Monday, August 02, 2010

2010: Day 212 Query Letters Sent ... And Now I Wait

Okay, so let me see if I have this right. It’s been 35 days since my last post? Time flies I guess, the question is, have I had a good time? Yes and no, but trust me I’d never use the words “good time” in the same sentence with the words, “synopsis and query letter.”

As some of you know, I spent weeks/months looking at a blank screen before moving beyond the “I’m thinking about … I need to write …” phase, but I’m happy to announce that I finally have them done. In fact, I started submitting to agents on July 16. Most have a 4-6 week response rate so I don’t expect to get any word, good [I'm going to be really, really positive about this] or bad, until mid-to late August. To be honest though, I’ve concluded that it’s strictly a numbers game. The more I mail, the better my odds of finding a good match. Yes, yes, I know the query letter has to hook them into reading the synopsis and then hopefully the manuscript, but honestly there are so many variables most of which are completely out of my control. For example ... what mood will the agent be in when he picks up my query? Did he receive great news as he walked into his office, or is this the morning his mother-in-law is moving in? Is the agent trying to quit smoking or did she just lose ten pounds? See what I mean? No control!  I’ve had to keep reminding myself that what one agent turns down, may be exactly what will strike then next agent’s fancy and so … I’ll keep subbing.

With respect to the task of writing these hellish things, at least most of the references I’ve searched through agree on what the synopsis should include—identify the main characters, highlight of each key turning point of the novel, and spell out the ending. Still a million questions raced through my mind: have I written enough? Am I cramming too much onto the page? Do they really think I can reduce this novel to a two-page summary? Will the hook pull them in? Is there a hook? Eeek gads!!!

If the synopsis isn't hard enough to write, the how-to on writing the perfect query letter is really anyone’s guess. I say this not because there isn’t a template to follow, but because one really, and I do mean really, has to study each agent’s site and understand what he or she is looking for. If you’re lucky, the agent will offer samples of what he or she considers to be a “stellar letter.” I found a few of them, and in the process, I also discovered that while most asked for the author’s credentials and personal information in the final paragraph, one agent wanted to read that sort of thing up front with only a line or two about the story at the end.

Some agents want to know how much the author knows about him or her (translation: researched them and their firm), there are others who claim they don’t care how the author found them, they just want to read the bit about the story and understand why he or she should request the manuscript.

For authors who like challenges though, there's always the various submission guidelines. Just try to keep them straight in your mind. Do they prefer snail mail or e-mail? Believe it or not, one agent has an online submission form. Do they want the query letter and the synopsis, or the query and first five pages of the manuscript, or was that the first five chapters? No wait, this one only wants the first 1,000 words and how about the agent who only wanted a letter indicating she would base a decision on it alone.
It’s crazy and it’s taken a months to develop an initial list of agents, customize the letters, and write the “perfect” synopsis. In the meantime, life has continued to throw out the occasional one-two punch.

I decided to push all of this out my head while I wait and spent this past weekend cleaning out my home office. After all, I'll need a clean desk on the day when I get the “please send” right? I filled two trash bags full of pages I'd printed but hadn't read, used or referred to in years as well as hundreds of pages of old edits. I tore them into several pieces just in case the enterprising vagrant who rummages through the trash at night finds my manuscripts, steals my idea, and turns it into a New York best seller. More power to him, if that’s the case.
Anyway, prayers and good wishes are gladly accepted!

For those interested, I posted a bit more about synopsis and queries here:

Monday, June 28, 2010

2010: Day 177. The Day Brought Some Progress

Well, I'm back and pleased to say all's not lost. I followed through with the steps I mentioned in yesterday's post and when I was ready to tackle the edits ... again, I put on my earphones, popped in my CD of Mr. Holland's Opus and got it done. ;)

My word count is down by around 300 words, so I'm obviously missing some text, but that's easily fixed.  All I need to do is compare my good printed chapters with the earlier electronic version to see what I need to update.

It certainly didn't take as long as I thought it would. So glad I didn't lose any sleep over this either.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

2010: Day 176 A Devastating Mistake--Or Was It?

Yesterday, I had an opportunity to attend a ladys' tea and listen to a talk given by a missionary titled, "See Through Faith."  I'd listened to one of her talks several years before so I was really pleased to know she was the speaker again this year.

Her message was that no matter who you are, what you believe in, how much money you have, bad and unfortunate things happen to everyone, but if we look at those things (experience them) through our feelings or with our eyes instead of through our faith, we will only see the negative side of the situation and open the floodgates of anger and resentment.

"Imagined," she said, "that a loved one has a terminal illness, what are you going to do?  Your unwed daughter is pregnant, what are you going to do? You've lost your job; your home, your business, what are you going to do?"  She continued with several other examples each time ending it with the question, what are you going to do? Will anger make these things go away? "No, instead," she said, "accept that these things have happened, have faith, and keep trying, keep living and go on with your life."

I've always firmly believed that all things happen for a reason--the people we meet, the things we do, the events (good or bad) that happen to us, come into our lives for a reason. And so, as she spoke I thought of the many things that have happened to our friends, their families, our family during these turbulent times and I was touched by her words.

Now then, what I'm about to share, isn't devastating or a life changing event, but as minor as it was in comparison, when it happened, I immediately thought of this woman's words and knew I'd been meant to hear them.

As those of you who have read my posts over the past few weeks know, I've complete my novel and have started working on the synopsis.  With the help of a handful of trusted friends, I've been busy polishing the manuscript. This morning, I read over the comments and suggestions my crit partner made to chapter 29 (out of 49). I worked on the edits until around two this afternoon. Imagine my thrill when I looked down at the word count: 74,350+!!

Today felt as if I could see the light at the end of the tunnel and it wasn't a train. When I finished working on the recent edits, I decided to work a bit more on the synopsis. This is when the train came plowing through. We were under another severe storm warning. It had started to thunder and in my rush to save my synopsis and shut down my computer, I saved it over my manuscript.

Yes, that's right, it's gone.  I won't lie, I gasped, I panicked, little beads of sweat formed on  my brow, but then I heard those words again. What are you going to do?  I can't explain it except to say they had an amazing calming affect on me. She was right, of course. Throwing a fit or banging my head against the wall wasn't going to reconstruct a 74,350+ word manuscript--only thing "to do" was to roll up my sleeves and get back to work.

I always print my latest edits and e-mail the entire manuscript to myself as soon as I'm done so on the up side, I have a hard copy of my final edits. Unfortunately, I hadn't gotten around to e-mailing it yet. When I checked, the latest version in my mail box was dated June 22. I opened the document and SAVED it to my hard drive. Then I pulled up all the edits JD sent to me since the 22nd.

I had to go back to chapter 13 and started comparing the edits to my hard copy and then updated my computer file again. Sure it's frustrating and it'll take me  several days to get it done, but like I said, it's not a life or death thing by a long shot.Will I be more careful next time? You bet!

Ironically, in the process of going back and checking the chapters one sentence at a time, I found a few things that he and I both missed and edits I'd overlooked. As I read through the text, I also discovered something I'd forgotten about one of the characters that will be key to a final chapter. Cool, huh?

Just another day in this writer's life. ;)

Saturday, June 19, 2010

2010: Day 168 A New Review For Silenced Cry

Some days when we least expect them, good things do come our way and this one was most welcomed! This past week, I received a note from a dear friend and author of "Dead Witness," Joylene Butler, that she had posted a review of my first novel, "Silenced Cry" on her blog.

Here goes:

Marta Stephens, SILENCED CRY, Bewrite Books, 2007, 284 pgs

As a writer, I'm well aware of how difficult it is to write a good pitch. For that reason when I read the publisher's blurb for "Silenced Cry", I bought a copy. Bewrite Publishers promised that Stephens's novel would keep me entertained from start to finish.

Author Marta Stephens delivers on that promise.

