Phenomenal Flavia

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A Guest Post by Diann Markley

On Saturday January 16, 2016, at the meeting of the Mystery Writing Group of the Border Crimes Chapter of Sisters in Crime, my friend Diann Markley presented a thorough and very insightful analysis of Alan Bradley’s The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. Here are highlights of her presentation.

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley is the story of a precocious eleven-year-old girl living in England in the 1950’s. Bradley has several problems to overcome in making Flavia de Luce believable as an amateur investigator.

The police are neither incompetent nor comical, yet as with any main character, Flavia must be the one to solve the mystery. The author carefully sets up this outcome by having Flavia’s mother vanish in the wilds of Tibet while her father, suffering from wartime PTSD, is only peripherally involved with his child, leaving her free to come and go with little to no supervision.

And she does have transportation–an ancient bike she has named Gladys.

Having lived her entire life in the town of Bishop’s Lacey, Flavia has contacts and inside knowledge of the residents not readily available to Inspector Lewis. Flavia is quite willing to flip her braids and flash her braces to convince witnesses she is only a sweet little girl they can spill any secrets to. Then there is her understanding of chemistry and a lab in which to do experiments. These confirm her suspicions on how the murder occurred. It doesn’t hurt a bit that Flavia is the one to find the dying man but conveniently forgets to mention his last words to the police.

Altogether a great read on a winter’s day! Diann Markley

The Mystery Writing Group of the Border Crimes Chapter of Sisters in Crime meets on the third Saturday of the month. All SinC members are welcome. Here’s our schedule for the next two months.

February 20: Ann Friedman will lead a discussion of Ellis Peters’ The Raven in the Foregate.

March 19: Juliet Kincaid will lead a discussion of Alexander McCall Smith’s The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency.

If you’re a mystery fan, please share this blog with your friends and sign up through RSS to receive notifications for more blogs.

Best, Juliet

The Care and Feeding of Writers

Insights into the Life of an Indie Author

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Let’s say that you have a new favorite indie author. You loved the first two novels in her epic fantasy series filled with great action and fascinating characters, especially the sassy, yet dangerous female dragon that lurks in the river near the castle. But it’s been months and months since the last book came out. Where’s the third? Doesn’t she know how much you want to read it? What is that writer doing?

Believe me. She wants to get the third epic fantasy novel to you as soon as possible. But besides writing, revising, and editing that book, she’s running the business of being an independently published author. Her many tasks include book production and promoting.

At this point, you might say, “But wait. Can’t she hire people to do some of this stuff?”

She could, but quite possibly she can’t afford to. Sad to say, the world of indie publishing is like the Wild, Wild West. Mostly, the folks making money aren’t the folks out there panning for gold in the publishing stream, but the suppliers of goods and services.

And it’s fairly certain that your indie author is busy following at least some of these common pieces of advice: “You need a web site and you must post a blog on it once a week. Build your email list. You need author’s pages on Facebook and Goodreads. You have to tweet, link in, branch out, circle on Google, pin stuff up on Pinterest, post pictures on Instagram, and every once in while get a video of yourself up on YouTube.”

“But whoa there, indie author,” her advisors also say. “Slow down. Don’t get carried away. You can’t overdo the promotions because if you do, your emails will get marked as spam. You’ll be unfriended on Facebook and unfollowed on Twitter. Really you should only actively promote your work in every seventh email, tweet, or Facebook post. And anyway, you shouldn’t bother with any of this because it doesn’t work for authors to promote their own work.”

So what’s the poor indie author supposed to do? you wonder. How about this? You help her promote her work, so she can spend more time on that third book you long to read.

Here are some few simple things that will help her get the word out about her books and build a fan base for them.

1) When the author emails you about her new blog on her web site, forward the message to your friends to help her build her email list.

2) Subscribe to her web site, so you can keep up with her posts without her having to email you every time she posts a blog.

3) Retweet her tweets on Twitter.

4) Friend her personal page on Facebook, like her author’s page, and share her promotions with your friends.

5) Follow her on Goodreads and start some discussions there about how much you love her work.

Last and most important of all, review those first two epic fantasies on Goodreads, Amazon and other sites where she publishes her work. Here are some tips for your reviews.

1) Avoid spoilers. Instead, you might provide a pithy quotation that gives the flavor of the work.

2) You don’t have to say a lot. Two or three sentences are fine.

3) Judge the work within the author’s intention for it and its genre. For example, don’t slam a sweet cozy mystery set in a quaint little town with magical cats, patterns for knitted scarves, and recipes for chocolate cookies to die for because the book doesn’t have the mean streets and grit of the noir that you prefer.

4) Make sure you know what you’re talking about before you launch a negative comment about the writer’s expertise.

