20 May 2018

Crime Song

by Leigh Lundin

My brother Glen never met a music genre he didn’t like. He came by it honestly, learning brass and reeds as a kid while he tinkered with a marimba. Glen went on to learn guitar and keyboards as I messed with percussion. We’ve attended rock concerts, symphonies, and baroque chamber orchestras. We’ve enjoyed progressive rock, hard rock, fusion, and blues. He’s gone on to embrace electronica, trance, industrial, rap, and world music.

Recently he sent me a link to a familiar early 60s Mersey band, The Hollies, one of the few British Invasion bands still performing. As well as they were received in the US with The Air that I Breathe, Bus Stop, He Ain’t Heavy (He’s My Brother), and numerous other songs, The Hollies grew even more wildly popular overseas.

One of my favorite tunes was the echoic Long Cool Woman, but I’d never listened closely to it. Glen’s link contained lyrics and I suddenly realized it’s a crime song. I found it easy to imagine RT Lawton penning a ballad like this.

Take a listen. Here’s Long Cool Woman:



… and here find the lyrics:

19 May 2018

Hints and Shortcuts


by John M. Floyd





This post is a followup to a column I did two weeks ago called "Manuscript Mechanics." (By the way, Leigh Lundin did an excellent followup already, in his SS post Manuscript Mechanics II the day after mine--check it out also.) As in my first post, much of what I'll say today is pretty basic and should be familiar to you, but I've been surprised at how many writers either don't know these things or have forgotten them.

Imagine I'm telling you an old joke. If you've heard it, feel free to roll your eyes and tune me out. (I'm used to that.) But if you haven't heard it, you might be as pleased as I've been with how much time and how many headaches these hints can save. And, unlike my previous post, the information here can apply to all kinds of writing.

Here goes. A guy walks into a bar . . .



1. Everyone knows about using the keyboard to copy/cut/paste (Ctrl-C, Ctrl-X, Ctrl-V)--but did you know that you can do a "select all" with the shortcut Ctrl-A? Also, if you make a mistake you can undo it without using the dropdown command menu. Just use Ctrl-Z. It'll even back you up more than one occurrence. Hit Ctrl-Z several times, and it'll take you back to whatever previous point you want, repairing missteps as you go. This saved me recently when I was trying to delete a word in a looooooong email I had saved as a draft, and when I hit the delete key my computer thought I was trying to delete the entire email. I wasn't, but it did. I almost panicked, and said some unkind words, and then realized I could hit Ctrl-Z and bring the email back from the ashes. (By the way, for Apple users, the Command key is used instead of Ctrl.)

2. How do you replace italicized text with underlined text, and vice versa? Some markets (AHMM is one of them) prefer underlining instead of italics, in their submissions--but I usually do all my drafts using italics. If you have a completed manuscript that includes italics, you can change italicized text to underlined text for the entire manuscript in one swoop: Open "Find and Replace," click in the "Find What" box, click on "Format" in the dropdown menu, then click "Font" and choose "Italic" and click OK. Then click in the "Replace With" box, and (under Format/Font) choose a single underline under "Underline Style" and click OK. Then click "Replace All," and it's done. To change it back again, reverse the operation.

3. How do you replace straight quotes with curly quotes? As anyone who's converted Courier to TNR knows, it's hard to find and change all the straight-up-and-down apostrophes and quotation marks in a manuscript to proper "curved" apostrophes and quotes. A quick way to do it is to just pull up "Find and Replace" and key a single quotation mark into both the "Find What" box and the "Replace With" box and click "Replace All." Then do the same with double quotation marks. When you're finished, all apostrophes, single quotes, and double quotes should now be corrected.

4. Highlight using the arrow keys. Sometimes it's difficult to highlight certain text with just the mouse. If ever you need to be exact, and (for example) highlight everything up to a particular character but not including that character, you can just hold down the Shift key while pressing the right- or left-arrow key. But here's the real time-saver: If the text to be highlighted (and then copied, changed, deleted, etc.) is a single word, there's no need to stripe it or use the arrow keys. Just double-click on the word, and presto, it's highlighted.

