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!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

2010: Day 19 - A Sad Day For Mystery Fans

Mystery novelist Robert Parker dead at 77

January 19, 2010
9:34 am

Robert Parker, 77, the author of the popular "Spenser" novels about a hard-nosed Boston private investigator, has died in Cambridge, Mass.

A spokeswoman for the Cambridge Police Department says an ambulance was sent to Parker's home Monday morning after reports of a sudden death. The spokeswoman, Alexa Manocchio, says the death was of "natural causes" and is not considered suspicious.

A publicist for Parker's publisher confirmed the death but had no further details.

Parker wrote more than 50 novels, including 37 featuring Spenser. The character was the basis for the 1980s TV series "Spenser: For Hire," starring Robert Urich.

A full obituary will follow at
-- Associated Press

There are several sites blogging about him today. Here's one:
How sad to think that there won't be any new Jessie Stone or Spenser mysteries.

Monday, January 18, 2010

2010: Day 18 - Self-editing

I was off work today, so it turned into a quick-get-everything-done-before-you-have-to-go-back-to-work day. Needless to say very little writing got done, so I thought I'd post something I wrote a while back on self-editing.  Here goes.

Nothing done to excess is good. We can't take all the "had," "that," and "ing" words out of our writing and expect it to make sense or flow well. Certain words should and can be avoided, but to arbitrarily cut all of the “no-no” words is just as bad as their over-use. The same goes for long stretches of narration or dialogue. If you over-do either of these, you’ll either exhaust your reader or put them to sleep.

Pace: Dialogue speeds the action, narration slows it. Tense scenes call for short/abrupt, snappy dialogue. After such a scene, give the reader a breather by slowing things down with some brief narration.

Passive: the subject of the sentence is acted upon by something else. “The bread was made by the baker.”

Active revision: “The baker made the bread.”

Past tense: when an action or occurrence happened in the past. “He went to the store three hours ago.”

“Rule” on using “had.”  After reading up on the subject and talking to several informed sources (including English professors) I’ve concluded that, aside from the grammatical use of “had/has” in perfect past tense, my ear must judge how often to use “had” in a sentence before switching to an active past tense.

Example #1: "When Tom was young, he had overheard unsettling talk of the war. His father had served, but he had never admitted or denied killing another."

Granted, this is exaggerated, but technically there's nothing wrong with this sentence. All the events mentioned took place in the past. It is, however, cumbersome and all the "hads" make it redundant.

Revised Example #1: "When Tom was young, he overheard unsettling talk of the war. His father had served, but he never admitted or denied killing another."

So here's the unspoken “had” rule:
1. If the sentence makes it clear that the event happened in the past without using the word “had,” remove it.

2. Leave “had” in if its removal changes the meaning of the sentence.

Example #2: She reached for the small clay bowl from the kitchen table containing a mix of local herbs and other untold ingredients she had crushed into a near-powder consistency.

In this sentence, “she had” indicates an action taken by the character.

Edited Example #2: She reached for the small clay bowl from the kitchen table containing a mix of local herbs and other untold ingredients crushed into a near-powder consistency.

To remove “she had” from the sentences makes it clear the herbs were crushed, but it doesn’t show who crushed them. Since the character isn’t involved in the action, the reader would have to assume the herbs and other untold ingredients were 1) previously crusted by someone, or 2) purchased in the crushed form.

Both examples #2s are technically correct. However, this sentence is from my work in progress and the woman is a healer and engages in voodoo. For the sake of the scene, it's critical for the reader to understand that she is the one who made the concoction. In this case, #1 is the better choice.

Here’s a good explanation for the use of lie, lay, laid, lain (this I have to look up every time).

Lie = the present-tense act of reclining. We lie together and watch the full moon.

Lay = the present-tense act of putting something down. The stranger watches while we lay our blankets near the fire.

Laid = the past-tense act of putting something down (or slang for getting screwed in the past tense). For pillows, we laid our saddles at the head of our make-shift beds.

Lain = the past-tense act of reclining. Before leaving camp, we removed all evidence of where we'd lain the night before.

“The” in front of a noun: Eliminate “the” when it precedes a noun that could stand alone. Example: “The beams of portable spotlights shone like beacons on the beach below.” Can be changed to: “Beams of portable spotlights shone like beacons on the beach below.”

