Opening Lines

Write an opening line for this picture:


Liz: The crowd of obsessed fans worked in my favor. Now that the guard had turned his back to address the mayhem, I could make my move.

Barb: They were at the gate again this morning. I was grateful for their loyalty, especially in the face of my current little troubles. Though I couldn’t help but wonder, how many came to honor my body of work, and how many out of prurient sexual curiosity?

Jessie: Say what you want about the times changing; people still get excited when the circus comes to town.

Sherry: I shaded my eyes with my hand. Everyone was so anxious to catch a glimpse of the queen that I was the only one who spotted the UFO hovering over the palace.

Edith: That’s the last time I ever try to slip under the red restraining cord. I lost my favorite leather bag, my nose is still crooked from being broken, and blimey, I lost my favorite sunglasses, too, not to mention the guy I was tailing.

Readers: Add your first line!

It’s All in the Details

by Sheila Connolly

The distance between Boston and Dublin, Ireland, is 3,000 miles.  I just flew almost that to go to a party.

Well, in my insanity defense, it was a party held at the newly remodeled pub that I write about, in the very small West Cork village of Leap, and the owners invited me. So I went.

I stayed in a tiny rental apartment in Skibbereen, just outside of the town. It’s a town that I love, so much so that I included it in one of my book titles (and yes, they have my books for sale in Skibbereen!). I spent most of my time revisiting places I have seen before, sort of like my own mini-pilgrimage route, starting with the Drombeg Stone Circle, which is one of my favorite places in the world.

My books on an Irish shelf! (top right, if you look very hard)

My books on an Irish shelf! (top right, if you look very hard)

Spending time in a place you already know is an interesting experience. I love to travel, and I love to see new places, but it’s kind of nice knowing where you are—which roads are the most convenient, where to park, where to buy food and even clothes (would you believe I’ve now bought not one but two raincoats in Ireland? I assume they know how to make them right  there.).  But because the setting is familiar, I had time to look at details in a different way. Here’s what struck me this time around:

Size: Things in rural Ireland are small. Appliances are minuscule (the dishwasher in my rental was no more than two feet square—I never even opened it. The dish drainer had more space.) Sidewalks are narrow, which is a good thing because the roads are narrow too, and you really have to pay attention to your driving. I swear it would be possible to knock down a small child with your sideview mirror (I didn’t). Luckily cars are also small. Houses are small—a normal room might be ten feet square. A bedroom holds a bed, a night table, an armoire (they’re not big on closets over there), and maybe a dresser. You don’t spend a lot of time in a bedroom.

People: After a few days I realized I was seeing many more people on the street than I do at home (which is a town with a population of more than 22,000 people, with a real town center). Not just that, there is a true age range, from young mothers pushing a stroller and leading a couple of little kids, to octogenarians. People work locally, rather than commuting to somewhere else. When I commented on this to one shopkeeper, he said about the older people, “they might not be as young as they look—they’re still working, you see.” And since the sidewalks are narrow and you often have to step aside, you exchange greetings with a lot of people.

Skibbereen's main street

Skibbereen’s main street

Color: A century ago most Irish towns would have been drab. The standard architecture is stucco over stone, two stories, most often with a slate roof. This is a building style that hasn’t changed for a century or two (at least for those people who could afford houses rather than one-room hovels). A picture of the main street taken a few decades ago would have been monochrome. I can’t put a date to when that changed, but now any town you pass through is a riot of color, both body color and trim. For all I know there’s a national mandate to make your town “pretty.” And on a lesser note, the Irish really love high-gloss paint (for their trim, not the stucco).

Speed: Life is slower there. No one seems to be in much of a hurry (except maybe tourist drivers, who either drive impatiently or creep along at half the speed limit—and doesn’t 100km/hr sound faster that 65mph?). You tell someone your cell reception is patchy, and they’ll say, “Welcome to West Cork.”

Being in Ireland is kind of like being in a time warp. Sure, there is recycling, and “industrial estates” (where manufacturing is concentrated, mainly on the outskirts of older towns), and everyone has wireless and mobile phones and cable television. Lots of people think little about taking off for the Continent for a quick vacation, because it’s not expensive to fly from there. The country is inching its way into the modern world: last year they instituted a property tax for the first time, and they eliminated free health care for anyone 70 and up.

The cows out my back window

The cows out my back window

But some things have changed little for centuries. Drive a couple of miles out into the country, and you’ll see views that have never changed (well, except for a few batches of windmills generating energy).

