Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Repetitive Repetition

A friend of mine told me that after her first book was published, and she read it, she was mortified over the number of times she had used a certain phrase. One "bear of a man" would have been enough, but she found it three times.

The first time I recall seeing the description "fisted", I was instantly enamoured. The author used it once in that book. I know because once I fall in love with something, I don't fall out of love very easily. A subsequent book by the same author used the word three times. It bugged me.

Within the last couple of months, I read a book by a best-selling writer. It was actually my first by this novelist, and it won't be my last . . . but. "Fisted" appeared eight times in the book. Eight. Someone should take the editor by his or her editorial lapels and give them a good shake. That kind of repetition is unacceptable. Even a best-selling author deserves a little attention, don't you think?

There are certain words or phrases we get mesmerized by, and need to put on our Watch List.

Do you have any?

CR: Through the Cracks by Barbara Fister.

It's all better with friends.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Aquiver Over Queries

I just hit Send on my fourth agent query. At the precise moment my finger depressed the key on my computer, I wanted to whip my hand back and take another look. What if I hadn't done something the agent expressly mentioned on their website? What if I had a typo? An embarrassing grammatical gaffe? What if it wasn't good enough—first impressions and all that.

And then there's this . . . (shhh, don't tell anyone), but even though that manuscript, that story, is pretty good, the one I'm working on now? Well, there's no comparison. It makes me almost want to apologize. But the thing is? My plan is that every manuscript I write will be better than the one that preceded it.

Some of you aren't to the querying stage yet, others of you are long past it. But I'm pretty sure you can remember the veil of angst and doubt that poured over you when you began.

Have you ever considered that if God had let you in on some of the things that were going to happen in your life you'd be tempted to abdicate? I mean, yeah, the good things? Bring them on. And tell me about them from the get-go. I live for those off-the-charts moments of incredulity and awe. Giggles are good. Guffaws are better.

But the vulnerable moments? The times when you feel like you are the silhouette on the target at the firing range? The times when you go from safe and nameless and never-before-rejected to publicly asking to be shot down? Enter the query stage.

Sorry if I'm bursting the bubbles of anyone who thinks that just because they finish the thing there's an automatic bump to publication. I guess one of the reasons I'm here is to put a little dose of reality into your lives, as unwelcome as it might be.

Be proud that you finished a manuscript. That alone puts you into an elite group of people. But now, you have to suck it up and turn your heart away from creativity to business. Not always and easy thing to do.

I've learned, in the last few days, that I need to psyche myself up to putting the query in the mailbox, or hitting the Send button. It's all a process.

And James Scott Bell once said that every time we move a step up the ladder is a good thing. Even better? He assures me I can't go backwards.

Can you relate?

CR: Caught by Harlan Coben.

It's all better with friends.

Monday, June 21, 2010

The Writing Spirit

I have writing friends who, after a certain amount of rejection, pulled their necks into their shells and turned out the lights. I'm hoping and praying to see them emerge again, healed however they needed healing—stronger, better equipped to focus on the things that matter.

Others are playing the waiting game while Powers That Be take their own sweet time to make a decision on whether or not they're willing to give a green light to a new project. Still others are taking what they've learned, re-girding their efforts and plowing ahead, immersing themselves in creating something wonderful.

Writers need to write. When our spirit flags, sometimes we need to be reminded to write.

We need to follow our hearts.

CR: Caught by Harlan Coben.

It's all better with friends.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Dangling Whats????

Photo credit: mconnors from

I love words. I love our language. I love punctuation. Three reasons I love what I do.

What I'm not always so good at is putting the things I love together in a grammatically correct fashion. My critique partners will attest to this. To me, a dangling participle and a dingle berry hanging off a dog's behind are pretty much the same thing.

But I'm trying. I really am.

I have Strunk and Strunk & White (I thought they'd be a lot thicker). I have Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss, and I have the 15th Edition of the Chicago Manual of Style which continues to read a bit like a foreign language to me. The CMOS website is pinned to my Top Sites page because usually it can lead me to the page in the manual I need to attempt to decipher.

My ear has always been where I first hear a bell ringing when something's off. That comes from growing up in a home where people spoke often and well. I can usually spot what, I just couldn't always tell you why.

Even though I'm not a whiz at grammar, I love it just as much as I love words and punctuation. When grammar is mangled (via my ear alone) I have to resist a desire to shriek. Phrases that have become acceptable in our daily conversations should be revised or wiped out.

