Ask the Editor: Narielle Living

Edith: Writing furiously on a rainy fall day

I’m so pleased to welcome Narielle Living for our next Ask the Editor spotlight. Narielle edited my second Lauren Rousseau mystery, Bluffing is Murder (out November 11!) for Profile PictureBarking Rain Press, and I thought she did a careful, thoughtful job with it – no gratuitous changes, but a number of comments and questions that definitely improved the book.

What I didn’t realize until I invited her over is that Narielle is also a mystery author, and a member of Sisters in Crime! More on that at the end. Now talk to us about editing, Narielle

Area of Expertise: Fiction Editing

I would like to thank Edith Maxwell for the opportunity to guest on Wicked Cozy Authors today. I am honored to answer some questions and participate in this very fun blog.

How did you get started in this business?

I am currently an editor for three different traditional publishers, and I love my work. Each publisher that I work with is unique, but they all share one common element: fantastic writers. I love working on mysteries the most, but I also work with other genres.

My career began as a writer. I always felt it was important to know the rules of grammar and fully understand things like when to use a comma and when to use a semicolon. After all, if I wanted to break the rules I had to know them first, right? After the release of my second book I decided I wanted to be on the editing side of publishing as well. So, I enrolled in specific editing classes and earned a certificate in editing. However, I believe that education is an ongoing, lifelong process, and I continue to take at least four to five classes a year related to editing.

I strongly urge writers to take editing classes. This removes some of the mystery of the process and helps familiarize you with things like Chicago style versus AP style.

What are three things we should know about your area of expertise?

One thing that I want all writers to know about editors is this very simple fact: we love books. We love reading. We wouldn’t know what to do with ourselves if we couldn’t read (I shudder to even type those words, as I believe the Universe would end if I could not read a book). Because of that, when I am given a manuscript to edit, my goal is to polish it and make it shine. I want the book to be the best it can be. Too often I think writers have this idea that all editors want to change your work and make it their own. My goal is to intrude as little as possible into an author’s work and offer suggestions that make the manuscript better.

The next thing writers should realize is that there are different types of editing, including developmental editing, which addresses the big picture, copy editing, and proofreading. Each approach is different, so if you hire someone to proofread it’s important to know that a proofreader will not offer input about plot inconsistencies.

And finally, remember that it is okay to debate a point with your editor and offer up your opinion. In fact, we encourage that kind of discourse as long as the conversation remains respectful. Telling your editor that she is full of chop suey and clearly does not understand your vision tends to undermine a good working relationship. This is related to my first point: we want the same thing, and that is for your book to be as good as it can be.

What are the top five errors you see?

I definitely see some mistakes repeated in many manuscripts that come across my computer screen. Easily fixable, but common mistakes, so well worth pointing out.

First and foremost, please do not format your manuscript in anything other than Times timesnewromanNew Roman twelve point font. Do not put pictures in the manuscript. Do not use a hard return at the end of each line (we no longer rely on typewriters, remember?) and do not use the tab key for every single indent. If you don’t know how to format your manuscript then do some research or pay someone to help you. Something that simple could mean the difference between getting published or not getting published.

Many writers have a habit of “filtering” their writing. Simply put, filtering is a technique where the writing filters the action for the reader, removing the reader from any sense of immediacy. For example, a filtered sentence might look like this: She felt like she could cry. This sentence tells the reader what the character feels like, but does not put the reader in the midst of the action. A different way of writing this could be: Her throat tightened and tears threatened to spill. The second sentence puts the reader directly into the mind and heart of the character.

A writer's dreaded but often needed imperative: kill your darlings

A writer’s dreaded but often needed imperative: kill your darlings

The next issue I often see is that of extra characters who are introduced but serve no purpose. If little Sally Sue has no reason to be in the story other than a cuteness factor, get rid of her. Or kill her off. Your readers will have a better story without extraneous people clogging up the flow.

In a similar vein, all dialogue and action must serve to move the story forward or create tension. I know that is a tall order, but paragraphs without purpose are incredibly boring to read and could cause your reader to abandon your book.

And finally, the one thing every writer has had to deal with: plot holes and inconsistencies. When you write a story it becomes so much a part of you that you sometimes forget to relate the entire story. Writers lose perspective and cannot always see the plot holes. Because of that, it’s a great idea to write the entire manuscript—don’t edit the first draft—put it away for a couple of weeks, then go back to page one and do a read-through. You’ll notice things you hadn’t seen before.

