Thursday, June 30, 2016

Summertime. And the Living Ain't Easy.

109.2 °F

My latest manuscript is in the hands of my editor. It will more than likely be after the Independence Day holiday before I hear the verdict. I expect a great deal of rewriting is in my future.

In the meantime, I, Donis, am working on a couple of short stories, doing some book reviewing. Trying to accomplish something. Anything. But it is summer in southern Arizona and trying to get anything done is problematic to say the least. A friend of mine pointed out that Arizona summers are the price we pay for our gorgeous winters. The winters are fantastic and it is nice to rub it in when it's seventy degrees and sunny here and ten below with fifteen feet of snow and ice everywhere else. However, summer is a steep price to pay.

The past week or so hasn't been too bad. Daily highs of 108ºF to 111ºF. One can tell a long-time Arizonan by the fact that she thinks as long as it's below 110ºF, that's "not too bad". Early in June we had several days between 115º and 118º. They were predicting 120º, so we dodged the bullet there.

There are Arizonans who brag about surviving or even loving the heat, just as native North Dakotans brag about the cold. But I'm not one of them. Three months of super heat is exhausting. I get cabin fever. I try to get any errands done in the morning, but banks and stores often don't open before nine or ten a.m., and it's already hot enough for sunstroke by then.

My writing life is not helped by my heat-induced ennui. I have to gear myself up for the task of writing. A few years ago I read an interview with Walter Mosely in which he said it was no problem for him to sit down day after endless day and write, since to him writing was like having to have sex every morning. It may be his job, but he still enjoys it very much.

I wish I were the same. I don’t love it, as a rule, especially when I’m just beginning a new work. I love the ideas, I love working out the details of the story. I love the imagining. But for me writing the first draft is like writing a term paper. What I really love - the endorphin rush for me - comes when I am finished, or nearly so. Then I feel a tremendous sense of accomplishment, and amazement that I created something that I like so much. Because I always write what I like to read.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Here's to you, Mum. Thanks for the upbringing.

This blog is an apologetic ode to my mother, who passed away last week at the grand old age of 97. It's not that my mother was perfect; she had a temper, a sharp tongue, and high standards, and she didn't suffer fools gladly, whether they were her children, her bosses, or the parents of the students she taught. While most of my friends in the 50s and 60s had stay-at-home mums who baked cookies, made their kids perfect lunches, and kept plastic runners on their wall-to-wall carpets, my mother worked full-time as a high school science teacher. She threw herself into her job with the same passion and commitment she gave to everything she tried. And in 97 years, she tried plenty. She never seemed to have a spare moment while I was growing up. If I wanted to ask her something, I had to help her peel potatoes while we talked. Every night, she seemed to be marking papers, and often co-opted me into marking the easy, true or false or fill-in-the-blank questions.

We lived in chaos. Looking back, I think that's where I got my tolerance–even affection–for it. Because she was a biology teacher with a love of all things living, we always had dogs, cats, hamsters, goldfish (unless the cat ate them), canaries (unless the cat ate them), and at various times we also had a box turtle living under the living room sofa (a cleaning lady's delight), a baby alligator in the bathtub, an injured pigeon under the basement stairs, and lab mice and rats in cages all over the place.

In her spare time, my mother wrote one of the first ecology textbooks, pioneered French immersion science teaching, headed up the teachers' union, made room in her house and at her table for those in temporary need of a bed or alone for the holidays, and managed to be play passable hostess to my father's colleagues and graduate students from McGill University. She could whip a house into shape for company (with us kids' help) faster than anyone else I knew. The vacuum was being tossed into the closet even as the doorbell rang.

Next week, we will bury this woman whose life has spanned an extraordinary century of change from the First World War to modern times, and I will give one of the eulogies at her celebration of life following the burial. So I have been thinking about her, and about the influence she has had on my life. Thanks for the chaos, Mum, which has helped me embrace uncertainty, multiple demands, life's messiness, and system overload. I know that most times, the vacuum cleaner does get hidden before the guests arrive. Thanks for the example you provided, of a strong, determined, confident woman who charted her own course and rarely wasted time on trivialities. I never knew my mother to watch TV or to bother with gossip or gamesmanship. I know she chafed at the constraints placed on her as a woman of her time, but she found a path for herself despite the naysayers.

When she retired, she went into high gear. I had my own home and family by then, so I could hardly keep track of the causes she got involved in. World Federalism, Nature Conservancy, Amnesty International, Inuit health, collective kitchens and "out of the cold" suppers, and most importantly, refugee settlement. She never did anything by half measure, but took refugee families from Birundi, Bosnia, Kosovo, and elsewhere by the hand, drove them to appointments, lent them money, invited them to her home, and generally played the role of mother. For this, she was awarded the Governor Generals's Caring Canadian Award in 1999. And they didn't know the half of it!

So for the childhood chaos and the role modelling of how to be a human of today, never mind a woman, I have to thank her. But there is more. Growing up like a weed in the garden, I learned more than resourcefulness and independence. I learned to be creative. I created an imaginary world of friends and adventure. If I was bored, I dreamed up more friends and another thrill. What better training for a would-be writer! I took this imagination into the classroom, where I could entertain myself for hours at the back of the class while the others learned to conjugate French verbs. And my mother lived by one last crucial principle ...

 If you want children to be creative, you must not force them to clean up the mess.

There is a wealth of wisdom in that. First of all, that creativity requires unfettered freedom. Second, that thinking of consequences or indeed, thinking ahead, stifles that freedom to explore. And thirdly, that cleaning up, restoring order to the chaos, is punishment of that creativity. I confess that I live by that motto; you should see my house. Reality requires that I occasionally clean it up, but I'm rather like my mother–vacuuming ten minutes before the guests arrive. And while I am in the middle of a novel. well ... you can imagine.

As a child psychologist, I worry about the level of structure, orderliness, and supervision in the lives of today's children. The absence of silence which can be filled by imagination, the clutter of online connection which never leaves them time to dream up friends and stories. The constant presence of parents who never give them the chance to roam free. To explore, experiment, discover, feel their power, and find their inner voice.

Luckily, my mother had the wisdom to know better. Perhaps because she had had to fight for every inch of freedom as a girl in the 20s and 30s. I think that's more or less what I will say in my eulogy.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

The editing mania

by Rick Blechta

When I moved to Canada to finish my university education (and also live with my best girl – who is still my best girl!), I began to get a series of letters from my mother. She enjoyed writing letters and phone calls were expensive for both of us. The internet and Skype weren’t even a twinkle in a computer programmer's eye. Right up until the end, my mom enjoyed sending and receiving letters.

Now I’d had the occasional letter from Mom when I was away at camp or visiting relatives, but those university letters came about every two weeks, and while chatty about family goings-on at home, we also discussed more weighty topics on occasion.

