Monday, February 22, 2016

For Your Eyes Only--Not!

I don't know about anyone else, but I'm the type of person who likes to make a good first impression.

I know that a first--or even third--draft of a manuscript is supposed to be full of errors and sloppy writing. The important thing is to get the story down, even if the writer is the only person who understands what all that drivel is supposed to mean. "You can fix it later," is what writers are always told when they find themselves panicking about getting the story written right the first time. It's after two or three, or more, drafts that the story becomes cohesive and crisp and the writing is cleaner, more fluid, more ready for the eyes of someone other than the writer.

When my manuscript is ready to send to my beta readers and editors, however, I always hesitate. How good is it? How many typos are still floating around in it? Did I explain that plot twist in a way that makes sense? Did I get everyone's name right? Yes, of course, it still needs work, but...

It's then that I find myself in the position of the person who tries to tidy up the house before the cleaning service shows up.

Very often a writer needs a fresh pair of eyes and ears to find the problems that lurk in a "finished" manuscript. After reading one's own words over and over, and sometimes mentally fixing them along the way, it's easy to become blind to mistakes that are obvious to a fresh pair of eyes. Having someone read your dialogue out loud suddenly makes clunky passages--and extremely long ones!-- easy to spot.

No matter how much some writers want to believe that they are fully capable of editing their own work, it's in their best interest to let someone else, someone with a good grasp of language and literature, someone who is seeing the writer's words for the first time, read through the manuscript and find those errors that hide in plain sight; identify the dialogue that doesn't ring true; point out the inconsistencies that somehow made sense when the writer put it down on paper.

As much as writers would like to think that they have the ability to present to the world a finished book without the help of others, it comes down to having the humility to show a few people--people who really care about you and your writing career--your imperfect work (or the dust bunnies under the sofa, if you prefer) so that they can help you make it, if not perfect, good enough to show the rest of the world.

I'm always grateful for my beta readers, editors, and fellow writers who offer criticism, help, advice, and lots of encouragement. I wouldn't be where I am now without them!

My editor-in-law who has degrees in language and education... and loves to read!

My number one beta reader with an eye for detail and continuity!

Best writers group ever... helping me keep it real!

Monday, February 15, 2016

Novel Ideas--a guest post by Oak Tree Press author J. L. Greger

Today, I'm hosting fellow OTP author, Janet L. Greger, author of the Sara Almquist mysteries as she promotes her latest book, "I Saw You in Beirut". Welcome, Janet!


What revs up authors’ imaginations? Pet peeves, news headlines, travel, and memories are all sources of novel ideas. The list is endless.

The initial ideas for I Saw You in Beirut, my latest international thriller, came from two main sources: my pet peeve that there are so few woman protagonists in thrillers and my love of exotic locations.

First, my pet peeve. The women who populate thrillers are generally young action heroines, like Lara Croft or Super Woman. Census data indicate the fastest growing population groups in the U.S. between 2000 and 2010 were those over forty-five years of age. Women outnumber men after forty. My conclusion is: women over forty are a big reading market.

Accordingly, the heroine in my thrillers is Sara Almquist, a globetrotting epidemiologist (a professional medical busybody) who has passed her fortieth birthday. I like to imagine her being played on film by Helen Mirren, Sigourney Weaver, Salma Hayek, or Marcia Gaye Hardin. Now that’s a novel idea.

Next, my love of exotic locations. In the 1990s, I consulted on biological (medical and agricultural) issues at the United Arab Emirates University in El Ain and the American University of Beirut in Lebanon. I got chills as I watched ships lining up to pass through the Strait of Hormuz and gasped at the still visible shrapnel damage in Beirut, but I was also awed by the beauty and history of the region. Did you know Lebanon has Phoenician tombs that are contemporary with the Egyptian pyramids? Several major medical discoveries were made in Iran and Iraq in the 1960s. I knew several of the researchers involved in the Shiraz experiment, which identified zinc deficiency in villagers in Iran. I also smiled as I toured the laboratory and swimming pools, which one sheik in the Emirates built to help keep his racing camels in optimum form.

Thus, I included lots of tidbits on science, geography, and history of the Middle East in I Saw You in Beirut. Why not arm chair travel there with Sara Almquist? I think you’ll discover lots of novel ideas and plot twists in this book.

Blurb: In I Saw You in Beirut, a mysterious source of leaks on the Iranian nuclear industry, known only as F, sends an email from Tabriz: Help. Contact Almquist. Intelligence sources determine the message refers to Sara Almquist, a globetrotting epidemiologist, and seek her help to extract F from Iran. As Sara tries to identify F by dredging up long-forgotten memories about her student days at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and her work in Lebanon and the Emirates, groups ostensibly wanting to prevent F’s escape attack her repeatedly. She begins to suspect her current friendship with Sanders, a secretive State Department official, is the real reason she’s being attacked.

I Saw You in Beirut (paperback and Kindle versions) is available at Amazon: and Barnes and Noble (Nook version):

Bio: As a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, I honed my story-telling skills as I lectured to bleary-eyed students at 8:30 in the morning. Students remember chemical reactions better when I attached stories to the processes.