5) When you write a review, proofread it before you send it off. An error like saying “to much” when you should have said “too much” instantly discredits you as a reviewer.

6) Don’t nitpick. Instead, focus on what you liked best about the work.

7) We indie authors want only five-star reviews. But if you can’t honestly give an author that many, please don’t go lower than four stars.

Gentle readers, please know that writers are delicate creatures. We tend to dwell upon the few times we’ve been kicked instead of all the times we’ve been stroked. If you want us to continue to write the works that bring you laughter and tears, action and adventure, narrow escapes, heroes to admire, villains to scorn, stories to entertain you, and novels to make you wise, you have to nurture us.

All the best, Juliet

Currently, I’m promoting the audio book of Cinderella, P. I. and Other Fairy Tale Mystery Stories for grown-up, delightfully narrated by Alyx Morgan. It’s now available from iTunes, Amazon, and Audible. (It’s free when you join Audible.) You can listen to a sample at http://www.audible.com/pd/Mysteries-Thrillers/Cinderella-P-I-and-Other-Fairy-Tale-Mystery-Stories-Audiobook/B01977EVJ2/ref=a_search_c4_1_1_srTtl?qid=1450382804&sr=1-1

Twitter: JulietKincaid    Facebook: juliet.kincaid    Goodreads: Juliet_Kincaid

A Writer’s Year

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Among my collection of holiday socks, I have a pair that’s quite jolly, or maybe not so upbeat, depending on who’s looking at them. When I wear these socks, these socks say, “Ho Ho Ho Ho” to whoever looks at them. But when I look down at these socks on my feet, they lament, “Oh Oh Oh Oh.” (With these socks, as with many things in life, a lot depends on your point of view.)

But I’m happy to say, 2015 has been mostly on the “Ho Ho” side for me. And I’ve certainly been busy. Here are some highlights.

In January, I published the trade paperback version of January Jinx, the first in my Calendar Mysteries, set in Kansas City, a place that could get downright deadly a hundred years or so ago. You can find the eBook version of this novel at www.amazon.com/dp/B00HSSSBE4

Constantly scolding myself for being so behind schedule, I spent a lot of 2015 rewriting Fatal February until finally in November, I got it out as a Kindle eBook and as a trade paperback. On the other hand, as one of my friends observed, this book is really early for February 2016. (See? I told you. A lot depends on your point of view.) Regardless, the second in the series, it continues the story of Minty Wilcox and Daniel Price from newly met to newlywed and beyond. Both books feature the beautiful covers my daughter Jessica created for them. You can find Fatal February at www.amazon.com/B017081JHM

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Also in November this year I participated in the National Novel Writing Month and produced what basically is a 54,000-word brainstorm of Mischief in March, the third Calendar Mystery.

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Now I’m going to back up a bit to share a piece of “Oh Oh” news. In July Mysteryscape bookstore closed its doors forever. It still pains me to drive by and see that empty storefront on 80th Street in old downtown Overland Park, Kansas. It was genuinely an important part of my life, personally and as a writer. Cheri LeBlond and Acia Morley sold my books and provided a center for the community of local mystery readers and writers. We all miss the bookstore very much.

But I won’t end on that downer.

I am very pleased to announce that Alyx Morgan, producer/narrator, and I have made an audiobook of Cinderella, P. I. Fairy Tale Mystery Stories, now available from iTunes, Amazon.com and Audible. (You can get it for free when you join Audible.)

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Here’s the link to the trailer Alyx made for this collection of fairy tale mystery stories for grown-ups that features Cinderella, twenty years, three kids, and a few extra pounds after the ball: https://youtu.be/hvucXhry3SM

A final “Ho Ho” note: after the pre-diabetes scare of March 2014, this year I continued to make progress in getting back to normal. The scary symptoms such as a killer sweet tooth have disappeared and the score on my A1C test has declined. On the down side, I must say that eating right and regular exercise take a lot of time and effort. (As of today I’ve attended Jazzercise 202 times this year.) But all the work is worth it in keeping me healthy. For after all, I have at least ten more books to write.

For updates on what’s going on with me, you’ll find me as juliet.kincaid on Facebook and at www.julietkincaid.com.

Wishing you very happy holidays and hoping that 2016 brings you many more “Ho Ho’s” than “Oh Oh’s,” Best, Juliet

The No. 1 Lady Detective

A J K Writer Favorite

Among my recent emails I found one from Precious Ramotswe of the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency located in Gaborone, Botswana, Africa. In the fashion typical of the messages we write and receive during the holiday season, the letter begins by telling the momentous events in Mma Ramotswe’s life. She ended her letter by wishing me, her dear friend and sister, “the love that we feel for those with whom we make our journey through life.”

