March 15, 2011

Another Carl Brookins review

Filed under: Great Reads — jenny @ 11:40 am

I love it when Carl sends these along. Please check out his review of “an oldie but goodie”.

A Puree of Poison
By Claudia Bishop
ISBN: 0425193314
Publisher, Berkley Prime Crime
December, 2003, 260 pgs.

This small-town cozy comes with two squabbling sisters, one a gourmand cook, the other an established painter.  They collide in a little upstate New York town called Hemlock Falls.  Aptly named.  Together the sisters Sarah, called Quill, and Meg, own and operate an inn on a perfect plot of property overlooking the namesake falls.  The novel comes with a list of the huge number of characters at the front and an unremarkable recipe at the back.

The 133rd anniversary of a minor Civil War skirmish is approaching and the town is planning big doings.  Things get rapidly complicated.  Re-enactors are arriving to stage the battle, a poisonous couple of independent film-makers appear, and Quill, who cannot manage a business to save her soul, is trying out various practices on the Inn’s employees she is picking up from a business course at Cornell.  Cornell ought to sue.

Then people start dying.  They are old and not exactly in the best of health, but they weren’t at death’s door, either.  The one thing they had in common was the Inn.  All three victims had had meals at the Inn on the same day.  The town doctor, who’s in love with Meg, the aforementioned sister, is mightily distressed.  He asks Meg’s sister, Quill, to investigate.  This of course adds to the number of subjects over which the two sisters can disagree.  As one might imagine, there’s a great amount of shouting, stomping about and door slamming.

Quill, of course, agrees to look into the deaths, if only to protect the reputation of the Inn and her sister.  It isn’t like she hasn’t enough to occupy her.  She has to deal with a twit of a receptionist who’s trying to finish a PhD and her own inept efforts to force worrisome new business practices on her employees without any preparation.

All of this is handled with a light touch and there are several clever scenes, helped by some imaginative and interesting characters, but it all never quite comes off.  The sisters’ constant squabbling, the irritating front office receptionist who should have been fired for insubordination, and half a dozen other offenses, overshadow some strong writing and clever plotting.

Find author and reviewer Carl Brookins at,

March 14, 2011

Guest Post: Ron Knight

Filed under: The Writing Life — jenny @ 10:41 am


Please welcome Ron Knight to the blog. Ron shares an overview for revision with lots of meat and heft to it. I look forward to hearing what Suspense Your Disbelief readers might do with these tips!

Ron Knight

Improve Your Novel

There are two parts to a novel: Great story and great mechanics. You need both to be successful. This is not my opinion, but rather a fact. Every author has ideas for an entertaining book. The hard part is getting it to “read like a book.”

This same exercise you are about to read, I went through in 1995. It was tough, but once I learned all the “do’s and don’ts” of writing, things became much easier for me. At first, you will be overwhelmed and it will be time consuming. Nevertheless, this exercise will pay off big for authors willing to put in the work.

DO NOT try to fix these mistakes all at once. You will not learn anything that way. Besides, you cannot catch all your mistakes the first time.

* Go over your manuscript and look for anywhere you switched point of views. This is the biggest mistake new authors make and cause for rejection letters. Anywhere you have a character point of view switch, do a page break or chapter ending.

* Make sure your manuscript is written in 1st, 2nd, or 3rd person the entire book. (Experienced authors sometimes use both 1st and 3rd, but if you have written less than five novels, do not try this.)

* Anywhere in your manuscript where you “told” the story, rather than “showed” the story needs to be fixed. For example, if you said, “Jane was angry at Tom.” Fix it to, “Jane lifted the card table and dumped the vodka tonics on his lap.” Show that Jane was angry, rather than saying it.

* Go through your manuscript and get rid of every adverb that follows dialogue. Examples: “I hate you!” Jane said angrily. “But I care about our relationship,” Tom replied calmly. “LY” words are for the lazy author. Describe their emotions or actions. “I hate you!” Jane said. She flipped the chair and eyed the exit. Tom stood and reached his hand out toward hers. “But I care about our relationship.” A tear escaped from his eye. (Notice the difference?)

* Go through your manuscript and look for overuse of adjectives. Example of an author pushing description down a reader’s throat: “Jeff was wise not to battle the bright, hot, sunny, day, because it was so dusty, yet smoggy.”

