Friday, December 15, 2017

A Book Birth Day (with the longest gestation period ever): Wishing Caswell Dead

Thanks so much to the Blood Red Pencil team for letting me announce my new book release here. I’m happily rejoining the Blood Red Pencil blog in 2018 as a monthly contributor after a long break to work on other projects. It’s great to be back working with this excellent team of writers and editors.

About the book: It took ten years, five rewrites, the refusal to give up on the novel of my heart, and the miracle of the right publisher creating the right fiction line at the right time. That’s the story in a nutshell of the conception and finally the birth of Wishing Caswell Dead, a historical novel from Five Star/Cengage Frontier Fiction (December 20, 2017).

In 2007, I had a short story about Jo Mae Proud trying to escape her horrid life in the fictitious Village of Sangamon in the early 1800s. As I read and reread that tale, I kept thinking how much more I could write if I developed each one of the flawed or evil characters in the story and told how they all came together on the day Caswell Proud was murdered . . . and revealed who the killer was.

I wrote, rewrote, edited, moved chapters around, submitted to my group for critique, rewrote some more, and collected lots of agent and editor rejections.

And then one day, Five Star/Cengage expanded their Western line to include Frontier Fiction novels, stories of almost any genre set in the U.S. up to about 1920.

This is the main reason I keep telling writers never to give up on a novel they believe in. The publishing world changes faster and faster, as do reader preferences and genre trends. What won’t find a publisher today might be in high demand next year.

The short synopsis:

In the early 1800s in a village on the Illinois frontier, young Jo Mae Proud wishes her cruel brother dead. Forced into prostitution by Caswell, Jo Mae discovers she is pregnant and vows to escape her unpleasant life. When Caswell is injured by a near lightning hit, he becomes more dangerous and more hated. The flawed residents of the Village of Sangamon harbor many secrets. Caswell knows them all. Will he tell? Jo Mae runs away and eventually finds shelter with Fish, the old Kickapoo Indian who camps by the river. Wishing Caswell Dead is a historical mystery about the evil that hides within a village, one girl who is determined to save herself and her child, and a violent murder no one wants to solve.

Publishers Weekly says this book is a “worthy historical” and describes the characters as “surprisingly complicated and wonderfully individual.”


Pat (Patricia) Stoltey is the author of four novels published by Five Star/Cengage: two amateur sleuth, one thriller that was a finalist for a Colorado Book Award in 2015, and the historical mystery Wishing Caswell Dead (December 20, 2017).

Pat lives in Northern Colorado with her husband Bill, Scottish Terrier Sassy (aka Doggity), and brown tabby Katie (aka Kitty Cat).

You can learn more about Pat at her website/blog, on Facebook, and Twitter. She was recently interviewed for a Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers podcast that you can find at the RMFW website.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Self-Editing One Step at a Time: Read Your Manuscript Aloud

This post was first published on December 11, 2009.

Authors and editors will tell you that reading your manuscript aloud is one of the best ways to identify any remaining problems with awkward sentence structure, sentences that are too long, word repetitions, bad dialogue, and silly goofs.

Maryann Miller posted two excellent articles on line editing in April, 2009. Line Editing: One and Line Editing – Part Two will give you great results if you go over your manuscript visually. However, if you follow that effort with another read, this time out loud, you will improve your manuscript. Why is that?

When the writer reads to himself, his eye ignores and visually corrects the problems noted at the beginning of this post as well as typos, words or lines accidentally deleted during the revision process, and spacing and formatting errors.

Reading aloud, however, forces the reader to look at words individually instead of seeing phrases and whole sentences at once. We often hear what we don’t see.

Dialogue might look great on paper, but could sound unnatural or pointless when spoken.

Watch out for more of those silly things we do:

1. Repeating names over and over during dialogue.


“I went to the story this morning, Mary.”
“Get anything good, Doris?”
“Oh, just some apricots, Mary.”
“Mmmm. Sounds good, Doris.”


2. Flying body parts.


He threw his arms out from his body.
His leg flew up and his foot kicked Adam in the jaw.
She dropped her eyes to the floor.
Her eyes darted about the room.

You will often hear what you don’t see. A lot of authors know this to be true and list this step among their tips for writing and revision. Alex Sokoloff said it here in June in Top Ten Things I Know About Editing. “Read your book aloud,” she told us. “All of it. Cover to cover.”