Tags & Beats

Tags: Stick to “said” and always place the tag after the noun or pronoun. To use anything other than “said” distracts the reader (“said” is invisible). Words such as growled, barked, scoffed tell the reader how the character spoke rather than show it through the dialogue and action.

Example #1: “What difference does it make that she’s gone?” John growled.

Example #2: “What difference does it make that she’s gone?” John said as he slammed the door.

Beats: Beats are a great alternative to tags. They show action and emotion. Here’s the same sentence using a beat instead of a tag.

Example: “What difference does it make that she’s gone?” John yanked open Jane's closet door, grabbed her clothes, and threw them out the window.

When you explain how a character said something, you draw the reader's attention away from the dialogue.

In "Self-Editing for Fiction Writers" by Renni Browne and David King (second edition) the authors have this to say about it:

Example 1:

"You can't be serious," she said in astonishment.

Explanation: "If you're like most beginning novelist or short-story writers you write sentences like these almost without thinking . What could be easier than simply to tell your reader how a character feels? ... It's also lazy writing. If you tell your readers she is astonished when her dialogue doesn't show astonishment, then you've created an uncomfortable tension between your dialogue and your explanation."

Example 2:

"Give it to me," she demanded.

"Here it is," he offered.

"I hate to admit that," he grimaced.

"Come closer," she smiled.


"To use verbs like these for speaker attributions is to brand yourself as an amateur--and to stick your character with an action that is physically impossible. No one outside hack fiction has ever been able to grimace or smile or chuckle a sentence.

Said, on the other hand, isn't even read the way other verbs are read. It is, and should be, an almost purely mechanical device--more like a punctuation mark than a verb. It's absolutely transparent, which makes it graceful and elegant.

Don't use speaker attributions as a way of slipping in explanations of your dialogue ("he growled," "she snapped"). As with all other types of explanations, either they're unnecessary or they are necessary but shouldn't be. Your best bet is to use the verb said almost without exception. Even when you use them (explanations and adverbs) with said (we said sternly), they tend to entangle your readers in your technique rather than leaving them free to concentrate on your dialogue."

Happy editing!

2010: Day 17 - Oops!

I was making such great strides with the edits yesterday that I totally forgot to post. It's just as well because as I was watching one of those criminal investigation shows late last night when I stumbled across an answer I was looking for in one of the scenes in SHROUD OF LIES. Not the exact answer but it made me realize what I was missing.

Earlier in the day, I had been reworking the scene between the homicide detective Joe Palermo and Rhonie Lude. They're discussing the evidence in a recent murder when Lude studies the photographs taken at the scene and those of the autopsy:
The photographs didn’t reveal anything new, nothing we didn’t already know. One bullet entered the body at a 24 degree angle from beneath the right jaw toward the back of his head. I grabbed the photos taken at the scene and thumbed through several of them. Every detail was just as I remembered it. I was certain Palermo looked at these shots several times so I couldn’t get past his frown. “What is it?”
So, the question for me was, what is in or missing from those photographs that has detective Palermo in a quandry? One possible answer came to me last night a one in the morning. I just never know what will spark the next thought.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

2010: Day 16 - An Otherwise Ordinary Day

It's 11 PM and outside it's so foggy I can't see much past a few yards. At least we missed the ice storm we were supposed to have gotten yesterday. Not much writing done today, but that's okay. There were plenty of other things that needed my attention today.

One of which was my office. I hadn't seen the top of my desk for days and  knowing I'd never look through the stacks of papers on my desk as well as on the floor, I decided it was time get rid of them. It was time to put the half dozen books back on the shelves, and toss out those notes that didn't make any sense to me anymore. I don't know why I let things get piled up. I guess I just get in a hurry. I always think more clearly when my space--my house is clean and uncluttered--I mean, there's nothing worse than trying to work on a scene when that nagging little voice in my head keeps reminding me I have clothes that needs to be put in th washer or the furniture needs a good dusting. Well, it's done and tomorrow I'll be an  excellent day to write. :)

Friday, January 15, 2010

2010: Day 15 & Hanging In There

Today was a good day--making good progress on the edits.

