Who But An Author?

Dellani Oakes with glasses smallerNo one else thinks like authors. We are a unique breed. Who but an author has a web browsing history that includes guns from the 1880s, dances popular in 1739 and the winner of the 1983 America’s Cup Race? Who but an author looks at a group of people and sees one of them as the victim and one the murderer? Who but an author can talk about ways to kill someone without blinking an eye? (Aside from a serial killer, perhaps?)

I’ve noticed that our conversations sometimes make others uncomfortable. I was with my NaNoWriMo regional group one Sunday in Panera Bread. We sat in the main room, having coffee (an author’s life blood) and discussed one of the challenges – Killing Cliff Brooks. (See below) It’s traditional among some NaNo groups to bring in a character with this name and kill him off. We sat there talking loudly about how we planned for Cliff to meet his untimely demise. He was destined to be shot, stabbed, bludgeoned, strangled, hanged, dragged by a horse and blown up.

After a few minutes that people were giving us odd looks. Finally, one couple got up and moved away from us, disgusted looks on their faces. I realized they were upset by our conversation. Honestly, I thought it was funny. These same people probably read the type of books we write, or watch TV and movies filled with graphic violence and don’t blink an eye. But apparently our conversation in Panera made it too real.

After doing my radio shows for several years, I’ve spoken with a lot of authors. We may approach our stories a bit differently, we may write different genres, but some things we have in common:

We have a warped view of the world. Not that it’s a bad thing, we just see facets other people don’t.

We have a knowledge base filled with bizarre, esoteric things – useless for everything except writing a novel or winning Trivial Pursuit.

We can talk about writing until the cows come home or the bar closes.

We may never have met before, but by the time we’re done talking, we know everything about one another – at least about our books and characters. I may not remember a person’s name, but I can tell you all about their writing.

We think normal people (non-writers) are boring.

We are easily distracted.

We procrastinate.

We are not orderly or organized, but we can come up with that all important fact in 10 seconds or less.

We are ready with ideas on how to improve someone elses’ writing and beg for help with our own.
We will argue a point until one of us dies, and it’s usually something that doesn’t matter anyway in the real world.

We know what motivation, story arc and pacing mean.

We are a diverse and bizarre bunch – but we wouldn’t change ourselves or our writer friends for anything.

We have a million and one ideas flying around in our heads and have so many story ideas, we will probably never get them all written.

But we cling to our story ideas because they are ours, they are a part of us and we would be nothing and no one without them. The words make us who we are. They give us hope in despair, light in the darkness and calm in the storm.

Why We Kill Cliff Brooks

The following is an account of why we kill Cliff Brooks as told by Drew Patty, a member of the South Bay WriMo.

Cliff Brooks is an actual guy who actually lived in South Bay. He was one of the earliest participants in the NaNoWriMo. Several years ago, Cliff, Drew Patty and others were at a write in. Drew’s (then 13 year old) son, Phillip, was also there working on his mini-novel.

Phillip leaned over Cliff’s shoulder and read what he’d written. He burst out laughing. Cliff, who was somewhat offended, complained, “It’s horror, it’s not supposed to be funny.” Phillip insisted that it was hilarious.

Cliff quickly wrote a character named Phillip into the scene and killed him off in an appropriately gruesome fashion. To retaliate, Phillip wrote a scene into his story where Cliff Brooks, President of the United States, turned into a two headed monster and exploded. He shared this story the following week. Since many of the other NaNo’ers liked the idea, they decided to put Cliff into their stories and kill him off. Thus began the “Kill Cliff Brooks” challenge.

Dellani Oakes is a not quite completely crazy author of Indian Summer, Lone Wolf and The Ninja Tattoo. Indian Summer – historical romance and Lone Wolf – futuristic romance are available from Second Wind Publishing. The Ninja Tattoo – contemporary romantic suspense, is available from Tirgearr Publishing.


