is never published, and when they re-read it later in their career, the reasons become obvious! A novel must be original, interesting and well-written. Remember that you’ve got to grab the reader’s attention. And by “reader”, I also mean acquisitions editors, publishers and customers, so your opening chapter and synopsis is critical. I’m not asking you to murder a key character in your first paragraph, but try and make it as “grabby” as possible. You’ve got to hook your reader!

Good luck!

Cait Myers is publisher of the UK-based publishing house, BeWrite Books. Since its foundation in 2002, it has published over one hundred original fiction and poetry books. She currently lives in Munich, Germany, with her partner, Alex.

Playing in Colors

Red berries
Cold with morning dew
Quench my thirst

- Aaron Paul Lazar 2008

Good morning! I hope your day has dawned as sunny as our Sunday has here in upstate New York. Af ter a few days of drenching rain, it's rather welcome.

Let's try something new today, okay?

Frankly, I'm tired of editing for months on end. Sure, it's the natural extension of writing a dozen books - and every new book I write means there's another editing job looming on the horizon. Seems like there's not nearly enough time for just fun writing anymore. You know what I mean: that wonderful experience where the story gushes from you in dazzles of color and bursts into glorious action. Mmm. That's the best.

I just want to soak in some brilliant hues and write something fresh and new. I'm craving it, badly, and I think this morning we all deserve a few moments to stop, think, and write something deeply satisfying.

How about you? Ready for a break? Would you like to participate?

Above is a haiku I wrote last year, with an accompanying photo. Do any of the following images inspire your writer's soul?

If Haiku is your thing, try your hand at it. Post your work anytime this week, and I'll add it to this article, beneath the photo that inspired it. We'll all bask in the beauty of your words. Or something like that! ;o)

I'll post your work beneath the photos when you either send it to me via email at aaron dot lazar at, or simply type it into the comments box. Be sure to let me know what image inspired you.

Let us know which image inspired your poem. Remember, if you want to try a haiku, use either of the following formats (in syllables):







One final note - if poetry isn't your thing, feel free to whip up a flash fiction piece, or perhaps the first chapter in your next novel. Or maybe you'll delve into a lovely dialogue based on someone in or near the scene of the above images.

By the way - Marta inspired me yesterday to play a bit with flash fiction through inspiration, after I'd written the above haiku/imagery piece. Funny, I guess June 14th was the day for inspiration all around. Well, it was flag day, wasn't it? Maybe there's something in that! I've posted my piece written in 15 minutes below - not very elegant or "edited," by any means, but it was fun. I based it on the challenge by Donna Sundblad's Pumping Your Muse writing prompt blog to write about a crime that takes place while hiking. Sorry it makes this blog a little long today, but most of it is just pictures!
Are you ready to write? Okay, good. Now get busy!


Sky reflected in stream

Perfect inversion

A blameless sky at my feet

Today, I'll touch it

- SW Vaughn

Still morning water

Reflecting glorious sun

Also stills my soul

- Rhetta A.

Salmon poppies in early morning

Fluttery and pink

Lifting flirty twirling skirts

Dancing a can can
- Patricia F.

Ah, the wild glory

A field of salmon poppies

So extravagent!
- Rhetta A

Like pink tissue bowls

Holding berried cabernet

Raising us a toast
- Patricia F.

Salmon poppies sing

Delicate pink and black songs

Refreshed I am now
- Cori Anders

Light through windows, courtesy of grandson, Gordie (4)

Johnson's blue geranium

Foggy field at dawn

Roses in afternoon sun

Day has come and gone

Her roses swallow the light

Hold it there for me

- Patricia F.

Winter sunrise

Feathered sky

Hills gilded in pink

Wake my soul

- Patricia F

Abandoned doorway

Come home soon

Wayward family.

I wait here.

- Patricia F.

"He went out to get some kindling," Mary said, looking through the clouded window at a robin on a branch. "Never came back. Just left the barrel there on the stoop." Her knarled hands lay in her lap like nesting birds."But he'll come home again. I'll just wait here. He can't be too much longer.""Miss Mary?" A voice rattled the windows of her mind. "It's about time you got out of bed. Breakfast is getting cold. And there's Bingo today down in the Rec Room."Mary closed her eyes against the light. The robin tapped at her window, begging to be let in.

