Sunday, October 30, 2016

In Praise of Proofreaders by Mar Preston

We’ve all read bestsellers from the five major publishing companies containing errors that jerk you right off the page.  Misspelled words.  Words jammed together.  Missing words.  Not to mention formatting problems and grammatical goofs.

Yet you will look through a book with yellowing pages in vain for these errors.  I remember my mother and the librarian clucking their tongues over a proofreading error found in a book long ago.  Such errors were rarities.  What has happened?  

  • ·         Self-publishing
  • ·         Proofreading costs have risen

  • ·         Shorter attention spans

  • ·         Over-reliance on electronic proofreading programs


            The bottleneck that once existed between writer and publisher – the agent – no longer ferrets out writers who have not polished their work to a high gloss.  It is a hard lesson to realize that you cannot proofread your own work.

Proofreading Costs

            Costs for professional proofreading have risen and can amount to a significant fee, posing a particular problem for many self-publishing authors.  Proofreaders estimate costs by the hour, page, and word.  I’ve read estimates as high as 6 cents per word for fiction. 

Our Attention Spans

            Advertisers calculate that we now have only a 30-second attention span.  We flit like butterflies from one thought to another.  Proofreading requires a laser-like, sustained focus.

Electronic Proofreading Programs

            While proofreading programs such as spell-check provide a good place to start for an initial check of a document, people can develop a false sense of security using such programs.  A careful review by a patient, trained set of eyes is still needed.

Singing the Praises of My New Proofreader, Mary Goss

            I met Mary Goss a few years ago at a Sisters in Crime convention in Long Beach, which she was attending with author friend Dianne Emley.  She has proofread my last two novels, and I was very pleased with her meticulous work.  Over twenty five years of proofreading legal prose has trained her eye and honed her skills.  

            Mary’s advice to writers is to try to get a second set of eyes to read through your manuscript, as it is difficult to spot errors in one’s own work.  If you cannot afford a professional proofreader, find a detail-oriented person who has strong English skills and at least a slight case of OCD.  

            Find beta readers. These are people who have an interest in you and your work and want to see you do well. Beta readers are fans of crime fiction and willing to read the entirety of your best first draft. Beta readers are somewhat similar to your critique group members, but your critique group may have read Chapter IV seventeen times. Beta readers have fresh eyes. Anyone you can hornswoggle into doing this is valuable to some extent, but most valuable will be the reader who can catch glaring errors.

            Now I expect that Mary Goss may have a built-in level of concentration that may be superior to mine or yours.  She admits to a wee bit of OCD, but this quirky quality is a good thing in a proofreader.  She has likely honed her skills as a proofreader over the 25 years that she has been reading court transcripts.  Practicing a skill over decades certainly would make you better at it.

            Mary would like to expand her business to proofread more works of fiction.  Her contact info is:  iphone, 310-508-9476; e-mail,        

            As author Isaac Bashevis Singer has said, “A writer doesn’t die of heart failure, but of typographical errors.”


Check out my webpage for a boxed set of the first four titles in  "Writing Your First Mystery"

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Blood On The Bayou - Bouchercon in New Orleans

by Linda Thorne

What an ideal place for me to attend my first Bouchercon World Mystery Convention last month. The great city of New Orleans.
Above is a picture inside the Marriott - New Orleans on Canal Street where I stayed and where the convention was held. A great location near the Riverwalk and the French Quarter. Harrah's Casino was close by too, but no time for a casino visit this trip.

The first time I saw New Orleans was in early 1995. My husband and I had moved to the Mississippi Gulf Coast, so not far from NOLA. On our first trip we stayed at one of the old boutique hotels close to Bourbon street and immediately fell in love with everything about this city.

Here some of the pics I took last month around the French Quarter.


I'm not sure I can do justice describing the ambience of the place to folks who have never been there.

In 2002 my husband and I moved across country and it was goodbye to New Orleans. This September 2016 Bourchercon visit was the first time I've been back since we left the Mississippi Gulf Coast. I'm happy to report that it looks and feels like the same place we fell in love with. Katrina did her damage and over many years we heard the presumptions that New Orleans would never recover, never come back. I'm glad to report that the soul of the city seemed untarnished, completely alive in the same way it's always been.

