Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Editing - Phase 2

What I'm reading: Blood Hunt, by Ian Rankin

Thanks to Mona for sharing her editing techniques. I’m going to add my thoughts, but if you haven't read hers yet, scroll down. I can wait.

All right. I've already addressed my story board technique for keeping track of plot points and characters when I write, which is just a different way to accomplish the same goal we all have. Making sure our manuscript gleams before we turn it in.

Now, on to the next step. The publisher wants your book. You have a contract in hand. That gleaming manuscript now goes to an editor. And then it comes back. All scratched and tarnished.

First – if you get a manuscript back that is NOT marked up, or only has a few comments, don't feel proud. Don't dance for joy. It's more likely you need a better editor. There's nothing out there that can't be improved. But that doesn't mean you should click on "accept all changes in document" either. There are some editors who prefer a 'hands off' policy, who don't want to change the author's story or voice. That's all well and good. But letting sloppy writing get published isn't helping anyone. A good editor can keep the meat of the story and let the author's vision shine through while still trimming the fat and suggesting improvements.

Second -- Your relationship with your editor shouldn't be adversarial. You have your ideas about the book. She has hers. But you've also got a common goal. Make the manuscript as good as it can be. Swallow your pride, your indignation. Find some chocolate, or wine, or take a hot bubble bath. Shoot some Snoods. Sleep on it for a day. Or three. Then open up the file again and get to work.

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My recent manuscript, as I mentioned, came back 10,000 words shorter than the one I sent in. Sure, it's an ego-deflater, but no matter how magnificent the words were, if they didn't advance the story or develop the character, they probably didn't need to be there.

There are lots of editing workshops, each with its own system and methods. Far from me to say there's a 'right' or a 'wrong' way to edit. Or even a 'good' and a 'bad.' In the end, we all do what works for us, so I'm just adding a few possibilities to the mix. My "system" for dealing with edits at this stage:

Go through the manuscript for the easy fixes. I look at her 'deleted' and 'inserted' changes first (all the while ranting about using Track Changes. I'm a 'fiddler.' As I write, I and love moving things around, changing a word here and there, playing trial and error until it flows for me, and all those colors freak me out. Plus, half the time I can't remember to check to make sure TC is off or on.)

Here, you might notice some editorial biases. Do they matter? Ideally, an editor should think only of the story, but sometimes their personality might bleed through. It could be minor, such as using "asked" instead of "said" when there's a question. Both are acceptable.

Maybe she objects to a specific word a character uses. If it's because she doesn't feel it goes with the character, consider it. Let's say she has a bias against a specific profanity. In that case, maybe she's going a little too far. There's a difference between, "Don't use "*^&*" and saying, "Your character swears too much", or "He swears in inappropriate places", or "All your characters use the same swear words." Those are legitimate and should be addressed.

Okay, so you've made all the quick and easy fixes. If you're lucky, your editor has also left comments as to why she's suggested the changes. Look at them. Deal with them. Get out of your own head for a while and think of the overall story. Did you stray from your plot? Are you letting secondary or tertiary characters take over scenes because they're fun to write?
If you can handle it, deal with the reasons behind the cuts, and if they make sense, bite the bullet and accept them. You'll have another chance to see if you made the "right" decision.

Did she point out a glaring plot hole? This is a good time to start fixing those, because they might lead to major rewrites. Those aren't really "edits", they're revisions. My editor caught a spot where my heroine wasn't behaving in what she considered an honorable fashion. It worked great for adding conflict and sexual tension, but when I looked again, I had to agree. I either had to shore up her reasons for behaving unethically, or find a way to get my plot points across without that scene. And after checking with my cop consultants, I decided the latter was the wiser choice. This meant ripping out a chapter, rewriting it, and then going back to weave the dangling threads I'd created back into a smooth fabric.

Now you're ready for the next phase. Did you reweave seamlessly? What other clunkers appeared while you weren't looking? This is where I need a hard copy, but if you prefer the computer, the technique should still work. But I highly recommend a paper version. Why? Come back tomorrow and I'll have more. I'm out of time and space for today.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Self-Edit your Manuscript

Guest blogger today is Mona Risk, who's sharing her system for making sure that the manuscripts she submits are in the best possible shape. Everyone has a different system. Here's hers; it might work for you.

Someone said that creating a good book is ten percent writing and ninety-percent editing. Although I don’t believe that statistics, I certainly spend a lot of time polishing my manuscripts before daring to send them to an editor.

For me, editing starts while I am writing. As soon as I type my first chapter, I read it again and again, first to check that the story flows well, then for typos, spelling and grammar and finally to make sure that the hook is grabbing enough.

