Sunday, October 4, 2015

Star Struck at Bouchercon

by Kristi Belcamino

In a few days I'm going to be at my second Bouchercon and I can hardly wait.

I've had my suitcase packed for three weeks. Not really. Well, maybe.

It'll be a little bit different than my first Bouchercon last year.

This year, I'm nominated for two awards - which is totally unreal - and this year, I have four books out instead of one.

But I know I'm still going to be that same star struck nerd fan girl I was last year.

I've been studying the attendee list for months. So many authors I admire will be there this year.and even though I've interacted with them online and in some cases, briefly met in person, I know I'm going to be tongue-tied if I come face to face with them. Sigh.

For instance, last year, when I came down from my hotel room to the dining room that first morning, I saw MEG GARDINER sitting alone at a table eating her breakfast!!!! I gave a timid smile and SHE SMILED BACK and I was completely embarrassed and star struck and couldn't have struck up a conversation with her if I had a gun to my head. Yeah. (Sorry Meg if you ever see this!)

Let me put some of this in context -- I'm not NORMALLY a celebrity star struck girl.

Journalism knocks that shit out of you. For instance, I've been cussed out by Tone Loc. Eddie Van Halen spilled his drink on me. Jerry Seinfeld rolled his eyes at me during an interview. Clint Eastwood called me. (Okay, he left a message, we didn't actually get to talk. Damn it.) Dennis Hopper once talked my ear off - although I still haven't figured out what he was talking about. I once hung out with Edward James Olmos in a prison. The Reverend Jesse Jackson called me from his limo. I got to shake President Bill Clinton's hand (Okay. I lied. TOTALLY star struck by meeting the prez.)

So, I'm not normally star struck. Except when it comes to authors I admire!

This year, I'm going to be a bit more brave than last year. Instead of smiling shyly at an author across a table at the bar, I'm going to go strike up a conversation and buy them that drink I promised to buy online. 

I'm going to walk up and thank the authors who have inspired me or helped me along the way. I'm going to try not to be intimidated by them and walk that fine line between fan girl stalker and admiring fellow author.

If only it were as easy as meeting Hank Phillipi Ryan, who joined us walking between hotels one night last year, struck up an easy, natural conversation with us and then gave us her card, offering her friendship. (Hank is such a class act, we should all aspire to be like her!)

I won't call them out here but just suffice it to say that there are at least a handful of authors attending Bouchercon who will probably leave me star struck. I'm going to try to put on my Extrovert Hat and not be a fan girl nerd. Please wish me luck.

And if you want to name names of the authors who render you speechless, feel free!

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Internalizing Story Structure

Scott D. Parker

We talk a lot about story structure and tools of the writer's trade. Turns out, were not the only ones that see it. Case in point is what happened to me this week.

I was at a going-away lunch for three of my now former colleagues. I sat next to an engineer who, as it turns out, is a voracious reader. I had given him "The Box Maker," my first western as part of the new Triple Action Western imprint. We got to talking about books and the type of books he likes to read. I mentioned an experience I had a couple of years ago when I visited a few estate sales in the area. For three consecutive estate sales, the man of the house had had a man cave, for lack of a better word. It was the study/room, usually dark wood-paneled, with the recliner, that the man of the house would escape to whenever he needed the solitude. Those three houses all had one thing in common: an entire bookshelf full of Louis L'Amour novels. That was when I realized that L’Amour novels were just what men read back in the day. My co-worker and I both agreed that seem to be an equivalent now.

As part of that discussion, my engineer/coworker started talking about how L'Amour structured his novels. "You gotta have a man, usually a lone man, who is really good with the gun. There’s gotta be a bad guy the good guy was has fight. This has to be a love interest, a woman that the man loves. You have to set up the final showdown, usually right after the hero gets his chin bloodied by the bad guy. Then you have the final showdown."

As I sat there and listened to him say this, I realized he had internalized the basic three-act story structure. I think many other people do as well, but it was interesting to have it explained — in much more detail than I just did here — exactly what he (and us?) like to see in a novel. He said he hoped I found a character that clicked with readers and could write an entire series.