You Call Me Al by Una Tiers

What’s in a Name?
In 1986, Paul Simon wrote You Can Call me Al. Writers often build a platform that includes a distinct name, known as Pen Names.
Pen names (nom de plume) have been used for centuries. Some create distinct identities to avoid confusion when an author writes both fiction and non-fiction or if an author writes in more than one genre. They can separate two parts of a career such as writing and editing, or fiction writing and law. One of the allures about a pen name is that it may keep people guessing about your identity and generate a little internet buzz.
Some authors write under a pseudonym for anonymity, to stand out with an unusual name or to avoid confusion with other authors who have similar names. Others write under a pen name to avoid repercussions much like the witness protection program. In the past, female authors wrote under gender neutral or male names or an initial to disguise their first name, all for the sake of acceptability.
At least one author has used two or more pen names to have multiple articles published in the same magazine issue. Another author writes under different names since he writes more than one novel a year and thinks people will not buy two books from the same author in one year.
Do you write smoldering erotica with heaving bosoms? Want the neighbors to know? Many writers use their legal name along with their pen name to maintain their followers and to bring in new ones with a name that is sculptured for fiction writing.
Pointers on selecting a pen name include using the early letters of the alphabet to and getting close in spelling to a famous author. Names that fit a genre are another point of pen names: Lana Loving, Amber Asp, Derk Alleys or Sky Cubes. Names at the start of the alphabet and those with one or two syllables seem to be preferred. Try the names out in the beta stage to see how they sound to friends and your writing group. Check existing website availability.
Places to find ideas for pen names include my favorite: obituaries and of course the internet. Once you have your pen name, start branding and use it in your website, social networking and book sites. You are working on a clean slate.
Famous writers with pen names include Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain); Jean Baptiste Poquelin (Moliere); Emily Bronte (Ellis Bell) and Esther Friedman (Ann Landers).
Discussion: If you are choosing a pen name, please tell us the two main reasons you did. Thank you.
A special thanks go out the authors in WriteMindsAuthors Group. They are a hardworking dedicated group.
Una Tiers is the pen name for an attorney in Chicago who writes about corruption in the courts. Her debut mystery, Judge vs Nuts has a female sleuth, Fiona Gavelle, and has been described as a humorcide, a traditional mystery, a cozy and a legal mystery.

Hard-Boiled Thrillers, Noir and the Belly Laugh by Victoria Dougherty

Recently, I started a discussion on Crimespace (a crime/thriller uber-fan sight I highly recommend for those obsessed with city lights, cigarettes, bad women and rye whiskey). I posed this question: Is there a place for humor in a hard-boiled thriller/noir? The answers I got were mixed, but there was a hesitancy that trended towards “No.” One Crimespacer quoted Otto Penzler – “Noir requires a sense of bleakness and despair, and characters so flawed, their failure is in their DNA.”

Maybe I’m too much of a black-humor-Eastern European-type gal, but isn’t that level of failure – the kind at the cellular level – kind of funny in and of itself? Raymond Chandler was a master of this kind of humor. His characters were funny – they were wry, off-kilter, even pathetic. A conspicuous longing punctuated their wisecracks instead of the usual punch line; he used the screech of a tire in place of a pa-dum-pum. I mean really, is there a better comic line than, “From thirty feet away she looked like a lot of class. From ten feet away she looked like something made up to be seen from thirty feet away.” Taken out of context, that’s a line that could have just as easily come out of Saturday Night Live.

We’ve all become very serious since Chandler, I think. Sure, we enjoy our comic thrillers like Skin Deep from Carl Hiaasen, but ultimately, when talking about thrillers in and of themselves – what we call real thrillers, we take on the oh, so serious tone of John la Carre, who writes great books, and is not a funny guy. In fact, as good a he is, you’ve got to admit that he often takes on the moralizing tone of an old-fashioned Catholic school principal. Sometimes, when I’m curled up with one of his books and having one of my black humor thoughts, I can almost hear him say, “That’s not funny, young lady.”

But Sam Spade is funny. He looks at the world through a piece of warped glass and laughs at how you can look short and fat when he tips it this way, and noodle-skinny when he tips it that. He might even tell you so before he pops you one. And Raymond Chandler seems like the guy you want sitting next to you on a bar stool. You’d sit there all night if you could, pretending you’ve got no place else to go, just to listen to his take on life.

Maybe we’ve forgotten how some of the funniest people in our own lives are the ones who’ve had the hardest knocks. And maybe those people ought to start making their way back into our thrillers – no matter what’s at stake. Whether it’s just a two-bit heist or the whole damn world.