So all this is why I write about the place. It’s both familiar and strange to many readers, and I do want to get it right, to make it real to them. Even though sometimes when I’m there I’m still left shaking my head.

Ask the Editor: Ramona DeFelice Long

Edith, somewhere in southern Indiana

I’m delighted to have our good friend, independent editor Ramona DeFelice Long, as our photoAsk the Editor guest today. She’s smart, funny (in that delightful southern kind of way), generous, hardworking, and has a knack for gathering people into the most intriguing of conversations. She’s also a great writer who several of us Wickeds first met at Seascape 2009. Take it away, Ramona!

The Language of Editing

Consider these scenarios:

  • You’ve finished the first draft of a novel.
  • You’ve completed a short story.
  • You’ve run your manuscript through beta readers.
  • You’re in the middle of a manuscript and hit a wall.
  • You’re considering self-publishing.
  • You’re unsure if your 100 pages have enough story for a novel.
  • You have interest from an agent and want your MS to be in its best shape possible.

The next sentence for all of these scenarios may be: Now consider hiring an independent editor.*

The question after that sentence may be: How do I know which type of independent editor to hire?

It is ironic that, in a job focused on word choice, nuance, and precision, the terms used about self-employed professional editors can be confusing. There is no helpful glossary in the back of an Editing 101 textbook—because there is no Editing 101 textbook. A person cannot go to college and earn a Bachelors of Editing degree.

Even the terms to describe editing itself are not set in stone. This is what I call editing in practice:

Editing – Editing is what a professional, paid person does when they examine a writer’s manuscript.

Revision – Revision is what a writer does when he/she works over his/her own draft of a manuscript.

Critique – Critique is what a fellow writer does to a peer’s work.

By my definitions, “self-editing” is a misnomer but “self-reviser” doesn’t have much of a ring to it, does it?

Job descriptions for the various types of independent editors can be confusing, too. good-guy-vs-bad-iclipartThere’s a notion that “hiring an independent editor” means paying someone to check out your antagonist and protagonist, streamline your plot, catch your typos, strengthen your sentences, fact check, and help you write a query—all for one low, low price.

Stop dreaming that dream. While editors do cross over, different editors perform different functions at different stages of a manuscript. This is true for the staff at a traditional publishing house, and it is true for independents. Each step of editing requires a particular skill set.

Below is a lexicon to help writers who wish to collaborate with an independent editor.

Content/Developmental Editor – examines the manuscript for structure, appeal, story logic, effectiveness of scenes, character development, flow, plotting, genre expectations, etc. A developmental editor reads for the big picture of the story—Is it logical, pleasing, and publishable?—and will make suggestions designed to create a stronger overall manuscript. Content/developmental editors work with works in progress (WIPS) as well as completed drafts.

Copyeditor – Copyeditors check tense, POV, sentence structure, redundancy, readability, character and scene consistency. A copyeditor will also fact check. A copy edit will aim for clean copy, which means removing errors in  spelling, grammar, style and syntax, as well as technical errors such as typos, missed words, and punctuation flubs.

256px-Text-x-generic-highlight-red-marker-round.svgLine Editor – No pun intended, but there’s a fuzzy line between copy and line editors. A straight line editor will read for technical errors– typos, missed words, punctuation errors, sentence by sentence–without considering bigger issues such as character development or scene value.

NOTE: Copyeditors and Line Editors are often combined as one skill.

Proofreader -  a person who reads a manuscript to catch technical errors. Sometimes a skilled amateur, a proofreader may work for pay or by barter.

Book Doctor – some people use this term interchangeably with content/development editor. A book doctor is a manuscript fixer-upper.Ghostwriter

Ghost Writer – an anonymous person who writes a book which is credited to someone else as author.

Writing Coach – a mentor who provides guidance to a writer beyond reviewing manuscripts

Beta Reader – not a professional editor and so works without pay, usually for barter. A beta reader is a skilled reader with genre familiarity, who examines the draft of a manuscript and offers a critique.

Reviewer – not an editor, but a person—professional or amateur—who shares his/her opinion of a book after it is published via trade journals, periodicals, newspapers, review sites, blogs, booksellers (Amazon & B&N).

And now for some lagniappe terms about editing:

Turnaround Date – the date you can expect the return of your edited manuscript. If an editor posts a turnaround time of one month, that’s how long the editing job will take. A writer should always ask for, in writing, a turnaround date.