After attending three workshops with Mary Buckham, I learned the necessity of making the first line, the first paragraph and the first page intriguing enough to catch a reader’s—or editor’s—interest. As a result, I keep revising the first line and first paragraph while I continue to write my story. By the time the book is finished, I have without exaggeration, at least twenty versions of first paragraphs, all saved. I compare them, send them to my critique partners, and sometimes combine some of them, until I am really satisfied with my hook.

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After writing my first book and revising it forever--three years--I became convinced of the necessity of preparing an outline. Now before I start a new story, I write an outline for the first three chapters, a summary of the back story, a few lines about the hero, heroine’s and villain’s character and one paragraph to summarize the storyline. Only then, I allow myself to write the first three chapters. By the time my partial is polished, I know my characters and I have a pretty good idea of where the plot is going. I prepare a complete outline for the book and write my story without interruption for days and weeks.

To edit the whole book, I tabulate the chapters and scenes as follows. I will give you an example of my spreadsheet.

1-Chapter One
2-Scene 1.1 Pages: 5 pages
3-Word count 900 words
4-Setting: avoid having several scenes in the same setting. It’s boring.
5- POV: Heroine’s or hero’s. If you have a long book you can add, the villain’s POV.
6-Hook: copy here the first line of the scene.

7-GMC: what is the goal in that scene, what is the conflict?
8-Emotional development: show how the attraction increases. You should see a definite increase from scene to scene.
9-Action: it’s important to show some stage direction.
10-Sensual Tension: any eye contact, hand touching, kiss,… Like the emotional development, the sexual tension should increase from chapter to chapter.
11- Sensorial : smell, sounds and color in the scene. It helps the reader be grounded in the scene.
12- End hook: copy the last sentence of the scene. Make sure it generates suspense a question to be answered in the next scene or some emotion that keeps the reader panting.
13- Pace: how do you evaluate the pace in this scene, fast, medium slow? It should be fast if you have action or dialogue, and slow to emphasize emotion.

This spreadsheet may look like a lot of work. Believe me, it’s not, if you prepare it while reading your manuscript. Once done, it will help you see at a glance what is missing and what needs improvement.

In addition to self-editing, I can’t stress enough the importance of sharing your work with a few critique partners you trust to be honest with you. You don’t need flattering but you don’t need someone destroying your confidence. It takes years to find the right critique partners. They will become your best friends.

You manuscript is ready to go. You need one last reading. I suggest you save the file in Adobe, click on VIEW, and then READ OUT LOUD. It’s an amazing feature I discovered a few years ago. The computer will read your story while you look at the pages on the monitor screen and note on a paper the repetitions, missing words, lack of transition. I prefer this method to printing and reading on paper. But you need one these two methods of final reading to catch the mistakes your eyes have stopped seeing on the screen.

Good luck with your next story.

Mona Risk writes romantic suspense for Cerridwen Press: To Love A Hero, and French Peril; and medical romances for The Wild Rose Press: Babies in the Bargain and Rx for Trust.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Breaking News.

I just realized we're in the middle of Banned Book Week and thought it was worth putting up a second post today.

Remember to celebrate the freedom to read whatever you choose.

And for those in the romance community, editor Kate Duffy passed away. She will be missed. Sarah, at Smart Bitches, summed it up when she said, "She's the Julia Child of Romance."

Cruise Surprises

What I'm reading: Blindman's Bluff, by Faye Kellerman

Since today is another holiday, I thought I'd share some more cruise pictures. Besides, I'm bleary-eyed after dealing with edits all weekend.

First - In Nassau, we met these restroom signs. If someone hadn't added labels, would you know which way to go?

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And here's an 'arty' picture hubby took. He way lying on his back on the floor of the ship's central rotunda, shooting upward.

Our waiter entertained us with some magic -- can you balance two forks on a toothpick on a wine bottle?

And then there were the fuzzy surprises our stateroom steward left at night.

Tomorrow, author Mona Risk is going to share her hints on making sure the manuscript you turn in is the best it can be. You might recall my storyboard tracking system. Well, for those who'd like to see another approach, be sure to come back tomorrow. And later, I'll share how to deal with edits after your manuscript is accepted.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Homicide - Hussey: Just Funny Stuff

(Note: I switched to the 'new and improved' editing feature at blogger. Please accept my apologies if things don't work right at first. This post is the first one I've tried.)

This week, Detective Hussey chats with us about a cop's sense of humor.

Some things are just funny. Humor is something relative. In a cop’s world, everything gets distorted, including his sense of humor. Things that would have made him ill or repulsed him when he was younger, are sources of hilarity as he becomes a seasoned veteran. If you don’t find the following passages particularly humorous, I'm sorry. Trust me, after several years on the job, you would be roaring with laughter.

I was driving an unmarked car once, when I observed in front of me, a car which had obviously been struck in the rear by another vehicle. The trunk was pushed up and to the right. The trunk lock had been broken, but the collision had welded the trunk door in place, with a 10 inch gap between the door sill and the trunk lid. The taillight fixtures were covered with red transparent tape in order to comply with the law.