Self Editing for Fiction Writers, Chapter 3, Point of View by B.Y. Rogers

I called Dave King a ‘Bitch’ in an email this last week. I do hope he knows I was jesting. I had emailed him (as well as Renni Browne) that I was blogging on their book. I wanted to do so out of courtesy and both Dave and a Ross Browne were kind enough to thank me. I do believe in good manners. (Then why did I call Dave a ‘Bitch?” Because he knows what he is doing. I wish I did. Think of man talk in Gran Torino.)

Finished the second draft of “The Thrashing of Charley Little”, my next short story, last night. Todd got my cover to me this week as well. Again, I am very impressed with Todd’s graphic talent. Now it is time to put on the editing hat and give my story a life of its own. In a way, it already as its own life, as it is a back story to The Sin of Certainty.

In the meantime, here is the next chapter of “Self-Editing for Fiction Writers”. IF you haven’t by now (what is wrong with you?), and you are or want to be a writer, you really should get this book. I AM SERIOUS ABOUT THIS!

Chapter 3  Point of View

The first person point of view has a number of advantages, the main one being that it gives your readers a great deal of intimacy with your viewpoint character.

What you gain in intimacy with the first person, you lose in perspective.

On the other end of the spectrum from the first person is the omniscient point of view. Instead of being written from inside the head of one of your characters, a scene in the omniscient point of view is not written from inside anyone’s head.

Note that with the omniscient voice what you gain in perspective you lose in intimacy.

If the first person invites intimacy and the omniscient narrator allows for perspective, the third person strikes balance between the two. (There is quite a bit of additional information on this topic in the book.)

Another factor that controls your narrative distance is how much you allow your viewpoint character’s emotion to color your description. (I am still trying to get my Pooh sized brain wrapped around ‘narrative distance’.)

So how much narrative distance is right for you? Broadly speaking the more intimate the point of view, the better.

The emotions have to go someplace and the language of your descriptions is a good place for them.

You want to engage your readers, not drive them to distraction.

Readers need time to settle into a given emotional state, so when you move quickly from one passion-charged head to another, you’re likely leave them behind. They’ll know what our various characters are feeling, but the won’t have time to feel like any of the characters.

When you make the point of view clear at the beginning of a scene, you get your readers involved right away and let them get used to inhabiting your viewpoint character’s head.

Linespaces prepare readers for a shift (in time, place or point of view), so the change in point of view won’t catch them by surprise. (I recently attempted to read a book where this skill was totally missing. It was a struggle to follow the story. The story seemed disconnected and halted almost on every page. I gave up and did not finish it.)

Point of view is a powerful tool. Master it.


Self Editing for Fiction Writers, Chapter 2, Characterization and Exposition by B.Y. Rogers

(Come on, get your own copy, will ya?)

Characterization and Exposition.

Before I start, a few comments. Of all the lessons I have been given along my writing path, the one about exposition was the most profitable. It makes so much sense to me. The trouble is, it is now getting me into trouble. My thinking is evolving to the point that I detest conversational exposition. My mind keeps seeing Jack Webb sternly stating “Just the facts, Ma’am”. (IF and when my wife reads this, I will be sleeping downstairs for awhile.)

Anyway, I cannot preach exposition enough. So pay attention. You will know when you have it right when you can quit your day job. I still do not have it right. Otherwise I would not be up at midnight writing.

My thoughts are in parenthesis.

(The chapter starts out with a few, very dull paragraphs about Eloise.) After reading the these paragraphs, you know something about-possibly something very important-about Eloise. But do you care? (I didn’t.)

In fact, the show and tell principles underlies many of the self-editing points we will talk about from now on. But there’s a second problem here: the writer introduces Eliose to h is readers all at once and in depth-stopping the story cold for an overview of her character. (Next time you are reading a book and you come up short, as if you have been jerked out of the story and back to your reality, stop and ask yourself why. Then take a look at what you have just read. Very telling.)

It is often a good idea to introduce a new character with enough physical description for your readers to picture him or her.As with describing your settings, all you need are a few concrete idiomatic details to jump start your readers imagination. (I tried to do this in my novel, only giving what is needed but nothing more. I want the character to become the readers character, not mine. Too much detail about physical appearance and the character is mine, not the readers.)

If your characters actually act in the way your summaries say they will, then the summaries are not needed. If they do not, then your summaries are misleading.