The only thing that kept me from busting out of the house and over to Mysteryscape to buy Alexander McCall Smith’s latest, The Woman Who Walked in Sunshine, in which Mma Ramotswe recounts her adventures on vacation, was the fact Mysteryscape closed this year. (All who patronized that wonderful bookstore miss it terribly.)

Oddly enough, I was slow to come around to the charms of the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series. A decade or so ago, a librarian friend of mine who reviews books recommended it to me. But when I tried to read the first book in the series, I put it down again right away. The book didn’t start in the proper way for a mystery. Instead of a crime scene and a dead body, it began with a bio of the detective. What’s up with that? I thought. I returned it, unread, to the library.

After a few years, after the first book had become an international best seller and the series very popular, I told myself, “You’d better check this out, J.” But I couldn’t find any of the books at the closest Borders, another late and lamented bookstore. And I tried more than once. Surely such a popular series should be here somewhere, I thought. But still I couldn’t find it. Then one day as I zipped past the mystery section at Borders, I spotted the distinctive and charming cover of the first in the series in the M’s. For months I’d looked for it under S. There’s no hyphen in there. How was I to know they alphabetized it under M?

This time I bought the book, read it, and loved it. And it changed my life. Really? you ask. Well, yes, because it showed me a fresh and different way to structure a mystery novel and, even more important, it brought me out of a funk during which I wrote no fiction for going on three years. Me, the long time fiction fan? That was a really serious depression I was in. So I thank Precious Ramotswe and Alexander McCall Smith for getting me back to writing fiction, my life-long passion, the thing I do primarily because it makes me happy.

So what did I learn from reading The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency?

1) I saw that in that book Mma Ramotswe had several cases presented very much like individual short stories. This structure encouraged me to go back to a series of twenty-nine short stories I’d written with Cinderella as a detective twenty years, three kids, and a few extra pounds after the ball to see if I could make a novel out of some of them.

2) Another lesson I learned was how McCall Smith used Mma Ramotswe’s life, her loves, and her friends, to tie the book together from start to finish.

3) And the best lesson of all, especially for a writer who wants to write a mystery series? I saw how important it is for a series to have a strong detective that readers willingly identify with to carry them through each book and on to the next and the ones after that.

The season’s joy and blessings to you, Precious Ramotswe, and to your creator Alexander McCall Smith, and to you, my readers.

Best, Juliet

The No. 1 Lady Detective inspired me to write Walls, a Cinderella, P. I. Novel, and Wings, a Cinderella, P. I. Novel, both now available as eBooks and trade paperbacks from Amazon. Twelve of my original stories appear in Cinderella, P. I. and Other Fairy Tale Mystery Stories and eight more appear in Cinderella, P. I. Around the World. Both collections are also available from Amazon as eBooks and paperbacks. The third and final book in the series, Cinderella’s Last Case and Other Stories, will appear in 2016. And look for the audiobook of Cinderella, P. I. and Other Fairy Tale Mystery Stories coming soon from Audible, Amazon, and iTunes.

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Encouraging Review of January Jinx

Jan.Jinx.e-bookHey, gang!

I just had to share the encouraging review that Judge 16 wrote for January Jinx that I submitted to the Writer’s Digest contest for self-published books this year.

Structure, Organization, and Pacing: 4
Spelling, Punctuation, and Grammar: 2
Production Quality and Cover Design: 2
Plot and Story Appeal: 3
Character Appeal and Development: 5
Voice and Writing Style: 4

The delightful, creative, and charming January Jinx introduces a terrific character in Minty Wilcox, a good old fashioned cozy mystery persona who will surely be able to carry the planned-for series. It’s Minty who drives the readable narrative, and author Juliet Kincaid keeps the pace steady and fast at the same time for quite a readable experience. The writing is appropriate for the historical setting without ever being gimmicky or archaic.

The book is definitely good enough to deserve a better package. The cover and bound-manuscript interior of the book itself doesn’t do justice to the narrative. Likewise, a more thorough copy edit would have helped trim out some of the manuscript aspects of it, like underlines instead of italics, and other typos, etc. could have been smoothed out. The plot is a bit expected though not predictable, and as long as Juliet Kincaid allows herself to mature as a storyteller, readers will follow her through this book and onward.

The unique setting of 1899 Kansas City is full of flavor that never overwhelms the story and characters. With a terrific, original, but still comfortable series concept, there are certainly big things afoot for Juliet Kincaid and Minty Wilcox’s Calendar Mysteries.

Isn’t this a great review? Thank you so much, Judge 16, for your encouraging review.

In case you’d like to check January Jinx out for yourself, here’s the link: www.amazon.com/dp/B00HSSSBE4. January Jinx is also available as a trade paperback from Amazon.com.