Here's one: "Irregardless . . . " Huh???

Or . . . "Where are you at?"

What, or who, has helped you the most grammatically? Or are you a natural?

Do you have any grammar peeves the rest of us could learn from?

CR: On Edge by Barbara Fister.

It's all better with friends.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

First Lines and Research

I know I've blogged about these topics before, but here I am again . . .

I wrote my first lines for my new manuscript this afternoon. They're down. Until they aren't. But right now, I like 'em. They're a bit dark. A bit gloomy. A bit on the horror side of suspense.

The urge to write more because of my first lines bodes well that a reader will have the urge to read more. I'm happy.

But I've come to a screeching halt because I know I need to get some more research under my belt. It's important that I know the subjects involved in my scene not so I can regurgitate facts in an information dump, but so I can flavor my scene with authenticity. And that means I need to know A LOT, not just a little.

This story is calling out for me to write it. And man, I'm tempted just to go and go and go. But this story is also calling out for me to get it right. So for the rest of the afternoon, and maybe weekend, I'm sinking my teeth into research.

How do you do your research? At the end, like Stephen King? As you go? Or do you get a good deal done before you begin?

Oh, and . . . do you like the new look to the blog? I'm thinking one thing it clearly says is that the spines of books are spaces meant to be used. Kind of like Nate designing a minuscule apartment. Plan well, and wonderful things can be accomplished in a limited space.

CR: On Edge by Barbara Fister.

It's all better with friends.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Deliberate Practice

I'm not sure where I learned about a book called Talent Is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else by Geoff Colvin, but I'm glad I did.

One of the factors that seem to separate the "good enough" from the "great" is something researchers call deliberate practice. I'm trying to figure out what, exactly, deliberate practice is.

Colvin: "It definitely isn't what most of us do on the job every day, which begins to explain the great mystery of the workplace—why we're surrounded by so many people who have worked hard for decades but have never approached greatness. Deliberate practice is also not what most of us do when we think we're practicing golf or the oboe or any of our other interests. Deliberate practice is hard. It hurts. But it works. More of it equals better performance. Tons of it equals great performance."

In the video below, Stephen Cannell tells us what we hear all the time, "Write every day." He even gives a little hint about what might happen with our skill set if we do.

Writing every day isn't an issue for me. Doing the right kind of writing can be. I'm hoping that by studying Talent Is Overrated, I can tap into that well of passion I need in order to do something every day that hurts. If I shoot for the moon, I might at least land among the stars.

CR: On Edge by Barbara Fister

It's all better with friends.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Agent Quest

I've got my list and I'm checking it twice.

Gonna find out which agents are naughty, and which ones are nice.

But seriously . . .

I want to personalize my query letters. Partly because I want a personal relationship (not just a business relationship), and partly because showing that I've done the least little bit of research might set my query apart from the generic slop they must get inundated with every day.

I have 14 agents on my hit list. One of my cp's advises that I probably need 50 (try to envision personalizing 50 query letters to people you don't know personally . . .). The other one landed her agent on her third try.

And I've already mentally revised the first sentence in my query letter. Ugh.

What I'm about to say is snotty and I would never want to be responsible for ripping away someone's dream, but this is my blog so this is my fantasy . . . If all of the writers who haven't studied craft, who haven't done their research, who haven't finished a manuscript, who are ego-centric and/or narcissistic, would just turn their attention to other endeavors (I dunno—Interior Design? Auditioning for American Idol?), the battle for attention might just shift.

A well-balanced (mostly) writer with an open mind for improvement, and a disposition for mission, would simply have to announce the completion of her manuscript—the genre and the word-count—and agents would be sitting on her Internet Doorstop waiting to make (me) an offer. They'd be bearing flowers and chocolate and fine, red wine.

Wouldn't that be cool?

And I really, really want to get back to my next project. Although this agent quest is necessary, it's a bit of a distraction.

Advice, anyone?

CR: The Neighbor by Lisa Gardner.

It's all better with friends.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Judging a Book By its Cover

Sheila Lowe brings a level of authenticity to her series surrounding handwriting expert, Claudia Rose. Lowe has more than 35 years of experience in the field of handwriting analysis, and is recognized as an expert in the California Court system.

I recently submitted a sample of my own handwriting to Sheila to use (or not use) in an upcoming book. It was rather like allowing someone to peek in my underwear drawer—a personal place where I hide my secrets from the world. I have to admit I was a little relieved that because she'd received so many samples, she didn't do any in-depth sleuthing. Phew!