When you (completely) sum up your characters, you risk defining them to the point that they’re boxed in by the characterization with no room to grow.

Allow your readers to get to know your characters gradually, each read will interpret them in his or her own way, thus getting a deeper sens of who your characters are.

Delving into your characters past can be a good way for you to understand the character in the present. But though it may have been helpful for you to write a character’s history, it may not be necessary for your readers to read it. (I like this. In fact, I did not write out a history for any of my characters in The Sin of Certainty. After reading this point, I like it even more. My characters are still alive to me, growing and in a few cases, dying.)

Since you bring your present story to a halt whenever you start a flashback, it doesn’t take too many flashbacks to make your story jerky or hard to follow. (This is taught in Writing to Sell also. Good advice. I used one and only flashback in my novel. I could not find a way around it and the information was pivotal. In fact, without it, the reader will never learn the answer to the mystery. Let the reader learn about the character from the present, not the past.)

If you want to learn who someone is, watch what they say and do. If you want your readers to get a feel who your character really are, show them through dialogue and action. (This is true in life, in a movie, and in a book. And remember, action speaks louder than words.)

The information your readers need in order to follow and appreciate your plot…should be brought out as unobtrusively as possible.

Give your readers only as much background information or history, or characterization as they need at any give time. (I really like this.)

When your characters start talking solely for the sake of informing your readers, the exposition gets in the way of believable characterization. So be on the lookout for places where your dialogue is actually exposition in disguise.

Readers can best learn about your locations and background not through lengthy exposition but by seeing them in real life.

Self Editing for Fiction Writers, Introduction and Chapter 1, Show and Tell by B.Y. Rogers

Some time ago, I wrote aboutWriting to Sell” by Scott Meredith and how this book made a difference in how I write. I still think it is a great book. Last week I found another book while reading a blog by David Gaughran. David recommended a book titled “Self-Editing for Fiction Writers. As I took a look at the book I figured I might as well see what it had to offer so I purchased it. It arrived Saturday. I read the first chapter today. I wish I would have had this book five years ago. I wish I would have had BOTH of these books five years ago. (For additional insights, check out Dave King’s website here.) As I read today, I decided I would blog about each chapter as I go through the book. I am going to list only the highlights, with a little comment as I go along. My comments will be in parenthesis. I am doing this primarily for my benefit, as this entire blog is primarily for my personal benefit. It’s not like I have 100M followers who are impatiently waiting to discover what I am thinking about tonight. But by blogging on this book, I hope to drill the principles a little deeper into my cranium. So, for the few of you who may accidentally stumble on to this post, here you go. Tonight I will be covering the introduction and the first chapter: Show and Tell. My apologies to Renni Browne and Dave King, who wrote “Self-Editing for Fiction Writers. I will be paraphrasing at times, which means I may get something wrong. I hope I got the points you meant for me to get. If not, well you can always leave a comment and point me in the right direction. Or tell me to cease and desist. But I pray you do not.


