Friday, September 30, 2016

#FridayReads Fields Where They Lay by Timothy Hallinan

I was lucky enough to snag an ARC of Timothy Hallinan's most recent release, Fields Where They Lay, a new Junior Bender mystery. Tim has been nominated for the Edgar and Macavity Awards, and Herbie's Game won the Lefty in 2014 for  the best comic mystery.

As a long-time fan of Tim's writing, I was thrilled to get the advance copy of this book that releases in October. I first got acquainted with his work when I was reviewing for and received a copy of Breathing Water, a Poke Rafferty Thriller.

That was back in 2010, and I have read a number of other books in the Poke Rafferty series, as well as the Junior Bender series. It's hard to say which I like better, as they both are so well-written and packed with fascinating characters and interesting places.

Junior Bender is not your ordinary thief. He's a cultured thief, if cultured and thief could actually be used in the same sentence, but as you get to know him, you recognize that he is well-read and very knowledgeable about history, geography, art, and jewelry. But of course a thief has to know a lot about art and jewelry.

In this story, Junior, who also works as a private investigator - "it takes a crook to know one"  he is fond of saying - has been hired to find out who is shoplifting in Edgerton Mall. His first thought is, why bother, as the mall is obviously about to go under, but the job is one that is hard to refuse. His client is a Russian mobster. One does not simply say "no" to a mobster.
There are a number of references to other literary works throughout the story, and I chuckled when I came to the place where Junior is trying to elude a killer in the dark abandoned upstairs of a shopping mall. In a manic moment, Junior thinks, "I had a vision, about a half a second long, of tying Mini-Me hand and foot with a glittering Christmas garland and driving a stake of holly through his heart Ebenezer Scrooge fashion."

Having directed many productions of  "Scrooge" at the Winnsboro Center for the Arts,  I had to laugh at that, and I could hear my actor saying in his very precise British accent, "And drive a stake of holly through his heart, I should."

Woven through the story, like a thread from a fine tapestry, is the relationship between Junior and his girlfriend Ronnie. Ronnie is secretive, deflecting every effort by Junior to learn anything about her past or her family. Now, just two days before Christmas, Junior is trying to figure out what might be an appropriate gift for someone who doesn't even want to talk about what they might be doing on December 25th. Maybe a clam shell?

For me, one of the most enjoyable things about the Junior Bender series, as well as the other books by this author, is the great dialogue. Tim has a masterful way of using dialogue to show the relationship between characters without having to detail the history of that relationship. For instance, in this story Junior is having a conversation with his friend Louie, who is also a very shady character but  a loyal friend. They're in the mall talking about Christmas spirit and presents and Louie says, "You know what your problem is?"

To which Junior responds, "A Russian gangster? The fact that someone tried to kill me last night? Being stuck in this mall? That music?"

"You ain't bought anything for anybody yet. How can you enjoy Christmas if you're not thinking about giving people stuff?"

"People?" I said.

"You know," he said, stopping. "There may be a limit to how long I can stand you, so why don't you give me my money?"

In that scene, and a couple others with Louie, the reader discovers the length and breadth of this relationship and has such a good time doing so.

There were many places where I underlined a sentence or passage that either made me laugh, or made me stop and think. I will leave you with a thinking quote,  "Lists are so much more satisfying than emotions. An emotion is a cloud, but a list is a stairway."

Meet Tim on Facebook and follow him on Twitter. You can also follow his Author Page on Amazon.
Posted by Maryann Miller - novelist, editor and sometimes actress. Her most recent mystery, Doubletake, was named the 2015 Best Mystery by the Texas Association of Authors. She has a number of other books published, including the critically-acclaimed Season Series that debuted with Open Season. Information about her books and her editing rates is available on her website. When not writing, Maryann likes to take her dog for a walk and work outside on her little ranch in East Texas.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

My Rant: Is Editing Ever Elective?

Earlier this month, Diana Hurwitz posted a great article entitled "Do You Need an Editor?" Supporting her contention that all writers do, she wrote, “Errors are speed bumps that affect the reader’s enjoyment of the ride you are taking them on.” She's absolutely right.

