Monday, July 20, 2009

Book Review: Don't Murder Your Mystery

Don’t Murder Your Mystery
By Chris Roerden
Publisher: Bella Rosa Books
ISBN-13: 978-1933523132
List Price: $17.95

One of the best books I’ve read on writing and self-editing is the Agatha Award Winner for Best Non-Fiction Book, Don’t Murder Your Mystery (24 Fiction-Writing Techniques to Save Your Manuscript from Turning Up . . . D.O.A.). “Enthusiastically recommended” by Midwest Book Review and deemed “a valuable reference work” by mystery author Sara Paretsky, the book has also been expanded into an all-genre version called Don’t Sabotage Your Submission.

Roerden begins her book with this prescription precaution:

“For long-lasting relief, apply this remedy to drafts that have finished digesting. Attempting to revise while still writing can lead to double vision accompanied by intermittent paralysis of the hands.”
By comparing the stages of revision and self-editing to clues during a crime investigation, Roerden uses humor and example to demonstrate why manuscripts are declared dead on arrival. From Clue #1 (Hobbled Hooks) to #24 (Words & Misdemeanors), the writer learns how to identify manuscript flaws and fix them.

Here are a few notable quotes from Don’t Murder Your Mystery:

On backstory: “Fiction, especially mystery, is in trouble if it focuses attention on what’s already happened instead of what’s about to happen.”

On description: “Behavioral quirks and habits are not only more interesting than a straight-forward physical description but also more revealing of personality and attitude.”

On the timeline: “For your own guidance, always make a calendar of the events taking place in your novel so that all times of day and days of the week make internal sense.”

Included at the end of the book are: standard manuscript formatting rules, a bibliography of books on writing, and a list of popular internet sites for mystery writers.

The author, Chris Roerden, is an independent book editor with extensive experience and credentials. She will be one of the seminar presenters at SinC into Great Writing, the Sisters in Crime event to be held October 14th in Indianapolis, the day before the mystery convention Bouchercon 2009 opens.

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Patricia Stoltey is a mystery author, blogger, and critique group facilitator. Active in promoting Colorado authors, she also helps local unpublished writers learn the critical skills of manuscript revision and self-editing. For information about Patricia’s Sylvia and Willie mystery series, visit her website and her blog. You can also find her on Facebook (Patricia Stoltey) and Twitter (@PStoltey).


  1. This sounds like one I may have to own. Thanks.

  2. I'll second Patricia's recommendation. I've got the book and find it very useful.

    Mystery Writing is Murder

  3. Sounds very intersting and practical. Will keep my eyes open for it.

  4. Chris' book is one of the standards. People recommend it on a lot of listservs.

    Straight From Hel

  5. I've been on the fence about this book, but no more. Like so many of Patricia's recommendations, I'll wager this one is right on target, too. Add to that Elizabeth Spann Craig’s endorsement, how can you go wrong. So, off to B and N I card in hand. Again.
    Best regards, Galen

    Imagineering Fiction Blog

  6. Sounds like a great reference book. Thanks for the review.


The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice.