NOT YOUR USUAL SUSPECTS

A group blog featuring an international array of killer mystery, suspense, and romantic suspense writers. With premises and story lines different from your run-of-the-mill whodunits, we tend to write outside the box. We blog several times a week on all topics relating to romantic suspense and mystery, our writing, and our readers. We welcome all comments and often have guest bloggers. All our authors can be contacted separately, too, using their own social media links.

We find our genre delightfully, dangerously, and deliciously exciting - join us here, if you do too!


Julie Moffet . Clare London . Cathy Perkins . Jean Harrington . Daryl Anderson . Nico Rosso . Maureen A. Miller . Sandy Parks . Lisa Q Mathews . Sharon Calvin . Lynne Connolly . Janis Patterson

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Tightrope


Halfway through a book--you give up reading, shake your fist at it, and vow to never glance at another page.

Halfway through a book--you can't stop reading, and find yourself saying things like, "Just one more page..."

What is it? What determines the outcome of that walk across the tightrope? Are you going to jump off halfway through, or will you run full-speed to get to the other side?

Why did you jump off? Had you grown bored? Was it not your genre? Did you want to take the heroine to a shrink?

Or were you sitting on the couch with your legs curled up under you, eyeing the shadows before diving back into the thrill?

How many times do we see 5-star reviews and 1-star reviews for the same book?  It could be that Sybil and her multiple personalities had reviewed it. It could be that the plot was about horse racing and the reader's husband had just recently spent too much money at the track. It could be that the heroine used indigo paint in her bedroom and you love the color.

Not every novel will connect with every reader, that much is inevitable. But have you ever read a book that multiple readers have labeled with bad reviews, and yet you find it was one of the best books you've engaged in this year? Is there something wrong with you? Are you more liberal than others? 

Every time we walk that tightrope, we never know if we'll make it to the other side or jump off to the net below. But gosh, there is no force on Earth that stops us from trying again!

Maureen

Monday, February 25, 2013

What's in a name?


Character names, to me, are one big headache. They cause me sleepless nights.

I spend hours, sometimes days, trying to come up with the right name for a character. I need that name before I can write anything involving that particular character. 

How do I choose those names? I start by working out their year of birth and I then look up popular baby names around that time. (A woman born in 1920, for example, isn’t going to be christened Chardonnay.) I can spend hours looking up the meaning of names. I’m one of those sad people who pauses the TV when film credits are rolling to see if a suitable name catches my attention. 

So, after a while, I have my character’s first name. The work starts all over again then as I try to settle on the surname and, again, it has to be exactly right. I know where my character was born so I look up surnames familiar to that area of the country. I find one I like - and then realise that it sounds ridiculous with the surname. I have software that generates random names, about 5,000 of the things, and none are ‘right’. Eventually, after a great deal of blood, sweat, tears and gnashing of teeth, I have my characters' names. 

That should be that, right? Sadly not. The nightmare continues. In my ‘Jill & Max’ series of crime novels, for example, I had Jill and Jack. Jill Kennedy is a lead character in the series so I obviously couldn’t change her name and I also had a curmudgeonly old man called Jack - and he could be called nothing but Jack. Jack was his name and nothing would make me change it. I spent days writing out a scene they shared so that I didn’t have something like Jack and Jill went up the hill.

The book I’m working on at the moment will soon be off to my editor. I’m doing a final edit before I send it. What do I find? Well, after all the time spent finding the perfect names, I have the most ridiculous names ever. Truly. I’ve been working on the book for months and I’ve only just realised that I have characters with the surnames Hiller, Miller and Mellor. Jeez! What was I thinking? They will be changed, of course, but it means I’ve now got to spend hours - maybe days - coming up with perfect ‘alternative’ names for some characters.

I think I need chocolate. And wine. Lots of wine...

Friday, February 22, 2013

Word of Mouth


First, I want to say—congratulations to all the talented writers who participated in the Round Robin “Her Fatal Valentine!” (dum, dum, dum… that title really needs a sound effect.)