In closing, I’d like to announce that Fatal February, the second Calendar Mystery, is now available as a trade paperback at Amazon.com and as an eBook at www.amazon.com/dp/B017081JHM  Best, Juliet

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Still Busy

WiP Report # 16

Properly I can’t call this a WiP Report since I’m between writing projects. But I’m still busy as you’ll see.

First, I’m very pleased to announce that on September 29, I completed Fatal February, the second Calendar Mystery. I revised a draft 96,292 words long in 12 days. Now that’s what I call booking. When I finished, I did my version of the happy dance, sort of happy monkey hooting and armpit scratch. Like the first in the series, January Jinx, the novel offers mystery and romance in old Kansas City. And I’m very happy with it.

Then I got busy with the tasks self-publishers do. For instance, I filed the book for copyright with the Library of Congress, prepared the physical copy of text for publication in both eBook and print versions, and registered the ISBN for the eBook version. I also arranged for Fatal February to go up for pre-sale between now and November 20 when it will become available as an Amazon Kindle eBook. (The trade paperback version will be along soon.)

Here is the front cover of Fatal February. Doesn’t my daughter do beautiful work?

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Other irons I currently have in the fire include the audiobook version of Cinderella, P. I. and Other Fairy Tale Mystery Stories, the second book in my fairy tale mystery series. Alyx Morgan, my producer/narrator and I hope to have it available by December 1.

Besides these things, right now I’m helping to organize a Kansas City Local Authors Fair to take place at the InterUrban ArtHouse at 8001 Conser, Overland Park, KS 66204 from 6 until 8 on November 20. If all goes well, I’ll launch the trade paperback version of Fatal February during this event.

And last, I’m gearing up to draft Mischief in March, the third Calendar Mystery, during NaNoWriMo 2015. Translation: National Novel Writing Month occurs in November every year when a whole bunch of novel fanatics like me try to write 50,000-word novels in 30 days. Mischief in March continues the story of Minty Wilcox and Daniel Price from newly met to newly wed and beyond in Kansas City, that could get downright deadly a hundred years or so ago.

Best, Juliet

If you’d like to pre-order Fatal February, click on this link: www.amazon.com/dp/B017081JHM. If you haven’t read January Jinx, it’s available for only $.99 now through Halloween and only $3.99 thereafter. Click on this link to buy it: www.amazon.com/dp/B00HSSSBE4.

 

Just a Few Little Things Left to Tweak

 WiP Report # 14

 Hi, All!

 On July the Fourth I entered the following in my daily journal/log. [I’ve added a few things here and there.]

I’ve been checking some stats for Fatal February, which I completed yesterday morning [the third draft, that is, on July 3]. At least I finished the current draft and rewarded myself by going to see Mad Max: Fury Road. It was terrific. What a trip.

I’ve been beating myself up about being so late on it. [It’s called Fatal February after all and I’d planned all along to get it out in February 2015. Drafting a completely different novel during NaNoWriMo, that is, National Novel Writing Month, and taking off the entire month of December threw me off.]

But when I look at the stats, I’ve concluded I didn’t do so badly after all. It’s 93,000 words long for one thing  [about 50 pages longer than Draft 2] and I started it on April 22. How many days? Let me count. 55 days. Well, that’s a hoot. It’s 1,691 a day, which is just about the NaNoWriMo 1,667 a day goal. I’m not counting the abundant brainstorms I did throughout the draft. I only had one brief log entry in the month of June, but I did put at least a few words down in my handwritten journal every day.

 I wish I could say I’m totally happy with the book, but I’m not. [I have a few little things to do on it here and there. Yeah, I know, I know. All the tabs that mark places that need fixing make the manuscript look like it’s wearing a brightly colored hula skirt.]

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Still, I think the next draft should just involve tweaks of what’s there instead of writing lots of new scenes as I did with this draft. I guess it was draft number 3. I need to break and do other things before I start through the book again to do Draft 4.

 I’ll keep you posted on my progress.

 Best, Juliet

Myself as a Work in Progress

IMG_0972WiP Report # 13

Boy, howdy, how time flies.

When I recently checked my files, I discovered that it’s been a year and nine months since WiP Report # 12 in which I reflected on my decision to quit trying to go the traditional route of getting published with the help of an agent and editors.

As I looked over that blog installment, I couldn’t help but reflect on how far I’ve come as a self-publisher since I posted it. By July 25, 2013, when I posted that blog, I’d published only five Cinderella, P. I. fairy tale mystery short stories as Kindle eBooks. I had also nearly finished writing Walls, a Cinderella, P. I. Novel. But as I said in the blog, besides publishing Walls, I wanted to revise and publish Wings, its sequel; two or three Cinderella, P. I. story collections; and up to five more novels sooner or later. Also I wanted to write a contemporary series with a baby boomer amateur detective “before I check out.”