Aren't editors expensive? They can be. See the industry standard prices posted at The Editorial Freelancers Association? Sadly, though, big bucks don’t guarantee excellent editing. How do you find a good editor—the right one for your project? Ask fellow writers who they used. Were they satisfied with the result? Get recommendations at bookstores. Request references from any editor you are considering; the good ones shouldn’t object. Read a book or two they’ve edited. Are the characters lifelike, three-dimensional people? Does the story move smoothly forward? Whose POV is it told in? Do you always know who’s talking? Is the action realistic? Does the ending satisfy you, or does it leave you hanging? Does the punctuation (or lack of it) confuse you about the meaning of some sentences or paragraphs? Is the editor you’re considering mentioned in the acknowledgements? Request contact information for the writers they’ve work with and ask those writers about their experience with that editor. Then look at price. Remember that not all good editors are expensive; in fact, some are very reasonable.

Suppose you have no budget for an editor. Find alternatives! Purchase a grammar/punctuation book if you are lacking in those areas—and use it. (See Elle Neal Carter's article "Sharpen Your Editing Skills with Noah Lukeman" posted September 16.) Read the reviews of grammar books on Amazon to find one that has been helpful to others and that fits your needs. As an editor, I rely on The Chicago Manual of Style, but this big book can intimidate beginning users—opt for an easier one unless you already have significant grammar skills. Do you know good writers you could barter with? ("You read and critique my manuscript, and I’ll do the same for you.") Did you have a good relationship with your former English teacher/professor? He or she might be willing to look over the mechanics of your work. Does someone at your local library know of a writers’ group in your area? If not, check out online possibilities for critique groups. Read comments posted by current members or those who have belonged in the past. Does the group get positive feedback? Create a list of beta readers—people who love to read, will recognize a great story, and will give you honest criticism on your book’s strengths and weaknesses. Remember that editing is never elective. Sometimes we have to think outside the box to get it done.

Rant: Too many self-published writers do not take the steps necessary to create professional-level works. Unfortunately, the ripple effect of their sub-standard books impacts those of us who also self-pub and who strive diligently to put out great stories. Why? Because writers who don't take quality seriously have collectively earned a reputation as second-rate rejects from the big houses—unworthy of publication—and that spills over on the rest of us who self-publish. We have an uphill battle to overcome that reputation. However, we can do so by always remembering that effective editing in some form is a must in every book we publish.

What types of editing do you use? If your circumstances don’t allow you to hire an expensive freelancer, how to you turn your story into a well-polished final product that will please your readers?
Linda Lane and her editing team mentor and encourage writers at all phases of the writing process. To learn more about what they do, please visit them at

Friday, September 23, 2016

#FridayReads : A Black Sail by Rich Zahradnik

A Black Sail by Rich Zahradnik is book three of a mystery series featuring newsman Coleridge Taylor, set on the mean streets of Manhattan and surrounding boroughs in the ’70s. It is a new release from Camel Press and is available in print, e-book and audio.

On the eve of the U.S. Bicentennial, Taylor is covering Operation Sail, and  New York Harbor is teeming with tall ships from all over the world. While enjoying the spectacle, Taylor is still a police reporter. He wants to cover real stories, not fluff, and gritty New York City still has plenty of those in July of 1976. One surfaces right in front of him when a housewife is fished out of the harbor wearing bricks of heroin, inferior stuff users have been rejecting for China White, peddled by the Chinatown gangs. Convinced he’s stumbled upon a drug war between the Italian Mafia and a Chinese tong, Taylor uses every spare minute to investigate.

This story resonated with me on several levels. First off, it is a terrific mystery with just the right amount of drama and intrigue to carry the reader along. I also love history, so the historical elements were interesting. I experienced the Bicentennial while busy raising kids, so I wasn't aware of how it was celebrated across the country, which made it more fun to find out about Operation Sail and the ships that came to New York from around the world. The author does a nice job of blending that history with the story, so none of it is intrusive. It just adds the flavor of the period.

Also, as a journalist, I could really relate to Taylor and his desire to write a really great story. The glimpse into the inner workings of the newspaper business took me back to the years I worked for that arm of the publishing world, and it was a nice visit. It was also nice to remember the time when journalists reported the news and not every reporter sensationalized every story.