5. What's the best way to copy/paste a manuscript into the body of an email? If a market requires the submission of a manuscript as a part of the email rather than as an attachment, it can be hard to paste the story directly into the body of the email without gorking up the spacing and formatting. Here's a good way to do that without risk: save the manuscript first as a plain-text (.txt) file in your Word program, then close it and open it again, and then paste it into your email. It will now be formatted correctly. NOTE: As I mentioned in my post last week, saving a regular manuscript in plain-text will convert everything to Courier 10-point font whether you want it to or not, and will lose any special features like italics and underlining. Emphasized text can be indicated, however, by typing an underscore (_) immediately before and after any text (letter, word, phrase, whatever) that should've been italicized or underlined. If by chance you save it as .txt and it doesn't convert it to 10-point Courier (this sometimes happens, for some reason), you're still okay--just remember that your special characters are still lost, and you'll still need to substitute the underscores.

6. Turn off widows and orphans. Another way of saying this: Turn on widow/orphan suppression. Like #5, this is more of a safeguard than a shortcut. If widow/orphan control is left activated, you'll wind up with some manuscript pages that look far too short--some of them seem to end two-thirds of the way down the page. So I turn it off. It really doesn't matter to me, and I don't think it matters to editors either, whether there is a single ending line of a paragraph at the top of a page or a single beginning line of a paragraph at the bottom of a page. Consistency is more important.



Please let me know of any other handy tricks-of-the-trade you might've discovered, or even any pet-peeve issues you might have, with all this. Writing is hard enough work already, and I'd like to make it easy as I can, not only for myself but for the editors I send my stories to.

Best of luck to all of you who type and submit manuscripts of any kind. Keep me posted!








18 May 2018

Face the Music: Public Readings and How to Survive Them

by Thomas Pluck

Thomas Pluck



There are few terrors greater than being faced with reading your work in front of an audience, particularly when they are strangers, or not even fans of the genre. Public speaking is a skill, and I don't want to hear writers whinging that they are introverts and just want to stay at home with their cats. No one forced you to write your book. If you were so private, it would be sitting on a closet shelf like Emily Dickinson's poems. Cut the humble shy wallflower act. Being nervous about what people will think of your book doesn't mean you are a selfless monk devoid of ego in the temple just waiting for enlightenment to strike.

It's natural to be nervous about it. However, you are doing yourself, your readers, and your colleagues a disservice if you do not practice reading aloud when you're home alone with your bored cats, whimpering dogs, and headphone-wearing partners and children. We can tell when you show up having never read this story aloud before, unless you are very well practiced at reading in public in general. Some have the knack, the gift of gab, the desire to have an audience, willing or not. And good for them. I remember the first time I read poetry in front of the Rutgers-Newark English department. I gripped that podium so tightly I thought it would shatter into timbers. Before that, remember reading a presentation in 5th grade on deer, where I was shaking like a sizzling slice of bacon in a pan, having to say "urine" with a straight face in front of my classmates. I got a little hammy after that, the class clown act in middle school and high school, doing silly spoofs of Shakespeare. That confidence faded the moment I had to read something I had written in front of people who read books for a living.

Practice does help. "Noir at the Bar" readings, where you can socially lubricate if necessary, can be a good start as long as you don't let the drink in your hand become a crutch. Invite your friends, they'll mimic their rapt attention, or look at their phones and say they were posting a photo of you to Instagram to boost your social media presence. Join a writer's association like the Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, and so on, and you can ask to be a reader at their events, surrounded by friendly writers who know what it's like to be up there. I did all of that. I even hosted Noir at the Bar in Manhattan for the longest year of my life-- that's another column, but if you host one of those events, you suddenly become every writer's unpaid publicist-- and all those accomplishments helped:

Now I can say "urine" in front of a crowd of strangers and not even snicker.