There’s nothing like the devil on your tail or at least time’s winged chariot bearing down on you to speed matters up. And it certainly helped that I’ve been writing with the aim of being a published author since 1986, so I had about ten novels and other completed manuscripts in my files.

Still, I’m a little amazed to report that in the year between October 9, 2013, when I published Walls, a Cinderella, P. I. Novel as a Kindle eBook and October 9, 2014, I published three novels altogether including January Jinx, the first in a historical mystery series; two story collections, and an additional short story. All this added up to more than 300,000 words or the equivalent of 1,100 print pages. Plus in National Novel Writing Month, November 2014, I drafted a 50,000 novel set in a community college and tentatively called Fall into Murder. In the months since December 1, I’ve written another draft of Fatal February, the second Calendar Mystery. I missed my February 2015 deadline to publish Fatal February, but still I aim to have it out this year along with a third Cinderella, P. I. story collection, possibly a collection of essays about mystery fiction that I originally wrote for this blog, and a stand-alone thriller called Death in Shining Armor. Besides the sheer output, I’ve also taken on more of the tasks of self-publishing such as doing some of my own covers and formatting instead of hiring someone to do those things for me.

Perhaps most important, I’ve gained a lot of confidence in myself as a writer and self-publisher. For example, I used to get all bent out of shape with “hi tec anxiety,” but not so much anymore. I still beat myself up sometimes about my low sales figures, but they’re improving.

FYI: These five books are all available as Kindle eBooks and trade paperbacks at Amazon.com. If you enjoy these novels and stories, please review them. Even a few positive words help.

Till next time. Best, Juliet.

P. S. Didn’t my daughter do a beautiful job on the cover of January Jinx?

The Art of Rewriting a Novel

Congratulations! You’ve completed the first draft of your novel and the joy of creation still surges through your veins. But don’t rest on your laurels too long, for now you have to rewrite. No, I don’t, you say. I just run the spell checker and shoot it off to an agent, right? Besides, did Shakespeare rewrite? Apparently not, but his contemporary and friend Ben Jonson said, “Would that he had blotted a thousand lines.”

So now comes the time to get busy “blotting a thousand lines” (or more) because rewriting is a vital part of writing, the part that “makes the work come alive,” to quote Nancy Pickard, author of several popular mystery novels including Kansas Book of the Year, The Virgin of Small Plains. During rewriting, you “re-envision” the work and bring it closer to your original intention, obscured or lost in the heat of creating the rough draft.

Though often the writer comes up with new material during the rewriting phase, generally this last stage involves more analysis than creation, less the right side of the brain than the left. While new writers often think they can’t write unless they get it right the first time, most professionals rely on rewriting to bring their work up to par.

Effective, interesting, and vital writing is clear, coherent, concise, concrete, correct, and varied. Rewriting helps you give your work these qualities.

Okay, okay, I’m convinced, you say. So how many revisions should I do? As many as it takes, the mentor answers. If you’ve completed a work that you first drafted largely in your head, such as a flash fiction short story, you might not need many overall revisions. On the other hand, many pros freely admit to doing up to twelve major revisions of their novels. The average romance author does two and a half to three drafts, but Nancy Pickard says that she rewrites virtually up to the day of publication.

To rewrite a piece of fiction, you cut, add, change, move, and combine. But verily I say unto you, the greatest of these is CUT.

In rewriting, concentrate on these areas in this order: content, style, and mechanics. Why this order? you ask. Simple. It makes sense to get the content right before you spend hours polishing a sentence (paragraph, scene, chapter) that you might have to cut later–or worse, refuse to cut (though it no longer fits the work) because you worked so hard on it. Take the advice of Tony Hillerman who used to labor over his first chapters until he discovered that later chapters changed the first ones too much for him to use them. (He claimed to have had a drawer full of discarded but wonderful first chapters.)

On the other hand, if you’re rewriting the content of your novel and notice a sentence you can improve quickly or an error to correct, go ahead. Similarly, if you think of a great new bit of dialogue in a later stage of revision, by all means add it. (But be sure to reread this added section carefully, for often errors abound in such passages.)

ADVICE

1) To keep up your momentum and improve your chances of completing your novel, work on it everyday.

2) To minimize the number of corrections to make later in the process, initially format your manuscript in the correct form for submission later on to an editor or for production as an eBook or POD.

3) Follow the rules of punctuation like putting periods and commas inside quotation marks, etc.

4) For ease in rewriting, make separate files for all the chapters of the work.

