Thursday, July 31, 2008

Putting Jesus’(s) Best Sandal Forward, Grammatically Speaking! by Robert W. Walker

Ever since a long forgotten bunch of 13th Century monks got together at the local Ramada Inn and held a conference to decide on grammatical issues and marks, signs and symbols, we’ve all been plagued with confusion. Grammar strikes fear in us all due to its confusing nature. It’s as bad as trying to read a publisher’s contract, a royalty statement, or a tax form. It is a frightful prospect and a brave thing I do here to even begin to tackle the enormity of the problem caused by these monks and perpetuated over generations of English teachers and linguists. It’s a dirty job, but somebody’s got to challenge it here and now.

First the good news – such a thing as TRANSFORMATIONAL grammar holds promise; in fact, until I took a college course that taught transformational grammar, I truly felt like a grammatical cripple likely never to be able to pursue a career as a writer due to this defect in me. No English teacher I ever came into contact with did anymore than add to my confusion until I read up on transforms – basically the opposite of destroying perfectly healthy sentences via the diagramming process so familiar to us all in the fifties, sixties in schools everywhere. Diagramming basically took a sentence DOWN. Whereas transformational grammar demonstrated how a sentence was created in the mind from its kernel root two words to a 3-part, 4-part, or 5-part sentence of complex thought. Example:

A two word sentence that says it all: Jesus wept.

A transformation to that sentence dictates answering questions that immediately come to mind as in: Who is Jesus? What’s his problem or goal? Where is he? When is this happening? Why is he weeping? The mind leaps ahead of the pen to answer these questions and so Murphy’s Law is born – the epitome of Murphy’s Law is a misplaced modifier. Stay with me here. A modifier is the answer to any one of the above questions relevant to Jesus Rodriguez or Jesus of Nazareth.

Let’s provide an answer and put it in the wrong place – Jesus wept at the age of thirteen.

We know how old Jesus is but it seems he is weeping at becoming thirteen because the “modifier\answer” is badly placed.

Let’s place the age in front: At the age of thirteen, Jesus wept.

We have just made a successful “transformation” of the sentence. Still, if we want to “construct” more answers to more questions relative to Who is Jesus and Why is he crying, we will need more “modifiers”, which are in essence “fragments” clipped from whole other sentences, such as: Jesus was aged thirteen at the time.
Or: Jesus’ last name was Rodriguez.
Or: Jesus cried for all mankind.

Our brains put together “transforms” as fast as any computer, until we have all the transforms we “mean” as in:

At the tender age of thirteen, Jesus of Nazareth, in dispirited agony, wept for all mankind.

Mrs. Calabash, my 4th Grade English teacher would have had us “de-construct” this perfectly executed “construct” of a complex sentence. Transforms celebrate the “creation” and “imagination” put into this sentence and would not think to de-construct it by diagramming it. Suppose we wanted to make this multi-complex sentence ALSO a compound complex sentence? We once again “transform” it at the higher-level thinking inside our minds where language is born by putting it this way:

At the tender age of thirteen, Jesus of Nazareth wept for all mankind, and as a result, Jesus’dispirited agony for us all has become a focal point in history and literature.

Go ahead, make my day…diagram the hell outta that sentence. Diagramming was for this young author a painful experience, and one I did not fully understand on many levels, not the least being that it made me feel uncomfortable to “destroy” a good sentence by ripping it apart for only one reason, to find the kernel or “roots” of subject and verb and object:

Finally, a grammar that worked for me, and honestly, until I made a conscious decision to drop all fear of grammatical pedantic nonsense created by the monks and perpetuated by the “cabala” of English teachers who have somehow created a swamp of rules for us all and six names for every rule (predicate = verb; 24 uses of the comma or is that coma?) – until I dropped all FEAR and consciously told myself on re-reads and edits of my words that “If it sounds good and it makes sense, move on.”

Since shaking off the “shackles of GrammarScare”, I have taught the subject many times over. The best way to beat something is to have to teach it to others. And since ending my fear of grammar, I have written over 45 novels and am working on my 8th series.

Finally, get hold of any of John Langdon’s books on grammar and writing as they are in effect the Least YOU need to know in the easiest form, and he does not ask you to destroy sentences. For real fun with grammar, you might wanna go searching for The Transitive Vampire, a helluva tomb on the subject. But if nothing else, give some thought to the fact that Shakespeare had only four kinds of sentences in the English Language to work with and so do we:

Simple: Jesus wept for us.
Compound: Jesus wept for us, and then he picked himself up and dusted himself off.
Complex: At age thirteen, Jesus wept for us all.
Compound Complex: At age thirteen, Jesus wept for us, and then he picked himself up and
dusted himself off and started all over again.

The trick is to shuffle the deck, use all forms of sentences, and “transform” your thoughts into really, really cool sentences. Language is Thought; Thought is Language. Now what about those pesky grammatical marks? The Marks of Caine…we will have to cover another time, but suffice to say the marks like apostrophes, commas, exclamations, semi and full colons wanna be kept simple – there are not 24 rules for commas but only 4 or 5 for instance. Finally, there are only ten SINS of writing, and you are likely committing only a few at most.

In my online Knife Editing Service, I provide authors with these tools, and within the first 20-30 pages of a work, every writing ‘SIN’ an author is making is clearly delineated. One such sin is passive voice, another is too heavy a reliance on pronouns, for instance, while another author may start too many sentences with gerunds. Ninety-nine percent of authors who believe they have overcome passive voice problems haven’t. So if you really want to know what your most repeated writing sins are, contact me at

Robert W. Walker

De Clutter, de clutter! by DL Larson

Okay, I know it's time to clean my office. I can barely get the doors open. They're beautiful French doors, but unfortunately they don't hide the mess within the walls of my writing space. As a matter of fact, I'm pretty sure folks think, 'wow, what a pig; why doesn't she do something creative with that room!'

I could blame my untidiness on my family, rather my daughter and her family. They are still living with us, their house coming dangerously close to being complete. A big YA-HOO. It's only been nine months they have been with us. And yes, I do have a cupboard saved just for my granddaughters, I could easily blame them for having boxes of manuscripts on the floor rather behind cupboard doors. But, I had that space saved for them long before they moved in. So I can't point a finger in that direction.

If only I didn't love to collect books, writing magazines, and, and paper! It accumulates in my office at an alarming rate. On this corner of a desk there sits unread books, rather books yet to be read that I gathered from a writing conference nearly two years ago. Another stack from last spring fills a large spot beneath my feet. And the ones I've already read, well lets just say the dozen shelves I have are over-fed and bulging over the edges. Some hang at precarious angles that have on occasion intrigued my cat. And the magazines are simply out of control. Messy doesn't begin to describe this area. Towering, toppling and tipsy, yes, those are good descriptions of my magazine section.

Yes, I've decided to declutter! My husband stopped by my office and groaned when I told him of my plans. His question, and a valid one I might add, was, "where do I have to carry those boxes? There's no room in the basement."

Oh, yes. Hmmm, maybe I can blame my daughter after all. My basement is over-flowing with her household stuff. Not that I'd b l a m e her for my untidiness, just the fact that I have no place to store several neatly packed boxs of books and magazines with wonderful articles on writing that I might need someday.

The truth is, I don't need these books or periodicals at all. I'm a librarian. I can get any book I want at a moment's notice. All I have to do is wander through the stacks til I find what I'm looking for. It sounds so easy. But it's not that simple. I like owning my own books. Why is that? Does anyone else have this problem letting go of well loved books? I know I must keep the resource books, the how-to get it right helpers I've purchased over the years.

Even some of them could go bye-bye. I just glanced at the resource shelf above me, some hidden behind a couple manilla folders. A 2003 Writer's Market, 2003 Writer's Market for novel and short story, 2004 Christian Writer's Market Guide, sit there collecting dust and taking up precious room. Okay, time for action!

I just ran downstairs for an empty box. We have several for packing. That empty box is no longer waiting to be filled. And I have a free corner on my shelf. I didn't even look to see about the markers sticking out from the pages. Those market guides are old, with antique information. They are now one step closer to the door.

Okay, I'm feeling the power, here. I can do this. I also have a box that can hold more. I'm going to be ruthless. Just like at the library; if I haven't read it in the last couple of years, it's going. Yikes. I think I'm hyperventilating. I'm quite attached to many of these books. Maybe I should rethink this. James Patterson, Diana Gabaldon, Jude Deveraux, Janet Evanovich, Nicholas Sparks. Mary Higgons Clark. Jan Karon. J.K. Rowlings!

No, I can't go there. I can't let go of my children's books. I can't, can't can't. I must draw the line somewhere. I'm a children's librarian. How could I be so cruel? Yet, I discard children's books at work on a regular basis. I replace them with newer, brighter books.

I could do that. But what about the decluttering? I need to make space, unclog my office shelves, not buy more to replace the ones gone. The box in the middle of my floor is starting to look pretty lonely with only three old books in it. There must be something else I can throw away.

I look at my wastebasket. It's pretty full. I could save the plastic liner and dump the shredded stuff in the box.