My book, Just Another Termination, is set on the Mississippi Gulf Coast with numerous references to New Orleans. I had it stocked for sale at the makeshift bookstore set up by Garden District Book Shop at the convention (front center below). I also donated a number of my books to the Bouchercon Book Bazaar at the convention. I wanted the book available in the region of the country where my story is set.
I got to participate on a panel at the conference called the Continuous Conversation. This went on through the entire convention, with new panelists rotating every fifteen minutes to stay a solid hour. My hour was Thursday afternoon. It was a good time and I stopped in again periodically to hear other authors joining the Continuation Conversation. I attended numerous traditional author sessions too.

Anyone else have some experiences to share about the New Orleans, Blood on the Bayou, Bouchercon? Or New Orleans? I came back muttering the words, "Laissez les bons temps rouler," meaning "let the good times roll."

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Beginnings, Endings and In Between

                                                                                                                  by Janis Patterson

There are few things more wonderful than starting a new book. A whole new world full of promise and excitement beckons, along with a new population of characters who are eagerly anticipating your bringing them to life and giving them directions to a satisfying resolution.

There are few things more terrifying than starting a new book. An unfamiliar and possible dangerous world lies in wait, along with a possibly hostile population of characters who will block and frustrate you at every turn and go their own way no matter what you have planned.

The truly frightening thing is that both statements are absolutely true. Like the Red Queen, it really is possible to believe two absolutely impossible things at the same time.

One of my favorite exercises in masochism is to compare the book that actually got written with the book that was so carefully planned. There are usually, however, a few points of congruency; most of the time, though, they’re two totally different books.

I’ve written at length about how my characters simply will not behave. They walk in, take over and pretty much run things the way they see fit, and perhaps that is rightly so. This is their life I’ve created, and they should have some say in how it works out. On the other hand, so should I, as I am the one who has made all this up, but that doesn’t seem to count. It’s odd, but I have come to believe that perhaps my characters are better writers than I…

Now if I could only find out a way for them to create their own stories, worry with foreshadowing and motivation and plausibility and get the whole thing down in a readable form… Then perhaps while they’re doing that I could go take care of housework and laundry and all else that needs to be done!

I’m not holding my breath, though. In the meantime, I have a new book to begin, a new land to create/explore and a new population to deal with. Maybe this time I will actually get the upper hand. But – like I said, I’m not holding my breath.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

My Offering for Halloween, SPIRIT SHAPES

Though this was supposed to be free, Amazon changed their requirements and it can only have the price lowered, so--

SPIRIT SHAPES will only be .99 cents on Kindle from October 17, through the 22nd.

Ghost hunters stumble upon a murdered teen in a haunted house. Deputy Tempe Crabtree's investigation pulls her into a whirlwind of restless spirits, good and evil, intertwined with the past and the present, and demons and angels at war.


This is one of my favorite books in the Deputy Tempe Crabtree mystery series and certainly a painless way to get acquainted with the series.

As with all the books--the mystery itself is complete. 

One of the main plots is loosely based on something real that happened in the past and was related to me by the person it happened to. However, most of what goes on in the story is strictly fictional. 

I hope you'll give it a try--and pass on the information.


Sunday, October 16, 2016

Escaping Winter

I’m escaping winter in my California mountain village. So I’m looking for a furnished rental place of some kind in Ventura, California.

It’s not so easy because I want to bring my two cats along. Landlords have had bad experiences, and I understand that.

Since I grew up in northern Ontario, I’m well aware this is baby cold. Nonetheless, it bothers me. I’m also looking forward to bright lights, a choice in restaurants, and places to go after dark. Like most villages, everything shuts down here after dark. And there are no streetlights. Sometimes I get tired of my own company, I must admit.

Sooner or later, my plan is to move to Ventura.

Ventura is warm and sweet and there’s somewhere to go after dark.

I’ve made a lot of friends on the California coast through Sisters in Crime. Moving means taking a look at the books I need in my life. I’m a fast reader and go through books way too fast. I’m always scrounging for something to read. Some of my books I want to keep, but which ones?

I mostly read fiction when I read actual books. I read nonfiction online, not that that makes a lot of sense. Since I write crime fiction, the fiction I read is—no surprise—crime fiction. But I’ve collected paperback and hard-bound reference books on police procedure, police science, and forensics. Those I keep.