The best surprise today came through a Google Alert that led me to my publisher's blog.  There I found out that BeWrite Books (UK) entered negotiations with Chengdu Righthol Media Co Ltd in Sichuan, China this week for translation rights to several BB titles for the massive Chinese reading market. To keep an eye on this development, visit their blog at

This may be the year of change after all. At least for this small UK press. Right before Christmas, BeWrite announced they had converted over 50 of its authors' published books (including my Sam Harper novels) into the appropriate e-books format and are now available on Smashbook.

Write Books Technical Director, Tony Szmuk in Canada, said: “We always considered ourselves ahead of the game, having made those PDF files available for computer screen reading since our launch ten years ago – but the sudden explosion in the popularity of ebook reading on the new portable reading devices, mobile phones, iPods and what have you over the past few weeks woke us up to the fact that we were in danger of becoming dinosaurs in the new age."

These are both big steps for this small independent press and frankly, it may just be the publisher to watch in 2010.  To read the full article about BeWrite and Smashbook go to:

Thursday, January 14, 2010

2010: Day 14 - The Aha! Moment

Yup, today I had one of those moments that made me stop dead in my tracks and say, whoa!

Let’s backtrack a bit, originally my PI, Rhonie Lude, in chapter 30, breaks into the business of a man who had recently been killed and who was tied to the individual she has been paid to follow. In the victim’s calendar, she finds someone's name she hadn’t expected to see. She had no idea those two were connected and so she begins to suspect the worse. It seemed like a good, plausible clue that could lead the reader to the killer. But, as I began to work on the plot change I mentioned yesterday, something really remarkable happened—the aha moment!

The scene I was working on today, (17) is when the police find a man dead of a bullet shot to the head.  Here the homicide detective calls Lude in the middle of the night and asks her to go to the scene of the crime. Lude can't understand why he'd want her involved in his homicide case, but when she arrives, she discovers the victim is someone she’d recently seen with the individual she was paid to follow. As she and the detective discuss the man’s death, he shows her something he took out of the man's wallet.

What is it? Sorry, can't say--but it has something to do with what I originally had written in chapter 30. Now the dective has two reasons to watch Rhonie Lude. How much more intriguing this has become now that he confronts Lude with the incriminating evidence. Of course, she knows exactly what’s going on, but she's not talking.

2010: Day 13 -- The Page Turner

Yesterday, I posted a note that during my third edit of "Shroud of Lies" I decided to change the way two of my characters die and who caused their deaths.  Yes, I'll need to change large sections in several chapters in order to pull this off and on the surface, it seems like a major change, but it seems to me that for all the work and time that goes into writing a novel, spending a few extra days/weeks to perfect it isn't that much to ask.

After both "Silenced Cry" and "The Devil Can Wait" were released, I received numerous e-mails from readers who said they couldn't put the books down. Several mentioned staying up late into the morning hours to finish one more chapter.  I want to believe that's true-that those readers truly enjoyed the books and are patiently waiting for me to publish the next one. And yet, when I read through those pages, I know I haven't yet written my best book.  It's in here someplace waiting to come out--may be it will in "Shroud of Lies." At any rate, this isn't the time to relax. To not try to improve, to not push my skills to the next level would be the next crime I'd have to write about.

I mean, isn't making the next book better than the one before what it's all about?  Writing a story that's so good, so compelling that readers will lose sleep?  I think so. This article by author Elizabeth Sims pretty much says it all.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

2010: Day 12 - Interesting Development

Several years ago, I read a book that truly captured my interest. It was well written, had interesting characters, and a really wonderful plot. The descriptions were so clear and precise that to this day I can still see many of the scenes and the movement of the book’s characters. It was great, until I got to the last couple of chapters when I was totally caught off guard by a convenient ending. You know what I'm talking about. The kind of ending that just says, "Here, yes, I did it and here’s how I did it and why. End of story."

That ending was so disappointing that it has remained in the back of my mind ever since. Now, as I near the final chapters of my WIP, I thought about it again and decided it was time to evaluate how I was going to end this book.

The idea stemmed from a minor character I introduced in an early chapter. I really enjoyed writing that scene because he was so vile and disgusting. However, I know that everything that is in a book, must have a purpose and up until today, this guy didn’t have one except to be obnoxious.