There. I feel so much better. Another corner clean. Progress is sometimes slow. As a writer I understand this. We can't always go rushing into projects without careful thought. Those old market guides are really buried now. My fingers are tapping the keys and I'm wondering, thinking about those markers I had stuck in those books. It could have been something important. Maybe I should take a peek just to be sure it's okay to ...

No. I'm ruthless. I'm a take charge kind of gal. Decluttering is the purpose of this day. The old books will remain in the trash. They'll be fine.

You know, if you dust old books off, they look pretty good. As for the trash, guess I better get that out of here. I've decluttered enough for one day.

Til next time ~

DL Larson

Wednesday, July 30, 2008


I do lots of walking to and from my day job in Downtown Chicago. I can't help but notice that at least 3 out of 10 people, if not more, are chatting on cell phones, even as they are crossing the street.

Something else I've noticed, which is a dangerous habit, more and more people are using cell phones while driving.

These people on the cell phones for so long--Whatever do they find to talk about?

I love my Iphone, which serves multiple purposes, since it has so many cool features. As far as the phone part of it goes, it's a blessing for long-distance calls, placing carryout orders from the train, getting phone calls from my husband while I'm at work, but not for much else. As far as my land line goes, I rarely use it, more to answer calls than make them, and that's not often.

I've come to the conclusion that I just don't want to make phone calls any more. E-mailing is my major form of communication. I spend countless hours on the computer e-mailing friends, mentioning things I forgot to say when I last saw them, firming up plans. We rarely pick up the telephone and call each other.

Strange, but I've lost the art of communicating for any length of time on a cell phone or land line. I even find it irritating. When forced to do so, I have to think hard to find topics to speak about.

I spend countless hours on social networks, yahoo groups and listservs speaking to people through the Internet without using my voice. I reveal more of myself when I'm online than I would over think of over the phone wires or even in person.

Some people say texting is faster. I don't know. I have 200 units a month I could use, but never do, since e-mailing is my chosen form of communication. When I'm out of range or a storm hits and my modem or Iphone can't pick up my e-mail, I feel lost and vulnerable, wondering if I've missed something important.

E-mail is much more civilized. It doesn't interrupt people when they're doing something and make them wonder whether or not to stop the ringing or let it go to voice mail. I can e-mail any time I want to and my recipient will choose when to open it or not feel pressured to answer right away. Okay, there is one drawback. If I don't answer e-mails, they do tend to pile up like answering machine messages.

Anyway, I wonder if other people are like me and have lost the art of telephone communicating. I'm so curious, I've placed a survey in the righthand column under Debra St. John's new release, This Time For Always, which just came out today in e-book form at The Wild Rose Press.

If you have two seconds, click your answer to the question

What is your favorite form of communication?

Morgan Mandel

Tuesday, July 29, 2008


I just finished watching Primetime's hour long special about Randy Pausch. I needed to watch this program. I'm going through an unexpected and painful divorce. I had a very intense therapy session last night going back to the trauma of my violent childhood and I'm very, very raw. I knew I had to watch this program. I craved watching this program.


Because I wanted to be inspired by the incredible strength of this truly genuine human being and his family - people I've never met - but people who truly speak to the human spirit. I wanted to refocus, adjust my attitude and learn to accept and appreciate all over again.

I haven't felt sorry for myself but understandably I've been battling a mild case of depression. Oh, I go to work and enjoy it. I run and go to my yoga classes and write - all these activities bring me great satisfaction and I keep reaching further and further and doing more and more. I have much to be grateful for. Still, it's easy to get bummed when life seems to let you down.

It's easy to slip into a rush of anger at those who have let you down in your life and as a child there really are people that have a responsibility to take care of you. But as adults we need to be careful about how much we expect others to caretake us. So much is truly rooted in our childhoods but I'm at a turning point in not wanting that childhood to control me anymore. I've logically embraced this for many years but I'm just now truly learning how to integrate this into my heart as well. Balance! What a concept.

So, Randy Pausch - a person I've never met but someone who now means so much to so many people who also never met him. He's known for his last lecture - a hit on You Tube and he transitioned out of this life last Friday and Primetime aired a celebration of life in his honor.

His wife, Jai, talked about acceptance and it really touched me. Acceptance! Not to be confused with making excuses for something or someone, not to be used as a means to keep ourselves from griefing and healing. Acceptance - just something that allows us to find peace with ourselves and our lives so we can live each day to the fullest. Sounds easy doesn't it? But so many of us struggle to acknowledge the act of acceptance, let alone accomplish it.

We're all going to die eventually so here's to Randy Pausch for showing us how to live.

Monday, July 28, 2008

One More Mile!

On my Myspace ... feels weird to type that ... anyway, there's a 'status/mood' bar where you can type a sentence about what's up ... and pick how you might be feeling (grumpy, hungry, ecstatic, crunchy).

Occasionally, I update mine, sometimes with some glee or glum about writing ... but more often I type in what's happening in my other life, the aquatic one.

A few weeks ago, I typed in "I whacked my heel flip-turning," and my mood was "pissed off."

Um, I never got that phrase either. If you think about it, 'pissed off' doesn't really mean anything. I mean, I get the 'pissed' part ... and I know what 'off means' - (that stuff that you spray on skeeters, right?) ... but these two words put together just don't make sense.

Anyway, some of my 'friends' remarked on my status, and I got a few, "poor baby's" and "ouch" and other little missives.

Last Wednesday, I typed, "swam 3.2 miles" and my mood was 'sore.' Some people commented on this.

So I thought I'd blog on the whole thing and say what's going on with me in the pool.

When I was younger, I was up for playing just about any sport, baseball, basketball, raquetball, tennis, karate, volleyball... and, well, I'm not going to be modest. I got pretty good at most of them. I have my share of track ribbons and medals, softball trophies and a black belt in karate. Though, for the record, I suck at golf, bowling, archery and the pink - Arts Entertainment - topic in Trivia Pursuit.

But as I got closer to fifty ... just four months away now... I had to drop these kind of sports, so I pulled out an old favorite. I started swimming ... a lot. I joined Masters Swimming, and swam my first ever competitive race when I was forty.

I don't swim much compared to, say, a high school varsity swimmer. Those crazy mermen and mermaids swim about ten thousand yards every day. I'm not quite as fast as the varsity, but I can smoke most of the JV. And I can still swim a hundred yards in less than a minute. Not all that shabby for a geezer.

I negotiated three swim days a week with my wife, but make up for the lower number by swimming four thousand yards of interval training. Interval training is when you break up the swim into sets, two hundred yards, one hundred yards, some pull-buoy, some kicks, maybe some synchronized swimming ... heh ...etc.

Now let's talk about what four thousand yards really means. It's a shade under two and a half miles ... or forty football field lengths. Forty!

And I swim it in about an hour and ten minutes.

In a usual month, I might swim twenty to twenty-five miles, and my goal is to hit two hundred fifty miles this year, a nice increase over last year. So about ten days ago I realized that I hadn't missed any nights, and I was going to get pretty close to thirty-one miles in July, which would mean that I averaged a mile a day swimming for the month.

I decided to go for it.

My wife said I could swim an extra day or two, but I decided just to crank up the mileage a bit, hence the 3.2 miles last Wednesday, duplicated two days later. This made up the slack, and all I needed was to do my normal swim today and Wednesday.

I swam my four thousand today, which leaves just one mile to go. I'm actually going to over shoot my goal a bit, but so what? Always better to go too far than not far enough.

And like I said, all this just four months before I turn fifty. Woo-hoo!

So that's what all of the updates and swimming moods are all about.

See ya and stuff,


The Adventures of Guy ... written by a guy (probably)
The Next Adventures of Guy ... more wackiness
The Heat of the Moment
Fang Face (YA vampire/humor - coming Aug. 09)

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Young Adult, not so young anymore

Hello, I'm baaaack. Filling in today for Debra St. John, who I hope is enjoying herself. Thank you again for letting me blog with you!

The young adult genre has changed over time. It’s not the same YA I used to read as a kid. As a matter of fact, I bet if you walked into the YA section of your own local B&N you would be surprised.

The YA of my day, and I swear I’m not THAT old, were generally either for young kids or if they were for older kids, they tried to push some moral beliefs down your throat. (Judy Blume excluded of course!) But oh, that has a changed! Now you can pick up anything from wizards to vampires to rich spoiled kids to historical teens. And yes, some of them actually have (gasp) s-e-x.

Okay, all kidding aside, it’s true. Young Adult is now sort of split up by young adult and Teen fiction. The teen fiction geared more for the older kids, and I’m only talking maybe fifteen and up, and the young adult is geared more toward the tweens, eleven/twelve and up. And you have to include the “and up” because yes there are some adults, yours truly included, that really enjoy reading (and writing) YA.

I personally think YA books speak to young readers today and make them more aware of the world around them. I also think that writers of YA have a certain responsibility, not to preach but to guide readers. Where they lead or the path the reader chooses to go is up to the reader, but the bottom line-- it isn’t a bad place.