A Round Robin is a kind of improvisation games for writers. Like most improv—when it works, it’s like magic! And when it doesn’t, it’s still darn funny. If you haven’t read it, you are in for a treat. Skip on down the blog to February 4th.  I’ll wait…

Back already?

Don’t you love a good book recommendation?

There have been dire whispers about Barnes & Noble in the news again. In my local shopping center, what used to be the Borders has just re-opened as a (shudder) Sports Authority.

There are still several independent bookstores near me, thank goodness. But I’ve been thinking about how I used to find books in the old days. (Loitering in the Borders for hours.) Versus how I find things today, partly because I read a quote recently that said, “how we discover books is broken.”

I’m not sure if it’s broken—but it’s definitely gone old school.

Word of mouth seems to be the way I find new books. Recommendations from friends. Book sellers I trust. 

Groups with similar tastes can be helpful, unless they get very big. Goodreads was recently profiled in the NYT—let the marketing begin! That place is going to get even crazier in the next few months. Shelfari seems to be under the radar for now but I fear the coming boom. Smaller communities seem to be a more reliable source for me.

I first heard about “50 Shades” on one of my favorite author’s Facebook pages, back when it was still available online for free. She regularly asks her facebook fans to post “what are you reading?” A hundred people may respond. I’ll skim the answers for books I don’t recognize.

Another trick I have is to cast a wide net. I’m sure you’ve seen the best-of-lists that come of at the end of the year. Or the lists of award winners for mysteries, fiction, romance, science fiction. But I rarely grab the winners first. I search for all the nominees/also rans/next outs. Many of my favorite books are the ones that didn’t win—because they were a little too quirky, or the author too new to generate enough votes.

Now that I can’t sit in the Borders for hours, I need help. I need new ways to find books. (And don’t say: “Amazon Recommended for You.” Geez. Where do they come up with some of those? )

I’ve shared a couple of my favorite tricks. How do you all find new books to read?

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Her Fatal Valentine, Part 8



We round off our…well, Round Robin, Her Fatal Valentine, with Part 8 by Wendy Soliman.

You!” Lauren and Carter said together.
“Were you expecting someone else?”
Lauren stood up, too angry and shocked to care that the gun Megan had probably used to kill the two policemen with was now trained on her.
“How did you get in here?” Carter asked, placing his large body in front of Lauren.
“Aw, how sweet. In spite of everything, he still wants to protect you.” Megan’s features, the mirror image of Caroline’s, hardened. “Shame he’s going to fail.”
“Don’t be stupid, Megan.” Carter reached for the gun. “You can’t hope to get away with this. The place will be crawling with cops soon.”
“Who said anything about getting away with it? I just want you two to suffer the way I have.”
“You?” It seemed the only word Lauren was capable of uttering. She cleared her throat and tried again. “You killed Caroline, your own twin sister. And now Kyle. Why?”
“You just don’t get it, do you?”
“I thought we were friends,” Carter said. “You were there for me when Caroline died and yet all the time…”
“And friendship’s all you ever wanted from me. I was the nice twin. Unlike Caroline, I didn’t have a spiteful bone in my body but the worse she treated you, the more you wanted her.” Megan shook her head. “I loved you from afar for so long, but I meant nothing to you.”
Megan’s hand, the one holding the gun, wobbled. Carter noticed it too, Lauren was sure, but before he could make a move she got herself together again.
“I’ve always respected you, Megan,” Carter said.
Lauren inwardly groaned. The last thing a deranged woman like Megan needed to hear was that she was respected and the word hung heavily in the ensuing silence.
“I got tired of seeing the way Caroline treated you, so I did you a favor and got her out of your life. You were supposed to turn to me for consolation…me! Instead you kept banging on about how wrong you’d been to ditch my other sister for Caroline.” She fixed the pair of them with a malevolent glare. “Do you know just how demeaning that is?”
Lauren was stunned. She and Megan had never been close and she’d seen little of her over the past few years. She’d had no idea she felt that way about Carter, and less idea how to get the pair of them away from her before she fire that damned gun, which she was bound to do the moment reinforcements arrived. Damn, she could hear sirens in the distance. Megan heard them too and turned her head fractionally.
Carter slammed an elbow into Lauren’s gut, sending her crashing to the floor. In the same deft movement he grabbed Megan’s gun arm, and they struggled. Winded, Lauren watched from the floor as the man she’d never stopped loving endeavored to fight off a mad woman imbued with superhuman strength. Their tussle seemed to go on forever but could only have lasted for a second or two before the gun discharged and the smell of cordite filled the air.
Lauren felt relief rather than sadness as she saw blood spreading slowly across Megan’s chest. Her sister was ill—mentally ill—but she was also evil. For now Carter was her only concern.
“Are you all right?” she asked, crouching beside him as he clutched his arm and blood seeped through his fingers.
“Damned bullet grazed my arm and then hit her. We were so close together that—”
“Shush, it doesn’t matter.”
Nothing mattered anymore. She would grieve for her sister later and probably feel guilty for not realizing just how sick she’d actually been. But right now she had more important matters to attend to. Like kissing the man of her dreams witless…
                                            