* Look for places that you can use the five senses: sight, hear, taste, touch, or smell. This will bring out a stronger image for the reader.

* Get rid of 90% of your exclamation marks!!!!!!!!!

* Now go back and get rid of 5% more of your exclamation marks!!!!

* Go through your manuscript and delete every time you said, “very.” While you are at it, look for all the times you said, “and then.”

* Look for things in your book that have nothing to do with your book. If Jane and Tom decided to go on a cruise, that better have something to do with the story. This goes for every sentence and every word. Do not put fluff in your book to build the word count.

* “Luck” should not have anything to do with why your characters achieved something. The plot should not come together because of “chance.” Reach deep and develop reasons for everything, no matter how much “fiction” you feel is necessary.

* Take out all cliché’ phrases. “I’m in the twilight zone.” Or, “He was wondering if this was just a nightmare and he would wake up soon.” Describe how the character feels.

* Find all the places you said in dialogue, “God, Lord, Jesus, and Christ.” Delete all but one or two. This has nothing to do with offending others, but rather the author attempting to create forced drama through a reaction by the character. Do not force or tell…describe and show.

* Flashbacks tend to slow a book down and become confusing. If flashbacks are necessary to the story, then make sure the reader knows what is going on right away. If the reader does not realize it is a flashback in the first line, then fix it.

* Research what you do not know. For example, if your character is a pilot, research everything a pilot does, goes through, feels, and experiences. If you have a main setting in Tampa, but you’ve never been to Tampa, do your research. Get the street names correct, restaurants, bars, and even the local gas stations correct when needed. This includes housing and neighborhoods. If your character has a basement in Florida, then you did not do enough research.

* Look for places where you wrote that your character’s eyes were blue in chapter one, but wrote their eyes were green in chapter two. (By the way, “flashing green eyes” is being overused by authors…fyi.) Keep good notes throughout your book. I do not write outlines, but when I’m done with a novel, I have pages and pages of notes on the side, so I can keep track of everything that happened, along with the description of characters and places.

* Delete any sentences you spoke in another language and re-write in English. We are all impressed that you know German, but the reader will be irritated.

* Read your manuscript aloud. If you stutter in a place, so will the reader.

* Go over your manuscript and look for “repeats.” There are three forms of repeats: Words, ideas, and phrases.

Words: Get out your thesaurus and change things up. For example, there are eleven different meanings behind the word, “pull.” You could be saying things like, “Tom pulled a muscle,” and “Jane pulled apart the table,” and “Eddy pulled in a deep breath,” and “Joe pulled the bank job,” and “The truck was pulling the trailer,” and “He pulled a gun out.” Take the time to mix in different words.

Character names, along with he/she are repeated throughout your book. This can be limited by focusing on description as much as possible.

Ideas: This can also be called, “plot ideas.” Usually when the author is trying to set up a great finish or a big twist in the story, an idea is repeated to make sure the reader understands the great finish or big twist. If your descriptions are accurate, then do not worry about shoving the same idea at the reader and reminding them repeatedly what is happening.

Phrases: Telling the reader fifty times how upsetting the breakup between Jane and Tom was can be annoying. Another common mistake is when the author reminds the reader that the character is shocked and confused.

Just remember that repeats happen when the author feels deep in their heart that the reader will not understand what is going on. Repeats also happen to the lazy author who will not take the time to change a sentence or word. If you are aware of this, then it should not happen.

Wait, I got one more!!! (Sorry, take away two of those exclamation marks. In fact, take all three away, it wasn’t necessary.)

When someone reads your book, they should not be able to tell what is fiction and what is real. Yes, that includes vampires, space ships, serial killers, and yellow dragons. If the author writes a great fiction novel, the reader will actually start to believe in the story. Everything you wrote will seem possible that it could happen to anyone.

Please do not say, “That’s what an editor is for. To fix these mistakes.” It’s not the editor’s job to make you a better author.

Take the time to learn how to write at great story…and improve a great story.