My published thrillers include: Malignancy (winner of 2015 Public Safety Writers’ annual contest), Ignore the Pain, Murder: A New Way to Lose Weight, Coming Flu, and I Saw You in Beirut. My website is:


Thanks for joining us, Janet, and we look forward to more of Sara's stories!

Monday, February 8, 2016

Staying Busy

I think many people--especially newbie authors--believe that once the book is published, the work is done and it's time for the writer to kick back and relax and re-enter "the real world".

However, seasoned writers know that simply writing "The End" is far from the end.

Once the book is published, the all-important job of promoting it is what takes up much of an author's time. While most writers (I, for one) would like to jump right in to writing the next book, the truth is that it's important to strike while the iron is hot and start promoting the newly-published book and, by extension, any previous work that has been published.

So far, I've scheduled four events in the near future to promote my latest Black Horse Campground mystery, "At the Crossroad". Here they are, in order:

Sunday, February 28--Official launch party at Noisy Water Winery at 2342 Sudderth Drive in mid-town Ruidoso, New Mexico, home of Jo Mamma's White table wine. The party is from 2-4 p.m. and there will be special discounts and a drawing during the event.

Saturday and Sunday, March 12-13--Tucson Festival of Books at the campus of the University of Arizona in Tucson. Oak Tree Press will have a booth for both days and some of our authors (including yours truly) and our publisher will be on hand to sell books and talk to book buyers. If you love books, this is an event to attend!

Saturday, March 19--Alamogordo Public Library in Alamogordo, New Mexico will be celebrating their birthday and I will be on hand to give a book talk and sign copies of my Black Horse Campground series. Details will be available as the event date gets closer

Sunday, May 1--Treasure House Books and Gifts in Old Town Albuquerque, New Mexico will be celebrating Founder's Day weekend by hosting several authors (all New Mexican) at the bookstore. I will be there from 1-3 p.m. on Sunday. This is a great time to visit Albuquerque as it is the same weekend as the Gathering of Nations Pow Wow, in which over 500 tribes from all over the United States and Canada, gather to participate in competitions of singing, dancing, and other categories including the Miss Indian World pageant. Even without all the other exciting things going on in the city, Treasure House and Old Town are reason enough to visit!

Other events will be announced as they are lined up. I hope some of you will get a chance to visit me at some of them. Thanks for your support!

And then it's back to the writing!

Monday, February 1, 2016

Once Upon a Time--How a Contemporary Novel Becomes a Historical Novel

A couple of things have happened in the last week that have set me to pondering about the way authors write their stories with details that should help orient the reader in the story's setting.

They also made me feel old in the process. See if you can relate.

A discussion with co-worker, who is the same age as I am, involved a mention of the term "long distance" and a brief "Remember when?" conversation about having to call after eight in the evening because the rates were lower. Another co-worker, who is less than half our age, stared at us in a puzzled manner. What did we mean by "long distance"? What rates? It took us several startled seconds to realize that, thanks to the advent of cell phones, "long distance" no longer means what it once did. When I moved to Alamogordo, NM from El Paso, TX after my marriage (almost 28 years ago!), gabbing on the phone with my mom, my sister, or my friends back home was not something I did for thirty minutes at a time... and certainly NOT before 8 p.m. when the rates were lower! Having to explain about phone rates made me feel... well, a bit out-of-date.

On Saturday, while working the register at the winery, an older couple (older than I, that is) approached and asked if, by any chance, we accepted traveler's checks as payment. Talk about a blast from the past. After I recovered from my surprise, I explained that we didn't accept any kind of check and the woman smiled and said she had figured that, but she had some 17-year-old traveler's checks and "they always said they never expired so I thought I'd give it a try." One of my co-workers, again about half my age, came over, intrigued. "I've HEARD of traveler's checks," she said. "But I've never seen one before!" So followed a conversation about traveler's checks and how they were supposed to be better than cash (this was before revolving credit came along) and so much safer and it occurred to me that, in this age of electronic banking, how completely antiquated and inconvenient they must seem to this generation.

The art of writing, itself, has undergone enormous changes. From typing a 300-page manuscript and submitting it via "snail mail" in a cardboard box with enough return postage in case the publisher (or more likely, agent) rejected it to being able to publish a book without an agent, editor, or publisher (or, alas, even any talent) shows how much the world has changed in the last thirty years.

Yet, if I had been writing a story set in the mid-'80s, talking about things like long-distance and traveler's checks would have been perfectly natural and my readers would know exactly what I was talking about and could relate. Now I wonder how many of those things would be recognizable to the current generation of readers. I recall reading the works of Agatha Christie, James Herriot, Laura Ingalls Wilder, even Judy Blume and the Nancy Drew mysteries and asking my parents what was meant by certain phrases or even looking up words in the dictionary because my late '70s-early '80s upbringing didn't include things like what was described in those books. Party lines and ration books are as alien to me as long-distance rates and traveler's checks are to this generation. Who knows what will replace texting and debit cards in the future?

Time marches on....