Monday, November 30, 2009

Conquering The Short Synopsis

What I'm reading: Make Her Pay, by Roxanne St. Claire

I finished the first draft of a two-page synopsis for my mystery. I used my storyboard tracking, and it was much easier than any other method I've tried. For longer synopses, some will summarize each chapter as they write, then combine them for a rough draft of a synopsis. However, to condense 32 chapters into 2 pages, I found it easy enough to look at my sticky notes, decide which points were significant enough to include, and summarized the book that way. Had I gone with a scene by scene, or chapter by chapter summary, it would have been much longer, and probably confusing to a reader.

Since the primary focus of the synopsis was the mystery, I spent most of the time on the cop's investigation. It wasn't necessary to include every step in the investigation, so the first 10 chapters of the book are covered in 5 paragraphs, and most of the middle chapters are condensed even further. Unlike a blurb, which is a 'teaser', a synopsis is supposed to cover the entire book, the solution of the crime and capture of the bad guy has to appear, and I spent about 4 paragraphs covering those points.

The short synopsis is the answer to "What is your book about?" more than "Tell me the story." Think being able to cover it over coffee, not a six-course meal.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Criminal Thinking 2

What I'm reading: Feel the Heat, by Cindy Gerard.

I'm continuing the repeats of my Nov. 2008 series on Criminal Thinking, taken from my workshop notes. See last week's entry here.

A brief recap: Malinowski defines "criminal" as someone who lives a lifestyle of crime. To a criminal, the usual boundaries of authority don't apply.

In his presentation, Malinowski also stressed the difference between cause and influence. For example, poverty does not cause crime, but it definitely influences it. For Malinowski, the personal motivation that gives meaning to his job stems from his belief that a criminal has three basic choices.

1. Continue the life of crime. This will result in the criminal returning to prison, dying on the streets, or dying in prison.

2. Suicide. Not a recommendation but nonetheless, still a 'choice'. Fear keeps most criminals from suicide.

3. Change. Must be deep change. Without deep change, there is only slow death, so change becomes a "life vs. death" choice.

Malinowski's goal is to help offenders see the need for change, and to give them the tools they need to effect it.

A quick statistic: 97% of incarcerated people get out of prison. (Often many times,) Only 3% die in prison, either by the death penalty, of natural causes, or at the hand of other prisoners. In the Florida system, there are 100,000 inmates, and 129,000 who are out "under supervision."

Malinowski suggested that the next time you go to eat at a restaurant like Denny's, or Applebees, or TGI Friday's, you take a look around the back. Are there bicycles parked there? Odds are good that these belong to people who are recently out of prison, perhaps on a work release program. Since they can't hold a driver's license, they'll bike to work.

Thursday, November 26, 2009


One of our family traditions:
(which contains the answer to yesterday's question)

May you all find something to be thankful for, no matter where you are.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Lizards, Turkey and Voice

Thanks to Jessica for sharing her experiences and reminding us that although things might be different, there's an underlying sameness to the basics of our lives.

A while back, fellow author Patricia Stoltey mentioned seeing some cow street art in Colorado. I was reminded of a LizArt project here in Orlando some years ago, in which artists created sculptures using basic lizard "templates."

As I Googled my way to digging up what I could find on the LizArt project (not knowing its name slowed me down a bit), I couldn't help but think about how this relates to writing. After all, for a writer, everything relates to writing.

There are writers who refuse to divulge anything about a project until it's published. I've read and heard comments from writers who won't enter contests because they're convinced the judges will steal their ideas.

I remember the first "brilliant" scene I created for my first manuscript. This was years ago, and cell phones weren't commonplace. How clever, I thought, as I wrote the following:

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

A Cultural Divide. Or is it?

Thanksgiving is a time to be with family. Although my daughter can't be here in the flesh, she is my guest today. Please give a warm welcome to Jessica Odell; ju-jistu black belt, first reader, brainstorming partner, fight scene choreographer, and supplier of excellent Irish libations.

I found myself moving to Northern Ireland in the summer of 2006, thanks to hubby’s job in the UK military. How we met is another long story, so I’ll just skip over that part. Aside from Mom: The short version? In a bar in Albuquerque, of course.

I live about 10 miles south of Belfast, and before anyone starts to panic, it’s not as bad as it used to be. I was all prepared for severe security warnings, but most of it is common sense nowadays. I live in a regular semi-detached house, in essentially a regular UK-style neighborhood. There’s shopping accessible in the town, a movie theater, a small mall, restaurants, and decent-sized supermarkets within 3 miles. So, what’s the big difference?

Everything and nothing, that’s what. The biggest hurdle (after learning how to drive on the wrong side of the road) was getting used to the language! Now, people here speak English but it’s not like any English I’ve ever heard. The slang terms have completely inundated the language. You might get greeted by, “how’s the craic (crack)?” or “what about yas”? And everything good is “dead on”. Not only do I have to wrap my head around the standard British vocabulary (where the sidewalk is the pavement, and you ask for the toilet instead of the bathroom), I had to interpret all of the local dialects as well! I still can’t understand some of my friends.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Does Size Matter?

I'm a warehouse shopper. A bargain hunter. Warehouse club over boutique store. Large economy size. I read the shelf tags that break cost down to amount per ounce. So when I'm shopping for a book, I'll tend to steer away from the shorter ones. I'm not looking for a 'read in one sitting' book for my money. My typical leisure reading rate is about 100 pages a day. I normally look for a book at least 300 pages long. I feel 'cheated' with shorter ones, like I'm paying too much per page, or too much per hour of pleasure reading. (Although I confess, I get most of my books from the library these days.)

Having been dealing with "appropriate" word count, I've been thinking about book length in general. I saw a post on another blog about someone having to wrap up her book within 75,000 words, and after I dealt with the terror that tidbit invoked, I started thinking about it. Short stories aside, I've never been able to bring a first draft in under 100,000 words. At the 75K mark, I'm just starting to roll.