Thanks for reading our Valentine’s story. Did you like the ending? If not, how would you have preferred for it to have finished?

Monday, February 18, 2013

Her Fatal Valentine, Part 7


If you’re just joining us, you should know that Not Your Usual Suspect authors are treating our fans to an eight-part mystery round robin, Her Fatal Valentine. It started on February 4, so it’s easy to get caught up!
 
We continue our Valentine mystery round robin with Part 7 of Her Fatal Valentine by Julie Moffett

 
Lauren looked up and saw two policemen crouched in the doorway, guns drawn, both of them pointing at her.

The one on the left jerked his gun at Kyle’s lifeless body. “What the hell is going on, Carter? Did she off him?”

Carter exhaled a deep sigh. “Put your guns away. She didn’t kill him.”

The two men paused, confusion in their eyes. Carter nodded and the men shrugged and straightened, holstering their weapons.

Lauren glanced at Carter in surprise. “You… you believe me?”

Carter ran his fingers through his hair, a familiar gesture she remembered well. “As much as I wanted to pin this murder on you, to make you pay for Caroline’s death, I don’t think you killed him.”

"I didn’t kill Kyle, I swear.”

“You were going to marry him.”

“No.” Lauren shook her head vigorously. “I was going to break up actually.”

Carter held up a small box and popped it open. A glittery diamond nestled on soft blue velvet sparkled at her.

Lauren stared at it aghast. “I… I didn’t know.”

Carter leaned forward, his eyes darkening. “I believe you. I also don’t think you killed Caroline. You don’t have it in you, no matter how despicably your sister behaved. You were right about her, Lauren. She was insanely jealous of you. I didn’t see it until it was too late. I made the biggest mistake of my life by marrying her. Especially since you were the one I’d always loved.”

Lauren felt tears prick her eyes. How many nights had she dreamed of hearing him say those very words? Now that he’d said them, she had to know. “Then why did you leave me?”

He snapped the box shut and set it on the coffee table. “I should have never suspected you of carrying on with Mike. It’s just that he was always around, trailing after you, lusting for you. I could see it, even if you couldn’t. I should have realized it wasn’t reciprocal.”

Lauren pressed her hand to her chest, willing herself to stay composed. “We were only friends, Carter. I told you the truth. It’s only after you dumped me that things changed between us.”

 “I know. God, I know. That Valentine’s night when we fought and I stormed out, Caroline was waiting for me. She seduced me. I let her because I was furious at you. Madly jealous. It wasn’t my finest moment and one I’ll always regret. I never loved her, Lauren.”

Lauren’s throat tightened. “If that’s true, then why did you marry her?”

Carter closed his eyes. “Because of the baby.”

His words sliced a knife through her heart. She couldn’t breathe. “Oh, my God. Caroline was pregnant?”