Ron Knight is the author of thirteen suspense/thriller novels, Untraditional Publishing, 100 Questions Every Author Should Ask, Character Names for Authors, AC Heroes, Middle Room. He is co-Founder of the UP Authors Program, a weekly blog that assists authors with all aspects of writing, marketing, and publishing. See more of Ron Knight at

March 10, 2011

Made It Moment: Jeri Westerson

Filed under: Made It Moments — jenny @ 8:48 am

The Demon's Parchment

Please welcome Jeri Westerson to Suspense Your Disbelief. Jeri delivers a Moment that touches on two elements particularly meaningful to me–the place of libraries in childhood, and what happens when the secret, stolen pleasure of writing stories finally becomes public. Read on…

Jeri Westerson

Truth be told, I don’t think I’ve quite made it yet. “Making it” in publishing means to me that you keep on publishing, that you don’t have to worry whether the publisher will offer you the next contract or not, and I’m not quite there yet.

On the other hand, for fourteen years I wrote novel after novel and got rejections by the binder-full and I finally have three books on bookstore shelves. On most days, that feels like I’ve “made it.”

I thought it would be the big things, strangers recognizing me or my name (they don’t) or mobbed at bookstore signings (I’m not), or special treatment with publisher paid book tours (nope). It turns out it’s the little things. Getting giddy to find my books in a bookstore. And, oddly, finding it in a library seems to hold so much more weight to me than in a bookstore. In a library, it’s got those special tags and barcodes and that little extra tag that declares it a “Mystery.” It seems more official in a library, that it’s important enough to be in that hallowed building where I spent so much of my childhood.

Then it’s also the little thing of receiving email fan letters. These are from people I will never meet in places—sometimes other countries—I will never go to. Strangers are reading and loving my books. My books, that, since childhood, I wrote alone and mostly in secret, never letting another living soul read them let alone know about them. But now the world may read them if they wish (go ahead, World. Read them!).

I’m grateful for those little things. They help me write the next one.

Jeri Westerson is on the board of directors for the southern California chapter of Mystery Writers of America, and also editor if its newsletter. She’s president of the Orange County chapter of Sisters in Crime and a member of Sisters in Crime Los Angeles. She is also a member of Private Eye Writers of America. She is married to a commercial photographer, has a son in college, and herds two cats, a tortoise, and the occasional tarantula at her home in southern California.

March 8, 2011

An Oscar for Bloggers

Filed under: The Writing Life — jenny @ 10:50 pm

Well, maybe not quite…But still, I really have to thank author and fellow blogger Jean Henry Mead, just one of the talents behind the terrific site, Murderous Musings, for giving me the Stylish Blogger Award.

If Suspense Your Disbelief is stylish it is thanks to the terrific authors who appear here, but hey, as a writer on submission, I will take all the recognition I can get.

Now what do I have to do here?

First, list 7 Things about myself. OK…

1) I have a novel on submission (as if anybody didn’t know that!!)

Maybe some secret things should be listed?

2) I was teased as a child for being small

TMI? Well, then–

3) I live in a house that was built in 1863

4) Being a mother is more fun than I ever would have imagined

5) I spend more time in imaginary realms than I do in reality

6) My favorite food is Chinese dumplings

And the seventh thing I feel the need to share?

7) Meeting writing and reading friends on the internet has made my world wider and more fulfilling than any one person should have a right to expect.

Thank you for the award, Jean! I now bequeath it to…

Hart Johnson of Confessions of a Watery Tart fame!

March 7, 2011

Made It Moment: Marja McGraw

Filed under: Made It Moments — jenny @ 7:51 am

The Bogey Man

I always like meeting Oak Tree Press authors since I have learned much about marketing from one of their acquisitions editors and their publisher just seems like an overall fun kind of gal. So I was very happy to encounter Marja McGraw whose new novel comes out from the press, and hear what she has to say about finding her way in this biz. Read on…

Marja McGraw

For me, there were two Made It Moments. I had a book and I wanted to try to place it (no surprise there). So I submitted to a somewhat well-known publisher. They asked for a six-month exclusive, which turned into a year and a half. I finally received a polite rejection, along with their readers’ notes. It was very frustrating because the notes appeared to be more about the readers making “cute” remarks instead of showing professionalism. Some of the notes actually didn’t have anything to do with my book.

