Monday, November 23, 2015

Revisions, Bloody Revisions

I had dinner with a writer friend of mine the other night. Mary Daheim is one of the few mystery writers I know who makes a living at writing. She’s had well over fifty books published, all decent sellers. When I asked her how many drafts she writes before she turns her work in to her publisher, she looked at me oddly and said, “One. My first draft is the final draft.”

I should be so lucky. By the time I finish a book, I’ve read, revised and changed it about thirty times. If I were to tell you each step in my revision process, I’d simultaneously bore and horrify you. And it probably doesn’t matter anyway. No matter what anyone tells you, there is no perfect word count an author should type each day, no perfect revision process, no perfect writing software. There’s no perfect anything when it comes to writing. Only what works for you. The process I outline below isn’t a recommendation. It’s a single example in an infinite variety of right answers.  

Most of the revisions I list below actually represent three complete reviews of a manuscript. I can’t type worth beans and I go cross-eyed if I try to proof on screen, so my process involves handwriting, speech recognition software, typing, printing, and note-taking. Suffice it to say that we go through a lot of paper in my house! Whether you write one draft or a thousand, I hope the steps below provide a tool or idea that is useful for you.

Tracy’s Fourteen Steps to Writing (Revising) a Novel:
1.    Write the First Draft.  I’m always tempted to genuflect in awe when I hear about authors who write 3000 to 4000 words per day or (God forbid) are brave enough to use software like Write or Die.  Rest assured, I’m not one of them.  When I write a first draft, I target 5000 words a week.  That may seem low, but even though I call this my first draft, it already incorporates multiple revisions.  I handwrite most of my first draft scenes, then read them into Microsoft Word using Dragon speech recognition software, which is an adventure all by itself!  I do at least three rounds of revisions on each scene before I move on to the next.  After a couple of months, I have what I call my first draft, which is really the equivalent of three or four drafts for most people. I’ve done this step in as little as three weeks and as long as four months.
Then the fun begins. 
2.   Percolate.  I never seem to leave enough time for this, but I did it with my first book and I highly recommend it.  Take a few weeks away from your baby and let it mature in your mind like a fine red wine.  Jot down ideas about scenes, characters, plot lines, and settings. You’ll be fresher and more willing to use that red pen when you come back. 
3.   Revise and Create an Outline.  I’m a devoted pantser (meaning I write by the seat of my pants).  I never know where the story’s going to take me ahead of time, so how could I outline? That said, I can’t weave clues and red herrings into the text, have consistent character descriptions, or develop a coherent and plausible timeline when the story is revealing itself to me as I type. And my characters have an annoying habit of changing as I write them.  They refuse to follow my instructions.  They change hair color, weight, and romantic relationships.  In my first book (Murder Strikes a Pose), my chosen murderer flat out refused to commit the crime.  So as I revise the first draft, I outline using a Word template I’ve created that uses the columns in the table below.