Pat (Patricia) Stoltey is the author of four novels published by Five Star/Cengage: two amateur sleuth, one thriller that was a finalist for a Colorado Book Award in 2015, and the historical mystery Wishing Caswell Dead (December 20, 2017).

Pat lives in Northern Colorado with her husband Bill, Scottish Terrier Sassy (aka Doggity), and brown tabby Katie (aka Kitty Cat).

You can learn more about Pat at her website/blog, on Facebook, and Twitter. She was recently interviewed for a Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers podcast that you can find at the RMFW website.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Self-Editing One Step at a Time: Fine-Tuning Sentence Structure

This post was first published on December 4, 2009.

During this part of the self-editing process you will look at the structure of your individual sentences and then compare that structure to the surrounding paragraphs and pages. The purpose of this exercise is to:

1. Look for sentences which are too long.

Bad: The day I walked down the hill from my apartment to the town center was the day I began my adventure in Tourettes-sur-Loup, a village in the South of France which is famous for its spring festival of violets and perches on the edge of a cliff as though hanging on for its very life.

Better: The day I walked down the hill from my apartment to the town center was the day I began my adventure in the South of France. I was in Tourettes-sur-Loup, a village famous for its spring festival of violets. It perches on the edge of a cliff as though hanging on for its very life.

2. Find awkward sentences that might require a second reading to be clear. This may require correctly punctuating the sentence, or the sentence may need to be rewritten.

Bad: I rounded the corner and bumped into the old woman on my bicycle.

What I meant to say: I rounded the corner on my bicycle and bumped into the old woman.

3. Spot series of sentences with the same or similar structure within a paragraph or on the same page.

Look at the subjects of the sentences in each paragraph. Then check out the subject/verb/object set. Vary sentence structure wherever appropriate.

One good sentence containing a series of three might be very effective. Seven or eight sentences containing a series of three, all on the same page, might be noticed by the reader and be a distraction that pulls him out of the story.

Example: I walked into the coffee shop, ordered a cappuccino, and carried it to my car. I sat for a moment, sipped my coffee, and watched a man cross the parking lot. I started the engine, rolled down my window, and turned on the radio.

4. Look at fragments and determine if complete sentences would be better.

Fragments are often used in dialogue or for emphasis in narrative (especially when writing in first person). Too many fragments in narrative, however, may signal to an agent or editor that a writer does not know a fragment from a complete sentence. Use fragments with care.

Example: Marilyn knew her boyfriend would call and beg her to forgive him. She wasn't going to do it. Not this time.

5. Make good use of short sentences in action or high tension scenes. Again, you'll want to vary the sentence structure, and even throw in a complex sentence for variety. But if you're aware that short sentences increase tension, you can use them to good advantage.

Example: Marilyn had just turned off the shower and pulled the towel off the rack when she thought she heard a noise. She froze and listened. Nothing. She quickly dried herself and slipped on her robe. Then another sound--a soft squeak. She reached toward the doorknob, but jerked her hand back. Someone was in her bedroom. She could hear him breathing.

6. Use the same form or format for each element in a series.

Bad: I was weeding the garden, pruning the roses, and mulched the tomatoes.

Better: I was weeding the garden, pruning the roses, and mulching the tomatoes.

Paying attention to sentence structure and how the sentences on a page relate to one another helps establish your professional attention to detail. It really is worth the time it takes to do a thorough job.


Pat (Patricia) Stoltey is the author of four novels published by Five Star/Cengage: two amateur sleuth, one thriller that was a finalist for a Colorado Book Award in 2015, and the historical mystery Wishing Caswell Dead (December 20, 2017).

Pat lives in Northern Colorado with her husband Bill, Scottish Terrier Sassy (aka Doggity), and brown tabby Katie (aka Kitty Cat).

You can learn more about Pat at her website/blog, on Facebook, and Twitter. She was recently interviewed for a Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers podcast that you can find at the RMFW website.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Self-Editing One Step at a Time: Analyzing Sentences for Redundancy and Wordiness

This post was first published on October 16, 2009.

You know when redundancy is good, right? It falls under the third meaning of "redundant" in my Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary: “serving as a duplicate for preventing failure of an entire system (as a spacecraft) upon failure of a single component.” If you were an astronaut, you’d want as much redundancy as the shuttle designers could provide.