I had a stealth strategy, helped along by some of my pub family. They like karaoke. Some of them even insist on pronouncing it like they're in Tokyo, where it's done differently, in a private room among friends. You can do this in Koreatown in Manhattan as well, and I'm sure in other cities with such neighborhoods, if you prefer privacy, but to me that misses the point. It helps to have grown up in and around bars. My uncle ran bars for the Jewish mob in Manhattan for thirty years. I never visited one, to my chagrin--I wanted to be a bouncer, like Sascha the Slovenian, who busted knees with his club and smashed The Infamous Urinal Pooper's face on a car hood--but it was not to be. I did sit on a stool at Grandinetti's next to my grandfather and drink a Coca-Cola before Sunday dinner, while he nursed a Pabst. And I've been to every tavern in northeastern New Jersey so my father could drink while we kids had burgers and fries. Bar patrons often have the blues, and when you have the blues, you want to sing about it.

So, American karaoke is more about flipping through a binder full of songs until you find the one that reflects your soul, and belting it out in front of a bunch of people who just want to drink and not hear your caterwauling. And what better way to get a thick skin about reading in public? So what if you can't sing, few can. Even the good ones can maybe belt out one song or singer, and know not to step out of their wheelhouse. Or should. I don't. I'm a tenor. I've sang everything from Elvis to Guns 'n Roses, growled out John Fogerty, flopped terribly trying to keep up with the Ramones, serenaded my wife with a gender-bent version of the DiVinyls "I Touch Myself", and done duets of "Love Shack" by the B-52's that brought down the house, and been hugged by strangers on their birthdays for my emotional rendition of "You Oughtta Know" by Alanis Morrissette.

Comedians know. Sometimes you kill, sometimes you bomb. More often, you face a storm front of indifference. That's the ugly truth. Even if you silence a room with your reading, it doesn't mean that they are waiting with bated breath for the climax. It's a better sign than the audience talking amongst themselves, but don't get cocky. Unless it's a book event for you, they may not even be there to hear you. Even if it is your event, they may only be there to ask how they can get their epic about their Uncle Oogie and his funny-looking foot made into a movie with Tom Hanks. Hey, you write the script, use my idea, we'll both be billionaires. But it's more likely for people to show up to your events if you are a practiced reader who respects the audience.

Some advice:
Keep it short. This is another reason you practice reading at home. A "short" story of 2500 words can take 15-20 minutes to read, which is an eternity. Read excerpts. Read the good parts. Give a short introduction and start where stuff happens.

Be entertaining. If you want to read a nuanced and powerful piece, by all means do so, but read the room. If you're not alone, and the writer before you just read about a puppy who died defusing an atom bomb, you might want to chat a little bit about your book or what inspired the story so they can finish wiping their eyes and put away their tissues. Bring a backup story. I didn't do that for my only reading at Noir at the Bar D.C., where Josh Padgett brought in a great crowd. An older crowd. I had read host Ed Aymar's stories, Nik Korpon was there, they both are a little raunchy. So I brought my story "Gunplay," a hilarious poke at gun fetishism. (It went really well when Hilary Davidson read it at Shade in Manhattan, for our story swap.) I'm no Hilary Davidson. I read it to be funny, but the groans from the audience told me that a couple who cosplays as Union soldier and Scarlett O'Hara with live ammunition in the bedroom wasn't their cup of sweet tea!

I finished anyway, took a bow, and lost the audience favorite in the voting. But they will remember my name. It's not always so bad, I've had many readers come up and tell me how much they liked a story at a reading. It's a great way to introduce yourself to a new audience. It's part of the job. Even if you never do readings, chances are you will be on a panel, flanked by witty and seasoned writers, and you will have to hold your own. Or worse, you'll be next to That Guy who hogs the mike and bullies the moderator into making it a one-man show, and you will need the chutzpah to interrupt and grab the wheel of the bus so you and your fellow writers can get a word in edgewise. To some people this comes naturally. For the rest of us, practice makes passable. Read to your cat. Sing to your dog.

And be thankful for the printing press, or we'd all be reciting our stories like Homer. Maybe we'd be so good the king would pluck our eyes out so we couldn't wander off.

