Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Stalking the Typo Gremlin

by Janis Patterson

Whether for traditional or self-publishing, all professional writers strive mightily to turn out a perfect product - or at least they should. Most of what the world knows about us comes from our work, and as professionals we should work to make sure there are no (or let's be realistic - as few as possible) errors. Nothing screams 'amateur!' more than misspelled words, bad punctuation, typos and worse grammar.

However, as in all good stories, there is an antagonist who is constantly stirring up conflict. As I cannot call him what I want to in a place where children might see, I gave him the appellation the Typo Gremlin. This malign little entity simply adores to throw typos into anything that has words. And he seems unconquerable.

Back in my magazine editing days, the Typo Gremlin had a field day. When I took over all our magazines had the reputation of being sloppy - typos and grammar errors abounded. As this was my first gig as EiC (Editor in Chief, or as I sometimes called it Editor in Chaos) I was going to change that. Setting up rigorous protocols I was determined to hunt the Typo Gremlin and his partner in disruption the Grammar Grinch to extinction.

Well, I didn't. In spite of every page being proofed by at least two people besides me and no board being released to the printer without my signature those two sneaky little critters still managed to put in a fingerprint or two - but, I am proud to say, nothing like the rampages they had inflicted before.

At a writers' meeting not long ago I talked to an aspirant writer who told me that during his insurance days he was the coordinator for writing a new kind of policy. As this was the initial time out for this particular policy and it was a legal document, he was extra-careful that all the i's were dotted and the t's crossed. He not only proofed the document several times himself, he had others in his department and the legal department go through it multiple times until it was certified as clean and could be sent to the printer where a bazillion copies were run off. Then - after bales of policies were sent to offices around the country - and only then did they find a whacking great typo - not in the scads of 'tiny type' body copy, but in one of the main headings. The Typo Gremlin's laughter was practically audible.

When I left the magazine world and went back to traditional publishing, I was still a terror, being notorious for sending edited manuscripts back with corrections on what the editor had done/suggested. The day of the hyper-vigilant professional editor like the late, great Maxwell Perkins is on the wane if not already dead. Those giants of the written word are far too quickly being replaced by fresh-out-of-the-egg college graduates with vague English degrees and in some smaller houses even other writers who may or who may not be published, resulting in edits of widely varying quality. My personal prejudice is that I have trouble trusting my career to someone when I have shoes older than they are.

Now I am pretty much self-publishing my novels, but the dreadful duo of the  Typo Gremlin and Grammar Grinch still dog my footsteps. Case in point, a book I released not long ago - a book that has had no fewer than two professional editors, my own repeated scrutiny and at least four extremely literate beta readers - changed the heroine's name for one mention in the middle of the book. Not just a simple letter reversal or a mild misspelling, but changing one name for another, albeit a similar one. One big point to the Typo Gremlin...

Popular wisdom seems to tend toward the belief that if you cannot defeat an enemy, you should make them your friend. Maybe that works in international politics (though I am somewhat skeptical) but for me, at least, it will never do with either the Typo Gremlin or the Grammar Grinch. It is, as far as I am concerned, an ongoing battle to the death. Words are our livelihood; we should display them in the best form possible.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Giving Editing Tips to Middle Schoolers

Because I've been writing in /Facebook about re-editing all my Rocky Bluff P.D. mysteries, a middle school teacher I know told her class. They were amazed that a published writer would do so much editing. Frum that came the email asking me if I'd visit the class and talk about editing.

Of course, I will be there today.

I made up a hand-out--rather simplified editing tips. I'll expand on them as I talk depending upon how interested they are.

Watch out for overuse of a word such as that, just, very, etc.

Use descriptive action verbs instead of look, walk. Think what the person is doing and the best way to describe it.

For dialogue, use an action or description instead of he said or she said.  Examples:

Billy kicked off his shoes. “No, I’m not going anywhere with you.”

Karen flipped her long blonde hair behind her shoulders. “Okay, but I’m going with or without you.”

Be sure to stay in whatever tense you use—past or present. (Frankly, I think present tense is really hard to do well.)

Choose whether you are going to use third person or first person as to who is telling the story. First person is the easiest:

I knew when I stepped inside the door of the house I might be greeted by ghosts. (First person,
past tense.)

However, the “I” person can’t know what anyone else is thinking, only guess. This is the same for third person too.

Jason could tell by the expressions on his parents’ faces that something was wrong. (Or you could describe their expressions.) If Jason is the one telling the story, he can only guess what others are thinking.

Be sure that a pronoun refers to the last person mentioned.

Start a new paragraph anytime a new person speaks or does something.

When choosing names from your characters, be careful that they don’t all start with the same letter, rhyme, or sound too much alike.

Don’t use too many explanation points! Instead, make sure what is said is exclamatory enough.

Don’t repeat information you’ve already given. And don’t have one character tell another something they already know.

Be careful not to start every paragraph with the same word.

Vary your sentence structure, some short sentences (especially for action), longer for descriptions.