Introduction.Writing and editing are two different skills, and even strong writers can make poor editors. A word of warning: because writing and editing are two different skills, they require two different mind-sets. Don’t try to do both at once. The time to edit is not when you’re writing your first draft. But once the first draft is finished…use the principles in this book.Chapter 1  Show and Tell(Most of this chapter Matt Stover taught me in our brief email exchange two years ago. In the past, I have found that when I have tried to explain this concept to others, some just do not seem to understand. Perhaps that is my fault for not communicating properly. This chapter gives some wonderful examples and sage advice.) (after giving two examples of narrative, which I will leave for you to find out for yourself) It’s a matter of showing and telling…The first version is a secondhand report. The second is an immediate scene. What, exactly, makes a scene? For one thing it takes place in real time. Nowadays, literature is leaner and meaner and it’s often a good idea to give your readers just enough detail to jump start their imagination so they can picture the setting for themselves. (I try to do this with my characters as well. I am not too concerned what a person looks like as much as what they do or say. I want my reader to see Uncle Willy when they read about Charley. This brings the reader into the story, making it personal.) Scenes are usually harder to write than narrative. Many writers rely to heavily on narrative summaries to tell their stories. Readers today have become accustomed to seeing a story as a series of immediate scenes. Narrative summary no longer engages readers the way it once did. You want to draw your readers into the world you’ve created, make them feel a part of it, make them forget where they are. And you can’t do this effectively if you tell your readers about your world secondhand. You have to take them there. The first chapter is not the best place for narrative summary. (I learned this from Stephen King’s “The Stand”. From the first word on you are engaged in the story.) One of the easiest ways to look like an amateur is to use mechanics that direct attention to themselves and away from the story. You want your readers to be so wrapped up in your world that they’re not even aware that you, the writer, exist. To write exposition at length–describing your characters’ past or events that happened before the story began or any information your readers might need to understand your plot–is to engage your readers intellect. What you want to do is to engage their emotions. Narrative summary has its uses, the main one being to vary the rhythm and texture of your writing. Some plot developments are simply not important enough to justify scenes. (What I am doing is saving those scenes and publishing them as short stories, for free. If I end up with enough of them, I will publish them as a collection of back stories. I am willing to kill the little darlings but not bury them.) Telling your readers about your characters’ emotions is not the best way to get your readers involved. Far better to show why your characters feel they way they do….you do not want to give your readers information. You want to give them experiences. Resist the Urge to Explain. R.U.E. (Or you will rue the day you did.) More often than not, writers tell their readers things they already shown by dialogue and action. It is as if they’re repeating themselves to make sure their readers get the point. (When Matt Stover introduced me to “Writing to Sell”, this was my sin. He took me to task for this and rightfully so. My tome at the time was just over 121,000 words. Today it is just over 71,000. I have 42% excessive exposition. At least, that is how I look at it.) When you show rather than tell it, you treat your readers with respect. And that respect makes it easier to for you to draw them into the world you created. (Matt told me to trust my readers. I think this is crucial.)

When That All Important Scene Isn’t FINAL by Dellani Oakes

I’ve got a scene in the novel that I’m editing that’s always been a favorite. It’s fast paced, exciting, well timed, lots of action…. And I have to cut it out. Why? Because it doesn’t advance the story.

I love this scene! It came together so well when I wrote it. It has a unique rhythm. I even remember the music I listened too while I wrote it. (Crazy Benny by Safri Duo) Everything about it clicks! And it doesn’t lead anywhere.

Soon it will be part of the trash on the cutting room floor. That makes me a little sad, but I have to toughen myself up and do it.

Below is the scene. Matilda is a human and she is fighting Ariella, a large, sentient cat. Matilda has fashioned extendable claws to mimic Ariella’s. They’re fighting with swords Fellician (cat people) style.

They began with the Ritual of Weighing, where each of the competitors chose her weapon. Taking their stance across from one another, a sharp snap of a bongo signaled the start of the match. Matilda attacked quickly and low, going for her opponent’s knees. Ariella’s reach was longer, but Matilda’s comparatively diminutive stature next to hers, made getting under the big cat’s guard easy.

Ariella swatted Matilda away with her tail as if she were a gnat. Matilda flew across the stage, landing with a grunt. Shaking her head, she rose, taking her stance again.

The bongo signaled as before, Ariella attacked, moving in on Matilda’s exposed left side. Maneuvering rapidly, Matilda jumped for her block, grabbing her dagger as she sped by. She parried Arriella’s attack, barely avoiding a blow from her other side. Ariella had grabbed her dagger too. Matilda caught Ariella’s knife in her claws, which she extended for that purpose.

A gasp from the crowd as Ariella extended hers, grappling with Matilda briefly before the woman moved out the of big cat’s range. The two of them slashed, kicked, and danced around the stage, hardly a sound but the bongo accompaniment and the clang of their weapons above their ragged breathing.

Ariella stooped to slash at Matilda’s legs. The human woman jumped lightly up and rolled over Ariella’s back, landing in a crouch on the other side. Back and forth they dodged and parried, swooping into an opening and back out again to avoid their opponent’s blows.

It looked as if Matilda were winning, then Ariella rushed in and got her pinned to one side of the stage, advancing, blade held ready before her, preparing for the killing blow. Calmly taking a deep breath, Matilda ran at Ariella, sprung forward and up, doing a handless cartwheel over the big cat’s head, flipped as she landed spinning to face her opponent. Getting her feet under her, Matilda launched herself at the large feline, knocking Ariella down and sitting on her chest, blade ready at the throat, Matilda prepared for the kill.