17 May 2018

This Is The Way We Avoid Writing...Avoid Writing...

The guy it all started with...THIS time.
by Brian Thornton

This time it all started with Ezra Meeker

A pioneer Northwesterner, an Oregon Trail settler who became famous for enriching himself by cornering the world's hop market during the late 19th century, Meeker, was an early and enthusiastic booster of Washington, first as a growing territory, and later as a new state.

I have a project set around the time that Washington became a state (1889) which involves an "Immigrant Inspector" assigned to the Puget Sound area by the INS. As such he has run-ins with illegal immigrants (mostly at this point Chinese), sex slave trafficking rings, drug (mostly opium) smugglers, railroad labor wranglers, railroad labor agitators, and a whole host of others.

With Meeker playing such a prominent role in the early history of the region, I decided that I wanted to dedicate a portion of this on-going project to the South Sound region, and doing research on Meeker and his large extended family seemed like a great starting place for historical evidence that might be used to dress up my germ of a story.

Several rounds of ever-expanding Google searches about Meeker and his extended clan helped lead me to Asa Mercer.


Asa Mercer after he'd left Washington for Wyoming

Poking around in the back yard of the Meekers brought me around to a ton of information on another prominent Washington family: the Mercers, specifically the younger of the original two Mercer brothers, the restless, energetic Asa Mercer.

Now, I write historical mystery. I have a Master's degree in history, and I am a native of the Pacific Northwest, so I've had research-based encounters with both the Meeker and the Mercer families before. This is not new ground for me.

This time, however, I was doing historical research for a fiction-based purpose. So tidbits I might have not bothered pursuing previously, when I was still writing predominantly nonfiction, struck me as worth pursuing, this time around.

This included Asa Mercer's connection with the nascent University of Washington (as a young man he helped build the school's original building, and also served as both its first president, and its first teacher), and his subsequent much more pop-culture friendly association with the so-called "Mercer Girls."
Young Asa Mercer: Check out that pompadour!

For those unfamiliar with the Mercer Girls, here's the short version of the story:

Mercer recognized that the majority of settlers in Washington Territory were young, single (and overwhelmingly white) men. Recognizing an opportunity, Mercer headed east to New England, where, during the height of the Civil War, he convinced a significant number of young, unmarried women to travel to the Puget Sound area, luring them with the promise of "honest work" such as teaching jobs, and the greater likelihood of them finding eligible bachelors who could make good husbands.

These intrepid young women all went on to work in the region as schoolteachers. Nearly all of them would later marry, have children, and serve as the human roots of any number of current Northwest family trees.

Nearly a century after their arrival in Puget Sound the Mercer Girls went on to serve as the inspiration for a "comic western" television series produced between 1968 and 1970.

I'm talking about Here Come the Brides, of course.

A sappy TV show which has not aged well, Here Come the Brides featured three young actors, two of whom spent considerable time during the '60s and '70s as "teen heart-throbs": Bobby Sherman and David Soul.
These two.
Sherman would go on to a moderately successful career as a pop singer/songwriter, and Soul went on to play Hutch in Starsky & Hutch, then to England, where he was still acting as late as 2014.

And the third guy?

He's Robert Brown.

He's the guy on the right, Those are some sweeeeet gloves.

Here Come the Brides was pretty much the high-water mark of Robert Brown's career, name-recognition-wise. And of course when I came across his picture in the course of digging deeper down into this particular rabbit hole, I recognized him right away.

But not for his work on Here Come the Brides.

Nope.

There's a Star Trek connection.

Yep, I'm a Trekkie.

Nope, not a "Trekker." I don't dress up or go to conventions, or speak Klingon. I just LOVE Star Trek, and have since I was four (the year the original series was canceled).

So of course I recognized Robert Brown from his guest-starring role in the Star Trek episode "The Alternative Factor." As the time-traveler Lazarus, he played a dual role (same guy, two universes. In one he's sane. In the other, he's not.).

He was great.