Given the reality, what does the author have to consider? Publishers have word count guidelines. While they're not etched in stone, if you're submitting a 100,000 word manuscript to a publisher looking for a maximum 75,000 word limit, you're wasting everyone's time. If it's your agent submitting, some intervention might be possible. If you've already sold books to that publisher, you might get a pass, because you have a track record. But knowing your target market is a critical part of being a professional, and if that means conforming to guidelines you're not crazy about, so be it. The choice is yours.

Keep Reading...

Why is word count so important? Bottom line: money. And I'm talking print books now. And well-written, well edited books. I'm not talking about books that feel padded or sparse, just to meet a specific word count.

Paper costs money. If you're unknown, how much money is the publisher willing to risk?

Then there's the simple size factor. Mass market paperbacks that sell in grocery stores and other 'non-bookstore' outlets have to fit on specific shelves, frequently in compartments. Those tower displays in the bookstores also hold a specific number of books per slot. It becomes a matter of physical thickness. If the compartment holds 5 inches of books, better to have 5 one-inch books than waste space.

I picked up a mass market paperback recently. It was 388 pages, which isn't out of line. But the font was reduced well beyond that of any other book I've read recently, requiring I dig out my readers. Also, the margins were smaller, and that meant the print was perilously close to the inside gutter, requiring a definite physical effort to hold the book open enough to read.

Then there's the hard cover I'm reading now, which Is 820 pages and weighs in at nearly 3 pounds. When I'm not reading it, I can use it for an upper body workout. But the font is manageable and I don't have to use my readers if I don't want to.

Although both books are historicals, which normally has a longer accepted wordcount, both the above authors have proven to their publishers that they are worthy of more words, although the publisher for book #1 had to push the envelope in order to conform to finished size. Book #2 didn't have the same constraints, although I'll be curious to see how the product looks when it comes out in paperback. And I will admit that given the rigorous editing mode I'm in at the moment, I find a lot of scenes in this book that, although interesting enough, seem to be more of the "I researched all this cool stuff and I'm going to work it into the book" rather than "this is a critical scene to advance the plot." However, since I'm barely halfway through, it's too early to know whether these tidbits will show up again. And the author's audience has proven that it enjoys these digressions.

In reality, I'd have preferred both the above books in digital versions, where size really doesn't matter. My eBookwise is always the same size, and weighs the same no matter how many books I load into it.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Criminal Thinking

If you follow writing, you're probably aware of the hoopla surrounding Harlequin's new vanity press and the responses from major writers' organizations, such as RWA and MWA. There's plenty of that to read elsewhere. But bottom line: in publishing, money is supposed to flow TO the author. Vanity publishing exists, and writers should be allowed to choose. However, the Harlequin approach of dangling a "pay us to publish your book and maybe someday you can become a 'traditional' author" carrot has raised hackles. An excellent look at what's going on was posted at Murder She Writes yesterday, by author Allison Brennan. News continues to break, and by the time you read this, things might have changed.

A week or so ago, I'd mentioned rerunning some of my most popular posts on Fridays now that we've finished with Detective Hussey's case files. My site stats say that my notes from the Civilian Police Academy on Criminal Thinking are at the top of the list. This was originally posted in July of 2008, and I know there are a lot of new readers here who haven't seen it.

The class on "Inside the Criminal Mind" was fascinating and crammed full of information, but I'll say right up front that these are the facts as I understand them, and there might be places where I'm not spot-on. These are the facts and opinions as our speaker presented them, not necessarily mine. However, he's the expert, and most of what he said made perfect sense to me. As always, one can't make broad generalizations, and there are always exceptions.

Our speaker was David Malinowski, the Regional Transition Coordinator for the Florida Dept. of Corrections. He became interested in the field of criminal thinking after realizing that traditional approaches with education did not work in a prison classroom.

Anyone incarcerated in the Florida prison system is required to go through a course from the Transitional Life Skills Center, within 6 months of release to help transition them into the "responsible" world, which is the way Mr. Malinowski refers to what most of us consider the "outside" or the "free world." The class was designed to address myths and mistakes often made when dealing with a criminal population and what is required for true change to take place.

First, he spoke of sympathy for the victims, who get lost in the system. He referred to the need for the offenders (another term he uses) to understand that whatever they did hurts people. His goal is to lead them toward change, but change has to come from the offender. Nobody can force change on someone else.

His presentation was subtitled "Criminal Thinking" and this is the crux of the matter.

What defines a criminal? They think differently. Somewhere along the line, they don't have the internal constraints that most of us have. He spoke at length of Responsible vs. Irresponsible thinking.

If one can make a generalization, it's that the criminal mind works on the "rules don't apply to me" foundation.

According to Malinowski, Criminal Thinking is erroneous thinking that comes automatically out of fear, like a reflex, or is a reaction.

Thinking leads to Feeling leads to Behavior. Criminals live out of their feelings. They don't move past it to cognitive behavior.

We've all been cut off in traffic. We react emotionally at first (although if you live where I do, the tourist population with it's "I need to turn left here, and it doesn't matter that I'm in the right hand lane" style of driving tends to become commonplace enough so that natives are aware of it, look out for it, and let it slide).

Although those who are not desensitized to idiot drivers can curb their immediate reaction to do something to the driver of the car. As responsible thinkers, we might hit the horn or flip the bird, but we don't normally crash into his car or shoot him.

He went on to give three basic reasons for crime: Power, Control, and Excitement. And three areas of crime: Property, Assault, and Sex.

To a criminal thinker, information is power. They will collect facts which may or may not be useful at the time. But if they know something about you, that gives them power. Those working in the system don't (or shouldn't) keep family photos in their offices.

He gave one interesting example. If you or I (assuming you're not a criminal thinker—I can speak only for myself here!) stand in a classroom doorway for 15 seconds and look around, we're likely to notice things like gender and racial mix of the group, the instructor, who's looking at the instructor, etc. When the offender stands in the doorway, he's noticing who's got an open purse, the keys on someone's desk, who's got cigarettes, and even the classroom roster on the instructors computer screen.