Striking her blow, she didn’t notice Ariella’s dagger coming up behind her, deploying the handle blade until too late. Both blades struck home simultaneously, blood sprayed everywhere.

Sometimes that all important scene—isn’t. We as authors may love it, it may be the best thing we’ve ever written. It might be noteworthy and enough to move our readers to tears, but it has to go. Take a deep breath and delete it. There, the world didn’t end, did it?

In our editing phase, authors must often be brutal with their work. This is especially true early on in your career. My first novels lack the spark and sparkle of my more recent work. I was still exploring, still looking for my voice. Once I found it, I geared up and never went back. Looking at my early work, which the current editing project is, I see all the mistakes I made. Now, I have to correct them!

One of my biggest errors was saying too much. Just because we know it as authors doesn’t mean:

  1. That our characters know it.
  2. That our audience needs to know it.
  3. That it will matter to anyone but us in the long run.

I read a novel not long ago where the author had obviously spent a lot of time learning some interesting historical facts about the time period in which the book was set. After three pages of badly revealed history, I set the book aside and won’t ever go back to it. As a reader, I didn’t need to know that. It didn’t further the action at all. Obviously, the author was so excited about what he’d found out, he was set to tell everyone all about it.

Your novel isn’t about the facts you’ve discovered. Honestly, most of the time, your readers don’t care. That’s for non-fiction writing. Work in what’s necessary for your readers to understand the story and leave the rest in your notes.

Not all unnecessary scenes are factual. The scene I showed above is actually a staged fight scene. Two characters are demonstrating their skill for their shipmates. It’s very visual, lots of description…. Completely useless. It’s followed closely by a second, just as useless, scene. I’m also very proud of the second passage, but it’s got to go as well, for the same reason—it’s cumbersome. It takes the reader nowhere.

As I explore this novel, the second in my sci-fi series, I realize that more and more of the scenes need to be heavily edited or cut entirely. I call this phase of my editing the slash and burn phase. It ain’t pretty. It’s brutal, harsh and dirty. Later on, I pretty it up, but right now it’s raw with big gaping holes.

Often, in this phase, I also look at the sequencing of the story. With this novel, I had started it in a completely different spot from where the first left off. Instead of doing that, I went back to the end of the first novel and made it the beginning of the second as it literally takes up at the same moment the other left off.

Important thing to keep in mind: SAVE YOUR DELETED PASSAGES!

I make a file that I call a cut from file. I take the scenes, paragraphs and pages that I cut from the story and put it in a special file to save it. I may not want it for that particular book, but I might want to refer to the information or even use some of it in a different novel.

One of my author friends did that with passages he’d cut from different books in a series. He managed to get nearly three more books from those deleted scenes.

As I go back through the novel, I will find places where I need transitional passages to fill in the holes I left with my slash and burn. This second, less primal phase, is where the healing begins.

By the third pass through my novel, I’m looking for the small errors—verb tenses, typos, vague words and any number of other pet peeves we as authors all possess. In this phase, I try to pretty it up even more, laying a heavy coat of cosmetics on it. At this stage, it’s often helpful to read the text aloud and/ or have someone else read it. A second pair of eyes catches things we miss.


1. Print a copy of troublesome spots, read through them aloud and look for errors.

2. If you’re having difficulty with pacing, try writing to music. Find something that has the emotion you’re trying to convey and listen to it before and during your writing session. The right kind of music can make a world of difference. I had a final fight scene in one of my novels that was too slow. I put in some fast moving instrumental guitar (Joe Satriani and Jimi Hendrix) and rewrote it.

3. Sticky notes are wonderful! Jot notes to yourself on a printed copy of the novel to help you remember what to do on a particular page or remind yourself where you left off.

4. Use bright colored pens when you edit. Select something dark enough to read but will catch your eye on the printed page. As you add the corrections to your computer file, check them off in a different color.

5. When editing on the computer, make comments to yourself as you go. Believe it or not, you will not remember all the things you want to do and hand written notes can be lost. As you make the corrections, delete the comments.

6. Read through what you wrote in a prior writing session. Not only does this remind you about what you’ve already written, it’s a good editing habit. When you find an error, correct it right away or make an in text comment so you can go back and find it later. Don’t expect to remember—trust me, you won’t.