Carter opened his mouth to answer when two shots rang out. Before Lauren could move, he vaulted out of his chair, slammed into her and pushed her to the floor with a hard thud. Screams and more shots filled the air as he rolled them over twice until they were hidden behind the couch. An eerie silence filled the room. Carter drew his weapon as he inched off her and into a crouch.

“Stay down,” he mouthed and motioned at her with his hand.

From her vantage point, Lauren could see nothing other than Kyle’s dead body lying not far from her. The bile rose in her throat and her body trembled.

Then came the sound of footsteps and a voice. A voice she knew very well.

“At last the guests are all here. I see the Valentine’s party is well underway.”


Who shot at them? What happened to the two policemen? Are Lauren and Carter going to die? Join us Wednesday, February 20th, for the conclusion to Her Fatal Valentine by Wendy Soliman.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Her Fatal Valentine, Part 6

If you’re just joining us, you should know that Not Your Usual Suspect authors are treating our fans to an eight-part mystery round robin, Her Fatal Valentine. It started on February 4, so it’s easy to get caught up!

We continue our Valentine mystery round robin with Part 6 of Her Fatal Valentine by Elise Warner

Lauren stared at the man she once loved. The eyes that had enveloped her in love were now pinpoints of hate. She couldn’t believe he was the same man—gentle, kind—he had transformed into a vehicle for vengeance. How could she have loved him? A single tear escaped and she hoped he hadn’t noticed.

She needed to see Kyle’s body once more. There was something about the way he had been positioned on the floor, something familiar about the table setting. She had to get back into the house. She would use tears or pretend to faint. Something. Anything.

Lauren moved toward the door, her shoe caught in a floorboard, she stumbled and fell. Carter reached her side, grabbed her arm and yanked her to her feet. A cry of pain escaped her mouth and she let the tears fall.

“My ankle,” she said. “I twisted my ankle.”

He half-dragged her inside the living room and pushed her down on a hard chair.

Lauren took a fleeting look at Kyle’s body and the hole in his shirt—a replica of the shot that had killed Caroline. A casual glance was enough to know that the table mirrored her own on the night Caroline was murdered and Mike—what had happened to Mike? Flowers and candles were on the table and the mantel, she was sure there was champagne on ice and two filets waiting to be chilled. The room she had decorated for a Valentine’s celebration with Mike had been replicated.

“You did this. It was you,” she screamed at Carter. “You murdered Caroline. You—no one else was so familiar with the house I shared with my sister, no one knew me the way you did. You set it up. Kyle’s murder is a copycat murder.”

Carter raised his arm about to strike. “You’re crazy. Out of your mind,” he said.

Lauren buried her face in her hands.

The door burst open. “We’re here, Carter,” a deep, burly voice said.

Is Carter the murderer? Has Lauren lost her mind? And what happened to Mike? Join us on Monday, February 18 for part 7 by Julie Moffett.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Her Fatal Valentine, Part 5

If you’re just joining us, you should know that Not Your Usual Suspect authors are treating our fans to an eight-part mystery round robin, Her Fatal Valentine. It started on February 4, so it’s easy to get caught up!

We continue our Valentine mystery round robin with Part 5 of Her Fatal Valentine by Kathy Ivan.
 

"You're a real piece of work, Lauren." Sarcasm laced Carter's response to her question. "You murdered your boyfriend when you found out he was cheating with another woman. Why, couldn't stand the competition?" 

"Caroline wasn't competition, Detective. She was vindictive, petty, narcissistic, and shallow, but I loved her. She was my sister but I wasn't blind to her faults. Anything I had, she had to have it, take it."  Lauren paused before whispering, "Even you." 

Lauren stood, her nerves slightly steadier now the shock of finding Kyle's body was sinking in. Kyle was really dead, lying in a pool of blood less than 20 feet away, while the man she'd always loved, the man her sister had stolen and married to keep them apart stood glaring down into her eyes, a strange light blazing in the depths of his dark gaze.

"Caroline's body was found in our home. I was drugged, bound and gagged. Mike's blood was everywhere, and you've always blamed me. Tonight, you show up here, before I even arrive, and there's been another murder. Why were you here first? How did you even now I'd been here?" 