My YA is geared toward the 12 and up group and I write mostly to encourage readers to see that we are not all perfect. My first novel takes place in high school, as does my current work in progress. I don’t preach, I just try to let readers know that they are not alone, that what they are feeling is normal and that even the freaks or geeks can turn out just fine, because most of us actually thought that we were freaks and geeks and you know, it turns out, that was only in our heads.

So, take some time and walk over to the YA section or scroll through it on or and see what’s out there. Maybe you’ll even pick up a book or two (Ordinary Me) and just sit back and enjoy.

Have a great week!

Author of Ordinary Me, a young adult book.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Architecture of Paris by Margot Justes

You may think I have a theme in mind-in fact I do, it is after all summer and tourist are on the road.

As you can see below, my novel is set in Paris and if you are lucky enough to be going to that spectacular city this summer and happen to love architecture, there is no better place to start than Paris.

Gothic architecture does not come any better than Notre Dame, the flying buttresses abound, and the Sunday peel can be heard for miles. Notre Dame is one of many truly memorable sites, for a stark difference head out to view the Pompidou Center, a contemporary building like none other, and to kill two birds with the proverbial stone stop, delight in and absorb Pei’s pyramid, that wondrous glass structure that serves as an entrance to the glorious Louvre museum.

Where else does the 12th Century blend perfectly with the 21st – why Paris of course.

Till next Saturday,
Margot Justes
A Hotel in Paris
Art brought her to Paris, then a stranger’s death changes her life.
Available on

Friday, July 25, 2008

Demystifying THE WHITE BLANKNESS by Robert W. Walker

Demystifying THE WHITE BLANKNESS - BEFORE YOU CAN BEGIN STORYTELLING DESTROY The myth of diagramming sentences By Robert W. Walker

Transforming grammar as this is NOT about your mother’s grammar.

If we could only all go back to Mrs. Carlisle’s 4th grade grammar class now that we are old enough to not only appreciate the old dear’s sincere heart but to understand and know what the hell she was talking about when she was spending all that time with her back toward us while diagramming a sentence.

Diagramming a sentence is DE-constructing it...taking it apart AFTER it has been built. The mind works in lightning fashion (computer fashion) to construct the foundation and the floors of a towering compound complex sentence and Mrs. C comes along and tears it down brick by F@#$%*!@#K!! brick? What’s that? It was and still is believed by many an English professor that DECONSTRUCTING a hairy and compound and complex sentence (created in the mind that way, created to be compound and complex in a heartbeat) is and always will be a worthwhile exercise. But typically the only one getting the thrill of it and the point of it is the single person in the room who understands why do the process of deconstructing at all, and that would be, you guessed it, the instructor.

An audience of one again, but at least she has a “form“ to work with— the shape of the sentence she has chosen to dissect like a lanuage pathologist: “Here lies the spleen of the sentence, swipe, snip, remove to a lower compartment down here. Here is the head, here the heart—subject and verb—while here lies the rump! The end object...object we were going for. To the side, we place the adverbs and adjectives, the kidneys and liver. Once all the vital organs are relegated to these secondary spirals and spin offs, we are left with but three items in the corpse of the sentence on the table: the subject, verb, and object (the kernel sentence). All those eons since Latin scholars first graced us with “how sentencing works” they were tearing down, cutting away, deconstructing in order to SHOW us how the damn thing was built to order by the remarkable language machine we call the mind (at play in the field of words).

Watch any developing child and ask yourself would you go to his little chalkboard and deconstruct the sentence he just came up with? That red rubber ball with the bulls-eye on it is mine, and I want it back now, or I will hit you with a candelabra.

How easily English teachers can wield the knife or red pen, and deftly deconstruct our constructs. How easily this crowd also destroyed any hope of hundreds of thousands in public schools across America of ever really enjoying Shakespeare’s Julius Ceaser or The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner, The Faerie Queen or anything Nathanel Hawthorne ever penned because of being forced at a tender age to endure the grim and morbid Scarlet Letter when Twice Told Tales would have been perfect for sophomore or junior year reading!

So how do we understand SENTENCE BUILDING if we don’t take the machine apart and look at all its cogs, wheels, levers, pulleys and the put it back together again? Why not work with the Construction Boss, the brain itself, and teach youth how sentences are built from first brick—subject noun—to next brick—verb (action of subject) –to final brick—object (object of subject, object of action) and then we see the awnings, the grill work, the tapestry, the gargoyles go up on the turrets and spiraling chimneys. The gaudy adjectives that work like pilot fish following a shark, that attach themselves to the subject noun and other nouns (or names in the sentence), the colorful adverbs that attach themselves to the verbs, the prepositional phrases that attach themselves either to the subject or object, or AS THE OBJECT phrase, as in “for all mankind”. Then we begin to SEE THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN THINGS (the very definition of learning), and we begin to see that sentences don’t get formed by DE-construction but by ADD ONS. So? So rather than doing deconstructive surgery on a sentence, we English professor types ought really to be doing RE-constructive surgeries on sentences, explaining not only HOW the mind imagines and creates a sentence but WHY? What is the need for all these add-ons? These things we call MODIFIERS which, while in the haste of CREATION are sometimes...often actually...misplaced and make for the unintentionally humorous—a the unintended outcome, better known as a dangling modifier.

While this is not a grammar text, I urge anyone who has read this far to look into Transformational Grammar—a sensible and scientific way to look at how sentences are built and created and imagined by the mind.
Until overcoming fear of two elemental items involved in writing, this successful author of over 40 published novels knew only how to write crippled, awkward, halting, hesitant stories filled with boring sentences on crutches.
Stories that felt (to me alone) clear, obvious, exciting, and breathtakingly compelling, while others (bastard editors or teachers in particular) found the same story a mish-mash and a landslide of relentless boredom without the least compelling aspect save perhaps the kernel idea or plot, or a nifty character or two. Something my plumber could do.
This is not a grammar text. However, the elements of style are steeped in and wrapped in the rudiments of our fundamental decisions and choices between adverbs, adjectives, pronouns over nouns or visa-versa, of word choice which creates voice, diction, tone, and eventually builds point of view characters. In the beginning there was the word—the lone single choice of which word is better suited, which choice has the rich nuance required. Most important in that decision is to select a rich verb over an impoverished one, that is a healthy, strong, active verb over an anemic, weak, passive or helping or linking verb (the verb to be). Some movement is afoot to get rid of the verb to be altogether and this may be taking root in Spotsylvania, Louisiana and Paupau, New Guinea, but I’d put money on the verb to be staying put as it is firmly ensconced in our psyches as well as our dictionaries. To be or not to be—to act or not to act—to use the BE verb or to use the ACTIVE counterpart, that is the question. The answer came to me in a vision when I was young and fearful of all things GRAMMATICAL. If the sentence I write sounds right and just and good, and it rings a fine tone, and it makes sense, USE IT. After being “transformed” by a course in college called Transformational Grammar, I added, “If it sounds good and makes good sense, and if it is ACTIVE VOICE then USE IT.

While this blog is not a grammar textbook, I will counsel you often throughout the to race to a good grammar and to make reference there to certain matters of all important item we are discussing as when we discuss the monster in language that eats up meaning and clarity, a monster called “The Qualifier” or qualifying statement, as with pronoun confusions, as with number confusions, as with active over passive verb constructs.
An active construct can be a hammer blow in tone as with any strong two-word sentence: Jesus wept. Requiring only a SUBJECT noun and an active VERB. Notice the object is cut off by the period. It may or may not follow in the next sentence as in: The shepherd and carpenter of Nazareth did so for all mankind.

Biblical writing is filled with active voice constructs, but so too is the writings of such men as Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Martin Cruz Smith, and other best-selling authors (although there are just as many best-selling authors who have either forgotten or become lazy over the years whose works are crushingly passive but whose fame has overshadowed any hope of their gaining serious and solid editing).
However, this blog is not a textbook on grammar. It does not aspire to such a lofty goal. Rather I will concern you with the least you need to know about grammar elements that can win you readings or, if ignored, lose the hoped for editor reading and respect.

That said, let us move on to the heart of the matter. As every story begs a beginning and the old saw that says simply “Begin and the beginning.” Easier said than done, but where is the beginning? Get a pocket watch with a chain on it and dangle it before your eyes at your work station, so that you are ever mindful that every successful story has an internal clock ticking, and ask yourself at what TIME in the story should I open with my first salvo, that most compelling of all sentences, the one that makes the reader go on to my second, third, fourth, and so on and on. Draw a line in that imaginary sand of the mind and have it run flat for a while, then arch up and up. This storyline looks flat at the beginning. At the first arch upwards, what is your main character doing? Where is her hands? Is this little girl whose point of view comes clear aged twelve or six or is she a teen, a young woman, and does she have an occupation or career or aspirations, and for God’s sake, what is her name? What is gained by witholding elemental facts that can help us READERS determine who she is and if we should be interested or not? And again, where are her hands, her feet, on what kind of slippery slope is she standing, hanging, or swinging, and is it by a thread? Has she just broken into the local ancient condemned movie theater? If you open with your character in mid-crime, in mid-act, in mid-mistake, wow, one step ahead of the last story the editor rejected already (not that a fast out of the gate alone will sell a story, but it will get a reading).