The gouges and creases in the metal had begun to rust, which meant that the accident occurred some time in the past, and the owner was in no hurry to repair it. On the mangled bumper of this bucket of bolts, was a fluorescent orange bumper sticker which had the words, “THIS VEHICLE HAS BEEN INVOLVED IN OVER 20,000 FATAL REAR END COLLISIONS”.

Pretty funny I thought, and chuckled to myself. This was not to be the end of the joke. As the traffic began to move, we made it around a corner and the traffic light changed from green to yellow. A white, Isuzu Rodeo stopped abruptly in traffic. The war wagon with the bumper sticker was unable to make the stop, and plowed into the rear of the white SUV.

“Oh my God.” I laughed out loud, “Twenty-thousand and one!”
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A good friend of mine, Dewey Pollock, whom you met in an earlier chapter, was on patrol one dreary, rainy morning, when he happened upon a parked car with its windows open. The car was parked behind the old fire training tower, on the shore of Lake Parker, with its lights on. It was not unusual to find boys and girls parked in cars in this area late at night for the purposes of watching the “submarine races”. For someone to be here in the daylight, with windows open, was something different. It looked almost like the driver had run off the dirt road.

Perhaps a heart-attack, Dewey thought. He stopped the patrol car behind the suspect vehicle, and positioning his police hat with the rain cover on his head, he got out and walked toward the car. As Dewey got closer, he could hear rock and roll music playing softly inside the car. As he carefully approached, one hand on his gun, he noticed motion, then was able to view the entire interior of the car. He could see then that there was a couple inside, a man on top of a woman. The two were having sexual intercourse.

Officer Pollack yelled into the car, “Hey, sorry to bother you, but you’ve left your lights on.”

The man looked over his shoulder, and without stopping his up and down motion, said calmly, “Don’t worry officer, I’ve got a DIE HARD.”

Dewey thought for a moment, then returned to his car. “Guess he does at that."


Cops are called upon to do a variety of jobs during their careers. You may find yourself having to defend your life or the life of a fellow officer or a citizen previously unknown to you. It may require you to take that person’s life, or to sacrifice your own.

Most of the time though, the tasks are less lethal and more skill oriented. You may be called to get a snake out of a garage, or a cat out of a tree. You may have to administer CPR or first aid to dying person, or to deliver a baby in the back seat of a patrol car or taxi cab. You may need to make decisions regarding the welfare of children and small animals.

You have to have limited knowledge in nearly every field because sooner or later, you will be called upon to discuss some subject you know little or nothing about. You’ll have to be able to BS your way through it. Cops are expected to be the experts on everything from pre-marital sex to comparative religion, from chemical warfare to baby care. You may even be called upon from time to time to “unofficially” dabble in areas of civil law, which are generally restricted to persons who have doctoral degrees in Jurisprudence.

One such case, and I know now that there have been many, took place at the Dakota Apartments one cold winter night just before New Years. I was the backup officer on a family disturbance call. Officer Herb Koffler arrived just ahead of me. As we approached the door to the apartment, we could hear a heated verbal argument going on inside. Herb leaned toward the door for a moment and listened before using his Kell light to rap on the door. The yelling and screaming ceased, and the door opened just a crack.

“What the hell’s going on here?” Herb asked.

“Me and my ol’ lady havin’ a argument,” the little bald man replied.

“Bout what?” Herb inquired, pushing his hat back on his head. “Like I really give a shit,” he said under his breath.

“I’m tired a livin’ like dis here,” the old man replied.

“Me too,” the woman added.

“Why don’t you two get divorced?" I asked

Herb shot me look, like “Dumb ass rookie.”

“We can’t afford no lawyer.” The old gentleman lowered his eyes.

“Lawyer? You don’t need a lawyer. I’ll divorce you right now.” Herb smiled. The two older folks looked suspiciously at the officer.

“How you do dat?” the man asked.

“Easy. Do both of you want to get divorced?"

They nodded emphatically to the affirmative.

“Well then," he said. “Place both of your right hands on my badge.”

The man and woman complied.

“Repeat after me,” Herb said, lowering his voice in a reverent manner. “I do hereby divorce you, in the name of the Father, the son and the Holy Ghost.”

The astounded couple repeated the concocted vows.

“Congratulations,” Herb yelled loud enough to male me jump. “You’re divorced, now get the hell out of here.”

The old man began laughing and jumping with glee as if a great weight had been lifted from his shoulders. He grabbed a pillowcase and stopped here and there, picking up clothes and putting them into the makeshift suitcase. “Finally, I done wit’ you bitch,” he said.

“Well I’m done wit yo’ black ass too”, the woman said.

“Thanks officers.” The man grinned shaking both of our hands vigorously on his way out the front door.

“Okay, lock your door and have a good one,” Herb said to the lady.