5) If you use Microsoft Word, go to the Authoring and Proofing Tools in the Preferences menu, and in the Spelling and Grammar menu, click on “Show readability statistics.” Run your spell checker on each chapter as you complete revising it. The information will be especially valuable to you in later phases of the revising process. This document, for example, has 4% passive voice (much higher than my usual fiction percentage of 0%), 63.1% Flesch Reading Ease (considerably lower than my usual fiction reading ease of 85%), and 8.7 Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level. No, I’m not related to that Kincaid, and my fiction averages from 3.5 to 5.2 grade levels.

6) Cultivate good stylistic writing habits like avoiding passive voice and employing showing writing instead of telling writing.

Still, generally, as John Braine advises, it’s best to write the rough draft as fast as you can and take as much time as you need for revision. Danielle Steele, for instance, takes six months to research a novel and six months to rewrite, but she blasts through the rough draft in a month of crippling twenty-hour days.

REWRITING FOR IMPROVED CONTENT

When you’re ready to start rewriting your novel, be patient and don’t just dive into revising. Instead, sit down and read the book through. Then skim it and take notes on what you see and patterns you notice. For instance, does your novel have a clear “Who wants what?” established very early. Does your protagonist clearly “drive the plot car” overall? Is the outcome clear at the end?

Especially pay attention to the big issues of structure. For instance, does your novel have a clear beginning, middle and end? That is, does it have a hook in the opening and a plot point near the end of the beginning part to set up the major story line? Is there some sort of important development in the middle section of the novel, that is, about halfway through? Is there a plot point near the end of the middle part of the book that sets up the end of the book? Do some math to see where these plot points fall in relationship to the overall length.

Consider your narrative line. Once you start your story, do you continue in a straightforward line or do you switch back and forth in time, from past to present to future to past? Think about your audience and this maxim: The larger the market you want for your novel, the easier you want to make your novel to read. That is, employ the K.I.S.S rule especially when you’re writing popular fiction and want lots of people to read your book.

Consider the type of novel you’re writing and reader expectations for that genre. If you’re writing a categorical romance, for instance, do you have at least one love scene? If you’re writing a mystery, is there a body or at least a crime?

On the basis of your observations, prepare an outline or write a narrative synopsis. Advice: Do not consider your outline or synopsis as engraved in stone.

As you write a second draft and concentrate on content, you might want to CUT all or part of ground clutter (action that leads nowhere), sections of dialogue that run on too long, unneeded characters and everything related to them, sections of description that run on too long, scenes that contribute only slightly to the plot, extended sections of background or exposition, unneeded transitions between scenes, sections that tell the reader what to think instead of letting them draw their own conclusions, unneeded or overlong passages of thought, unneeded material between the climax and denouement, and any element that impedes the pace.

On the other hand, you might need to ADD details that explain later action, descriptions to make a character or setting come alive, character development and motivation, background information, more dialogue, significant action, reminders to the reader, foreshadowing, clues and red herrings, symbols and metaphors to highlight theme, and transitions between scenes.

Often you will want to CHANGE from telling writing into showing writing, from indirect to direct speech, from indirect to direct thought, or from one point of view to another.

Sometimes, too, you might find that, in drafting, you got in a rush and tried to do everything at once. So you might need to MOVE introductory exposition to later in the story, exposition closer to the action it relates to, and thematic commentary or epiphanies closer to the end. You might also need to move scenes and plot points.

Finally, you might need to COMBINE one character with another or one scene with another.

GETTING FEEDBACK

Once you have the content about right and can think of nothing much else to do to the work, let gentle, sympathetic, knowledgeable people (preferably not family members) read your novel and give you feedback on what it’s like to experience the work for the first time. When you get your novel back from your readers, look over their comments and rewrite to improve the content at least one more time.

REWRITING FOR IMPROVED STYLE

Now you will complete the PEP phase. That is, you will P(olish the style), E(dit for grammatical correctness), and P(roofread for misspellings and typos). At this point it’s a good idea to put all your chapters into a single file, so that you can spot glitches in formatting your eBook or POD versions as you edit.

Verily, again I say unto you, the greatest of these is CUT. Overall, including cuts for both content and style, try to make your final version at least ten percent shorter than earlier drafts. (Some writers draft very long and cut out nearly half.)

For concision, CUT redundancies; one, two or even three adjectives out of every three; there is/are, which is/are, it is . . . that; excessive or elaborate dialogue tags; and most adverbs.

For clarity and coherence, you might need to ADD transitions and dialogue tags.

 For clarity, vitality and ease of reading, CHANGE long sentences and paragraphs into shorter ones; big, fancy words into smaller ones; uncommon words into more usual ones; over-used words into less common words; passive voice into active voice; states of being verbs into action verbs; progressive verbs into straight present or past tense; general into specific; abstract into concrete; unclear pronouns into nouns; and fuzzy word choices into just the right words.