On a side note, we writers often wonder if free copies or cheap copies can actually turn out to be a good investment. For me, it’s a yes. A month ago, I gifted this same engineer the first Triple Action Western, "The Box Maker." He read it over a weekend. He really enjoyed it, so much so that on the following Monday, he made a joke about the twist ending. Ironically, it to me a few minutes to figure out what he was talking about because I had no context. Well, after the lunch on Thursday, he brought over his Kindle and showed me that latest Triple Action Western yarn, "The Agony of Love," was queued up in his Kindle. He pushed the “Buy” button and said, "You've just made some royalties."

He topped himself yesterday by letting me know he had purchased WADING INTO WAR and THE PHANTOM AUTOMOBILES. I thanked him very much. He said that he might get them all read this weekend! Certainly something that makes a writer feel good. An investment of $1 returned $6. I'll take that any day of the week.


I won’t be attending Bouchercon this year, but I’ll definitely be there in 2016. New Orleans is driving distance. Have fun, y’all.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Lessons from the Corporate World: Project Management for Writers

Guest Post By Angel Luis Colón

Holly's note: Don't let Angel Colón's gritty writing fool you: he's one of the nicest guys around. I asked him to write this post because I think he's a writer to watch. As he explains below, he's only been serious about his writing for a few years, but he's managed to pack a big punch in that time. I figured we could all learn something from him.

I’ve got a little secret: writing as a career? I’ve only been serious about it for three years now. Well, less than three years really.

Now, let’s backtrack. I always WANTED to be a writer. I studied Journalism and Creative Writing in College (according to my BA, I might even be a journalist). I’ve been a voracious reader since I can remember. I also spent a lot of my 20’s impressing people with my lofty ambitions and all the epics of epicness locked inside my amazing brain. That wasn’t enough, though.

It wasn’t that I didn’t have some level of skill—I could write. Hell, I could write FAST—scary fast. There were even people that looked at words I’d put on paper and said, “Oh, this is good,” with minimal surprise in their voice.

Unfortunately, to paraphrase the great teacher, John Kimble, I lacked discipline.

I may live my life by his example more than I realize
So what changed? What helped me move forward and gain external successes (meaning publications and other fun writing gigs)? What keeps me working to grab at the next set of rungs on the never-ending ladder?

Well, a lot really. I got serious about being a better writer, about being published and grabbing any and all opportunities I could. But, that all didn’t just happen. It didn’t click into place until I realized I could actually apply the career that paid my bills to the career that stoked my ego.

Mind = BLOWN.

A lot of writers have a day job, that’s no secret. We toil at our computers and notebooks when we’re not toiling at company-owned computers and notebooks. It is what it is. By day, I’m a pretty buttoned up guy who sold his soul to the corporate hole years ago.

I’m a Project/Program Manager. It’s boring. It’s also an incredibly useful field to be in when you’re a writer. Why? Because it demands a level of discipline and goal-setting skills that are built to make things effectively happen. And when I say goals, I don’t mean ‘get published’ or ‘dethrone JK Rowling in one on one combat’ (have you seen her with a katana? Unstoppable). That’s not how managing a project works.

Projects have tangible end goals, but they never actually end. There are always opportunities for improvement and never a time to ignore your work.

Now, I’m not the biggest fan of one size fits all writing advice. I prefer to pick at advice like a carrion bird and apply it in a way that makes sense to me.

In some circles of Project Management we have a little something called DMAIC. Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, Control. Exciting right? But it’s surprisingly applicable to your writing career.

Here’s a little example (and mind you, I play fast and loose because, like I said before, this is how I make it work for me):

Define: This is your goal, let’s keep this bite-sized and use one I try to stick to.
Write, on average, 9-12 short stories this year (a spread goal gives us room to work with, hard goals are too rigid and muck up process easily. Always best to have a lower and higher limit).

That’s a lofty one, but it’s accomplishable.