The criminal sees his behavior as normal. He's probably done it dozens of times without being caught. There are probably very few real "first time offenders" in prison. They're there because it was the first time they were caught.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Pulling Weeds, Smoking Guns

What I'm reading: An Echo in the Bone, by Diana Gabaldon

So, the landscaping is finished. We did lose one nice sago palm along with the native shrubs, but a potential buyer won't know it's gone. It was a case of not pointing it out to the contractor when he took stock of what to do with our yard, so the crew simply looked at the overall result, not the specific individual pieces.

Like our sago palm, there were valuable passages in my manuscript. However, at this point, I'm the only one who knows they were there. When I submit the finished piece for consideration, an editor won't know I cut a very well written scene simply because it didn't fit well enough with the overall storytelling to justify its being there.

And sometimes, it's a matter of replacing a plant that isn't doing well for a new one. When I write, I don't want to waste time finding the perfect descriptive words. In edits, there's time to go back and replace the words that aren't holding their own, or doing the best job they can. Why say, "he walked carefully across the floor" when he can creep or tiptoe or inch across the floor? Those "ly" adverbs usually wave red flags at words that need too much help. Yank them out and plant new ones.

With my manuscript. I'd done my major landscaping, getting my word count down to a more appropriate level by uprooting unneeded threads and scenes. "Chekov's Gun" states "any object introduced in a story must be used later on, else it ought not to feature in the first place."

Keep Reading...

In my manuscript, I had a perfect example. In a scene, one of the characters comes into the diner and tells my cop that she thinks someone's in her upstairs apartment. The cop tells her to get down behind the counter. There's mention of a pistol kept near the register. However, we never actually see the gun, other than a few thoughts about who it belongs to, and that almost everyone in the small Colorado town probably has one. Since the gun was never needed and never showed up again … SNIP.

If my character notices she's forgotten her cell phone charger, which IS a plot point, but isn't going to have time to plug her phone into it before the end of the book, then there's no need to spend time showing her actually fetching it. Enough to mention it in passing and move on.

And, like Chekov's gun, things on the page should be portents of things to come. If you haven't read Lee Child, you should. Anything he mentions will show up again, and more often than not, in a critical scene. I noticed the same kind of technique in the Roxanne St. Claire book I read recently. All the details are entwined. I'm still learning to pay attention to this in my own writing, and the second (or third) drafts are good places to make sure the details aren't pure window dressing.

Once the uprooting of established scenes is done, it's time to get out the pesky weeds that crop up no matter how you try to keep them away. Over the weekend, I went through the entire manuscript searching for my crutch words. Doesn't matter that I know what they are. They fall off the fingertips without any brain involvement.

Here's a peek at a few of my most intrusive weeds:

Just: 187
Really: 73
Very: 31
Much: 99
Only: 103
Sorry: 43
Almost: 39

After weeding:

Just: 43
Really: 15
Very: 10
Much: 42
Only: 54
Sorry: 23
Almost: 30 (Note: when I was running the numbers between drafts 1 and 2, I noticed that "almost" went from 39 to 48. Why? Because in my culling of "just", "almost" crept in as a substitute. This happens a lot. Am I done? No. I'll go back and make sure each instance is absolutely necessary.)

You might have noticed I use an excess of qualifiers, like 'really' and 'very'. Most of the time leaving them out doesn't make any difference to the read. They insist on showing up the first time, but I get out the trowel and dig them up on the first editing pass. I use maybe, probably, and seemed a lot, primarily because I write deep POV, and one character cannot know what another is thinking. Again, I have to decide if these words start jumping off the page at the reader, or are logical parts of interior monologue. Or dialogue, which is another consideration. When we speak, we use 'filler words' to give our brain time to think. Most of the time, they're not needed on the page and merely slow the read.

Then there's the "appropriate to the character and situation" vocabulary. Hence my search for "sorry." My police chief would not use the word when he's giving orders to his officers, but he would use it when he arrives at a citizen's house at dawn to make sure everyone is all right.

Another weed to check: Dialogue tags. They should be used only as a way to keep the speaker clear. In a scene with only two people, it should be easy enough to tell who's talking without tagging every sentence. Since I'm a 'cut and paste' editor, I often move things around and mess up my tags, either eliminating critical ones, or leaving in more than I need. I've discussed this in much more depth in my "Dialogue Basics" handout, which is on my website under "Links".

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Does Your Manuscript Have Curb Appeal?

What I'm reading: Hothouse Orchid, by Stuart Woods. I'm also over at Pen to Paper. And, despite much resistance, Elizabeth's post guilted me into joining Twitter. I'm one of the "Women to Watch" in the Nov/Dec issue of Orange Appeal. Link on my website. And NOWHERE TO HIDE has a release date: August 20, 1020.

Curb Appeal: As I mentioned on Monday, we'd had enough comments that our house lacked any visibility from the street, and if buyers couldn't find it or see it, they would either not come in, or come in with a negative attitude.

Even if the view from inside is what we like (can't see the neighbors or the street), if people don't come inside, they can't appreciate that aspect of the house.

One of the reasons we selected the Realtor we did for our next go-round was that she appreciated our natural approach to landscaping and said she would use it as a marketing tool. However, that doesn't mean we shouldn't clean up what we have to present the best possible first impression. So, yesterday morning, a crew of guys with big trucks and rakes, shovels and other implements of destruction showed up to deal with the overgrowth.

As for curb appeal, for a manuscript, it's more than a book's cover. A cover doesn't happen until well after the manuscript is sold. What the author has to do is make sure that first impression will get the agent or editor reading. As with our house, it doesn't matter how beautifully decorated the interior is if the buyer doesn't come inside. People often ask editors and agents how far they read before deciding on whether or not to accept a manuscript. The almost universal response: "Until I stop."