John ran his hand through his hair, fingers mussing up the dark brown curls that hadn't seen a razor in far too long. His face, his whole demeanor seemed… tired. Leaning against the post of the front steps, he slid his back along its length until he sat back, braced against the wood.

"I got an anonymous call. Blocked number. The caller said they had proof you'd killed Caroline. Gave this address." He blew out an exhausted breath, before reaching into his pocket, pulling his cellphone and punching in a programmed number.

"Yeah, it's Carter. We have another one. The Valentine's Day killer has struck again."

 
Who called Detective Carter? Is there a serial killer on the loose or is somebody targeting Lauren? And why Valentine's Day? Where is Mike's body? Check back for part 6 by Elise Warner on Friday, February 15.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Her Fatal Valentine, Part 4

If you’re just joining us, you should know that Not Your Usual Suspect authors are treating our fans to an eight-part mystery round robin, Her Fatal Valentine. It started on February 4, so it’s easy to get caught up!

We continue our Valentine mystery round robin with Part 4 of Her Fatal Valentine by Jean Harrington

“I didn’t kill your wife. Why won’t you believe me? The jury said I was innocent. Even the media came to my defense.” Lauren’s lips quivered and her eyes filled. “But not you, the one person who matters most.”

Detective John Carter peered down at her.

“Why should I believe you? You’re a liar. You killed Caroline.”  He jerked his chin at Kyle’s remains. “And now this guy. Why?”

Lauren shook her head, shaking the tears loose. “What you can’t believe is the truth. It’s too painful.”

She swiped at her tears with the back of a hand, and angry at showing weakness in front of John Carter, she shut her eyes, blocking out his angry image. Instead, the memory of that fatal Valentine’s night two years ago flooded her mind. She had been so ready for Mike, his warmth, his kisses, his loving—his proposal. She’d set the table with candles and flowers, had two perfect filets ready for grilling, champagne on ice and strawberries. She’d even bought new sheets.

Lauren smiled, remembering. Mike had been so eager to embrace her he’d left the apartment door open. Deep in his kiss, she was startled out of his arms by stiletto heels clicking on her foyer tiles…

The harsh voice of John Carter broke into her reverie. “Well, what’s your answer?” 

“What?”

“I asked you a question. Why did you kill again?”

Lauren looked up, straight into the detective’s hostile blue gaze. Cell phone in hand, he was ready to trigger the alarm and call in his troops.

“Before I answer, I have a question of my own. What did you do with Mike’s body?”

Carter’s fingers hovered over the cell.

“Detectives aren’t first responders,” she said. “But you were first on the scene the night Caroline died. And again tonight. That’s very strange.”

“Yeah?”  He squinted at her and pocketed his phone.

“Yes, it is. So who’s the liar, Detective Carter?  You or me?”


Why does Detective Carter accuse Lauren of lying? Worse, why does he believe she’s committed multiple murders? Is it strange that he’s so quick to respond to the scenes of carnage? Or not? And finally, what did happen to Mike? Check back for Part 5 by Kathy Ivan on Wednesday, February 13.

 

 

Friday, February 8, 2013

Her Fatal Valentine, Part 3

If you’re just joining us, you should know that Not Your Usual Suspect authors are treating our fans to an eight-part mystery round robin. It started on February 4, so it’s easy to get caught up!

We continue our Valentine mystery round robin with Part 3 of Her Fatal Valentine by Janis Patterson


“Well, what do we have here?” A tall, indubitably male form filled the door to the kitchen.

Lauren stared, unable to believe her eyes. Not him. Not here, not now.

Not again.

Lauren looked down slowly, almost hoping that Kyle would sit up and laugh, gleeful that he had pulled off another practical joke on her. He did crazy things like that sometimes, but never anything this realistic.

But this was real. Kyle was really dead. That was real blood.

And the man in the kitchen door was coming closer, a sardonic smile on his face. Lauren wished she could just run away, but her feet wouldn’t move.

“Come back to see your handiwork?” he asked in slow, measured tones.