Homicide detective Sam Harper stands by helplessly as his partner is shot dead at what should have been a routine pick-up for questioning. His late-partner was so certain of the lack of danger that he declined to wear his vest before confronting the witness. Now Harper is left with more questions than answers. And to make matters worse, he's taken off the case and assigned to Homicide and a new partner.

When Harper is called to investigate a cold case, (the skeletal remains of an infant are found stuffed in the wall of a building due for demolition) the investigation leads him to a possible involvement by his police hero father and his boss, a man he respects and trusts. As more leads surface, the investigation becomes baffling. What is surely a horrific crime also involves rape and police brutality. Stephens's depiction of the grieving mother Roxanne Lewis is unforgettable and deeply moving.

Someone once said that if you've read one mystery, you've read them all. That is so far from the truth here. Sam Harper is not your run-of-the-mill hero. Though the story is about a good cop, it's not reminiscent of any other good-cop story. Harper is his own man, troubled, sincere, loyal and complexed. Silenced Cry is an intelligent story about a police detective determined to do the right thing even if it means it might destroy him.


For those interested, here's an excerpt:


The hour-long sessions started at nine in the morning, twice a week, whether narcotics detective, Sam Harper liked it or not. The only good thing about this damp and cold Massachusetts morning was that it marked the midpoint of Harper’s commitment. Internal Affairs had drilled him for three days in a row. Now the police shrink wanted a piece of him. He was sick of her dogged questions. That was his job, to wear the other guy down. Three sessions left, three hours of digging into his past, into the events of that night – that goddamned night.

Neither the mild vanilla scent floating up from a flickering candle on the doctor’s desk nor the subtle gurgle bubbling from a tabletop fountain were doing their job to relax him. Harper rubbed the arms of the leather chair with his thumb as he calculated his next move. He stared at her and finally broke the silence.

“You ever kill a man, Doc?” A subtle twitch of her brow told him he had her attention. “A split second. That’s all it takes, pull the trigger, and whoosh! He’s gone.”  more

Click here to read other reviews

Friday, June 18, 2010

2010: 167 Days--The Wheels Are Turning Again

My apologies for sounding like a broken record, but I’ll hate myself if I don’t leave a marker on this day, June 18, (2009) the anniversary of the initial writing of “Shroud of Lies.”

Yup, it was exactly a year ago today that I typed the first words to “Shroud of Lies" and wrote the last word on June 16, 2010. Now that it's done, a few dear souls have volunteered to give it a read/crit, so while I wait for their comments/suggestions, my mind is off wandering (and wondering) what to work on next.

I have a couple of choices. For homicide detective Sam Harper fans who have repeatedly asked what’s next in Sam’s life. I wrote the original draft to the third book in 2004-2005 (never did come up with a title) and placed it on the shelf while I worked on the two Harper books that got published. So that's one choice. Needless to say, my writing and voice has changed quite a bit since 2005 so it’ll take a chunk of editing, but it’s a good suspense story and worth the time to do it right--me thinks.

I have a fourth Harper novel written as well, “Grave Witness.” I worked on it throughout most of 2009. Unfortunately, it gave me fits right about the 50,000 words point. I was so frustrated with it that I dropped it to begin writing “Shroud of Lies.” Sometimes, dropping a troubled manuscript like lead balloon is the only solution. Again, it’s worth finishing, but this time my complicated plot got too complicated even for me.

I have two other Harper books still rolling around in my head, but I’m nowhere near ready to write them so Harper is far from gone, just taking a brief "vacation".

Choice two is a novel I outlined earlier this year during one of my must-to-walk-away-from-this-blasted-manuscript phase. I titled it, “The Pendant.” It’s a suspense novel about a serial killer and the unsuspecting woman who is attracted to him. I’ve had several people ask if I’d every write romance, this will be my attempt, but of course, there will be a few bodies scattered about. Sorry, can’t help myself.

So, in the meantime, while I wait for a brilliant thought to sneak into my head, I’ve picked up my copy of Paul Harris’s “The Secret Keeper” (excellent writing, BTW) and jog between reading it and writing that darn synopsis.

Friday, June 11, 2010

2010: 160 Days. Happy with the results

I think every writer at some point in their writing career experiences a time when their writing has taken a back seat to life. Mine certainly has these past several weeks. It's inevitable. Cars and homes need repair, families need our attention, gardens become terribly overgrown (because we haven’t tended to them in a couple of years because of the writing), work demands zap our creative energy, and life goes on. We continue to cram every possible thing we can into a day and, like I said, at some point something has to give.

Last week was an especially difficult week that began with a shattered car window. It was immediately followed by a broken water heater part that took a week for Sears to deliver, a tornado that touched down just outside of town (thankfully it missed us!), and the whole mess of a week was topped last Saturday when I took our 12-year old Boston Bull dog to the vet thinking she might have a bladder infection only to discover it was a tumor. I was so advanced that Maggie had to be put to sleep. It was heart-breaking to do, but in truth, it was the best thing for her.

Through it all I managed to continue to work on Shroud of Lies. Amazingly, the manuscript I began to write on June 18, 2009, is done seven days shy of the anniversary of its inception and I’m pretty happy with the results.

Now I feel I'm better able to get on with the darn synopsis.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

2010: Day 130 Still Working At It

Wednesday is my day to post on my other blog, Murder By 4, but I nearly forgot today. I haven’t posted in two weeks for no other reason than having my mind on my writing. Life and work things have also taken chunks of my time, but that’s the norm these days. At any rate, since I wrote about SHROUD OF LIES and my writing process and progress, I thought I’d post it here too, just for the heck of it.

Anyway, my time hasn’t been spent in silly idleness. Lately, my mind has been totally into the writing of my third novel, SHROUD OF LIES.

With two books under my belt, I’ve paid more attention to how I organize my writing this time around. This book is actually two stories wrapped into one so I’ve been particularly watchful of blending them well so as not to confuse the reader.

I’ve also learned that I write in layers. In fact, in other articles I’ve compared my writing process to oil painting. You know, start with a blank canvas, add the base coat of paint to the background, add the images, then slowly begin to show depth and perspective through light and shadows.

One very important thing I picked up this time around is that it’s absolutely okay, if not vital, to walk away from the writing for days or weeks when necessary. It clears my mind and energizes me so when I return, I can easily solve the problem sections that were giving me fits. In fact, I’m enjoying the process so much now that I don’t feel particularly rushed to finish it and this, I hope, is a positive sign. I’m not saying that this will take years for me to complete—more like months, but the plot is complex and can’t be rushed. I also have a tough time turning off the internal editor. Right or wrong, I can’t help reading each chapter several times before feeling I’m ready to move on to the next.

The first draft is the shell of the story—the nuts and bolts of introducing characters and what’s going to happen in this book. I threw in everything I could possibly think of into it and often repeated the information in several chapters just so I wouldn’t forget. It was during the first read that I noticed the repetitive statements. Those redundancies were the first thing to go. That’s also when I begin to pepper it with clues. Character development begins with the first draft as well, but for me it’s an ongoing process. As the story develops, my characters face numerous challenges and each one can add or change their motivations.

I’ve kept most of the clues I started with, but a few that seemed brilliant at first turned out to be nothing more than bulk in the end. The thing is, I may have a good idea of the direction my story is going to take, but it’s not until I’ve edited the pages several times that I get a handful of “aha” moments and realize that some clues will never work or are too complicated to pursue, while others are just plain (okay, can I say it?) genius.

SHROUD OF LIES is around 71,000 words at the moment and thanks to my crit partners, Kim Smith and Aaron Lazar, those “aha” moments have been coming in quick succession. It’s at this point in the writing that it’s fun for me. This is when I can see the logic in what I’ve written—when all the pieces fall neatly into place. It’s doubly rewarding when my readers laugh, cringe, or bite their nails when they’re supposed to.