Most crime fiction novels I read once. Some of them I read all the way through and enjoy. Those I pass on to my mystery reader pals at Sisters in Crime Bakersfield meetings. I go to writers conferences and there are always books available and books for sale. I’m looking at my six book shelves now.

I’m not going to throw out the dictionary my parents bought me when I went away to university, or the Norton Anthology I used in my first English classes. This is where sentiment and nostalgia creeps in.  This must be suppressed ruthlessly. I don’t dare to go through the boxes of photos because of the avalanche of emotion.

When I was young and foolish, I thought that having books on my shelves told the world that I was smart. I don’t care anymore whether people think I’m smart.  That’s a freedom to put books in other people’s hands who will appreciate them now.

Some are going to the English teacher at the nearby correctional institute. Many inmates are poor readers, and using these books as teaching material makes me feel good about giving them away. Our nearest library is 18 miles away. Some will go to the Friends of the Library Sale.

I’m finally giving up my Guide to Literary Agents 2005. Some books don’t have any value to anyone.

You might be curious about the crime fiction novels I've written . Payback is set in the village where I live. The others are set in glitzy Santa Monica.

A sequel to Payback, titled The Most Dangerous Species  is moving slowly through the publication process.  Sign up here for my yearly newsletter and I will notify you when it is released.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Do We Really Need Adverbs?

by Jean Henry Mead

I recall a workshop where the instructor impressed upon his students that each word committed to paper should pull its own weight. And that every unnecessary word needs culling from the plot. He also said that writers should engage readers, not simply enlighten and entertain them. Creating word images that readers can relate to is preferable to forcing them to fill in the blanks. A Ferrari conveys a much stronger image than having a protagonist ride to the rescue on a bicycle.

Strong verbs are necessary to give one's plot a dynamic, energetic tone: words such as massacre instead of kill, horde instead of bunch, or terrorize instead of bullying. And as we’ve all been told, stay away from the verb to be in all its forms because it’s the weakest of words.

Adverbs that end in –ly also weaken prose. On the other hand, strong specific verbs give writing vitality. I’m reminded of my interview with A.B. Guthrie, Jr. who said, “The adjective is the enemy of the noun and the adverb is the enemy of damn near everything else. Writers use too many descriptive words." As for adjectives, author Lois J. Peterson once said, “One well-chosen adjective can be more effective than two or more, which used together might weaken the idea or image.”

Do we really need adverbs? Not unless it's impossible to come up with strong verbs such as substituting rumbled for driving noisily. Culling adverbs in a second draft and replacing them with muscular verbs strengthens a sentence as well as the action.

Word choices affect the plot’s pace. If every symphony movement maintained the same pace, the audience would either be exhausted or asleep before the finale. So writers need to think of themselves as conductors, controlling the pace with word choices, syntax and variety. Long sentences and paragraphs slow the pace and seem introspective while short, choppy sentences are much more dramatic and conducive of action scenes. A good way to keep readers reading is to alternate sentences and paragraphs in a variety of lengths.

Sentence rhythm is also important. By reading one's work aloud before committing it to a final draft, sentence structure flows like an uninterrupted stream of words. Some word choices bring a sentence to an abrupt halt and should be rewritten or replaced along with all unnecessary words. The musical analogy is a good one because sentence flow is so important.

In other words, make every word count and the best choice possible.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Traffic Jams and Dreckers

by Janis Patterson

Last week The Husband and I went to the Novelists Inc. conference in Florida. It was a simply splendid conference – it always is – with so much truly useful information concentrated into just a few days that it felt as if my overstuffed head exploded regularly. An organization for professional, working novelists, NINC is fantastic. The location – the luxurious Tradewinds Resort in St Pete Beach, Florida – isn’t bad, either, and the chance to network face to face with one’s peers while sitting beneath a palapa looking at the beautiful ocean and indulging in an umbrella-garnished tropical drink is downright luxurious. Okay, so the last is more wishful thinking than actuality – the conference is so intense and so wonderful you don’t want to miss a minute of it. There are moments of relaxation and conversation, though…

The Husband and I drove to the conference, hoping to make a mini-vacation out of the trip. Mostly we succeeded, enjoying the scenery and the intimacy of being just the two of us in the car. It was wonderful. We stopped at graveyards and courthouses in Mississippi indulging our passion for the Tombstone Twitch (sometimes known as genealogical research) and searching for his ancestors who fought in the Late Unpleasantness With the North. We had so much fun doing this that we cut our time extremely short, meaning the last day we had to drive way into the night in time to make it home so he could get back to work on schedule.

