Sunday, March 31, 2013

Savoring the Moment

Happy Easter, everyone. This morning I’ll be at church, where the choir is singing Beethoven’s “Hallelujah” from Christ on the Mount of Olives. I love the piece. Here’s Robert Shaw and the Atlanta Symphony orchestra, if you are interested.

Last week I wrote of the loss of Morgan, our golden retriever. Now a week later, I’ll write of my experience at my first book signing and the release party we threw the weekend before her passing.

I won’t bore you with how many books I did or didn’t sell. Although there are economic realities to the authoring business, these two events were mostly about having a good time.

Jim & Wendy
Jan and I arrived in St. Mary’s, GA on a beautiful Saturday afternoon in time for a leisurely lunch down by the river before our scheduled time at Ms. Wendy’s Wonderful World of Books. While there we had a great time talking with Wendy, her husband, friends and customers. We also got to meet my editor, who lives in the vicinity, and stopped by.

The funniest moment came when someone told me I had a neat signature. Jan burst out laughing, and told the collective audience how I often couldn’t read my own handwriting a day or two later—which got us all talking about schools not teaching script anymore and how would people sign their names, with an X? Maybe everything would be iris scans...and off we went.

Amazing what they can do for cakes
The next day, we had the launch party at the clubhouse in our small condo community. It allowed neighbors to walk and Savannah friends to escape the St. Patrick’s Day madness (a half million people pour into our city of maybe 140,000) and join us in the ‘burbs.

Jan ordered a cake with an edible frosting picture of the book cover. And a good time was had by all.

Jan Provides a feast
But the best part came a few days later when a neighbor rang our doorbell to buy three more books for her friends because she had liked Bad Policy so much. And later in a conversation with one of our conservative neighbors who said they liked the book as well as Michael Connelly’s stuff; the only problem was that I had made the scummy politicians Republican. Or the email that blamed me for the person’s sleep deprivation because they couldn’t put the book down until well after midnight.
Circle of church women

Even if they are all lying, I’m going to choose to believe them and savor the moment. Wouldn’t you?
Neighbors catching some spring air

~ Jim

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Persevering with the Dragon

Today's Salad Bowl Saturday blog by Sara Hoskinson Frommer was first published in 2012 on, the Perseverance Press authors’ blog. Since that time Sara has continued to use the Dragon voice recognition software she describes and now uses it full-time. I thought this was an interesting subject for all of our readers.

~ Jim

Many years ago I heard Madeleine L’Engle say to a group of writers that the fingers are the only part of the body besides the brain with gray matter. That may not make sense to some people, but to me, a touch typist since my early teens, it made very good sense. When I’m writing I don’t think “I will spell ‘dog,’” but I just think “dog,” and my fingers know to type dog. The words come out of my fingers automatically. That’s not to say I don’t make mistakes — typos are part of every writer’s life.

Why, you’re asking yourself, am I even telling you this? It’s because I’m trying something new. For the first time in my life, I’m trying dictation. My fingers are having trouble. I figure before they quit working altogether, I’m going to need to know another way to write. And I dearly hope to be able to do it as automatically as I now write with my fingers.

So I’m learning Dragon NaturallySpeaking. In fact, I’m using it to write this blog. Dragon is a program that recognizes my voice and types into my computer what I say. It types exactly what I say. That’s not to say that it always gets what I mean. Dragon makes typos to. As you can see, it couldn’t tell the difference between to and too. For this blog, I didn’t correct that mistake. I wanted to show it to you instead. But most of the time I’ve had to learn commands that will let me fix things that are wrong, whether the mistakes are mine or Dragon’s.

Of course, many of the changes I make are not to correct mistakes. When I’m writing, I’m constantly revising. As far as I’m concerned, revision is at the heart of good writing. Many years ago, if I wasn’t typing, I used to write on a yellow lined tablet. I quickly learned to write on every third line, if you can believe that, to make space for all the changes that I knew would come. Computers make revising much easier. But this is a whole new way to use a computer.

People told me that there was a steep learning curve to using this kind of software, and I believed it. But already, after a few weeks, I’m doing better, and so is Dragon. More and more often, it recognizes the words I’m actually saying. The hard part so far is learning how to make corrections and other changes. I almost have to sit on my fingers to keep from fixing things with them instead of practicing with Dragon.