The author's job is to get them to pull into the driveway, walk up to the front door, and then look at every room in the house. There's no point in saying, "but the guest room is gorgeous". Likewise, you can't say, "The story gets really good in chapter five." If so, chapter five should be chapter one.

Keep Reading...

Thus, I've been looking at my prologue and opening chapter again. I've trimmed more prologue details (including more from the example I gave the other day, because it wasn't going to get a reader into the story). I've revamped the opening chapter where we meet the cop for the first time. It's gone from 491 words to 331 words.

I prefer the stakes to escalate through the book, so the opening conflicts are less critical, but they have to be there.

So, here you go: Before:

Gordon Hepler stared at the spreadsheet on his monitor. At this rate, he'd be blind before his contract was up for renewal. Budgets and paperwork. It's not like Mapleton saw a lot of crime, but he'd felt more useful on the streets. He should never have accepted the position of Chief of Police.

A promise was a promise, he reminded himself. Even if the person you made it to wasn't around anymore.

He minimized the spreadsheet window and picked up the stack of reports from the night shift. To the disgruntlement of his officers, the budget didn't include laptops in their cruisers, and they still had to file reports by hand. At least it gave his eyes a break from the computer.

Then again, the handwriting was so bad on half of them, he couldn't call it much of a break. He reached for the bottle of eye drops in his desk drawer. Damn, he was a cop. Not a paper pusher. At thirty-six, he had too many street years left in him to be riding a desk.

He tilted his head and dripped the fluid into each eye. Blinking, he waited for his vision to clear. He could insist everyone come in and transcribe the reports, then print them out. That would keep them in the office instead of on patrol, or would have them requesting overtime.

He picked up the first report. Car blocking a fire hydrant on Ash Street. Nice fine for that one. The council would be pleased. He kept going, perusing each piece of paper. Barking dog. Next.

Kids drinking under the high school bleachers. He allowed a brief mental trip to his own youthful escapades. At least his crowd had been smart enough to avoid the obvious haunts.

He flipped through the stack, looking for more of Vicky McDermott's reports, her neat printing a welcome break from Dunsworth's scrawl. Another alcohol incident, this one at Finnegan's. Triggered, apparently by an article in the Mapleton Weekly about whether the Holocaust actually happened. Undoubtedly one of Buzz Turner's articles, trying to parlay his job into one at a big-city press. Tabloid was more likely. Gordon rubbed his eyes.

Back to Dunsworth's hen scratches. Suspected drug use. He looked at that one a little more carefully. Mapleton didn't need drug problems. Officer smelled marijuana, but didn't find any hard evidence. Gordon checked the name. Willard Johnson. Not one he recognized. Address was Flo and Lyla Richardsons' B&B. Not a local, then. Table that one for now.

He groaned when he saw the next report. Mrs. Bedford again. More ghosts rearranging her merchandise. He'd told her to put in surveillance cameras, but she swore the ghosts wouldn't show up on tape. Yeah, but the customers who pick something up and put it back somewhere else would.

With a curse, he shoved his chair away from his desk and grabbed his jacket. Without breaking stride, he surged to Laurie's desk.

And here's the landscaped version(with annotations)

Gordon Hepler yawned and rubbed his eyes. Next time, he swore he'd send Vicky McDermott out to deal with Betty Bedford and her ghosts. He'd told her to put in surveillance cameras, but she swore the ghosts in her shop wouldn't show up on tape. Yeah, but the customers who pick something up and put it back somewhere else would.
This introduces one of the inciting incidents for the book. Why bury it?

Then again, dealing with the woman was a break from his normal routine as Mapleton's new Chief of Police. Budgets and paperwork. Damn, at thirty-six, he was too young to be riding a desk. He stared at the spreadsheet on his monitor. At this rate, he'd be blind before his contract was up for renewal.
Establishes who Gordon is, what he does, and some of his internal conflict.

A promise was a promise, he reminded himself. Even if the person you made it to wasn't around anymore.
Shows what motivates Gordon to continue doing a job he's not thrilled about.

He grabbed his eye drops from his desk drawer, tilted his head and dripped the fluid into each eye. Blinking, he waited for his vision to clear, then picked up the first night report. Car blocking a fire hydrant on Ash Street. Nice fine for that one. The Mapleton town council would be pleased.
Hints that pleasing the town council isn't high on his priority 'to do' list.

He continued through the stack. Mostly citizen complaints. Barking dogs, rowdy teens. He stopped at an altercation at Finnegan's Pub. Triggered, apparently, by an article in the Mapleton Weekly.

Gordon found his copy of the paper and turned to the article in question. Holocaust: Fact or Fiction? Great. Another one of Buzz Turner's articles, trying to parlay his job into one at a big-city press. Tabloid was more likely.
Introduces another character in the book, and another plot thread.

Drug use caught his eye on the next report and he looked more carefully. His town didn't need drug problems. Officer smelled marijuana, but didn't find any hard evidence. Gordon checked the name. Willard Johnson. Not one he recognized. Address was Flo and Lyla Richardsons' B&B. Not a local, then. Table that one for now.
Another plot thread/character introduction, shows his attitude toward "his" town, establishes it as a peaceful place … for now.

He shoved his chair away from his desk and grabbed his jacket. He stopped at Laurie's desk. "Anything urgent?"

So – maybe it's not edge of the seat, page turning suspense. But I don't write that, and I don't open with the dead body on page one. I hope I've created enough "what comes next?" interest in the reader. What do you think? After all, it's still a draft.

Oh, and what do you think of the landscaping now? Any more curb appeal?

More on the writing process tomorrow. Come back!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

A Dog's Life

Welcome to this week's guest, EPIC Award nominee, Teri Wilson.

I lost my friend’s dog this week.

Not just any dog. Madeline is a Champion Toy Fox Terrier. She’s less than a year old and already boasts many fancy ribbons and has her own blog.

And I’m not just any pet sitter. I have my own dogs, who I adore and show in conformation and obedience dog shows as well. One of my dogs is a therapy dog and visits sick children at the local children’s hospital. If anyone can appreciate the love a good dog, it’s me.