Her fourth book,
Last Writes, and the subject of this post (sort of) is available for pre-order through Amazon or your local independent book store.

When NAL picked up my first mystery novel, Poison Pen, my editor and I took a walk around the dealer’s room at Malice Domestic. I pointed out covers that I liked and, more important, those that I didn’t, so that she could guide the art department when they were preparing my cover. I write novels of psychological suspense about a forensic handwriting expert whose entry into criminal investigations comes through her clients; I guess you could call them “medium boiled.” Claudia Rose’s cases sometimes end up in court with her presenting testimony as an expert witness, so it seemed logical that my covers should look more like The Firm than The Cat Who....

Eventually, the cover art came for Poison Pen with what I learned was the standard note: “Here’s your new cover, we hope you love it as much as we do.” The artwork suggested a desert locale done in crimson and tan, and featured a magnifying glass and a fountain pen inscribed with the text: “Forensic Handwriting Mysteries.” I’d been thinking a courthouse, or maybe a forensic lab, but was thankful they hadn’t put a quill pen on the cover. After studying it for a couple of hours, I really liked it (hey, I was being published by one of the biggest houses in the world, what’s not to like?!).

Written in Blood, book two, had a blue-hued cover that also offered a clue to one of the locations in the book. It, too, sported a pen and had a similar artistic style to Poison Pen—together, they looked like part of a series. Book three’s cover came in shades of orange and depicted a running woman (no pen this time). To me, she appeared to be fleeing a forest fire in the mountains—a bit of cognitive dissonance—Dead Write is set near Manhattan’s theater district. If you look closely at the cover, you will see a lone taxi on an otherwise empty street. Maybe the artist had never been to Manhattan. Still, the overall style made it part of the series.

And that brings us to book four, set for release on July 6. Some friends who’ve seen the cover think it’s terrific, and it is. But it doesn’t look like part of my series. The cover depicts a stylized modern kitchen with an overturned chair and a cup on the floor, coffee puddling around it. The artwork looks cozy; everyone who’s seen it agrees. Since I write psychological suspense, which is a different sub-genre than cozy and attracts a different set of readers, this cover just didn’t feel like my book.

I’m trying to come up with a way to describe the difference between cozy covers and mystery/suspense covers, but as a non-artist, all I can say is, you just know. Cozies are sometimes described as “fun.” The person who solves the mystery is often an amateur sleuth and the stories usually take place in a small town where everyone knows each other. The bad language is kept to a minimum and the sex and violence take place mostly off the page. Cozy covers seem to reflect traditional values and they tend to either be realistic, depicting people, or done in soft pastels and have drawings of cakes, shops, or flowers, usually portraying the sleuth’s job or the book’s theme.

Like the tales around which they are wrapped, suspense novel covers tend to be darker in hue and in tone. They seem to promise the reader, not lighthearted “fun,” but chills and thrills. There’s less likely to be a human figure on the cover than a location. Or, if there is a figure, it’s most often hazy or ambiguous or menacing.

Cozies are hugely popular, and luckily, there are many crossover readers. But my concern (read that: abject fear) is that readers looking for psychological suspense might overlook the book because they’ll assume from the cover that it’s not their kind of story, and that cozy readers who are attracted by the cover of Last Writes will end up hating it because it’s not what they expect (it’s about a religious cult and the search for a missing three-year-old—not cozy), and they’ll feel ripped off and write rotten reviews. I know, I must have too much time on my hands...

But the fact is, a book is not always what its cover suggests. So even if a cover doesn’t immediately draw you, look inside anyway. Read the first paragraph or the first page and see if the writing grabs you. Give it a chance. My first published book was The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Handwriting Analysis. I got emails from people who said they would never buy a book whose title called them an idiot. I asked them then not to judge the book by its cover, and I do the same here, not just for my books, but as a general reading rule.

So the question I leave you with is this; how does cover art affect your reading choices? Let me know what you think.

Like her character, Claudia Rose, Sheila Lowe is a forensic handwriting expert. She’s also an award-winning author of fiction and non-fiction. and

CR: The Neighbor by Lisa Gardner

It's all better with friends.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Sue Miller Interview

One of the things I really like about this interview is I can watch Sue Miller search for the words she wants to use.

I watched it the first time for her "person", and the wordsearch. A second time for content.

CR: The Neighbor by Lisa Gardner.

It's all better with friends.