Yes, I wrote back, and those early letters are certainly the genesis of my still-active letter writing career – although now I’m more tempted to use email when rushed.

Anyway, I curious thing soon began to manifest itself during those university letters home: my mother began sending back my letters to her fully edited and annotated on areas that needed improving!

To say the least, I was furious, and we all no nothing burns hotter than the fire of indignation in a 20-year-old. I didn’t send another letter for weeks. Mom's came with the same regularity. Finally, home for Christmas, I told her how angry I was. “Never expect another letter from me!”

Mom was not the most laid-back of people and shot right back: “I only did it to help you improve your writing. Someone in university shouldn't be making those types of mistakes.”

Hmmm… Hadn’t thought of that.

Letter writing resumed (after an additional three weeks to show I hadn’t been cowed or forgiven her easily). This time, though, I worked over my letters in a first draft, correcting and improving before writing a final copy in pen to send to her. Very few letters were returned with suggested edits.

Some time during the intervening years, I lost/threw out/misplaced those letters and I sort of wish I now had them, not that they have much in the way of information that I would want but more as a connection with my long-dead mother and see how stupidly I saw the world in my twenties when I knew so much more than I do now

The reason this episode in my chequered life came to mind is because I found a recipe card in my mother’s distinctive hand and it got me thinking about her. She might not have always used the correct approach, but she meant well.

And she passed on her editing mania to me. I restrain myself with corrections to my own childrens’ writing as much as I can, but the sharp knives come out with no compunctions or quarter given when I’m working over my own writing. And I truly enjoy the process of “getting it right!”

Thanks, Mom!

Monday, June 27, 2016

Britain Leaves the EU

Today as we in Britain are reeling from the shock of a totally unexpected vote to leave the European Union, it's difficult for me to think about any thing else.

Final polls on the day had 'Remain' anything up to ten points ahead.  The market and the foreign exchanges had rallied days before on the basis of private polls.  I went to sleep, comfortable in the assurance that in the morning it would be business as usual, woke around 2am and decided to check just how big the margin of victory would be -  and slept not at all after that.

Not that I'm a big fan of the EU.  My comment to my husband as we left the polling booth was, 'I held my nose and voted for Europe.'  The arrogance of the Brussels bureaucratic administration has left them with few fans in many of the countries they administer, though the ones who get out much more than they put in (all except Germany, France and Britain) can't afford to do anything other than stay.

To be fair to those who voted 'Leave', Britain, a country of only 65 million and  with a small landmass, had to absorb  500,000 immigrants last year, all looking for housing, schooling, welfare benefits and our free Health Service.  If you are highly-educated or otherwise wealthy, you can avoid the problems; those who gave 'Leave' their majority were those who had seen their wages undercut and their way of life and culture threatened.   Ironically, it is they who will pay the financial price in unemployment and austerity.

As a Scot, I have a particular problem.  The Scots voted massively to stay in the EU and now it looks highly likely that Scotland's Nationalist First Minister will demand a second referendum to spilt Scotland from England in order to stay in the EU. Last time, she failed; this time, she will probably succeed.

I'm Scots to my backbone.  Looking back through the family tree, I don't think I have a drop of English blood in my veins.  But I have English grandchildren.  I have a multitude of English friends.  I have spent ten years of my life living there.  My agent and my editor are English.  The first books I wrote had an English setting.

If we find ourselves on the other side of an EU border, I will need a passport to visit.  Yes of course, there could be an arrangement, but Scotland has said it welcomes European immigrants and in the present climate of opinion England is not going to leave the back door open once it has got the front door firmly bolted.

And will book sales between the United States and Britain be affected?  I don't know the mechanics of this, but when President Obama visited he said that if it came to trade agreements a Britain that was outside the EU would 'go to the back of the queue'.  (This attitude to the so-called 'special relationship' boosted the 'Leave' vote by three percentage points.)

I am, quite honestly, dismayed and very depressed. ISIS and Vladimir Putin are openly rejoicing.  If other countries in the EU also start demanding referenda - as some of them are already - and Europe falls apart it seems to me that the world which is in enough of a mess already, will become an even more ugly and dangerous place.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Conspiracy Theory Z

While the big news from the UK this weekend was their Brexit, what got buried was this other report where the British--in partnership with India--have initiated serious medical research into reanimating the dead. When I mentioned this article to my youngest son, he jerked upright and gave me a look. You're kidding, right? 

My sentiments exactly. Apparently the eggheads behind this experiment have ignored centuries of literature and decades of cinema where raising the dead was a really bad idea. Every possible consequence has been explored and none were good. Admittedly, there is Jesus raising Lazarus of Bethany, and Jesus himself returning from the grave for the Resurrection. But to depict either instance as the appearance of zombies would probably get you crucified.

Reanimating the dead is always step one in a major doomsday scenario. So why do it? My writer brain starts working the angles and given my distrust for the government--which only seems to get more evil as it gets bigger--here goes:

Reanimating the dead has already happened. The one percenters who control the government and their Dr. Strangelove minions have determined that the only real solution to climate change, pollution, water shortages, over crowding, and traffic gridlock is population control: read that as thinning out the masses. And a zombie outbreak is their solution. These recent stories are them trickling out the facts so that when the big news hits--we've reanimated the dead!--everyone shrugs.

The plot thickens. In zombie movies, there are three preferred weapons for killing the undead: flame throwers, big knives, and guns--particularly rapid-fire weapons like the dreaded assault rifles. Flame throwers are hard to find, but knives and guns are prevalent, especially here in the US. Over in Britain, the government first got rid of their guns and is now hard at work taking knives away from the populace. It's true. "Zombie-killer knives" have been specifically outlawed. On this side of the pond, we have an anti-gun faction funded by billionaires who are hard at work trying to convince the American public that we don't need--shouldn't have--assault rifles, your best defense against zombies. Meanwhile, these rich guys are surrounded by armed guards, and I bet you'll find plenty of high-capacity, rapid-fire guns under their jackets and inside their armored limousines.

So you ask, what about the mass shootings? That's what people are really objecting to. Yes, of course. But first, let us wade deeper to the conspiracy waters. None of the mass shooters who used an "assault rifle" was unknown to the authorities. The FBI investigated Omar Mateen twice and gave him a pass. You can google the others and see what you find. It's as if someone is using a false flag to sow hysteria over assault rifles in an effort to support laws to get them out of the public's hands.

Granted, I'm connecting some blurry dots, but you see a pattern.

No knives. No guns. Add zombies. You do the math.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Say what?

I'm at the Western Writers of American convention in Cheyenne Wyoming and heard an interesting panel this morning on dealing with vernacular.

It started me thinking about dialog and what is politically correct and what is a hot potato. But another more important issue to mystery writers is related to regional usage. Since most of what I write is set in Kansas I'm usually on pretty firm ground. But not always.