“Hello, Detective Carter.”

“Interesting to see you here.” He stopped just beyond the dark pool of Kyle’s blood. A solidly built man, he looked as if he had once played football. His hands were large and slightly scarred, and they kept clenching as if he wished to reach out and grab her. “You’ve even beaten the crime scene guys.”

“Who did this?” Lauren was dismayed at how shaky her voice was. “I don’t want to be here.”

“But here you are,” the detective said, and extended a hand to her. “And I want to talk to you.”

With ease he stepped around the crimson pool and pulled Lauren to the edge of the porch.

“You’re hurting my arm,” Lauren said.

“Just want to make sure you don’t run away,” he returned easily, but released her arm. “Now what are you doing here?”

“Kyle invited me to dinner. He said we were going to celebrate tonight.”

“Celebrate what?”

Lauren shook her head. “I don’t know. He said I’d understand when I got here.”

“So you’re the one he laid out all the flowers for.”

“Flowers?”

“Yep, and a fancy table service too. And you’re sure you don’t have any idea why?”

Lauren shook her head. The thin wail of a siren sliced through the night. It clawed at her nerves.

“I’d like to sit down, please,” she said tightly and made a move toward the house.

Detective Carter grabbed her arm. “Sit on the steps. I don’t want you contaminating my crime scene.”

Obediently Lauren looked down, only to see the bloody impression her shoes left on the concrete. Kyle’s blood. Her shoes.

Her control broke and she began to scream. Kyle was dead and Detective Carter believed that she had killed him. He just couldn’t believe she had killed anyone – not again.

So who killed Kyle? And why? Why does the detective think Lauren might have killed him? What is their history together? Has Lauren killed before? Keep checking back with Not Your Usual Suspects blog to find out!
 

Our Valentine mystery round robin continues with Part 4 of Her Fatal Valentine by Jean Harrington on Monday, February 11

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Her Fatal Valentine, Part 2


If you’re just joining us, you should know that Not Your Usual Suspect authors are treating our fans to an eight-part mystery round robin, Her Fatal Valentine. We started on February 4, so it’s easy to get caught up!

We continue our Valentine mystery round robin with Part 2 of Her Fatal Valentine by Marcelle Dubé

Darn it. Kyle knew she was coming—couldn’t he have left the porch light on? Especially since the street light by his house was out. She’d almost stepped in a puddle of oil in his driveway.

Lauren rang the bell and waited. So typical. The small discourtesy strengthened her resolve. Tonight she would finally break it off with him. Then she sighed. Really, Lauren? Breaking it off because he hadn’t turned the light on?

It was more than that, of course. No matter how hard she tried, she didn’t love Kyle.

She just hoped she remembered that when the time came.

She stuffed her bare hands in her coat pockets, shivering in the damp February night. When he didn’t answer, she tried the doorknob. Unlocked. Huh. That wasn’t like Mr. Security Conscious Kyle.

She pushed the door open and stepped inside. “Hello? Kyle?” The house was dark except for a light at the back of the house, in the kitchen. What the heck was he making that it took all his concentration?

She was about to call his name again when the smell hit her.

Copper. And something far less pleasant.

Swallowing against an urge to retch, she fumbled for the light switch just as her shoe made a small splashing noise on the carpet. With a gasp she stepped back, her shoes making a sucking sound.

What the heck…?

She finally found the switch and light flooded the entrance.

The scream escaped before she could stop herself and her purse dropped to the bloody carpet with a wet thud.

Kyle lay splayed out just beyond the reach of the door, his eyes wide open, an expression of fear transforming his lean, handsome face into a caricature of itself. A tiny hole in the middle of his chest had ruined his favorite sky blue polo shirt.

And the blood. So much blood. She looked down at her black leather pumps, saw the toes limned with blood, and started to shake.

She controlled the compulsion to run. Instead, she picked up her purse with trembling hands and dug through it to find her cell phone. She finally pulled it out and punched in 911.

“911,” said a woman after one ring. “What is your emergency?”

Lauren opened her mouth to answer. Then something clattered in the kitchen and she froze.