None of that is what I worried about at first. What worried me was whether I could stand to hear my voice when I’m writing. Writing for me has always been a private activity. Oh, I can write some kinds of things in a crowded room with people kibitzing. Right now, though, I feel hesitant even to write this blog with my husband listening from the next room. Or maybe not listening, but he could if he wanted to. I’m not sure I can write fiction that way. If I’m typing a story, I don’t like someone to stand behind me. Dictating feels like that, only more so.

I’m basically shy when I’m writing. I do a huge amount of editing before I submit anything. What I usually type in the first place is very drafty. When I’m feeling drafty, I cover up. So I hide all by myself and write in private, not letting even myself hear what I’m saying.

It isn’t the same listening to me talk as it is to listen to my characters talk. I still haven’t quite figured out why, aside from the obvious fact that I can’t begin to sound like Fred Lundquist or any other man. When I read a book, whether it’s a book I wrote or a book someone else wrote, I hear the people talking inside my head, and they don’t sound like me. This is the part about dictating fiction that terrifies me. So far, just struggling with the mechanics, I can’t answer that big question.

I’m still fussing with some things. For instance, if my characters speak colloquially, I want to spell the words the way they say them. I don’t want to write “You going out?” if my character would say “You goin’ out?” I fought with the program for several days before I found out how to put an apostrophe at the end of a word. And you know, I don’t remember how I did it. But now if I pronounce going without the G, the program still spells it going, but I have the option in the correction place to spell it goin’. I think I had to put that into the program myself, and I’ll probably have to do the same thing with other such words. At least it’s possible.

One of the inconveniences to using Dragon is that you need to be in a fairly quiet room. For me that means that I can't listen to classical music or jazz while I'm writing. If I turn the volume way down I can sometimes get away with it. But if someone else is speaking, those words may end up in what I'm writing. It's not that I mind being alone when I'm writing – I rather like that. Any minute now, though, I'm going to be interrupted by someone who likes to talk while she works in my room. Either I'll have to quit writing or tell her to quit talking. That can be awkward.

Still, voice recognition software can be kind of fun. The other day two young friends were visiting, and one of them knew I was trying it. “Do you have that new program set up yet?” she asked.

I told her I did, and she was eager to try it out. So we all traipsed into my room, and the children took turns wearing the headset and talking into the microphone. There was considerable hilarity when they read what Dragon thought they were saying. Of course, by that time I had trained the program to recognize my speech pretty well. You first do that by reading selected texts into the microphone, so that Dragon can hear you pronounce what it already knows. But the program had no idea how these girls pronounced things. The resulting gobbledygook cracked them up. They were talking into my computer, but when I read today what the computer had stored, I couldn’t remember what they’d said in the first place.

What I do remember is that when I laughed, Dragon typed it it it it it.

Another time I accompanied my sister to the foot doctor. Just making conversation while he trimmed her toenails, we got to talking about writing. And so I mentioned that I was using voice recognition software. To my surprise, the foot doctor said he was, too. In fact, he was using Dragon to dictate case notes. He told me he thought he and his partner had taught Dragon all kinds of new words. I figured he meant technical words, medical words about feet, but no, he said, he meant the words they used when Dragon got their dictation wrong.

Oh. Somehow I think Dragon already knows those words.
Sara Hoskinson Frommer, a veteran of the Bloomington Symphony Orchestra’s viola section and author of Murder in C Major, Buried in Quilts, Murder & Sullivan, The Vanishing Violinist, Witness in Bishop Hill, and Death Climbs a Tree, lives with her husband in Bloomington, Indiana. They have two adult sons. Visit Sara at

Sara’s first six books are being released in all e-book formats. Her seventh Joan Spencer mystery, Her Brother’s Keeper, will be published in April 2013 by Perseverance Press

Friday, March 29, 2013

Editor-Proof Your Writing

Editor-Proof Your Writing: 21 Steps To The Clear Prose Publishers and Agents Crave by Don McNair
Don McNair’s extensive experience as an editor and author show up in his clear, readable book on how to avoid foggy writing.   This is the most complete writing book I have ever read.  Mc Nair takes his reader from the first sentence of his or her work in progress to submitting the polished work to a publisher or an agent.

Editor-Proof Your Writing starts from the premise that to be able to fix problems in your writing, an author first needs to know what the problems are.  McNair has developed a systematic approach an author can follow to discover and correct the type of errors that doom an otherwise well-written submission to the rejection pile.  His book is organized into progressive chapters with exercises to help readers understand the concepts. Readers also are encouraged to apply the knowledge learned to their own work in progress so the WIP improves steadily as the reader works through the chapters.