Final thoughts…

I don’t have any great ideas, but I would like to share some tips that have helped me through my career:

  • Stay true to your story but don’t be afraid to change it, either.
  • You do not have to do everything your critique group tells you to do with your manuscript.
  • Read as much as possible.
  • Write as much as possible.
  • Have fun as much as possible. You never know when the ride will come to an end.

Readers: Stop by the blog today and ask Narielle a question! And remember, today is the last day for your comment to enter you in the “Come to Crime Bake on a Stick” contest.

signs of the southNarielle Living is a freelance writer and editor based out of the tidewater area of Virginia. She is a regular contributor for the Williamsburg magazine Next Door Neighbors, and has written hundreds of do-it-yourself articles for online magazines. She is the author of the mysteries Signs of the South and Revenge of the Past, and co-authored Chesapeake Bay Karma—The Amulet. Her fiction also appears in the anthologies Chesapeake Bay Christmas Volume I, Chesapeake Bay Christmas Volume II, and Harboring Secrets. She edits both fiction and non-fiction, and loves helping other writers achieve their goals. A former massage therapist and healing arts educator, she studied Philosophy and Religion at Albertus Magnus College in New Haven, CT. Narielle is a member of the Chesapeake Bay Writers and Sisters in Crime, and when she is not editing she is working on writing more books. For information about her books or workshops, visit

Boldly Go Where Others Have Gone Before, Many Times

By Julie, dodging raindrops in Boston

WCA retreat659869684270_5811006839915814681_n 2Yesterday, we talked about our other lifeboats, but today I want to talk about this lifeboat we all call the Wicked Cozy Authors. We are defining a lifeboat blog as a group of writers who support each other. You see examples of this on the blog–celebrating book birthdays and announcements, chiming in on Wicked Wednesday comments, social mediaing each other’s posts, and supporting other people in the community. We occasionally do panels together, or in groups of 2 or 3. Our bookmark is our calling card at conferences, signings, and meetings. We have a new ad we are running in the Crime Bake program, and Barb just redesigned the bookmarks, using our new header image. (Don’t you love it? Meg Manion captured us well.) We are all keeping the fair ship Wicked Cozy Authors afloat, in style.

But I want to talk about the role the Wickeds play behind the scenes. As you all know, I am the last Wicked in the publishing pipeline. Right now I am going through edits, and am looking at a release date in about a year. That is a long, long time. But my lifeboat team is keeping me on task–offering advice, support. Because they’ve all been there. Some two or three times.

As much as I would like to think I am a precious flower in this writing journey, I’m not. I am writing a cozy mystery. Literally hundreds of people do it every year. Whether you are a plotter or a pantser, you have to get the words on the page (or in the computer), and then move them around until it all makes sense. Then someone reads it, and helps you move them around again. Nothing can make the writing part easier, but having a lifeboat can make it much less lonely, and a lot more fun.

What else does my lifeboat provide?

  • Business advice.
  • Answers to questions based on recent experience.
  • A cheering squadron of support.
  • Gentle (and not so gentle) nudges.
  • Lots of laughter.
  • A group of people who know what you are going through. No explanation necessary.
  • And finally, did I mention friendship?

How lucky am I to benefit from the wisdom of this terrific lifeboat?

P.S. I hope to see some of you Saturday at the Boston Book Festival! I will be moderating a panel called “WhyDunnit”. Edith, Barb, and Liz will be on this same panel, which is sponsored by Sisters in Crime New England. If you are there, make sure you say hello!

Wicked Wednesday: Who’s in Your Lifeboat


W is for Wicked


C is for Cozy


A is for Authors

This group, these wicked awesome authors, we six – we’ve talked offline about how we’re each other’s lifeboat. We communicate by email, by phone, by ESP, it sometimes seems. We share advice, support, and cautions about pitfalls. Stern words about not getting discouraged, and hugs, in person or virtual, when needed. We laugh together and cry together.

So Wickeds, who else is your lifeboat besides us?

Sherry: I’m very lucky to have a group of sorority sisters that are my other lifeboat team. We try to get together at least every other year. When we aren’t together it’s a lot like with the Wickeds, phone calls, texts, and group emails. Both of these groups enrich my lives in so many ways.

Edith: I’ve been a member of Amesbury Friends Meeting for twenty-five years.It’s my spiritual home, my second family, my support network — a true lifeboat. We share joys and concerns, and the silence is as important as the talking. I’m also blessed with my first family – my sisters, my sons, my beau, and my parents while they were alive: all huge readers, all excited for me, all there for me when things aren’t going well, too. My sister in Ottawa even sent me a screenshot of my books in the Canadian capital’s library system!