My husband and I both grew up in Anderson County Kansas. We moved to Western Kansas when we were married. I was surprised at the difference in what people in opposite sides of the state called things.

In fact, I once took a class in linguistics in which the professor said there was a man so skilled at detecting variations in usage that he could tell within 50 miles where a person was born and where they moved to later in life.

Determining verbal accuracy in dialogue can be quite frustrating:
       Do you want a coke or a can of pop?
       Do you make bread or white bread or light bread?
       Is your pickup stuck in the ditch, the bar-ditch, or the barrow ditch?
       Do you reach for a tea towel or a domestic?
       Are you afraid of thunderstorms or lightning storms?
       Is that river the Arkansas (as in the state--Ar-kan-saw) or the Ar-KANSAS?
       Do the men go off somewhere or do the menfolks?

Occasionally usage can even be a factor in plotting. Certainly it has been a clue contained in ransom notes and threats.

I'm not a hard and fast advocate of "writing what you know" but when it comes to the choice of words native to a region it's a very good idea to plan a research trip to the area. Go with a notebook and pay attention when people "talk funny."

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Ways to finish a book

I recently enjoyed Rick's post "Great ways NOT to write a book" and thought I'd be a glass-is-half-full kind of guy and take the other side. Most of the writers I know who are publishing annually or semi-annually also have full-time jobs, making writing, essentially, the most demanding and time-consuming hobby imaginable.

"How do you do it?" is a question writers with day jobs get often. The "do it" part of the question refers to finishing a book each year while balancing the job that pays the bills and, for many of us, balancing family life.

Here are some tips: 

Write when everyone else is asleep. This is my best advice. I have a wife and three daughters, ages 18, 15, and 7, so their sleep habits are VERY different. The teens sleep from midnight to 10:30 a.m.; the second-grader sleeps (if at all) from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. Throw in a dorm of teenagers (during the school year), and you can see what I'm up against. Four to 6 a.m. is prime time. Dead silent. And there is no such thing as writer's block at that time of day. Take it from me, if you drag yourself out of bed that early you will damn well write something.

Find a loud quiet place. Yes, loud can be quiet. Procrastination is best done at home. Think about it, you rarely put things off at work. So get out of your normal routine, and find a bustling coffee shop or a mall (or airport), and plop yourself down in the middle of the action. With all that going on around you, you'll find solace in your laptop screen.

Don't shoot for time, go for a page count. I usually write 90 minutes to two hours a day. But I'm a tweaker. I can tweak a paragraph for 90 minutes, if I allow myself. So when I need to finish a book, I go for page count: two or three pages a day. I tweak a lot, but I do it AFTER I've gotten my two pages.

As my late father used to say, Smart people don't have all the answers, they just know where to find them. I certainly don't have all the answers. I'd love to hear some tips on finishing a book from my Type M colleagues and our readers.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Where The Chicks Roam Free

I’ve been enjoying the recent posts of my fellow Type Mers on editing. I find hearing how other writers work interesting and helpful. I often discover new tools or ways of thinking about writing that helps me in my own work.

My publisher, Henery Press, has a Club Hen House blog which I contribute to a few times a year along with the other HP authors. We chicks are a varied bunch and the brood is constantly growing.

Starting February of this year, we’ve been doing a series of posts on “Writers on Writing”. Each month has a different theme.

February – The Beginning

Here you’ll find posts on getting started in writing and on a particular project. Lots of interesting posts here: Cindy Brown wrote one on Feb 1 on where she got her inspiration for her book, The Sound of Murder, “Ideas: The Bones, Flesh and Heart (& the Funny Bone)”. On Feb 5, Nancy G West wrote one on the questions she asks when starting a story, “4 Steps to Starting a Story”. I wrote a post on Feb 24 on my route to becoming a writer, “So You Want to Be a Writer.

March – The Process

Here are posts on the writing process. On March 25, Edith Maxwell wrote one on researching and when you stop, “When Do I Stop Researching?.” On March 30, Susan Boyer wrote a post on finding your writing process titled, well, “Finding Your Process.

April – The Bones

Posts on the bones of writing. On April 28, J.C. Lane gave us “8 Ways to Combat Writer’s Block”. On April 29, Alexia Gordon wrote a piece on how sometimes less is more when it comes to description, “When Writing Place, Less is Less”.

May – The End

Posts on finishing, a good ending, epilogues, etc. On May 12, Larissa Reinhart wrote a post on finishing, “The Four R’s to Rescuing Your Ending”. On May 26, Noreen Wald wrote a post on planting clues in your mystery, “Whodunit?: Leaving Clues for the Reader”.

June – The Editorial Process

The current month deals with editing, beta readers, revising, etc. On June 15, Hank Phillippi Ryan wrote one on editing, “Super Double Secret Secrets for Successful Editing” which I have printed out for future use. My June 16 post dealt with how I handle feedback, “Handling Criticism Constructively.”

July – Behind The Scenes

Next month will deal with bloopers, deleted scenes, etc.

These are just a few of the many posts on writing. Go ahead, explore, but be sure to come back for your daily dose of Type M!

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

A whole lot of nothin’

by Rick Blechta

You know how it is when you start a day with great intentions, but the weather outside is gorgeous, you have a good novel started and the hammock beckons? But you also didn’t get your lazy butt in gear in appropriate time to have a blog post ready to go?

Well, that’s what I was faced with today and guess which won?

See you all next week!

Friday, June 17, 2016

Changing Directions

Ever been in the midst of one writing project when another grabbed you by the arm, said, "Me! Me!" and wouldn't let go?

In a post last year, I described my new strategy for staying organized and being more productive. I had been reading books and articles and based on the research findings and expert advice on the subject, I intended to:

a. Stop multitasking and focus on one project (at least for that day)
b. Do "the next logical thing" (the most important task with the most urgent deadline)

Sounded good. Been trying to do it. Hasn't worked. Here's why:

a. I always have more than one writing project going on at the same time -- a nonfiction project and a mystery. I can alternate back and forth between the two, but I can't simple press "pause" and come back to one or the other in a few months or even a week or two. I need to keep both moving along. I like dividing my day between the two and seeing progress on both. The shift in focus is energizing.
b. Doing the next logical thing according to importance and urgency seemed to have promise. Must finish my crime and clothing book this summer. Working on that. Really want to finish my standalone 1939 historical thriller. Agent wants me to finish. I want to get it done. Could be important to my career. Working on that, too.

And then something happened. My last Lizzie Stuart book came out in 2011. I started to write my Hannah McCabe police procedural books set in Albany in the near-future. But I wrote a Lizzie short story that was published in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine in July 2014 (podcast of "In Her Fashion") . I knew I would come back to Lizzie sooner or later.

