January 30, 2012

Made It Moment: Morgan Mandel

Filed under: Made It Moments — jenny @ 8:30 pm

Forever Young

What is it about the magic number 10? When I finally got my offer of publication and began tentatively murmuring, “It took me 11 years,” I felt  red-faced and ashamed. But then I was amazed by now many people came out of the woodwork to pipe up, “Nine for me!” And, “Twelve!” And the one most often repeated: “A whole decade.” In her Made It Moment, cross-genre novelist Morgan Mandel tells us what took her a decade to achieve, and the Moments that just keep coming.

Morgan Mandel

The thing about a dream coming true is you don’t believe it’s happening. I’d tried for ten years to get a book accepted, and kept getting rejections. The number was up to seventeen when I pitched my mystery, Two Wrongs, to Janice Strand, the senior editor for Hard Shell Word Factory at the Love is Murder Conference. I completely botched the job, and was sent on my way with guidelines of how to query by email. I studiously followed directions. After a request for a full manuscript, three months went by. Then I got a strange email from Janice asking me what kind of marketing plans I had in mind. I quickly thought up a bunch and sent in a list.

Wonder of wonders, within a few days I received a welcoming email, telling me my manuscript had been accepted. Then, within a year, my book was actually published. When I saw it on the shelf of my local library, I knew I’d made it! I was a real author. The book launch party, with close friends and family thronging around requesting autographs, reinforced that joy and taught me a valuable lesson. Never give up. After botching my pitch, I could have decided it was no use trying any more, yet I bravely took that extra step and sent in my email query.

That was my first Made It Moment. Since then I’ve written and published three more books. My current release, the romantic thriller, Forever Young: Blessing or Curse, took what seemed forever to get into shape. With some doing, it was ready for the public eye. Next, I had to go through the formatting hoops for submission to Kindle. When I saw the cover staring back on Amazon.com, another Made It Moment struck. I’m looking forward to one more soon when I hold the printed version in my hands.

The great thing about being an author is I can enjoy many Made It Moments. Still, the first one holds a special place in my heart.

Morgan Mandel is a former freelancer for the Daily Herald newspaper, and belongs to Sisters in Crime and EPIC. She enjoys writing thrillers, mysteries, romances and also enjoys combining them. Her latest paranormal romantic thriller is Forever Young: Blessing or Curse, Book One of the Always Young Series, available on Kindle and Smashwords. Other novels by Morgan Mandel include Killer CareerTwo Wrongs, and Girl of My Dreams. Morgan is now working on Book Two of the Always Young Seres, called Blessing or Curse: A Forever Young Anthology, where readers will learn what happens to others who have taken the Forever Young pill.

January 29, 2012

Made It Moment: Collin Kelley

Filed under: Made It Moments — jenny @ 7:55 pm

Remain In Light

It’s not many Made It Moments whose first line involves giving up. And still fewer whose second line contains a metaphor so dazzling I wish I’d written it myself. But Collin Kelley’s book isn’t your usual novel. And so it makes sense that his writer’s path wouldn’t turn out to be very typical either.

Collin Kelley

In the spring of 1995, I had given up on my dream of becoming a novelist. My file cabinet was filled with the carcasses of novels that ran out of steam after 50 or 75 pages. The grand ideas for these books seemed to shrivel and die once they hit the page; the situations seemed cliché, or else pale imitations of other writers far more talented than I.

Then I received a phone call from one of my best friends, who happened to be a teacher. She was chaperoning a group of seniors on their high school graduation trip to London and Paris and needed another adult to go along to keep the kids in line. The trip would cost next to nothing and I thought getting out of the Atlanta suburbs where I’d spent my whole life might be the catalyst I needed to spark my writing.

In Paris, we stayed in an out of the way hotel in the 11th arrondissement. Rue Rampon was a narrow little street lined with small shops and apartment buildings. Across from my room was an apartment with a long wrought iron balcony full of flowers. The French doors were always open and the interior was lined with bookcases crammed with tomes. There was a big desk with an old typewriter, what appeared to be manuscript pages, and even more books.