As a writer of mystery/suspense—a lover of complex plots, one of the toughest things for me is to hold back and keep the suspense going, to squeeze it out in bits and pieces as long as I possibly can before the great reveal. So, imagine my evil laugh when the readers are a few thousand words from the end and haven’t yet guessed whodunit.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

2010: Day 120 Crits Are Starting to Come In

It's amazing what a fresh pair of eyes will do for a manuscript that you've looked too many times to see.  Two crit partners and seven chapters later, I'm loving the changes. Time will tell if others will too.

I haven't gotten very far with the synopsis, but that's how it goes. Some days my head's in it, right now it isn't.

Monday, April 19, 2010

2010: Day 107 Chime The Bells & Blow The Whistles!! .

My manuscript is DONE!!!

Did I yell that loud enough?

Yes!! Ten months, one day, 49 chapters, 70,377 words, and lots of hair-pulling sessions later, I can actually say I'm finished. I wrote the last six chapters over the weekend and yes, they'll have to take their turn to sit before I edit and polish them, but technically ... it's done and ready for a fresh pair of eyes.

It's been so frustrating to know how I wanted this novel to end and yet not find the words to show it. To add to that frustration, I was beginning to think I living the movie "Groundhog Day." Every time I reached chapter 30 or so, another major change popped into my head that forced me to adjust every chapter from 15 on.

And so, before I forget (yeah, like I would), special thanks to my all my pals and family who patiently let me cry on their wonderfully broad shoulders during this process! Let's see, there's Rick, Jessica, Tracy, Mari, Kim, Lain, and Lisa. ;)

And for those out there who don't write mysteries and wonder what goes through the mind of one who does, check this out.

Not intended for readers with weak stomachs. ;)

Sunday, April 04, 2010

2010: Day 92 Beautiful Blogger

Thanks so much A. F. Stewart, author of the "Chronicles of the Undead" for awarding me the Beautiful Blogger Award! This did remind me that I needed to get in  here and update my blog. Life has been a the crazy side this week. I'll do that soon, but for now, here's what I've been instructed to do.

As a recipient of this award I was directed to pass it on to deserving bloggers. My criteria was simple: Art (books, paintings, writing, etc.) equals Beauty. These blogs are full of books, writing, artists, wit, advice and overall cool stuff. Do pay them all a visit.

My List:

Welcome to Laine Land
Tender Graces
Kim Smith Live Journal
P. A.Brown
Susan Whitfield's Blog
Ellen Meister
Arron Paul Lazar
Brenda Robertson Stewart

Sunday, March 28, 2010

2010: Day 85 -- Will the Guilty Please Step Forward

By now, it should be clear to anyone following this blog that I'm not afraid to edit, cut massive amounts of work from my manuscript, and rewrite entire chapters if that's what it takes to make it right. My second novel, "The Devil Can Wait" (2008) began life as a novella. I expanded it into a novel and set it aside to write "Silenced Cry." When my publisher asked for TDCW, I thought it would be a matter of adding a few subplots and some minor edits. But when I read through it for the first time in a couple of years, I nearly gagged. I ended up cutting over 45,000 words from the MS and rewrote it in 83 days—spent the next seven months editing that version—it went to print two months later. Last May it won the 2009 bronze IPPY. Trust me, cutting out a scene or a chapter is nothing new to this writer.

When I outlined "Shroud of Lies" in June and began to develop the scenes and characters, I was pretty sure of the direction it was going to go. Since then, I've edited it several times. Each round added greater depth to the plot and the characters. Still, the plot and the ending seemed too predictable and I didn't like it.
I always start with the crime and the motive so naturally, I knew who the killer was going to be, but the more I worked on the chapters, the less convinced I was that he was the right man for the job. Don’t get me wrong, there's no doubt he could pulled it off, he has the means and opportunity. The problem is motive--forcing this poor guy to commit murder is like ramming a square peg into a round hole.

So ... after writing over 67,000 words and only a few chapters of edits to go, I decided to change the killer. I know, I know, but for this book to have the impact I want it to have, the killer has to be the person closest to my protagonist. It has to be someone she trusts and believes in and yet someone so cold and calculating that he become a chameleon and is beyond suspicion.

Before I did this, I outlined the character's motives. I then went back to the very beginning, and checked each chapter to see what needed to be changed. To my surprise, the changes were small and I found subtleties in the text that work beautifully with this new twist. Since this is written in first person, the reader knows only what the protagonists knows and that POV hasn’t changed. However, because of this change, the story has suddenly blossomed and I’m loving every minute of writing.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

2010: Day 78 My Character Took Off Without Me

So what happens when the main character uncovers the truth seven chapters too soon?

Thus far the edits were going so well that I really thought I’d have the manuscript done this weekend. Evidently Rhonie Lude had other thoughts. But the way she thinks through the evidence makes perfect sense (if this MS ever goes to print, I’m referring to chapter 40). What this means, however, is that I'm going to have to rethink the last six chapters.

Okay, so this is not entirely a bad thing. After all, we all know early drafts are a smorgasbord of ideas (some better than others) that are waiting their turn on the chopping block.

In chapter 40, she has discovered that the one person she has trusted from the beginning was keeping important information from her about the case. The only logical next step is for her to confront him. The question is, how much rewriting will this minor change require? I’ll let you know after a bit of reading.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

2010: Day 75 Looking for the right word

Ever have one of those days when you can't find the right word?  I have tons of references; everything from the old Webster Dictionary to Roget's  "Descriptive Word Finder" and "Thesaurus of Phrases" to Dave Dowling's "The Wrong Word Dictionary." Still, some days my mind goes blank so here are a few links that someone out there might find of interest:  cool scrabble game here.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

2010: Day 70 Attended A Workshop Today

I attended a four-hour writers' workshop today in town sponsored by the Midwest Writers Workshop. I was pleased to run into a few of my friends. Some I hadn’t seen in several years and didn’t know they had an interest in writing. I enjoyed catching up with what they were doing these days. As for the workshop, after going to a few of these, I often find that there isn't much variation in the type of information presented. However, I have to admit I was pretty impressed with today's three speakers. The discussions ranged from what agents and editors are looking for, to freelance writing, to the difference between good and great dialogue.

The one line that I walked away with today is: Sometimes the best dialogue is no dialogue (when a stronger message is sent by a character's silence).

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

2010: Day 66 Past the Mid Point!

Well, I think I might actually get this manuscript finished this year. Today, when I turned to chapter 33, I found I had written all types of notes and highlighted them in yellow during a previous edit. I do that when I'm giving it a quick read, know something isn't right, or want to record my thoughts about a paragraph or scene without stopping to take the time (at that time) to develop it.  Right now, the opening to the chapter is a little heavy on the narration. I'm not sure I like that but we'll see what happens.

In the meantime, I received my Writer's Digest newsletter. This time the article that caught my attention (because of all that narration) was titled, "How To Enrich Your Descriptions." You'll find the article here, It's a good piece that discusses not only the use of the right words, but also the sounds of the letters and their ability to create the right mood.  The following quote stood out to me.
A word’s definition appeals to the intellect, while its connotation appeals to reader’s emotions. Beyond that, words can affect readers subconsciously, subliminally. This has more to do with the shapes and sounds of the words than with their explicit or implicit meanings.

Interesting. A short article worth the read.

Monday, March 08, 2010

2010: Day 65

I've had several excellent writing days lately (which is why I wasn't here blogging). But all work and no play makes for a dull day. So I did stop to watch a couple of movies over the weekend. I don't mind watching old ones either. A good one, if anyone is interested, is “The Upside of Anger.” (2005) Read a review here.