And he gets to rock a fake beard that looks waaaay worse than either Ezra Meeker's or Asa Mercer's!
Now, I have a rule when it comes to researching for my writing. If I come across anything remotely relating to Star Trek, the writing of Ross MacDonald, the music of Miles Davis, Stevie Ray Vaughan, or Ryan Adams, or the poetry of William Butler Yeats, I am required to cease all research, get away from the computer, and go do something which might be remotely productive.

Because given the excuse, I will dig down that particular rabbit hole all the way to China!

So there you have it:

Ezra Meeker. Asa Mercer. Mercer Girls. Here Come The Brides. Robert Brown. Star Trek.

This is the way we avoid writing today.

(But tomorrow is another day!)

See you in two weeks!


16 May 2018

Five Red Herrings, Tenth School


by Robert Lopresti

1.  Derringer Days.  Yesterday the Short Mystery Fiction Society announced the winners of the Derringer Awards and I couldn't help but notice that I was one of them, specifically for Best Short.  "The Cop Who Liked Gilbert and Sullivan" appeared in Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine #23.  You can read what I had to say about it here and here.  Congratulations to my fellow winners, Brendan Dubois, David H. Hendricksen, and Earl Staggs.  But let's have a big round of applause for the winner of this year's Edward D. Hoch Memorial Gold Derringer for Lifetime Achievement.  That went to our own John M. Floyd!  Well deserved, too.

2. Free pictures!  It's always nice to find a new source for public domain illustrations.  (We bloggers love them, anyway.)  The Library of Congress very kindly sorted out the pictures on their website that are free for the taking.  (See the one below.)  Enjoy.


3. Underpaid through the ages. The University of Missouri Libraries has done a great service for anyone writing historical fiction.  Prices and Wages by Decades links you to actual government publications from the 1700s forward reporting on how much things cost and how much people were paid.  

4. Man With The Axe.  Last time I did one of these gather-alls I mentioned Lowering the Bar, which talks about the odd side of the legal biz.   I have to point out the story above which informs us that in a single incident a man in New York was charged with:
driving while ability impaired by drugs, driving while ability impaired by the combined influence of drugs, no license plates, unregistered motor vehicle, uninspected motor vehicle, operating without insurance, no front windshield, and no safety glass.

But on the bright side for him,  it turned out there is no law in the Empire State against driving around with an axe embedded in the roof of your car.


5. Shanks does Japan. According to an automatic translation app, the title of the book at the right is Sunday Afternoon Tea With Mystery Writer.  Could be, but in English it's Shanks on Crime. First time I have ever appeared in Japanese.  I wish Shanks a long and happy visit there.



15 May 2018

Giving Thanks

by Barb Goffman

It may be six months until Thanksgiving, but when the urge to thank people moves you, I say, go with your urges.

Writing fiction might feel like working in a vacuum because so much of the time the author is sitting alone in front of a computer, typing away. Even if the writing occurs in a public place, the writer is essentially toiling alone (except for the voices in her head). But we all need help from time to time, and it's a wondrous thing to work in an industry--the mystery community--where people are willing to help others, even eager to do it. They were helped along the way, and they like to give back by helping others.

Take Barbara Ross. She's a mystery writer from New England. Last month she gave a presentation to my local Sisters in Crime chapter in Virginia about promotion--what works and what doesn't. We didn't pay her to do this. She was going to be in the area and has a bit of expertise in this subject and didn't mind spending a chunk of her day sharing her knowledge with others, so she did. Mystery writers do things like this for others all the time. Heck, it's what so many of the blog posts here at SleuthSayers aim to do: help other writers. To all the Barbara Rosses out there, thanks.

There are other people we writers often turn to for assistance: subject-matter experts. I was reminded of this recently when I was answering a question posed to me about my newest short story, "Till Murder Do Us Part." The question was: Do police officers really use peppermint-scented masks to avoid terrible odors at death scenes. (A sheriff's chief deputy wears just such a mask in my story.) And my answer was yes, some do. I got the information from a subject-matter expert who gives his time, free of charge, to help authors get details right. It's also how I knew to call this particular character a chief deputy. So to Lee Lofland and all subject-matter experts who help authors get their  lingo and other details right, thank you.