“Sho will,” she said happily.

As we walked back to the car I asked the veteran officer if he had ever done that before.

“Sure, lots of times, marriages too. Exorcisms, séances, and last rights. We do it all. Protect and serve is a broad-band statement.”

I thought about how happy the couple was. It wasn’t like they had any property or child custody disputes, so why make the attorneys and the courts rich? We had provided another valuable service at a government rate.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

And More Cruising

Day 3. Nassau

Nassau. The ship sails at night, so we arrive in port early in the morning. Nassau is a major cruise ship destination, and you can walk right off the gangway. At which point you once again face a cruise photographer.

Our intentions were to walk down to the old water tower. Rain happened. Doesn't usually rain in the morning, but these were deluge drops. Ankle deep water. We took refuge under the awning outside the Harley store (the jewelry store was across the street), and eventually went inside. I bought a cap, since we'd left our rain gear on the ship (note above: it doesn't usually rain in the morning!), which kept some of the rain off. I don't wear caps, but this one will be a gift for a friend, only used once.

Since there were no indications the rain was going to let up, we slogged back to the ship, where we were met by very efficient air-conditioning and staff handing out large beach towels. So much for wandering around Nassau. However, we did manage to find ways to fill the time. And since my parents and kids read this blog, that's enough about that.

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Instead I'll chat a bit about the food. There's a lot of it. Most of it's included in the price. You can have breakfast in your room (although it was a very limited menu on this ship), on Deck 11 for the buffet, or in one of the two dining rooms on the lower decks.

Lunch was on the island the first day, and on the ship the other two. Huge buffet offerings. Or, limited menu room service. And there was a Ben & Jerry's.

Dinner. We stuck with our assigned seating and time, but the ship permitted you to make reservations and eat on your own schedule. There was also a sushi restaurant (extra cost). And the buffet. And one night, an additional midnight buffet. (Slept through that one). Nobody checked, so if you wanted to eat in the dining room and then go up to the buffet, you could.

I kept forgetting my camera. I finally remembered to bring it to dinner.

But sometimes, I'd be so eager to dig into the food that I'd forget to take a picture. I did get a few shots of dinner fare.

I didn't count the bars and lounges, but they seemed to be everywhere.

More another time about some of the furry surprises.

Tomorrow, it's Homicide Hussey again. I do hope you'll drop by.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

On subjectivity

What I'm reading: Pretty is as Pretty Dies, by Elizabeth Spann Craig

First, thanks to Gail Lukasik for her terrific writing hints. If you haven't read her post, scroll down and do so.

Since my last post, yes, I've opened up the manuscript with the edits. And I'm dealing with them. Sometimes with a bit of tooth-gnashing, but it's all part of the writing process.

Can one say what's right or wrong, good or bad in a piece of fiction? If there were absolutes, where would the fun be?

Once you move beyond the mechanics of basic grammar and spelling, you're left with opinions. I'm reading manuscripts for a contest, and the entrants will be comparing my comments to those of the other judges who also scored their work. It's rare to get an entry back where all 3 judges agreed on everything. I know I never did, even in the contests I won. In some instances, contests are structured with 3 judges, but they drop the low score. It's not unusual for the winner to have to excellent scores, and one that is significantly different. I coordinated my RWA chapter's conference for a number of years, and it was more unusual for all 3 scores to be in line than not.

Working on edits for a reissue drives the point home. In spades. I'm looking at my editor's comments. My approach: First I go through and handle the 'easy' ones. The places where she's changed a word, or added or deleted a sentence or phrase. She's given some basic guidelines, so I know why she's changing things. She's pointed out some character traits for my hero and heroine that she thinks could be stronger. My hero says "Please" too often; my heroine keeps saying she's "fine." Most of the time, I can see her logic, and if it doesn't bother me, I go along with her suggestions.

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But there are also places where she's whacked out much longer passages. I'll be honest. My first reaction is, "What the ---" Then I get up and wander around the house for a bit. Find some chocolate. Maybe have some tension tamer herbal tea. But usually it's chocolate.

If she's left a comment explaining WHY she cut it, I look at that. If it makes sense, I re-read the passage to see if it holds together without what she's cut. If it does, then the cut probably makes sense. Sometimes it needs a little shoring up. And sometimes, I don't agree at all.

I know my gut reaction is usually frustration. It's my immediate reaction to any kind of criticism. I don't think that will ever change. It's even more so with this book because 1) I haven't worked with this editor before, so we're having that 'period of adjustment'; 2) What I'm working from is an edited, previously published manuscript, so how bad can it be?

But I know two editors reading the same work will have two different opinions. How many best-selling authors were rejected by agents and publishers before they made the sale? (And how do those agents and publishers feel after rejecting the future big names?) I came to one passage that my new editor wanted me to cut. I dug out the original edits from the first go-round. Sure enough, that passage had earned me a comment of "very good."