I love this quote for the end of the movie:
"Anger and resentment can stop you in your tracks. That's what I know now. It needs nothing to burn but the air and the life that it swallows and smothers. It's real, though - the fury, even when it isn't. It can change you... turn you... mold you and shape you into something you're not. The only upside to anger, then... is the person you become. Hopefully someone that wakes up one day and realizes they're not afraid to take the journey, someone that knows that the truth is, at best, a partially told story. That anger, like growth, comes in spurts and fits, and in its wake, leaves a new chance at acceptance, and the promise of calm. Then again, what do I know? I'm only a child."

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

2010: Days 58, 59, & 60 A New Decision

Life seems to have gotten crazy lately--again. Not bad, but just very busy. Lately I’ve been getting pulled in too many directions, some of which are places I don't want to go.

I began the year with the idea of making changes in my life, my goals, and schedules and although I think 2010 is already a huge improvement over 2009, I'm afraid of slipping back into the rut that kept me away from my writing for nearly the whole of 2009.

I’m grateful to the few good friends who have stopped by to offer their words of encouragement here. I don't if anyone else reads, follows, or cares what I post on this blog, but the point of rededicating it on January 1 to my writing journey, was to make me accountable for my writing time. Sound crazy? Okay, how's this? When it comes to making a public commitment, I'm ten times as likely to follow through.

Today I made the conscious decision to cut back—I mean drop my membership completely--on a number of social blogging sites. I must belong to 30 or 40 places. I had the very best of intention of making regular contributions to those sites, but let's face it. If I'm blogging, I'm not writing and it certainly shows.

This week I'm going to start deleting my pages from several of the sites (I'll keep only three). So aside from my three blogs, this one, Murder By 4, and Novel Works, you'll still find me on Facebook, Twitter, a handful of NING groups, and Gather. I'm considering staying on one or two Yahoo groups, but that's it. It's not fair to the memberships in those groups for me not to contribute, and it's not fair to me to spend my time trying to keep up with all the discussions instead of dedicating my attention the WIP.

So, right or wrong, crazy or not, this is the only way I know to keep my sanity and my focus on the writing.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

2010: Days 54, 55, 56, & 57 Catching Up!!

I've been bad. Haven't posted in a few days, but I have to say, EUREKA!!

As I alluded to in a few of my previous posts, I was having a really tough time these past few weeks. There were a few health issued going on that were not only distracting me, but making it very hard to concentrate on what I needed to do (on many levels).

Anyway, the doc says I'm fine, but I've gotten on mega doses of vitamins, changed my diet (and actually losing weight), and getting more sleep than usual (bump up the Omega 3 for healthy heart and vascular health--more blood to the brain, the better it works). In just a matter of weeks I can feel the transformation to my old self, yay!

The Eureka moment though is how clear my mind is now. Thursday and Friday I plowed through two more chapters. The problem I'm dealing with is that when I wrote the first draft, I dumped everything I  could possible think of into it. At my last sitting, I found several sections that weren't bad, but the information was out of sequence. When that happens I separate the sentences and put them back together as if they were a puzzle--one line at a time.  Today I'm going to start work on chapter 25. I've edited thousands of words from this manuscript and yet continue to add to the word count.   I'm current at 66,993 words. :)

So, the moral of the story is, take care of  yourself and don't force yourself to write. Damn the deadlines. Walk away from it for as long as it takes to get your muse back.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

2010: Day 53

I managed to correct the three chapters I was "struggling" through yesterday. The true test will be read them without picking up my red pen. Hmmmm.

So, while I read, here's a joke a friend sent to me. :)

A writer died and was given the choice of going to heaven or hell.

The writer thought she'd check out each place before making her decision. So with an angelic escort she descended the brimstone steps to the fiery pits and here she entered a grimy sweatshop and saw rows and rows of writers chained to their desks. As the writers worked on their manuscripts they were repeatedly whipped with cats-o-nine tails.

"Oh gosh golly," the writer told the angel, "I'd better go check out heaven now!"

So they walked back up the brimstone steps and now proceeded up the golden steps that led to Heaven. Here the writer entered another sweatshop, and here again were rows of writers chained to their desks. Just like in Hell, the writers were whipped with cats-o-nine tails as they struggled over every precious word and vital scene in their stories.

The writer was confused. "But this is just as awful as hell!"

"Certainly not!" protested the angel. "Here, your work actually gets published!"

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

2010: Day 52 - In Full Swing Again

Sometimes dialogue seems to ramble on and on without direction and just when I think it makes sense and should stop, it doesn't.

I came across a section in chapter 23 that I tweaked and edited until it sounded "natural." It's an interrogation scene. The original chapter was so long that I was able to break it down into three separate chapters. Much of what is revealed in these chapters is based on the events the character unveils a few chapters before. So I went back and forth between chapters, making sure things were consistent and I'd finally gotten the first two chapters in this scene to work. They have a natural flow of information; the questions/answers were logical and played up to each character's voice. Great!

I was nearly done with the third section and again, it was going well. The focus is the detective's interest in knowing if the woman he's interrogating had anything to do with a recent murder of her former employer. He senses that even if she didn't actually shoot the weapon, she's hiding or possibly protecting someone. He suspects the victim's business partner and pushes her for answers about him. The dialogue between the two works well, so well that the detective redirects the line of questions. I thought I was nearing the end of the chapter when I realized I'd started beating a dead horse with more of repetitive stuff.

There are some workable lines in that section so it's not a matter of just cutting the entire section. I’ll just read the entire chapter again and pick the bests lines--the ones that keep the scene focused, and cut the rest. Grrr. I'll never get done.

Monday, February 22, 2010

2010: Day 51 - Busy, Busy, Day

I've been working the past several days to get author Janie Franz's 2-week virtual book tour off the ground and today was day one at my other blog, Novel Works. I was really pleased to hear how excited she was with the response on day one. 

Managed to work a bit more on my novel during my lunch hour, but will dedicated an hour or so to it tonight before the Olympics come on. Which reminds me ... how DO they keep track of that tiny hockey puck?  In these games, all the athletes are champions!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

2010: Day 51 Plugging Away

All the snow that barreled down in the past couple of weeks is now melting into pools of sludge. It's rained all day here--it would have been a great day to sleep in late, but our mini-doxi had other ideas. Candy, had back surgery last April and although she’s doing better and has a good chance of a full recovery, she is still unable to walk and thus needs help to get a drink of water and to do her business. Anyway, she wakes me up every morning between 5:00 and 5:30. By the time I get done with her, I’m wide awake and ready to put on a pot of coffee and get to work on my writing.

I managed to get through another three chapters today. Yay! Now I'm off to do more reading in "The Secret Keeper."

Saturday, February 20, 2010

2010: Days 49 and 50 - I'm Back

I never really left. The writing is always rolling around in the head. I step away from Shroud of Lies for just over a week and today I plowed through six chapters of edits. Not bad, huh?  I outlined my next novel and finished a score of other business that needed to get done so I don't feel guilty about setting it aside in the least.

And now, I'm off to watch the women's downhill! ;)

Thursday, February 18, 2010

2010: Days 47 & 48 And Life Goes On

Okay, when I walk away, I tend to keep going but with a good excuse. Life, life, and more life.

I'll admit that last week I felt a bit on the drained side. I was working on edits of Shroud of Lies which were going better than I expected but I got to the point where the writing felt forced. I know better than to keep going. I'm giving myself at least two weeks to get all the old words out of my head so I can get back to it with a fresh pair of eyes.

In the meantime, and I can hardly believe I'm saying this, but I drafted the synopsis for a romantic suspense novel. I'm somewhat excited about this--think it has potential. I never thought I'd find myself in this situation but it's entirely possible that I'll be juggling between the two manuscripts at one time. Can she do it??  Time will tell.

In the midst of my writing dilemma, I'm sponsoring a new fantasy author, Janie Franz on a two-week virtual book tour through my Novel Works blog.  The tour begins on Monday, February 22 and ends on Saturday, March 6.  Franz's full tour schedule will posted on February 22. Hope you'll stop by and leave a comment.

