Friday, January 31, 2014

Kay Kendall's Desolation Row

My favorite stories involve romantic suspense set against a backdrop of great turmoil and danger. Stories about World War II and the Cold War fit the bill for me. I wanted to write my own version of that kind of romantic suspense. Also I love to read historical mysteries set in England, France, Germany, Russia, and so on. I decided my first book would be set in a foreign country during wartime.

The result is Desolation Row—An Austin Starr Mystery. This is my debut book published in 2013 by Seattle-based Stairway Press.

Austin is only 22 years old when she marries her college boyfriend and they leave Texas and move to a foreign country. She’s coping with these changes when her husband is jailed for a murder he didn’t commit. Alone and far from home, she sets a dangerous course to find the real killer. When she also becomes a captive, things go from bad to worse. Two young lives and a new marriage are in jeopardy!

The time is 1968. The foreign country is Canada. The war is in Vietnam.
Lots of Americans don’t consider Canada to be foreign. So calm and easy to take for granted, Canada . Why, it might just as well be the fifty-first state. But the US and Canada are not identical at all. While the countries of the English-speaking world may all bunch up on a sliding scale that would represent a continuum of political and social attitudes, one should never discount the real differences that exist among them. 
I used to ponder these differences daily. You see, I lived in Canada for two decades, occupying a front row seat to watch Canadian-ness play out in front of me. Also, my husband is Canadian…and all my in-laws. Yes, I consider myself a Nona fide expert. In Desolation Row I treat Canada like the unique country it is. 

Secondly, the only large war of last century not “taken,” not overrun with mysteries, occurred in Vietnam. It is a comparatively empty niche that I concluded needed to be filled with more mysteries—and I decided I was the one to do the filling.

I show what life was like for young women of that era—not the type that made headlines, the Hanoi Janes or Angela Davises, but the moderates who nonetheless got swept along by the tides of history during the turbulent sixties. All that turmoil lends itself to drama, intrigue, and murder.

My heroine Austin Starr is young and na├»ve, and her mother taught her that the role of wife and mother is the only one that will bring fulfillment to a female. Austin is not sure this is true, but she goes along with it and, with that grounding, feels she must go to Canada with her husband, even though she does not want to leave Texas. Her husband is a political activist, but she’s not. In fact, she has a secret he doesn’t know. She was undergoing CIA training before she moved to Canada.

When her husband David is jailed for murdering the son of a US Senator, also a draft resister in Canada, only one thing counts for Austin—proving David’s innocence. After that, she hopes somehow, someway, to return home to Texas. That is an over-arching question to the books in my series—will Austin ever return to the United States, which is her heart’s desire?

Now I’m writing the second book, Rainy Day Women. All titles in my mystery series are from Bob Dylan songs. I make sure that any title I use is from a song that had been released by the time my story takes place. Dylan is a prolific song writer so it’s not hard to find an appropriate, evocative title. In the case of Desolation Row, the title captures David Starr’s sense of desolation as he waits in a row of cells in prison. In Rainy Day Women murder occurs in women’s liberation groups in Vancouver and Seattle. 

Basically, Desolation Row is a love story, and the politics end up being pro-soldier and anti-war. Many veterans of the Vietnam conflict have told me they enjoyed my book. I find that very gratifying. Anyone who fights for our country deserves our un-ending support.

KAY KENDALL is an award-winning international PR exec who now writes mysteries. She and her Canadian husband live in Texas with their spaniel Wills and several house rabbits…to which she’s allergic…but she loves them anyway!

You can learn more about Kay by visiting her sites:

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Saturday, January 25, 2014

Writing Tips

by Miranda Phillips Walker

Using an outline is up to you, but frankly, I don’t use a hard copy outline. I just have in my mind where I would like my story to go. I let my ideas unfold naturally. I do make notes of the characters, places, and most important their names. Speaking of names, try to keep the names you pick different so the reader doesn’t get confused. Like say in your story you might have a Dr. Marywell, a secretary named Mary Manguss, and a cop named Marcus Mann. These names are too similar and will stop the reader; you never want the reader or editor to stop reading!

Now the fun part, just sit down and write. Always start the first chapter in the middle of action. From then on, try to have “heat” on every page (action). In rewrite and edit mode, strike out any idea or sentence that doesn’t move you story along, and be careful when adding any back story. The back story should be added in sparingly. That is allow it to build up throughout the novel. If you “shove in” too much too soon, you will bore the reader—not a good idea. Remember Conflict is King, there should be conflict with your characters from page one to the last chapter. The conflict should build throughout the story. In other words, every time the reader thinks it’s safe and he can breathe, throw in another twist. Also adding a sub-story is fine and fleshes things out, making the lives of the characters more complex—just as in life. But careful not to let it take away from your main story—or detract for overly long periods of time in the story.

I know you’ve heard this a million times: Show don’t Tell. When writing, bring in all 5 senses! What does the character feel, smell, hear, taste, etc. most important Watch Your POV! Stick to one character’s thought the entire chapter. If you don’t it will confuse the reader and stop the storyline.