I decided it was time I bring him back into the plot, the question was, what role was he going to play and what was going to be his motivation? When I put myself in this situation the first thing I do is write a back story that answers the following: What makes this character tick? What’s happened in his past that brought him to this place and time? Who does he know? Who influenced him and why? What drives his actions?

After writing several pages, I developed an alternative plot twist. Granted it’ll require changing at least three or four of the chapters plus the motivation of one of the other characters. Still, I think the results will be worth the trouble. All I have to do is to take a day or so to let it roll around in my head.

Monday, January 11, 2010

2010: Day 11 - A Good Day All the Way Around

I edited two more chapters today. It's amazing how much needed cutting--mostly some redundancies. Glad to see these last few chapters are starting to take shape.
After dinner tonight, I came up to my office with the intent of starting on the next chapter. I decided to call me sister first for a quick chat and that’s when I found out that a cousin I haven't seen/spoken to since I was 16 years old (a long, long, long time ago) is following her blog.

If you've read my bio, you might have noticed that my family moved here from Argentina when I was four. That means that all our aunts, uncles, and cousins are still there. Unfortunately, because I was so young, I didn't keep up with everyone as much as I should have. At any rate, I was thrilled to find him and am looking forward to hearing from him soon. My fondest memory of him was when he and several of my other cousins and I went into Buenos Aires for dinner one night--I can't remember what we ate, but I remember I had a blast.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

2010: Day 10 - Oh Yay!

Finally, the new scene came to me! Changing the location of the scene meant recreating the entire opening so the first page had to go.  In the process, I add justs over 447 words.  I'm sure it'll need more editing, but for now I'm happy with the results.

On to number 37!

Saturday, January 09, 2010

2010: Day 9 - Chapter Endings

Last October I attended a Donald Maass four-hour workshop. It goes without saying that those were the best four hours I’ve spent in a long time.

His message: Tension on every page—that’s what he focused his talk on—that’s what he wrote in my copy of “Writing the Breakout Novel.”

One thing I like to do is flip it open to any page and read a section. Today I opened it to page 174. In it he wrote about scenes that are predictably low tension; a character thinking while driving a car, having a coffee break, or relaxing in the shower. His advices we cut those scenes from our manuscript.

When I read on the following page about his advice on chapter endings, I thought of the number of manuscripts I've critiqued where the writer has a great ending then kills it with a long narrative explaining what just happened. Although the plot carries through from one chapter to another, I like to think of each as a short story all in its own. It should have a beginning, a middle, and an end and, as ever writer knows, the closing paragraph needs to grab the reader and make them want to turn the page.
Here’s a for instance taken from my novel, “The Devil Can Wait” chapter 21. In this scene, homicide detective Sam Harper has questioned Jennifer Blake, a newspaper reporteror several minutes. He suspects she knows something about the recent murders that have swept through the city of Chandler, but she refuses to talk:

“Careful, Ms Blake. No law will protect you if you’re an accomplice.”

“Don’t you dare threaten me. I know the law as well as my rights. I also know I didn’t do anything wrong. Take it or leave it.”

“It’s not a threat,” he said. “I’m your only way out.”

“What do you mean, out?”

Harper stood up, carefully pushed the chair in, and walked up behind her. He was near enough to catch the delicate scent of her perfume. For a moment, his thoughts weren’t particularly professional, but he allowed himself the pleasure. He leaned in close to her ear.

She didn’t move.

“Two men were brutally killed,” he said. “If I found a connection between you and the victims, so will the killer.”

Would it have the same impact if I would have added a summary narrative that tells the reader what they just read? Like ...

She didn’t move.

“Two men were brutally killed,” he said. “If I found a connection between you and the victims, so will the killer.”

Harper didn’t know what else to say, how to convince her to talk, or impress upon her the danger she was in? She had to be involved in the killings or at least know who was. It wouldn’t be long before they’d come after her, but then, it’d be too late.

This final paragraph is not only unnecessary, but it’s redundant and kills the tension that had been building up between the characters. Maass had this to say about “aftermath” scenes:
“The so-called “aftermath” scenes, in which the hero digests what has just happened to him and settles on his next step, is an outdated technique.”

Friday, January 08, 2010

2010: Day 8 – Life IS Stranger than Fiction

Work on the opening line to my current chapter is coming along in stages. I’ve written it several times and have cut as many words from it as I’ve written—that’s the way it goes some times.