But I never saw the owner. For a solid week, the doors were always open, but the writer was never at work at the desk. So I invented her in my head. A Parisian widow disabled by agoraphobia, who never leaves her apartment and works as a book editor. At night, she spies on the guests of the hotel with her binoculars.

I disentangled myself from chaperoning duties to explore parts of Paris off the beaten path: the St. Martin Canal, the Jardin des Plantes, the side streets of the city where the real living takes place. I would pick up the newspapers and read that the city was on high alert for terrorist activity. And then the Saint-Michel metro station was bombed. My first novel suddenly seemed to spring to life – beginning, middle and end.

Little did I know that my summer in Paris would spawn not one book, but three. Remain In Light is the second book in a trilogy that began with Conquering Venus. The lead character is an agoraphobic widow and book editor named Irène Laureux who lives in an apartment on rue Rampon. In the summer of 1995, she meets an aspiring young American writer staying in the hotel across the street and they are not only caught up in the metro bombing but a murder mystery.

I found the spark.

Collin Kelley is the author of the novels Remain In Light and Conquering Venus (both from Vanilla Heart Publishing). His poetry collections include Better To Travel, After the Poison and Slow To Burn.

January 26, 2012

Made It Moment: Mary Frisbee

Filed under: Made It Moments — jenny @ 9:39 am

Satori Ranch

Here’s a concept that’s probably newer to me than it should be. (In the, Duh, why didn’t I think of that? sense). Mary Frisbee discusses the idea of the changing Made It Moment. And why not? Who says our Moment must be fixed, or even limited to one? We are more aware now than ever that this is a business that does not stand still. Neither does what we view as success.

Mary Frisbee

My “Made It Moment” keeps changing. I thought it had come when I finished my first mystery novel. Then I was convinced it had come when I finally got an agent to represent my second book, Satori Ranch. Like most writers, I have a long and humiliating string of agent rejections behind me and I was sure that signing a contract with an agent was, indeed, the moment.

But the agent left the well-known Los Angeles agency for new horizons and the agency refused to honor our contract. So I got released from their indifferent hands and started over.

A new and significant moment happened when I put Satori Ranch on Amazon and B & N as an ebook. When I look back at my experiences with agents, I wonder what I was thinking, to keep beating my head against the wall for so long. I had followed all the advice out there about polishing my book and querying correctly. I had joined a writing group and honed my prose. But in return all I got were rejection letters and there was no consistency in the reasons for rejection. Instead, there was an overload of contradictory advice. I didn’t even have a clear-cut direction in which to move.

I had a total of three positive experiences with agents – one agent in particular took the time to advise me, but ultimately rejected my books – versus seventeen bazillion bad ones. When I decided to wash my hands of the whole horrible process, I felt such jubilation and freedom that I went out to Seal Rocks Beach and howled like a wolf.

I decided to be a professional. I hired a great editor and I followed her advice. I have a professional photographer in my house and I am a professional artist, so together we designed the book cover exactly as I wanted it. Going this route wasn’t easy. I would still like to publish actual hardbound books. But I am slowly selling ebooks, getting a little attention, readying the second Trout Brooke novel, Puzzle Creek, to go online in January. I am also working on book number three in the series. But no matter what happens, I’ll keep writing because I love it. While there may be more “Made It Moments”, at present nothing tops the one when I actually took control of my writing life.

Mary Frisbee is Montana born and raised, with her early life delightfully split between the outdoors and the arts. She studied art (please visit her website at www.maryfrisbeejohnson.com) and currently teaches drawing at the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls. Her first novel, Satori Ranch, is set in Oregon, and is available as an ebook. The second, Puzzle Creek, set in Montana, is in the production stage, and Mary is currently working on her third novel.