 For clarity and variety, occasionally MOVE phrases from their usual spot into more unusual ones.

 For coherence and variety, occasionally COMBINE many short sentences into longer ones and many simple sentences into compound or complex ones.

But as Strunk and White say in The Elements of Style, break any of these rules rather than commit a barbarity.

 REWRITING FOR CORRECTNESS

Always edit a completed manuscript with extreme care because mechanical errors and misspellings betray you as an amateur to agents, editor and readers. If you can’t spell, learn! Use a spell checker (but still proofread for homonyms, like “too,” “to,” “two”). If you don’t know how to punctuate, take a review course. And no matter how sharp your editorial skills, always proofread your material several times before you submit it or publish it.

 In the PEP phase, you might find it helpful to read your manuscript aloud. (James Michener and his editor read one of his big novels to each other five times.) Run your spelling/grammar checker and get your overall stats on readability, etc. It’s also good to use “find and replace” to locate your personal trouble spots (one of mine is over-using the word “then”). If you have fellow writers who proofread well, you might ask them to proofread our work. Or you could hire a professional proofreader or copy editor.

 THE IMPORTANCE OF PROOFREADING

As Jack Riley topped the final rise before town, he saw the buzzards circling above him. Not this time, he thought, a half smile on his face. He had just been through eighty miles of the roughest dessert anywhere . . .

 

Craig Johnson’s Any Other Name

Craig Johnson’s Any Other Name

Boy, howdy, can that man write!

A week or so ago, I needed something to read and so I started buffeting the nine or so new books close to my bed where I do most of my fiction reading. (So what if I spend lots of bucks buying hardcover fiction? As an addiction, my fiction fetish is comparatively cheap. Plus, unlike other consumables, you can experience the high of reading a really great novel more than once.)

Oddly, at first I couldn’t find anything to suit me. The next alphabet mystery? There are so few letters left now that I thought I’d save it a while longer. The latest, just published, from the brilliant Canadienne? I thought I’d save that one, too, since it will be another year before the next one. The next choice of my book club? Well, no, I like to read those closer to the discussion date.

And so, going lower in my stack, I came upon Craig Johnson’s Any Other Name. The acknowledgments set me back briefly since Johnson says right up front that this book takes place in the winter and at least three of his previous Walt Longmire mysteries include hip-deep snow and harrowing blizzards. I needn’t have worried, though, because Johnson uses winter especially well in Any Other Name. In fact, it might be my favorite for reasons I won’t describe because I’m not given to spoilers. But I bet you’ll love it, too.

But anyway, Johnson’s great personal charm that showed up even in the acknowledgments in giving floral names to his helpers for the book got me through my misgivings to the first page. And there Walt Longmire’s voice hooked me and I knew I’d found the book I wanted to read next. I never regretted my choice from first page to last.

The eleventh in the Walt Longmire series (counting the delightful novella Spirit of Steamboat) centers on the suicide death of an old friend of Lucian Connally, the retired sheriff of Absaroka County, Wyoming. As Walt and Lucian look into this, other possible crimes emerge and the whole case becomes very complex. The weather, too. Meanwhile, Walt’s daughter Cady is about to have her first child way across the country in Philadelphia and from time to time she calls him to remind him he must be present for this event. This is not easy when he’s. . . . Never mind. You’ll find out.

In keeping with my standard blogging practice of sharing what I learn from the books I read that help me write my own, I’ll offer this. Johnson is a master of the set-up and follow-through. So when Walt and Lucian are stuck waiting for a long, long coal train to pass on page 1, you can be sure that trains will figure importantly in the plot of Any Other Name. Boy howdy, do they ever!

For your additional pleasure, I’ve attached my first blog installment about Craig Johnson’s work, originally posted in August of 2011, when I was working on Walls, a Cinderella, P. I. Novel (now available as an eBook at www.amazon.com/dp/B00FQLQ2WI and as a trade paperback ISBN 978-0-9899504-1-1).

Craig Johnson’s Junkyard Dogs and Hell Is Empty

“Boy, howdy,” as Walt Longmire would say, is Craig Johnson ever a wonderful story-teller.

I’ve heard Craig Johnson speak twice, once on the book tour for Junkyard Dogs, the sixth in the series featuring Wyoming sheriff Walt Longmire, and the second time for Hell Is Empty, the seventh. Both times were delightful.

Both times he visited here, he wore jeans, a casual shirt, boots and a cowboy hat, reflecting a genuine need since Mr. Johnson lives on a ranch and starts his work day with chores before he holes up to write. On his first visit, he’d recently returned from France where he’d received the Nouvel Observateur Prix du Roman Noir. (His mysteries are very popular in France.) While in Paris he had an encounter with a group of French school boys that I think of as “Le Cowboy at the Louvre,” a story Johnson told with great humor and flair.