 McNair covers important mistakes culled from his many years as an editor.  His writing is clear and easy to follow.  Although he focuses on errors, he is not critical. He encourages his readers, noting that writing skills can be improved with attention and practice. 
His advice to weed out the word “had,” touched on one of my personal bad habits. Had I known this technique earlier in my career I would have had less editing to do.

I think his book would be especially useful for authors who have completed a work in progress and who wonder what the next step should be. 

Thursday, March 28, 2013



In a few days it will be Easter, a holiday filled with joy for the religious meaning, because it’s finally spring, and for youngsters, who look forward to the Easter Bunny and candy. For my family it means getting together for dinner after church. There’s always a ham, colored eggs, sweet potatoes, and dishes and desserts others contribute. This year it will be at my house.

When my grand kids, nieces and nephews were younger, I made up an Easter egg hunt with teams, who had to look for plastic eggs with clues in them. There would be the purple and pink team, the green and yellow team, and the orange and blue team. Each team was given an egg in their colors with the first clue leading them to the egg with the next clue. The clues were riddles leading them all over my small farm – the hay mow, an old unused outhouse, in the reeds by the pond, and on and on until the winning team found a basket of candy hiding in the house – maybe in my clothes dryer. Teams with tiny participants unable to read were allowed to have adults help them. It took me a long time to write the riddles and distribute them the day before Easter, but the kids – and adults who participated – loved it. Now they’re all too old for that.

This year it is the 60th anniversary of Peeps, those little yellow sugary confections considered “THE candy of Easter.” Not for me, though. I much prefer chocolate; rabbits, eggs, chickens, anything chocolate to those marshmallow type chicks.

Peeps are made at Just Born factory in Bethlehem, Pa., and they hatch 5 million Peeps a day this time of the year. Not only do they appear in most Easter baskets, it seems they have developed a Peeps pop art culture with people making dioramas with them and other types of Peep art. Some people even use them in cooking, even in not to be believed dishes like sushi. According to Ross Born, the third-generation operator of Just Born, Inc., It’s the “Peepsonality” of consumers who not only eat them, but also play around with them.

At my Third Thursday book club, I took in the Peeps I didn't use for my pictures. There was a lively discussion on whether or not they liked Peeps.  Linda Bailey liked them, but only if they were stale and rather hard. Some remembered roasting them like marshmallows over a fire. Maybe I'd like them if they were roasted, but I won't find out because there were no Peeps left when the book club was over.

Carla Damron thinks Peeps are evil. She says "They are a demonic plot. Notice how they have infiltrated every holiday. Soon, I believe they may take over the world!!" To prove her point she sent me several pictures she considered harassment by her friends because of her antipathy for Peeps. Last year when she came to her office, she found it taken over by 'Occu-peep Columbia.' Peeps were everywhere in various poses and costumes. She sent me several pictures of this occupation. So I think she may be right. She also told me one year her husband gave her Peeps and a hammer. She claims even a hammer won't destroy the little buggers.

Hmmm. So that got me to thinking. Maybe I’ll decorate the top of my sweet potato casserole on Easter with them. Or better yet, maybe I’ll just plot a murder with them – only on the page, of course. Poison could be injected in them. Of course, one would have to make sure only the one it was intended for would eat the Peep. That means there could not be any kids around. That’s easy enough for a writer to do. Kaye George in her book CHOKE had a victim choked with a sausage. It could be done with Peeps, too, I imagine.

But for now, I’ll put all thoughts of murder aside to concentrate on the beauty and joy of Easter and its true meaning, and just how I’m ever going to get my house in order before everyone arrives for Easter dinner.

What’s your favorite Easter candy?

Besides eating Peeps in their natural state, how would you eat them?

Or what kind of art would you make from them?

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

An Interview with James Montgomery Jackson's Seamus McCree

Creating main characters that readers identify with and feel sympathy for requires a special writing talent. Just when the reader gets to know James Montgomery Jackson’s main character, Seamus McCree, he surprises or shocks the reader with his behavior. He seems as brilliant as he is flawed and yet we know he’s a good man. But even in his extremes, Seamus is always a thinker. Please welcome Seamus McCree, star of Bad Policy, released by Barking Rain Press this month, and the next-in-series, Cabin Fever, to WWK.   

Seamus, you gave up a big job on Wall Street. What happened?