January 24, 2012

What Happened After My Book Sold

Filed under: Frontstory,The Writing Life — jenny @ 11:13 pm

Before my novel finally sold, after 11 long years of trying, I wrote a backstory column on this blog. It contains lots of posts about what brought me to this point, what my struggles were, what worked, what didn’t, how to get an agent, how to lose an agent, and the like.

It’s hard for me to look over that column. There were hard times along the way. Times I despaired, although something kept me at it, and at it again, till my head bled. You know, from the banging against brick walls.

I didn’t have it rough by many writers’ standards, and I’m grateful for that. For 8 years of my journey-to-get-published, I was able mostly to stay home, take care of my kids, and squeeze writing in around that. But there were certainly the nights when, hoping to hear some pearl from an author, something that might illuminate whatever I wasn’t doing or was doing wrong, I drove through snowstorms  in the dark, lost, and crying because I was missing out on another night with my family for this pointless pursuit. Who cared if it was a dream?

Then my book sold, and I figured that backstory column ended with a bang. (If you look at the pic, it did in fact end with a bang.) But then something nice happened. I started getting emails asking what was going on. When was my book coming out? And when I named a date, How come it took so long?

I realized that possibly always, but especially in these changing times in publishing, what goes on behind the scenes at a publishing house is pretty opaque. Mysterious. (And when my book finally does come out, you’ll see there’s little I like better than figuring out a mystery). Thanks to the kind interest from readers, it started me thinking that maybe people would like one bird’s eye view of this process.

I can’t say what debuting in traditional publishing circa 2011-2013 is like for everybody, of course. But I can share details about how it’s going for me. I hope they interest you. As always, if you have any questions or thoughts, just email me. This new column–let’s call it frontstory–is a conversation between us. It’s a journal I’m writing about this momentous journey.

And I thank you for sharing it with me.

I’ll start with where I was when I finally got the news from my agent that there was an offer, just because it speaks to how life sometimes pairs the most elevated with the most mundane.

I was Swiffing my living room floor. My agent actually apologized for calling me twice–apparently she’d left a message a little earlier and I’d missed it. I hope I wasn’t doing something even lesser at the time, like scrubbing the tile grout.

“I have some good news,” my agent said, in her dignified, understated way. (When my agent promises something big is about to happen, oh boy, do I listen. This is not a woman who embellishes. A welcome trait in today’s marketing-laden world.)

After she told me that BE (Brilliant Editor) had made an offer, I squealed at her: “And you were apologizing for calling me back??”

Then we laughed together.

My husband and I picked up my son at preschool, and drove to my daughter, who was in first grade at the time.

“Where are we going?” my son asked.

“You’ll see,” said my husband. “Just wait. We can’t tell you yet.”

We called my daughter out of class. We told both kids in the lobby of the school. They hugged me for long enough that I could almost–almost hold onto that moment. These are the kids that held a parade around the house, carrying posters which said, Gat publisht. To whom I had to apologize when the words took me away from them for too long. They knew what this meant.

After that I had to do something even more mundane than Swiffing or scrubbing grout–one of those annual medical tests women and men have to endure (though they’re different ones usually). It was from the waiting room that I called DWF (Dear Writing Friend) to share the news.

Things got a lot less mundane than housecleaning and checkups a few weeks later. A few moments stand out. And, since every mystery has a cliffhanger, I’ll tell you about them in the next frontstory post.

Guest Post: Stephen Brayton

Filed under: The Writing Life — jenny @ 9:23 am


Stephen Brayton is one of the funniest guys I’ve met. One of the things I find so cool about the internet is that it introduces you to people in far flung locations who go on to become good friends. Dear friends. Sometimes people who feel like family. When you get to know people that well, you learn things about them that aren’t necessarily a part of their author persona. I love that, too–how we can accept and respect each other not for the slick sides, but even for the warty bumps. In this case, however, humor is definitely a part of Stephen, as author and general good guy. Read on and he’ll tell you the role he sees comedy playing in mysteries…and life.