- Patricia F.,


Here's the flash fiction I wrote based on Donna Sunblad's prompt. Just for fun!

She saw it all in slow motion again, sitting there on the rocks high above the Letchworth Gorge. She saw the blood pool in the dirt on the trail and the calm hand that pulled the pocketknife out of her boyfriend’s back.

The musty smell of wet leaves coated the inside of her mouth. She ran her tongue over her lips, noticing for the first time a warm salty wound where she’d bit through the skin. Somehow, it tasted good. And the distraction felt welcome.

This way, she wouldn’t have to think about him. The way his dull brown eyes had dimmed and gone dark when she’d turned him over. She banged her fist against her head over and over again.

“Stupid! Stupid! Stupid!”

The attack had been unexpected, out of the blue. She turned her attention to the rock on which she perched, ready to fly into the abyss. Mica sparkled from its crevices. She picked at a large piece, dislodging it and looking at her spooky eye in the reflection.

She wanted to cry. She wanted to scream. But her brain clamped down on her so hard she had to squirm in place rather than give in.

Squinting at the crows that cackled overhead in the beech tree, she shouted up to them.

“Shut up!” They responded, and one flew in lazy circles, close to her.

She felt the panic rise again. Pictured Fred’s eyes when he told her about Lucy. Pictured the calm red surf that had filled her heart and had made her reach for the knife, oh so slowly.

Oh yes. He’d deserved to die. He’d really had it coming.

She stood, brushed her bloody hands on her jeans, and leapt from the cliffs to the glistening river water that curved in a metallic ribbon below.


Aaron Paul Lazar writes to soothe his soul. The author of LeGarde Mysteries and Moore Mysteries enjoys the Genesee Valley countryside in upstate New York, where his characters embrace life, play with their dogs and grandkids, grow sumptuous gardens, and chase bad guys. Visit his websites at and and watch for his upcoming release, MAZURKA, coming in 2008.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Weddings Can Be Murder

© Marta Stephens 2008 all rights reserved

I was just visiting Donna Sundblad's Pumping Your Muse Prompt blog, and found a wonderful 15-minute writing challenge I couldn't resist. She's listed several prompts but I thought that in honor or our 28th wedding anniversary today, murder at a wedding seemed ... well ... appropriate.

So here it is, my 15 minute flash fiction. Couldn't stop to think, so with my egg timer set for 15 minutes I typed. ;)

* * *

No one noticed that Rodney Timms hadn’t moved in over an hour. He was sitting on the grass some distance away from the wedding party and leaning against the old Maple at the far end of the lawn. A small faded red spot on his the front of his shirt raised a guest’s eyebrow.

“Wine. Shame he can’t control his drink,” Mrs. Filler said with a shake of her head.

Doris Timms bit her lip then sipped her punch. “Typical.”

While the two women watched Rodney sleep, another guest walked up behind them.

“And what are you two lovelies doing?” Mr. Allan asked.

“Why it’s Rodney.” Mrs. Filler pointed an accusing finger at man leaning against the tree. “Drunk as usual.”

“Well, it is a wedding.” Allan smiled and raised his glass. “Let him have his fun, I say.”

“But his own daughter’s wedding!”

“That’s Rodney for you. Why do you think we divorced?” Doris took anther sip. “Nothing but problems, that one. I didn’t want him to come—he insisted. In fact, I begged him. I knew something like this would happen.”

Allan gave Doris a consoling patted on the back. “Just let him sleep it off. In the morning everything will be better. You’ll see.”

“Yes, I’m sure you’re right,” Doris said. "In fact, I know it."

As Mrs. Filler and Mr. Allan walked away, a smile tugged at the corner of Doris’s mouth while she continued to stare at her former husband. Moments later she heard another family friend, David, call out her name. She could sense he was only a few feet away.

“Doris, what,” he paused for a moment. “You dropped something.” He carefully picked up the ice pick with his napkin then lowered and raised his glance. He glanced at Rodney and frowned. His mouth grew taut.