There’s an old axiom in script writing as well as fiction writing: begin with the backstory firmly in place. That is all that has ALREADY occurred before your story’s first line opens; it should be your research or days or weeks of contemplation on this fully-realized character. If she is an accomplished twelve-year-old burglar coming through a window that is going to change her life forever (due to conflict with someone inside?), then you have to be convinced of it before you can convince me—or any one else for that matter. Suppose Sue Appel goes through that window just for the kicks, or as a dare? Gotta be some trouble in her past that led up to this. Suppose she’s a pro at this age because she’s feeding a drug habit? Or that her parents raised her “in the business.” Suppose she defines herself as a Gypsy? And if it is drugs? It’s one thing if she’s feeding her own habit, another if she’s doing it for her big brother or father or mother.

We’re still not about grammar here but we are. The opening sentence showing Clarice climbing clumsily through the easy mark’s window that looks out on a trash-can- lined alley and a polluted sky blocking out any hope of stars and moon is already MISTAKE-ridden with the single word clumsily. Clumsily is an adverb --that is it only has one job to do and that is ADD-to-the-VERB, thus add-verb. By our choice we have made her clumsy altogether in selecting this word, and yet our backstory idea on her is that this has become routine, simple, easy, and she does it with grace and without a thought to why she does this crime. Clumsy throws us entirely in another direction, making us suspect just the opposite. She is a first timer. It is at instant odds with our plan. Enough such thoughtless choices and our story will work for no one on any level except our blind selves. We become the home movie guy who shoots reels and reels but the only one who enjoys the reels is an audience of one.

I had a student once defend the indefensible in class. He shouted his conviction that a poem could be about anything and take ANY form, finishing with, “The word IT can be a poem, standing alone, just IT. There’s your poem.”
You know he might be right, and some guy somewhere is going to have an Andy Worhal fifteen minutes when he displays his poem in a frame at the Guggenheim or the Art Institute of Chicago with his artistically stylized poem IT in an ornate frame. But I still beg to differ that all lasting, all good art conforms to a form even if it is pushing the envelope of what constitutes form, and a single-word poem is not pushing the envelope, and it has no form. It is like a Piccaso cast off pencil drawing of a single line and will get as much attention as the man‘s preoccupation with a certain female body part in his dotage—seen one, seen all—and I resent having paid for the dubious privilege at the prestigious Chicago Art Institute.

Moral: no matter who calls it art, elephant dung on canvass is still elephant dung, but at least the elephant dung artist plugged into a motif, a form, the pieta—mother and child in one another‘s arms. The single-word poem, however beautiful its frame, has no such “art” in and of itself except perhaps on the cover of a Stephen King novel in which case the publisher‘s art department has to make IT look interesting as a title. Go ahead now, prove me wrong and write the epic poem IT and show me up, but I submit that IT alone is not “epic”. Still, I’d love to see it....

Point being that stories want to “take shape” and have “form” and without this they become formless, miasmas of tone, slices of melancholia, portions of shock, fragmented gems uncut and unset as in a nifty little haunted house story that goes nowhere but darn if that wasn’t a fresh haunting opening sentence, huh?

Beginnings SET the tone. First sentences, fist paragraphs, first pages, first scenes, and first chapters are all important, so it behooves you to REWRITE them over many times, but rewrite SMARTLY, rewrite as an EXORSIST. You alone can exorcise and cast out the demons and gremlins that come about as a result of your own weak, passive, brain-snot as Stephen King calls it. In a grammar text “brain snot” would be called extraneous and confusing and misleading words, and you saw by example that a single adverb can mislead, confuse or befuddle the reader who is an amazingly forgiving cuss for the most part, but who will drop your story like a stone in the nearest toilet if you again and again fall into passive verb voice and or make other elemental errors that deep-six a dramatic moment as in a three paragraph block telling me that one character told another character this, and the second character responded by telling the first that, and so on. Beware the word TOLD. If it was told why isn’t the author allowing the character to speak in his own words? To walk and talk in his role?

Next blog willl be an actual exercise to improve dialogue overnight, a finger exercise you can do repeatedly to remind yourself what is truly dramatic in dramatic writing.

Until then, happy writing . .
Rob Walker
Knife Editing Service – contact me via

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Bloom Where You're Planted! by DL Larson

I've learned as a gardener not to be overly zealous when weeding. I appreciate the wild look to my gardens; I even enjoy the smattering of flowers that have spread to parts of my yard where I never planted them. I thank the birds, the wind and the occasional seed I tossed aside in hopes it would take root next year. Flowers sprout up between the rocks around my gardens, others have taken root beneath my brick patio. And I'm fine with that. Their presence lends a whimsical twist to my yard. I have astors, Russian sage, snap dragons and lupines growing where I never suspected anything would grow. They reseeded themselves! I relate this to letting my imagination wander, wondering ... hmmm, what would happen if ...

And so it is with being a writer. I try not to squash the tiniest, abstract, even weirdest idea. I'm in the middle of revising my sci-fi novel right now and I realized I had been visualizing descriptions in my mind that I had yet to transfer completely to paper. I wasn't disillusioned, quite the contrary. I was elated part of my mind had kept focusing on details while the other part had been traipsing through dialogue and conflict.

Do you stockpile words in your mind? I used to have a compost pile in our barnyard just for our garden. Now we throw everything from weeds to wood into the burn pile. Then on a calm day, when all is dried out, we set the whole thing on fire. My stockpile of words is a little different. My gathering is catergorized, usually descriptive words; a stack of sweet, endearing ones and then the larger leering interjections of dark gasps, heart thumping twisters with vivid images. Seems I'm always searching for just the right word. And I'm amazed when I let my imagination grow and wander on its own, up pops the word I needed. I love that.

Of course, a Thesaurus works too. The point is don't settle for ordinary. A good writer discovers a new way of expressing herself with each story she tells. My gardens remain in the same place in my yard, but every year they look different. They are ever shifting, changing and developing into fuller, brighter pieces of artwork. Writing needs to grow and mature as well. I don't want to write the same stories I've already written; I want to discover something more, deeper, even if I write about the same character in my next book.

I want my characters to bloom! The only way they can do that is by letting go. I give my imaginary friends free reign to wander and plunder into pitfalls I would never have come up with if I hadn't let my imagination run wild. I've written my characters into impossible situations, then dream a way to a better place. It not only makes for a page turner in my imagination, but also creates a great adventure for my readers.

My characters may be rooted in my mind, but with a heavy dose of imagination, they can bloom right into reality.

Til next time ~

DL Larson

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Free advertising is the best kind!

Good Morning All, and thank you again to Morgan for asking me to fill in for her. (Big wave Morgan!)

I am fortunate enough to work at Oakton Community College where they are really proud of accomplishments made by anyone in the Oakton family, including me, a lowly staff person.

When I became a published author, and yes I still get a chill when I say that, my fellow co-workers were, and still are, very supportive. As a matter of fact, the college itself is very supportive and as proof they interviewed me for the college magazine.

Now when they asked me if they could interview me I said, YES! How neat that they are interested in me and my little book, but in the back of my mind I was cheering, yay, free advertising. And let me tell you, the word spread like wildfire. I had more people coming up to me wishing me congratulations and the book had been out for four months! I noticed an increase in hits on my website and an increase in interest in publishing itself. Which although I am published through a small press, I’m amazed that I actually know the answers to some of there questions.

Of course we all know there are many avenues one can take to advertise their books, we have paid ads, book signings, mailings, etc, but I think that free advertising is the way to go, and you know what? The price is totally right!

If you are interested in reading the article here is the on link:



June will be blogging for me today as I rush getting out the door for a mini-vacation. Just a reminder, if you're almost 60 or over, come on over and join

Morgan Mandel

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Why we do what we do

Have you ever stopped and asked yourself why it is that you do what you do? I'm not just talking about work, although that would be a good place to start. Sure we tend to work because we need to pay our bills but why do you work where you work? Why do you do the kind of work that you do? Was it your only choice? Is it still your only choice?

When I was in grad school at UC Santa Barbara after serving two tours in the Republic of South Korea, I met quite a few other grad students who came from foreign countries to include many from Europe. One day, in between classes, I was sitting with some of the foreign students and we were sharing our experiences of living in a foreign country. An observation made by one of the foreign students was - "Americans live to work. In Europe we work to live."

Now this can be taken many ways but whenever I reflect on this conversation I come to appreicate it more and more as true. Look around and you'll see many people in jobs they don't enjoy. I mean really, really don't enjoy. There are days I don't enjoy my job - IT support for a government agency - especially when people yell at me and expect the moon, but overall I really like and enjoy my job. It's challenging, it's mentally and physically stimulating and it's more than just job security. I'm very happy about that, but my job is just part of who I am, albeit a large part of my life and certainly impacts on how I experience other parts of my life. Still, I'm finally beginning to feel the shift from living to work, to working to live.