Stephen Brayton

Lighten Up Already

Unless you’re the prude of your generation, everybody likes a humorous story. Some light-hearted anecdote to bring a smile or a gentle chuckle.

Many authors will insert humor into their stories, even if the subject matter is serious or the tone is dramatic. Humor gives the reader a rest, a small break before diving back into the deep end. My favorite example comes from the Hitchcock movie “Topaz”. The entire movie concerns spies. However, the one small moment comes near the middle when Hitchcock makes his appearance, as he did in all his movies. It’s an airport scene and Al is being pushed in a wheelchair through the terminal. Suddenly, he stops, stands and walks off camera. It’s one of those scenes where you stop for just a second and think, “What just happened?” The scene has nothing to do with the rest of the movie, but it’s mildly funny because of its ironic inclusion.

Of course, many books are purposely humor based. I cite Evanovitch’s Plum novels and Barry’s “Big Trouble”. They’re written to be cynical or slapstick and designed to show the corny side of life.

Many private detectives (and those non-detectives who end up being one anyway) have a lighter side. Many are cynical, ironic, or sarcastic. How many detective novels have you read where the hero mouths off to the bad guy even in a life threatening situation?

When I set out to write stories featuring my private investigator/martial artist, Mallory Petersen, I wanted to add a humorous side to her. I didn’t want her to be a hard-boiled, world weary, life’s-a-drag kind of person.

Mallory is tall and blonde and beautiful. She’s an exceptional martial artist who cares about her students and her clients. She puts her all into making sure her taekwondo school offers the best training and again while investigating her cases.

I didn’t want Mallory to handle only the serious cases. She has to have fun. So, I made the majority of her clients and crooks come from the nuttier side of life. In “Beta” she sets up surveillance equipment to find out who is stealing snacks from a local bakery and finds the thief doing some outrageous things. Her tailing of a high school girl’s boyfriend has her discovering his less than stellar intelligence. When she spies upon a philandering husband and his mistress, she snaps pictures of an interesting dichotomy between the parties in question.

Many of the bad guys and minor characters Mallory encounters throughout the book are not the typical thug with a weapon and a bad attitude. The gang banger has an unusual handle. The armed robber dresses in drag. The hygienically challenged informant she cons using her feminine wiles. The flustered receptionist. Even in her taekwondo she finds a stray bit of humor. Her instructors are trying to discover which child is urinating in the locker room’s waste can.

I purposely set out to include humor in “Beta” to temper the subject matter of the serious case. I’m not giving away spoilers by mentioning the kidnapped girl in the story is subjected to the hell of child pornography. This is a heinous crime and I hope I’ve given enough details without causing too much revulsion. I want the reader to become emotional about this child and about Mallory’s feelings and frustrations during her search for her. But I give the reader a rest by putting Mallory in a few humorous scenes.

Humor can be difficult. There is a temptation to steal from comedians. I couldn’t resist using an old joke regarding the philandering husband. However, the urinating taekwondo student and the ditzy receptionist are based on actual incidents.

When you’re writing humor, look around you. You don’t necessarily have to make up a joke or grab lines from professional funny people. Life brings us humor nearly every day. From the politicians to klutz in the part to Aunt Mary getting beaned by a water balloon.

By utilizing humor, you may find your story stepping up to the next level, and hopefully your readers’ enjoyment will too.

Stephen Brayton is a Fifth Degree Black Belt instructor in the American Taekwondo Association. He started martial arts training in 1991, earned his black belt in 1993, and gained his instructor certification in 1995.

Stephen has been employed in various fields: radio broadcaster and sales, printing, warehouse/trucking, and hospitality. He’s a reader; a writer; an instructor; a graphic designer; a lover of books, movies, wine, women, music, fine food, good humor, sunny summer days spent hiking or fishing; and a catnip drug dealer to his thirteen pound cat, Thomas.

