Writer Wednesdays: The First Draft

Know why it’s called a first draft? Because there should be a second, a third, however many you need to make your book perfect.

So many authors seem to think once they’ve written the first draft, they’re done. I understand why — the exhilaration of finishing, finally, is a great feeling. The exhaustion of starting up again, again, is not.

And it’s your baby. Like all good parents, you think your baby is perfect just the way it is. Suggesting otherwise makes me a mean ole editor who doesn’t love your  baby.

You have to step back and dump the emotion. This is an endeavor, a work in progress. Nothing you do is perfect the first time you do it. Practice makes perfect, right? And rewrites make a book perfect.

You should never finish a book and send it straight to the editor (or worse, the agent). It floors me when I see simple errors in a book, little grammatical things everyone knows aren’t correct. It tells me the author hasn’t read their own work, hasn’t polished and questioned and had friends give them an honest opinion and rewritten and thought about it and figured out problems and rewritten again. One or two little errors are one thing — we see what we expect to see. But when a book is full of them, I know this is a first draft. The author didn’t care enough to read their own work.

Since I’m freelance, I fix it. But guys, if you’re submitting to agents, and you’re leaving those little clues to your lack of effort, they will decline no matter how good the story is, because it tells them something about your work ethic. Publishing is tough, it’s emotionally painful, and it requires great stamina. If you can’t even reread your own work, why should an agent (or an editor)?

No one is a good enough writer to write a perfect first draft. NO ONE. If you are skimping on subsequent drafts, you’re cheating yourself, and you’re selling your work short. You’re guaranteeing your book isn’t going to be as good as it could be. You’re being a neglectful parent.

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Book Review: The Raven Boys and The Dream Thieves

The Raven Boys
By Maggie Stiefvater

Amazon book description:

Every year, Blue Sargent stands next to her clairvoyant mother as the soon-to-be dead walk past. Blue never sees them–until this year, when a boy emerges from the dark and speaks to her.

His name is Gansey, a rich student at Aglionby, the local private school. Blue has a policy of staying away from Aglionby boys. Known as Raven Boys, they can only mean trouble.

But Blue is drawn to Gansey, in a way she can’t entirely explain. He is on a quest that has encompassed three other Raven Boys: Adam, the scholarship student who resents the privilege around him; Ronan, the fierce soul whose emotions range from anger to despair; and Noah, the taciturn watcher who notices many things but says very little.

For as long as she can remember, Blue has been warned that she will cause her true love to die. She doesn’t believe in true love, and never thought this would be a problem. But as her life becomes caught up in the strange and sinister world of the Raven Boys, she’s not so sure anymore.

The Dream Thieves

By Maggie Stiefvater

Amazon book description:

If you could steal things from dreams, what would you take?

Ronan Lynch has secrets. Some he keeps from others. Some he keeps from himself.

One secret: Ronan can bring things out of his dreams.

And sometimes he’s not the only one who wants those things.

Ronan is one of the raven boys — a group of friends, practically brothers, searching for a dead king named Glendower, who they think is hidden somewhere in the hills by their elite private school, Aglionby Academy. The path to Glendower has long lived as an undercurrent beneath town. But now, like Ronan’s secrets, it is beginning to rise to the surface — changing everything in its wake.

Have you ever read the first book in a series and adored it, and then you were afraid to read the second one because it couldn’t possibly be as good?

I loved The Raven Boys. But The Dream Thieves kicked The Raven Boys‘ butt. Up and down the street, all over town. It was so good, I felt like crying when I turned the last page.

The only good thing is, I’m going to bet money book three will be even better. Because this is Maggie Stiefvater, and she is amazing.

I loved her first series, Shiver, Linger, and Forever, a werewolf series with a really fresh twist and some beautiful writing. I haven’t read The Scorpio Races — just didn’t seem that interesting. But The Raven Boys looked interesting, so I picked it up, and I was thrilled to see how she has grown as a writer since her first series. She was great before; how does this happen? Her first series was full of beautiful, lyrical writing, which worked because her narrators were all writers and musicians. I always wondered what she would do if her characters were average Joes. The Raven Boys series has plenty of average Joes, and her writing style matches the characters, still with the same fresh descriptions and odd connections, but told in a gritty and blunt voice. I love how she changes the writing style to match the story. Book One was more Blue’s story, but Book Two is Ronin’s, who I actually disliked in Book One, and it goes places I never expected. I love a surprise, and I love when a book veers into areas I never imagined.