Now next:
Measure: Let’s check what we’ve done in the past and what we’re capable of. Last year, we wrote 7 short stories over 12 months.
Okay, great we would need two more stories to hit our lower limit. What was our output, word count, etc? Can we do better?
600 words a day – maybe we can push to 700/800.

Analyze: I know my numbers, but can I enhance or repeat?
Maybe I can talk with my wife (a ‘key stakeholder’) and get an extra half hour to write each day.
Or I can fit it into my commute or lunch.
How do my weekends look?
Has my work quality suffered when I overdid it? When have I burned out before? Maybe we can keep a journal and see how many words we do on consecutive days. When do the words peter off?

We have all that in order. We’ve decided to talk things over with the spouse.

Improve: The spouse can give us more time (yay!)
It’s only fifteen minutes. (boo!)
But I have some free weekends coming up, let’s take Sundays and try to keep out of commitments as much as we can until we’re at a place we feel our output is up to snuff.
Wait, crap, where do I fit my editing time?
This is when we pilot our methods as well. What’s tough during Improve is that you may need to hop back to prior steps. Refining process is deeply, deeply important and you’ll find the extra work will help in the long term.

So it all worked out. We’re in a rhythm and we’ve written a few stories.

We’re in:
Control: This is when process is launched and going.
But I hit a wall. The holidays AND writer’s block have snuck up on me.

And that’s why it’s a Control phase. We’re never really “done." There are a lot of reasons beyond not having time too. We’re still learning, networking, exploring. Maybe there are classes we want to take, maybe there’s a novel burning a hole into our head. Nothing is necessarily an obstacle—just an opportunity for improvement. Being disciplined doesn’t mean there isn’t room to bend or change whatever doesn’t work.

And here’s the deal: none of this equals external success. That’s a whole lot of other factors that people literally write volumes on. Still, internal success can sure as hell help to push you towards external success more often. I’ve found that my writing career has blossomed when I’ve found discipline and placed my priority on those internal successes. Maybe you will too.

Also, bribe people with cookies/alcohol—OFTEN.

BIO: Angel Luis Colón is the author of THE FURY OF BLACKY JAGUAR. His fiction has been shortlisted for the Derringer and has won an award or two. His nonfiction has appeared in The LA Review of Books, The Life Sentence, and My Bookish Ways. He’s also an editor at Shotgun Honey, home of some of the finest hardboiled flash fiction on the Internet. Find out more at or ignore him on Twitter under the handle @GoshDarnMyLife.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Blessed Are Those Who Mourn

by Kristi Belcamino

The fourth book in my mysteries series featuring a San Francisco Bay Area newspaper reporter comes out in two days!

If you think you might be interested in reading my latest book, please consider pre-ordering it - even though it comes out in two days. For some reason pre-orders count a lot to publishers. (Don't ask me to explain the inner machinations of the publishing world and why this is - wish I knew!) If you do decide to pre-order, please shoot me an email at with a screen shot and I'll send you out a small thank you.

Here is what some early reviewers are saying about it on Goodreads:

"Kristi Belcamino knocks it out of the park with her best novel to date."

"Reader beware: the emotionally fraught drama of this suspense-filled gem will tug at the most hardened heartstrings! A bravura piece of story telling by a stellar talent."

"Another winner from Kristi Belcamino! This author is on fire!"

"She is one of the best new writers I have read."

"You will find the main character, Gabriella, to be strong, smart, sassy and endearing."

"I hope to see more books by this writer. She never disappoints." 

"So much fast action, so much murder and mayhem this book flies to a thrilling conclusion."

Here is the official blurb and links to pre-order if you are so inclined:
Local indie bookstores in my area.
If you call them, I will come in and personalize the paperback for you before they send it off.

San Francisco Bay Area reporter Gabriella Giovanni has finally got it all together: a devoted and loving boyfriend, Detective Sean Donovan; a beautiful little girl with him; and her dream job as the cops' reporter for the Bay Herald. But her success has been hard-won and has left her with debilitating paranoia. When a string of young co-eds starts to show up dead with suspicious Biblical verses left on their bodies--the same verses that the man she suspects kidnapped and murdered her sister twenty years ago had sent to her--she begins to question if the killer is trying to send her a message.
It is not until evil strikes Gabriella's own family that her worst fears are confirmed. As the clock begins to tick, every passing hour means the difference between life and death to those Gabriella loves...