Doris froze. She clutched her purse and stared him square in the face wondering what he was going to do with the bloodied ice pick he held in his napkin; the one that had fallen out of her purse. The pick with her prints and Rodney’s blood on it. Damn, she always liked David. Now she’d have to take care of him too.

Please stop by Donna's blog and take the challenge. It's great fun!!

Marta Stephens

Friday, June 13, 2008

Tools of the Writer's Trade

copyright 2008, R. C. Burdick

"Writing requires tools?" Absolutely, but fret not, as a writer's tools are not found in your typical box of wrenches. You see words are the writer's tools. Each writer has a storehouse of these tools, of course, so what is it about this abundant commodity that separates the wannabe writer from the master wordsmith? Quite honestly, it's the same measure separating the neophyte and master in any endeavor: expertise—a quality acquired through practice.

"Yes," you may argue, "practice is fine, but there are a plethora of how-to and self-study books available to all writers, whether targeted to the beginner or the accomplished."

This is true; however, no array of books can negate the just-stated fact about practice. But just any practice will not suffice. What's the best path? For our purpose, let's assume decent mastery of spelling, punctuation, grammar, and mechanics. With these skills under control, anyone could string words correctly, but the excitement of such would read on par with a technical manual. What's missing? The "word picture," an image produced by the writer with use of concrete details, an essential "practice" all writers should include in their writing.

To see this at work, think of the adage about a picture being worth a thousand words. This is true, as abstract words provide only a cloudy sketch of a scene whereas vivid words paint a picture and bring a scene to life. With children's books this goal of vivid over abstract is accomplished with pictures that capture interest and lead the child through the story, an approach truly worth a thousand words. Adult writing is different, of course, but it's still the vivid scene, produced with words instead of pictures, that captures and maintains reader interest. This holds true whether writing a novel or a letter to a friend.

As just mentioned there's an array of how-to books addressing this aspect of the writing craft, each brimming with examples and all worth learning, but for now let's touch on just a few of the elements guaranteed to breathe life into the most mundane writing.

One item to consider is the SIMILE, a figure of speech that compares one thing to another. Do you remember this famous one by Tennessee Ernie Ford? "He was as nervous as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs." With this simile a reader can readily see the character's uncertainty and fleeting eyes whereas to have said, "he was nervous" would only convey fact, not image.

Then there's the METAPHOR, a means of transforming one thing to another as opposed to comparing. "The First Sergeant was a bull dog, snarling and barking orders at the new recruits." In these few words of transformation through metaphor, the reader easily sees this character's demeanor.

Remember, however, figures of speech are imaginative expressions not to be taken literally. The words AS and LIKE introduce a simile. With a metaphor the introductory word is WAS. Also keep in mind that while simile and metaphor will liven your writing, too much of a good thing can be bad. As in all aspects of writing, balance is the key.

Another helpful item is to search for areas in the writing where you can convey a picture without actually instructing the reader in what to see. The how-to books refer to this as "showing, not telling," and it's easy to do. How about showing an old and battered car instead of simply stating its condition? "As I approached Jerry's apartment, I saw his Honda Civic at the curb. Two of its tires were flat and the vehicle's color, once the shade of ripe sugarcane, was now streaked with rust and blotches of body-shop primer."

The flip side of the above approach also works well—conveying a picture by stating what something is not. Direct question: "How was your trip to the Bahamas?" Indirect answer: "We didn't find the Blue Lagoon." In using this approach of conveying an image, the writer allows the reader to imagine WHAT IT IS by simply stating WHAT IT IS NOT.

And don't forget action verbs, as many fail to convey full sense or deeper meaning of how the action was done. A good example is a character walking from one point to another. What picture does this convey? Actually, there's none. How about strode, which is to walk with long steps, especially in a hasty or vigorous way? Need a different image for your scene? Maybe lumbered is your word—to move clumsily or heavily. Or how about ambled—to walk slowly or leisurely. Each of these words describes the action of walking, but they also carry specific image within their meaning. This is the word picture using concrete details.