I like to drive. I like long driving trips. I would just as soon drive as sit, so I ended up doing most of the driving while we chatted or The Husband slept. The only thing is – the roads are just too d****d crowded, even in the wee hours. The lanes going the other way were almost brim full, as were the lanes going our way. Remember, this was mid-week, not a weekend. Since it had just gone midnight and we were in deep country far away from any town I couldn’t help but wonder where in the world all these people were going!

For a while the driving was easy – everyone was tooling along at a respectable 80 or so and traffic moved smoothly. But as nothing nice lasts for long, the crazies started taking over. There were two rust-bucket sporty-style cars that were obviously racing each other, darting between cars like maddened mosquitoes. They didn't stay around long and were soon out of sight. (There’s never a policeman around when you need one!)

And there was this cattle truck – a big 18 wheeler double deck cattle truck – that zipped in and out of lanes as if he too were driving a sporty-style car. Then he would slow down to a decorous 65 or 70 for a few miles, then be off speeding and zig-zagging again. His trailer must have been empty – not only did it wobble somewhat alarmingly during his more precipitous maneuvers, but any animals in there would have been panicking and probably have overturned it. To say nothing of being very seasick.

Up until now, racers and a mad cow trucker aside, the traffic had been going fairly smoothly. Everyone was going just about the same speed and it was easy driving. Then – still far away from any town – the traffic flow began to slow and jam up. My first thought was, “Great! I’m stuck in a traffic jam going 70 miles an hour!”

Inexorably the traffic clot thickened and slowed until we were down below 50, then 40… and everyone in the right lane was making things worse by shoving their way into the left, slowing the clot even more.

Finally the cause became obvious – in the right lane was a gigantic fifth-wheel RV being towed by an equally impressively sized pick-up, trundling along at a decorous 50 miles per hour. Both lanes of the traffic clot, as visible in my rear-view mirror, were a solid chunk of headlights that went back further than I could see, which in this flat country meant it extended for miles. The pick-up/RV kept puttering on at the same speed, ignoring the chaos it was causing behind it. They couldn’t help but know they were causing a problem, for as soon as a vehicle pulled past them it would shoot away into the dark. That, plus - I surmise - the air surrounding the RV was probably bright blue from the curse words hurled at it by probably hundreds of frustrated drivers. And yes, before you ask, that definitely included several of mine.

Before you get upset, I will admit that it is legal (most places) to drive the minimum speed limit of 50 on a crowded superhighway. That feather-footed idiot did have the right to do so… legally. Morally… I’m not sure. A great number of people were inconvenienced and probably endangered to say nothing of enraged by his doing so. (For your information, the speed limit on that stretch of highway is 75.)

Just because one can do something does not mean that one should. For an analogy, think of MicroSoft and the way they quit supporting perfectly good programs just to make us buy expensive new ones chock-a-block full of stuff we neither use nor want… just because they can. And, of course, they want the money.

For that matter, think of self-publishing. Now I love self-publishing. I self-publish almost exclusively these days. It gives writers a new freedom and access to the public that is unparalleled. Unfortunately, it also empowers people who think that if they string X number of words together they will have a book which will guarantee them fame and untold riches. All they have to do is get it in front of the public. Even more unfortunately, their numbers are legion.

Seriously, do you have any idea of just how much total dreck is out there? I mean, have these people never heard of editors? Or even spell-check? It’s revolting how bad so many of these books are. What’s worse is that this dreck is giving all self-published books a bad name. Many multi-published traditional writers are now self-publishing, only to run into roadblocks built to “maintain literary standards” (a phrase a book store manager used to me not too long ago) – meaning to keep out the dreckers. (Is that a word? If not, it should be.) Reviews. Bookstores. Signing events. Just mention that your book is self-published and immediately shoulders start turning cold.

I’m not advocating a return to the era of the rigid gatekeepers and the write-by-committee mentality that seems to grow there… but there has to be some way of distinguishing real books from badly-written wish-fulfillment rubbish. Reviews on electronic sales sites like Amazon? Hardly. Some of the worst books have many many glowing reviews, doubtless begged from everyone from the author’s next door neighbor to their milkman. Word of mouth? It happens, but it’s hard for anyone to instigate efficiently, from drecker to NYT author. A committee of recommendation would be too much like the elitist old agent/editor gatekeeper system.