If you've made it this far in my blatant self promotion post THANK YOU!

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Titles, Themes, and a Travesty

Scott D Parker

I don't have a long post today, so make a three short ones.


I'm one of those writers who can write a 92,000 word novel and not have a clue about what to call it. In fact, I am trying to title two books now. I'm not having much success. I want to come up with a title that is sexy, gripping, attention-getting like every other title in the world, but nothing is hitting me. Of all the manuscripts I have written to date, THE PHANTOM AUTOMOBILES is the only book where I had a title in the middle of the writing process. The Benjamin Wade books were all just numbers: Wade 01, Wade 02, and Wade 03.

So how do y'all choose a title?


I had a funny thing happened to me this week. My son selected my first book, WADING INTO WAR, as a class reading assignment. Every week each student is expected to write a short essay in class about a particular topic. This week's topic was "theme." For whatever reason, he couldn't immediately see the theme of that book. That's when he realized that the author was living in his house. So he asked me. I didn't come right out and say it. I asked him various questions that led us to the theme of the book as I see it.

What made me smile is the fact that I was the writer of the book, and when I was writing the book, I had no conscious theme in mind. I'm remember my own school days when English teachers would ask why the author wrote a particular book or story my answer always jokingly came down to "to pay the rent." Now here I was being asked the very same question. My truthful answer was this: I wanted to make sure that I could actually complete a long story having not completed a long story for seven years at that point.

I realized that, at this stage of my writing career, I am not actively driving home a particular theme when I'm writing a manuscript. Subconsciously a theme emerges and comes out through my writing, and it's very fun to discover once the manuscript is finished.

Do y'all actively have a theme in mind when you set out to write a story?


I'm not one to dog other's creative efforts too often, but I have to throw my hat into the ring when it comes to "The Muppets." The new show debuted on Tuesday, and a friend of mine asked me, via Facebook, what my thoughts were about the new show. She asked me on Wednesday. I told her I hadn't had a chance to watch it yet, but I saw the show last night. And to be honest, I barely got through it.

Like many my age, I absolutely loved the old Muppet show from the late 70s. It was wonderfully subversive in its own unique way, and it was just downright funny. Most, but not all, of the movies that have come out in the years since have been good. "The Muppet Movie" from 1979 is absolutely splendid. The new Muppet movie from 2011 was equally as good. The YouTube shorts the Muppets put out the past few years also great. I laughed out loud at almost all of them.

But there's something wrong with the Muppet show where the first true sound that resembled laughter only occurred when a human guest star, Tom Bergeron, showed up on screen. Where to begin? We'll start with Kermit. I stayed away from reviews before Tuesday because I didn't want any review, good or bad, to sway what I thought about the program. But after scraping through the first episode, I took to the Internet to see what other people said about the show. I forgot where it was, but someone said that Kermit the frog was the eternal optimist. That's right. Kermit was the center, the foundation, of the Muppet show characters. All the other characters were always neurotic. Kermit was too. But it was so nice to have Kermit be normal, like us. The Kermit in the new TV show just isn't Kermit. Well it's not the Kermit that I knew. He's kind of there, but mostly not. He's a little like Eeyore if I have to be honest about it. It's like the modern world of 2015 finally wore down the little green frog who always looked for rainbows. That's just sad.

The other characters were always neurotic, it's just that their neuroses now are so magnified. Miss Piggy is just a media hound. She always was that, I know, but without a filter, she's just crass. Fozzie is in a relationship with the human. Think about that. Not much more needs to be set on that subject. I could've lived with all this "updating" of the Muppets if the show had just been funny. It wasn't.

It got me to thinking: are the Muppets merely holding up a mirror and reflecting what our current society actually is rather than the way we wish it was?