But I didn't have a book idea in mind. I knew that in the next book, she would go with John Quinn, her fiance to meet his family. I knew that would happen Thanksgiving week 2004, and they would go to Santa Fe. That's it. I assumed the mystery would happen there. . .until a few months ago when the first scene in the book came to me. That was when I knew Lizzie would be distracted during her visit with her future in-laws by something that had happened the night before she and Quinn left Gallagher, Virginia.

Okay, I made a note or two and tried to go back to what I was doing. A scene -- even a vivid scene -- was no reason to let this book step out of the queue. I wanted to work on my 1939 thriller.

But that scene kept nagging at me, and I found myself telling a friend about it over dinner. As it happens this friend is the person with whom I always talk out sticky plot points. She knows my characters, and she's a lawyer with a logical mind. (Notice that I have great respect for logic because I sometimes run to intuition and need to refocus). So, I told her about this scene and that I wasn't sure what it was about. She threw out an idea or two. I listened. And went home and made a few notes. Still a back-burner project.

Until earlier this week when I was reading a criminal justice report that had nothing to do with the Lizzie book and suddenly another character walked on stage. A character with a problem that would pull Lizzie into the investigation. And bring back one of my favorite characters. A subplot that should get me through that sagging middle and give Lizzie even more motivation than she originally had for getting involved.

So now, I'm working on the clothing and crime book. That is moving along. But my 1939 thriller has been pushed aside by Lizzie. The characters in the 1939 book are not protesting. They seem to be fine with my promise that I will continue to make notes and tinker with my complex plot outline. I suspect that's because there is something about the Lizzie book that is going to be relevant to the 1939 thriller. As I may have mentioned, all of my research and writing seems to occupy the same universe. Lizzie is a crime historian, maybe while I'm doing research for whatever she's working on in the past. . .

So I'm kicking logic to the curb. I'm going to go in the direction that I'm being pulled and trust that it's my subconscious at work and not my way of avoiding the challenge of my standalone. I'm trusting that my 1939 book needs something that I'll find while writing a book set in in 2004. We'll see what happens. I just hope I'm not halfway through the Lizzie book when suddenly I need to head back to 1939 and start writing.

Have you ever changed directions? Switched your focus from one book to another?

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Ugly World

Donis here today. I am writing this entry on the day after the Orlando massacre. There is nothing enlightening I can say. No brilliant insight or suggestions.

When I first saw the news, I was immediately reminded of something my grandmother said to me many years ago.

"I've lived through wars and deaths and upheavals and bad times," she said, "but I've never seen things as bad as this."

That was in about 1972. It seems that human nature never changes, especially when it comes to man's inhumanity to man.

I once heard a woman on NPR relate that her five year old daughter once came stomping down the stairs in a snit and demanded to know why we were ever born if we're just going to die anyway.

An excellent question that should convince anyone that children are deeper than adults give them credit for. The mother said she pondered for a minute before answering, because she wanted to give the girl a meaningful answer, and finally she replied that it was because of all the stuff that goes on in between.

Billy Graham was asked what he had learned about life, and he said that he was just surprised at how fast it goes by. I think of that quite a bit, especially when it comes home to me that not one day more is guaranteed to us. Anything can happen at any time. And even if I live out the rest of my natural life in peace, at this point I have less time ahead than I do behind. I wonder why on earth I ever spend time doing things I don't have to do that I don't particularly enjoy.

Carolyn Hart told me once that she thought the popular resurgence of mystery novels was due at least in part to the fact that at least in a mystery novel, justice is usually done in the end. I like to think that mystery novelists are people of compassion, who are doing what they can to impart to the reader a sense of order and rightness in a world that is messy and incomprehensible and unjust.

Or at least divert them with a ripping yarn.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Editing yourself, Part Two

Barbara here. Two weeks ago I posted a blog describing my own, very personal process to editing once I've typed “The End” on the soggy, barely coherent 90,000-word mess that constitutes my first draft. Because I'm basically a pantser, there are a lot of plot holes, character inconsistencies, and dropped threads to be fixed up before the book makes much sense at all, and this macro-editing has to be addressed first. That lengthy, unwieldy, and challenging process was the subject of June 1st's blog.

This week's blog is about fine-tuning. I call it micro-editing, because this is the point where I examine the text page by page, line by line, and word by word. Naturally, because plot holes can trip you up in the most unlikely places, I keep an eye out for any remaining big-picture problems, but I am mainly concerned here with the power, precision, and economy of my prose.

Aline's Monday post about the difference between printed and on-screen reading is relevant here. To get the big picture of my novel, I always have to print it out to read and to make my changes in pen on the hard copy. I then transcribe those changes back onto computer and reprint it for the second go-around, and the third, etc. I do some tightening and fine-tuning as well during this process if the problem leaps out at me (if, for example, I use the same word three times in one paragraph) but my mind is on bigger things.

Once I have a fairly clean, final “big picture” copy, I read it through on the screen. As Aline says, the screen focuses on details without the distraction of the whole, and so I can examine my work one sentence at a time. I check for redundancies and superfluous words, for those silly extra adverbs and adjectives, for clumsy constructions and words that clang when read together. I look for length of sentence to ensure variety, chopping some up and combining others. Language should create a rhythm that draws the reader on rather than stopping them short.

Also in this micro-editing, I look at how effectively and vividly my words create images. I bear in mind the key points to good writing; show, don't tell, describe like a painter, not a photographer, remember the five senses. A few evocative, defining details will capture a character and setting far better than an exhaustive description. All this fine-tuning is done directly on the screen.

Once the manuscript is the best I think I can make it, I let it sit for as long as I can, which is sometimes only a few days, so that I have relatively fresh eyes for my last read-through. In hard copy. A final polishing, and it is ready for my beta readers. The advantages and disadvantages of critiquing groups is a topic in itself, but the group I use—my good friends The Ladies Killing Circle—are all experienced writers with novel series and/ or short stories of their own, and quite a lot of practice with an editor's pen. Because we have worked together a long time, we trust each other to be both honest and helpful, and I know that each brings a different perspective to the table. Some catch the character weaknesses, others the overall "feel" of the book, others the logic, the language, etc.

Each sends me back a list of comments, all of which I take seriously as I weigh their value and consider whether and how to address them. All writers, but particularly mystery writers, need objective input because, after a dozen or so rewrites, we are too close to the story. We don't know whether the ending is too obvious, the clues too obscure, the motives clearly enough explained, etc. Having beta readers who are skilled as both writers and readers, but also respect your style and don't try to rewrite your book for you, can strengthen your story tremendously.

By the end of this intensive process, what started as an incoherent muddle should be ready for the editor. Hopefully most of the hard work is already done.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Great ways NOT to write a book

by Rick Blechta

I’m certain I am not alone among writers in admiring how well I’ve polished my procrastination skills to a fine sheen when I sit down to advance a work-in-progress. Not.