As a writer, however, you want to avoid redundancy unless there’s a solid reason to repeat yourself for emphasis, or to make certain an important story point is not overlooked by the reader. It’s rare this is needed. Readers are smart people.

Back to my trusty Merriam-Webster’s for the relevant definitions for writers: “exceeding what is necessary or normal” and “characterized by similarity or repetition.”

How do you find this stuff in your manuscript? I find mine sentence by sentence during revisions, and my critique group pals point them out when I submit chapters for their review. Here are the basic rules:

1. Don’t say the same thing two or more different ways (unless you have a conscious and valid reason for doing so).

2. Don’t tell us what a character is going to say before she says it.

3. Don’t tell us what a character said after he says it.

4. Don’t use ten words to tell us something you can effectively say in three words.

Yes, sentence by sentence. Paragraph by paragraph. If you meticulously carry out this process during the revision and self-editing phase of your current manuscript, your next manuscript will be cleaner, and the editing will be easier, because you will develop a greater awareness of what you’re putting down on paper as you write.


Pat (Patricia) Stoltey is the author of four novels published by Five Star/Cengage: two amateur sleuth, one thriller that was a finalist for a Colorado Book Award in 2015, and the historical mystery Wishing Caswell Dead (December 20, 2017).

Pat lives in Northern Colorado with her husband Bill, Scottish Terrier Sassy (aka Doggity), and brown tabby Katie (aka Kitty Cat).

You can learn more about Pat at her website/blog, on Facebook, and Twitter. She was recently interviewed for a Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers podcast that you can find at the RMFW website.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Self-Editing One Step at a Time: Cleaning Up Those Dialogue Tags

This post was first published on October 10, 2009.

This step may be combined with others during the sentence-by-sentence editing read as it addresses only these three mechanics of labeling dialogue.
When dialogue is carried on between two people, use the dialogue tag only as often as needed to let the reader know who is speaking.

“You know what I mean?” said Marjorie. She waited for her brother to answer.
“No.”
“Don’t be silly. Of course, you do.”

When the dialogue involves more than two people, add a dialogue tag each time the speaker changes, or use a leading sentence before the dialogue to identify the speaker.

“I don’t understand what you mean,” Marjorie said.

Or,

Marjorie raised her eyebrows and tilted her head. “I don’t understand what you mean.”

Use "said" in your dialogue tags, with perhaps an occasional "asked" or "repeated." Other words that describe speech such as hollered, yelled, whispered, mumbled, yelled, and shrieked might be used once in a great while, but it is best if the dialogue and narrative show the speaker’s behavior and tone, rather than the author telling us. Avoid verbs that introduce actions other than speech. Examples are coughed, spat, choked, and lied.

As in most other editing tasks, the aim is to avoid pulling the reader out the story with unusual phrasing or word choices. Using a dialogue tag to convey information the reader wouldn’t otherwise know (the speaker is lying, for example), or that the reader already knows (the speaker is lying, for example), is distracting.


Pat (Patricia) Stoltey is the author of four novels published by Five Star/Cengage: two amateur sleuth, one thriller that was a finalist for a Colorado Book Award in 2015, and the historical mystery Wishing Caswell Dead (December 20, 2017).

Pat lives in Northern Colorado with her husband Bill, Scottish Terrier Sassy (aka Doggity), and brown tabby Katie (aka Kitty Cat).

You can learn more about Pat at her website/blog, on Facebook, and Twitter. She was recently interviewed for a Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers podcast that you can find at the RMFW website.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Self-Editing One Step at a Time: Weeding Out Unnecessary Adjectives and Adverbs

This post was first published on September 11, 2009.

It might seem as though we mention overuse of adjectives and adverbs a lot. See Maryann Miller’s posts Adverbs Revisited back in June and Those Pesky Adverbs Again in July.

The truth is, we don't need to tell smart, intuitive readers every detail about a character’s appearance or clothing. They’ll fill in the blanks as long as the blanks are not critical to the story. You can describe a minor character (male) as 60ish with long black hair, bronze skin, and a leathery, weathered face, and the reader will know what your American Indian looks like. But if you say he's an Arapahoe elder, won't the reader form a similar mental picture without all the extra words?

Similarly, anything from a palace tower room to a battle scene may require description, but pay close attention to what is important to your story and what is not. Keep your eye out for unnecessary repetition—telling the reader the same thing in two or three different ways, using even more adjectives in the process.

