Thursday, April 25, 2019

Learning How To Write

As a student of Spanish, my goal was to think in Spanish. Skip the word-by-word translation so I'd have the necessary speed to speak and listen. I know words in Spanish that I'd be hard pressed to translate. Usually profanity, I confess. Chingow!

Back when I taught English in China, my students studied grammar for years, and knew it better than you or I. They read. They wrote. But speaking involves moving faster than that. In conversation, we don't have time to write it first and make sure it's all grammatically flawless, then read it aloud, perhaps after a bit of rehearsal.

So, I tried to give them a chance to practice putting words together on the fly, rules be damned. The rules they'd internalized would kick in and keep them comprehensible, which would build their confidence in their ability to keep creating conversation that way.

This is not unlike what we go through as authors. First we study rulebooks, perhaps take some classes, and conclude just about everything we're doing is wrong. So many rules to memorize. We might dread sitting down to write with all those constraints.

But, really, it's not about memorizing rules at all. It's about internalizing the rules, following them (or not, if you prefer) without being consciously aware of what they are. They're there, but in the background.

The story's what matters. You're supposed to be having fun, not "working." At least not during the creation phase.

We don't always take the time to say, "I've written ten active sentences in a row so maybe I'll whip in a passive one now" or "I need a beat for every X lines of dialogue." I published four novels and edited dozens more before I learned what a beat was. (It's a pause so the reader can catch his/her breath.)

And, of course, since it is writing and not speaking, we can always go back and revise later. Then rely on editors to catch what we missed, or at least make us wonder why we wrote it this way instead of that way.

Some authors aren't even consciously aware of "the rules." They've never taken a class, never read a book about writing. They're simply avid readers who one day decided to write. But they've internalized the rules. It comes from reading.

I've said it before and I'll say it again. If you want to write, you must read. If you don't like reading, maybe writing isn't for you. It's not about writing because you want to say, "I am a writer." It's about writing because you enjoy writing.

And, it's really nice when you've been writing for a long time to go back and read a book about how to write. You might find one or two things to tweak in your technique, as opposed to a daunting laundry list of flaws. It's much easier to internalize one or two new rules than 50 or 100.

Michael LaRocca has been paid to edit since 1991 and still loves it, which has made people question his sanity (but they were doing that before he started editing). Michael got serious about writing in 1978. Although he’s retired more times than Brett Favre, Michael is writing his 19th book. Learn more about him at, GoodReads, or Amazon.

Image: "Rules" by Nick Youngson CC BY-SA 3.0 Alpha Stock Images

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Writers Gotta Read, Right? (No foolin'!)

The many faces of April, from April Fool's Day to Easter to "April showers bring May flowers."
Claude Shafer  (The Tacoma Times), Public Domain 
As we close in on the end of April, I figure we can't turn our backs on the month without a quick look at what books might be out there with an April Fool's theme.

Let's start with mysteries. (After all, mysteries are basically designed to mess with readers' minds, and then jump out, shouting "Fooled you!" at the end.)
Moving away from murder and mayhem...
  • The blog Borrow.Read.Repeat. offers "Laugh-out-loud reads" for April Fool's Day.
  • Listopia has Hoover Library's Insatiable Reads' April Fools (It's Always Good to Laugh) list, including Howl: A collection of the Best Contemporary Dog Wit and Henri, le Chat Noir: The Existential Musings of an Angst-Filled Cat, as well as I Was Told There'd Be Cake and Cake Wrecks: When Professional Cakes Go Hilariously Wrong.
Of course, April is far more than just the first day of the month. There's Tax Day (U.S.), Passover, Easter, and more. So I'll throw in a few more lists for good measure.
 Finally, if you want to broaden your reading to encompass the entire month, there's Listopia's Books to Read Some April.

If you have any April faves, be sure and let us know!

Ann Parker authors the award-winning Silver Rush historical mystery series published by Poisoned Pen Press. During the day, she wrangles words for a living as a science editor/writer and marketing communications specialist (which is basically a fancy term for "editor/writer"). Her midnight hours are devoted to scribbling fiction. Visit for more information.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

My Foolish Self

April is the month of fooling people. It makes me think back to a time long ago when I was young, foolish, daring, and maybe a bit irresponsible. I’ll keep it chronological, so I’ll start in the fifth grade.