It’s incredible how things transpire against me some days. Right now, the Blue Jays are playing. Okay. I decided beforehand that I would have the game on, but the sound off and the browser window down on the dock (in other words, not viewable unless I make it so). Well, that lasted all of ten minutes. As a matter of fact, as I’m writing this, the sound is back on, but at least my text edit program is covering up the browser window.

As for the WIP, um, I wrote two sentences before realizing it was Tuesday and I hadn’t even thought about a topic for this weeks post!

Here are some other favourite pastimes for not writing a book:
  • Making dinner (or lunch or breakfast or a snack)
  • Remembering I didn’t fill the bird feeder
  • Answering the phone/door/an email petition
  • Taking a nap because all of a sudden I can’t keep my eyes open
  • Internet research for an upcoming plot point
  • Sharpening pencils (oh wait…I’m writing on the computer today)
  • Answering the phone and then talking at length
  • More internet research
  • Re-reading what I’ve already written
  • Writing a blog post I could have written over the weekend (and meant to – honest!)
You’re probably getting the picture. It’s easy to just not get it done. Why this happens I don’t know. The only cure for me is a cabin in the woods with no internet connection, ear plugs so I can’t hear that mysterious bird song I’d like to identify, no one around to talk with and no phone. Unfortunately that can’t happen to often because of other commitments.

Next up after writing this post is to spend at least an hour designing a really fine sign for the wall of my office: Just Write The Damn Book! If I execute the design in colour, that will also mean a trip to Staples. While I’m at it, I'll print out a fresh Round Tuit*. My current one is getting rather careworn.
*If you’d like your own Round Tuit, just leave a comment with your email address, and I’ll fire over a hi-res version that you can print out for yourself and all your friends.

Monday, June 13, 2016

The Comeback of the Printed Word

The recent flat-lining of for sales of ebooks and the rise for sales of what I admit I call 'proper' books have astonished the pundits who not so very long ago were predicting the demise of the printed word altogether. I have to admit I believed them, and was dismayed.

Will I never learn?  How often in the past have the prophets of doom, like the Victorians who wrung their hands about the problem of increased traffic in London that would mean the streets being completely impassible because of horse manure, been wrong? Yet still I worried about it. I never felt that I got as much out of a book when reading it online – smoking without inhaling, I call it.

This is, apparently, true. There is now quite a body of research that proves comprehension and retention are both poorer when the information is absorbed from a screen. In one study, students who revised from printed books had an advantage of ten per cent over the others in the following test, and a recent poll pf students found that 80 per cent of them wanted print because they believed it helped them understand with more clarity.

There are a number of suggested reasons for this. Whether an individual realises it or not, there is a marked tendency to approach ereaders and tablets in a state of mind less conducive to absorption, and just looking at a screen, too, drains more of our mental resources. It forces the reader to focus on one very small section at a time, without awareness of the whole book. One researcher suggests that it is as if a Google map could find you the individual address, but didn't allow you to zoom out to what lay around it on all sides.

And of course, a book is a physical pleasure too – the texture of the pages, the smell, the rhythmic sound of turning pages that act like leaving footprints on a trail.

When you read this, I will be on holiday in France. Yes, Kindle is very useful when you're travelling by air and have a limited baggage allowance. Fortunately, though, we're driving there and tucked away in the boot will be the book box that is a the heart of our holiday, a varied collection amassed with love over the last few weeks. I can't wait to get my hands on them.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Weekend Guest -- Lisa Black

I'm delighted to welcome Lisa Black to Type M as our weekend guest.

Lisa has spent over 20 years in forensic science, first at the coroner’s office in Cleveland Ohio and now as a certified latent print examiner and CSI at a Florida police dept. Her books have been translated into 6 languages, one reached the NYT Bestseller’s List and one has been optioned for film and a possible TV series.

Lisa's latest book came out in April.

In her post, she shares a behind-the-scene look at her writing process.

Take it away, Lisa.


…has always sounded like a bad idea to me, sure to leave you written into a corner at some future point just as hitching a ride on a lonely stretch of road with a shaggy looking stranger in a panel van is a foolproof way to wind up dead in a ditch somewhere. I’m a plotter. I’m not at the extreme end of the plotter/pantser spectrum but I am definitely along that half of the line. I have to know how the story begins, how it ends, who the killer is, why they kill, and just about every other major incident that will take place, and I need to know all this before I begin writing.

And so that was how I began to write Close to the Bone, I had my setting and my characters and in the second chapter my forensic scientist character is creeping around her workplace (a morgue) in the wee, dark hours of the morning looking for a killer who has left her coworker in a puddle of his own blood on the first floor.

My agent didn’t like it. She didn’t think it was suspenseful enough. I pointed out: Dark. Empty. Building. Killer on the loose. Personally known victim. Lots of blood. If that’s not suspense then what the heck is?

In a burst of sullenness I sat down and churned out a few pages of a scene that had been rattling around in my head for years, in which a man decides that the worst of the worst criminals should be put down like rabid dogs, but humanely, compassionately. After all, they can’t help what the circumstances of their lives have brought them to. So he wines and dines them, and in the midst of a pleasant conversation he puts three bullets into their skull.

She liked it.

So of course I had to have a female forensic investigator who notices similarities among outwardly different crimes. But I had no idea what to do beyond that, except that, at some point, these two would have to come in to contact with each other. To which I’m sure you’d all say, well duh.

Somehow I managed to get through the book without a plan. Then it was time to write the sequel. I had an idea about this wealthy, sprawling family that turns out to have disproportionate amount of sudden death twining about its tree. I started it on New Year’s Day; I thought that gave the process a nice air of orderliness. By January 6th I realized it wasn’t going to work—too much backstory, too much plodding through individual histories. So I sat in a lawn chair and told myself that I needed a better setting—something alive with tension and immediacy and real danger.

A newspaper, I decided. If people turn up dead at a newspaper, is it because of a story they wrote? Or didn’t write? Or were going to write? Or is it for another reason, some personal conflict that has nothing to do with a story at all? I dove in and loved studying up on the changes in the news industry over the past twenty or so years, and I love the result, but the fact remains that I decided that course on an impulse—something I hate with the same passion gardeners reserve for aphids.

But sometimes you just have to go wherever the whim takes you.

Friday, June 10, 2016

When Events Go Wrong

A couple of weeks ago I witnessed one of the most glorious examples of how to recover when an event goes astray. My granddaughter was married in Manteo North Carolina and the bride, groom, and the parents had worked hard to create a beautiful outdoor venue. Both grandmothers, the groom’s parents, and most of the groomsmen were bused in from various hotels.

The bride and bridesmaids were preparing in the special event center where we would all go after the ceremony for a dinner with dancing to follow.

We gathered under trees overlooking the bay awaiting the magical moment when the bride and her ladies would emerge. The sea sparkled in the background. Artful arrangements of flowers perfected the fairyland setting. We were moments away from taking our seats.