I went over to my friend’s house while she was out of town to feed little Maddie and let her out to potty. When I opened the back door, she darted outside like she meant to chase something. And I guess she did. Because in a matter of seconds, she was gone.

Fence? What fence? It appeared as though she jumped over it!

Keep Reading...

At first, I was in disbelief. She couldn’t be gone. Not GONE, GONE. I am the world’s most responsible dog owner. My tagline as an author is Romancing the pet lover’s soul, for goodness sake.

This was not happening!

But it was. For four excruciating hours, I had no idea where Madeline was. I ransacked the backyard, my stilettos sinking in the mud. I traipsed all over the neighborhood calling her name and shaking a box of doggy biscuits. I had finally given up searching and was making fliers to post all over the area when my friend called and told me Maddie had been found.

Someone found her crouching under a parked car and took her to the vet. They scanned her microchip and – viola – everything was OK.

Thank heavens she had been microchipped. Most show dogs don’t wear collars. Maddie doesn’t. My own don’t. It can leave a permanent dent in their coat. Of course, my older dog is microchipped, but my newest puppy doesn’t have a chip yet. Bliss is her name. She’s a 5-month old Cavalier King Charles Spaniel and is – this is, of course a totally objective opinion – the cutest thing on earth.

Today we had a big dog show in Hutto, Texas. My friend was there with Madeline and had a wonderful time. She’s not upset with me at all. Technically I didn’t do anything wrong. The tiny dog somehow escaped out of the yard. That, however, was little consolation while she was missing. It didn’t matter if I did everything right if the poor dog never came home.

But she was there today and did marvelously. She won an enormous ribbon (called a rosette in dog show lingo). I joked with her that Bliss had rosette-envy. Then, five minutes later, Bliss won Best In Show in the special puppy show. She has her own giant ribbon. It was truly a great day.

And Monday morning, she’s getting microchipped!

Teri’s newest book, Cup of Joe (White Rose Publishing) features an adorable Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. Almost as adorable as Bliss! For more about Teri, visit her website at

Lots of news and updates tomorrow. Please come by.

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Other Side of Rejections

First, a Very Happy Birthday to the Hubster. And the answer is, "Yes."

Having been the recipient of countless rejection letters, it was strange to have to be on the sending side. I can appreciate what agents and editors have to deal with.

If you've been following this blog, you know we've been dealing with selling our house in a very slow market. It's very easy to draw parallels to selling manuscripts. Our first agent was an acquaintance of hubby, and we decided to give him first crack at selling the house. However, after six months of inactivity, we decided to go with a larger company with more resources.

I'd gone to the Internet to look for Realtors who handled our area. I found six and filled out their web forms. Five responded. All came in with the same basic information. All tried to give us reasons why they were the best one for the job. But there can be only one. Based on their presentations, any of them could do the job. It becomes a matter of being very nit-picky.

First step was to see if we could eliminate any for whatever reason. One didn't bother with a competitive market analysis because nothing in our immediate vicinity has sold. They'd deal with pricing once we committed to a contract with them. But the other four did come up with numbers, and went into the details about short sales and foreclosures, and how that would affect our home's price. One came by to look at the house, but took three days to get his proposal to us. Since communication is one of my hot buttons, that was a negative.

Keep Reading...

So, we'd narrowed it down to three. We discussed pros and cons of the companies they worked for. We eliminated one because they're not selling in and around our neighborhood even though they have an office nearby. Doesn't mean they won't market our house, but it means if a potential buyer is driving around looking at signs, they won't see one from that company. That left us with two. Tossing a coin would probably have worked, but we ended up choosing the one who seemed to be more about what she would do to market the house rather than what the company resources were.

Now the hard part. I have to figure out how to tell the four we didn't choose that we've opted to go with something else. Do I create one form rejection letter and send it to all of them? Do I personalize bits of it? Do I tell them why they weren't chosen? Agents and editors send out far many more rejections than acceptances, and it's often for reasons as minor as the ones we had to use to reject 4 out of 5 Realtors. Had I used the dartboard method I suggested on Friday, it would probably have served us just as well.

Maybe I should dig out one of my rejection letters and use it as a template. My personal favorite: "We did review your proposal, and for some reason we don't feel we can represent it. Some of them come close, and yours may well be one of those, but we do have our reasons for declining."

With a little modification, it might work.

And, on the manuscript landscaping: I've cut almost 6000 words from my WIP. On the house landscaping: Hubby gave the green light to the tree-trimming crew to come in and "make it pretty." He's finally come to grips with the reality that this can't be for him anymore, and as proof, he's not even going to be around while they're working. Not only that, he even seems to grasp that the usual excuse of "it's a waste of time because ... " doesn't work. True, the bugs will return to the porch light, the mildew will grow on the driveway (he actually rented a pressure cleaner and took care of that chore) and the windows and sliders will get dirty again. The buyers come in expecting perfection. Based on what the Realtors have said, things will be busiest right after the new listing and new pricing hits the web. Once that's passed, I'm sure we'll resume our 'wait for a call, then clean' habits.

My guest tomorrow is Teri Wilson, who's real life job revolves around dogs. She's relaying a recent experience, and it's quite possible it'll show up in her next book. And I hope to have some 'during' and 'after' pictures of the new front yard on Wednesday.

Friday, November 13, 2009

What's in a Number?

Are you Triskaidekaphobic? Or just Paraskevidekatriaphobic?

The first refers to a fear of the number 13. It's common enough, which is why hotels often don't have a 13th floor (but of course they do, it's simply labeled 14), and some airlines don't have a 13th row. This isn't a universal fear, however.

In Italy, 17 is supposed to be an unlucky number. Tetraphobia, fear of the number 4 — (phonetically similar to 'death') in Korea, China, and Japan, as well as in many East-Asian and some Southeast-Asian countries, it's not uncommon for buildings (including offices, apartments, hotels) to lack floors with the number 4, and Finnish mobile phone manufacturer Nokia's 1xxx-9xxx series of mobile phones does not include any model numbers beginning with a 4. In Taiwan, tetraphobia is so common that there are no 4's or x4's for hospitals.