Adverbs are even more likely candidates for elimination than adjectives. Many can be found by searching on the letters -ly. Examples of words you might find are silently, carefully, actually, and quietly. In the sentence, “He silently crept across the room in his stocking feet,” the word silently can be eliminated without changing the meaning, because the act of creeping implies secrecy and quiet.

Since not all adverbs and adjectives can found with a quick word search, this self-editing step may be combined with others in your sentence-by-sentence read. In addition to overuse and repetition, look for redundancies, such as emerald green eyes, or huge, cavernous room. And watch for quantifiers or indicators of size, which are often too general to be useful. Words such as large, small, big, tall, short, huge, some, many, and most are examples.

Not all adjectives and adverbs are bad, of course. In some cases, details are important to the story and may even be clues or red herrings in mysteries or thrillers. In other cases, a character's appearance might explain his odd behavior. Sometimes descriptive words are needed to create a mood. Even so, use adverbs and adjectives in moderation and be precise. Don't use two or three when one will do the job.


Pat (Patricia) Stoltey is the author of four novels published by Five Star/Cengage: two amateur sleuth, one thriller that was a finalist for a Colorado Book Award in 2015, and the historical mystery Wishing Caswell Dead (December 20, 2017).

Pat lives in Northern Colorado with her husband Bill, Scottish Terrier Sassy (aka Doggity), and brown tabby Katie (aka Kitty Cat).

You can learn more about Pat at her website/blog, on Facebook, and Twitter. She was recently interviewed for a Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers podcast that you can find at the RMFW website.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Self-Editing One Step at a Time: Searching for More Silly Stuff

This post was first published on December 16, 2009.

Sometimes we’re so focused on the big picture—our plot and characters—that we miss obvious clues that more editing is required. My July 16th, 2009 post, Look for the Silly Stuff: Exclamation Points, discussed the overuse of that popular punctuation mark. Here are a few other things you need to consider.

1. Bad grammar and lousy punctuation. If you don’t know the basic rules of grammar and punctuation, you need to take a class, buy a good book and study it, or choose one of many excellent online resources to hone your writing skills. I like Mignon Fogarty’s Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips™ for Better Writing and her website by the same name. Guide to Grammar and Writing is a website sponsored by the Capital Community College Foundation. I’ve found it to be very useful.

2. When Microsoft Word underlines a word in red, it means the software thinks you have misspelled the word. The error might be a typo. The word might really be misspelled. Or you may have used a correct word or spelling that is not in Word’s dictionary.

If you right click on the underlined word, an option box will pop up giving you a few alternate word/spelling choices and the ability to add the word to the dictionary so future uses will not be underlined in red. This is helpful for names of characters or fictional places, creatures, and objects (as in fantasy novels). Always turn to a good dictionary to verify spelling.

3. When Microsoft Word underlines a fragment or sentence in green, it means the software thinks your grammar is incorrect. You need to check it out and revise the sentence if necessary. Right click on the underlined phrase or sentence and an option box will give you a brief description of what might be wrong. If you’ve intentionally used incorrect grammar for emphasis, or in dialogue, you may select “Ignore Once” in the option box to make the green line disappear.

4. Two words, one word, or hyphenated word? This is a trickier problem. Whenever you have a noun that is made up of two words, and you’re not 100% sure whether the noun should be two words, one word, or hyphenated, it’s best to look it up in an official dictionary. Two words that tripped me up were rearview (as in rearview mirror) and backseat. Also remember that your word might be hyphenated if used as an adjective, but not when used as a noun.

Here are a few other examples: ape-man, backstory, bookseller, chain-smoker, deathbed, fishwife, safe-conduct, woodshed, and trashman (Word thought trashman was wrong, but Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary assured me it was correct). For more on this spelling puzzle, see Dani Greer’s posts, This is a test, just a test on April 22, 2009 and Spelling Test Answers on April 23, 2009.


Pat (Patricia) Stoltey is the author of four novels published by Five Star/Cengage: two amateur sleuth, one thriller that was a finalist for a Colorado Book Award in 2015, and the historical mystery Wishing Caswell Dead (December 20, 2017).

Pat lives in Northern Colorado with her husband Bill, Scottish Terrier Sassy (aka Doggity), and brown tabby Katie (aka Kitty Cat).

You can learn more about Pat at her website/blog, on Facebook, and Twitter. She was recently interviewed for a Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers podcast that you can find at the RMFW website.

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