You know, it’s been years and I still get ticked off when I think about it. I was a highly rated bank stock analyst for one of the big Wall Street outfits. I wrote a negative report about the prospects for a regional bank and said to sell the stock. That bank happened to be a client of our firm. Without my knowledge, my boss softened several of my criticisms of the regional bank’s practices and changed the final rating to indicate it was okay to continue to hold the stock.

I found out about the changes the day the report was released and quit on the spot. By quitting when I did, I gave up a big six-figure bonus. I have no doubt it was the right thing to do.

Do you enjoy Cleveland as much as NYC?

Actually, it’s Cincinnati. Don’t feel bad. Everyone outside of Ohio confuses Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati—and Cincinnati is the hardest to spell.

The day I arrived in Cincinnati I almost walked over someone in front of me on the sidewalk. It was soooo slow. I loved working in fast-paced New York; I loved playing in New York, but Cincinnati is a super city. It’s big enough to have at least one of everything (well, except for a winning football team; that was way before my time) and small enough you can easily get anywhere. We’ve got a great symphony, wonderful art galleries, great parks, ethnic restaurants and a wide variety of neighborhoods.

How did you get in such a mess in Bad Policy?

I think it’s fair to say it found me. Someone applied an IRA six pack (shots to both ankles, elbows and knees) to a guy I’d met on an earlier case. Then they killed him, left him in my basement and called the cops.

I suppose my complicity regarding getting into messes is that when someone hits me I want to know why. The police can usually figure out who, but the why is personal.

Even though you no longer have a Big Apple job, it gave you a reputation valued by your current employer. What is your job?

Some people can look at a complete musical score and hear violins playing, the beat of the tympani and a flute soaring above it all. I can look at corporate financial statements, particularly when it comes to banks, and understand them better than most. Because of that talent and a reputation for being trustworthy, I have a little consulting business that helps companies explore merger and acquisition opportunities.

My other job is working for Criminal Investigations Group. CIG provides police departments free expertise in a variety of areas that they lack. I set up the financial crimes group for CIG and still head it up. Mostly that involves boring forensic accounting work. Problems arise when crooks realize we’re onto them.

Once the reader comes to understand your job, Seamus, it isn’t much of a leap to understanding why you investigate. The authorities must rely on your word and analysis. Is it a power position or the hot seat?

That’s an interesting question. I suppose knowledge is always power, but the way I look at it is that police departments used to be able to rely on the FBI for financial crimes expertise. After 9/11 most of those resources were pulled to combat terrorism. My group within CIG tries to provide police departments help they desperately need to keep up with the crooks. We can’t force ourselves on them; they need to ask for help—and then they expect us to deliver!

You carry a lot of responsibility, but it can also put you in a bind. Did you ever undergo anger management therapy? Emptying a full clip into someone would make a reader wonder.

When I was young, I didn’t realize it, but playing soccer was my anger management. I played clean, but hard, and you can get a lot of anger worked out kicking soccer balls. I suppose I have never really understood the depth of my anger at my dad for dying early on me. But taking classes or talking to a shrink about anger? Probably not going to happen unless it’s court-ordered.

Your family’s background comes into play in Bad Policy. What side do you lean toward in the Irish dilemma? 

I need to state that I was brought up Catholic, and so I may not be unbiased. However, I do believe John Bull has had his boot on the Irish neck for too long. I also believe that violence is not the way to solve the problem. I can’t say I really understand either side’s perspective since I’ve never even been to Northern Ireland. By nature, I’m a unifier, not a divider, so I pray for sensible people to find ways to make everyone’s lot better and provide equal rights and opportunities for all citizens.

I know it’s a wishy-washy answer, but it’s the best I can do.

How does your competitive nature interfere with your relationship with your son, and why do you let it?

Both of us are very competitive, and perhaps it’s my fault that Paddy is as competitive as I am. Every father prefers to be faster, stronger, smarter, whatever than his son—but deep down knows time is on the son’s side. If I truly believed that being competitive with Paddy interfered with our relationship, I would roll over and bare my jugular in a flash.

But I don’t think Paddy would respect me if I did that. His victories (and there are many) are hard won and, as a result, mean that much more to him. He knows that even in my dotage when I’m down to playing Tiddlywinks, I’m still going to want to win—and I believe he’ll give me no quarter.

Paddy walks a fine legal line to help you in Bad Policy and Cabin Fever. You expect a lot from him. How does that make you feel? Aren’t you afraid he’ll get in trouble?