I just returned from a run. It's my short run for the week, 3 1/2 miles, but it ended up being a very difficult run for me. My asthma has been acting up for the past week and this is my biggest challenge to running. I grew up in Los Angeles and it's not until I moved to Chicago after leaving the army that I developed chronic asthma. Guess I'm better off when I can see the air I'm breathing! Anyway, getting oxygen into my system to motiviate my leg muscles to work is a real challenge when I'm wheezing. Oh, I use my inhaler 20 minutes before -and on this run I had to use it during the run - and I'm on several different medications to help me breathe and prevent my asthma from acting up, but act up it does.

I have allergy-induced asthma and whenever the weather changes I tend to have a reaction. Most days it's more than manageable but today and for the past several days, my asthma has been gallantly trying to interfer with my running progress. So, you might ask - why do I even run in the first place! I mean one bad asthma attack and I'm a goner, and believe me there have been days when I've really struggled to breathe. I remember one day at work, my co-worker told me that I looked just plain grey. I was struggling to breathe and I went home early. The next morning I went in late not having slept very well the night before. When she saw me she almost hugged me. She said she had been very worried when I was late because the night before a friend of hers - much younger than me - had died in his sleep from an asthma attack.

So, why do I run? Well, I do like to challenge myself but I take my asthma very seriously. I pace myself based on how I feel and I've even cut some runs short because I listen to my body and even though I'm use to pushing myself beyond what I think my limits are (you can take the girl out of the army, but you can't take the army out of the girl!) I don't mess with my asthma.

My long run for the week is usually on a Sunday morning. Mornings are better, especially a Sunday morning, because few cars have been out and the air is the most pollutant free and less dense than it is later on in the day. Two weeks ago I ran 7 strong miles but this past Sunday I had to cut my run short only logging 5 1/2 miles. For folks who don't run, you're probably thinking, "That's great!" but I'm prepping for the Chicago Half-Marathon and I want to get my long run as close to 10 miles as I can. I ran this race in 2006 and I know I can finish it but in 2006 when I ran the race it was two weeks shy of my one-year anniversary from a radical hysterectomy. Still, I ran 8 1/2 miles before I had to walk/run and finished in just over three hours. This time I want to get as close to 2 1/2 hours as I can.

So, what's the point to all this? The point is to answer the question - why do we do what we do? I run because I can and because given all that I've shared in this blog, it's a challenge for me. The fact that I can challenge myself against certain odds while still preserving my well-being is quite rewarding and makes me appreicate each and every day that I am alive and doing well. I run because it helps me not take anything for granted - not my health, not my freedom, not anything. My aches and pains are real but I know which ones are temporary and which ones are warning signs. It's because I run and challenge myself that I'm able to be this aware of myself, my health, my body and my surroundings.

I am also a writer. I have published non-fiction works but I will soon be submitting my first novel to a publisher for consideration. I have been working on this novel for more than four years. I'm in what I feel is that last major rewrite and I'm on page 205 of a 260 page novel. I'm ecsatatic! Don't know if it will actually be published but I'm very satisfied with my efforts. I've learned so much in the process about writing in general and about myself.

I write and run because I can. I write and run because I can't imagine not doing either of these things. I write and run because to stop now would be akin to a part of me dying. I write and run because I want to continue to learn about who I am for the rest of my life.

That's why I do what I do.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Way Up Northbrook

I kept driving and driving ... past the Hinsdale Oasis ... past O'Hare ... past the exit for Wheeling ... past a deer carcass on the side of the road ... and then, just before bonking my head on Wisconsin, there it was ... the Lake Cook Road exit.

I drove past it by mistake because I was checking out the fine mini-van driving next to me.

Yeah, mini-van. A real man's vehicle, right?

Not really. What really happened was I was checking out the tanned, halter-topped young lady who was riding a bright yellow crotch rocket in the middle lane, causing all kinds of swerving and stuff from the guy drivers all around trying to keep two eyes on her and a third eye on the road.

Anyway, I lied, I ripped my eyes away from her at the last minute and didn't miss my exit.

So I took the exit to really, really, really North Brook (they laughingly spell it Northbrook) and as I drove on Lake Cook road, I looked at Lake County on my left and Cook County on my right, wondering where they came up with the name Lake Cook road.

Then I drove to the huge Borders Books at the corner of Waukegan and Lake Cook and went inside to my booksigning.

Not really. Actually, I drove past the huge Borders Books and a minute later pulled in the parking lot of Max and Benny's , a popular restaurant, deli, bakery with an awesome reputation and food that lives up to it.

Yep, my first signing in a restaurant.

Five of my fellow authors from the anthology, The Heat of the Moment had assembled to eagle, er, hawk the anthology and our own individual books. Joining me were fellow Acme blogger Margot Justes, Bob Goldsborough, Amy Alessio (congrats on the baby, Amy!), Kevin (I'm a fireman, buy my book) Helmold, Christine ... um, Ver ... Verstra... uh...

(wait, I need to look it up)

Here ya' go, Chris Verstraete. I knew it all the time. Yeah, and I wasn't looking at the girl on the crotch rocket.

Anyway, we were all here for our first ever booksigning at a restaurant.


We were excited ... all pumped up... ready to risk carpel tunnel, dried out ink pens and clumsy busboys.

But I'm not going to lie. The crowd was less than overwhelming. I mean, the staff at the restaurant was very gracious and supportive. They put copies of our books in the front along with an author or two (Kevin, Bob and I took turns), and they let us use their public address system ... I doubt they'll let me do it again in the future ... heh, heh.

But having a signing at the hours 3-5 pm on a Saturday just wasn't conducive to having a large number of people. The few that came to eat were pleasantly surprised to learn that six authors were in the building, but again, there weren't many there then.

The owner came by and remarked that it was not the busiest time to sign, and wondered why we had picked a slow time (actually, one of his managers did - but beggars can't be rich, er, choosers).

Anyway, we had a great time. Bob, Margot, Kevin, Amy and I have had a few joint signings together, and it was fantastic to finally meet Chris. Margot's family came out to support her, and they are cool, not just fantastically good looking and intelligent. We all like each other so it was worth doing.

So I'm sure we'll find somewhere else to sign, be it Canada, er, Wisconsin, I mean, Northbrook or wherever.

Plus, there are rumors that there will soon be another anthology ... stay tuned!


The Adventures of Guy ... written by a guy (probably)
The Next Adventures of Guy ...more wackiness
The Heat of the Moment
Fang Face (my first YA! coming Aug 2009)

Sunday, July 20, 2008

A Galaxy Far, Far Away

Okay, I'll admit it. I'm a self-proclaimed Star Wars geek. I've loved anything and everything Star Wars since I was a little girl. Movies, music, books... In my neighborhood growing up we'd play Star Wars and even did a play once. I am of the generation who was lucky enough to enjoy the original trilogy as a child and all these years later am enjoying the newest trilogy as an adult. And I can't wait for the Pixar movie next month.

I know obscure character and place names, and never fail to get a head shake and a sigh from my husband when I fill him in on more details than he ever cares to know when we're watching an episode. ("How do you KNOW all this stuff?") No one will play Star Wars trivia with me. ("It's not fair, you always win.") And I can carry on a conversation with any given third, fourth, or fifth grader about the Clone Wars.

I not only read the books that tell the stories of the movies and other events beyond, but I read all of the "behind the scenes" stuff, too. I am one of those people who think George Lucas is one of the most brilliant, creative minds on the planet (or any galaxy far, far away). I recently picked up a book about the making of the original Star Wars movie. The one that came out in 1977 and was simply called "Star Wars", but has now earned the moniker "Episode IV - A New Hope".

The book is fasinating. (Although the small print did give me a migraine the other day when I was trying to read it without my contacts.) What truly amazes me is the insight it gives about George Lucas as a writer. Now I assumed that creative ideas would pour out of him and he would barely be able to keep up with them to write them down. Not always the case. There were days when he would stare at the blank piece of paper (he hand writes all of his first drafts) in front of him and not write anything for hours at a time. Sometimes he didn't finish drafts when he thought he would and had to ask for more time. Story concepts and characters changed numerous times, and drastically so. And, he had a hard time selling the story concept to the studios.

Hmnn? This is sounding familiar. I guess all writers, no matter what level of fame or success they have achieved, or have yet to achieve, go through fundamentally the same struggles.

So as a Star Wars fan, this book has been an extremely interesting read. But as a writer, it's been even more fun to discover that I have something in common with George Lucas. (Now if only our bank accounts had similar would be even more grand!)

And while George can say he has a new Star Wars movie coming out next MONTH, I can say I have a new book coming out next WEEK. ("This Time for Always" will have its electronic release on July 30 - so be sure to check it out! By buying a copy you'll be entered for the chance to win a SONY eReader from The Wild Rose Press.)

Until then, May the Force be with you.


by Debra St. John
coming this summer from
The Wild Rose Press
electronic release 7/30/08
print release 8/29/08

Saturday, July 19, 2008


A Warm Welcome to Regency Romance Author, Hazel Statham!

Title of Book: His Shadowed Heart
E-ISBN: 978-1-59705-267-1
POD-ISBN: 978-1-59705-756-8


Well, I just had to have it didn’t I. Anyone who knows me, will realise that I just couldn’t pass it up. OK, so it was a replica cannon from the American Civil War, not one from the Napoleonic Wars, but it was the nearest I could get.