January 23, 2012

Made It Moment: Maria Sutton

Filed under: Made It Moments — jenny @ 9:31 am

The Night Sky

As most of you know, Suspense Your Disbelief plays host to many mystery, suspense, and thriller authors (although we’ve seen our share of women’s fiction, inspirational, historical, and literary books as well). And as most of you know, I love ‘em all–books and authors.

Today we are welcoming the author of a real life mystery, one that began in war-torn Germany and ends a world and half a lifetime away. Maria Sutton’s Moment is one that will make us all smile. I could taste the pirogis as Maria finally became convinced she was a Real Author. Her bio below is an important part of the  story that had to unravel, not in the ways of fiction, but in the way of Real Life.

Maria Sutton

Out of the corner of my eye I could see two gray-haired ladies involved in an animated discussion about something. I glanced over and saw them leafing through the pages of MY BOOK! The waitress, noticing that my dinner conversation with my husband had momentarily ceased, gestured in my direction, letting the elderly ladies know “the author” was sitting at a table not far from where they were standing. They gave me an excited smile, so I went over to them and introduced myself.

Earlier that day I had made arrangements with the owner of the Cracovia, a fine Polish cuisine restaurant, to drop off a few editions of my book, The Night Sky: A Journey from Dachau to Denver and Back. He thought the patrons frequenting his restaurant would be interested in the book, so I left about 10 copies with him, making arrangements to drop by for dinner later that night to discuss the details of our business arrangement. My presence in his restaurant that night generated a lot of excitement and I soon found myself autographing several copies of my book for many of his diners. I felt like a celebrity with people queuing in line to get my autograph and gushing over me!

I also knew I had “made it” in the literary world when I started getting numerous Five-Star Reviews from Amazon Vine Voice Reviewers, as well as two New York Times best-selling authors. Several reviewers validated my writing ability by stating in their reviews “Please write more books.” That is the highest honor any author can receive.

Maria Sutton was born in the barracks of Germany’s former Wehrmacht command center, which had been converted to house Europe’s Displaced Persons after WWII.

In 1951, Maria, along with her Mother, Step-father, and sister immigrated to America and she has lived in the greater Denver metro area since that time. Her book, The Night Sky: A Journey from Dachau to Denver and Back is the culmination of her 43-year search for her biological father, who disappeared shortly after her birth in war-torn Germany. Without knowing the spelling or his name, nor his date and place of birth, Maria was able to find him – proving that with unwavering determination, anything is possible.

Maria graduated from the University of Colorado with a Bachelor of Science in Finance and Accounting and has also attended the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. She has been employed by the U. S. government in several capacities throughout her Federal career, receiving awards for her writing and investigative skills.

The above title is available from Johnson Books, an imprint of Big Earth Publishing. Her memoir will be translated into several languages, including German, Polish, and Ukrainian.

Maria and her family reside in Golden, Colorado.

January 19, 2012

Made It Moment: Jimmy Petrosino

Filed under: Made It Moments — jenny @ 10:16 pm

The Dean's List

Boy, could I relate to different aspects of this Moment. Like me, Jimmy Petrosino seems to have experienced the inimical fall from grace that arrives when we realize that if we’d realized what our early drafts were really like…then we might not be in this game at all. But we keep at it, some of us, the crazy ones, and that’s lucky. Because 10 or 20 or 100 (yes, 100, keep reading) drafts later we just might find…we’ve made it.

Jimmy Petrosino

Saying “I made it,” may be the overstatement of the year. I feel I have such a long way to go but I can say, “I made it off the bench hahaha.” I began writing in my teens, it was more therapeutic than anything, keeping a journal of poetry. I would jot down my feelings which usually dealt with depression, OCD, anxiety, dying and all kinds of problems I made myself believe I had.

Over time, long poems would become short stories and short stories would become screenplays. I threw my hat into that arena and had tiny successes. I was able to option out a screenplay that I co-wrote to Hollywood producers, but that script has been sitting in developmental hell for years now.