I always wanted to be foreign and speak another language. Even when I was in grade school, I was fascinated with anyone from another country. In the fifth grade, my home room teacher was Greek, so when two sisters newly arrived from Greece were placed in her class without regard for their ages just because Miss Thanaglou spoke Greek, I was right there making friends. I was invited to their house and served a bowl of Greek tomato soup with lots of lemon. An older sister came in and whisked the bowl away thinking I wouldn't like it, but I did. I learned how to write in Greek, really translating from English to Greek letters. I still remember how to count in Greek, say stand up and sit down; hello, how are you, fine thank you, and you?
Recipe: Domata Soupa - Épices de Cru

How does this translate to the month of April Fools? Well, in high school, my girlfriend and I—one I’m still friends with all these years later—would get dressed in our best clothes and take the bus into Boston to go shopping. We spent the whole trip speaking some foreign language known only to us. Of course, we had no idea what we were saying, and neither did anyone else on the bus, but we were chic and exotic, or so we thought.

Another time at a college mixer, I put on a foreign accent with a college boy who bought my ruse hook, line, and sinker. I won’t tell you the fake story I told him because it’s embarrassing, but while I was fooling this very cute guy, another boy I knew sat to my left and started a conversation. I spoke to him in very soft, unaccented English, while I was speaking accented English equally softly to my new admirer on my right. The mark—yes, he was a mark—asked me and my friends out, and we went. After a while, I started to feel guilty that I was such a jerk and started speaking unaccented English. We all watched as the three guys exchanged glances. I think I’ve blocked out what happened after that, but I do remember it was a short evening. Recounting this reminds me that it could have been a scene in a mindless teen movie pulled off by a character I would dislike intensely.

After college, I spent fourteen months in Italy with one of the gals from that night. Though I’d learned Spanish in high school―not enough to carry on a conversation―I finally learned enough Italian to speak fairly fluently. The only problem was I had no one to speak with when I returned home. I free-lanced for Women’s Wear Daily in Boston in those days, and when we went to the big bridal design houses in Boston, Priscilla of Boston, and Bianchi—both now defunct, I spoke to the Italian seamstresses, but it wasn’t the same. Italian restaurants weren’t much help either.
On the way to Italy on the Leonardo da Vinci

I dated many foreign guys during those years: Greek, Italian, Israeli, Mexican, and Austrian. I finally stopped in India and married him.

Alas, it’s years later. I never learned Hindi, gave up on Spanish, and my Italian has grown rusty, though I think a few months in Rome would reignite the language for me. Instead, I’ve parked my foolish self in front of a computer, making up stories that even I couldn’t have imagined back then. I’ve grown up since then―just barely―but I doubt I could pretend to be a high-priced call girl or a psychic or a blind psychologist to fool anyone these days, so I guess writing about them will have to do.

Polly Iyer is the author of nine novels: standalones Hooked, InSight, Murder Déjà Vu, Threads, and Indiscretion, and four books in the Diana Racine Psychic Suspense series, Mind Games, Goddess of the Moon, Backlash and The Scent of Murder. A Massachusetts native, she makes her home in the beautiful Piedmont region of South Carolina. You can visit her website for more on Polly and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Foolish characters make for great stories

Not all stories have a traditional good guy and bad guy, nor should they. Readers love compelling characters, and they love conflict that propels a story forward. However, no requirement dictates those characters must wear either black or white hats. Many shades of gray reflect personality, decision processes, lifestyles, character traits, and the list goes on.

One option that steps away from the black hat/white hat scenario is a foolish character that unwittingly (or not) upends the lives of a spouse, friends, family, workmates, etc. How can such unwise characters keep readers turning pages? Let's consider a story possibility where foolish choices rule the roost and drive the story to a costly conclusion.

Tears coursed down Marisa's cheeks and fell onto the clothes she was throwing into the large suitcase. She brushed them away, but they persisted. The last thing she wanted to do was leave Tom, but reality was a stern teacher, an unforgiving taskmaster, a destroyer of dreams.  

She'd adored him since second grade, and they'd dated all through high school. He'd seemed so brave when he broke his leg jumping out of the large maple tree, and when he nearly drowned after losing his balance trying to walk the safety rail on the foot bridge over Cooper's Creek, and, as a high  school senior, when he had ended up in the emergency room following an unsuccessful attempt to shinny up the goal post after their team scored the winning touchdown. He had made her laugh with his quirky sense of humor and nearly scared her to death when he never walked away from a dare. It was an exciting life.