Thursday, September 24, 2015

The Chris Holm Interview: THE KILLING KIND

By Steve Weddle

Let's get this out of the way right now. Chris Holm's THE KILLING KIND is a brilliant book, layered and clever, with smart pacing and character development that propel you right through to the surprising, shattering end. I had the honor of seeing the short story version of this when I was editing NEEDLE a few years back. My pal Chris Holm is a swell human and fantastic writer, and he stopped by the DSD headquarters (corner of Harlem River Bridge and 3rd Ave) to chat about his just-released thriller, THE KILLING KIND.

"[An] inventive thriller . . . Holm carries off a preposterous plot with brazen aplomb, creating a diverting, action-packed story interspersed with excellent character vignettes."
―Publishers Weekly

"[A] fast-moving, witty tale of good guy versus bad guy versus worse guy."
―Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

"With THE KILLING KIND, Chris Holm has created a story of rare, compelling brilliance with a concept so high you'll need oxygen to finish it. Hitman against hitman, one pure silk and evil, the other not exactly good, but we root for him anyway as the classic antihero. This is a one-sitting extravagant, mind-blowing reading pleasure with a stable of characters who come across as all flesh, bone and folly. You will never look at men hired to kill other humans the same way. You won't merely read this book, you will inhale it."
-David Baldacci 

DoSomeDamage: You spend a year or two writing a book. Then another year selling it. Maybe editing. Publishing and marketing and all that. How long has it been from the time you first started working on the story to publication day?

Chris Holm: This one took a while. It began, as you well know, with two guys kicking around an idea for a short story in the spring of 2010. One of them, the sensible one—me—was all, “I dunno. It sounds kinda big and messy. It could get away from me.” The other, who was probably just bored and stuff and wanted to egg me on, was like “Nah, do it. It’ll be cool. I’ll totes publish it.”

So I wrote it. At 11,000 words, it did kinda get away from me. But true to his word, that other dude—you—published it, in the second issue of Needle. Thanks, by the way.

People seemed to dig it. It got nominated for an Anthony. Wound up in THE BEST AMERICAN MYSTERY STORIES. My agent at the time told me I should consider adapting it into a novel, which was weird, because usually she didn’t tell me anything at all. But I resisted, because the story seemed complete to me. Then one day, I woke up and realized if I shifted the narrative from first to third, I could pull back the camera to show more of this character’s world, and tell the stories of the people hunting him.

So, in between Collector books, I wrote it. And rewrote it. And rewrote it. When I was finally happy with it, I sent it off to my agent, who promptly sat on it for nine months without reading it.

In early 2013, we parted ways. I polished up the book again and started querying. It took almost a year to find the right agent. Another several months working with him on the book. And then it sold in something like a week. But even with that stroke of luck, we’re talking more than five years, start to finish.

DSD: As you’re working on the sequel now, what’s it like to have to shift gears and talk about this book that you wrote a couple years back? Does it make it tougher to talk about THE KILLING KIND for an hour and then get back into the new book?

CH: Honestly, it’s not so bad. I was dipping in and out of THE KILLING KIND regularly until a couple months ago, when we finally locked it for printing, so it’s still pretty fresh. My biggest fear is letting slip some major spoiler, because for me THE KILLING KIND happened in the past, even though almost no one’s read it yet.

DSD: What would the Director’s Cut of the book look like? What have you left out or avoided in this book?

CH: That’s hard to say. I won’t deny, I’ve gotten more editorial input on this book—from my agent and editor both—than I did for all three of my Collector novels combined. But no one ever pushed me to tone the book down, or make it more commercial. The notes were focused on making it the best version of itself. In fact, there’s some stuff in THE KILLING KIND that’s so dark, I’m amazed I got away with it.

That said, my initial version skewed way pulpier. It featured more elaborate—some would (rightly) say indulgent—back stories for damn near everyone who walked across the stage. And its body count was way higher.

DSD: Did writing the Collector trilogy prepare you for this new series or did it create too many assumptions about how to build a series?