When I see all the comments for pages on end and doubt my skill as a writer, I go back to the 5 star reviews I got when the original book first came out. Others thought it was pretty good. With my ego restored, I can once again look at the manuscript and decide what needs to be done.

So, it boils down to focusing on the characters and the story. My editor prefers lean; I like a little more meat. But I also know I can ramble when I write. When I read, I love learning new things, so a mention of a fact (related to the story, of course), doesn't slow the read for me. Dick Francis teaches me something new, from photography to the ins and out of British bookmaking. I like watching what JP Beaumont does during his off hours. I like visiting the Farmer's Market with Harry Bosch.

I like to savor the characters, see what makes them tick, get inside their heads. That's why I can't write category romances, and why I don't read too many of them. They're too lean for my taste. So I have to decide whether the cuts are creating something that looks anorexic, or merely toned and trimmed.

Somewhere in between, we'll find a middle ground. As she's pointed out, it's my name on the cover. I'm sure it'll be interesting once I finish and send my revisions back to her.

And I'll hope that the 3 authors whose manuscripts I'm judging will also understand that I'm a single reader with a single opinion.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Jump Start Your Writing

Today I welcome Gail Lukasik to Terry's Place. Gail taught writing and literature classes at the University of Illinois-Chicago, where she earned her Ph.D. in creative writing with a specialization in poetry. Here, she talks about three exercises she’s used in her writing classes.

Whether you’re a novice or a seasonal writer, there are times when the writing stalls. In my over twenty years of teaching writing at universities, nature centers, and libraries, I’ve used various writing exercises to help writers jump-start their writing. I’d like to share three of my favorite writing exercises. Each one offers a way back to the page.

Here and Now

Find a natural area where you can observe what’s around you without distraction. Leave all the electronic devices at home. Sit there for twenty minutes and let your senses roam. In your journal, make a list of what you hear, what the temperature is, what you see and smell. If you feel adventurous, walk around; run your fingers over the rough bark of a tree, feel the soft velvet of a flower’s petal.

This exercise is all about being present. Many of us rush through our days anticipating our next task, hooked into our electronic selves, not noticing the world around us. Writers can’t afford that kind of inattentiveness. Good writing thrives on the sensual details that draw readers into our scenes. The Here and Now exercise opens up your all senses to your environment. Many times we rely solely on visual descriptions in our writing. And because you’re merely making a list, the pressure of writing is lifted. Anyone can make a list.

I used this exercise when I canoed the Mink River in the middle of a downpour looking for a murder site for my latest mystery Death’s Door. It allowed me to jot down sensory notations without capsizing the canoe. The sensory experience of that cold rainy day went into my novel and added dimension to the scene.

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Writing From Photographs

Find a photograph that you’re drawn to. The photograph should talk to you in some way. It can be a photograph of a family member, a friend, or a complete stranger. The photograph can be a portrait of the person, or the person in a setting.

Write a literal visual description of the photograph. Don’t add commentary to your description, just describe it using your visual sense—carefully and in such detail that another person could read your description and choose your photograph from a slew of other photographs based on your description. Once you’re written your description go over it and choose the three details that most capture that person’s character.

This is an excellent exercise to flex your descriptive muscles. When we’re describing a character it’s crucial to choose the right details. As writers we pick and choose, but we have to pick and choose skillfully. I collect photographs and have used them as inspirations for many of my characters.

The “Best” Worst

Choose an object to write about. It could be an everyday object like a car key or an object of significance such as a wedding ring. Now write a description of that object using clichés, very general language, and vague details. See how “bad” you can make your description.

If you’re feeling energetic do another description of the object, only this time describe it using vivid language, specific details, and no clichés.

There’s something very freeing about this exercise because it gets the critic off your back. Whenever I have students do the exercise it never fails to deliver a lot of laughs as they try to write the “best” worst description. The exercise also supports my belief that sometimes you have to write the awful stuff first to get to the good stuff.

So the next time your writing stalls, try going for a walk, or looking at a photograph, or writing the “best” worst description. Let me know what happens.

Gail Lukasik is the author of the Leigh Girard mysteries, a four-part seasonal series, set in the resort community of Door County, Wisconsin. The second book in the series, Death’s Door, was recently released. Besides her two published mystery novels, she has a published book of poems, Landscape Toward a Proper Silence, and she was awarded an Illinois Arts Council Literary Award for her poem, “In County.” Learn more at her website.

Monday, September 21, 2009

On Edits and Plum Cakes

What I'm reading: Even Money, by Dick Francis and Felix Francis; contest entries

As of sundown last Friday, we kicked over into a new year. It's now 5770 as well as 2009. This holiday gives a second opportunity to reflect on the past year, and prepare for the new. As with most holidays, the symbols and rituals have underlying meanings.