I don’t have any answers… just questions. Somehow you’d think the world would be better ordered.

A NOTE  - For years I have blogged two times a month on Make Mine Mystery, on first and third Wednesdays. It’s been great, but an onslaught of new contracts and other obligations has severely cut into my time, so this is the last time I will be blogging on first Wednesdays. I’ll still be here on third Wednesdays, so please don’t forget to come by.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Too Busy to Write--A Confession by Marilyn Meredith

I hate to even put this in writing because I've scolded others for saying this, but truly I have been too busy to write on my work in progress. Partly because of life--doctor visits for hubby and me--the maintenance kind, errands, shopping, and some work that actually brings in money.

I've also been preparing for the freebie sale of Spirit Shapes on Amazon Kindle, a perfect Halloween tale. 

And of course, I'm still promoting the latest in the series-- Seldom Traveled. I've had two radio show to appear on and been to two big book fairs--the first in San Luis Obispo and the Great Valley Book Fest in Manteca. 

Coming up this Saturday is the Visalia Taste of the Arts where I'll be in a booth with several authors all afternoon.

Then there's one last appearance, two days at the Porterville Art Gallery in November for their Holiday Boutique.

The big question is how much does all this help? Who knows. What it does do is acquaint readers with my books and isn't that what we're all about?

Oh,and when we started home from San Luis Obispo we stopped in Morro Bay and saw this replica of the Spanish galleon. Hard to believe that Cabrillo and others could sail all the way from Spain, around the horn and up the coast all the way to California on the open seas in that small and flimsy looking ship.

Eventually life will bet back to normal...maybe.


Sunday, October 2, 2016

My beloved companion died a week ago now. Over last weekend, I cried so hard for her I made myself sick. I think that phase of grieving has passed. Most of us have lost a pet, so I can write about Lily knowing you will understand how hard and how completely you can love an animal.

It’s a love that is pure and unconditional. Animals return that love to you in the same uncomplicated fashion.  Their love is not mixed in with hurts and disappointments, slights and petty offenses, misunderstandings and losses,  as our human relationships can be. A loving relationship with an animal illustrates the best in us. 

And the worst. We see animals hideously injured and wondered who are the people who do this? What sickness in them bubbles to the surface to starve or beat an animal? Where does it come from? I don’t want to linger there.

What has risen to the surface in me since Lily’s death is my old fear of The Axe Murderer. I live in a village in rural, mountainous California. Crime here is likely to be teenagers breaking in to vacant cabins. Nonetheless, I am a student of crime and crime fiction, and dark scenarios dance in my mind when I wake in the night.

It’s silent here, and dark. No streetlights.  A breeze might blow up and sigh through the pines and the oaks. Occasionally I hear the yips and barks of coyotes. Yet the motion sensor light often goes on signaling some animal is padding around the house at the bottom of the stairs.  A raccoon, a bobcat.  It could even be the mountain lion that is caught on wildlife cameras. The bears have been driven into town by the drought. 

I’m much more afraid of the human variety of mammal. Lily used to bark frantically when she caught the scent of the bear. I knew her bear bark. As she grew old, she became deaf, her eyes clouded, and she couldn’t see well in the dark. Arthritis and Cushing’s disease took away her agility. I had to carry her up and down the stairs. 

Still, I felt she protected me, even when I knew that was a fanciful notion. Cats can stare at a wall until you believe something terrible lurks behind the drywall. They can look over your shoulder and convince you a killer is right there, a blade ready to strike between your shoulders. 

When I first moved here, I had night terrors about The Axe Murderer. Stalking the back deck, he would be wearing a long black cloak, drag chains, and have red eyes. Thank you, Stephen King.  Thank you very much. Then Lily came into my life and I forgot about him. He’s back. 

My doors lock and I have a butcher knife and a pry bar on my night table. In the state of mind I’m in right now, a gun would be foolish. I might shoot my foot off if the squirrel ran across the roof at night.  

It’s too soon to find another dog. I know that the right dog will find me, just as Lily did.

All is well. All is basically well. Time will pass.