CH: I’d like to think the Collector books taught me a thing or two about how to write a series—what to fill in, what to leave blank so I have room to maneuver later—but the fact is, they probably just taught me how to write that series. I’m sure I’ll make all new mistakes in the Hendricks books.

DSD: I was listening to an interview with another Hachette author who, when asked what he was currently working on, responded: "Thank you for asking, but I don't want to discuss it." Do you like publicly discussing your current project or do you feel it could do some damage?

CH: I see what you did there.

Right now, I’m hard at work on the second Michael Hendricks novel—but I can’t tell you what, specifically, it’s about without delving into spoiler territory for book one.

DSD: Your new book, THE KILLING KIND, has a great deal of military-speak in it. As far as I know, you've never served in the military. How confident are you that you got the gun stuff right?

CH: Actually, I tried to avoid military jargon wherever possible, because I was worried I’d get it wrong or lose my audience. But gun specs felt important to the story—they’re the tools of Michael’s trade, after all.

As for how accurate I was, that’s for readers to decide. I did a fair bit of research. And my family’s full of cops and hunters, so I grew up around guns. I’ve shot everything from shotguns and hunting rifles to handguns of all shapes and sizes—even, once, a fully automatic MAC-10 equipped with a suppressor. I know the difference between a clip and a magazine. I know if you reference the smell of cordite in your fiction, you’d best be writing a period piece. I know an automatic weapon can’t fire for minutes on end without reloading. But I doubtless screwed something up along the way.

DSD: Your books, the Collector series and this one, move around quite a bit. How much fun is it to write about places you've never been?

CH: Most of the places in THE KILLING KIND are settings with which I’m familiar. I live in Portland, Maine. I was born and raised in upstate New York. My wife and I spent two years in Virginia after college. And my travels have taken me through New Hampshire, Cleveland, Washington, Miami, Long Beach, and St. Louis.

That said, I enjoy writing places I’ve never been—such as Vian’s chateau in the south of France for THE KILLING KIND, or a castle in the Carpathians for THE BIG REAP—and I certainly don’t shy away from doing so. I’m fortunate in that the protagonists of both my series have jobs that require a great deal of travel. That means I’m exploring these locations from an outside perspective, which is a lot easier than writing from a local point of view. Plus, the research is a blast—although ultimately, it’s not so different from the research I do on the places I know well.

DSD: What is it about Michael Hendricks as a character that you think readers can connect with?

CH: Since 9/11, our nation’s been in a perpetual state of war. Kids old enough to drive literally don’t remember a world in which we’re not sending men and women to fight and die in foreign lands. Okay, technically the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have ended—but that’s probably cold comfort to the 15,000 or so US troops still deployed.

Michael Hendricks is, to me, a metaphor for anyone who’s come back from war to find the pieces of the life he left behind no longer fit. His story’s all too common. He was a decent kid who came up rough, and enlisted at eighteen. The things he saw and did in service to his country traumatized him, changed him, cost him the woman and the life he cared about. Now he’s trying—and mostly failing—to make things right the only way he knows how.

But I think his appeal’s far simpler than that. Most of us don’t wind up hitmen, but at some point, we all look back over the path our lives have taken and wonder how it could’ve turned out differently. We struggle to reconcile who we are with who we thought we’d be. We try our damndest to be better than the sum total of our formative experiences. Michael’s no different. I’m curious to see if he succeeds.

DSD: This book has a certain energy to it, a sort of thriller propulsiveness, if you will. As a writer, how do plot out the smaller conflicts within the story to work with the overall pacing?

CH: I don’t outline when I write, but I usually know my major story beats going in. For THE KILLING KIND, those included the introductory chapters for Hendricks, Engelmann, and Thompson. The showdown in the casino at the book’s midpoint. The story’s climax and denouement. I’d love to claim the rest was just a matter of connecting the dots, but the fact is, my agent and editor both helped reorder portions on the book to improve its flow. That was new for me—in part because I wasn’t accustomed to that level of editorial support, and in part because I’d never written a novel in the third person before.