One thing did cross my mind today though about whether or not it was ludicrous for my PI to suspect that the coroner in the case is incompetent. Lude is convinced that he's overlooked critical evidence in a murder case. But I ask you, would Quincy slack off and ignore the tiniest clue on a case? Would Patricia Cornwell’s Kay Scarpetta cut corners? And what about Dr. Albert Robbins of CSI Las Vegas? Would he give up in the middle of a critical investigation? No, of course not!

Okay, so these are fictitious characters, but what about in real life? Would a medical examiner be allowed to practice if they accused of negligence? I’d hope not, but then I found an article dated November 9, 2009, and published by KOMO News in Seattle, Washington of a case in Chehalis, Washington.

It appears that in one case, the coroner left the body of a man who died of a heart attack on the family’s driveway for the funeral home to pick up. Ack!

Two years ago, a 17 year old boy was hit and killed by train. Supposedly, the coroner’s deputies had secured the tracks/area in order to clean it up, but when a friend of the family arrived four hours later, she discovered that much of the body (parts) had been left behind on the tracks. I guess if the coroner in my manuscript over-looks a few suspicious bruises, it’ll be believable, huh? And, if I ever run out of ideas, all I have to do is look in the newspaper for my next plot.

Here’s the link if you want to read … the rest of the story.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

2010: Day 7 - The Creative Mind

This makes day two that I haven't written a word in my novel, but it feels okay. At times when I'm trying to work out a new scene or need to change one as in the case of my chapter 36, I have to walk away and relax my mind. Instead, I checked out a few of the blogs last night that I frequent and found this one listed in one of the Writer's Digest web pages. The owner of this site is an international plot consultant who blogs on the plot development and who better to follow than someone who can give me some pointers on improving my plot? Actually, I didn't see where she had a link to follow her, but I saved the link to my side bar.

And if you're still in the mood for checking out blogs, visit:
I'm proud to say that this talented artist is my sister. She just started this blog and plans to post photographs of her paintings. Ironically she wrote:

Everyone who paints, at one time or another may reach a point where an image that was once crystal clear in his or her mind is now suddenly gone. Don't know where they go.. they just disappear, like lightning bugs at the end of August in Indiana. Normally when this happens to me, I set my canvas aside for a day or so, the image resurfaces in my mind and I go on to complete the painting.
Walking away to rejuvenate the creativity must be the universal thing to do. Here's another quote that is identical to what I wrote this week about writing:

When in school, we were always warned not to "fall in love with our own paintings."
Believe it or not, we didn’t compare notes before posting our separate blogs. LOL Anyway, I hope you'll take a minute or two to check it out and see what other paintings she;ll blogs about.

On the Hoosier home front, when I looked out the window a 5:45 this morning, we'd received only a light dusting of snow, but the storm they'd predicted to arrive around four, hadn't made it yet. An hour later, it's coming down fast and heavy. Will we get the 4-8 inches of snow as predicted? Hmmm I don't know. At least it's not a cold right now. Wherever you are, stay safe and warm!

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

2010: Day 6 ~ The Balanced Life

© Marta Stephens 2010 all rights reserved

It wasn’t so long ago that I could pick up a book and read it from cover to cover without ever fighting the urge to grab my red pencil. Far be it from 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 and as long as the plot kept my interest, I read it.

I always marveled at those with the ability to create the worlds that could transported me to another place and time; make me fall in love with the hero or fear for my life. Authors, I thought, were an elite group of people who lived charmed lives. I could see the writer lounging in a seaside bungalow, a drink in one hand, a pen in the other. There he’d gaze across the shoreline at the incoming surf while he methodically contemplated his next plot.

Well, I’ve been writing fiction since 2002. My plots emerge 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 while I scrub the soap scum from the shower. I don’t live anywhere near a shoreline and life is anything but charmed. It is, however, becoming increasingly interesting.

One of the questions I’m most frequently asked is about my writing time—when, where, and for how long. That usually depends on where I am in the process. However, there is something to be said for discipline and leading a balanced life. Discipline I have, but looking back to those early years, I realize how terribly obsessed I’d been with my writing and greedy with my time.