If you haven’t noticed, we’re in a busy world; we are used to getting everything we want fast. James Patterson, bless his heart, started this Short Chapter business. It’s up to you but most readers including editors like short chapters like 8-12 pages at most, instead of the traditional 30-40 pages. Being a nurse, I love the medical stuff, but most readers will flip past a 3-page autopsy, whereas mine are brief. The characters get the info they need and their out of there!

I read my chapters out loud to myself as I go, and this helps pick out errors and really helps me know if it just sounds right. When you’re ready to let someone else review your work, give it to someone other than a close friend or relative. Why? You know grandma isn’t going to say it’s awful. This may come as a surprise, but your “baby” will be edited several times. Even tossing it in a drawer and leaving it for a month or two, then going back, you will pick up numerous editorial changes and new ideas to develop the story even further. Writers groups are a good resource as well, just be prepared to hear criticism—the good, the bad, and the ugly.

You should make an effort every day to write and read the genre you’re interested in writing. Take note on how the masters write. Go to writing conferences, they are a gold mine of ideas and encouragement to all writers. On my website, I having some good writing resources for forensics and police procedurals.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Award-Winning Editor/Author Chris Roerden Revisited

Chris Roerden is an outspoken freelance editor with eleven books to her publishing credit, including Agatha winner Don't Murder Your Mystery and Don't Sabotage Your Submission.

Chris, which editors did you understudy and was ethics part of your publishing curriculum?

I learned publishing the way some writers write: by the seat of my pants. I learned editing by reading voraciously from early childhood on and having a photographic memory. I learned ethics by determining, also in childhood, to be as different as possible from my father--a hypocritical, racist, abusive s.o.b.

Tell us about your background in publishing.

I had the good fortune to grow up in Manhattan and be accepted as an art major at the High School of Music & Art (now LaGuardia). I also had the good fortune to graduate at 16 at a time when jobs were plentiful. So I picked Rockefeller Center as a nice area to work in and got jobs in the public relations and advertising departments of major corporations. I wanted to see how commercial artists worked.

This was long before email, of course, so one of my clerical tasks was to redistribute interoffice mail, by hand, among the 35 staffers in one PR department. While making my rounds I compulsively corrected the text of about-to-be-printed materials. To my surprise, my bosses valued the skills that I’d taken for granted. Didn’t everyone know how to write an effective sentence? Apparently not, because I kept getting promoted to more and more interesting positions.

I learned a little-known side of publishing that paid well and was a great training ground for learning marketing. Besides, I’d seen enough to know I couldn’t produce commercial design as fast as the artists had to--I’m a tinkerer.

Which types of books do you most enjoy editing and which ones do you prefer to stay away from, and why?

I most enjoy mysteries and thrillers because editing them lets me analyze how intricately they are plotted. Nonfiction editing paid the bills, but there wasn’t much intricacy to discover. What I stay away from are books on spirituality, because after the first half-dozen or so they seem too similar to each other.

What made you decide to become a freelance editor?

Family transfers took a toll on my career choices. I did some teaching of writing at universities when my boys were young, but often I worked for niche publishers, where I learned the business from inside out. By the time 50 approached, I held a well-paying position as managing and production editor for a growing niche publisher in Wisconsin, but I missed the hands-on editing of manuscripts. Yet changing jobs was no longer easy at my level--my experience was perceived as fast-tracking me to take over a higher-up’s job.

So I decided to freelance for a while. Unlike many who set out to freelance, I was never without a steady stream of clients, and I liked being my own boss. A major turning point for me was editing the first books of two up-and-coming mystery writers: Alex Matthews, for whom I’ve edited nine Cassidy McCabe mysteries, and Jeanne Dams, who won the 1995 Agatha for Best First Mystery.

If a novel starts out well but loses its focus halfway through the book, as an editor what do you usually do?

I’m always frank with writers and offer a great deal of feedback--probably more than they expect. I find it an advantage to work directly with each author. (One nonfiction writer complained that I made her miss her deadline because it took her so long to make all the changes I’d recommended--yet she chose to make them!)

I’d like to emphasize that I consider all edits suggestions and observations, which authors are free to accept, reject, or analyze to see why something made me stop and how they might prefer to come up with their own improvement.

What prompted you to write your first book?

If you mean Don’t Murder Your Mystery or Don’t Sabotage Your Submission, they are actually my 10th and 11th books. My first I’d merely volunteered to edit for the bicentennial celebration of the town of Cape Elizabeth, Maine--where we’d just be transferred to. Word got out that this newcomer had been a “New York editor.” Turns out that the town historian refused to make his manuscript available, as I’d been led to believe, which was actually a good thing, because expressions such as “she was big with child” characterized his writing style.

So I began collecting bits and pieces of Cape history, accompanied by my one- and three-year-olds. I loved the work of compiling all the material and writing about it, but the gaps in my knowledge of American history motivated me to do something that had not interested me until then: go to college. It was one of the best decisions I ever made. I was 30 at the time and assumed I’d do poorly. Instead I received highest honors, a big surprise to me.

How well have your ghostwritten books sold and were they written for fledglings or well –known authors? (I'm not asking who.)