Don’t forget to come back for Part 3 of Her Fatal Valentine on Friday, February 8.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Her Fatal Valentine, Part 1

As a special treat for our Not Your Usual Suspect fans, we've got a mystery just for you. You won't see it anywhere else but here at NYUS. Several of our wonderfully talented authors have put together a little mystery adventure round robin that we're calling Her Fatal Valentine. Join us every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday for the next few weeks as we unfold an eight-part whodunit Valentine's story that hopefully will keep you guessing right up to the end. So drop by often in the next two weeks and see if you can figure out the mystery!

Her Fatal Valentine, Part 1, by Cathy Perkins
 
“This is going to be a killer night.”
Kyle Bennett gave the room one last inspection. Candles flickered on the tables, the mantle. Flowers—roses that cost him a minor fortune—filled a vase. Music he'd pulled out of Lauren's stash played through the speakers. Steaks marinated in the fridge alongside the champagne and strawberries.
The small jeweler's box was stuffed in his pants pocket.
He'd pulled out every chick cliché he thought might make Lauren happy. He wanted this to be a Valentine's Day to remember. One she could tell her girlfriends about when she showed off the rock on her finger.
He moved to his bedroom and made sure the gym socks were in the hamper and the lid was down in the john.
Awesome sex was definitely in order tonight, too.
He was looking for clean sheets when the doorbell rang.
Damn. He glanced at his watch. What a time for Lauren to decide to be not just on time, but fifteen minutes early.
He gave the bed another assessing look. The sheets were pretty clean.
There was always the sofa.
The shower.
Location didn't matter.
Wearing his best smile, he crossed the living room and opened the door.
His smile faded. “What are you doing here?”
Then he noticed the pistol.
It was the last thing he ever noticed. 

Don’t forget to come back for Part 2 of Her Fatal Valentine on Wednesday, February 6.

Friday, February 1, 2013

I SPY: EDITING


Join the authors and friends of Not Your Usual Suspects for an occasional series of posts about their world of reading, writing and publishing.

Short and sweet, hopefully both informative and entertaining - join us at I-Spy to find out the how's and why's of what we do.


TODAY'S POST: I-Spy something beginning with ...

EDITING by Anne Marie Becker


a.k.a., Wielding a Machete Like a Pro

When the high of completing the first draft of a manuscript fades, you may emerge from your writer's cave, bleary-eyed, look around and find you’re in the jungle. And it’ll take a machete to work your way through the overgrowth of convoluted sentences, buried themes, and repetitive words that threaten to stifle your manuscript’s potential.

Love it or hate it, editing is the key to making a good story great. I’ve heard that 90% of writing is rewriting. Some of my manuscripts have been through more than a dozen drafts, and I've never produced a sparkling-perfect first draft, so I’d say that’s a pretty accurate estimate.

I don’t pretend to be an expert at editing, but after nine manuscripts, three of which are (or soon will be) published, I’ve learned a few things I’d like to share. (And thank you to my Carina Press editor Deborah Nemeth for the lessons she’s taught me.)

Manuscripts, Like Ogres, Have Layers

            In the movie Shrek, the ogre by the same name says “ogres are like onions.” They have layers. Manuscripts are similar. And thorough polishing requires paying attention to each layer.
(But first, a caveat - if you feel you can’t be objective in any of the areas I’ve listed below, and you’re thinking about self-publishing, consider hiring a professional editor. There is a distinct advantage to having someone other than yourself review your work. If you’re submitting to agents or editors but want that polished look, consider joining forces with a critique partner (or two). And then, go buy chocolate. Because when that revision letter hits your inbox, accepting criticism isn’t always easy, but sugar helps the medicine go down.)
When I’ve completed my first rough draft, I try to let my manuscript sit for a week or two before going back to it. Viewing it with fresh eyes lends me a new perspective.
           