Of course I was there for family gatherings and outings, but the plot was always in the back of my mind and my character was always moments away for catching the killer (again, in my mind). In fact, it wasn’t uncommon for me to jot down a note about a possible twist in the middle of dinner or some other equally inappropriate moment.

Several years later, I realize that there’s no power on earth that can help me force the words onto a page (when they don’t wanna) and sometimes, ideas just need time to develop properly. Call it age or experience, quite possibly it’s a little of both, but today—this minute, I feel good about the writing. I’m more relaxed and certainly less stressed about it. In fact, I haven't written in two days because I need to work out a change in one of my chapters. Instead, I picked up a book and started to read.

I realize now how many little things in my recent life I’ve let slip away for the sake of my writing and know it’s time to get back to a balanced life.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

2010: Day 5 & The Edits Just Keep On Coming

Speaking of edits, not long ago someone in one of several groups I belong to asked fellow writers to read through his first few revised chapters and asked them to offer their comments and suggestions. As usual, I’d arrived late. Several of the comments left on the post indicated that this was possibly round two or three of edits. I read the chapter and offered my two cents worth of advice. The read was cumbersome with pages and pages of narration -- all telling, not a showing sentence in sight.

Nearly all the readers suggested the piece needed more editing. Sadly, the writer wrote back to say that cutting any of his words felt like cutting off his right arm and he just couldn’t delete any more. How disappointing. The very worst thing writers can do is to fall so deeply in love with their words that they kill the manuscript in the process. No matter how good a first draft may seem, it’s still a skeletal outline of what’s to come.

So my advice to anyone who happens to read this post is to not be afraid to cut words, sentences, paragraphs, or even entire chapters. In fact, be ruthless with your edits. Pages need several polishings before they shine. Better to get a harsh critique than a harsh review.

Monday, January 04, 2010

2010: Day 4 & Counting

I think I might have found the answer to my writing madness. During my recent 14-day holiday vacation, I continued to get up around six in the morning to write. It felt wonderful—really wonderful to work in absolute silence.

Evidently, I’d inadvertently gotten myself into a good routine. This morning, on my first day back to work, one of our dogs, Candy (4 year-old mini Doxie) woke me up with her barking around four. Fully intending to go back to sleep for another two hours, I tossed and turned until I couldn’t stand it anymore. I threw on my robe and slippers, walked down the hall, turned on my laptop and edited two more chapters before my six o'clock shower. OMG!!

I was able to work on a chapter 35 during my lunch hour, but about half way through the read, I decided it needed some minor changes. It’s not a bad chapter, in fact, there’s some good tension going on in there between two characters, it just needs to take place somewhere else other than in Rhonie Lude’s living room. It made me wonder how many other chapters I began with my character arriving home and answering a phone call. Boring, but that’s what happens during the writing of the early drafts and why we edit ruthlessly.

It really won’t take too much to change it, but I’ll probably spend the next day or so tossing ideas around until I find a better location. Whatever the change, it’ll be worth the effort.

Today’s word count: 65,035, six more chapters to edit and I've yet to write the ending.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

2010: Day 3 & Counting

What's it mean when at six in the morning there are ice crystals on your storm windows and the dogs tip toe around and won't stay out longer than a minute or two? That it was minus 1 degree and with the chill factor, it felt like minus 14. I guess winter has finally arrived in Indiana.

Okay, so today’s note to self—never, ever permanently delete anything cut from a WIP. What I mean to say is, cut the questionable stuff from the manuscript, but paste those words onto another page and save the new document as "cut sections." I've been able to rescue more than a few lines that way. What doesn't work today, might (in a different context) work tomorrow.

In chapter 22 the homicide detective and my protagonist, Rhonie Lude (a PI), were studying the autopsy photos of a recent murder victim.

Originally, I’d written in a clue that after several readings seemed a little more than convenient. It was too obvious, ordinary, a little too lazy to the point of being amateurish. The worst part was that I didn't know if I'd ever find a clever solution to it that would keep it from being all of the above. So…when in doubt, delete.

Today, nearly five months later, as I was working on the edits of chapter 33, one of my minor characters made an observation that I didn’t see coming. She mentioned the object I’d planted in the deleted clue and all of a sudden, a new twist to the plot developed. An added bonus is that by adding the clue back into chapter 22 and tweaked the scene a bit, not only would the scene work well, but it revealed the identity of an unexpected killer.