I liked that this series has four main characters, all fully imagined and unique, real people as different from each other as they are from any other character I’ve ever read — and only one is a girl. They each tell part of the story in their own voice and their own perspective, so it truly is a book boys and girls can read. The books have a touch of romance, but it’s just part of life here, not the point of everything. It might be young adult, but it’s one of the best written books, adult or otherwise, you will ever read.

So, my recommendation is, run to the bookstore and get this series. You’ll love it.

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Writer Wednesdays: Dialog tags vs. dialog beats

Don’t use dialog tags and beats together!

I casually mentioned this in a previous post, and I think a lot of readers were confused. Certainly some of my writers have been!

Here’s the dialog tag: “I hate you,” Joe said.

The “Joe said” is the tag. All it does is tell you who said it. (Note the comma in “I hate you” — you have to have the comma or you have a sentence fragment — Joe said — even if you have a subject and verb. Put a pause in where the comma is. Sounds weird, huh? That’s because you broke your sentence.)

Here’s the dialog beat: “I hate you.” Joe flew at George and began choking him, his face mottled with fury.

The action — Joe flew at George — is the beat. (Note the period in “I hate you.” No comma! A comma would give you a run-on sentence with “I hate you” and “Joe flew at George” — both complete sentences that stand alone. You would only have a comma if you used a tag that DESCRIBED HOW THE LANGUAGE WAS SPOKEN, like whined or growled or shouted. You can’t fly language, so “flew” doesn’t describe the language. You can’t snort it or guffaw it either.)

Some writers — most writers — will combine the two: “I hate you,” Joe said. Joe flew at George and began choking him, his face mottled with fury.

Now, why would you need a dialog tag when you already have a wonderful, informative dialog beat? You know Joe said it because of the beat.

I would take out the tag, and my writers would be confused. They like the tag. So they would accept some changes and reject others, ending up with something like this: “I hate you.” He said. Joe flew at George and began choking him, his face mottled with fury.

Or this: “I hate you,” Joe flew at George…

Sigh. If you don’t understand your editor’s marks, rather than picking and choosing, ASK. He probably has a reason for what he’s doing, but if he genuinely screwed it up, best to point it out (think how superior you’ll feel!). And maybe you just didn’t understand, and now you have a cluster of cringe-worthiness.

Here’s the deal — publishers hate having both. They will have their editors cut the tag and keep the beat. I used to think it was just a rule for saving space — less paper, less ink, mo’ money.

But it’s more than wasted ink and paper. It’s a waste of your readers’ time. Why take up space with a “he said” when you can add action, or emotion, or humor, or something actually useful and informative? Which is more interesting and engaging, “he said” or “he flew at George and choked him”?

No offense, but it’s kind of lazy writing. You get so caught up in the dialog, you forget that your readers are not in your head. They aren’t seeing the action you’re imagining. They aren’t seeing the emotion on the characters’ faces. They aren’t seeing the scene you’re building. You aren’t really a writer anymore; you’re more of a reporter, just repeating what is said without any embellishment.

Which isn’t to say there is never a place for  straight dialog. I have a scene in my book where two teen shapeshifters are trying to impress a girl with the exotic animals they have shifted into. The one-word dialog flies back and forth, faster and faster as they try to one-up each other in a frantic manly display. Beats would slow it down and ruin the effect. So leave out the beats if they interfere with the effect or ambiance you’re trying to create.

But here’s my recommendation: Whenever you have a “he said” in your copy, ask yourself, what could I replace that with that would help the reader see the scene/know the character/get involved in the action? Then delete the tag and insert the beat.

(BTW, if you don’t want to clutter up your dialog with beat after beat, and you only have two characters speaking to each other, leave the dialog bare. Your readers will figure out who’s talking. Throw in a beat occasionally to make it easier, but not on every piece of dialog.)