We eat a round loaf of bread instead of the normal braided one, to symbolize that the year comes full circle, with no real beginning or end. And, in anticipation of good things in the year to come, sweet things are featured. One ritual is dipping apple slices in honey.

As I contemplated the menu, I decided to take a small detour with dessert. Honey cake is common, but nobody in our family has ever liked it, so we've always done another common holiday dessert, "Pflaumkuchen," or plum cake. The recipe calls for fresh Italian prune plums, which have a very short season that usually coincides with the holiday. As a matter of fact, seeing them in the store is usually my mental head-slap to check the calendar because the holiday is approaching.

Here in Orlando, they can be very hard to come by. Buy them too early, and they'll rot before you need them. Wait too long, and there won't be any in the stores. But, I was determined to do a plum dessert, even though I ended up at Whole Foods instead of Publix, and had to pay something like $6 a pound since they only had the organic ones. I gambled and bought some black plums as well, figuring I could stretch things that way.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Homicide - Hussey: Dying Declaration, Part 2

While I prepare to welcome the year 5770, I'll turn Terry's Place over to Detective Hussey once again. If you didn't read Part 1, you can find it here.

I lifted the door off the black male who was lying on his back on the bare concrete floor. I noticed at that time that this man wasn't exactly black, he was more like gray. It was a color I had seen before. He was also sweating profusely, but his skin was cool and clammy.

I also noticed a tiny hole in the shirt on the left side of the burglar, just above the belt buckle. I pulled the shirt up and saw a small red hole. If I didn't know better, I would have said it was a bug bite. I pushed on man's abdomen near the entrance wound. His stomach was hard as a rock and pushed out.

I'd spent nearly a year in North Carolina working part time as an Emergency Medical Technician on an ambulance. I knew that this guy was going into shock, and was bleeding internally. Soon all the blood in his body would be pumped into his abdominal cavity.

I used Ezra's phone to call an ambulance, and knelt down next to the injured man, so he could hear me. "You got anything you wanna' say?"

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"Am I gonna' die?" The man looked frightened. In the academy we had been taught that a dying declaration or a confession is good evidence and an exception to the hearsay rule. The defendant need not die, he must only believe that death was imminent at the time the statement was made. In other words, it might benefit the investigating officer to make the injured fellow think his injuries were worse than they actually were. In this case, I needed only to tell the truth.

"Yes sir, I believe you are," I said quietly.

The man began to cry and ask If I could help him.

"Just hang in there man, the ambulance is on the way." I tried to comfort him. "Can I call somebody for you?"

"No suh, I sho' didn't know dis' was gonna' happen."

"Can you tell me what did happen here so this man ain't in any trouble?"

"He didn't do nothin' wrong. I was tryin' to get into da man house, he shot me thoo da doe. I reckon I deserved it."

"Well that may be so, but I ain't gonna' let you die here. You'll be okay."

An ambulance from the Herndon Ambulance service arrived and a couple of medics began to work on the guy. I knew them both. One was a female named Melanie Hahn, who was married to one of our officers, and one was a little short guy named Bill Clark. Both of them were great paramedics. I knew the gentleman was in good hands.

"By the way, what's your name?" I bent down as the medics were sliding on a pair of mast trousers and trying to get some vital signs.

"Elvis Washington," the man said weakly.

"Hey I'll see you at the hospital." I smiled at Elvis.

"No you ain't," he said. "I'm dyin'." With that, his eyes fluttered, and as Melanie checked for a pulse, Bill started chest compressions.

I ran to the ambulance for a backboard. They scooped Elvis up and hauled ass for LGH. I stayed and got the story from Ezra.

It seems Mr. Grumwalt and his Japanese Chin (a small black and white dog) were awakened by noises at the carport door. Mr. Grumwalt had been broken into once before, and had been beaten by his attacker. He had taken to sleeping with his .22 revolver, and his trusty watchdog. When he heard the noises, he got up and went to the door, looking out the peephole. He saw a "Negro" man outside "fiddling" with his door. He then called the police. He kept our phone number on the wall right next to the telephone. It sure took long enough for me to get there. When the burglar had worked the hinge pins out of the door and managed to wiggle the door loose from the frame, old Ezra pushed his revolver up against the door about "gut" level and "touched her off."

The man and the door fell into the carport, then I showed up. It pretty much all fit.

I explained it all to a sleepy Detective Lonnie Nichols, who was unlucky enough to be on call. "Thanks, kid," he said.

"So how's the turd?" I asked.

"Deader than a smelt," the detective said. "Guess he got what he deserved."

"Yeah, I guess," I said.

I would become familiar with, even accustomed to death and dying, but I would never be able to just write it off without thinking about what could have been. Still, he did deserve it. Live by the know the rest.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

More Cruising

What I'm reading: Stalking Susan, by Julie Kramer.