I am the proudest father in the entire world. Others may disagree, but they would be wrong. I know how flawed I am. Because half his genes came from me, I sometimes project my deficiencies onto him and worry about his decisions when it comes to legal versus pragmatic shortcuts. In many ways he’s shown better decision-making than I have—that’s certainly true comparing us at the same ages. But since he had some scrapes as a kid, I do worry he might get into trouble.

When your marriage broke up did it also damage Paddy’s relationship with his mother?

Paddy’s a grown man now. I’m going to defer that question to him.

Why can’t you live happily ever after with the women in your life?

You should have heard my deep sigh when I read this question. I sure wish I could. My current theory is that I haven’t accepted myself as worthy of love and so I can’t completely receive love when offered. It probably doesn’t help that I’m only attracted to strong self-sufficient women who don’t need me to “take care of them.”

If there is reincarnation and, as some believe, it happens because we haven’t completed work on our deficiencies, I have the feeling I’ll be back for another crack at getting this right.

In Cabin Fever you ask the question: What do you want to be when you grow up? Have you found an answer?

Every time I think I have, life throws a curve and I have to reconsider. At the risk of being shallow, I’ll cop a plea to still searching.

Does the remote wilderness of Michigan soothe the invisible savage beast?

It is something special to be in a place that is so quiet you hear your blood coursing through your body. I’m an introvert and am perfectly content there, but after a while I am recharged and need to engage the world. I suppose there is a risk I could become a hermit, but I suspect my extroverted son would not allow that to happen.

Seamus, you seem equally at home in the country or city, but how do you feel about the beach?

I did my homework and was all prepared for the famous EB bonus question of “mountain or beach,” so instead you tossed me this underhand pitch. Thanks.

I love the beach, but I prefer to be there off season without the crowds. I usually bring a pair of binocs to check out the birds and if I’m lucky catch a dolphin or two swimming offshore. If I’m really lucky, someone special is walking beside me.

Thanks for having me here today.

Thanks for allowing me to read the advance copies of both your novels, Jim. I enjoyed the reads. You can find out more about Jim and his writing at, When I went to his site, I got a surprise. The Cincinnati Writers’ Project recently published Jim’s short story, “Homework,” in the A Few Good Words anthology. Jim made “Accidents Happen,” a short story in Fish Tales, into an audio story. Both are available through his website. You can buy, Bad Policy here:  The first four chapters are available to read at the Barking Ran Press website and you may purchase Bad Policy at a 35% discount from the publisher at

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Spring Cleaning for Writers

Tangled and unidentifiable computer wires strangling your creativity? Are sticky notes covering the surface of your computer, obscuring the screen? Too many characters populating your novel?

With the official start of spring, I’ve been gearing up for the ritual of spring cleaning. Buds on the trees and tulip shoots poking through the ground prod me to clear the way for new growth in my writing life. In order to do this, I need to prune both physical and emotional clutter surrounding my writing.

Here is my spring cleaning “To Do” list:

* Sort through books and magazines. Keep my favorites and the most useful how to write books. Donate the rest to the local library for their monthly sale.

* Collect sticky notes, scraps of paper and paper napkins filled with my scribblings about characters and stories then transfer this treasure trove to my PC. Make sure I grab the ones that say things like, “What is the fastest acting poison?” before my neighbors visit.

* Double check that my computer backup is working so I don’t lose files like last year.

* Paint the wall in my writing area a honey yellow color. Currently, it’s beige and boring. Snoooooze.

* Change the passwords to access my email and social media accounts.

* Make sure the files I need the most are within easy reach. Toss unnecessary papers.

* Have a professional, or at least a better, headshot taken. (I’m resisting even though I know first impressions are lasting.)

* Take some time to think about the following questions: What do I need to change in order to gain more time to write? Do I have any negative thoughts or beliefs about writing that are holding me back? What social media sites are working for me and which ones can I delete? Do I need a website? Are the writing groups I belong to useful for what I write?

* Grab a machete and prune characters in my WIP. Perhaps there are a few insignificant characters that would be better off combined into one character. 

*Take a Spring Break. I plan to read something just for fun like WRITERS GONE WILD: The Feuds, Frolics, and Follies of Literature's Great Adventurers, Drunkards, Lovers, Iconoclasts, and Misanthropes by Bill Peschel.

Are you giving away, reorganizing or reassessing something in your writing life this spring?