All of the 11 books and a game I’ve written, either as a ghost or under my own byline, are nonfiction. I edit fiction but don’t write it, though my two latest titles are about writing and revising fiction. Eight titles I wrote for mid-sized businesses and national organizations. Several started as editing projects, but each client’s text was poor so I ended up doing the writing.

Sales reflect the extent of promotion by each client. One is a real go-getter who’s been on many national TV talk shows. For writers who have a taste for writing nonfiction, I’ve always said that becoming a ghost is a good living. As for the fiction I’ve edited, many successful authors aren’t eager to have it be known they work with a manuscript editor, so in a way editing is ghosting, too. But editors are used to keeping low profiles anyway.

What are the usual mistakes writers make that cause editors to cringe?

The first 10 mistakes are arrogance, as in:

 My book is so good it doesn’t need editing.
 The only thing it could use is maybe a light proofreading.
 Everyone will want to buy it.
 Every publisher will want to publish it.
 They’re getting a bargain at 150,000 words.
 To make sure no one steals my ideas, I’ve already registered the copyright.
 I don’t have to read guidelines, write a synopsis, or play by any of those other Mickey Mouse rules because those are for amateurs.
 I never read books about writing.
 What genre is it, you ask? Let the publisher figure that out. They’re in the business. It’s got romance, mystery, history, and biography, and autobiography.
 There isn’t another book like it.

Any advice to novice writers, including self-publishers?

There’s so much more to being the author of a book than writing it. I think it’s a good idea to know your goal. For instance, is publication of a particular book your goal or is it publication of your best work that will make you proud for years to come? Is it the desire to hold your finished book in your hand ASAP, or is it a career as a writer? If you anticipate a writing career, I advise aiming for traditional royalty publication instead of self-publishing, even though that will take much longer and require greater perseverance.

Self-publication can affect a writer’s eligibility for certain organizational positions, awards, speaking roles, and conference panels--all of which could play a part in book marketing and even in developing a mentor.

Anything you’d like to add?

It’s never to early to start networking through organizations and writers conferences, as long as you maintain your regular time commitment to writing. And I always recommend reading more widely in the field you’re entering, and learning more about publishing and marketing--such as by reading either of my two DON’T books for writers.

Thanks for taking part in the series, Chris.

Chris's main web site has links to her publisher’s site, to a long excerpt from Don't Sabotage Your Submission, and to lots of information about editing and about Chris. The shortcut to her Amazon blog is (then scroll).

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Living on the Edge

by Shannon Baker

Several years ago I found myself in exile in Flagstaff, AZ. This town is the Edge of the Rez, as they say. It sits in northern Arizona, next to the massive Navajo reservation and in the middle of the area inhabited for centuries by several tribes. I became fascinated with local tribes and their struggles. 

Around this time, I accidentally found a job as an accountant at The Grand Canyon Trust, an environmental non-profit. I don’t know what was more foreign to my raising, environmentalists or Native Americans.

I started to research the Hopi tribe of Northern Arizona. This tiny tribe believes they are responsible for the balance of the whole world. Given all the mystical details and weird stuff I read about, I’m not going to doubt that. But here’s the kicker on the Hopi: they are extremely secretive. A person can find out quite a bit about their history in books or speaking to tribal members but there’s a vast culture they keep private.

They have an elaborate religious ceremonial life and much of that takes place inside kivas, away from prying eyes. I’m okay with that. It is this strict adherence to the ceremonies that keeps the planet from spinning out of control. However, as the young people fall away from the old ways, the ceremonies and clans become weaker. It’s a problem.

Did you know that if you draw a straight line from the Hopi rez through the center of the Earth, it comes out in Tibet? And did you know the Tibetan word for moon is the Hopi word for sun and the Hopi word for moon is the Tibetan word for sun? Got goosebumps? I do.

When something roots this deeply into my brain, the only thing to do is write about it. So Nora Abbott was born. In Tainted Mountain, Nora must battle environmentalists, energy moguls, and Hopi kachinas to save her ski resort. 

In Broken Trust, coming out in March 2014, Nora has moved to Boulder, Colorado to try to put her life back together. Coincidentally, I moved to Boulder about the same time. She takes a job as an accountant at an environmental non-profit. (Hmm, sound familiar). 

But the environmental trust is rife with deceit and corruption. Nearly half a million dollars is missing and one person has already been killed for knowing too much. Complicating matters are Nora's uninvited visitors: her mother, Cole Huntsman, and a Hopi China that technically doesn't even exist. As the body count climbs, Nora races to stop a deadly plot to decimate one of the planet's greatest natural resources.

Shannon Baker writes the Nora Abbott Mystery Series, a fast-paced mix of murder, environmental issues and Hopi Indians published by Midnight Ink. Tainted Mountain, the first in the series is set in Flagstaff, AZ and is a New Mexico/Arizona Book Awards finalist. Broken Trust, due March 2014, takes place in Boulder, CO. A lover of western landscapes, Baker can often be found backpacking, skiing, kayaking, cycling, or just playing lizard in the desert.  She is on the board of Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers and a member of SinC and MWA. Visit Shannon at