After a little “hmphing”, I moved on. I submitted the same book to Wings ePress, Inc., and within a very short time they offered me a contract. I was elated, to say the least. I have a friend (Dorothy Bodoin) who’d published with Wings, and she was very happy with them. She’s a terrific writer, so I figured if they liked her work, and they liked mine, I’d made it. That was a huge moment for me. There are now four installments in the Sandi Webster Mysteries series.

In the fourth Sandi Webster Mystery there was a character who had an uncanny resemblance to Humphrey Bogart. The readers liked him so much that I began a new series spotlighting the Bogey Man, and I decided it was time to try a traditional publisher again.

I submitted to Oak Tree Press. They were going to be attending a conference in Las Vegas and asked if I could drive in and meet them. It had been a particularly rough week. My husband and I had lost a very dear friend in a horrendous accident. I drove into Las Vegas anyway, although my heart wasn’t in it.

Not only did Oak Tree Press like Bogey Nights, but they offered me a contract on the spot! Right there, at the conference, and they announced it to the attendees. That was my second Made It Moment, and one I’ll never forget.

I was born and raised in Southern California. My family traces back to the 1850s, so I guess that makes me a true Californian.

I worked in both criminal and civil law enforcement for several years. With a few other jobs under my belt, and several years as a divorced, single parent, I have a fairly well-rounded life education.

Eventually relocating to Northern Nevada, I worked for the Nevada Department of Transportation (NDOT). Taking a break, I lived in Oregon where I worked for the Jackson County Sheriff and owned my own business, an antique store/tea room. From there I moved to Wasilla, Alaska, and then back to Northern Nevada where I returned to work for NDOT. Upon my return, I met and married my husband. All things seem to happen for a reason, even when we can’t see it at the time.

Starting with Secrets of Holt House, A Mystery, I followed up with A Well-Kept Family Secret-A Sandi Webster Mystery and the beginning of a series. Bubba’s Ghost and Prudy’s Back! followed shortly. These Sandi Webster mysteries were followed by The Bogey Man.

Bogey Nights – A Bogey Mystery will be published by Oak Tree Press in 2011. This is a spin off series and I had a lot of fun working with a delightful and unusual set of characters.

March 1, 2011

Made It Moment: L.J. Sellers

Filed under: Made It Moments — jenny @ 9:12 am

Secrets to Die For

I have been eagerly awaiting the chance to introduce LJ Sellers to Suspense Your Disbelief readers, ever since reading THE BABY THIEF–a thriller about a never miss topic in my reading repertoire–last year. Start with any of LJ’s books–you won’t regret it–but first read on for a Moment all  writers and readers should relate to.

L.J. Sellers

Even after having two books published and hearing from dozens of readers about how much they liked my series, I still didn’t feel like a real author. Most people had never heard of me or my publisher. Then about three months ago, I went into a nutrition store. When I handed the clerk my credit card, she said, “You’re L.J. Sellers, the author.” It gave my heart a jump. Outside of mystery conferences, where readers come looking for you, no one had ever recognized me as an author in public before.

But it got even better. The clerk started talking about the ending of Secrets to Die For and how worried she had been that Kera and Jackson were going to break up. Then she quoted a pivotal line from the end of novel. I got goosebumps! I had written something worth noting and remembering.

Before that giddy moment was over, the clerk went on to talk about Detective Jackson and how he doesn’t eat or sleep right when he’s working a case. “You’ve got to make him take vitamins,” she said. “Especially when he’s skipping meals like that.”

I wanted to laugh and cry. She was referring to my character as if he were real and someone she cared deeply about. I was beaming (and shaking a little) when I left the store. That was the moment when I knew I was a real author. I realized I had written a novel and a character that became real to a reader—and she was still thinking about the story weeks later. That was my made-it moment, and so far, the happiest I’ve ever felt as a writer.

L.J. Sellers is an award-winning journalist and the author of the Detective Jackson mystery/suspense series based in Eugene, OR. Her books, The Sex Club, Secrets to Die For, and Thrilled to Death, have been highly praised by Mystery Scene and Spinetingler magazines. Her fourth Jackson story, Passions of the Dead, will be released in November. L.J. also has two standalone thrillers, The Baby Thief and The Suicide Effect. When not plotting murders, L.J. enjoys performing standup comedy, cycling, social networking, attending mystery conferences, and editing fiction manuscripts. She’s also been known to jump out of airplanes.

« Newer Posts

Powered by WordPress