All the popular girls wanted to be Tom's one-and-only, but he'd chosen her. They married a year after graduation, and in her heart she knew she was the happiest bride in the world. Deciding to put off having the children she wanted until they'd saved enough for a down payment on a home, they both found decent-paying jobs, and she spent twelve years depositing the funds in a savings account that would secure their future. Still the foolish, daring boy she had known all her life, he got himself into situations a wise person would have avoided, and he invaded their savings account more than once for some frivolous purchase or to pay a gambling debt. Then the house next door to the home she grew up in—the one where her best friend had lived—went on the market. It was time.

A trip to the bank on her lunch hour to withdraw enough to cover the earnest money sent her into a tailspin. The account balance had dropped to less than five hundred dollars. Tom had withdrawn $35,000 just the month before; he'd neither discussed it with her nor even mentioned it to her. As soon as he walked in the door from work, she'd asked for an explanation. He said it was for an investment that would make them rich, and then maybe they could buy a house; he assured her it was a foolproof venture, and they'd triple their money within five years. It was the last straw.

She totally lost it. An argument followed. He ran out of the house to escape her caustic words and tried to jump the picket fence surrounding the front yard. Unable to clear the top, he attempted to land in a standing position. Instead, he hit bottom first, straddling a small pile of boards he hadn't put away after doing a fence repair. He recovered quickly from the emergency surgery to address the physical damage, but the injury was permanent; they would never be able to have children. It was over.

Tom is obviously the fool here, but Marisa is not a paragon of wisdom. She had witnessed his stupid behavior all the years they were growing up, but still she married him. She also gave him continued access to the savings account despite the fact he hadn't demonstrated any financial responsibility. Wiser decisions throughout both their lives would likely have led to a very different outcome.

Foolish characters give stories flavor, color, and unpredictability. They don't need to carry guns or kidnap victims or stalk innocent people. In fact, nonviolent, non-adversarial antagonists can be the most destructive of all.

Do you include foolish characters in your stories? If so, how do you use them?

Editor Linda Lane has returned to her first love—writing—while maintaining her editing work. Her novels fall into the literary category because they are character driven rather than plot driven, but their quick pace reminds the reader of genre fiction. They also contain elements of romance, mystery, and romance. You can contact her at websites: and

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Crafting The Con Man

In the month of April Fools' Day, it seems like a good time to look at one of the characters we love to hate: The Con Man. He can appear in any genre. He can be the hero or the villain.

The Con Man plot is most often used in Mystery or Thriller, but can be used in other genres. Cons can be conducted in person or via mail or the internet these days. There are successful swindlers and not so successful ones. Whether Dick is good at the game or laughable depends on your plot. Cons have been gaining people’s confidence since the population grew large enough to support snake oil salesmen. Let’s take an in-depth look at what makes a con tick.

Dick the scammer is selfish and greedy. He isn’t lazy. Conning people takes a lot of energy and he is constantly in danger of getting caught. Traveling light and avoiding relationships is a good idea.

Dick can be a charming predator. The most deadly scammer is a true sociopath. If you want to humanize him, give Dick a smidgen of conscience. Supply him that one person he can’t bring himself to harm, even to save himself.

Dick appears confident and successful, even if he is inwardly a seething mass of self-hatred. He is a consummate actor and good at reading people. He uses the method that works best in the situation: sympathy, intimidation, appealing to core needs, or greed. He is quick with an alibi and full of excuses. He can patter his way out of a heated argument.

Dick comes across as genuine. He cares for you, man. He asks lots of personal questions to appear friendly, but he’s really mining data to use against you. He wants to know what you want, what you fear, what leverage he can use. He tests the mark to see how compliant they are and how open to suggestion. As soon as he identifies a weakness, he zeroes in. If the mark refuses to answer questions or comply with requests, Dick makes a quick getaway. A mark who asks too many questions, or suggests talking things over with his attorney, is dangerous.

Dick looks for marks who answer rather than ask questions. Instead of reading paperwork, they ask him to explain it. They don’t question why the deal is being offered; they focus on what the deal will do for them. They might ask for verification, but never check it.

Dick shows no fear or hesitation. He convinces marks they can do something together they couldn’t do alone. He whips them into an emotional frenzy befitting an NFL coach. Even intelligent marks, if they rely on emotion to make decisions, can be caught in Dick’s net. Interestingly, men are easier targets. Dick manipulates their egos, insecurities, and inferiority complexes. However, Dick the con man could just as easily be Jane the con woman. Seduction makes the mark easier to con.