Barb: My other lifeboat group is also writing related–my writers group of almost 20 years. Mark Ammons, Leslie Wheeler and I met in an advanced class in mystery writing at the Cambridge Center for Adult Education taught by the wonderful B. A. Shapiro. The three of us formed the core of the group along with the late Marge Leibenstein and were joined soon after by Kat Fast. Cheryl Marceau joined later, as did others who came and went, but who all left their mark. For the last five years, Mark, Kat, Leslie and I have been co-editor/co-publishers at Level Best Books. There is no question that my desire to spend time with and be respected by these people kept me writing even at times when jobs and other obligations made it difficult. I am eternally grateful.

Liz: I’m so lucky to have lots of different groups over the years as other lifeboats. Friends from my original writers group, The Wingate Writers, have been so supportive and are always there to share in news, both good and bad. I also have wonderful friends from the animal rescue community who have truly gone above and beyond for me over the years, especially when I needed friends the most. And of course, my family!

Julie: I have different pockets of friends who are lifeboats for different areas of my life. I have a group that started out as a book club, but we haven’t read a book in years. Another group who I traveled to Egypt with a few years back (none of us knew each other, and we were all travelling alone) and they’ve become good friends. My theater world also has a lifeboat of theater and coffee dates. My other blog, Live to Write/Write to Live, has definite lifeboat attributes. And I am really blessed to have a network of family and friends. But I’ve got to say, the Wickeds have a special place.

Jessie: I feel so lucky to have my family in my lifeboat. My husband, mother, sisters and children are a constant source of encouragement and cheering. There are friends in there too and community members that always ask about life and projects. I am also so blessed to count members of my knitting group as fellow lifeboat passengers. I never though,t when I sought them out at a local library years ago, how much they would become a source of fun and support.

Readers: Who is your lifeboat? Who would you take with you for mutual support if the ship starts sinking?

The Detective’s Daughter — As Seen on TV

kimspolicehatBy Kim Gray in Baltimore City

It never fails that when I am in another city and people learn I’m from Baltimore they all
ask me the same question, “Is Baltimore really like The Wire?” I want to point out to them that The Wire is a television program; a dramatization. Sure, we have crime in our city and some areas keep the police more engaged than others, but every corner does not have a drug deal going down. Why do people believe everything they see?

KimBoyTVTelevision was very popular in my house when I was a child. We didn’t even need a clock, we could tell what time it was by the program that came on. The delivery of the TV Guide was an actual event. No one was allowed to touch it before my grandmother had seen it. We could mark off the shows we wanted to watch, but knew whatever she wanted to see trumped any of our programs. Everyone had their own spot in the living room for nightly viewing, with my younger sister seated on the floor directly in front of the set. Her job was to switch the channel to save my dad or grandmother from having to get up. This job resulted in her needing glasses by the time she was five.

Dad didn’t watch many police shows. I suppose he saw enough crime during the day. In fact, he told me some of the programs aired were so bad they should be crimes. “The only show that is even  close to how real detectives act is Barney Miller,” Dad said more than once.

KimTVThis story makes my cousin Brian laugh. Brian was a police officer in Baltimore City for fourteen years, and then went on to become a detective. We have long discussions about
police work, so I asked him how he felt about the way police are portrayed on  TV shows.
“I liked the shows Southland, NYPD Blue and Third Watch because they were true to both the personal and professional aspects of police life. Most of the new shows on today are far from realistic,” he answered.

My friend Tom, who is a detective sergeant  in the Boston area and has served on the force for thirty one years, enjoys a few of the police dramas including True Detective, which he finds to be pretty accurate. “I watched a lot of police shows as a kid. The Rookies, Police Story and Columbo were some of my favorites,” Tom said. He also noted that many shows today can be misleading. “The CSI series created a false image of our work, especially how evidence is actually processed,” Tom said adding, “The Shield was a show that really kicked cops reputations, but I think Law and Order is a legitimate show.” Both Tom and Brian agreed that Hill Street Blues was also one that stayed close to the actual way police behaved.

When I asked Tom if he thought shows influenced the way the public felt about officers he had this to say: “The public who supports the police will do so regardless of TV shows. There is no show that will change the opinion of those who take shots and constantly criticize us.” Tom’s comment was true. It is hard to change opinions that are already formed.

Kim'sdadTVI have to admit, had I not been raised by a detective I might believe what’s aired on TV. I enjoy watching police and detective shows, though I am more likely to watch Elementary or Castle because  I am looking for entertainment not facts. I’ve never seen an episode of The Wire and I’m not sure I want to. When my dad passed away in 2006 I had all his stories stuck in my head, but it wasn’t the same as hearing him deliver them. A couple of years ago I discovered a show on cable called  Homicide Hunter. Listening to Lt. Joe Kenda describe the crimes is like having a visit with my dad. If I close my eyes I can almost imagine it is him. Their speech patterns and mannerisms are so similar it amazes me. I look forward to those nights. To me the police are heroes and that’s the way I want to see them portrayed on screen. I know it’s not always a reality, but, after all, it’s only television.