On March 2, I'm hosting author Paul Harris during his virtual tour on Murder By 4 and will post his interview on Novel Works on Thursday, March 4.

Every night I go home with the best intensions to write, but end up doing "business" instead and that's okay for now.  I started reading Paul's book, THE SECRET KEEPER and I'm anxious to get back to it. More tomorrow!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

2010: Days 45 & 46

I'm thinking that if I can write my way into a corner. I can write my way out of it. Thankfully, the fog is starting to lift.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

2010: Days 42, 43, & 44 - Doing My Taxes

How about those opening ceremonies in Vancouver? I wanted to believe the whales were real but had to keep reminding myself the effects were computer generated. I loved that the entire program told the Canadian story. Amazingly clever and entertaining. And what a gorgeous part of the world to live in. Vancouver is definitely on my list of places to visit.

My husband, our son, and I went out to eat on Friday and then stayed up late (three hours difference between Indiana and the west coast) watching the Olympic ceremonies (hence my lack of posting).

Yesterday, I spent the entire day organizing our taxes. I don't know about other writers, but when I began to write and then later became published no one mentioned anything to me about the need to file taxes for my publishing expenses and revenue. I had a small business years ago and have maintained my tax exempt number, but knowing what to claim and how to keep record of book sales and my expenses was something I had customize for myself.  I posted the following article on record keeping a few weeks ago on my other blog, Murder By 4, so for those who missed it, here it is again.


When I chose to write fiction, I became the dutiful student. I was determined to teach myself how to write a well-crafted book--bought every book I could grab on writing prose, characterization, dialogue, action scenes and so much more. I followed blogs, joined in conversation on forums and asked as many questions as I possibly could about writing and the publishing process without sounding like a total newbie. I later studied the art of book promotion and marketing--another important piece of the pie.

This was all well and good, but no one ever said, “Hey, don’t forget the tax man!” In fact, once I decided to blog on this subject, I looked through several of my reference books. I wasn't surprised to see that none of them mention a word about taxes or record keeping.

With April 15 looming in the not so distant horizon, I spent this entire past weekend organizing my publishing and personal tax information for our accountant. The subject is still fresh on my mind and thus I thought our readers might be interested to know what else I do when I'm not writing. Please keep in mind that although I've taken a couple of college courses in accounting, I’m not a tax guru or an accounting whiz kid--not by a long shot. I pay good money to an excellent accountant to work the magic for me. But I am organized when it comes to tracking information. Please understand that what I’m about to share is based solely on what has worked for me and what I’ve learned along the way.

First, hire an experienced, trust-worthy accountant. Can’t say enough on this one.

Tax Exempt Status

If you haven't already, check into getting tax exempt status. Visit the IRS, do a search on “tax exempt application” and read up on it. Ask your accountant for information or contact your state’s department of revenue to acquire an application. A tax exempt number will allow you to purchase items without paying taxes on them initially. You will, however, need to record your purchases and pay the tax to your state’s department of revenue either quarterly or annually, depending on how your account is set up.

A tax exempt number is also critical if you plan to sell items at locations other than bookstores where you need to bring your own supply of books (libraries, book clubs, etc.). Why? Because like it or not, Uncle Sam requires us to charge sales tax on the items we sell. In return, we're expected to write a check to our state department of revenue for the amount of sales tax collected throughout the quarter/year. If you sell book to a tax-exempt entity like a library, you’ll need to track those sales as well because they’re part of the equation needed to calculate how much tax you owe the state.

Track Expenditures

IMPORTANT: Keep your personal money and your writing revenue/expenditures separate. You'll sleep better at night for it.

Open a checking account to use for the sole purpose of tracking writing related expenditures and revenue. Another good way to track expenditures is to dedicate a credit card for writing expenses. This is critical if you have monthly fees for web server services, pay membership dues online, purchase books, etc., and your invoice will serve as an excellent proof of purchase if you’ve misplaced a receipt.

Set up a file folder and keep every receipt for items purchased relative to writing/publishing. You’ll need the receipts to back up your records in case there are any questions. Print payment acknowledgements when you purchase online. It's better to have more in your file than not enough.

Create a spreadsheet that includes, but is not limited to the following columns:

• Date of purchase

• Supplies (pencils to paper and everything in between.)

• Postage expense

• Travel & lodging expense

• Meals

• Books & publications (reference books, writing magazine subscriptions, etc.) Web development (server fees, etc.)

• Equipment (computers, software, cameras, recording devices, printers, fax, etc.)

• Repairs on equipment (did you need to have that nasty virus removed from your computer? Claim it.)

• Printing expense (bookmarks, forms, stationary, etc.)

• Books purchased from your publisher for resale

• Dues paid to writers organizations and website membership fees

• Promotional fees

• Contest fees

• Clothing expense (Did you buy a new outfit for your book launch signing? It's deductable.)

• Sales incentives (items purchased as giveaway items)

• Long distance phones/fax bills (radio interviews, calls to your publisher, editor, agent, etc.)

• Workshops & conference fees

• Misc. (Often one-time expenditures that don't fit neatly into any of the other categories)

You get the idea, right? You may find other categories to add that fit your situation too. Make sure you total each column vertically and horizontally and that your entries match the dates and amounts on your receipts.

Track your donation/giveaway or gifted items.

If you've purchased books, you undoubtedly gave a few away along with posters, bookmarks, book bags, and other items. Be sure to include the quantity of each item and the cost. Books you've mailed for contests should also be included here. You’d be surprised how quickly this adds up. Keep track of them and their cost.

Track Revenue

This includes royalties and any other money collected.

Keep track of books/items you sell to other tax exempt entities.

I sold a few boxes of books to a couple of local libraries this year. The libraries were tax exempt too and will pay the tax due on the purchase of my books directly to the state department of revenue when they submit their quarterly or annual report. I, on the other hand, had to report the dollar amount I received from them for the books under “Exemptions/Deductions” in my annual report to show the sale. Be sure to always keep photo copies of your report and record of payment of taxes due.

If you’re not yet published, keep receipts of any writing related items you purchase; books, conferences, classes, writing magazine subscriptions, workshops, travel—anything that is intended for the purpose of eventually getting published. Once you are published, you’ll be able to claim all past purchases as long as you have the receipts (this per my accountant.).

Even if you have an accountant to figure all the details of your tax return, you still need to present the information to him or her in an orderly manner. No shoe boxes allowed!

So, do you still think your job as a writer is over when you type, “The End?” Think again!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

2010: Day 41 Winter Olympics

Ask anyone who knows me, I'm not much for sitting in front of the television to watch sports of any kind except ... the winter olympics.

I LOVE the Winter Olympics! The 21st winter games begin with the opening ceremony from Vancouver, Canada tomorrow, February 12, 7:30 - 9:00 PM. (ET).

Sixteen wonderful days of down16 days of men's and women's downhill, ski jumping, ice skating competitions, luge ... I can't wait! You'll be hard-pressed to pull me away from the television between tomorrow and the closing ceremonies on March 1. 

Here's the NBC schedule for

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

2010: Day 40 - I'm Taking a Hike

Wow, 40 days into the new year! No flood, but lots of snow--about 12”-13" now. In fact, it's 7:36 PM, and that humming sound outside my window is our next door neighbor snow blowing our front sidewalks. He’s done it nearly every evening since it began to snow last weekend. I think he secretly likes to do it.

A positive frame of mind certainly is the difference between enjoy a task and having it feel like a chore. Take my edits, for instance. Tonight, I finished editing chapter 17 (for the 3rd or 4th time due to plot changes). That puts me at nearly the midpoint ... again. The problem with making major changes to the manuscript is that no matter how many notes I make or charts I draw, I still have all the old junk in my head battling with anything new I want to write. It’s oh so much nicer it when the writing flies from my head to my fingertips. Right now it feels as if the words are locked up in my head and every door they come to is locked. I’ve been hearing a lot of rattling going on in there lately.