We were visiting friends in Savannah and we went to Charleston for the day. Our friends took us to an old fort and there, sitting in the window of the shop, was my cannon.

"You don’t want that,” Terry (the husband) said. “You can’t want that.”

I stuck to my guns, “Yes, I do!”

“Think of the trouble we will have getting it home. I’m the one who will have to carry it after all.”

I waved his concerns aside. He is, after all, only a man, with a man’s perspective! Just how difficult could a twelve inch cannon be to carry? I bought the cannon for $80, feeling quite triumphant with my purchase, thinking it was cheap at half the price. I knew just where I would put it when we got home.

Finally, our holiday was over and I had to pack for our return. Now, where to put the cannon? Our cases were full to capacity, (we had just had a new grandson and Baby Gap sells the most beautiful baby clothes). The only space available was in the hand-luggage. Not ideal, I know, and bore out my husband’s theory that he would be the one who would have to carry it. So, careful not to squash the wheels, into the hand-luggage it went.

We were driven to Atlanta Airport and deposited in the departure lounge. Unfortunately, it was one of those frustrating times when I needed to use my wheelchair so Terry was left to organise the check-in procedure. Not in itself a tricky process - usually, (but you must bear in mind that this was in the wake of September 11th). We then proceeded to the security checks.

We presented our passports and all the necessary documents for our departure and were ushered through into the security area. At this point, a porter took over responsibility for me and my wheelchair so that Terry could take the hand-luggage through the usual checks. I was wheeled to the side, so that I didn’t obstruct the natural flow of people, to await my husband’s return. No husband!

I craned my neck and saw the entire contents of our hand-luggage, plus, (yes you’ve guessed it) my husband, being taken away by security guards.

I asked the porter where they were taking him but he just shrugged. He was Puerto Rican and spoke no English.

I waited. Still no husband! Knowing that he would be getting stressed, I stopped a passing security guard and asked to be taken to him.

“No!” was the emphatic reply.

With only twenty minutes to departure time, I was beginning to panic. Terry suddenly appeared, thankfully sans escort, but to my despair, also sans cannon. He had been released quite a while earlier but they would not let him back into the secure area without the necessary paperwork, which we had already relinquished at the previous security check. The official who had taken the original travel forms and assured my husband that, if he presented himself at his desk, he would be allowed re-entry, had gone home for the day. It had taken Terry over half-an-hour to persuade the new official to let him back in. He was not happy! Naturally, it was all my fault.

The cannon? That had to be securely packaged by the airline staff and placed in the hold. We were not allowed to see it again until it arrived on the baggage carousel at Manchester Airport.

It now sits in the place I envisioned, but, by mutual consent, is very rarely mentioned.

Genre: Regency Romance
Publisher: Wings ePress
Publication Date: June 1st, 2008
Blurb: Can a shadowed heart be healed? Can love grow where least expected? The Earl of Waverly believes not. How wrong can he be!

After the death of his wife, the Earl of Waverly, believing his heart irreparably damaged, enters into a marriage of convenience. However, he is not prepared for the healing influence his new young bride has on his life.

Despite the couple’s new-found happiness, nefarious deeds abound and strange happenings are attributed to the ghost of his former wife. Will their love stand the test or will the perpetrator emerge the victor?

Thursday, July 17, 2008


When is there too much detail and too much procedural information in your novel? When I teach composition and writing the research paper, I tell my wide-eyed students that the reader is a hungry cuss. That you cannot ever really feed the reader ENOUGH details, facts, figures, charts, information, story examples, and procedural items in the event that you wish to persuade or move someone to your side of an argument. That the writer’s job is no different from that of a prosecuting attorney—evidence atop evidence atop evidence. You want to win, pour on the evidence until it is coming out the reader’s pores. There’s a great deal to recommend this approach in a thesis paper say on How Microwaves Actually Work. But how true is it in writing fiction? At what point do you respect your reader to have gotten the point? There is the fear you fall into writing down to your reader, and readers of fiction are savvy and smart, and they “get it” with a few mere suggestive facts.

Some writers pour on the detail in describing a person, a place, or a thing. A character is given three pages of descript down to the type of toothpaste a character uses, while the story is at a standstill; or a place like a courtroom in a Grisham novel is given ten pages of description; or worse yet a boulder is described for twenty five pages by James Michener. Dean R. Koontz will devote paragraphs to tell you it is hot outside, but in doing so, he makes you and his character sweat and begin to pull off clothing, and that can be damned effective writing. But can you overdooooo the detail, the facts, the information, the evidence of heat in a scene? Does it do you well to exhaust the thesaurus for hot? In the right hands, yes, and for the right purpose yes, but there are scenes that are KILLED DEAD by overkill of details and procedures even in a police procedural novel, or the one-too-many autopsies in a medical examiner novel—especially when the procedure for the autopsy is followed faithfully for each autopsy, faithfully and laboriously and boringly. If your novel requires three or five or six autopsies, do we have to begin at the beginning of each autopsy? Do we need to see every detail, every cut? Can we agree that the reader, put through one procedure detail for detail, can extrapolate, can imagine, can move on from the end of a second autopsy? Or gather what is needed from a discussion after the slicing and dicing? And as for police procedure, not every detail of police work is inherently interesting, such as the forms needing to be filled out. In a nonfiction context, every detail might be requisite; in a fiction context no. Especially the most boring of police detail.

The worst thing I have ever witnessed in this regard did not come from a first time author, a newbie, a wannabe, or even a student in one of my comp classes, but from a professional author with many books to his credit. Said author breaks with the reader and all suspension of disbelief by placing a blank form straight out of the FBI inbox-outbox office supply. Yes a form that is filled out on a “profile” of an UNSUB or unsubstantiated suspect, a serial killer. The form in and of itself, on the page, blank and “staring the reader in the face” looks and reads about as interesting as an application for a library card, or something from the Department of Motor Vehicles. It jarred me right out of the book. Admittedly, this is an extreme form of what NOT to do in a police or FBI procedural. Much more interesting to have one’s character complaining about the form than to “reveal” the form on the page. In a novel, the appearance of a fill-in-the-blank form is a good way to KILL YOUR OWN SCENE.

The other area that kills a scene in the police procedural (or any suspense or mystery or thriller or crime novel) is making the procedure more important than the action or drama, more important than the characters, the setting, and the scene itself. If you sacrifice drama for dullness, you are going down the wrong path. In my Edge Series, I pay a lot more attention to police procedure and street-level law than I do in my FBI ME Instinct Series. In either case, I can’t sacrifice my dramatic moment, be it making an arrest or making an incision, to the demands of procedural detail. I have read ME novels wherein the first autopsy scene is merely duplicated, word for word, cut and paste to the next autopsy scene—once five times in the same book. This kills it for me.

Bottom line is, while you should study/research/know police procedure if you are writing a novel that hinges on procedure (a main character with such attention to detail that it defines him or her), it becomes way too easy to spend too much time on procedural details, and as with any info dump, the procedures can become focal points where you think you are doing right and good, hitting your mark, when in fact if you get lost in your research. Trust me, details in fiction are necessary but you can’t make the book about that; if you do, then the non-fictional elements of your story can and will take over to the degree a reader asks, “Why don’t I just read a nonfiction title on this? May as well. So when do you know to back off the heavy-handed procedure or hold back on the autopsy or whatever you’ve researched? Quick and dirty answer: When it gets boring, slows the story, stops the story; when you realize you’ve begun to leave out your main character(s) and they can’t be found in the scene because you’re now going on for paragraphs about procedures and forms and documentation and all that stuff that is needed in a thesis paper.

Historical novels can fall into the same trap, and science fiction for sure, for sure. When the history takes over or when the science takes over its then that the characters, like actors working a bad script, drop away. Picture this, Atlanta is burning at the hands of the Federal soldiers led by Sherman; the backdrop of fire looks like Hell itself, but silhouetted before and well in front of the fire and the fall of Atlanta is Brett and Scarlett holding forth, saving one another. Gone With The Wind is a love story first, a romance, and an historical second (backdrop to the romance is the history), and it is the job of the fictionalist to keep the two in place, no matter what devices you use to get your history or your science or your medicinal facts in. How many readers want to read in detail the war policy of the South, the war policy of the North in GWTW?

Which brings us to a final point about procedure(s) and how much attention we should give them in any sort of novel. When the procedure is interesting, even fascinating, we may well do the reader a justice to put the information before our readers. Say some point of history as told by one of the characters in the story, or a point of history in photography, a new science at the time, and how one man was a test case in copyright law for this new science. What is more boring than copyright law? But if it is an obsession and fascination for the character, it may be made fascinating. If it’s cool and interesting, go for it. Example two: I don’t care to see detail for detail how a military weapon is cleaned, but I might find it fascinating if the procedure is sifted through the mind of a man or woman who has an intimate relationship with the gun in question, and said character is what the scene is about and not the procedure itself. IF it is done in a boring method that drops out the guy with his five senses, we get a scene with a man who cleans his gun when I can simply be told that he’s expert at cleaning his gun. Don’t need to see detail for detail: vomiting or diarrhea, bathroom procedure for my hero or villain such as brushing of teeth, combing of hair (unless there’s a very good reason for it), walking in a girdle beneath a huge party dress down a flight of stairs while in high heels, giving a dog a bath, giving a parakeet a meal, changing kitty litter, coring an apple, and countless other brainless procedures.