The second is more specific, a fear of Friday the 13th. If that's your fear, maybe you're hiding inside today (which explains why statistically, there are fewer accidents on a Friday the 13th – people aren't going out). It's been estimated that there's an $800 to $900 MILLION loss in business on a Friday the 13th.

Keep Reading...

Some interesting articles about Friday the 13th from NPR:

Friday the 13th: The Fear that Will Not Die

Who's Afraid of Friday the 13th?

I'm not particularly superstitious. I've never done anything differently on a Friday the 13th. In Walt Kelly's Pogo strip, there was a Friday the 13th every month. It just didn't always fall on a Friday. But in Romanian, Greek and Hispanic cultures, Tuesday the 13th is considered unlucky.

I don't avoid black cats, and if a ladder is blocking the sidewalk, I'll walk under it rather than risk stepping into the street.

The dryer saga: On Monday, I called the service company to tell them the parts they ordered had come in. They set up an appointment window of 8 AM to noon on Wednesday. When noon came and went, I called, because the previous time, the serviceman had called me to say he was running late. Ooops. "Sorry, we have no record of your appointment. We can reschedule for tomorrow." Why is it when the company screws up, the consumer gets screwed. What if I'd had to take a day off work to be home? As it was, I did have to juggle my schedule, not once, but twice. And then the best their supervisor could do was "request" that I be the first call of the day.

With luck, everything is fixed now. I haven't tested it yet – and maybe, since it's Friday the 13th, I'd be better off waiting a day.

After the dryer guy did his thing, I went downtown and met with Detective Hussey and ran my "would this be how a cop should handle this?" scenarios past him over lunch. Since he said I had the procedures right, and that my dialogue sounded appropriately "cop", I won't have to rewrite those scenes. I also learned a new term: "Protective Sweep." Gordon, my cop, did one; I just didn't know it had a name. And where else can you have lunch and get to listen to one side of a phone conversation where someone says, "Don't worry about it. Just tell them you dug the hole and you discovered the bones."

Detective Hussey's been busy, but he did say he'd be willing to answer questions. No promises as to how many he can handle at a time, or how long it'll take to get back with answers, but if you've read his case files and want to know more, shoot me an email (address in my sidebar) and I'll get them to him. Put Hussey Question in the subject line. And if you haven't read his case files, you've missed a treat. You can enter Homicide – Hussey in the search box. I ran them every Friday starting back in January.

So, for me, today is business as usual. I'm editing. Hubby is meeting with a tree trimmer to check into manicuring our oasis. We've got all the Realtor presentations laid out on the kitchen table, and we'll have to decide who gets our contract. Given their presentations, it's likely to be closing our eyes and drawing a name out of a hat. Or maybe throwing darts would be more cathartic.

Have a great weekend, everyone.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Landscape that Manuscript

Our contract with our current Realtor expires in about 10 days, and it's time to move on. Thus, we've been interviewing Realtors. A tedious chore. Given the state of the market, they're all eager to have our listing, which means we have to weed the hype out of their presentations and figure out which one will work best for us.

A while back, I compared selling a house to selling a manuscript. With our house, hubby has been adamant about not touching the existing vegetation in our front yard. It gives us privacy and is very low-maintenance, since it's primarily the natural flora. However, it also blocks any view of our house from the street. In short, negative curb appeal. Making it presentable will be a major effort.

When you send your manuscript out for the first time, be it one chapter for a critique group, three chapters for a contest, or you get that request for a full submission, you're relinquishing some of your control. The general 'rule' is that when more than two comments say the same thing, it's time to consider making serious changes. You have to put away the "my baby" attitude and think of the manuscript as the kid going off to school for the first time. All of a sudden, it's "But teacher says …" and you're no longer number one on the list.

Keep Reading...

So, the hubster has had to realize that selling our house means doing things that aren't really for "us" anymore. If it means giving up some of that seclusion, it's not like we're going to live with it forever. Yes, there's probably someone out there who would like a house you can't see from the street. But there are far too many more (according to the Realtors, anyway), who don't even want to come inside, or who come inside already thinking of what it will cost them to re-landscape. Too bad they don't think about how much water it will take to irrigate a lawn, or how they'll be stuck cutting that much more grass every week. But we have to look at the house as someone else's, even though we're still living in it. I'm not sure hubby is quite ready to let go, as he's hemming and hawing about calling the guy that normally does our tree trimming. He has to internalize the change first.

And I have to look at my manuscript as something marketable as well. Cutting words is like cutting back some of those palmettos out front. And like landscaping, some things need to be uprooted, some cut way back, and some gently trimmed. Logically, to cut back 10% of a manuscript means cutting one word in ten. Too bad you can't just delete every tenth word. Nope. You have to pick the right words. So I can't say I have to cut 312.5 words per chapter. I have to cut about 9600 words from my manuscript. I've deleted about 2000 so far, over 12 chapters.

My process: Major surgery first. Are there scenes that aren't moving the plot forward? Excise them. No matter that you love them. That they're well-written. Maybe you can transplant them.

Then, the minor surgery. I've checked my Idea board for the leftovers I talked about Monday. Some of them were hinted at in the manuscript as foreshadowing. Since they're not needed, I can do some cutting there. Also, I've added bright yellow post-its to my almost-empty Idea board with threads I can cut. For example, I had a car with Florida plates. To add a possible connection, I gave Rose and Sam some distant cousins there. But nothing really came from that other than, "We never see them and aren't in touch." So why have it in the book at all? Snip.

Check dialogue. I'm chatty; so are my characters. Do they ramble? Dialogue in books isn't a transcription of real life chit-chat. Cut qualifiers.