I always wanted to write a novel but didn’t think I had it in me. But once I bit the bullet and went for it I didn’t stop. It was a nonstop barrage of writing, mostly through the night. The original version of “The Dean’s List” was so bad that when I revisit it makes me wonder what the heck made me think I could write. But that draft does show me how much better a writer I have become since then, thanks to the 100 revisions, another book, another 100 revisions, another book, and so on and so on.

After being through two agents and enough rejection slips to wallpaper my bedroom I am happy to find people in the industry who liked my book enough to take it on. A mafia thriller that takes place in college isn’t necessarily the greatest sell to an agent or editor. I heard “it’s too male-oriented,” a lot, or “tough sell because it falls in-between YA and adult.” Still, I never gave up. Persistence and perseverance are two qualities I have and one needs in this business. Now it’s up to me to build on what I’ve started. One thing I learned from all this, you got to treat yourself like a brand and sell yourself. Those who don’t get left behind.

Jimmy Petrosino is the youngest of five brothers in an Italian American family. Jimmy grew up listening to stories at the dinner table about family members who worked as detectives, and their battles with some of the city’s most notorious criminals. He was inspired to write The Dean’s List by his father, who comes from a long line of New York City Police Detectives. His great uncle was Lieutenant Joseph Petrosino, with a park in Little Italy named after him. Jimmy currently works for his family’s business, Mountain Spring Waters of America, and just finished writing a young adult thriller about a teenage boy who suffers a near death experience.

January 17, 2012

Made It Moment: Mark Stevens

Filed under: Made It Moments — jenny @ 8:12 pm

Buried by the Roan

It’s a special joy to feature Moments when I’ve gotten to read the book first. Especially when the book spoke to me on all sorts of levels. Right now I am staring at a copy of Mark Stevens’ ANTLER DUST, the first in a series. I can best describe this as an environmental mystery, by a man who really knows his environment. I enjoyed it so much that I am going to gift a copy of this beautiful book to one lucky commenter. But as thrilling and poignant as Mark Stevens’ novel is, his Moment is even more so. Read on and you’ll see why.

Mark Stevens

Scene 1:

The year, 1989.  The place, a swank literary agent’s office in New York City. (Names being withheld to protect those who were trying to be helpful.) The office is hushed, quiet. The agent is young, bright, polished. She’s decidedly good-looking, like an Ivy Leaguer working on her degree in library science and training for the Olympics on the weekend. I am overwhelmed, gawking, eager. She holds the key to my literary future. Maybe she’ll my agent for decades to come? Who knows? My first mystery-thriller is sitting on the desk between us. “We can sell this book,” she says.

My made it moment? No.

Nothing happened. She was wrong. Updates from the agent faded, communication went pffft. We parted ways.

Scene 2:

The year, 1993. The place, my desk in The Denver Post newsroom. Mid-afternoon. Picture an old-school one-big-office newsroom, desks all jammed together. Phones ringing, shouts, keyboards being punched. My phone rings. Agent introduces herself.  From New York. There is urgency in her tone. “Are you represented by anyone yet?” she asks. I pause. Yet? I had been querying mystery-thriller #2 for awhile. I wasn’t even sure I recognized the name of the firm she was with. “No,” I said. “You are now,” she said (or words to that effect).  But I wasn’t going to be “easy.” I had a question! “What other mystery writers do you represent?” I managed to say. This time the pause was on her end. “Well, John Grishanm for one….” The in-depth vetting ended quickly.

My made it moment? No.

Nothing happened. We worked at it for over a year. I visited the offices once when I was in New York for work. Update from agent faded, communication went pffft. We parted ways.

Scene 3:

The year, 1998. The place, my mailbox in Denver. The letter from well-known New York literary agency included an offer of representation for mystery-thriller #3.  No quizzing from me this time. Just a year of work on the manuscript followed by a round of editor queries. Lots of hope, many assurances.

My made it moment? No.

When communication went dark this time, I sent a letter to head of agency and was sent a form letter rejection as if it was the first time I’d ever queried.