7. Don’t try to do everything at once. Do the big things, like cutting scenes, first. Why make grammar and spelling corrections to something you’re going to cut out later?

Editing is probably the most difficult and frustrating part of writing, but it’s also the most necessary. Agents and publishing companies get hundreds of submissions a day. A well written, good looking manuscript will catch their interest more than a badly presented one. When editing costs them money, why would they accept something that needs a lot of work over something that doesn’t?

We all get anxious to get our work into the hands of someone who will publish it. No first draft is perfect. Every novel needs editing. Slow down, spend some extra time, and make sure you’re sending the best book you possibly can.



My first mystery, Judge vs Nuts, will celebrate its first birthday, in February.  Before the release, I conjured up images of reviews raving about the magnificence of my book, written by literary scholars who begged for more. My potential reviewers included authors who write wildly popular non-fiction books about the law or famous Chicago figures.  Of course the occasional celebrity author or librarian would stop me on the street and ask about doing a review.

At the Printers Row Lit Fest in 2011, I attended a panel discussion with three women authors who talked about the low numbers of women reviewers.  My list of hopefuls were all men.  Later I approached one of the authors to thank her and asked if she was interested in taking a look at my book. I’ll come back to this.

At the early stage “book review” was synonymous with “book report.”  Reading reviews daily I understand they are opinions.  Most are generous, with gentle notation of areas for improvement while others are petty.  Reviews can cover plot, characters, pace, grammar and more.  One review blamed the publisher for faulty editing.

My understanding continues to grow along with my confusion, skepticism and evaluation of the quality of a review.  Reviews come from many sources:  readers, friends, and professional reviewers.  If you look closely, some books are reviewed by one review reviewers.  “Book cover blurbs” are short, three or four sentences that would appear on the back cover or inside the book.  These are my favorite version of a review.  The author benefits and the reviewer benefits

Amazon uncovered “purchased” reviews and announced authors could not review books of other authors.  What?  Writers are prolific readers and well suited to review books.  The “exchange” book reviews are too often meaningless.  I don’t make these pacts.  If your friend has a book, read it before you give an opinion.  We know they are wonderful, that’s why you call them a friend.

Of the two categories, requested and spontaneous reviews, I think authors need to be specific when requesting a review.  Items to consider are:  receipt of manuscript; word count; time frame; how you will use the review and what you want.  Will the reviewer post the review on their blog or website?   Invite the reviewer to tell you if they can’t meet the time frame.  If your release date is pushed back, let them know.

My pet peeve of the requested reviews are the hiders.  Those folks make an agreement to review your book and then avoid you when you follow up.  Did they hate the book?  Want it for free?  Lose it?  Change their tiny minds about doing the review?  You won’t be able to get the answer, because the hiders, well, hide.

There are also people in the ambiguous category.  When you ask them to take a look at your book they tell you they give you a dozen reasons why they can’t read your book.  I’m a little naïve, so if you want me to print it out and drive it over please tell me.  If the answer is no…

One of my favorite reviews is from Author Barbara D’Amato.  I love her writing and her review was delightful.  Her review means more to me because Ms. D’Amato went out of her way to help a stranger who approached her at a book fair, showing me how authors help authors.

Every review thrills me.  When I send a sample, and get a note back saying they started the book and are laughing, even editing becomes less painful. Reviews from other authors are awesome and the reader reviews are very special.  Some reviews are written in a note to the author and others are posted on blogs, sales sites and book review sites I’ve never seen.

Thank you to those who took the time to help me.     Best, Una Tiers.


The review:

Judge vs Nuts is a hilariously funny take on judges, but also a scathing indictment of judicial politics.  Lawyer Fiona Gavelle narrates with a wonderful, self-deprecating wit, as she goes about unraveling the murder of a Cook County judge.

Barbara D’Amato

Author of Other Eyes

Buy the Book: Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Judge-vs-Nuts-ebook/dp/B007BSD4RU
B & N: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/judge-vs-nuts-una-tiers/1108946512
Smashwords: http://www.smashwords.com/books/search?query=judge+vs+nuts&adult=on
Omnilit: https://www.omnilit.com/product-judgevsnuts-727807-243.html http://unatiers.com     una@unatiers.com  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=55XqIbk0VY4

Judge vs Nuts, by Una Tiers was released in February of 2012 and posted on Ellis Vidler’s blog:  http://theunpredictablemuse.blogspot.com/2012/02/book-reviews-reviewed.html

This blog has been updated.