       Here, of course, I discover inconsistencies, plot holes, time line issues, etc.  I don’t fix them at this stage.  I simply indicate them in the outline document to fix later.  In this stage I also do significant rewriting of the first draft.  (And believe me, it needs it!) This step usually incorporates what most people would call an additional three to four revisions. Writing and outlining this draft usually takes two to three months.
4.   Fix Issues Identified In Outline.  Now I go back and fix all of the issues I discovered above, writing new paragraphs and scenes as I go.  Sometimes I review and re-write the entire document, sometimes I just fix the areas that need fixing. It all depends on how happy (or horrified) I am with the draft I created in Step 3.
5.   Look at the Sentences.  Once the plot is down and the outline errors are fixed, I dive in with my thesaurus, grammar books, and texts on body language to tackle the novel sentence by sentence. I read through the entire book one to three more times.  I know I’m done with this step when I’m so sick of the novel that I’ll vomit if I read it one more time.
6.   Break Out the editing software. I’m sure there are a gazillion pieces of editing software out there, but I use SmartEdit by Bad Wolf Software. It compiles dialogue tags, adverbs, overly used words and phrases, profanities, and obvious errors. (As well as a lot more!)  I do multiple passes with the software, making changes that hopefully make my writing stronger.  This is my least favorite step, but also one of the most useful in honing my craft.
7.   Read and Revise Manuscript for Voice. Sometimes the things I fix in Step 6 break my voice or introduce their own annoying quirks. In this frustrating step, I often find myself changing back some of the revisions I made in Step 6. Such is life.
8.   Get Feedback from Beta Readers.  I don’t use beta readers nearly as much as other writers I know.  I do reach a point, however, at which I can’t make the work any better without feedback.  I send the manuscript to my wonderful freelance editor Marta Tanrikulu and my agent Margaret Bail.  Marta typically gives me seven to ten pages of written feedback.  Margaret gives less, but she’s brutally honest, which is a wonderful thing.  Whoever you choose as your Beta readers, make sure they don’t love you.  That way you’ll get the hard-to-hear honesty you need to make your work stronger. I get all warm and fuzzy when my mom tells me “It was a nice story, dear,” but that kind of feedback isn’t particularly helpful.
9.   Incorporate Feedback.   I don’t take all feedback offered to me, and neither should you. Not even the best readers and editors can understand the goals, themes, and desired idiosyncrasies of your work the way you do.  I look carefully for areas of agreement between Margaret and Marta, and I always change those. As for the rest, it depends. I ask questions, push back, and follow my gut. I mark on my outline what changes I want to incorporate and where I think I can incorporate them.  Then I write the changes and insert them in yellow in the manuscript. I revise the yellow-marked items at least two or three times before moving to Step 10.
10. Read the Complete Work, Noting and Fixing Inconsistencies. At this point, I’m looking for the things I have “broken” by incorporating feedback, and there are usually several. I also take a final pass through for voice, humor, word choice and “show don’t tell.”
11. Proofread!  By this point, I have the manuscript memorized, so I send it to a friend who proofs it for me. When she sends it back, I look at her recommended changes, incorporate the ones I agree with, and proof it a final time.
12. Send to Your Editor/Agent. After Steps 1 through 11, I’m finally ready to send the work off to Terri Bischoff, my editor at Midnight Ink. Those of you who don’t have a publisher will send them to your agent or start shopping for an agent at this point. (By the way, the AgentQuest Guppy subgroup is awesome for advice on queries!) 
About five minutes after I hit “send,” I realize all of the things I’d like to change, and I e-mail Terri, begging her to let me fix them.  She refuses.  I sit and bite my fingernails, waiting for her revision requests.  She asked for a few in Murder Strikes a Pose, but A Killer Retreat and Karma’s a Killer were accepted as submitted.
After Terri accepts the work, she gives me the green light to make those changes I’ve been yammering to her about. That adds another draft or two.
13. Let the Production Cycle Begin!  Believe it or not, after this, two more editors look at the book before it hits your local bookseller.  The production editor and a proofreader at Midnight Ink both get to weigh in. I usually end up doing at least three drafts at this stage as well, but your process will vary depending on your publisher, so I won’t bore you with the details. 
14.   Celebrate!  Your Book is On the Shelves!  You’d think that by this point, my writing would be perfect.  And, in all honesty, it’s as perfect as it’s ever going to be. Still, readers find errors and report them to me—which pretty much proves that I need to do even more drafts!
That’s the writing process that works for me.  As they say in diet commercials everywhere, individual results may vary. Perhaps someday I’ll be a proficient enough writer to finish a book in a single draft like my friend Mary, but I’m not counting on it.
What’s your writing process?

Tracy Weber

Karmas a Killer (4) Preorder my newest mystery, KARMA'S A KILLER, now at Amazon Barnes and Noble.

Yee haw, yippee, and yahooey!

Check out Tracy Weber’s author page for information about the Downward Dog Mysteries series.  A KILLER RETREAT and MURDER STRIKES A POSE are available at book sellers everywhere

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Sneak Peek into Delivering the Truth

Here's a sneak peek into the opening of Delivering the Truth. It releases April 8 and is available for preorder!

Minnie O’Toole screamed again, a long piercing wail. Her eyes bulged and her round face shone as red as hot coals. “I’m going to die,” she whimpered when the pain subsided. “The babe and I are both going to die.” She grabbed my hand and squeezed.

I wiped the pretty young woman’s brow with a cool cloth. “Thee isn't going to die, Minnie. Look at me.” I gazed into her eyes and willed her to listen. “Thee is a healthy nineteen and thy body is meant to give birth. Exactly like every woman anywhere in the world. I’m thy midwife and I’m here to help get this baby out. Now sit up a bit more.” I leaned over, hooked my hands under her armpits, and raised her further up on her pillows against the plain wooden headboard.

She had been in hard labor for hours, and was becoming weak from the effort. I had trudged through the remnants of the Great Blizzard to reach her. It had been scarcely three weeks since the storm buried us and the rest of New England in four feet of cold blowing snow, the worst storm we’d had in this year of 1888 or any year in prior memory.