Track Changes – the easy-for-editors, tedious-for-writers editing system built into Microsoft Word.

Style sheet – a publisher’s list of preferred style and syntax choices.

Acknowledgement – the “thank you” a writer includes in a published work. Some editors require a permission to be acknowledged.

Pilcrow – the paragraph mark () is used in copyediting to note a new paragraph. In Microsoft Word, a pilcrow sign appears in the tool bar. Clicking on the pilcrow shows every hidden space in a manuscript. A space between words gets a dot. A return gets a pilcrow mark. The pilcrow helps you find unnecessary spaces you can’t see. Many writers have no idea this useful function is available.

Now back to the questions at the top of the page. If you are in one of these scenarios, do you understand which type of independent editor you need to hire?

Extra credit: Did you know about the pilcrow?

*Disclaimer: I work as an independent editor. I also hire independent editors for my writing.

RamonaLogoFinalRamona DeFelice Long is an author and independent editor who specializes in mystery novels. She works with private clients as well as through organizations such as Sisters in Crime to edit chapter anthologies and teach online courses. Her own writing has appeared in literary and regional publications, and she’s been awarded fellowships, grants, and residencies from multiple arts organizations. Ramona lives in Delaware. Her literary website features a new blog post every Tuesday as well as a collection of tips for writers.

Readers: Stop in and ask Ramona questions! And how did you do on the quiz?



Murder on the Orient Express

by Barb, who is home in Boston after two and a half blissful weeks in Paris

orient2I was excited last week when Julie posted her blog about one of the greats, Agatha Christie. There was even a bit of a discussion in the comments on that blog of Murder on the Orient Express.

I’m a long time Christie lover. Hers were the books I moved to when I outgrew the Nancy Drews. To me, they will always evoke rainy days at my grandparents’ summer home in Watermill, Long Island, when you could lay around all day and read an entire book. That same grandmother took me to see Margaret Rutherford in Murder She Said, when I was nine. Scared the bejesus out of me.

orient4So when I heard the Museum of the Arab World was having an exhibit of the Orient Express rail cars while I was in Paris, I was all over it.

The Orient Express was a lot of trains and a lot of routes, but the best known was Paris to Istanbul. It was started in 1883 and ran until 1977. There is currently a privately owned train of the same name that runs from Paris to Venice and makes an Istanbul run once a year.

orient6orient10Service was suspended during both world wars, and reached it’s zenith in the 1930s. Christie took the train many times to visit her husband while he was on archaeological digs in the middle east. Once she was briefly stranded due to flooding that washed out the tracks.

For her famous novel, Christie combined two current events. One was the infamous kidnapping of the Lindbergh baby. The other was an incident where the Orient Express was snowbound for six days in Turkey during a blizzard. The European press reported on this breathlessly and daily, so I guess CNN’s wall-to-wall coverage of crippled cruise ships is nothing new. Christie wrote the book in a hotel room in Istanbul.

The exhibit consisted of the rail cars, engine, lounge, dining car and sleeper, as well as materials related to the famous passage. Passengers were honored–both real ones like Josephine Baker and Mata Hari, and fictional ones like Hercule Poirot and James Bond.

Bill and I had great fun at the exhibit. It almost felt like being there.


The Lalique insets in the bar car.

The Lalique insets in the bar car.



Ms. Christie's hat and coat

Ms. Christie’s hat and coat

 What do you think readers? Do you love or hate the book or one of the movie versions? Any memorable train trips?



Wicked Wednesday: Justice

It is Wednesday, the day the Wicked all weigh in on a topic. Today, we’d like to talk about balance_scalethe role justice plays in cozies. Justice prevailing is part of the author/reader contract, but what does that look like? Is it happily ever after? Does everyone go to jail? Or can there be other forms of justice that are more satisfying for the reader?

Julie: I read a lot of detective fiction, and have a particular fondness for the Golden Age authors. Christie, Sayers, Marsh, Allingham. One thing that strikes me, as I reread some of them, is that justice wasn’t always the guilty party going to jail. Poirot, or Wimsey, often offer the guilty party a “gentleman’s” way out. In rare cases (some very famous), no one is brought to justice. (I am not going to mention titles, since I want people to read them). These days, justice feels like the need to bring order back to the community. Usually that requires someone going to jail.