First, welcome to my new followers. Next, I got a notice that "Terry's Place" was selected as one of both the top 100 mystery and romance blogs by The Daily Reviewer. I'm not sure how the selection procedure went, but I'm delighted with the recognition. I notice some familiar names on their site. And I get to display a couple more badges in my sidebar.

Back to cruise notes.

Day Two: The Royal Caribbean's private island, Coco Cay.

We arrived at Coco Cay, although not actually at the island. Rather, we were anchored a short distance away. We decided that we'd go over relatively early, stay through lunch, and then head back for the ship before it was either unbearably hot, or raining.

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Passengers were tendered out, so there was yet another line. You had to show your sea pass to get off the ship and onto the tender. Once on the island, we staked out a couple of lounges and then proceeded onto the Nature Trail,

where hubby even found a couple of species of mushrooms. Lots and lots of hermit crabs, some generously sized iguanas, and birds (which, of course he could identify—little green herons, flycatchers, ground doves, laughing gulls, frigate birds, etc., etc.).

The trail was shaded, which was very nice. It was also uneven, with lots of limestone so we were constantly going up and down, and even though it wasn't really climbing—it was still an up-and-down walk, and we definitely felt it the next day.

We got to the end of the trail, which was supposed to be a mile in length, and then took the road back to the beach. I don't know why I'd thought it was going to be a loop. All in all, we walked for a good 90 minutes, maybe more, although there were many stops to photograph the flora and fauna.

Lunch was some very good 'que, and then we headed back to the ship—or at least to the tenders. There, we once again showed our Sea Passes and our backpack was X-rayed, just in case we'd hooked up with one of the people who works on the island who might have been smuggling anything illegal.

Back at the ship, we again had our Sea Passes scanned (please remove caps and sunglasses so we can tell if you're really the same person we photographed when we issued your pass).

The security procedures might come in handy if I decide to set a book or scene on a cruise ship.

Tomorrow, it's Homicide Hussey again, with Part 2 of last Friday's chapter, "Dying Declaration." I'll be getting ready for our New Year holiday dinner, and then next week it'll be more cruising notes (and pictures) and writing posts.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

More on Voice

What I'm reading: How to Abduct a Highland Lord, by Karen Hawkins.

Thanks so much to Neil Plakcy for his insights into voice yesterday. The subtleties and nuances of writing, those 'you can't teach it' intangibles are the things that we're always striving to improve in our own writing.

And speaking of writing. I'm finally back into a semblance of the pre-holiday routine. One thing I noticed—when I actually applied fingers to keyboard, my anxiety level dropped markedly. Even though I'm still not sure exactly how I want to get through the "and all hell breaks loose" moments, just putting words onto the page reminded me why writers write no matter what.

I'd like to expand on Neil's post about voice. He went into detail about the character's voices. It's important in a book that they sound like themselves. That means knowing their history, their age, education, as well as occupation, nationality—the list goes on. A reader should be able to know who's speaking from the dialogue on the page.

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Cowboys don't talk like artists, who don't talk like sailors, who don't talk like politicians. And men don't talk like women, no matter what job each has. I went into this in my series on His Brain, Her Brain (if you type that into the search box, you'll find those posts back in early September, 2008.) When I write my male characters' dialogue, I always go back and cut it down by at least 25%.

I recall reading my first book by a best-selling author. A male character discovered a young girl, about 5 years old, who had been left to die in the woods. He brings her to his cabin and finds she cannot or will not speak. I was impressed with the way the character spoke to the child—it seemed exactly how someone should deal with that situation. However, as more characters entered the story, I discovered that he spoke that way to all of them. Not only that, almost every character in the book spoke with that same, "Talking to a Child" voice. Obviously, it doesn't bother the millions who buy her books, but it bugged the heck out of me. And it's consistent with all her books in that series. It wasn't just a one-time deal.

However, today I'd like to address the author's voice. From what I understand, voice develops as an author writes. I believe I commented yesterday that I judge the growth of my voice with the increasing ease of writing narrative. Not dialogue, because that is someone else's voice on the page—the character's. But all the other words, the way the sentences are put together, how the paragraphs break—that's the author. And that's where the intangibles lie. When I was starting, and I'd enter contests, I'd get very disparate feedback from judges. Another author told me it meant I had a strong voice, which might or might not appeal to a reader.

Voice is something a reader recognizes instinctively. It's what makes bestselling authors. Sure skill comes into the picture, too. You have to know how to plot, pace, create settings and characters, etc. But voice is what readers really fall in love with when they're reading. It's 'HOW' you tell your stories.
~Jordan Summers

Can anyone confuse Suzanne Brockmann with Lee Child? Janet Evanovich with Michael Connelly? Even Nora Roberts has a distinctive voice that is recognizable whether she's writing a romance as Roberts, or one of her "In Death" futuristics as JD Robb.