Monday, March 25, 2013

Asking The Right Questions

I’m writing my fourth manuscript, and I have completed my first act on page 70. But I’m making the same mistakes as I have in previous manuscripts. It’s easy to do. I’ll tell you how and why so you avoid doing the same thing.

Backstory: After not selling my second manuscript, I decided to write the third manuscript with a critique group, thinking that I’d get feedback early on to make the revision process less painful. Did it help? No, in fact, it made the revision process worse. The reason? Critique groups usually operate by evaluating no more than two chapters at a time rotating among members. The process went on for far too long, and because the writers were reading in finite clumps of script, they couldn’t see the overall picture to catch developmental problems until the last chapters—if then since some forgot the details of the script by the time we got to the end—almost two years later.

What I received from the critique group was mainly line editing. The experience was one that I will never put myself through again. In fact, I’m the only member of the critique group left as the other four dropped out of the SinC Guppies writing group.

I fault myself. Due to not selling my second manuscript, my confidence faltered. Relying on the critique group didn’t work. This time, I’ve decided to write the first draft, refine it, and then put it out for review in its entirety. But I’ve been making the same processing mistakes on my own.

The Mistake: When I read through my completed first act, I realized that I had abbreviated the words “private investigator” by first typing it PI and then later as P.I. I’ve seen it written in novels both ways, and I think it is more correct to have the periods after the letters, but all of those periods make readers cranky. So from a publishing perspective, I’m not sure how editors handle that problem. The point being, that I went into my script with the find and replace edit and messed up my 70 pages. Instead of doing what I asked, it took every word that had a “p” and an “i” together and made them “P.I.” so now “pick’ is and “pineapple” is P.I.neapple. Yes, after my careful wordsmithing and editing, it went through and made a mess. Find and replace evidently ignores capital letters. But, during the correction process, I realized that I had overused the word “picks” or “picks up” in the script so I started word editing.  

When I was a child, my father and grandfather would ask, “Have you asked any good questions today?” I used the find and replace example above to show how inappropriate that type of editing is at this stage of my manuscript, and how it led to further problems. That’s the mistake I made.

I’m losing my perspective—getting lost in the forest of words without seeing their content. When I saw that I’d abbreviated “private investigator” in two ways, I immediately hit the editing button. What should I have done? Ignore it because those types of edits aren’t important at this stage of my WIP. The question of word editing distracted me from asking the right questions.  

The Solution: What I should have been evaluating my script for is concept and content by asking questions such as—Have I

·      Hooked the reader
·      Given the reader enough information to intrigue them or have I confused them by not giving them enough information
·      Is my unique situation too narrow or will it appeal because of its quirkiness
·      Because of backstory, which I will reveal eventually, will my main character be likeable even if she puts up with too much malarkey from her significant other and his daughter or will readers find her frustrating
·      Are the cases from the past and the present too similar at least at the onset that readers will become disenchanted by the coincidence?

At this point I must stop until I have answered those questions. Because if I answer “no” to any of the above questions, it will change how I write the second act. If I must provide the reader with more information in the first act, my second-act investigation won’t have to “discover” those facts. Proceeding further without answering those questions will only result in major revisions, which stopped me from finishing my last manuscript, a result that I don’t want for this WIP.

I’ve decided to hire an editor to help me answer those questions before I continue. Getting another’s perspective, a professional’s, will help me answer those questions. This type of editing is called content or developmental review, which some editors specialize in providing while others do line editing, which concentrates on grammar—only appropriate after the WIP is complete and polished.

I need another set of eyes to monitor the big picture so that I can work on the details. This seems like a plotting problem, but it isn’t really. I know the backstory and how my character becomes involved. I know how and what she will find resulting from her investigation. I know how the book ends, who is guilty and how that leaves my main character. What I need to know is if I am presenting the story to the reader in the best possible way.

I’d rather get a professional evaluation now then have to revise later. Perhaps I’ve become revision phobic because of my last WIP, but to me this script is worth the effort.

Have you ever hired a developmental editor? Did you get good advice?

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Morgan le Fay (5/5/2000 – 3/18/2013)

Life is inherently unpredictable. My intention for this week’s blog was to write about my first book signing or my book launch party. Instead, I’ll tell you about a wonderful companion.