Of course, Lude hasn’t made the connection yet, but … she will.

I completed the edits to two chapters today and although I didn’t meet my goal of completing all eleven chapters, I’m very happy with the edits I made. In spite of several interruptions, I still managed to write just over 1,000 words, and that’s okay.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

2010: Day Two in the life of this writer

I stayed up past one o'clock last night or should I say this morning? and woke up terribly late--after nine. I hate when I do that. Makes me feel as if I've wasted my entire day since I prefer to write in the early hours when it's still quiet and I can think.

My work in progress:  I began to write SHROUD OF LIES on June 18, 2009. Fifty days and 40,792 words later, I completed the first draft on August 5. As of today, the word count has grown to 64,143. With respects to edits, it's hard for me to judge how many I go through. I know what the manuals say, but I can't turn off the internal editor. It's like not being able to scratch an itch.

When I wrote the Harper books (four that all began life as novellas), the words poured out of me and I never gave a thought to editing the work as I wrote. Now, the more I write and study the craft, the worse (or better depending on your view) I am about editing as I go along.
On the bright side, although my first draft was much shorter than the standard novel size of a minimum 60,000 words, it was a fairly clean draft. Since then, I've read through it twice; the first time I checked for obvious errors and worked on the plotting and characterization. The second time, I continue to look for all of the above but also focus adding depth to the plot and characters as well as checking for inconsistancies.

I've had a wonderful 12 days off from work over the Christmas holiday. Two days left of my vacation, but that's okay. Aside from everything I've gotten done around the house including all the cooking and baking, I've had some amazing writing time. My goal on December 22, was to complete the edits on this book. What do you think? Can I edit eleven short chapters and write the final in the last day of my vacation? Hmm, we'll see. I'll let you know tomorrow.

Today was a definite #8.

2010: Day 1 in the life of this writer

A new year, a new look, a new promise ...

Dear readers and friends, I hope your new year has started off on a positive note.  I started this Prose & Musing blog several years ago, but unfortunately as some of you may have noticed, I haven't done a very good job of keeping it up. In my defense,since I began this blog, I've continued to work full time, have a family, manage our home, have two novels published (actually have novels six written), continue to be a productive author, maintain my own website, administer three other blogs--two of which I help promote other writers, and belong to over 30 or is it 40 websites, forums and social groups. Needless to say, time is precious. When given a choice to use an hour to write or blog, well, there is no choice, is there?

Still, I decided to turn my Prose & Musing blog into a true diary in 2010.  I think since we're in day two of the year, my vow is to post something, anything (even if it's a single naughty word to describe my day), every day over the next 365 days as a way of sharing the events that shape this writer's life.

Mind you, some posts will be long while others may only be a sentence or two, but regardless of the length, I've challenged myself to do this once and for all. So I'll start by posting here what I published yesterday in my other blogs. I'll post today's blog later today. Wish me luck!

Janary 1, 2010: 
Since THE DEVIL CAN WAIT was released in November of 2008, 2009 was a year of book promotion, blogging, and getting to work on the next book. I was thrilled to learn that "The Devil" won the bronze medal in the 2009 Independent Publishers Book Award (IPPY) in May. However, I was deeply disappointed to learn that my publisher was about to leave the company (BeWrite Books).

Sometimes it's these setbacks in life that make us pick ourselves up from the seat of the pants, get moving in a new direction, and out of our comfort zone. On the upside of things, I started to write a book I'd had in my head for several years which felt wonderful. Cait and I have remained close friends and we had the wonderful opportunity to meet this past October.

If you want to know what I really think about 2009, you can read all about it in my post on Murder by 4 (one of my other blogs):

I'm truly looking forward to 2010. Already it's getting off to a great start. E-books of both of my Sam Harper novels are now available through Smashwords: , the edits in my current novel, SHROUD OF LIES, are going great, and last night, drum roll paleez-z-z-z-z-e! We found out that Murder By 4 was selected AGAIN by Writer's Digest to be among the 2010 Best Websites for Writers!

Day one and so far, so good! Best wishes to all and on to having a wonderful and prosperous New Year!