One thing I always do when I talk to kids is try to make them laugh. And of course, I'll answer all their questions.


Tuesday, February 6, 2018

A Few Odd Ball Tidbits About My Writing Life

As I've reported, some of my older books have been self-published (with lots of help from a friend.) Those books are bringing in more royalties each month then I received most of the time quarterly from publishers. (Of course, to be fair, it's several books.)

The one that is selling the best is not a mystery, but a cook book that I wrote years ago. That has been a big surprise.

Of course, a certain amount of promotion has gone into letting people know about all these re-edited and re-pubbed books. Definitely a regular part of my writing life.

Because I now have a new publisher for the Rocky Bluff P.D. mystery series, I've been going over and re-editing each book--and I'm now on #10 in the series. Besides making needed corrections, I've also learned a lot about the characters that I've forgotten.

I decided it was time that my webpage get decluttered and my webmaven did a terrific job. Check it out: http:/ / In the process I realized I've now written over 40 books, and nearly all have been published.

Because of the extra work, I'm woefully behind in writing my next Deputy Tempe Crabtree mystery. All I have so far is the first two sentences.

My calendar is beginning to fill with public appearances--that's always good and something I like to do.

However other events are also filling my calendar. One biggie is this week when I'll be attending the annual PSWA board meeting where we'll not only be taking care of business, but plans for the July conference will be finalized. More about that on my next blog post.This is my favorite writers' conference. You can check it out at  This meeting is held for 4 days in Ventura--one of the places they had a devastating fire.

I try to attend as many meetings of the San Joaquin chapter of Sisters in Crime as possible. Besides seeing all my friends, I often get idea for my books from the speakers. I've noticed that I'm one of the only writers attending who takes notes. I've often wondered about that.

We've scheduled a mini-vacation in April, a much needed visit to see our eldest daughter and family in the Murrieta/Temecula area.

In May I'm going over to the coast to be a part of the Central Coast Sisters in Crime chapter writing conference. Looking forward to that too, love visiting the coast and seeing good friends.

I'm sure I've forgotten something, but you get the idea--my writing life is busy.


Monday, February 5, 2018

Make Mine Mystery

Linda Kane

February 5, 2015
Making it a Goal to be Happy!

So many people get caught up in what they think will make them happy but, in my opinion, this is where the fail. Happiness is not about doing its about being.
If you allow yourself to be in that moment, happiness will follow.
The world would be a better place if we chased our dreams and fulfilling our potential. I’m extremely fortunate that my husband has always supported my dream of being first, a real estate agent, broker, a college student, a person with a degree in communicative disorders, a counselor, and a psychologist, an equestrian, artist, and now an author. I’m not tooting my own horn by any means. I’m just letting you know what my husband has put up with so I can fulfill my dreams. And I have to say, I’m very happy…even when I get rejected, I know I just have to figure out why and fix it.
Here are five quotes to think about on your journey to happiness:
5. “Rules of happiness, something to do, Someone to love, Something to hope for.” –Immanuel Kant
4. “The secret of happiness is freedom; the secret of freedom is courage.” –Thucydiels.
3. True happiness comes from the joy of deeds well done, the zest of creating something new.” –Dillip Bathja
2. Happiness is not a state to arrive at, but a manner of traveling.” –Margaret Lee Runsbeck.
1.    My favorite: “Folks are usually about as happy as they make their minds up to be.” -Abraham Lincoln.

 Linda L. Kane MA in Education, PPS, School Psychologist, and Learning Disability Specialist, is the author of Death on the Vine, Chilled to the Bones and an upcoming release of the The Black Madonna. She lives with her husband, three dogs, one bird, and eight horses in California.

Monday, January 29, 2018


Jana Jae, television star and world-famous violinist and fiddler, read my novel "Music to Die For," and wrote to me a few weeks ago: "I LOVED reading your book with so many parallels to my music career experiences! The mystery kept me reading on and on."

All careers, maybe especially those of the artist, have ups and downs--sometimes even heartbreaking moments, but this sort of thing?  WOW.

Writing is a very personal art, along with painting, sculpting, and creating music--as Jana Jae does. Others would say creative cooking, crafts, and much more are arts, and I won't quarrel with that. In fact, maybe the work of a good auto mechanic could be named art. But now I'm thinking about the idea art that depends on one individual's ideas being born into words. Many authors, including myself, have looked back over a page of their writing and thought, "Gee, that's good, so beautiful, so expressive. Did I . . . did I really write that?  And then we look into our own hearts and accept the personal praise, though we rarely speak it to others. For at least a time, though, we know we are creating art.

However, if it is not to die before blooming, artistic expression needs acceptance and praise from others. Initially, maybe, from members of a critique group, an agent, a publisher. Then, eventually, when our words sail out into the world, we hope for more acceptance and praise from reviewers and the reading public. Probably that is the most important form of payment for art.