And so on, down to the itty-bitty butterfly bandages and plastic surgery. This is where a thesaurus earns its spot on the bookshelf. Weak words? Find stronger ones. Repeated words? Cut or vary. I have my list. No matter how hard I try to be aware of words like "just", they keep appearing. I have 187 of them in this manuscript. Less than in the last manuscript, but far too many. Most of them are just hanging around taking up space – oops – another one slipped in, didn't it?

Here's a before and after look at some general tightening of my prologue. A prologue needs to be concise, especially if it's merely setting the stage for what's to come. Keep in mind, these are MY preliminary edits, and should the manuscript sell, this could end up being changed yet again. First, the original:

His visitor found the old man's pen, the fat one with the cushioned grip. "This?"

The old man nodded. His visitor handed him the pen, then wandered around the room, hands in his pockets. The old man observed him, seeing the room through a stranger's eyes. Not a real bedroom, but more homey than a hospital room, the old man had thought when he'd been transferred to the medical wing. No longer. Now it was his prison cell. He sighed, a wheezy sound that echoed in his ears.

With his favorite pen in hand, the old man began writing. He'd written the missive countless times in his head, but would never commit it to paper. Not until now, when he knew the recipient would get it. Too many snooping eyes around this place.

Next, I thought I'd give you my thought processes as I read it with "tighten" in mind.

His visitor found (weak verb, shaky POV) the old man's pen, the fat one with the cushioned grip. "This?"

The old man nodded. ("nodded" is one of my crutch words [47 uses i draft #1], so I'll snip if at all possible) His visitor handed him the pen, then wandered around the room, hands in his pockets. The old man observed him, seeing the room through a stranger's eyes. Not a real bedroom, but more homey than a hospital room, the old man had thought when he'd been transferred to the medical wing. No longer. Now it was his prison cell. (All the room description isn't needed since we never come back here. We know from an earlier section he's in a medical setting) He sighed, a wheezy sound that echoed in his ears. (Not needed to advance the plot; unnecessary description slows the pace, and he's going to be hearing the television in the next paragraph)

With his favorite pen in hand, (we know it's a special pen, because he'd already rejected one the visitor had given him earlier, and if he's writing, we know the pen is in his hand) the old man began writing. He'd written the missive countless times in his head, but would never commit it to paper. Not until now, when he knew the recipient would get it. (since the visitor has arrived to give the old man the address he needs, this is also unnecessary.) Too many snooping eyes around this place.

Now for the edited version:

His visitor waved the old man's pen, the fat one with the cushioned grip. "This?"


After handing him the pen, his visitor picked up the remote and settled in front of the television. The old man began writing. He'd written the missive countless times in his head, but would never commit it to paper. Not until now. Too many snooping eyes around this place.

So, shall we discuss?

Wednesday, November 11, 2009


What I'm reading: A Knight's Temptation, by Catherine Kean

Many thanks to Elizabeth Spann Craig and her suggestions for using Twitter. And to all the people who popped in from her blog. I was checking the site statistics for the referral URLs and found a good number of visitors came from her place. I also discovered a significant number of people referred by Stumbleupon. That was a new one. Now I'm wondering if that's yet another networking site time suck. And how I ended up over there. What I didn't see was a lot of referrals from twitter. I'm still on the fence, but at least now I know there are ways to filter things. And I can keep on wishing that all those folks who feed their tweets to Facebook wouldn't. And I see I've picked up a few more followers. Welcome, and thanks for joining Terry's Place.

I was going to discuss my editing process, and celebrate an interview in a print magazine, Orange Appeal, but I felt that with everything that's been going on in the world, it was more important to take the time to recognize those who have served, and continue to serve our country. Please come back tomorrow, when things will be back to as "usual" as they get around here.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

To Tweet or Not to Tweet

I promised another look at an aspect of social networking. People love it, hate it, and everything in between. To tweet or not to tweet? How useful is Twitter for writers? Today’s guest, cozy mystery author Elizabeth Spann Craig, weighs in. I'm anticipating some lively conversation in the comment thread.

It used to be that I could say “sign up for Twitter only if you want to.” I wasn’t really getting a whole lot out of it, but was dutifully tweeting several times a day.

I think now I’ve got to give Twitter a big thumbs-up. Used correctly, Twitter can be an incredible tool for networking, driving traffic to your blog, and connecting with the greater writing community.

The key is finding the writing community on Twitter. I’m including book bloggers, avid readers, as well as industry professionals in the term ‘writing community.’ Think of Twitter as a huge university and your writing buddies as your fraternity or sorority that gives you a smaller group to communicate with—instead of trying to tweet to a random group of people.

Keep Reading...

Don’t be surprised by the learning curve on Twitter. It took me a week before I felt comfortable using it. There are many easy tutorials on YouTube to help you learn the basics. This one is good:

Get started by going to your favorite writing blogs and finding the blogger’s Twitter address. Start off by following these bloggers. Then you’ll see who they are following. Click through the community of people who they follow. Follow some of those people.

Twitter lists is just starting out. Basically, if there’s a writer you like, and they’re using Twitter lists, you can follow their entire list. In their sidebar will be labeled lists. My list is called “Great Follows for Writers.” You click on the list and Twitter asks if you’d like to follow the list.

You can use 3rd party applications like TweetDeck to organize the people you follow. You could have your favorite tweeters in one column, family or friends in another column, and local businesses in yet another one. I mainly follow book industry people, but I do also follow local weathermen, news organizations, and local businesses that tweet coupons.

What do I get from Twitter?

•Excellent links to writing articles

•An opportunity to learn more about writers I follow

•A chance to share my article discoveries with other writers.

•An opportunity to promote my own blog and blogs I’m interested in.

•Industry-related news in real-time.


•As with all social media, it’s easy to spend too much time using it.

•It’s time-consuming to set up a list of good people to follow.

•It’s one more distraction from writing.

Some recommendations for usage:

•Set a timer.

•Use Twitter three times a day, sparingly, after getting it set up.

With a little time and effort, Twitter can be a great tool for writers to network, obtain industry information, and promote their work.