DSD: Finally, do you think an author is obligated to do "more than entertain" the reader? What is your responsibility as an author and is that separate from your responsibility as a person?

CH: My responsibility as an author is to entertain an audience for as much time as I’ve asked of them—no more, no less. My responsibility as a person is to do my best to leave this world a little better than I found it. If I can do both at once, fantastic. I’d like to think sometimes I do.


The violence in The Killing Kind is visceral [and] the writing is tight and tense.

The Killing Kind is a brutal book about brutal people in a brutal world.

 If a movie deal hasn't been made, I'm sure there's one in the works.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Pre-Hiring an Editor

by Holly West

Sometimes, writing a mystery feels like juggling. You start with one or two balls, casually tossing them in the air and catching them with relatively little trouble. By act two, you've added a couple more, then, by the end of act three, you're juggling so many you feel sure you'll drop one. And the truth is, you probably will. That's what editors are for--to help you find those dropped balls.

Over the last few weeks, I invited several of my author friends to write guest posts for my Wednesday spot. The reason was two-fold: first, I really wanted to hear from some new voices (i.e. voices that weren't mine) and thought my audience would, too. Second, I recently "pre-hired" a freelance editor to edit my new novel, hence giving myself a self-imposed but solid deadline.

Honestly, I don't know why I didn't think of doing that before. This book is important for me (well, I suppose they all are) in that it will be my first non-historical mystery and the first book I'll give to my agent to shop. I've known all along that I'd have it edited professionally before I turned it over to said agent. The question has always been when.

You've heard me whine more than once about how long it's taken me to finish this damned book. I've written a book (MISTRESS OF LIES) on deadline before and even though I complained constantly about having to do it, I got it done on time (ish). It occurred to me that I could treat this current book as if it were under contract, even if it's not. Hire the editor and set a firm deadline by which it had to be finished. Sure, I was taking a chance, but it's provided just the motivation I need. I'm on track to finish the novel well before my deadline so that I'll have a few weeks to revise and polish before it goes to my editor. Just like when I wrote a MISTRESS OF LIES.

Back to what I was saying about juggling. I'm at about 60k and heading into act three. There's a yellow legal pad next to me and every day I start with a list called "Balls in the Air." I write down the plants that need pay offs, the red herrings that need explanation (or not) and basically, the issues that still need to be resolved for a satisfactory ending. I know I'm going to drop one (or three) of those balls but I try not to let that knowledge bother me. By the time this book is out in the world those loose ends will have been found and tied.

While I was writing my first novel, MISTRESS OF FORTUNE, I never intended to hire an editor. I thought I'd polish it myself and then when it sold I'd have an editor with the publishing house. Clearly, I was nothing if not rosy-eyed and optimistic back then. After a year or more of rejection, I thought maybe I'd self-publish and I hired an editor. She had experience at a couple of the big houses and said that while she understood why I might want to self-publish, she thought the book could get a traditional offer. In the end, of course, I didn't self-publish, but that professionally edited manuscript was the one that scored me my deal.

Do I need to have my current manuscript edited before I send it to my agent? Maybe not. I have more experience now and I'm confident I could polish it up real purty myself. But the fact is, if I decided to self-publish this or future titles, I'd never send them out into the world without having them professionally edited and copyedited. How does having an agent make that any different? Shouldn't I put my best foot forward from the very start? I expect my agent will have feedback regardless, but I'd rather give her the best possible work I can from the get go.

It does make me think about just how much of the responsibility in the publishing process is piled onto authors, even those who don't plan to self-publish. It wasn't always like this, was it? At the recent California Crime Writers Conference a fellow author whose under contract told me he had his work professionally edited before he sent it to his editor at the publishing house. He went on to mention two other high profile authors who do the same thing.

It wasn't as though he was trying to convince me that all writers need to do this or that writers who don't are shirking their responsibility in some way. We were just having casual a chat about writing and publishing and these were offhand comments. I thought it was interesting, nonetheless.

I really want to hear what y'all think about this subject. I know you have opinions so let 'em rip.