How I Found My Writer’s Voice – by Dante Craddock

Every writer has to find their voice in order to put the words down on the page.  Otherwise those words are just a jumble running around inside of the authors head, slowly driving them insane.  I know this for a fact because I was one of those individuals with ideas in my head that I wanted to share with the world, but when I tried to put them down on paper they seem to come out as pathetic and flat.  I never seemed to be able to express myself the way I wanted to. 
Then I discovered a company called the Teaching Company.  And before you go chalking this off as a shameless advertisement for the company,  I will tell you that I have no connection to them other than buying some of their products.  The Teaching company specializes in recording college professors’ lectures on DVD and audio.  Then selling them to the general public at a fraction of the cost of actually attending those schools.  Of course you say that you don’t get the college credit for taking the courses, but what does that matter if you are doing it for personal betterment like I did.
The course I watched was Building Great Sentences: Exploring the Writer’s Craft.  I was amazed by what I learned.  I discovered the true power of the sentence,  how to give incredible detail without it sounding like some boring list of facts, and how to bring about suspense with relative ease. Below are two examples of the first paragraph from Chapter One of A Love Beyond Time to illustrate the change brought about by understanding the power of the sentence.  The first is the original version I wrote years ago while struggling to find my voice as a writer.
The deck swayed and bucked beneath my feet in the cramped corner of the hold.  It smells of damp wood and a musty rotten odor that I can’t quite place but pervades everything in the ship’s hold.  The crates are piled high around me with only a narrow aisle leading from my little nook that has been my prison since they dragged me aboard.  These were the quarters I had been put in, if you could even call them that; they seemed to be more of an after thought.
The second is the completed form found in the now published A Love Beyond Time.
The wooden deck shifts beneath his feet, the planks creaking and popping, being twisted by the swaying and bucking of the ship, as it rides the crests and troughs of each successive wave, those waves crashing with ever increasing frequency.  He stands, in the small cramped cubby hole, leaning against the beam, struggling with each wave to stay standing, the coarse wood of the weathered beam digging into his hands.  A square iron lantern, his only source of light, with the hatches above secured against the growing storm, the crisscrossing bars holding the glass in place, a heavy opaque glass, its iron ring hanging from the hook embedded into one of the ship’s heavy timbers, feeble shines in the darkness.  With each successive wave the lantern swings to and fro, casting its light on an ever-changing scene in the darkened hold, revealing his surroundings to be glimpsed ever so briefly, swinging forward shining on the narrow crate lined aisle leading to the ladder for the deck above, its rungs hidden in the pitch black beyond the lights reach, the wooden crates variously sized and shaped, flowing off into the impenetrable gloom, bending back to the right exposing the ships hull, through the gaps in the high piled canvas bags, stuffed to the bursting point, under their rope netting, the wooden planks seeming to shudder with the colliding of each wave, arcing forward to the left unmasking from the shadows looming stacks of barrels, heavy ropes securing the stacks to the deck, the barrels shifting within their embrace with each heave and roll of the deck, hooking back around into the nook exposing him under its light once again.
The changes that I made are quite obvious, like how I changed the perspective from first person to third.  And how the first example lacks detail.  It is flat on the page with no life of its own, which leads to the most striking difference, the level of detail.  I found that using cumulative syntax I could expand the sentences and make them tell a story of their own.  The story it tells is what the man’s surroundings are, but not in a static list of descriptions.  I use the lantern’s motion to do the act of revealing.  That sentence has a hundred and fifty-eight words in it, but it flows well.  You’re probably thinking that is a long sentence, but you would be wrong.  I have actually written longer sentences and so have many other authors. The length of the sentence is not what really matters, its what you are trying to say with it.  I struggled with the saying part, but now it’s like a whole new world has been revealed to me.
In the end I believe the money I spent was well worth it.  I honestly don’t think I would have ever finished A Love Beyond Time without it.  And the best part is that if I ever need to review something, all I have to do is pop the disc in my DVD player and watch it.
By Dante Craddock