You don't have to be a professional in any particular field, however, to have useful information for an author. Personal experience can be wonderfully helpful. When I was writing "Till Murder Do Us Part," I needed to know what it looked, smelled, and sounded like when a cow exploded. There's only so much information I could find online. I needed someone with personal experience to answer my questions. Bless my Facebook friends; they came through. None of these people are farmers, but they all spent time on farms growing up, had firsthand knowledge with exploding cows, and didn't mind providing pertinent details. So thank you to my friends Bob Harris, Gwen Mayo, and Teresa Wilder for their help with these details. And thank you to everyone I know who has, over the years, shared personal information that enabled me to get details right. Everyone is an expert in their own lives, after all. You just need to know who to ask about what.

For instance, if you need information about writing, ask some writers. Just today, I had a friend who was feeling down because she hasn't yet had luck selling her first novel. (It's great--I've read it--but sometimes these things take time. Not every agent is right for every author and book.) I figured it might help her to hear from other authors who had a lot of rejection before they had success, so I asked my Facebook friends to share their stories. And did they. About thirty authors shared their stories of querying and querying and querying until, finally, they had success.
Not the right paper for professional
queries, but very pretty





Three of these authors sent out more than 400 queries each, and for two of them, when they finally got published, their first book was nominated for major awards. These are perfect examples of the importance of persistence. Hearing these personal stories helped my friend, and my heart was warmed that so many people shared what some might think is embarrassing information in order to help another writer have confidence to continue querying. Rejection is just a step on the journey to success, but it's never easy. So to all my fellow authors who shared their stories on my Facebook page yesterday, and to authors everywhere who regularly share their insights to help others get published, thank you.

The list of people to thank feels endless, which is lovely, because it shows that wherever you turn, there are helpful people. Thank you to the agents, editors, and publishers who have taken a chance on me and other writers. Every one of us was new at some point and needed someone to give us our big break. Thank you to all of you who've done that.

Thank you to the bookstores, librarians, reviewers, and bloggers who buy our books and share them with the world. You help make our dreams come true. And finally, we authors would be nowhere without readers. You buy our books, enabling us to buy our food and feed our dreams. So thank you.

Before I end, a little BSP with a little more thanks thrown in: First, the launch party for Chesapeake Crimes: Fur, Feathers, and Felonies (in which I have my cow story, "Till Murder Do Us Part") is this Sunday, May 20th, at the Central Library in Arlington, VA, from 2 - 4 p.m. If you're in the DC area, I hope you'll come to the event and share in our celebration. Books will be sold and snacks will be served.

Second, this past week I was honored to have my short story "Whose Wine Is It Anyway?" nominated for an Anthony Award, along with stories by fellow SleuthSayer Art Taylor and authors Susanna Calkins, Jen Conley, Hilary Davidson, and Debra H. Goldstein. You can read my story on my website by clicking here. Art's story is available here. Debra's story is available here. Hopefully Susanna's, Jen's, and Hilary's stories will be available to read for free online soon. In the meanwhile, you can buy the books these stories were published in. Congratulations also to SleuthSayers Thomas Pluck, nominated in the best paperback original category, and Paul Marks, nominated in the best anthology category.

Thank you to everyone who took the time to send in ballots for the Anthony Award nominations, and especially thanks to everyone who listed my story on their ballot. With so many good stories published each year, receiving an honor like this is, well, an honor. A true honor. So ... thanks.

If you have someone you'd like to mention or thank who helped you on your life's journey, I welcome you to do it in the comments. And thanks for reading.

14 May 2018

Seeing Eye To Ear

by Steve Liskow

When I was young, I wanted to play piano but my parents wouldn't drive me across town to my great aunt's house to practice on her Steinway baby grand. They let me study violin instead, and I quit after one year. Years later when the British Invasion hit, I was one of thousands of guys who saw girls go crazy over the Beatles. In 1966, I spent twenty-five dollars on a Stella Harmony guitar with strings thicker than coat hanger wire and set about cultivating terrible technique and a crop of blisters.