1. Developmental (Story) Edits

            Just as it sounds, this stage of editing is the most global. We’re looking at the entire story (ahem, jungle) and trying to make sense of it, looking for themes, cohesiveness, dead ends, etc. For this layer, I recommend tying up your inner critic and leaving him/her in the corner (a gag helps). Read through and take notes, but DON’T make extensive changes to wording, grammar, etc., because some of those sentences you're trying so hard to make perfect might get chopped, and then you've wasted time. Perfect sentences/wording is not the focus of this go-round. (Of course, if you’re like me, you can’t resist adding a comma here or changing out a word there, but don’t let it pull you away from the task at hand – fixing the STORY.)
            As you’re reading, look specifically for the following and make notes of what to change (remember, you don’t have to fix things yet, until you get to the end of this re-read):

§ Opening
·     Does the opening line grab the reader’s attention?
·    Is conflict (or impending conflict) apparent within the first few paragraphs?

§ Characters
·     Are they likeable? Will the reader connect with them?
·    Do they have a goal? Is the growth arc apparent over the course of the story?

§ Scenes
·    Is the purpose/goal of each scene clear and important and is it written from the POV character's viewpoint?
·   Does it move the action forward?
·   Does each scene end on a hook?

§ Pacing
·    Where does the writing slog?
·    Are there things that make the reader’s attention wander or jerks him/her out of the scene?
·   What sections make you groan and stumble? Why? Are the characters being true to themselves? Is the scene’s goal clear?

§ Ending
·   Were there any loose ends?
·    Were all of the conflicts resolved in satisfying ways?

§  Check your facts
·    If there were references to actual items, historical events, people, etc., are they true to reality?

§  Theme
·    Is there a common thread that can be layered or woven throughout the story during the next layer of editing? If so, where is that evident? Where else can it be made evident?

2. Line Edits

            After you’ve read your story through again and made the necessary “global” developmental edits, it’s time to look at the manuscript more closely, line by line. Here’s a checklist of what I try to notice on this go-round:

§ Repetitive words
·     Get rid of common/overused words. In my case, I look particularly at the use of “said” and other such words and try to replace most of them with action tags. I also watch out for overused gestures, such as smiling, arching eyebrows, etc.

§  Tighten writing
·     Axe those darlings! (Even if you love something, if it's unnecessary or bogs down the pace, axe it. Then eat chocolate.)
·    Beware of the passive voice.
·   Use juicy words. (For instance, choosing "stalked," "skipped," or "stumbled" is much more descriptive than "walked." Where you can, choose the more descriptive way of saying something.)
·    Get rid of unnecessary phrases that denote the POV character (and deepen the viewpoint as a bonus!). (e.g., “She knew,” “she thought,” “she felt” are superfluous if you're in that character's deep third POV. Cut these phrases where you can.)

§  Tip: Read out loud
·      This allows you to hear the cadence of your words, gives a new perspective on the pacing, and catch overused words. With dialogue, it can help you identify sections that don't sound natural.

3. Copyedits

            In the final stage of editing, we’ve gone from global, to local, to microscopic.  Look specifically for anything that doesn’t appear visually correct – grammar, punctuation, capitalization, italicizing, etc. - as well as homonyms, misspellings, and word-by-word revisions. Try reading the document backwards to catch spelling errors.

Before submitting, I try to do a final read-through, because there are always (always!) things that are missed. And I feel better knowing I’ve tamed that jungle to the best of my ability by giving it that extra once-over. 

Here are a few resources I’ve found helpful in my editing process:

Strunk & White’s Elements of Style

Online Dictionary and Thesaurus



How about you? Do you enjoy the rewriting process? Do you have any editing tips or resources you’d care to share?

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Anne Marie has always been fascinated by people—inside and out—which led to degrees in Biology, Chemistry, Psychology, and Counseling.  As a games hostess at Sea World, tutor, waitress, personal and family counselor, and high school counselor, she indulged her curiosity through sanctioned professions.  Now, as a stay-at-home mother of three, her passion for understanding the human race is satisfied by her roles as mother, wife, daughter, sister, and writer.  

She writes to reclaim her sanity. 

Connect with Anne Marie at her website, Facebook page, or on Twitter.



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