Prior to receiving this dog into our family, I had named my animal companions after gods and goddesses. My cats had names like Aphrodite, Artemis, Diana and a brother and sister pair we named Electra and Orestes. Before we got her at nine months, the dog’s name was Winnie. (Welsh for a fair one, white and smooth, fair and pure.) It was a good name, but the dog had not been trained and was out-of-control, which was why we needed to “rescue” her. For a new life, she needed a new name. I searched through Bulfinch’s Mythology not finding any Greek or Roman goddesses who seemed quite right. She deserved a powerful name and then I remembered the Arthurian Legend and Arthur’s sister – the enchantress, Morgan le Fay.

She was well named. She never met a person who could resist her magic spells.

Morgan believed her role in the world was to allow people to express their love for her. She gave everyone, whether they knew they needed it or not, the opportunity to heal through petting her. God gave humans two hands, she often said, so one could experience the joy of petting a dog while the other went about its normal business. If you forgot, she would bump your hand with her head or with the tip of her wet nose.

She was the star pupil at her obedience training classes and preferred carrots as reward treats. At her favorite command, “Belly rub,” she would flop onto her back, four legs into the air, thumping her tail on the floor in anticipation. When I gave her a neck rub along with the belly rub she would close her eyes, tilt her head all the way back and moan with pleasure.

It took her several years to train her “masters” on proper daily routines. If they lapsed she would stand in their presence and huff loudly until they figured out what they had forgotten. Dinnertime was precisely at 5:00 pm and, except for a readjustment period twice a year when humans foolishly reset their clocks, she would begin agitating a couple of minutes before the appointed hour.

She was the protector of the house—as long as that meant being outside and barking at the deer, bear, coyotes and wolves. After years of practice attempting to imitate her fellow canines, she came up with a modest version of a howl and did not take kindly to the human laughter it prompted.

She was omega to anyone or anything’s alpha. If ten-pound Electra (our Calico cat who died last year) chose to eat from Morgan’s food bowl, seventy-pound Morgan would whimper—asking her human parents to solve the problem for her.

Morgan loved the Northwoods. She learned to swim in 2001 when she waded into Shank Lake and discovered her feet no longer touched bottom. She never tired of swimming or chasing the Frisbee, and when forced to go back inside because she was shivering from near freezing water, she would protest. As she stood there you could almost hear her say, “I-I-I’m not c-c-c-c-old.” She loved swimming with her people, but if they weren’t willing to join her in the water, she’d bring her Frisbee and retrieve it for hours. She trained her humans to throw it just far enough to allow a full-gallop run down the dock, leap and belly flop into the lake, snaring the Frisbee in a stroke or two.

She knew the route between Savannah and Cincinnati and Michigan. Awakening from a nap she would request the driver to lower the window so she could sniff the country to know where she was. She insisted on a quick sniff of any city we passed through to confirm we were on the right track. Once we hit the dirt roads in Michigan she paced the whole way in, anticipating freedom without collar. While the humans set up camp for her, she would trot down to the dock and impatiently wait. If the wait was too long, we would hear a splash and sometime later the drenched dog would appear.

She was marvelous with small hands, allowing many unintended abuses as children learned to love her. She was the chaperone as grandchildren first explored the woods on their own.

Despite her self-image, she was not perfect. She snored and she farted, sometimes acting like a junior high student who looks around pretending not to be the culprit.

Morgan was without question the smartest of our dogs and always interested in the world around her.

Were she still physically with us she would sense the tears now forming in my eyes and lay her head in my lap, reminding me that everything she taught me is still in my memory. True, I whisper back, but I miss your huffing at my failures and your licks telling me I am forgiven.

~ Jim

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Writing and Running: 6 Lessons Learned from Jogging

Today on Salad Bowl Saturday we welcome author Kris Bock who syas that writing with jogging should have a number of similarities. See if you agree.  ~ Jim


 In March of 2011 I started jogging. A year later, I’m still getting out regularly. On one long and rather tedious solo run, I started making connections between jogging and writing and life.

Get Some Running Buddies

It helps to have inspiration. I started jogging with a Couch to 5K group that met twice a week. Having the regular schedule kept us on track. The program helped us pace ourselves, starting with short runs and frequent walks, and working up to a 45 minute run. We also had an experienced leader to offer advice.

Several of us continued running together after the program ended. I wouldn’t get out there as often if people weren’t waiting for me. I’d be tempted to stop early, if I didn’t have the encouragement of the group. Hey, peer pressure is powerful! You might as well make it work for you. Plus, it’s a lot more fun to run with other people.