There’s More than One Cowboy at the Crime Bake Rodeo

IMG_1149By Sherry Harris

Craig Johnson is the guest of honor at Crime Bake this year. Reading his books and watching Longmire has made me reminisce about the six years I lived in Cheyenne. I might not have lived on a ranch but I’ve been to more than one. I might not have roped a cow but I’ve been to the rodeo. I know about jackalope, buckle bunnies, and chinook winds. I’ve been to Chugwater and heard their band.

Traffic Jam Wyoming Style

Traffic Jam Wyoming Style

Through a series of life events I ended up living in Cheyenne. Elevation: 6062 feet (higher than the Mile High City – Denver) Population: 50,000 or thereabouts when I lived there. To an Iowa girl it was a lot of shades of brown, antelope, tumbleweeds and yes cowboys. I learned to two-step at the Cheyenne Club. I threw myself into the Frontier Days activities the last full week of July every year. You might be a city slicker but you can’t help but find a little bit of cowboy in you when you live in Wyoming.

Wyoming isn’t for the weak of heart. The wind blows hard across the state and grit often ends up in your mouth. I learned to hang on to the car door when I opened it because the wind might have ideas about what it wants to do with it. My mom called me one morning when the windchill was 70 below — she lived in Florida. “Do you have to go to work?” she asked. The answer was yes. I worked for a financial planning company and the market was open. Life in Wyoming goes on windchill or not.

Jackson Hole, WY

Jackson Hole, WY

I missed trees and made friends. I worked my way up the corporate ladder. I wore suits not boots. I traveled around the state Rock Springs, Pinedale, Jackson Hole, Sheridan, Buffalo, Casper. All so different so beautiful in their own way. I met and married my husband in Cheyenne.

You can't let a little snow stop you from grilling.

You can’t let a little snow stop you from grilling.

It snowed mid May one year, it snowed mid September. I don’t remember a Halloween while I lived there that it didn’t snow. Trick or Treat at the mall was a big deal because kids could take their snowsuits off and show off their costumes.

IMG_1157One snow storm was particularly bad. My husband and I had been visiting his parent’s in Idaho. The storm chased us all the way across the state, big flakes flew by as we kept the dark, rolling clouds in the rearview mirror. Gates closed behind us on Interstate 80 as they shut it down. We made it home, barely, before the storm hit. The next three days Bob drove his old International Harvester four-wheel drive around town picking up my coworkers as the town dug out.IMG_1156

IMG_1163I’ve been through whiteouts, a tornado, a 100 year flood in Wyoming. And hail. Cheyenne is the start of a section of the country known as “Hail Alley”. But the sun shines almost every day. It warmed my car so much in the winter I’d have to take my winter coat off before I got in or I’d fry. The skies are large, vast.

I was very active in the community: served on boards, ran marketing campaigns for various causes, I even taught an adult learning class at the community college. You might be thinking this hardly makes me a cowboy. But a few days before we left Cheyenne to move to Los Angeles I received this certificate from then Governor Mike Sullivan saying I’m a bona fide Cowboy.IMG_1128

Readers: Do you have a little bit of cowboy in you?

Ask the Expert: Sheila Lowe

Edith, frantically trying not to drop any balls

We’re welcoming another expert to the blog today. I’ve known Sheila Lowe online sheila4through Sisters in Crime for several years (we’re fellow Californians), and have read all but the latest in her smart, suspenseful Claudia Rose mysteries. One of my college roommates long, long ago studied handwriting analysis, and I’ve been fascinated by it ever since.

Like her fictional character Claudia Rose in the award-winning Forensic Handwriting Mysteries series, Sheila Lowe is a real-life forensic handwriting expert. She holds a Master of Science in psychology and is the author of the internationally acclaimed The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Handwriting Analysis and Handwriting of the Famous & Infamous, as well as the Handwriting Analyzer software. Her standalone novel of suspense, What She Saw, has nearly 200 five-star reviews. Sheila’s analyses of celebrity handwritings are often seen in the media.

Share your expertise with us, Sheila!

Name: Sheila Lowe

Area of Expertise: Court-qualified forensic handwriting examiner and handwriting analyst. This means I handle cases of handwriting authentication to determine possible forgery, and I also sometimes prepare behavioral profiles based on handwriting. The latter is used in areas such as pre-employment screening, mental health therapy, child custody issues, etc.