I've been writing for publication since the 1980's and enjoyed acceptance by magazine and newspaper publishers, but I did not become a full-time writer until more than ten years later. A salaried career dominated until then. Finding a publisher for my first book, the non-fiction "Dear Earth: A Love Letter from Spring Hollow" did not come immediately, but comments from publishers were often full of praise before the ..."but" explanation for rejection, and within a year I had an acceptance. My hard-cover book was released in New York in 1995.  Many authors followed a similar path in the days before wide availability of self-publishing.

And now?  After the publication of eight more books--mystery novels--praise from readers is still the best pay. (See the first paragraph.)  To know that others are sharing the creative ideas we gave birth to is one of the best gifts writers are given.  Unknown people from many unknown places sometimes take the time to write and give us the gift of their praise, God bless them!

And that's a gift we hold in our hearts forever.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Rediscovering Audiobooks

by Linda Thorne

I lived in a little town called Hanford in the Central Valley of California from July 2002 until May of 2007. During the first few years I was unemployed, read a lot of books, and then decided to write a book. I had written the first draft of Just Another Termination in 2005 when I was offered a job in human resources at a Kraft Foods plant in Visalia, California, 23 miles from my home. With a 46-mile round trip commute, audiobooks popped into my mind as a way to continue reading while adding some fun to an otherwise boring drive. Even though I wasn’t literally reading the audiobooks, they helped improve my writing skills as much as the paperbacks and hardbacks did.

The job lasted two years until the plant closed its doors in 2007. I went through many audio tapes during that period of time. My favorite was The Long Lavender Look written by John McDonald
and narrated by one of my favorite actors (now deceased), Darren McGavin. I listened to that audiobook many times over.

My husband’s five year contract job ended a few months before the Kraft Foods plant in Visalia closed, so we moved out of state looking for a home and jobs somewhere in the Deep South. We ended up in Nashville, Tennessee and soon I had another job in human resources. My drive to work was a short eleven miles, with mild traffic. I thought I could pick up where I’d left off listening to audiobooks on my way to and from work, but the commute was just too short to get into them. That job lasted nine years before being eliminated in a company-wide reorganization. I found a new job last summer, in downtown Nashville, where traffic is horrible. It’s a little farther each way, but with the traffic it’s at least an hour getting to work and getting home – sometimes longer.

It had been so long since I’d played audiobooks, I’d totally forgotten about them until my husband asked me what I wanted for this past Christmas. That got me thinking. Soon, I’d pulled up the memory and wondered why I hadn’t thought of it earlier. Of course, I thought, audiobooks, the perfect cure for a long and boring commute.

Some people say you’re not really reading a book if you listen to it in audio. To me, it feels like I’ve read the book. Sometimes I think I retain more. Also, being busy at my fairly new job, I lack the time and energy to sit and read in a relaxed state. I get stuck on sections and feel I’m working to get through them, something that doesn’t happen to me when I’m listening to the narration.

So I have been listening to audiobooks since Christmas, something I haven’t done in almost ten years. My favorite current book is The Life We Bury by Allen Eskens and read by Zach Villa. I highly recommend it.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Why We Write Mysteries

by Janis Patterson

Someone once asked me if I had ever seen a psychiatrist. When I could close my mouth again, I said of course not, and asked why he would ask me such a question. He replied that I spent a great deal of time planning how to kill people, and wasn't that a sign of homicidal pathology?

Well, I didn't say or do what I really wanted to, but I did start thinking. As part of the front credit crawl on the old TV show Castle a voice over states "...there are two kinds of people who spend their days plotting murder - psychopaths and mystery writers." (Quoted from memory, and not guaranteed to be absolutely accurate, but it's pretty close.)

Accurate or not, it's true. It really shocked me exactly how much time I do spend thinking about ways to do away with my fellow men. I remember once stopping a dinner party absolutely dead (no pun intended) when I chortled with glee after a scientific friend told me how to weaponize simple table salt! (It's complicated and requires special circumstances, but it can be done. Tee-hee!) The Husband can always tell when something (usually murderous) has ticked over in my brain, because according to him I "get this really weird look on my face, and then I smile with satisfaction..." His words, not mine. I hate to think I had such an obvious tell. Anyway, my friends, even the ones who aren't mystery writers, have apparently become accustomed to this phenomenon.

So what does this have to do with why we write mysteries? I think it's because of a need deep within us. A need of what? Well, that varies with the writer. Some of us are dedicated to promulgating the idea that justice will prevail and evil-doers will be punished. Others like the solve-the-puzzle aspect, and murder usually presents the highest stakes. Still others are fascinated with the workings of the criminal and the detective mind. I'm sure there are other reasons, probably as many as there are mystery readers.

I do know that for one mystery writer (me) it's an exercise in mental health and obeying the law. You see, every villain and/or murderer that I have dragged to justice has been at least partially inspired by someone who has at one time or another angered me. It's really quite healthy for everyone - I can off anyone I want in the nastiest ways possible and if the first time doesn't work, I can do it again; no one gets hurt; and I get paid for doing it. Win-Win-Win!