Anyway, I know what’s wrong. It’s no secret. I've read it too many times. The best thing to do is to take a few days, maybe the rest of the week. Maybe two weeks, if I can stand it, to refresh my eyes and open my mind to a new set of possibilities.

Then all will be fine again.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

2010: Day 39 - More Snow & Links to Articles of Interest

A friend sent this picture to me today. The snow isn't that high here, but we are in for another 1-3 inches today, an accumulation of 4-6 tonight with another 1-2 more inches tomorrow with the wind at 25-35 mph. This ... on top of the 9 inches we received last weekend. Hmmm

The edits on chapter 14 turned out better than I expected. When in doubt, I record myself reading it. I don't worry about getting the recording "right" (I hate my voice), but it really helps to hear the words. The next few chapters didn't need much work, but while I rework this next chapter, take a look at some of these links and stories.

Libraries Shun Deals to Place Books on Web:

Worst Mistakes Authors Make:

Trade Backs Thrive in Tough Times:

Libraries and Readers Wade into Digital Lending:

Monday, February 08, 2010

2010: Day 38 - Compound Words

Everyone has his or her stumbling blocks when it comes to writing and proofreading. Mine are compound words. If I'm going to overlook something in my editing, it's going to be the two words that should be one. Here's the ABC of them to start with.


























































































































































































I'll post a few more next week!

Sunday, February 07, 2010

2010: Day 37 - The Turning Point

Last October I attended a four-hour workshop presented by Donald Maass. I’ve sat through a number of conferences and workshops in the past, but it has been a long time since anyone has aspired to write as much as he did that evening.

Here is one snippet from my notes:

Micro Tension:

All books have dialogue, internal dialogue and exposition. If you find yourself skimming over the passages it’s because you don’t need to read what’s there (not a good sign).

Micro tension is something in an event that makes you want to continue to read and you need at least one micro tension on each page.

Action needs tension:

It’s not the action per say (the chase, the fight, the clap of thunder, or runaway train, etc.,) that causes tension. It’s the internal tension and conflicting emotions that make it: Worry vs. confidence. The tension must be inside the POV character.

I worked on a chapter for the past couple of days; changed the opening a bit—tweaked several paragraphs, the usual edits, but this is a pivotal chapter, an important turn of events for Rhonie Lude. She must use her wit to convince a stranger (a person in power) to agree to do something for her. There is no reason in the world for him to agree to anything, but she has to convince him there is.

In spite of the amount of time I’d spent on it, the key moment—the turning point when Rhonie begins to feel some sense of accomplishment was still missing in action. The thread of dialogue was disjointed—battering back and forth between the characters, going nowhere fast.

I had to ask myself three things: Why is she there? What does she need? And what needs to happen in order for her to get it? What are the consequences if she doesn't?

Once I focused in on these four questions, things started to come into focus.

Friday, February 05, 2010

2010: Day 36 The First Winter Snow Storm of the Year

Yup, it's here. All that blue is snow and plenty of it. Thanks to the local TV stations, we knew the storm system was coming so we, like everyone else in the state, went to the market and stocked up on a few things to get us through the weekend (and Superbowl Sunday--go Colts!)

The snow was suppose to have been here by four this morning, but didn't arriver until after ten. The first photograph was taken from my 3rd floor office window at work around 11 AM today. Fridays are usually quiet on campus, but today, it seemed more so than usual--go figure!

By the time I got home, there were at least 4 inches of the white stuff on the grounds. This second photograph is one of our side yard taken at around 4:30 PM. A pair of cardinals were perched on those branches and I have to admit, it was a pretty awesome sight--looked like a greeting card.

I took this shot from my office window at home around 6 PM. That's the light across the street. By now the winds have picked up and the snow is starting to drift. They say to expect five to seven inches by morning and another big storm the first of next week.

 To be  honest, I don't mind the weather as long as I don't have to fight it, drive in it, or have to deal with the ice. SO greatful it's Friday.

I'm looking forward to a good weekend of writing, a Colts victory, and the pizzas I ordered two hours ago.

There's a good tip waiting for the dilivery guy if he can get the order right this time. ;)

Thursday, February 04, 2010

2010: Day 35 - Blogs and Search Engines

What’s so important about search engines? Think about how you use them. When you’re looking for a new chicken casserole recipe, you might type in the search bar, “chicken casserole” and you’ll get more variation of the same dish than you’ll know what to do with.

If someone tries to find you, your book, your series, or anything else you’ve written, the most obvious initial search will be by your name. The number of posts you’ve published, how often your name is mentioned anywhere on the Internet will determine which page your name will first show up on the search engines and how many more pages will follow. Just out of curiosity I Googled my name. The first link was to my website . The next listing under my name was to this blog and the list of posts, reviews, interviews, excerpts, etc., continued for over 27 page.

So what are the key elements to getting a good position on the search engines? 
Blog at least three-four times a week. The more you post, the better your chances will be of positioning yourself/your blog on the search engines. 

When you start a  new blog, aside from writing to everyone on your list of contacts (which is good), make sure your blog or website link is on your signature line of your e-mails and every post you writer other than on your own blog. 

Another easy ways to draw traffic is to exchange links with other bloggers. In Blogger, you have two choices: A link list which is just that, a list of links to your favorite websites or a blog roll. The blog roll gives the link and a snippet of the latest post on that blog. I can't tell you how many Google Alerts I get every day because my blog has shown up on someone's website as a blog roll and someone has followed the link to my blog.

Whenever possible, provide links within your articles to websites, articles, interviews, etc. Here’s why. Most writers I know have set up a Google Alert for their name, each book title, the name of their series, the name of their blog, etc., every time his/her name shows up on a search engine, he/she will get a Google Alert. If they’re like me, they’ll follow it back to your blog and bam!  You have a new visitor.

Here’s a Google Alert I received today for “Marta Stephens Author.”

This was from a virtual book tour I did in December 2008 to promote the release of “The Devil Can Wait.” By the way, all the links to that tour are listed in my December 2008 archives here on this blog. The funny thing is, I’d never seen this site before which leads me to my next point.

Whatever you post, make sure it’s something that you won’t mind reading 10-20 years later, because once it’s “out there,” it’s there forever.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

2010 - Day 34 E-Book Wars: The First Major Battle

The following article was written by S. W. Vaughn, posted on Murder By 4 on 2/2/10 and reprinted here with her permission. Please go to MB4 to read additional comments.

So this weekend, two huge businesses in the publishing world launched the first offensive in the war that's been simmering over e-book rights, pricing and other e-issues ever since big publishers realized there might be something to this e-book thing. The combatants? Macmillan, one of the Big 6 in New York, and retail giant Amazon, unarguably the largest online bookseller. The issue? Pricing.

One major concern publishers have latched onto regarding e-books is the belief that a low price point will devalue hardcovers, and by extension, their authors' work. Amazon, being a retailer permitted to set their own prices, has consistently refused to set e-book prices higher than $9.99.

On Thursday, the Macmillan president met with Amazon executives to discuss their new policy, effective in March, concurrent with the deal they've already signed with Apple for their new iPad device. Macmillan proposed to set e-book prices for new releases at $12.99 to $14.99, with the caveat that they'll lower the prices over time, and have e-books available at mass market paperback prices when the MMP versions are released. Amazon disagreed.

On Friday, Amazon removed the Buy buttons from all Macmillan titles on their site - including hardcover and paperback versions. There are reports that Amazon also deleted sales information and sample chapters of all Macmillan titles that were downloaded by customers onto Kindle devices.

What does this mean for the future of e-rights? The only thing that's clear at this point: no one really knows.

Here's agent Nathan Bransford's take on the issue.