The weather was perfect. And then it wasn’t. The skies opened.

Both grandmothers, the groom, the mother of the groom, most of the groomsmen, and various other participants were sloshed in a sudden downpour. Not a sprinkle, mind you. A cascade of water. Immediate and devastating.

Safely inside, the bride, the mother-of the bride, and the sheltered members of the wedding immediately flew into high gear. Their hardest task was coaxing the miserable sodden guests to run through sheets of water to the event center. Once inside, the wedding planner announced there would be a slight delay. We were given hair dryers and patted with paper towels. It didn’t help much.

Tables were moved from the center of the floor to form an aisle, the orchestra relocated to a balcony, a staging area created, and the bride processed between columns of joyful (standing) friends. What a splendid predictor of happiness in the marriage!!! Adjustment was immediate, in tandem, and victory created when the afternoon could have culminated in tears, tantrums, and an ugly melt-down.

Handling events gone wrong is one of the most difficult lessons I’ve had to learn in a writing career. It’s especially disheartening to set up a signing, arrive and learn the store owner has not ordered books, or the books are there but the people aren’t. Anticipated fans all went fishing or something.

I wonder how many pages I would need to list all the things that have gone wrong in my writing career. Many more would be needed to list all the stupid things I’ve said or done. I regret the length of time it’s taken to learn to face adverse events with humor and a sense of perspective. It takes a long, long time to learn how to flip misfortunes into opportunities.

I envy my lovely granddaughter and her splendid husband. They are beginning their marriage with attributes it usually takes a lifetime to acquire.

Thursday, June 09, 2016

Rabbit Holes

Destiny's Pawn hits shelves this week, and I hit the road, signing and doing author talks. All this while I'm writing the fourth Peyton Cote book (2017), which is due to my publisher Sept. 1.

The new book deals with human trafficking, and to write it I did all the right things: I outlined it (took me a week), I created character sketches (so I could use multiple characters' third-person, limited points of view), and I researched, reading ISIS: Inside the Army of Terror (highly recommended) and various online articles, even e-mailing professors and experts on the Syrian situation.

The research took weeks. When I finally sat down to write, I finished 30 pages pretty quickly. As often happens, I hit a plot snag, so I slowed, researched more, and continued on, albeit at a slower pace. Around page 50, I needed to do additional research. I ended up on the phone for an hour with Kevin Stevens, former deputy chief of the US Border patrol. Then I plotted some more. The result was a 60-page Google doc that had my marginal notes ("comments") that ran the entire length of some of the draft's pages.

And I walked around the house like a zombie, the storyline, the characters, the information forming a kaleidoscope in my head.

When my wife asked what the book was about – and it took ten minutes to describe it to her – I knew I was in serious trouble.

"Isn't there a way to simplify it?" she said.

"Oh, there is," I said.

It's not the death penalty, but it's close: I stopped and started again, writing the story from only the third-person, limited point of view of Peyton Cote. It wasn't an easy decision, especially since Destiny's Pawn is told, successfully, from the point of view of several characters. However, the narrative structure of Destiny's Pawn – using multiple points of view – was dictated by the story itself: Simply put, Peyton cannot realistically have access to information the reader needs for the book to hold up. But book four is a different story, one that can be told from Peyton's perspective. So I've climbed out of the wrong rabbit hole, and the book is going well. (It's due, after all, Sept. 1, so it has to go well.)

Writers face many choices when we begin a book (or even get 50 pages in). Some choices are predictable. Others come at you sideways. But any choice a writer makes must benefit the work itself. As Hemingway said, novel writing "is architecture, not interior decoration."

Wednesday, June 08, 2016

People Are People

Sybil here. I returned from a short vacation with my brain clearer and notes from my editor on book 3 waiting for me in my inbox. As always, I appreciate her insights and, as always, I groan when she tells me about continuity errors that I should have caught and are, of course, obvious when pointed out. So now I’m busy reworking A PALETTE FOR MURDER, moving a few scenes around, working on my characters, fixing plot holes that somehow I didn’t notice. No matter how much effort I put into it, there’s always something that sneaks through, probably because after awhile you lose all perspective on your own work. That’s why I love my editor. She may not tell me what I want to hear, but she always makes the story better.

When I’m not writing, one of the things I do is study Ancient Egyptian with a group of like-minded people, something I’ve been doing for 20 years or so. This week we started translating texts known as Letters to the Dead. These are texts that span the period of the Late Old Kingdom (about 2686-2181 BC) to the late New Kingdom (about 1550-1069 BC).

The letters are written to dead relatives asking them to intercede on a still living person’s behalf to address a problem or right a wrong. The letter we started looking at this week was written on a pottery bowl and found in a tomb dated to Late Old Kingdom to First Intermediate Period.

On the outside of the bowl is a letter from Shepsi to his mother, Iy; on the inside is a letter to his father, Iinekhenmut. This letter was written in hieratic, not the hieroglyphs most people are used to, probably by a scribe hired to do the work. This is the text on the inside of the bowl.

Apparently, Shepsi is having a bit of a property dispute and he believes his dead brother is interfering with his ability to get all of his father’s property. He reminds good old dad that he said “All my property shall remain with my son Shepsi.” And he tells his father that he buried his brother properly, but he’s still having problems. Basically, he’s asking his dead father to intervene in the afterlife, at the court of the underworld, to put an end to the problem. Even though this was written over 4000 years ago, you can still feel the frustration radiating off of the bowl. Shepsi has done everything he should do, he’s been a good son and brother, and he’s still having problems!

What does this have to do with writing, you say? I think it serves as a reminder that people are people no matter when they lived. Our world may look completely different from Ancient Egypt but, really, we’re all still the same creatures. Something that’s good for a writer to remember.

Poor Shepsi, I wonder if he ever got his dispute settled to his satisfaction.

Tuesday, June 07, 2016

A "State of the Union" on e-books

by Rick Blechta

I've been meaning to write this post for a few weeks, but unfortunately, family issues have kept that from happening. Sorry about the missing/poor posts of the past few weeks, but that's the way it goes sometimes.

But I'm back today and have something really interesting in the print versus e-book world. First, you have a reading assignment (and if you're interested in this sort of topic, then I guarantee it won't be onerous!): How-apple-and-big-publishers-pushed-e-books-toward-failure.

Who would have thunk it? For a few years now, everyone in the book industry has been trumpeting or mourning the death of paper books – depending on whose side of the fence you're on – and now it seems that paper and e are finding their natural levels in the marketplace. It's not as if everyone was letting this happen naturally. Publishers and retailers were all trying to manipulate how book commerce was going to proceed. The courts certainly had a lot of do with what has been shaking down, but I'm willing to bet that if left alone, purchasers of books would have done a fine job by themselves in sorting out how these two ways of consuming reading would operate and what market share they would have as things went forward.