Elizabeth Spann Craig writes cozy mysteries for Midnight Ink (The Myrtle Clover series) and Berkley Prime Crime (The Memphis Barbeque Mysteries). Her latest release, Pretty is as Pretty Dies is available in bookstores now. You can enjoy Elizabeth's enlightening posts at her blog, Mystery Writing is Murder.

Monday, November 09, 2009

It's a Wrap.

I met my goal, and as of Thursday night, Draft 1 of my mystery is complete. It came in at close to 96K, which is long. But it's done, and I am very pleased with the storyboard tracking method I used.

I ended up with 32 chapters, which just so happens to be the number of squares on my board. I didn't really plan it that way; that's just how I'd originally set up the board based on space available. Whether I'll consolidate chapters on edits, or simply tighten things remains to be seen.

My idea board isn't empty. I had a good number of thoughts stuck up there that weren't needed. If I'd been outlining, I fear I might have tried to hard to incorporate everything. This way, I can just toss the leftovers away.

And how does it feel to be finished? Strange not to have something to work on. Friday seemed to have many more hours than a typical day. I did spend time working on handouts and the like for Saturday's book signing, but there's this hole where my characters used to be. I'll be rejoining them soon enough for edits, but I intentionally didn't even open the document all weekend.

Keep Reading...

Saturday's book-signing went very well, although the day began with a bit of a jolt. Since the signing wasn't until early afternoon, I planned on a leisurely morning. When we got a phone call from a Realtor wanting to show the house in 2 hours, things moved into frenzy mode. There wouldn't be time to leave for the time window he wanted to bring his buyers by and come back before leaving for the signing. Hubby was off fishing, but didn't expect to be gone long. Still, one never really knows what "not long" means.

I hadn't even showered yet, done the breakfast dishes, or packed the car with my signing stuff. We'd had fish for dinner Friday night, so I popped some chocolate chip cookie dough (thank goodness for those pre-made little squares) into the oven (better it should smell like chocolate, not fish) and rushed to make myself presentable before starting on the house cleanup.

Hubby got home, showered and got dressed. Then the Realtor called. His buyers had decided they loved one of the other houses they'd seen first, so they wouldn't be coming by. (Mental question – if I hadn't requested we be last on his route, would they have fallen in love with our house? Not worth worrying about. My rationale: if our house was "close" in meeting their criteria, they'd probably have wanted to see it just to be sure they'd found the right one.) I think that's the only time I've been relieved at a no-show. And ever so thankful that Realtor was one of the courteous ones. I'd have thrown lightning bolts had we done all that work for a no-show.

So, we got to relax a bit and leave for the signing in a more organized fashion. Check my website for more pictures. The Adult Literacy League is the real winner, because they'll get a donation of 20% of the book sales. I met some folks who "know" me from my blog, and a couple of Facebook friends as well. I even ran into a couple of people from my original critique group.

Many people had no clue we were the authors of the books, and looked at us differently once they knew we weren't bookstore employees. One gentleman wanted to know why all these women writers wrote about romance. We pointed out that everyone there was a member of a romance writer's organization, which was why all the books were romances. We were "interviewed" by students whose teacher gave extra credit to anyone coming to the signing.

Have you gone to book signings? Have you wandered into a bookstore and an author sat there with a stack of books? Are you one of those people who avoids eye contact and looks for an alternate route to wherever you were going? Don't be. We love to chat. We know we're not going to sell everyone a book. But maybe you know someone who is looking for the kind of books we write. Take a bookmark, pass it along. It means a lot. So far, I've never been bold enough to request a solo book signing, and this event was massive as signings go, so we had a lot of people wandering around the circle of tables. And I did sell some books. At least a couple of copies of all my titles.

Tomorrow, mystery author Elizabeth Spann Craig is going to explain how she uses Twitter. I'm interested, because so far, I haven't grasped its value. The entire social networking thing confuses me, although I do participate to some degree. However, there are days when I agree with Garry Trudeau and Doonesbury in his Nov. 9th strip.

Friday, November 06, 2009

"The End" Doesn't Mean You're Done

What I'm reading: Kindred in Death, by J.D. Robb

I'll be one of about 20 authors signing books on Saturday. I know the majority of you aren't local, but this is our RWA chapter's annual event to raise money for the Adult Literacy League in Orlando. Twenty percent of the proceeds will be donated to the organization, thanks to Barnes & Noble. Literacy is near and dear to me, and I've been a volunteer for the Adult Literacy League for over a decade. I'm plugging the event here because I'd like you to think about donating something -- time, money, in-kind donations -- to a charitable organization you choose.

As I type this, I'm optimistic that I will have reached "The End" of my first draft of my mystery before this post hits the blog. Endings are harder for me than beginnings, and since it's a mystery and not a romance, I'm entering new territory. The bad guy is in custody. He's confessed. The hostage has been rescued. And the twist on the missing "secret" will hit the page.

Keep Reading...

The issue, as I'd mentioned earlier this week, is that since I know all the facts, the writing gets tedious. How can I present it to the reader so they feel the tension? Because I don't share those feelings. It's more of an, "Okay, get on with it" feeling. I've known what's going to happen long enough that there's no thrill.

However, I'm optimistic that one way or another, even if it's a dull, dry info dump, it'll be on the page. And then I can start to fix it. Allison Brennan shared numerous versions of her first chapter on her blog at Murder She Writes on Thursday. Knowing that a prolific, best-selling author doesn't get it down in one--or two--drafts makes me feel better.

And the final word count will be longer than my target. However, cutting 10% is always step one in edits. I'll be a lot closer after that step. Some of those cuts will be scenes that aren't needed. Some will be threads that never went anywhere. (Although I know I'll have the urge to expand them and work them in!)

But before I get to edits, I'm going to hit "save" and close the document. The first thing I'll do is indulge in one of the chocolate truffles hubby brought home yesterday.

I'll be back on Monday to let you know how everything went.