How did you become a handwriting expert?

We have to go back more than 45 years to answer that question. I first became interested as a senior in high school—1967. My boyfriend’s mother had read a book on handwriting analysis and she wrote two pages analyzing my handwriting, which I found completely fascinating—somebody understood me (very attractive to a 17 year-old girl)! I studied on my own for about ten years, then finally started taking courses with handwriting professionals. In 1981 I was certified by the American Handwriting Analysis Foundation (I’m currently the president), and in 1985 my testimony was first accepted in the court system as an expert witness.

What are 3 things we should know about your area of expertise?

Most handwriting analysts are not psychic. It’s not an inherited or inborn ability; it’s a learned skill.

“I should let you see my handwriting” is a common response when someone learns what I do. This is akin to meeting a doctor and immediately opening your mouth to say “Ahhhh.” Like any consulting business, this one should be taken seriously.

The biggest problem in my field is the lack of licensing in the U.S. Anyone can create a website and go into business with little or no training (and they do). I recommend that if you want your handwriting analyzed, you contact the American Handwriting Analysis Foundation and make sure the analyst you are interested in using has a good education and is professionally certified, with no ethics violations.

What do people usually get wrong when writing about handwriting analysts?


A page from Edith’s sprint journal (no, she didn’t ask Sheila what it meant!)

Some writers who don’t understand that handwriting analysis has a scientific basis treat it like crystal ball reading. Handwriting cannot predict the future, but is a lot like a picture of the writer’s psyche. It reveals he thinks, how he is socially and sexually, the state of his ego, and other aspects of personality. It’s not “woo woo” or magic. Interpretation of the spatial arrangement on the page, the writing style, and other aspects such as writing rhythm, speed, pressure, etc., paints an accurate personality portrait based on common sense. It’s not just about how you dot your i or cross your t. There are thousands of variables to consider in every handwriting.

Is there a great idea you’d love to share?

These days, public schools in most states are not required to teach handwriting. In fact, many of the younger teachers don’t know how to write in cursive. There are many reasons why it’s important for schools to keep cursive in the curriculum, not the least of which is brain development in young children. Current research indicates that, unlike hand printing or keyboarding, cursive writing helps kids to learn faster, remember more detailed information (written and spoken), and even spell better. My organization, AHAF, is looking for people to work with us in getting legislators to recognize and understand that while technology is important, so is handwriting:

Inkslingers Ball Cover_smallWhat are you working on?

The fifth book in my series, Inkslingers Ball, was just released last July. I’ve just begun work on Unholy Writ, which involves ecoterrorism and geocaching, and will take my main character, Claudia Rose, to England.

Do you use your expert knowledge in your writing?

Yes. Claudia Rose’s practice mirrors my own. Readers say they learn something about handwriting analysis from my fiction (and hopefully, interested people will check out my nonfiction books, too). Claudia does not solve crimes using handwriting analysis—she’s not a PI. She uses her special knowledge to understand the people she’s dealing with, and also consults for the police department, sometimes with her lover, LAPD detective Joel Jovanic.

Readers: Questions for Sheila? Do you still write letters, and make sure your kids and grandkids know how to write cursive? Does this post give you ideas for writing characters?

Stick with the Wickeds Contest

 Late-breaking news: Christi King is the winner of Linda Reilly’s Some Enchanted Murder. She’ll be contacting you, Christi. Let us know if you don’t hear, and congrats!

Barb starts the morning with a cup of coffee.

Barb starts the morning with a cup of coffee.

Jessie: At home amidst heartbreakingly beautiful autumnal color.

Once again, The New England Crime Bake is almost here. Since all the Wickeds are going to be able to attend, we are once again running a contest to take one of our readers with along with us, well, sort of.

Last year we took Barb Goffman along with us on a stick. She reported having a wonderful time lingering over coffee with authors and fans and attending the banquet. This year’s Guest of Honor is Craig Johnson of Longmire fame so you know it will be a lot of fun. If you would like to have the opportunity to have as much fun as Barb did, then this is the contest for you! Here’s how it works:

Just leave a comment on any of the blog posts scheduled between today and Friday, October, 24 to be entered into the drawing. If you are chosen as the winner all we’ll need from you is your photo in jpeg format and a list of five authors attending this year’s Crime Bake whose autograph you would like us to ask for on your behalf.

We’ll announce the winner on October 29. Best of luck to you all!

Barb with some of the banquet attendess.

Liz holding Barb Goffman (second from left in front), with the Wickeds, our agent, and some of our friends at the 2013 banquet.