I saw Taylor as a bit of an idealist - something else we have in common - and I liked the fact that he was compelled to try to help a young woman who was new to the drug scene. Mary had given him some information that helped in his investigation, and she ends up in danger. He manages to get her out of that danger, but he doesn't want her to go back on the street.

As he's considering whether he should try to help her, he thinks about an addict he helped before and wonders if he can help this one. But he knows how hard that will be. "Prying an addict from the spike in her arm was a serious battle, a full-time project."

With the help of his girlfriend Samantha, Taylor manages to at least get Mary to a halfway house where she can take the first step towards getting clean.

Samantha also helps Taylor in the investigation, and I liked her character very much. She is a good counter-point to Taylor's idealism, as well as bringing her skills as a police officer to his efforts to find out who is bringing China White into the country.

BUY LINKS  - Amazon  *  BN  *  Indiebound  *  Kindle  *  Audio/Downpour

ABOUT THE AUTHOR - Rich Zahradnik has been a journalist for 30-plus years, working as a reporter and editor in all major news media, including online, newspaper, broadcast, magazine, and wire services. He lives with his wife, Sheri, and son, Patrick, in Pelham, New York, where he teaches kids how to publish online and print newspapers.

CONNECT WITH THE AUTHOR  Website  *  Facebook  *  Twitter

Reviewed by Maryann Miller

Friday, September 16, 2016

#FridayReads : Sharpen Your Editing Skills with Noah Lukeman

Noah Lukeman started as an editor for a major publishing company before becoming a literary agent. He is often a guest speaker on topics related to writing and publishing. The Plot Thickens and The First Five Pages are my favourites of his writing craft and editing books.

Working through The Plot Thickens  is most valuable after fully completing a first draft, because we learn best from our own mistakes, and those going for the second round will have many lightbulb moments ahead of the revision or rewrite. 

The Plot Thickens starts by re-developing the characters in your work and how the character changes through the book. Lukeman provides hundreds of questions to consider across every facet of a character. Not every question or topic will apply to every character, but his prompts are bound to help you develop extra information about your character that you can use in your work.

As you work through the questions, take each insight back to the plot of your book and consider how you can use the character traits you’ve uncovered to manipulate the plot. These writing chapters end in exercises to help you work through the points covered. If you’re battling for ideas, these questions and exercises will help to generate some and consolidate the ideas you do have into workable plots.

The final two chapters are editorial advice on what you might need to edit out of your work, or capture to make it shine even more brightly. Noah Lukeman offers this advice from his time as an editor and literary agent. The First Five Pages expands on this in a handy checklist format covering everything from Adjectives and Adverbs, to Dialogue, to Tone and Pacing. (The title of this book always makes me scratch my head. What about the rest of the manuscript? Don’t stop editing at page six, is my advice.)

It is worth remembering that Lukeman is not a writer himself, but this fact is only noticeable in a few of his comments. It is his experience on the reading, editing, and selling ends of the publishing chain that is of real value in his books.

Review by Elle Carter Neal

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Do You Need An Editor?

One hundred percent yes!

In the olden days, when traditional publishers had a crew of talented editors aboard their ships, a writer had someone to suggest changes and to perform the final proof-reading.

Nowadays, editors are being tossed overboard. If your book is traditionally published, your manuscript should get at least a cursory once-over if not three. However, being published by a big house is not a guarantee that your book will be solid or error-free anymore.

Self-publishing means you must either: be a good editor, know and bribe a good editor, or hire one. Hiring an editor is tricky. Anyone with a fair grasp of English can hang out their shingle as an editor. If you decide to hire one, check their credentials. Ask for references. Do a criminal background check, just kidding, but only slightly. Search for them on the Preditors & Editors website:

I highly recommend you have several people with some knowledge of craft go over your work. I'm not talking about Cousin Dick or Aunt Sally, unless they are experienced fiction writers or possess a degree in English.

I'm suggesting other writers, preferably those with grammar knowledge and those who have studied the craft of writing. Have them proofread your manuscript for you. Pass out printed or digital copies freely and let them go to town.