But her birth canal still wasn’t fully open. I had finally sent word, asking Minnie’s landlord to call on his new telephone, to my doctor friend, David Dodge, whom I sometimes consulted during difficult births. The midwife I’d apprenticed with, Orpha Perkins, was now too elderly to help.

I heard David enter Minnie’s small flat. “I'm glad thee is here,” I said to him as he walked into the bedroom. He set down a black bag, removed his coat, and rolled up his shirtsleeves. To Minnie I said, 
“We will be back directly. Try to rest between contractions.” I led David back out into the hall.

“I’m always glad to see you, Rose Carroll.” He smiled at me and winked, an unruly lock of his wavy dark hair falling onto his brow. “How’s my favorite Quaker, with your thees and your thys?”

I blushed. We had been courting in recent months, but this was no time for that. “I am well. Now, her name is Minnie O’Toole. Her labor started yesterday morning, but the pains began coming a minute apart about four hours ago.” I opened my pocket watch, which I’d pinned to my left bosom so I could easily check it. “Yes, it’s now six in the morning. They became more intense at about two.”

“And the opening?”

“Still has about a thumb’s width to go. The baby’s heartbeat is fine, although the mother is tiring. She's neither too young nor too old, so it isn’t her age slowing the labor. Perhaps a fear of supporting the babe holds her back. She has no husband and won't tell me who the father is.”

David raised dark eyebrows over deep blue eyes.

I ignored his expression. I'm a midwife. As part of my calling, and because I'm a member of the Society of Friends, I serve rich and poor alike, and I don't refuse to care for women who land in circumstances outside what society expects.

Another scream resounded from the next room. “That cursed man,” she wailed.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Dying to Tell: The Story Begins

It’s the fall again. October. Halloween. The feverish run-up to Thanksgiving, Christmas, and all the holidays. It’s also my transition from promoting my last book, Dying for the Past, to promoting my next book, Dying to Tell. Somewhere between is a blur of days and hours and hotel rooms. In the past several months, I can count the number of weekends I’ve had without travel or book events on one hand. I think I might have some fingers left over, too. But hey, I’m not complaining! It’s been fun meeting the readers and fans, talking with other authors, and giving key note speeches and book discussions. This past summer has been a blur.

Now, it’s time to take a deep breath and start again. I have three Dying for the Past events remaining this calendar year and will begin the events for Dying to Tell with this blog. Phew.

And somewhere amid the hotel rooms and podiums and meeting all the fantastic readers and fans, I’ve managed to pen three-quarters of a new thriller—Double Solution.  I hope I can keep them all straight. Let’s see, Oliver “Tuck” Tucker’s books are cozy mysteries about a dead detective solving crimes with a historical subplot and a few laughs along the way. Double Solution is about Jonathan Hunter, a wayward CIA consultant who is hunting his brother’s killer and finding his worst Middle East nightmares right at home in small town Winchester, Virginia.  Double Solution is still in the making and I cannot wait to get back to the keyboard and see what Hunter will do next.

For now, Dying to Tell, the third Gumshoe Ghost installment, hits the shelves in January 2016. It’s time to tell Tuck’s latest tale—the story of William Mendelson, a recluse bank executive, found murdered in his secret vault. Surrounding William’s fate is a treasure trove of Egyptian antiquities. Now those relics are missing. The secrets are coming out. The dead are talking.

Tuck is pulled into the case by the spirit of a World War II Office of Strategic Services operative with his own agenda. OSS Captain Ollie Tucker I—Tuck’s namesake—knows the past is catching up to the survivors of an Egyptian spy ring from more than seventy years ago. With the help of his beautiful and brilliant wife, Angel, and his gruff former partner, Detective Bear Braddock, Tuck must unravel a tale of spies, murderers, and thieves. But how to begin? Perhaps, with the botched robbery at Mendelson’s bank and the disappearance of his Egyptian loot? Or, the Kit Kat West nightclub where the sultry Lee Hawkins revives 1944 Cairo nightlife with her WWII veteran grandfather, Keys Hawkins? There are too few clues and too many suspects—like Marshal Mendelson, the conniving, bitter son; a suave bank executive wooing Angel; the vivacious bank teller sharing whispers with a lonely but heroic security guard; and the alluring and dangerous Egyptian antiquities professor whose arrival in Winchester coincides with Mendelson’s murder.

Who killed William Mendelson and what did his murder have to do with the 1944 murder of Professor Youssif Iskandr?

Writing Dying to Tell was different. As the third installment of Tuck’s dead detective adventures, I wanted to take Tuck’s unusual life—or death as it were—somewhere very personal to him. In Dying to Know, Tuck struggled with being dead. First, how to maneuver in the world of the living but with different rules. How to contact Angel and how to pursue his killer while still learning to be a dead detective. Hercule, his devoted black Labrador, helped him with much of this. And so did Doc, his live-in spirit guide. It was painful, difficult, and at times, heartbreaking for him. Ultimately, Tuck found his way.

In Dying for the Past, Tuck is in contact with Angel and is working steadily to reach that same resonance with Bear, his stubborn and grouchy former partner. But, he also has to come to terms with a new secret—that his long-lost family might just be made up of gangsters, spies, and rogues. All of them may have ended up as spirits, too. Tuck also finds some enjoyment to being a dead detective. He learned to use his world to his advantage. So what more could a guy want?

Life. At least, the taste of his former life. Love. Confidence in his commitment to Angel—and in hers to him. Is that too much to ask?

Dying to Tell takes on the issue of Tuck being back amongst the living but not truly one of them—his life with Angel. Angel, as you might know, is a beautiful, brilliant history professor. She’s on her way to bigger and better things at the University. She’s attracted the attention of a handsome, mysterious, and suave suitor. Tuck, being the witty and self-reliant spirit-cop that he is, is smart enough to see the writing on the wall. How can he keep Angel to himself when their life together is everything except real? They can share no glass of wine. No kiss. No touch. No romance after dark. Tuck is everything Angel ever wanted—except alive. Except physical.

What is she to do? What is Tuck to do?

 Dying to Tell summons up the three elements that Tuck’s books always bring: a traditional murder; a historical subplot that connects to the present; and a twisty, turning conclusion that makes you ask, “Who isn’t a suspect?” But it also takes Tuck and Angel’s life to the next threshold. After two years of being spirit and wife, does “death do you part” mean it’s time to part?

And as for Operation Salaam, the OSS, and famous World War II spies, I’ll discuss some of the historical research I did for Dying to Tell next month. This was, without a doubt, one of the most enjoyable books to research of the three Tuck mysteries so far. Next month, I’ll talk about the way I wove in the historical facts, twisted a little history, and came up with Dying to Tell.

See you then.

Tj O’CONNOR IS THE GOLD MEDAL WINNER OF THE 2015 INDEPENDENT PUBLISHERS BOOK AWARDS FOR MYSTERIES. He is the author of Dying to Know and Dying for the Past, available in bookstores and e-books from Midnight Ink. His third paranormal mystery, DYING TO TELL, will be released January 2016. He is currently working on a traditional mystery and a new thriller. Tj is an international security consultant specializing in anti-terrorism, investigations, and threat analysis—life experiences that drive his novels. With his former life as a government agent and years as a consultant, he has lived and worked around the world in places like Greece, Turkey, Italy, Germany, the United Kingdom, and throughout the Americas—among others. He was raised in New York's Hudson Valley and lives with his wife and Lab companions in Virginia where they raised five children. Dying to Know is also the 2015 Bronze Medal winner of the Reader’s Favorite Book Review Awards, a finalist for the Silver Falchion Best Books of 2014, and a finalist for the Foreword Review’s 2014 INDIEFAB Book of the Year Award.

Learn about Tj’s world at:

Web Site:


Monday, November 2, 2015

Still Knocking On Wood

--by Linda O. Johnston

It's November already, nearing the end of the year.  It's also the month after the publication of my latest Midnight Ink book, KNOCK ON WOOD, the second Superstition Mystery.

I was really busy letting the world know about KNOCK ON WOOD last month, going on blog tours and participating in Facebook events and even doing live workshops, signings and more. 

One of the most fun things was my participation in the cozy/noir smackdown at the NoHo Lit Crawl in North Hollywood, CA, where other authors of cozy mysteries and I read from our work to give examples of how cozy authors dealt with various topics.  Authors of noir mysteries did the same as if it was a competition.  Our topics included reading a good example from our work of what constitutes a cozy versus a noir, character introduction, death scenes and sex scenes.   Most of my examples came from the first Superstition Mystery LOST UNDER A LADDER, but one came from KNOCK ON WOOD.  It was a lot of fun, and the audience participated by voting.  I believe cozy came out on top but that really didn't matter.

Then there was my hour helping to host an online Facebook event: a Halloween Spooktacular, where I talked about Halloween and superstitions relating to that holiday as well as my books.

But now it's November, the month after publication.  Things have calmed down a bit although I'm still blogging and doing more to let people know about my stories.  Plus, I'm writing.  Heck, I never stop that, no matter when it is!

In fact, time to return to it now.  Have a happy November, everyone.