For writers, it’s important to find the right peer group for your needs. For many, this is a critique group. They may be large or small, meet in person or online, have open or closed membership, get together weekly or monthly or as needed. Finding a group that suits your needs is invaluable.

Other writers share goals and deadlines, checking in with a friend daily or weekly to report progress. There’s that peer pressure again! Even a non-writing friend can help hold you accountable.

Finally, social groups can provide camaraderie and networking. I live in a small New Mexico town with a science and engineering college; I know far more computer geeks than writers. But by making monthly trips to Albuquerque to attend a writing meeting, I’ve made many friends who understand what I do. I’ve also made connections by teaching workshops and guest speaking for groups like Sisters in Crime. For those who can’t attend in person, online discussion boards or listserves offer a sense of connection.

It’s Distance, Not Speed

It really is about the journey, not how fast you get there. Pace yourself, and enjoy the journey, or you might burn out along the way. If you can see the end, or at least imagine the cheering crowds and free food, it might give you the extra boost you need to keep going. But take time to enjoy the sights, and the experience will be a lot more fun.

As a writer, don’t focus so much on the response to your query letters. Sure, celebrate successes, and try to learn from disappointments, but put most of your energy into enjoying the journey. (That works for the rest of life, too.)

Robin LaFevers had a post at Writer Unboxed about keeping creative play in your writing.

But Keep Moving

A slow pace may get you there, but if you have a long way to go, you might as well do it running. A marathon will take a lot longer at a stroll than at a jog, even a slow jog. Run when you can, walk when you need a rest, but keep moving. That’s the only way to reach the end.

Take the time you need to learn and practice your writing craft. Do as many drafts as you need to polish your novel. Don’t rush, but do keep working. Write a page a day, and you’ll have a complete draft in a year. It may not be perfect, but it will be more than what you started with.

Practice Makes Perfect, or At Least Lessens the Pain

If you’re training, you need to get out regularly. Running once a month will just leave you sore and frustrated each time, and you won’t see any progress in your fitness.

It’s the same with writing. Establishing habits and sticking to them will keep your mind fit. Writing several times a week will hone your skills and make it easier to get started next time.

Beware of Shortcuts

If I map out a 5K run, but take every shortcut, that could cut the distance down to 3 1/2K. Easier, sure, but that won’t prepare me for running a 10K. It’s the same with life. Whether you’re trying to switch careers, meet the right man or woman, or finish a novel, some shortcuts may help, but others may do more harm than good.

I work with a lot of writing students. The beginners want to know if they’ll get published after taking one course. Nobody wants to spend 10 years learning how to write, but you need to do the work in order to earn the reward at the end. If you beg your friend to send your rough draft to her editor, you’ll blow your chance to make the best use of that connection. If you self publish your work before it’s ready, you’ll waste time that could be better spent working on your craft.

Sometimes the long, hard path is the only one that gets you where you want to go.

Push Yourself Sometimes

With enough practice, you should get better. When I started jogging, it was a struggle to go for 10 minutes without a break. Six months later, I could make it through 45 minutes without stopping.

And then I plateaued. Jogging had become comfortable, if not easy. Why cause more pain by trying to go farther or faster?

Because that’s the only way to get better. And most likely, it’s the only way to stay interested. Fortunately, one of my jogging partners is great about coming up with new workouts. We add in some sprints one day, do hills another day. We choose different routes on different terrains. Variety keeps it interesting, which makes it easier to work hard.

With my writing, I find that I get bored if I become too comfortable with something. After publishing a dozen children’s books as Chris Eboch, I wanted a change. I tried writing romantic suspense for adults, using the name Kris Bock. This brought new challenges – writing books two or three times as long as what I was used to, exploring romantic subplots, delving deeper into character. I didn’t always get things right the first time, but I became a better writer – and I renewed my interest in writing.


Kris Bock writes novels of suspense and romance involving outdoor adventures and Southwestern landscapes. What We Found is a mystery with strong romantic elements about a young woman who finds a murder victim in the woods, Whispers in the Dark involves intrigue among ancient Southwest ruins, and Rattled follows a treasure hunt in New Mexico. Read excerpts at or visit her Amazon page.

Kris also writes for children under the name Chris Eboch. Her novels for ages nine and up include The Eyes of Pharaoh, a mystery in ancient Egypt; The Well of Sacrifice, a Mayan adventure; and the Haunted series, which starts with The Ghost on the Stairs. Her book Advanced Plotting helps writers fine-tune their plots. Learn more at or her Amazon page.