As for price, that's a different matter and the way this all has come to a head. Retailers and producers have always worked – both separately and in concert – to set the price of what the public buys. It's only natural that both these entities would want to control prices absolutely. Amazon is certainly within its writes to set whatever retail price it wants, just as publishers should be allowed to set their price. The rub comes when the retailer (in this case Amazon) tries to unilaterally dictate the wholesale price to producer (in this case publishers) in a take-it-or-leave-it scenario. That's where the whole thing breaks down. I find it almost astounding that Amazon decided to back down, considering the stranglehold they have on book sales of any kind. I'm sure it's all driven by dollars and cents as it always is.

The fact that Apple decided to carry on the fight even as the Big 5 publishers settled with Amazon and the Supreme Court forced the issue by declining to hear the case as much as would have been the case had they decided to hear it and render a decision.

So, as is always the case, prices will continue to go up (which is the normal order of commerce) and you can be sure at the end of the day that the consumer and the author (the real producers in publishing) will be getting the short end of the stick. But no matter what...

Monday, June 06, 2016

Making a Difference

 By Vicki Delany

I sometimes think that as fiction writers we don’t really make much of a difference in people’s lives, or have any significant impact.

When I look at my own reading, I can identify a handful of books that had an impact on me. Lord of the Rings, The Crystal Cave, Keeping Watch by Laurie R. King. The early V.I. Warshawski books by Sara Paretsky.. To Kill a Mockingbird (and for that reason alone I have not, and will not read the supposed new Harper Lee Book).

And that’s pretty much it. I like to read, I read a lot, and I read a variety of books.  But they don’t affect my life or my way of thinking.  For that, I’d mainly list non-fiction books.  The one that really had a huge impact on my entire view of the world is March of Folly by Barbara W. Tuchman (Many years ago I worked on a friend’s political campaign for MP.  She won, and I gave her that book.

I write books and my goal is to entertain people and if they get a little insight into another way of living or thinking (or, as in More Than Sorrow, an entirely different way of seeing history) more the better.

But it’s not my goal.

Last week I had the honour of attending the Ontario Library Association’s literacy convention luncheon. The Golden Oak Award for adult literacy book was being given out.  There were eight shortlisted books including my Juba Good (from Orca Book’s Rapid Reads imprint).

Each book and attending author was introduced by one of the literacy students.

The young woman who introduced me, and talked about how much she loved Juba Good, told us it was the sixth book she’d read.


Think about that.  She was perhaps in her mid-twenties and in her entire life she had read SIX books.  (She was, BTW, English speaking, so it wasn’t just a matter of reading in a new language.)

Wow! I thought. I really did have an impact.

Friday, June 03, 2016

Now or Later

Barbara's post on Wednesday reminded me again that I shall never a pantser be. Every time another writer describes the process of plunging in and powering through a first draft, I am stunned. Well, not as much as I used to be. But I am still struck by how different our processes are when it comes to writing a book. 

I think of myself as a hybrid, falling between pantsers and plotters in my approach. But the truth is, even though I don't put every scene down on paper before beginning, I do have a mental outline. That outline in my head evolves and changes as I get to know my characters. I need to know my characters pretty well before I can begin to write. I need to know what motivates them. I may be wrong, but I need to believe I know why they are about to do what I expect them to do. Of course, sometimes as I learn more, they do something I didn't expect. In fact, that often happens. But I set out with the sense that I know what is going to happen and why.

Instead of plunging in, I try out scenes in my head. I have gotten better at this over the years. But it is still a lengthy process. I have been trying to get past the first couple of scenes in my 1939 thriller for months. I thought the opening scene would be at Lincoln Memorial on Easter Sunday. While I was at a writers retreat in Vermont last summer, I dashed off that first scene to share during our evening reading. I thought I would be able to move on from there. I had introduced my protagonist. I had introduced his foe. We were ready to be off and running. But here I am, months later, writing and rewriting that scene.

I've mentioned before that I need to warm up before I can begin to write. That first fifty pages that I write over and over. But this has been something different. Even though I thought I was beginning the book in the right place, it felt wrong. I tried going back to the train station and showing my protagonist, a sleeping car porter, rushing to get to Marian Anderson's concert. Stopping to help a woman find her grandchild in the crowded station, trying to get a taxi, arriving late and finding himself in the back of the crowd. Seeing his antagonist. . .

I thought I had it when I wrote that scene. It took me two tries and two failures to launch to realize that opening was wrong, too.

Then a few days ago it came to me. A scene involving my villain that was directly related to the title of the book and that neither he nor I saw coming. What happened scared us both silly. If my villain is on his own "hero's journey," he is now committed to his path. And that elevates the encounter with my protagonist at Lincoln Memorial -- an encounter that I can write from my protagonist's point of view with no words spoken between them. 

I think it's going to work. It feels right. But I still haven't put it down on paper because what happens in my new first chapter has given me information that I didn't have before about my villain.

A pantser would plunge forward. I'm deliberating. Hybrids and plotters are more prone to edit as we go along. To edit before we even start to write. To edit as we are writing. That doesn't suck the life out of the story for me. But it does mean that the first draft does take forever to finish.

On the other hand, when I write "the end,"there are revisions left to do but no major rewrites. My revision process begins with the chapter summaries I wrote as I was doing my preliminary work. I compare what I expected to happen in my book to what actually happened. I often do an outline of the first draft so I can look for gaps and gaffes. After a read-through I'm ready to send the first draft to my beta readers. I need to send it away so that I can take a break and let the manuscript set before I plunge into revisions. . . assuming I have the time to do that. The downside of taking so long to get started is that one has less time if a deadline is looming.

But I can't do it any other way. I need to ponder and back track and stare at the wall for days and weeks and months before I can start. I need to edit as I go. I think it has much to do with personality. Spontaneity is not my middle name. But I do enjoy planning.

It seems to come down to now or later. Crawl along, cleaning up as you go and tidy up later. Or, plunge in, get a first draft and then do a major clean-up. No getting around it. However we do it, writing a decent book requires writing and revising. Now or later.

Thursday, June 02, 2016

Why Writers Need Help

I, Donis, am currently fiddling and tweaking endlessly on my twenty-ninth draft. My books are only finished when they are finally in print and I can no longer get my hands on them. Like Barbara (see her excellent entry, below), I am also a micro self-editor. I want my manuscripts to be as good as I can make them before anyone, even my spouse, gets a look at them. The only problem with this, I find, is that after about the fifteenth draft, I completely lose any perspective I ever had and really have no idea if what I am writing is good or not. Did I make it better when I changed the word understood to comprehended? Is Character A any more convincing as a blond than he was as a redhead? Should the dog really have buried the spoon? Or should it have been the three-year-old who buried the dish. Maybe the three-year-old should have buried the dog and the dish run away with the spoon.