Pro e-book author J. A. Konrath weighs in here.

And from a reader's perspective: Jane at Dear Author.

My take? I'm confused. Mightily. There's no question that things are going to change, but at this point there are too many possibilities to call the direction. Will the iPad, a device that has most tech-savvy e-book consumers feeling "underwhelmed" (as Sarah at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books spells out here), prove to be true competition for the Kindle? Will the rest of the Big 6 publishers follow Macmillan's lead, and either force Amazon to raise prices or pull their titles from the world's biggest online bookseller?

The only opinion I've truly formed so far is this: I don't believe a lower price point for e-books is going to destroy hardcover sales. I have several reasons for believing this. One: A good portion of hardcover sales are to libraries - and libraries are not going to replace hardcovers with e-versions. Two: Readers who make hardcover purchases do so because they like hardcovers. They want the durability, and even the prestige, of owning a "better" version of a book by their favorite authors.

And three: Those who read a lot of e-books, or almost exclusively e-books, do not buy and have rarely bought hardcovers in the past, and will not start purchasing hardcovers if e-book versions are not available. If you own an e-reader, chances are good that you read a LOT of books. That means you don't habitually spend $15 to $25 per title. Before e-books, you purchased mass market paperbacks. You were never part of the hardcover equation.

So, listen here, New York publishing and Amazon: STOP PANICKING. There's enough ice cream - er, slices of the e-book pie - for everyone here. It's time to embrace the future. Can't we all just get along?

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

2010: Day 33 - Research: How Much is Enough?

© Marta Stephens 2010 all rights reserved

Several years ago, while I sat in a college writing class, the professor instructed us to “write what you know.” What student/writer hasn’t heard those dreaded words? I remember thinking if that were the case, I would never write.

I have what most would consider a normal life; married, raised two great children, went to college, have hobbies, and have been gainfully employed all my adult life. But this could be anyone’s life. If I stuck to the “rule,” I’d have nothing to write about -- nothing anyone would want to read, that is. However, I do have a passion for a good suspenseful mystery, the page-turner that yanks you to the edge of your seat, grabs you by the throat, and leaves you breathlessly begging for more. “Write what you know.” The words popped into my head again as I typed the opening paragraph of SILENCED CRY.

The reality is, most fiction writers I know have never been involved in the type of situations they force their characters into (murder, theft, espionage, smuggling, kidnappings, imprisonment, etc.). So where does a writer start? Research. Simply put, he or she owes it to his or her readers to create a story that is absolutely believable.

The question is how much research is needed? The answer: As much as it takes to make the story plausible. The problem is that research is a two-sided sword. Not enough and the story will lack the essential truths needed to make it real. Too much and the story will sag with excess information.

A while back I read a book that held me until the last three chapters. After that, the bottom fell out of the plot when the suspended disbelief disintegrated into a convenient ending. The story wasn’t a police procedural, but a police investigation was implied. Yet critical evidence at the scene was overlooked which indicated to me the author had not thoroughly researched crime scene procedurals. Not that an entire chapter should have been dedicated to the investigation performed at the scene, but the oversight was glaring. A crucial piece of evidence that any crime scene investigator would have immediately bagged from a murder scene was never mentioned by the police. The omission felt like a ploy to fool the reader into thinking the guilty was innocent. It worked, but the tactic backfired because it also left this reader knowing the author hadn’t done his homework and rushed the ending. The real crime was that he told the reader who was guilty without giving the reader an opportunity to see the evidence mound and draw his or her own conclusions. Isn’t that what mysteries are all about? A gradual build up of suspense, peppered with clues and followed by a WOW ending?

This is an example where a bit more research, the addition of a few words could have changed the complexity of the entire novel and would have made me love the book.

Research doesn’t mean the writer must force or dump every bit of information he or she discovers into the story. Only a portion of the research, that which gives a scene meaning, should be used. This means that an author may read pages of text from several sources to ensure the accuracy of a single sentence to give the work a flavor of authenticity -- make it believable.

Monday, February 01, 2010

2010: Day 32

February first. Can't believe how fast the weeks have flown by. In October, I told a friend of mine that I'd have "Shroud of Lies" edited and ready for her to give it a critique after the first of the year (meaning January). Little did I know the direction the story would take and how much would happen since that Saturday afternoon when I spoke with  her. Edits, edits, and more edits. I'm nowhere near ready for anyone to read the manuscript yet. Just when I think I'm "done" I discover an interesting twist or find something  else I need to add or change. Case in point, last week, I decided my opening line needed to be stronger so I changed it and asked my good friend Kim Smith to read it and see what she thought. "Not a hook," she said. And then she pointed out 12-14 insidences where I referred to the character's financial situation in the first nine pages of the manuscript. I can't remember the exact quote, but I believe she said something about beating the reader over the head with it. :)

My first thought was "Ugh" and to be honest, I was beginning to worry that I'd just muddied the waters with all of the changes, but I trust her judgement so I worked on the opening paragraph and the rest of the chapter several times throughout the course of as many days.

Eventually, I got it to work and for now, I'm happy. Is that the final edit for chapter 1? I doubt it, but I'm not concerned, upset, or stressed about any of this. I've continued to read through the remaining chapters and look for inconsistencies--so far, so good.

Writing is a process.  I can't possibly know everything that's going to happen from beginning to end when I first outline a manuscript. I can't promise that my initial ideas for the plot will be good enough to continue throughout the book, nor can I predict how the characters will behave and change the course of events (only writers understand this). So, in order to maintain my sanity, all I can do is approach my writing with an open mind to change. Probably a good thing, because the one thing I can promise is that there will be many more before it's all over.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

2010: Day 30 & 31 The Publishing Industry in 2010

What can writers expect from the publishing industry in 2010?  I came across an article in Publishers Weekley titled "Better Luck Next Year" that looks at the top 10 publishing stories of 2009—and ahead to 2010.

Friday, January 29, 2010

2010: Day 29 Opening lines

That opening line has to immediately hook the reader. After spending several days reworking mine, I can assure you it's not as easy as these great ladies make it seem. Here's is a brief sampling.

"The Antietam Creek Project came to a rude halt when the blade of Billy Younger's backhoe unearthed the first skull."  - Nora Roberts, "Birthright."


"She was apparently found in the linen cupboard, poor creature," Narraway replied, his lean face dour, his eys so dark they seemed black in the intgerior shadow of the hansom cab. - Anne Perry, "Buckingham Palace Gardens."


"I feel compelled to report that at the moment of death, my entire life did not pass before my eyes in a flash." - Sue Grafton, "I" is for Innocent

Thursday, January 28, 2010

2010: Day 28 More Rewrites

I used to think the more experience I gained as a writer, the easier words would spill onto the "page." But during the last two days my edits have forced me to go back to chapter one to reworked my hook--the opening to the book (again).

I'll know when it's right, but right now it's far from where it should be. The problem is, that until I find a way of working out the recent issues I've created in this manuscript, I can't move forward to finish it.

As Scarlett would say ... "Tomorrow is another day."

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

2010: Day 27 Prose & Musings Got a Mr. Linky Award!!

Many thanks to my dear friend, pal in crisis, and partner in crime, Kim Smith, author of Buried Angels and numerous other great works of fiction (just check out her website, okay?) for the Prolific Blogger Award.

I never thought of myself as such but I guess, like Kim I've fallen into this "prolific" category. With three blogs to maintain, (not to mention my pages in Facebook, Twitter, NING, and others) I post something somewhere every day.

I'm particularly proud of this blog because frankly, I didn't think I'd keep it up this long. Now that I'm into it, I find it motivates me to write, read, or research each day because ... I need something to blog about.
Here are the official award rules--do what you will with them (follow them to the letter, modify them, ignore them completely).