Try looking at your manuscript, or the book you're reading. Find a passage that's filled with narrative. How does the author deal with it? Is it in the same vein as the dialogue, or do you get jolted out of the story because all of a sudden there's an outsider taking over? If it's a funny book, the narrative needs to reflect that sense of humor. If it's serious, the author shouldn't be cracking wise in narrative. If your character speaks in short, choppy sentences, then he's likely to think that way, too. Again, the narrative should continue in that same style.

Which brings me to another thought. When I was in high school, we were required to discuss the "style" of all the books and stories we read. A student asked the teacher to define "style." He said, "It's the words the author chooses to use." Which sums it up pretty well for me. Perhaps we should use that term for the author's voice, to differentiate it from the characters' dialogue.

Voice can't be taught. It comes only after spending hours, days, months, years at the keyboard. It is, to use a favorite term of an author friend, "organic." It comes from within, and it feels right. If you're thinking about it, you're not developing your voice.

Elmore Leonard points out that the essence of being a good writer is keeping yourself off the page. So if it sounds 'writerly' it needs to be cut.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

What is Voice, Anyway?

Today, my guest at Terry's Place is author Neil Plakcy, who has published six novels (four mystery, two romance) and edited three anthology collections. He teaches writing at Broward College in south Florida and is vice president of the Florida chapter of Mystery Writers of America. In the course of writing and editing in these different genres, as well as teaching students how to write better, he’s become an expert at developing and customizing the way writers address their topic—the “voice” they use.

Welcome, Neil.

I was thinking a lot about voice this summer, as I revised a book I wrote a few years ago. The voice of this character is very different from the one I’ve been refining for my Honolulu police detective protagonist. So working with it has made me wonder -- what is voice, anyway?

To me, it has a number of components, first of all the choice of first-person, second-person and third-person. Is your narrator telling the story himself? Has the author created some disembodied narrator who has access to the feelings and impressions of the character? A first person-narrator is expected to speak like a real person, and that person’s background is going to influence how he or she speaks—and narrates the story.

Word choice is an important part of voice. The character I’ve been working with is a college professor, a stuffy kind of guy, though he’s only in his early thirties. I’ve noticed he waffles a lot, using “He seemed to be in pain,” rather than “He was in pain,” when observing another character grimace as he stands up. He uses a lot of what my father used to call ten-dollar words—abundance, serviceable. He knows the names of obscure things, like a chesterfield sofa or a torchiere lamp.

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His voice also rises out of the details he chooses to mention. For example, he says, “One of the benefits of living in a college town is the abundance of good coffee shops.” That tells you he’s not the kind of guy who buys his coffee at McDonald’s, even if they do offer cappuccino now. He’s nowhere near as worldly or jaded as my detective hero, who has killed a man, and seen a lot of dead bodies and injured victims.

His voice does not use many contractions, especially not in dialogue. His sentences are often long and involve complex structure, layering clause on clause. His voice reflects his upbringing and his education. He’s obviously read a lot, in the course of receiving his PhD, and written a lot, too.

One way in which this voice is like my detective, though, is in access to language and description. Both guys, like me, grew up reading, and both pay attention to detail. So Kimo can describe the arc of a wave, and Steve the smoothness of a handmade antique wooden box. Both of them live in the place where they grew up, so they know its neighborhoods, its flora and fauna.

I try to use humor when I can, no matter what voice I’m using. Kimo’s humor is darker, while Steve’s is more sarcastic. Both of them like word play, riffing off a word said by another character.

Some writers have such a distinctive voice that they are easy to imitate. After I read Nabokov’s Lolita I started writing a story that channeled his arch, playful voice. Big mistake. But I also tried to imitate Elmore Leonard’s style, telling the story almost exclusively through dialogue, and that worked for me. I’ve read Laurie Colwin for her emphasis on domestic detail and tried to emulate the richness of her settings.

A couple of years ago I sat down to write a story about a naïve teenager who is befriended by a male prostitute just a little older than he is, who takes advantage of his generosity and then breaks his heart. I was appalled, on looking over the first draft, to find that this Chicago teen spoke like my jaded Honolulu detective. Oh, my God, I thought. Do I only have one voice?

I went back over the story and polished it, delving deeper into the character’s hunger and pain, and that helped me modify his voice. He started speaking more like a kid than an adult. The college students I teach have a pretty narrow frame of reference; they don’t know much literature, and they don’t even know movies, TV shows or music from more than a few years ago. Making sure that all the references a character makes are believable is another part of voice.

There’s still more work to be done revising that five-year-old novel. I will continue to try to improve it while maintaining the integrity of the character’s narration. And the more I learn about all the elements that make up a voice, the more confident I feel I can do it.

Neil Plakcy’s website is, where you can find more about his Hawaii-based mystery novels, including Mahu, Mahu Surfer, Mahu Fire, and Mahu Vice, as well as his M/M romances.