Much of police procedure, even in a police procedural novel, can be alluded to, and a mere mention or suggestion is like a photograph—worth a thousand words—and is often far more gratifying than the play by play when dealing with dress codes in the department, or what is between the covers of the Illinois Penal Code. Determine what is too boring to detail and you stand a chance of not killing your own scene. Final admonition, don’t stop the action to describe a process. Do so amid the action, make it part of the action/drama. Just as in don’t stop the action/drama to describe a person (character), place (setting), or thing (object or process).

Hope this helps all those who were wondering when is too much tooodammmuchh.

Happy Writing,

Rob Walker\shorts\

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

SWAP PARTIES By Morgan Mandel

I love my husband. I lead a somewhat normal life. When I’m not working, I spend a lot of time writing, reading, watching TV and movies, going to garage and rummage sales, arts and craft fairs, neighborhood festivals. My biggest vices are playing penny slots and occasionally letting slip one of the naughty words the late George Carlin made famous.

So, why am I considering a swap party? Am I bored with the status quo?

Okay, before your jaws drop at the idea of my being one of those decadent suburban wives, I’ll let you in on a bit of news. Contrary to the old-fashioned notion of trading husbands and wives, today’s swap party is much different.

Swap parties these days are parties where people get together and swap items they don’t need or care for in exchange for items they really want. They’re kind of like interactive garage or rummage sales. The idea is to not only save money, but also to protect the environment by not cluttering up the landfills. It’s another way of going green, which is very popular lately.

As a lover of garage sales and an owner of a cluttered basement, I think swap parties are a great idea. I’m not sure if I’d like to run one myself, but I would love to go to one. Until I find one in my area, I just might try out one of those sites on the Internet for trading goods, such as or

I have no idea of the reputation of these sites, but they’re among the first ones that came up when I Googled about free swapping.

You might ask, as you probably do when reading my blogs, what does any of this have to do with books and my being an author? Well, in a way I’m part of a swap party already. I offer books in exchange for reviews. Also, some of my best friends, relatives and acquaintances are already swapping my books amongst themselves and others, some even to the extent of carrying them along on vacation to different states and letting others read them poolside.

Of course, one of the biggest book swapping places is the public library, where patrons can check out books, and if they wish, donate others.

I try not to wince at the thought of all those royalties lost. Instead, I look at the positive side.

While swapping practices among an author’s relatives, friends and acquaintances or patrons taking advantage of the library system seem destructive for a career as an author, in fact the opposite is true. Word of mouth is still the best sales tool to get my brand out, and getting known is very important to me. The more buzz about my career and my books, TWO WRONGS and GIRL OF MY DREAMS, whatever the means, is good publicity and I welcome it.

So maybe one of these days I’ll participate in a modern swap party, but in the meantime until I can find one, I’ll settle for getting my books circulated and my name known.

Morgan Mandel

Monday, July 14, 2008

Reality Show Hell

“So, what’s the problem?” he asked.

“Well,” I said, shifting on the couch, “frankly, I’m in Reality Show Hell.”

“And how’s that?” he asked, peering down at me.

“It started pretty innocently. The wife and daughters would be watching a show, while I’d be watching the game over in the Guy’s Room.”

“The Guy’s Room?”

“Yeah, Guy’s Room. You know, flat screen television, overstuffed chair, a bench seat from the original Comisky Park, beer, minor league baseball pennants and an Indianapolis Colt life-size replica helmet. A guy’s gotta have a Guy’s Room.”


“Sure is. Anyway, during time-outs and half-time, I’d go over to see what they’re watching.”

“Okay, and then what?”

“You know, I’m trying to be the Modern Husband and Father, and get all involved in what they’re doing and everything.”

“Admirable. It’s nice that this age has spawned the advent of fathers taking an interest in their families.”

I squirmed a bit on the sofa, sliding a bit on the slick leather.

“Uh, yeah, I guess,” I answered. One of my belt loops hooked on one of the sofa’s buttons. I tried to pry it off without him noticing.

“So the problem?” he prompted.

“I dunno, I’d sit down, start watching the show with them. You know,” I said, looking back at him, “I’m really not sure I can talk about this.”

“It’s okay. You don’t have to say anything that you don’t want to. Although you will have to face your fears in order to overcome them.”

I shot him a quick glance. Crazy quack. What the hell was I doing here?

“Uh, that’s not it, really...” I faltered.

“Then what is it?”

I took a deep breath.

“Well, I’d get hooked on what they were watching, sometimes...” Actually, what I was hooked to was the button on the couch. And it was coming loose.


“Oh, sorry. Anyway, sometimes I’d get sucked into what they were watching, and I’d, uh, forget about the game.”

“You’d forget about the game?” He sounded upset.

“Uh, yeah, I guess.”

“So what kind of shows would they be watching?”

“That’s what I was trying to tell you. It’s all reality show stuff.”

“Reality show?”

“Yeah, it started innocently enough. You know, stuff like American Idol.

“Oh, yeah,” he gushed. “Do you remember Clay Aiken?”

“You know Clay Aiken?” I asked. Shocked, I twisted in the couch, and felt the couch button pop off.

“Well, uh-hem, I, uh, know the name,” he said, refusing to meet my eyes. “I, uh, treat many women patients, too.”

“Oh.” I settled back down, parking my butt to hide where the button had popped off.

“Then what?”

“Anyway, I started watching Survivor. Then I got sucked into The Osbournes, and My Big, Fat Obnoxious Fiancé. It wasn’t long before I was watching more reality shows than ESPN!!”

He was quiet for a few moments.

I counted a few ceiling tiles.

After a few more moments, I finally turned around.

He was gone!

There was an open door in the back, and carefully I crept up to it and peered in.

To my shock, I saw him covertly watching, (gasp), My Hypocritical Hippocratic Oath-taking Doctor.

When I left, I didn’t bother telling him about the busted button. For what he gets paid, he can replace it himself.


The Adventures of Guy … written by a guy (probably)
The Next Adventures of Guy … more wackiness
The Heat of the Moment
Fang Face (coming in 2009)

Saturday, July 12, 2008

A Cafe in Paris by Margot Justes

It is summer, and many tourists will flock to Paris. There are no bad times in which to visit this magnificent city, but summer seems to be the season of choice.

To avoid the tourist crush, I prefer anytime but summer; to be able to capture and breathe the sensations of this captivating city in relative peace.

The cafes are a lifestyle, slow, easy…relaxing; the continuous rush of the life glides by, while you sit in a café and enjoy that marvelous cup.

Visit the famous Café De La Paix, sit down-you might even be sitting down in the same spot as Chopin, maybe even Sand-they were among the many writers, artists, musicians who frequented the spot. Sit, enjoy and pay homage to a time long gone by-yet, it’s still there. That is the magic…

The Champs Elyssee, a must for any tourist, many cafes from which to chose-but, there is a new kid on the block; Nespresso has arrived -a 10,00 square feet ‘boutique’. I have yet to see it, rest assured I will - as I said it is brand new, just opened this June-oddly enough the time of my launch of A Hotel in Paris. Coincidence, I think not…

That particular touch of coffee nirvana you can have right in your own home, the machine is available to purchase from Williams Sonoma or go directly to

The coffee is excellent, the crema sublime, and it is easy to use. My greatest joy when I sit down to write or anytime I have a few moments, is to have a good cup of coffee, in fact many cups of coffee. Great coffee, solitude and writing…pure heaven.

Till next Saturday,
Margot Justes
A Hotel in Paris
Art brought her to Paris, then a stranger’s death changes her life.
Available on

Friday, July 11, 2008


How do you know you’re talking to someone who can truly help you with your query letter, your synopsis, your outline, and your apostrophes?—someone who knows the difference between an outline and a synopsis, for instance. How do you know if you are dealing with a professional book doctor and not a mere butcher? How can you negotiate a good, safe deal with a developmental editor? Or a proofreader? And what’s the difference between the two? And is there wiggle room for negotiation?

First off, determine if the person you are working with will do your outline, synopsis, and first chapters or first 30 pages at a cut rate in order to SEE if he or she and you can work together on a complete project. This “introductory rate” is how I get to know the nature of the project and how the client-writer gets to know my capabilities and how much I can contribute to his/her manuscript.