Don't worry. They won't steal it.

I guarantee they will catch things you can't. Even if your critique group critiqued your draft, the final product needs to be gone over thoroughly.

If you self-publish, after your file has been uploaded don't hit "publish" yet. Order a proof. Reread it and make changes.

Order a second proof. Reread it and make changes.

Order a third proof and proofread for periods, commas, and typos until you've found every last error you can find. You'll be amazed at what you missed in the first and second proofs. I assure you there will still be one or two errors in the finished product. What you want to avoid is one on every page.

Errors are speed bumps that affect the reader's enjoyment of the ride you are taking them on.

Stringent editing keeps the reader focused on your story instead of your punctuation and word usage.

For more on revision and tips on proofreading pick up a copy of Story Building Blocks III: The Revision Layers available in print and E-book.

Read more:

What Does An Editor Cost?

Diana Hurwitz is the author of Story Building Blocks: The Four Layers of Conflict, Story Building Blocks II: Crafting Believable Conflict, Story Building Blocks III: The Revision Layers, and the YA adventure series Mythikas Island. Her weekly blog, Game On: Crafting Believable Conflict explores how characters behave and misbehave. Visit for more information and free writing tools. You can follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Meet Toby

And the winner of the book drawing with swag bag is JuniperEve, whose son Toby will love Toby! Please look for an email from hotbuttonpress in your mailbox.

Hazel Mitchell and I first met on Facebook a few years ago. I was immediately taken by her award-winning children's book illustrations. Even more fun were the engaging stories of her real-life rescue poodle, Toby.

I wasn't much of a dog person at the time, but like all of Toby's many fans, my heart stopped when Hazel shared the news that Toby was lost, from a kennel caring for him while his people went on a vacation. For eight long and agonizing days, we all threw our collective virtual attention and love behind his rescue. You can read more about Toby's adventure here.

Miraculously, Toby was found. But that was just the beginning of his story. This month, Candlewick Press releases the picture book inspired by him, Hazel's first published story-writing effort to go along with the charming illustrations of her poodle.

In the story, a boy and his (presumably single) dad have moved to a new neighborhood just as school is starting. He finds a pet adoption flyer and asks his dad about getting a dog. Dad and boy go to the local shelter, and Toby finds his forever family and home. But that doesn't mean he's happy, or at all what dad and boy expect! Toby just doesn't want to play, or be a bud, or do any of the things good dogs do, much to the frustration of his people.

Click on the photo to view full-size
Through the patience, perseverance, and devotion of one little boy, Toby eventually becomes the pet we all want - a real pal. With sparse but powerful text, and illustrations that balance and embellish the story, Hazel Mitchell gives us a picture book close to perfect for youngsters 4-6 years old.

Like any really good book clearly written for children (and not with a hidden message for adults cloaked in #kidlit), the book still has enough innuendo and intrigue to engage the imagination of the older reader.  Where is the mother in the story? Where does the dad work? What kind of sports do they like? What is the boy's name and how old is he? What books does he like to read? The visual clues will make readers want to learn more about everyone in the story.

TOBY. Copyright © 2016 by Hazel Mitchell. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

Children can enjoy more Toby moments at Hazel Mitchell's fun-filled website. There are fun activity pages here.  Look at the great Toby merchandise at his Zazzle store! And coming soon: A Toby cam and teacher's guide. Plus Toby has his own Facebook page and Twitter. And he barks a lot on social media, so go share a few woofs with him!

But first, get a copy of the book. It releases on September 13 and you can buy it at Amazon, Indiebound, and Barnes & Noble.

Do we have a contest - of course we do! All you have to do is sign up on Toby's mailing list to win a copy of the book. Click here to email and write BRP Contest in the subject line. You might even get a few extra Toby treats if you win!

Hazel Mitchell is an award-winning illustrator and now children's book author. You can connect with her on her website, Facebook, and Twitter.

Dani Greer is founding member of the Blood-Red Pencil blog, a long-time writer and editor, a children's book aficionado, and now the proud owner of her mother's beloved dog. We aren't sure how Printz feels about this arrangement. You can connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.