If the opportunity sounds too good to be true, it usually is. Dicks offers something for next to nothing. The individual contribution is small, but multiplied by a thousand or a million marks, Dick can head off to Fiji in no time. He may offer them something that proves worthless (a product, a service, a bond) long after Dick has boarded his plane.

The marks can be people with limited means, but that isn’t as profitable as those with lots of money in the bank. When dealing with the big boys, Dick has to set up an elaborate facade or fake business which might crumble on close scrutiny. He has to walk, talk, and dress the part. Dick might bring in legitimate people to support his scam (knowingly or unknowingly). The more powerful, high profile, or famous the individual, the better.

Dick’s primary weapon is emotion, so when he meets a steely logical type, it is in his best interest to move on. Characters that run on pure logic ask too many questions and probe too deeply. They demand proof first. If Dick is your antagonist, one of the low-emotional, logical types should be your protagonist.

If Jane is your logical protagonist, she may be the lone voice of reason, the only one asking questions. She suffers as those around her fall prey to Dick’s machinations. Jane won’t stop asking questions or digging deeper to expose Dick for the criminal he is and to bring him to justice.

On a literary level, Jane may be the only one shrewd enough to expose the corrupt society member. She may be the only family member immune to his charm or strong-willed enough to hold him accountable for his actions. There is little she can do for Dick’s string of victims. They may even resent her for revealing the scam. They will feel the fool or mourn the loss of the gain they hoped to win.

Not all cons are evil, though the list of evil fictional cons is long. Daniel Dafoe’s Moll Flanders, the sometime prostitute/sometime wife and William Thackary’s Becky Sharp in Vanity Fair conned to survive in a male dominant world. Con men can be lovable and work on the side of good, like the Patrick Jane character in the television show The Mentalist. Mentalists and psychics are examples of highly skilled cons.

The real life Frank Abagnale Jr. switched to helping the FBI after thwarting them.

In children's fiction, Lemony Snicket’s Count Olaf in the Series of Unfortunate Events is an inept con man.

Whether your con is protagonist, antagonist, or complication, the key is to make them memorable rather than stereotypical.

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.

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Have You Hugged a Librarian Today?

Next to running in the park with my two best friends, spending time at the small library on the corner of my street was my favorite thing to do in the summer when I was growing up. My girlfriends and I would go there almost every other day to get a pile of books to read at some comfortable place, often a park about a mile away. We were into bike riding, too.

Fast-forward a lot of years to when I started my writing career as a journalist. Then I wasn’t just going to the library to get books to read for myself or for my kids. This was a time when I relied heavily on libraries, and the wonderful reference librarians, to help me when I needed facts and figures for articles and my nonfiction books. (Kudos to the librarians at the Plano Public Library. They saved my bacon more than once.)

During that time I wrote nine books for Rosen Publishing that included Coping With Weapons and Violence in School and on your Streets, and the librarians proved invaluable in steering me toward books and articles that were helpful with research. Even back then I was a real non-techie, so the librarians even had to help me with the microfiche so I could read back issues of newspapers and magazines. They always did that with a smile.

I’m not going to tell you how many years ago that was, but you can probably make a good guess.

Jump ahead quite a few more years and all of a sudden we have at our disposal, and at the other end of our computers, this wonderful thing called the Internet. There we can find answers to all kinds of questions. Yesterday, I found out what size square I need to cut to make 12 inch triangles for a quilt. Early in the plotting of the next book in the Seasons Mystery Series, I found out how the street-drug cheese is made. (I’m so glad someone from the DEA didn’t show up on my doorstep after that Google search.)

As the wide world web expanded and electronic devices for reading books came along, I started to wonder if the library as we knew it would fade away.

Luckily it hasn’t, and librarians are still very much in demand.

According to Mike Miller, the manager of the Austin History Center (Texas), "Reference work in public libraries is identical and dramatically different at the same time. It's different because the tools are different. Gone are the Encyclopedia Britannica volumes and other print reference works, replaced with online databases and other networked resources - some free to the public, most not.

"Where it is the same is in the idea of learning how to use the tools, evaluate the veracity of the content, and teach others how to use the tools, either in the library or through online instructions and webinars.”