1. Pass this award to at least seven other deserving prolific bloggers.

2. Link to the blog from which you received the award.

3. Link back to this Prolific Blogger post, which explains the origins and motivation for the award.

4. Add your name to the Mr. Linky. (Will there ever be a "Ms. Linky"?!)

Here are my lucky recipients!

Joylene Nowell Butler

Katheryn Magendie

Joanna Campbell Slan

Susan Whitfield

Ellen Meister

A. F. Stewart

Where would I be without my friends?

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Monday, January 25, 2010

2010: Day 25 - Going the Long Way Around the Barn For a Better Twist

To anyone following this blog, I apologize for sounding like a broken record but … I had another aha moment again today.
Here’s the deal, SHROUD OF LIES takes place in Los Angeles. Two of the main characters are protagonist, Rhonie Lude who is a PI and homicide detective, Joe Palermo. A body shows up dead and Joe is called to the scene. The victim is someone of interest to Lude—fine and dandy.

During the interrogation of a witness, I introduced a minor character (another police officer I’ll call Al) who for some reason I turned into a real creep in Lude’s opinion. I wasn’t sure if the scene would work, but I got a thumbs up from my crit partners because Lude’s interaction with Al (according to them) adds a great deal to her characterization. Unfortunately, that’s as far as I developed his character and Al never appeared in the book again. That bothered me—a lot.

After several days, I worked out a motive for Al’s existence and I was beginning to see ways that I could better merge him into the plot. Satisfied that the story was now going in the right direction, I moved on to the next few chapters which leads me to today and my new “aha moment”.

I feel as if I should say, “I was minding my own business when … “ I was working on a new opening paragraph for chapter 30. Lude uncovered a new development in the case and needed to go to Palermo’s office. I got it in my head that I needed to show her getting off the highway. Now, having lived in Los Angeles for a few years and having worked downtown, my memory of the area is still pretty clear. Still, I didn’t want to leave things to chance and decided to double check which off-ramp is the closest to the LAPD so I did a Google search of the area.

You know searches are. You go from one page to another to another and another. In the process I came across information that reminded me of the several police stations throughout the various parts of the city.

Aha! That was it!

That’s when it dawned on me how I could tighten the screws on this plot. I figured out that one of the missing bits of tension in this book was the history between Joe and Al. After writing a brief back story about these two men I discovered that at one time they used to work together until one of them was transferred to another station. But things weren't necessarily cordial between them. There were problems and issues of trust. Their conflict grew from disgust to hatred. One of them was ready to bring the other down until Rhonie Lude got in the way.

I know. The details are intentionally vague, but my point here is this: I’m in for more edits, but this bit of information just deepened the plot in a way I hadn’t imagined. No matter how well I'd outlined or planned out the chapters, I hadn't seen this one coming. And to think I wouldn’t have thought about it if I hadn’t been searching for the nearest off-ramp.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

2010: Day 24 - Quit Counting & Start Writing

One of the most often asked question I read from new writers is on the subject of word count. 
How many words to a page? How many words should each chapter include? How many pages in a chapter?  How many chapters in a novel?

Don't worry about counting words or pages or trying to figure out how many chapters your novel should have before you finish the first scene in the manuscript. All of this will come in good time. For now, just sit down and write your story one sentence at a time. Before you're done, you'll cut more words from your manuscript than you think will be possible.

The key is to not fall in love with your words. Doing so can stifle improvement.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

2010: Day 23 - Today's Word Is "Blogging"

We all do it, some more than others. This Prose & Musing blog was the first one I developed, but to be honest, four-five years ago, I didn't know what to blog about and the big question was, did I have anything to say worth anyone's time.

Guess that's still the question today.

2010: Day 22 Sifting the Junk Out of the Manuscript

Yesterday was an interesting writing day. My genre is crime fiction, my plots tend to be a bit complicated, but so is life. Can't remember at the moment, but isn't the ratio that one in ten people know each other? That's the base of my novels, that there are connections between characters--often times those relationships are unexpected and inconvenient for my protagonist. In the end, everything and every character mentioned in the manuscript has to have a purpose so by the time I get to the last third of the book, things had better come together or meet with the ax. To do this I keep a list of my chapters, give a brief description of what happens in each and the key points, clues, questions that come up. At times, I think of possible clues and slip them into the early chapters, but if something mentioned in chapter 12 isn't resolved or mentioned again 200 pages later, it's time to rethink my strategy.

Writing and editing for me is something like sifting the debris out of sand. Take a bucket to the beach and scoop up everything that fits into it; sand, rocks, sea shells, cigarette butts, candy wrappers. There are obviously things there that you don’t want in your bucket of sand, so you methodically pick the large pieces of junk and toss them out.

Now, empty the remaining seemingly clean buck of sand into a colander. Several more pieces of rubbish will be left behind while the smaller particles filter down through the holes. Toss that collection of junk and pour the remaining sand through a fine mesh sieve. This will leave you with exactly what you want, a product that is significantly cleaner than that first bucket of junk.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

2010: Day 21 Food for Thought

2010: Day 20 - Self-Editing

By now you've probably noticed I missed a couple of days and doubled up. That's because life happens.  Sometimes between work--the full time kind that pays the bills, home, family, and keeping up with my other blogs--Murder By 4 and Novel Works, I barely manage to turn on my computer at night, get done the things I need to do that have deadlines, and check my e-mails. I wish I could write on a full-time basis, but that's not happening now nor will it any time soon so ...

By the way, stop by Novel Works today to read the interview with author John J. LeBeau.

To make up for yesterday's goof, here's a bit I wrote a couple of years ago on self-editing. Let's pray I get some time to do some of that today!


Since the release of my first novel in 2007, I continue to feel somewhat frustrated whenever I'm asked why I don’t give a complete description of my characters for the reader. Actually, I do, not in the form of a full narrative describing hair/eye color, height, weight, age, etc., but they are slipped in from the other characters’ POV; traits are also given via the character’s actions.

To make this point, authors Renni Browne and Dave King give the following explanation in a chapter titled Characterization and Exposition in their book, SELF-EDITING FOR FICTION WRITERS by (second edition). In it the authors wrote:

“It’s often a good idea to introduce a new character with enough physical description for your readers to picture him or her. As with describing your settings, all you need are a few concrete, idiomatic details to jump-start your readers’ imagination. ... when it comes to characters’ personalities, it’s much more engaging to have these emerge from character action, reaction, interior monologue, and dialogue than from description.”
And this:

“When you define your character the minute you introduce them, you may be setting boundary lines that your readers will use to interpret your characters’ actions through the rest of the book. But if you allow your readers to get to them in his or her own way, thus getting a deeper sense of who your characters are than you could ever convey in a summary.”
When I developed the character of Sam Harper, I envisioned him as a man in his early to mid 30’s, slender, medium height, blond or light brown hair, definitely blue eyes. As noted, I don’t force feed the reader with a full-blown description in chapter one, paragraph one, so it was interesting when I started to get feedback from some of my friends about the character. The women who were in their 20’s to early 40’s pictured him as I did, however, those in their later years, had very different ideas of "the perfect looking man." One friend of mine who is in her late 60’s imagined him as a dashing Sean Connery in his days as 007. Interesting, huh? BTW who doesn't think Sean is to die for?

What this says to me is that my writing may be based and influenced by my life experiences (likes/dislikes etc,), but the reader will bring into the mix the experiences that have shaped his/her life (likes/dislikes, turn-ons/offs etc.). I wanted Harper to come across as a strong-willed determined character and thus focus on his actions, internal dialogue, his doubts and convictions, his emotions, reactions, etc., even his sense of humor. But his physical descriptions come from the other characters and ... and here's where it gets really interesting. Harper's love interest sees and describes him in a completely different way than does his work partner. Now we're getting into window characters.

So, even though I have a very clear image of what Sam Harper looks like, I’m okay with the reader imagining him looking like Sean Connery or whoever else they like, so long as it keeps them reading!