Don't stop here, however. Nouns can also be weak at times, so replace them with ones brimming with detail. Is the dwelling in your scene a large, lovely, sprawling home? If so, sharpen the image by saying the home was palatial. Other ubiquitous examples might include a tree, a dog, or an aircraft. Give these items life by making them specific: a stunted juniper, a blue-eyed Dalmatian, and a Lockheed L-1011.

Words are the tools of the writer's trade, and one of the best tricks of this trade is creating the word picture—a practice all writers should master.

R. C. Burdick began writing for publication in 1982. He has published dozens of articles and short stories and also counts two mystery novels among his credits: THE MARGARET ELLEN (2004) and TREAD NOT ON ME(2005). Additionally, his short story collection, STORIES ALONG THE WAY, won the 2002 Royal Palm Book Award. As a contributing writer his work has appeared in the Chatsworth Times, The Time Courier, and The St. Petersburg Times. His work in progress includes Death At Bear Creek Summit and Bottom Feeders, a sequel to The Margaret Ellen. Since 2001, Burdick has also been a columnist and contributing writer for Inky Trail News. Visit for additional information.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Are you a hobby writer?

copyright Kim Smith 2008

Are you a hobby writer? What is that? Well, according to Merriam Webster, it is :
-- a pursuit outside one's regular occupation engaged in especially for relaxation--

I think I am a hobby writer to some extent. There is nothing more relaxing than sinking into a chair, pulling my laptop onto my lap, and tapping the keys for a few hours. The resulting work can be something funny, enlightening, freeing. No matter if I am writing about a young Elf looking for his identity, a woman from a different time looking for her missing husband, a mysterious man seeking revenge, or poetry, I am happy.

I remind myself as I work hard to promote my new "profession" as a published author, that the whole reason for doing what I do, and love to do, is because it is something relaxing. I believe the person who said "unpublished authors should enjoy their freedom, because once you are published it changes". Not in a bad way, just in a different way. No longer do you focus on story alone, but now must consider the audience who will read that story, and try to get it done under a deadline. Deadlines are anything BUT relaxing, but again, you just gotta love the process.

As summer really takes over my region of the world I realize how much I love the relaxation side of writing. My husband bought us a nice swing and we go out each evening and sit together and discuss our day and just relax. When he is otherwise occupied, I take the laptop there, and in the shade of my big tree, just let everything flow onto the page.

ahh! real relaxation. And to think, once I thought being a hobby writer meant you didn't get paid for it! ha! This is payment one could love for a lifetime.

So, if the world asks if you are a hobby writer, heartily tell them yes, you are. I know I will.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

All I Need Are Two Little Words

The book is done, author and editor agree on the edits, and the blurb is finished. The worst part is behind me, right?

It was until I decided the book needed a new title.

Oh, everyone agreed it should be changed, but how do you describe what might be a 300-page book in two to three words? Obviously, I haven’t figured it out yet or I wouldn’t be writing this post. Not the easiest thing to do. Those two or three words have to tie to the story and grab the reader’s attention.

Well, fear not, the title is somewhere within the pages of the book. Thus far I’ve reread the key chapters where I thought I’d find the answer and studied the blurb. I jotted down several verbs and nouns that described the feel and focus of the book. I moved the words around hoping, waiting for that WOW title to jump out at me. Thus far, I have three pages of meaningless words, laughable combinations, and only a handful of possibilities. Not very good ones at that.

It’s been several days since my obsession began with words like, kill, evil, death, and disguise. And by now, I’m certain I’ve driven my family and friends completely mad with my outbursts. I mean, how often do families sit down to eat their evening meal and have mom blurt out, “Strike Me Dead!” I’m sure by now someone would be more than glad to oblige, but that’s another story.

Have a feeling it’s going to be another long day.

The Big R

As I may have mentioned previously, I'm currently on submission through my agent with my latest manuscript. Many writers - myself included - look forward to the day when rejections are no longer a fact of life, and it's not hard to think that once you have a good agent, your days of hearing "I just didn't love this" are over.

This is sadly untrue. Yesterday my agent and I received the first rejection for this submission.