Since then, I've bought, sold or traded at least twenty guitars and a half dozen amplifiers. Right now, I own five guitars, two of which are for sale. Around the Millennium, I bought a used Roland keyboard and have wasted lots of time and a little money on books that promised to turn me into the next Glenn Gould, Otis Spann or Dave Brubeck. None of them did.


A few months ago, I saw a series of DVDs on playing piano at a ludicrously low price and decided to bet on one more losing hand. Surprise, the videos are excellent. After watching the first three, I understand the keyboard and music theory better than I ever have before. Piano gives you a fuller understanding of what is going on in a song because you play two separate lines. It's changing how I look at and hear the guitar, too.

The old blues players often used alternate guitar tunings, which I avoided until I bought a resonator guitar and started playing slide more often. Different tunings change the sound of a chord you've heard for years, and it forces you to think about what those tones mean. I'll never be great on either guitar or piano, but I'm thinking a lot more about what I'm doing.

Looking at your writing from a different perspective can have the same effect.

In 2005, I wrote a short story featuring Woody Guthrie (under a different name) and Megan Traine and a rock band. It was a complicated story and one of my friends commented that he had trouble keeping all the characters straight. The story was almost 7000 words long, which meant few markets would look at it, and when I cut characters and words, the whole thing became incoherent. I ran out of places to send it, and it languished on a floppy disc for about four years.

In 2009, someone told me about the Black Orchid Novella Award. Among other requirements, entries had to be between 15 and 20 thousand words. Could I expand that short story into a novella and introduce the large cast more gradually?

Over the next four days, I added nine thousand words and nothing felt padded! I'd never considered writing a novella because at that time the market was non-existent. But now I had one on my hands and I sent it out. "Stranglehold" won the Black Orchid Novella Award and appeared in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine in the summer of 2010. I was so used to thinking "short story" that I couldn't see it was really a novella waiting for its growth spurt.

A few years later, something felt wrong near the end of a WIP and I couldn't figure out what it was. I swapped manuscripts with another writer, who suggested that I change the point of view in one of the last scenes. Both characters had POV scenes throughout the book, so the change was feasible. It also made the ending much stronger. Someone with more distance could see that right away.

The Whammer Jammers introduces Hartford detectives Tracy "Trash" Hendrix and Jimmy Byrne exploring the world of roller derby. I interviewed skaters, referees, coaches, boyfriends, announcers, spectators, and Hartford police officers before I developed an outline and started writing. After about sixty pages, I felt like I was hip-deep in quicksand.

That night, I watched a baseball game on TV, the announcers giving the play-by-play in present tense, the way they always do. It dawned on me that Roller Derby is a sport, so what if I went back and changed the book from past tense to present? Bingo. I finished the rough draft in six weeks.

I did lots of research for what I thought would be the third Woody Guthrie novel, too. The more I played with it, the more it felt like it would work better with Zach Barnes in Connecticut. From there, it evolved into a police procedural with Trash and Byrne again. Once I have an outline, I usually produce eight or ten pages a day, but this beast needed three weeks to reach page fifty. I put it aside for a month, and when I looked at it again, I saw that two crucial premises actually contradicted each other. Oops. I recycled about half the characters into The Kids Are All Right, a finalist for the Shamus Award for Best Indie Novel.

When you revise, you become more committed to what you already have on paper. You tweak, but you don't rebuild. Looking at it from a different angle helps you see other possibilities. What if the other person is the main protagonist? What if you try it as a comedy instead? Should you expand that short story? Could it become a play, or maybe even a screenplay?

Going back to music for a minute, I remember Leonard Bernstein discussing the opening of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony and saying that the original opening, the da-da-da-DUM, included a flute in the score. Beethoven, one of music's great revisers, realized that a flute didn't belong in that "strong masculine utterance" (Bernstein's words, not mine) and removed it.

Learn from the masters. And maybe pick a different instrument.