I’ll give you highlights of Mr. Johnson’s other presentation at the end of this discussion. Before I start, here’s an update on the WiP.

This week I finished the fourth draft! A few whistles and a little applause, but don’t go on too long because I still have lots of work to do. One thing I’ve noticed is a big difference between the tone, voice, and style of the first half of the book and much of the second part. The former is pretty dark, formal, fairly literary. The latter is lighter, informal, chattier. In my fifth and I hope, final draft of this book, I really need to make those elements consistent throughout the book.

Right now, though, I’m wondering whether to go light or dark, but a comparison/contrast of Junkyard Dogs and Hell Is Empty gives me much needed guidance.

Hooks

Junkyard Dogs begins out-and-out pratfall funny as Walt Longmire tries to take in the fact that an old man had been up on the roof of a house on an icy midwinter day and secured by a rope to an Oldsmobile when his grandson’s wife drove off.

Hell Is Empty begins in a much darker way with Walt Longmire feeding a hamburger to Marcel Popp, one of three murderers the sheriff is helping to transport. Popp has just threatened to kill Longmire for the twenty-eighth time so far.

Characters

Aside from the regulars, many of the characters of Junkyard Dogs are comic as well. For instance, Geo Stewart, the old man hauled off the roof and dragged down the icy road, waves to a neighbor as he slides by. Stewart’s grandson Dwayne seems pretty dim and Dwayne’s wife Gina initially plays the vamp.

There’s nothing funny about the antagonists in Hell Is Empty. Besides Marcel Popp, the sheriff and his deputy are transporting Hector Otero, a murdering gangbanger from Houston, and most sinister of the three, Raynaud Shade, a Crow Indian who has visited the Bighorn Mountains before.

Plot development

The action of Junkyard Dogs continues in the comedic vein quite a ways into the book with the discovery of someone’s missing thumb in a cooler as well as a revelation about Walt’s former English teacher that I won’t share because I don’t want to spoil the surprise.

In Hell Is Empty the action escalates and the body count eventually is very high. Not surprisingly given the title, Walt must travel into hell before the book’s over. Both books are winter tales, but the weather provides much more grueling obstacles for Walt to conquer in Hell Is Empty than in Junkyard Dogs. In many ways also the plot of the sixth book is grounded in reality while in the seventh Walt goes on what is, in many ways, a mystical and spiritual journey.

Settings

The settings of Junkyard Dogs tend toward the interior and the manmade. Several important scenes take place in a hospital, for instance. Settings also include a huge junkyard guarded by two wolf-dogs and filled with trashed cars, stacked one atop the other and going decade by decade back in time.

More of the scenes of Hell Is Empty take place outside where wind, darkness, and cold threaten Walt’s life. As in Randy Wayne White’s Deep Shadow, nature is an adversary in Hell Is Empty.

Style, tone, and voice

Both of Johnson’s books are first person narratives, that is, told by Walt Longmire in Longmire’s voice. But inevitably the more comedic characters and plot of Junkyard Dogs make that book lighter.

When I planned this installment, I thought I should just stick to Junkyard Dogs because, long-time lit major that I am, I kept trying to trace all the illusions to Dante in Hell Is Empty, not just in the overall plot but in the characters’ names. I mean, there’s a waitress named Beatrice, for goodness’ sake, and another one named Virgil. I was going crazy doing that.

I don’t mean to imply that Johnson sprinkled in the literary allusions superficially because he didn’t. The references are integral to the plot. He set it up from the start by having Walt’s deputy, Santiago Saizarbitoria, reading a battered copy of Dante’s Inferno that Walt later takes on his journey. The style of the book doesn’t come off as literary. And Johnson does what all good writers do when they rework stories like journeys to hell. He transforms it and makes it his own timeless story, yet of and for our times.

The lesson for my WiP

I’m thinking that since I’m reworking fairy tales, in particular those known to most people through Disney movies, I should stick to the lighter side. In other words, I should stick to the lighter tone, style, and voice of Junkyard Dogs instead of the darker side of Hell Is Empty.

And finally, as promised . . .

The second time I heard Johnson speak, the word had gotten out about how great he and his books are and the place was packed. Again, he displayed his wonderful sense of humor as he told us about his involvement with the production of Longmire, a series coming to A & E in 2012. It sounds great. I’m sure I’ll love it and I bet you’ll like it too.

This closing comment from 9/11/14. I have loved the Longmire series and thought Season 3 especially strong. And so the news that A & E has cancelled the series disheartens me. However, at this time, it’s possible that another channel will pick the series up.