When asked why people should come to the library for research instead of just doing it all online, Mike responded, “For the same reasons they would before the Internet. Librarians are trained to evaluate and assess tools and to sort through material to find the relevant information. In the digital age, with so much more bad information out there, information literacy skills that are the core of librarianship are more important today.”

Something else that keeps libraries viable in communities are the variety of educational and recreational programs that they offer for adults and young people. The Decatur Public Library in Decatur, Texas has themed overnight locks-ins for the young people, special workshops for adults, and a podcast that is both informative and entertaining. Like so many libraries across the county, they also offer programs and resources for helping people with filing income taxes, understanding Medicare and Medicaid, and navigating this ever-changing world.

So, we thank our librarians, as well as all library staff, on this the second day of National Library Week, for gathering and preserving our history and offering so many wonderful community services. And books. We can't forget books.
Maryann Miller - novelist, editor and sometimes actress. She won her first writing award at age twelve with a short story in the Detroit News Scholastic Writing Awards Contest and continues to garner recognition for her short stories, books, and screenplays. You can find out more about Maryann, her books, and her editing services on her Website and her Amazon Author Pageread her Blogand follow her on Facebook and TwitterHer online workshop on self-editing, part of a series of online writing workshops from Short And Helpful, can be found HERE

Thursday, April 4, 2019

How to Enjoy Using Twitter (No Foolin')

Yes, it’s possible to enjoy using Twitter instead of getting stressed, frustrated, and downright angry.


I have four main suggestions for those who truly want to use Twitter to make connections around the world without tearing their hair out along the way.This post assumes a reader already has knowledge of how Twitter works and how frustrating it can be. However, if you’ve never tried out the site because of all the bad stuff you’ve heard, I can assure you there are ways to keep the monster under control and have fun.

Connect with people who share your interests.

If you're on Twitter because you want to see and engage in vicious political discussions, it will be easy to find followers who are willing to agree, fight, stalk, and threaten.

But if you want to avoid that kind of community and instead search for those who are more interested in knitting, cats, books, mountain climbing, etc., begin by posting tweets, liking, and retweeting the things you see that fit your interests. You can also use the search box to enter possible hashtag topics (#amwriting, #catlovers, #bookreviews, #adventure, #mountainclimbing, etc.). When you find folks who tweet what you like, follow them and see if they follow back.

The goal is to build a social network, not accumulate followers willy-nilly.

Connect with folks who are just getting starting as well as those who have a large network.

When checking a new follower’s profile,  look at how many people they follow, how many followers they have, and how much they tweet as well as the content of their tweets.

Famous people, for instance, have a lot of followers but they follow very few. And when they tweet, they usually tweet to the Universe, rarely connecting with individuals. It's fun to follow a few folks like that as long as you don't expect them to be part of your social network.

A word of caution: There are lots of creepy people out there with fake profiles, suspicious Twitter IDs, and strange messages. When someone new follows you, but their profile looks phony or out of your comfort zone, don’t follow back. In some cases, when it’s clear the person is trolling for the purpose of stalking or harassing you, block ‘em!

Always check a person’s profile and their most recent tweets before you follow back.

Avoid anyone who tweets about subjects or with words that cause you to feel uncomfortable, stressed or angry.

You don't keep toxic people in  your real life, do you? Then why would you consider it good manners to keep toxic people around on social media?

Remember that Twitter is not a fact-based source of information. Twitter is social media. Don't let anyone tell you it's important to listen to all points of view on a site that's full of fake profiles, manipulators, trolls, data gatherers, and other sneaky sorts. Pick your tweeps carefully and don't hesitate to dump the ones that pulled the wool over your eyes.

Control what you see in your timeline instead of what Twitter thinks you should see.

You can let Twitter decide what you’d like to see, but you’ll miss a lot of opportunities to connect with folks Twitter buries (accidentally or on purpose).

Or you can remove the Twitter-generated controls and let the timeline roll along so you get a wide sample of tweets from people you follow. The problem here is the probability you’ll miss a lot of tweets from favored friends.

There’s a solution. Use the List option to create a collection that you can call Friends or Tweeps or Agents or Breaking News (or Cat Lovers or anything else you want). Scroll through the unfiltered timeline when you have time and try to engage with someone new. Also, review the lists you created to make sure you don’t miss updates from your favorite tweeps.

Are you a Twitter fan? I certainly am. You can find me there at

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), a finalist for the 2018 Colorado Book Awards. This novel is also now available in a large print edition.