Going into a “partnership” with a proofreader is one thing, a developmental editor or book doctor capable of helping you with copyediting as well is quite another. We don’t hear the term book doctor much anymore (sorry if I sound like Andy Rooney here). I suspect few people use the term book doctor nowadays because so many so-called “book doctors” turned out to be charlatans simply out to fleece the so easily charmed writer. The term developmental editor is applied to a person who is willing and able to go beyond mere proofing for grammatical, spelling, usage, errors—same as book doctor; one who takes the next major step to provide you with answers to structure, beginnings, endings, middle-ground slumps, and the larger issues of logic, sequence of events, setting, muscling up setting and character, where to turn a telling paragraph into one of dialogue and action, and so much more. Therefore, know what you are paying for up front. You should not be paying “developmental editing” prices for a “proofreading” of your work. Your sister the English teacher could proofread your work at no charge.

Ask the question of your prospective editor: “Does your fee of 1.50 per page include developmental editing, or are we talking proofreading only?” Or: “Does your 2.00 per page include legitimate doctoring of the script? Wherein the ‘good doctor’ actually point out various shortcomings in the script? And do you provide solutions to the serious problems that might be keeping the book from being published?”

A developmental going-over will clearly mark the pattern errors in your writing—the one, two, or three most serious errors (sins) you are making and making repeatedly. And if you can be shown this in the introductory package, you may then decide to do a complete rewrite on your own and so you don’t—at this time—need any editor, proofreader or developmental doctor. You can learn a great deal by having a truly good developmental editor go over those first thirty pages.

A developmental editor or doc does not rewrite your book, but he or she may suggest whole rewrites of whole scenes from a fat, unappetizing “block” of telling information to redo as a three-way conversation. He or she will indicate where you don’t want to use a passive construction (passive verb), which might require a total rewrite of a sentence. A paragraph riddled with the word WAS may not be apparent to you, but it will be to an editor, agent, or your book doctor. A developmental editor may point out that you have begun your book in the wrong place! That the true opening should be the second or even the third scene or chapter for that matter. I once urged one of my clients to start on page 70 and “fill in” what has happened before that as quick flash-thoughts from the main character. The real action began on page 70. I have advised others to cut whole chapters that added nothing of substance to the novel. At the same time, issues of format might come up along with too many commas in the wrong places, or too little use of commas.

So to be brief and to the point, to improve your dialogue get thee to a developmental editor. To get the mechanics right—commas, semi-colons, full colons, etc—get yourself a proofreader who should be charging a lot less. To get the benefit of both grammatical correctness and developmental or structural correctness, logic, sequence, dialogue, setting, characterization, voice, etc—be sure to ask if the service is for “developmental” editing and “proofreading”. Most developmental editors worth their salt do both for the price they charge.

Is it worth your dime? Absolutely if you are working with a real pro and one who works with you on a timely basis. You can learn about said doc or developmental or proof editor by negotiating a deal for the first thirty pages or your ancillary material—query letter, outline, synopsis and a chapter. You find out early on with little commitment of time or money on both sides whether or not the two of you are compatible and capable of working on a long-term project.

I do editing on the side, and I have had clients whose novels are not novels but treatises on how the author has categorically proven the existence of God. I had one novel that lacked ACTION of any sort as its main character was SO rooted in ITS setting; it was 300 pages from the point of view of a Bonsai tree, a tree that, for me, lacked character as well. These are clients some twenty years ago, so I’m not too fearful of being sued here for my comments. I have been an editor and professor of creative writing now for forty years.

I am currently editing a retired chemistry professor and engineer, whose textbook on how the universe and mankind came into being explores the relationship between the two. I just finished two wonderfully wrought mystery novels, one from a Chicago lawyer, a legal thriller, and I can definitely say that I so much more enjoy doing developmental editing on a suspense thriller or mystery novel than any other sort of project, but I also do my very best for all of my clients. All of them appreciate the “introductory” plan of sending me their first three chapters or 30 pages at the lower rate of a dollar and a half per page before THEY decide and I decide if we can work together or not at the price of two dollars per page thereafter.

The Knife Services, if you or a loved one is in need of a serious developmental editor, can be got to via my website at:

Happy Writing All,

Rob Walker

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Visit My New Website! by DL Larson

My new website is up and running. Please come visit at Browse a bit and be sure to leave me a message. Do a review of one of my books. Or go to and see the 5 star ratings for each of my books: Memories Trail, and Promises To Keep. Feel free to add a review there as well.

Thank you, THANK YOU to my webmaster Amber Larson! She's done a fabulous job and I'm very happy she took the time to help me out!!!!!!!!! She's added a photo album to my webpage, something I've been meaning to do. We have lots more pictures, maybe someday I'll display some action shots and you can see first hand how quirky, er - silly my family is.

So please spread the word about my webpage. Visit, visit, visit! Buy a book, Heck buy a couple! It's back to staining and varnishing windows of my daughter's almost finished new house... I'll be sure to update you on that progress soon. It's quite like revisions. Always something left undone or needing fixing!

Til next time ~

DL Larson

PS: our kittens are still napping on my flowerpots, cute! Not so adorable is the fact they are now using my gravel driveway as a potty. Ick!!!! My first attempt at deterring this has been to feed them further and further from the house, they are after all destined to be barn cats. So far this doesn't seem to phase them. Tip-toeing through the gravel in sandals no less has become a challenge. You cat lovers out there - please send me some ideas on how to fix this unsavory problem. My hubby is not pleased his manly gravel is being used in such an undignified way. And I do believe my flowerpots may be destined for the barn as well. Bring help fast!! Please!

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

FESTIVAL FUN By Morgan Mandel

Photo Right Above: Romantic Suspense Author, Margot Justes, Young Adult Author, June Sproat. In the back - Morgan Mandel, Mystery and Romantic Comedy Author.

This year for the local Festival, myself, along with two fellow Acme Authors Link bloggers, Margot Justes and June Sproat, decided to try something different. I knew from past years of attending the five-day Frontier Days Festival in Arlington Heights that it’s a popular happening. Marketplace, where the arts and crafters reside on Saturday and Sunday, is one of the many events which pulls in a huge crowd.

With high hopes we set up our designated spot. We assembled the canopy lent to us by Debra St. John, another Acme Authors Link blogger, set up the card tables and chairs, arranged our books and promotional material and hoped for the best.

Would people come to our booth? If so, would an arts and crafts crowd have any interest in reading? I have to say we were pleasantly surprised. Our group, which we called Area Authors, held up well to the surrounding competition.

Right from the start on Saturday, the busiest of the two days, peopled stopped by, checked out the books, turned them over, looked at the blurbs and the first pages as readers are apt to do.

I was totally unprepared and terrifically happy when one lady mentioned she’d read my first book, Two Wrongs, at the library and came back to find more. Fortunately, Girl of My Dreams had been published by then and she could read it as well. That wasn’t enough. When she saw me, she decided to buy autographed copies of both books for her friend.

For those who said they used the library or had run out of money at the other booths, we made sure to offer bookmarks so they wouldn't forget us and would know where to order.

Invariably, we asked the question, “Do you like to read?” Many times we got the response, “Yes, but I don’t have enough time.”

Sadly, too many people have given up reading in favor of TV, movies and other pastimes which don’t require much effort or thought.

On Sunday, a gentleman representing the opposite side of the spectrum stopped by to visit, mentioning his library consisted of 1,000 books. Now it’s one thousand and one, since I sold Two Wrongs to him!

Another person said, “I’ve never heard of you,” to all of us, which made me even more determined to get my brand out to the public.

Then there was the guy who stepped up to our booth, picked up Two Wrongs and bought it without even looking at it. I didn’t complain. It was gratifying to see that my first book, is still doing as well as the new release, though it’s been out longer.

All in all, I recommend going the Festival route and will sign up for this one again. It was a fun, gratifying, hot and tiring day, but well worth it!

Morgan Mandel

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Not as easy as it looks

Given the high cost of fuel these days I'm lucky that I can take a commuter train into Chicago where I work. I'm also lucky because I write on my commute - something that would be quite challenging to do if I had to drive. BUT I have seen people do some crazy things while pretending to drive a car.

Anyway, it always amazes me when I tell people that I'm working on my first novel that their first response is, "I've always wanted to write a book." There's a mixture of dream like wishfullness and expectation that it would just pour out. I'm also often asked for the formula for writing a book the easy and quick way. Well, there isn't one - not really. If writing a book were easy to do everyone really would be be doing it.

The other thing that amazes me is that people really believe that once you're published you're instantly a millionaire. Ah, wouldn't that be nice!

A friend sent me a first person article from Senator Jim Webb on writing and I think he says it well. Here's the link:

Writing is often described as a passion. Depending on one's perspective it might be a disease. Whatever it is, hard work and dedication is required. Writing is not for whimps. Check out my Independence Day blog if you have any doubt. Here's the link:

I also believe that becoming a published author comes with a certain level of responsibility, not only to one's readers but to other writers, especially aspiring writers. Writers are many things - entertainers, truth seekers, mentors, and often the collective keepers of societies memories and secrets. Just think where we'd be without all of Shakespeare's plays!

We're also discovering more and more about the past through the letters written by our ancestors. So, it makes me wonder what future generations will think when they read our blogs. How much insight will our blogs give to historians in the future?

Well - at least we're keeping some kind of record. I do shudder to think how much the text messages with those special abbreviations will confuse people. I mean, how much can OMG repeated over and over again tell anyone?