This is why presses have professional editors. There is no writer who does not benefit from judicious editing. Not Steven King, not Gillian Flynn, not Earnest Hemingway, not William Shakespeare. Once upon a time I saw a television interview with a Very Famous Author, several of whose books have been made into movies. This woman is big, I tell you. So big that at this point in her career, she has complete editorial control over her books. I know this because she told the interviewer, “I never let anybody edit my books.”

At the time I had just read her most recent book; a thousand-page tome that rambled around like the Mississippi River and was just as muddy. “Madam,” I said to the television, “you may wish to rethink that position.”

Practically every time I submit a manuscript, my editor points out some flaw in the story that seems so obvious to me that I slap myself on the forehead and slink away to stew in my own humiliation for a few hours. Why hadn’t I seen that gaping omission? In fact I probably created it myself when I removed an entire scene while I was working on draft number twenty.

I have never written a book that came out as well on paper as I envisioned it in my head. But once the book is published, if I put it aside for a year or two before I look at it again, I see it with new eyes. Considering how much I suffered when I wrote the dang thing, I’m amazed at how well it turned out.

Wednesday, June 01, 2016

Editing yourself, Part One

Barbara here. It's Wednesday morning, the sun is shining, the birds are singing, the grass is nearing the six inch mark, and the weeds are happily choking out every semblance of a real flower in my gardens. And I've got a book to work on. So I hope this is going to be a short post.

As usual, my Type M blogmates have provided the inspiration for today's thoughts, which are along the lines of NOW THAT I'VE WRITTEN THE SUCKER, HOW DO I MAKE MY BOOK BETTER?  From Vicki's tale about the man who accosted her at a book signing with his self-published book under his arm to Aline's story about the joys of rejection letters to John's listing of Chandler's ten commandments for the detective novel and Marco's experience on the editorial side of the table, these posts all address the hard work involved in transforming an incoherent, soggy first draft into the best book it can be.

Some authors, especially those at the beginning of their (often short) careers, think that first draft is the best it can be. Others, often mid-career authors, fiddle and tweak endlessly with the twenty-ninth draft, always finding one more thing they can improve. I know many authors, myself included, who edit their already published novels on the fly during public readings. Oh damn, that's a useless word, or That doesn't make sense like that! Most of the time, a book can be made even better with a little more tightening, a little more enrichment, a little more focus ...

It's a long road from the first draft to the final brilliant product, there is no roadmap, and there is no triumphant THE END sign at your destination. Usually it's a deadline. At the moment I am standing at the beginning of that journey, staring out across the field, and contemplating the long slog ahead. Being a pantser, I have written this novel without a clear plan or outline, exploring where it would go next and wondering whether it would ever come together to a proper end. Now it has, sort of, but I have about 90,000 words of plot holes, missing, inconsistent or irrelevant characters, characters who have morphed from good guy to bad guy, ragged timelines (Wait, it is still Tuesday? or my favourite OMG, it's Sunday, they won't be open/working.), and settings that are missing in action for entire scenes.

The first task is to fix all that, the best I can, by myself. Before another soul sees it. Critiquing groups, beta readers, editors, and agents can't see this mess; they wouldn't be able to see the gem at the centre of it all, let alone polish it to perfection, until I have done the best I can to fix it up. How, I ask? In this week's blog I will talk about this initial macro-self-editing process, and in my next post two weeks from now, I will talk about finer editing, "on screen" vs. "hard copy" editing, and the value of fresh eyes in the form of other readers.

Each writer has their own technique for rewrites, each with its merits, so I will just describe mine. I am from the pre-computer era, so much of my process is old-fashioned. I write my first draft longhand, producing a scribbled, scratched out jumble full of arrows and "insert here" notes all around the edges of the pages. When I can't remember where I was or have reached a stalemate in the story, I transcribe this material onto the computer in Word. I know there are writing software programs out there, but it took me long enough to figure out Word after being forced to relinquish the much more writer-friendly but now defunct WordPerfect, and I think all the whistles and prompts and sidebars of fancier software programs would crowd my brain. I don't like structure or rules; I just want to free-flow.

It's during this transcription process that the first rewrites occur. I add, subtract, enrich, and clarify the text on the fly. Plus, I open an additional Word file called "Notes on ..." and if the fix is too complicated or I can't think how to fix it, I note my ideas in this file, along with other plot or character ideas that I think of as I go along. In this fashion I chug through the first draft, forging ahead in longhand and then transcribing it and adding notes to my burgeoning file, so that by the time I reach the end of the book, the computer version is not too far behind and I have pages of notes waiting for me to address in future rewrites.

Once I reach the end, I finally know what the story is about, who did the crime(s) and how the story is resolved. So a lot of the huge plot holes and character problems are self-evident. Some of my concerns and potential solutions in my "Notes on ..." file are now irrelevant, but I read through them all, pick out the gems, refine them, and brainstorm new ideas on how to fix the book. The whole of the book needs to be in my head, along with the potential solutions, so that I can juggle and adjust it as a whole. One cannot do this initial macro-editing piecemeal; the book has to be worked on as a whole. This is a huge brain exercise that I'm hoping will go some ways to staving off Alzheimers. Plots and subplots and characters oh my!

Once I have this pile of notes, I start to read the novel on screen, incorporating as many of these adjustments, insertions and deletions as I can, as well as fixing the obvious typos and minor inconsistencies that jump out. Often at this point, to help my poor brain out, I write an outline with a word or two describing each scene, to help me see the flow. This often leads to further adjustments as the plot holes and problems leap out at me.

Once I have done this initial massaging to fix the major plot holes and character problems, I print the whole thing and begin a more intensive rewrite on hard copy. I'm still looking at the overall picture, adjusting characters and pacing, elaborating and clarifying, but the smaller details often jump out as I go along. I may go through several print versions as they become too messy to focus on.

At a certain point in these reprints, I will tackle the timeline, to ensure consistencies in time of day and day of week, setting, weather, etc. I will label the beginning of each scene with those details, and fix whatever problems I uncover. Sometimes this leads to interesting new twists, for example if I discover one day is forty hours long, so the action has to be split into two days, or has to take place in the dark, etc.

Besides plot holes and problems in character and timeline, tying up loose ends is another crucial part of the rewrites. I keep a special little note in my file of the things that need to be resolved or explained in the denouement. As much as possible, I try to integrate these into the story as it unfolds, so I don't end up with thirty pages of explanation at the end of the book.

In reality, there is no clear line between macro and micro-editing, but the key thing is to fix the bigger problems before working on the finer details. In my next blog, I will tackle the latter, and also the uses and abuses of beta readers. Meanwhile, I'd like to hear from other writers. what is your process, and do you have a writing or editing software program that really helps?