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 the Colorado Sun’s SunLit feature that you can find at the Colorado Sun website.

Images via Pixy

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

How NOT to Sell a Book

As an editor, I occasionally run across writers who are not nice people. They're angry, difficult to work with, believe their words are chiseled in stone on the tablet Moses carried down from Mount Sinai, and worst of all, they're condescending and think they know better than everyone about everything. Despite all these charming qualities, a few of them do manage to get published eventually, but their writing careers are often short-lived.

When I had just started editing for a major genre publishing house, an acquisitions editor sent me a manuscript. Normally a lovely person, on this occasion she was edgy and irritable. She wanted a fast read and I gave her one. The author had a long publishing history and won a couple of awards, but she regarded him warily. I soon discovered why. He had an ugly temper and didn’t have much use for women.

Apparently, this guy also didn't know how to write, so how had he been published so often? The book I read was not only shot through with errors such as misplaced modifiers, dangling participles, and verb-subject conflicts, but was also liberally dosed with misspellings, punctuation errors and complete lapses of connective tissue.

The manuscript was dominated by the most awful bigotry and misogyny I've ever read in print. The protagonist regarded women and Indians as sub-humans. Every female character was a lying, conniving bundle of loose morals, and every single one of them was violently sexually assaulted, often multiple times, before they were carved into pieces. Every Indian was a thieving murderous heathen, and most of them were carved up as well. There wasn't a single person anywhere in the book that any reader with a normal psychological profile could have liked. Every character was a violent, rotten-to-the-core S.O.B, the worst of mankind elevated to God-like status in this lame excuse for a book.

I wrote a scathing letter explaining why the book should be turned down and the editor practically burst into tears of gratitude. Apparently, she had been trying to get rid of this particular author for a while, but felt as if she had no justifiable reason to do so because she inherited him and he was a “name.” I gave her lots of reasons to say goodbye.

I expect authors to be on their best behavior while they're trying to convince me to recommend their book for acquisition. That means courtesy, flexibility, a willingness to listen and be open to the idea that I have their best interests at heart. My experience has taught me to see deeper into the heart of their books than they can. They need not fear I’ll take over their books; I’m not that kind of editor. Instead, I provide detailed roadmaps for repairs and improvements that will make the finished book not only better but something that will captivate readers and leave them wanting more.

Most authors get that I am on their side and not trying to change their voice or their viewpoint but only guide them to enhance their stories in ways that will make them more satisfying to readers. But not all of them do.

Case in point. I edited a book a long while ago but never heard anything more. I’d recommended against acquisition because the book was not well-written. The protagonist was not likable, and the story was fractured, with the protagonist disappearing from the story for long stretches while the author chased rabbits down another road.

Imagine my surprise when it landed on my lap for a developmental edit, but the story gets worse. My letter recommending against acquisition had been shared with the author and, inspired, he had employed his writing group to “critique” and rewrite the book, producing a perfect four-humped camel. Editing it into publishable shape was literally like being in hell, trying to weave together disparate threads of story even though the threads were all on fire and burning away even as I worked to knit them back together.

The story of how the book got bought is a tale in itself, but to the best of my understanding it involved a lot of chicanery, an “auction” for a hot literary property that never actually took place, an agent who conducted this fictional auction fired by the author and then rehired, and a general hoodwinking of the publishing company across the board. Game, set, match. Book sold.

But believe me dear readers when I say this was the last book this author will ever sell to a publisher. Publishing is a small, insular world, and the story of this whole sorry episode was circulated. In the future, if this author and his writing committee ever manage to produce another book, he will have to self-publish it.

My advice? If you want to have a long, satisfying writing career, be a decent human being. Employ good manners and simple common courtesy, and when your editor makes a suggestion, listen thoughtfully. You don’t have to agree with the suggestion, but you do have to be polite when you’re arguing against it.

Patricia Burkhart Smith, February 15, 1949 - August 23, 2021

The late Patricia B. Smith was a journalist and the author of 11 published books, including Idiot’s Guide: Flipping Houses, Alzheimer's For Dummies and Sleep Disorders for Dummies.

Pat was also an experienced professional developmental editor who served as an Editorial Evaluation and Developmental Coordinator for Five Star Publishing. She also worked with private clients and helped many authors land their first publishing contracts. Several of her clients have achieved notable success, including two winners of the Missouri Writers’ Guild Show-me Best Book of the Year Award.

Pat Smith passed away in 2021.