Scene 4:

The year, 2006. A longtime friend introduced me to someone who was starting a publishing firm, an independent in the Boulder area. He was looking for authors. I gave him mystery-thriller #3 and a new one, too, #4.  He read both, liked both, and offered to publish #3.

My made-it moment? No.

Book #3 came out 11 months later. I toured Colorado bookstores (42 in all). Book #3, also known as Antler Dust, reached the Denver Post best-seller list in 2007 and again in 2009.  I started writing a sequel to Antler Dust and, as I finished the manuscript, the publisher announced he was closing his business.

However, I was introduced to the fine folks from People’s Press in Aspen and they wanted to publish the sequel. Book #5 was scheduled—and Buried by the Roan was published in August, 2011 (along with a nifty new paperback edition of Antler Dust) and the reviews have been terrific.

My made-it moment? No.

Yes, I confess to incredible highs in 2007 and 2011 as both books saw the light of day, as both books started drawing positive reviews, as emails from complete strangers arrived with kind words, good things to say.

But thinking back, the only reason I’m writing (and reading) is I had parents who instilled in me the utter, pure, deep-down and undeniable pleasure of a good novel or a fascinating non-fiction.

Many years later, I got the wacky idea I could try my hand.

My made-it moment was being born into an environment rich with words, language and ideas.

Sounds corny, I know. But that’s the way I feel.

Lucky me.

The son of two librarians, Mark Stevens was raised in Massachusetts. He worked as a reporter for The Christian Science Monitor, covering events and issues from the economy, commercial fishing, the environment. He then worked for The Rocky Mountain News and The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour. He covered the 1985 earthquake in Mexico City, NASA’s space shuttle disaster, a volcano eruption in Colombia, political upheavals in Nicaragua, and mudslides in Puerto Rico. After tending bar for a year, while also writing fiction, he joined The Denver Post to cover education, and now works in public relations.

January 16, 2012

There’s More Than One Way to Edit a Cat

Filed under: The Writing Life — jenny @ 2:33 pm

As I crawled out of my editing cave a while ago–literally: I completed my second round of edits for my new editor in the dim recesses of my childhood basement–and finally got to reconnect with friends on the internet, students, and writers who’d emailed me, I became aware of a confusion.

Not just me, muddle-headed, and blinky-eyed from the stuporous effects of intense editing. But something that may be confusing to many of us as we go about this process of perfecting our writing.

I got emails from writers talking about the need to upload clean copy, ridding their manuscripts of the kinds of typos and grammatical mistakes that can plague even the most experienced author’s early drafts, depending upon how feverishly that draft emerges. Some of them asked me how much time should be spent on this process.

Correcting copy is a necessary step. These mistakes can jump out at the reader. If the book is traditionally published, readers tend to be aghast that any errors slip in. And if the book is independently-published, then the standard might be even higher, since people will be looking for red flags suggesting that the book belongs in what’s come to be called the ghetto of prematurely slapped together volumes.

It’s a necessary step of the process, yes. But it’s also the last step.

You know how there’s more than one way to skin a cat? It applies to your novel as well.

This how the trajectory works for me personally. Perhaps it will change as I get more experience–in some ways I hope so. (Oh, please save me from drafts that number twenty-one, save me from that basement again). But I suspect that all three of the below apply to all serious writers always.