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Shrouded in Night by Curtis Hoffmeister

Shrouded in Night by Curtis Hoffmeister

What if the police were confronted with a grisly string of supernatural murders that make Jack the Ripper look like an amateur? The St. Louis County Police Department has never seen anything like it, and the lead detective on the case knows there’s only one person they can call for help. Ex-cop Robert Benoit currently works as a private investigator, handling cases of infidelity instead of solving murders. Fired from the Department on a trumped-up charge of police brutality, he’d be the first to admit he holds a grudge. After all, it wasn’t his fault he was mauled by a werewolf and now grows furry when the moon is full.
Benoit infiltrates a local werewolf pack as he searches for clues and suspects. He meets and falls in love with the alpha female of the pack, Felicia de la Rosa. Felicia is at odds with the alpha male, Joseph Sutherland. She knows Joseph is somehow involved in the killing spree. Yet Felicia has a dark secret of her own: like her parents before her, she serves Desirée Le Gallienne, a centuries-old master vampire.
Working with Detective Kimberly Hawkins, Benoit determines this is actually a dual case, perpetrated by two different serial killers. One is a werewolf whose gang shakes down local business owners for “protection” money. The other murderer is an ancient, evil master vampire. While stopping the gang is a relatively straightforward, if bloody task, taking down the rogue vampire proves to be another matter altogether. Can Benoit stop him in time? And will he retain his freedom, or will he end up belonging to Desirée, like Felicia?

Cloaked in Darkness by Curtis Hoffmeister

Book Two of the Robert Benoit series finds him a troubled man. He and Felicia de la Rosa are passionately in love, and the werewolf pack flourishes under their leadership. Benoit is doing well financially, too. In addition to a now-lucrative career as a private investigator, he also works under contract for the police, hunting down rogue vampires and lycanthropes. So why is he unhappy?

The source of his dissatisfaction is Felicia’s vampire master, Desirée Le Gallienne. Though she professes to love Benoit, he believes she actually wishes to “own” him, just as she owns the alpha female. Brooding, he becomes reckless, brawling with one vampire after another. Detective Kimberly Hawkins, Benoit’s partner with the police, notices his aggressive behavior when he takes down an undead exotic dancer. All is not peaches and cream within the werewolf pack, either. Paul, an ambitious newcomer to the pack, is spoiling for a fight. He voices his opinion that Benoit is a whore for the humans, doing their dirty work against his own kind.

Desirée takes advantage of the situation when Felicia leaves town on a business trip. A skilled seductress, she wastes no time trying to strengthen her hold over Benoit, and for a while she seems to be succeeding. He becomes convinced she truly loves him, yet he is still uncomfortable with their strange relationship and her controlling, self-serving nature.

In the midst of all of this turmoil, Benoit begins working a new case. His client, Mrs. Jillian Randall, is being stalked by a vampire, one with a taste for unsatisfied ladies of means. Christened “the Don Juan vampire” by the local news media, he seduces these women for blood, cash and sex. Events take a turn for the worse when another, far more dangerous adversary enters the picture. And he’s out for revenge.


I always thought I had the smartest brothers in the world. I felt a surprisingly comfortable mixture of jealousy and pride. But now, I’m just proud. The author of this series is my brother, and I love what he’s come up with.

I like vampires and werewolves. I like cop stories. So when Curt decided to mash them together, I really enjoyed the result. The main character is Robert Benoit, a private detective who becomes a werewolf after an attack that leaves his girlfriend dead and ruins his career as a cop. When a series of supernatural murders stump the police, they call in Benoit, who partners up with Kimberly Hawkins, a human detective, to investigate the more supernatural cases that arise in a world of vampires, werewolves, demons, and ghosts. Sexy and often tongue-in-cheek, with a edge of realism thanks to our cop dad, these books are a great read.

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Mayor Filner is an idiot

San Diego mayor Bob Filner is being sued for putting a woman in a headlock and dragging her around the room while whispering sexual advances, among other things.

Do any men anywhere really think putting a woman in a headlock is going to get them into the woman’s pants?

Guys, sexual harassment doesn’t work. If you really want sex, try dinner and a movie. Headlocks make you look really sad and pathetic.

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Writer Wednesday: Conjunctions

This is a tale of coordinating conjunctions and subordinating conjunctions. What’s the difference? Coordinating conjunctions join two independent clauses; subordinating conjunctions join an independent clause to a dependent clause. Who cares? Well, the comma does. Because the comma has to know whether to jump in between those clauses.

So, first let’s look at the coordinating conjunctions. We have a handy little acronym to help us remember them: fanboys – for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so.  When these words join two complete sentences, you have a compound sentence. Use a comma. “We wanted candy, but we settled for gum.”

Subordinating conjunctions (sometimes called dependent markers) join a dependent clause to an independent clause, and they don’t take a comma. Examples of subordinating conjunctions are:  after, although, because, before, even if (or though), if, once, rather than, since, though, till, unless, until, when, where, while. A proper sentence using a subordinating conjunction would be, “We went to the store after we left work.” People sometimes put a comma in a sentence like this because they think they have two independent clauses (“we went to the store,” “we left work”), but turn the sentence around and it becomes obvious: “After we left work, we went to the store.” It’s pretty obvious “after we left work” is not independent.