I'd been expecting it, but rejection still hurts. One of the writer's greatest challenges is to realize and accept that not everyone is going to like everything you write - and that goes for editors, readers, peers and reviewers. There will always be someone there to say no. It's inevitable.

Rejection never gets easier to take . . . but the time it takes to get over it does become shorter, the longer you stay in the game. It only took me a few hours to stop stinging and feeling resentful, and jump back into my latest WIP - a sequel to the novel that was rejected. After all, there are tons of other editors out there.

It helps, too, that I have Bernard's Letter to lift my spirits. Go ahead, click the link. You'll feel better too. :-)

In closing, I have just one thing to say:


Sunday, June 8, 2008

The Ultimate Reward

copyright 2008, Aaron Paul Lazar

What do you picture when you dream about your book's success? Do you envision readers stopping you in the grocery store with stars in their eyes? Getting on Oprah? Seeing your book in the front window of your local Borders?

Or maybe you dream of your book riding at the top of the NY Times bestseller's list for months at a time? How about dining with Dean Koontz and his dog, Trixie? The sweet dog has passed over, sadly, but she still writes from "the other side" for the newsletter Dean publishes for her. Of course, this repast would be followed by a glowing, personal endorsement of your works by Trixie, and if you're lucky, maybe Mr. Koontz himself.

Am I close?

Are you being honest?

Over the years I've pictured several of these dazzling dreams happening to me. Including a multi-million dollar movie deal in which Harrison Ford plays Gus LeGarde. And of course, the world would fall in love with the LeGarde family and beg for more each year.

I imagined quitting my engineering job, staying home to write, making enough money to pay down the debt and take care of long needed repairs, like the twenty-six windows that shake and rattle every time the wind blows.

I envisioned copies of my books in everyone's home library. Worldwide, mind you. Not just in the States.

Lots of dreams. Big dreams. And all revolved around the traditional definition of success.
Recognition. Adulation. Confirmation that my work is valued. And enough money to take care of a small country.

A few weeks ago something happened that changed all that.

Judy, one of my lunchtime walking partners, had been canceling walks and working through lunch to make extra time to care for her elderly mother. We all admired her, watching as she shopped for her mom, took her to numerous doctors' appointments, and tended to her increasing needs with fortitude and devotion. She was one of five siblings, but took the bulk of the responsibility on her shoulders.

The cancellations increased in frequency, and it seemed we'd never see our friend on the walking trails again. We worried when her mother was admitted to the hospital. Up and down, her progress seemed to change like the December wind that skittered across the parking lots at work.

Judy was absent a few days, then a few more. Something felt wrong.

Then came the dreaded email. The subject line always seems to say the same thing. "Sad News." Judy's mom had passed away, released from her earthly bonds and finally free to float among the angels.

When Judy returned to work a week later, she shared stories about her mother's final days. One of them surprised me greatly, and fundamentally changed my definition of success.

Judy read to her mother during her final stay in the hospital. For hours on end. She happened to have my second book, Upstaged, handy and began to read to her during her responsive times. Sometimes her mother would just lie there with her eyes closed, and Judy didn't know if she was listening. Frequently, she'd ask, "Do you want me to continue reading, Mom?"

Her mother would respond. A nod or a short word.


A nurse perched behind Judy and became involved in the story, too. So Judy would continue reading aloud, giving comfort to her mother and providing a little armchair escapism to her nurse. Solace came from the tentative loving voice of her daughter, close and warm. And she was reading my words.

It floored me.

In a flash, I realized if one woman could be comforted on her deathbed by my books - I'd already reached the definitive pinnacle of success.

You'll never know how your stories will affect the world. Not until it happens. So keep writing and imagine the best. Not the money, not the fame, not the ability to quit that day job. Imagine affecting one solitary soul in their final moments on this earth, and you'll have pictured... the ultimate reward.

Aaron Paul Lazar writes to soothe his soul. The author of LeGarde Mysteries and Moore Mysteries enjoys the Genesee Valley countryside in upstate New York, where his characters embrace life, play with their dogs and grandkids, grow sumptuous gardens, and chase bad guys. Visit his websites at watch for his upcoming release, MAZURKA, coming in 2008.