  • Developmental editing: You turn your baby over to trusty readers who find issues, which no matter how good a self-editor you are, inevitably slip in. You might be heck at structure and logic, story-tagging every one of your sixty scenes, but your dialog reads a little woodenly, or your characters are stock. You might write exquisite prose–sometimes too exquisite. It’s objective eyes that will tell you when a description of a violet sunrise becomes just…purple. Or that you really can’t start off with thirty people dying in an explosion, unless you want to fulfill the demand of rising stakes by killing 30,000 at the climax. In whichever case, this is the stage when the meat of your story comes under examination. In some way, shape, or form you will have to go back and spend weeks if not months reshaping and revising. Then you hand it out to completely new readers–and get to do this step all over again. They will find stuff. People will always find stuff. Knowing when to stop is the subject of another blog post.
  • Line editing: Here is where those clunky or awkward sentences get smoothed out. Maybe you can spot them, but I’d still recommend a good pair (or two or three) of objective eyes on your work. The book works in terms of the major craft areas: plot, structure, character, dialog, scene, arc. But there’s still stylistic work to be done to make sure you’ve mined every area for its greatest impact, to make sure the story reads well. After all, that’s what’s coming before too long. Real readers reading.
  • Polishing: Only here do you finally address typos and the kinds of slips you can read a hundred times before someone points out that you spelled “the woman” with an e: “the women”. The missed words, the clauses that dangle, the me’s for an I or vice versa. This is painstaking work, but it is relatively easy, and if you’ve completed stages one and two with rigor, then it won’t take very long. Before you know it, you will have a thoroughly edited, submission- or publication-ready book.

Here the two roads, traditionally and independently published, divide. On the traditional one, what I found at least–what drove me to that dastardly basement (kidding, I love the basement)–was that even though I was sure all three stages had been completed and completed again, my editor had a vision. And she was right. There was more to do in step 1, and if I could do it successfully, I would have a better book than I had written the first eighteen times. Professional, industry eyes on your work in addition to your trusty or beta readers is something I think all novels benefit from. It’s not always possible to get that, and when it’s not, the solution might be an even higher number of trustys so that you get a truly wide range of responses.

It’s a lot of work. It’s a crazy amount of work. Work we can only do in the bottom of a basement, figurative or physical. We have to descend to great depths to claw that one, shining thing out of us that ultimately becomes our best book.

And if we do it right, what happens? Then we get to do it again, with our next book, and our next.

Time to open up the basement door and go in.

January 13, 2012

Made It Moment: Linda Hall

Filed under: Made It Moments — jenny @ 9:42 am

Sadie's Song

Ouch. The un-Made It Moment–a term newly coined by today’s featured author, Linda Hall. That one is so real, it hurts. As Linda says below, We’ve all had them, right? Writers and non-writers alike. But Linda’s *Made It* Moment is a lot cheerier. In fact, her description of it gives you a visual right away. And I guarantee, whether you’re feeling made-it-y or un-made-it-y today, this Moment will make you smile.

Linda Hall

In this business, there are many “made it moments,” those times when you feel you can finally admit to everyone that you’re a writer without fear that the Writing Police will come to your door demanding your Writer’s ID Card back. But, for every “made-it-moment,” there are also a number of “un-made it moments.” (But that’s the stuff of another blog post). It’s a career of ups and downs, isn’t it? So, when those “made it moments” occur, we need to hold them close to our hearts so they can carry us through the difficult times.

My first “made it moment” happened way back in 1992, a few years before internet and email. My first novel, a futuristic thriller called The Josiah Files, was being released by Thomas Nelson Publishers. (Don’t look for it. It’s been OOP for a long time!) I was waiting like all brand new novelists for my books to arrive. I’d received a cover flat in the mail, but touching the actual books in person would be a whole new level of cool. My books were expected to arrive any day. And every day I waited for the courier guy.

One afternoon I came home, opened the front door, and there were my author copies – all of them – spread out over the living room floor like a rug. The books had arrived while I was out and my husband had opened the box and laid them all side to side and end to end on the carpet. That was one of those champagne moments. I finally had a book. And it was in print. And here it was!

And so in the ensuing years when things in the publishing industry and writing life may have gotten me down, I think of that moment, my books all spread out on the living room floor.

Award winning and twice Christy-nominated author Linda Hall has written eighteen novels of mystery and suspense, plus many short stories. She grew up in New Jersey where her love of the ocean was nurtured. Most of her novels have something to do with the sea. When she’s not writing, Linda and her husband enjoy sailing the St. John River system and the coast of Maine. In the summer they move aboard their 34′ sailboat aptly named – Mystery.

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