There are some words that people think are coordinating conjunctions but aren’t, especially “then” and “because.” You see it all the time – “I picked up the trash bag, then I opened the trash can.” “I left the room, because he was driving me crazy.” This, my friends, is the dreaded COMMA SPLICE. Neither of these words join two independent clauses and neither gets a comma. How do you know? Neither is a FANBOYS coordinating conjunction.

It’s more obvious with “then.” To make the sentence correct, you’d say, “I picked up the trash bag and then opened the trash can,” or “I picked up the trash bag, and then I opened the trash can.” (To use that comma, you have to add “and” and have a subject and a verb on both sides of the “and.”)

But what about “because”? You can’t just remove the comma to correct a comma splice, right? According to Purdue, “because” is a dependent marker. (No, I’ve never heard of such a thing either.) http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/604/01/. And I think that’s where the confusion lies. “He was driving me crazy” is a complete sentence, right? Not here. “Because” is a dependent marker that joins the clause that follows, turning it into a dependent clause. It’s not “he was driving me crazy”; it’s “because he was driving me crazy.” Saying it that way, you see that it’s dependent. So the correct sentence would be “I left the room because he was driving me crazy.” No comma.

(For an excellent discussion of why “then” isn’t a coordinating conjunction, check out http://grammar.ccc.commnet.edu/grammar/conjunctions.htm. They have a great sidebar in which they suggest you try moving the conjunction to other places in the sentence. If it works, it’s subordinating; if not, it’s coordinating. I can’t say it better than they did, so check it out.)

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Books I’ve Edited: Marigny Street by Annie Rose Welch

Marigny Street

By Annie Rose Welch

Amazon back-cover copy:

Do you believe in the power of dreams?

Way down south on Marigny Street in the heart of New Orleans, the land of Catholic intersessions, purgatory, and supernatural superstitions, young Evangeline Chenier dreams of a radiant boy who saves her from a storm. She takes the dream seriously – in her family, dreams are sometimes more than dreams. Sometimes they foretell the future. Sometimes they create it.

Years later, Eva is no longer the same wistful girl but a hardened woman who no longer believes in dreams. Losing faith in her gift, she becomes lost in a nightmare of emotion, mourning her son, separating from her husband, and stewing in a dead-end job. And then fate brings her an unlikely surprise: one of the most famous movie stars in the world, Gabriel Roberts.

Caught by something in his eyes, Eva agrees to show him the real Big Easy on his last night in New Orleans—an evening that turns into four dreamy days spent recapturing lost faith and discovering a love neither expected. Realizing Gabriel is the boy from her childhood dream, Eva must leave everything behind—her husband, her family, her history, and the beautiful city she calls home—and gamble it all for the dream that has saved her on MARIGNY STREET.

I actually just proofread this book the first time around, and by the end, I was fist-pumping the air and yelling, “You nailed it!” The end was that good. I ended up re-editing sections of it multiple times in a real collaboration with the author as beta readers made suggestions and agents made comments. And then we started working on the next books in the series.

Marigny Street is the first in a series of books that cover multiple characters in twisting story lines that come together in the last book. I fell in love with the characters and couldn’t wait to edit each one. I missed them when the books were done.

I really love Annie’s style of writing. She has a natural grasp of symbol and imagery that you just can’t teach a writer. You have to be born with it, and Annie was. Her stories are fabulous, but you can dig just as deep as you want for meaning and context and historical references and who knows what else I haven’t grasped yet?

Her main talent is she can tear your heart out or make you laugh out loud. I don’t cry often when I read, but Marigny made me cry, and it made me understand what it feels like to lose a child. Not understand with words. Annie made me feel what the character felt. That’s a rare talent.

But I love me a good plot, and Marigny has one of those too. It’s all paranormal and angelic and predestination. (And book 2 is even more so — hint hint.) It’s fun and funny as main character Eva introduces gorgeous movie star Gabriel to the real New Orleans for a single date that turns into an intense weekend. You end up yearning to visit the city and see some of the places only a native would know about. And the book is heartbreaking and touching and inspirational at the same time.

If you love a book with love at first sight, an unlikely love story with a celebrity, paranormal and angelic elements, with lots of crazy characters, set in the Big Easy … this is the book for you.


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