Barb: Like Julie, I want to be careful of spoilers. But I don’t think justice necessarily means someone going to jail. Sometimes, the perpetrators die themselves before the court system gets involved–either at the hands of the sleuth or an avenging victim. Sometimes there is no chargeable crime. I’ve also seen the opposite done masterfully–i.e. someone has to go to jail because they’ve broken the law, but their punishment doesn’t represent “justice.”

Jessie: For me, in cozies at least, some of the justice comes from truly horrid people getting bumped off. It may be vigilante justice but sometimes it feels so satisfying for detestable characters to get their comeuppance.

Edith: Agree with all of the above. Justice can also be a character who does something bad – less bad than murder, perhaps, but bad – but then makes up for it by doing something good, perhaps dying in the process. Could even be the villain who regrets his or her deed and takes him or herself out of the equation in some way. In cozies, readers expect some form of happy ever after, although it’s sometimes tempered by a not-so-happy teaser at the very end that will lead to the next book.

Liz: I’m a big fan of deserving villains getting their comeuppance – but like Jessie, I’m fine if that means they meet their demise. Jail is fine too, but sometimes an equally horrid end is even better given the crimes they committed. This is true for me in both cozies and other mystery fiction where the ending doesn’t necessarily have to be happy.

Readers: What’s your take on your justice? Tell us your stories.

Wicked Tuesday: Road Trips

Sure, we’ve lost our alliterative allure, but we wanted to talk about road trips before Labornational_lampoons_vacation_movie_poster_1020548254 Day hits. Isn’t summer for hitting the pavement, for packing up the car, for seeing new sights (and maybe getting into new fights)? One Wicked is on the road right now and reports in from the Midwest.

What do you pack? Where do you stay? How do you pass the time on eight-, ten-, twelve-hour drives? Do you bring a cooler full of food and a box full of snacks, or do you search out those out-of-the-way diners and ice cream stands? Has anybody traveled Route 66? What about traveling with kids, or traveling when you were a kid? Talk road trip tips and memories, Wickeds!

Edith: Yeah. I just drove 1000-plus miles alone (in two days) to southern Indiana. I’m a AudioBooksMapssnack and lunch packer, because I’m no longer a by-the-side-of-the-road-camper and I keep in mind that motel bill. I checked out two audio books, GONE GIRL and CLARA AND MR. TIFFANY, that I’ve been wanting to read. I got my TripTik from AAA. Okay, I’m old fashioned: I like paper maps, I want to see on paper where I’m going in the long- and short-distance. I do have GPS on my phone, which helps on shorter trips. Tires and tank filled, I set out early Saturday morning and made it without major mishap.

But it’s always good to stay alert for adventure. On Saturday, after driving 500-plus miles in ten hours straight, I checked into a Super 8 motel and had a glass of the white wine I had cleverly put in my cooler. Then I set out for a walk on a busy thoroughfare not even IMG_0177featuring sidewalks, but spied a road that led back and away from the fast-food bustle through fields of green: soybeans. Kept walking in the late day cooling air until I saw a sign for … Moonshine. Yes! I walked up that drive to Blackbird Distillery, did some tasting, chatted with the charming proprietor, and bought a bottle of peach moonshine to take home. Stay open for adventure!

Barb: I love road trips! Last January, my husband and I drove to Key West where we stayed for the month and then back to Boston. We’ll do it again this year, staying for two months this time. I admit part of the reason I love road trips is because of my relatively recent hatred of air travel. It seems like every flight I take is delayed, crammed full of crabby people, including the flight attendants, and you get vague explanations about the “equipment.” On the road, you can throw whatever you think you might need in the car, leave when you want and go fast or slow. I’m pretty much the opposite of Edith in every way. No audio books, just music. We don’t pack any food ahead, and I can’t read paper maps and drive (maps require glasses and driving does not), so I love, love, love my GPS. I don’t go much of anywhere without it, even when I know where I’m going, because it keeps me from spacing out and passing exits. Two other apps are critical. The one that locates every Dunkin Donuts, especially important in the south where you don’t find them every half mile like you do in New England. What can I say? The coffee is good and the restrooms are clean. And an app called WAZE that alerts you to every cop, traffic jam, car-by-the-side-of-the road and anything else unusual. It’s uncanny.

RoadtrippinLiz: I love road trips too, much better than planes. I like the freedom of stopping whenever you want, changing up routes to see new places and generally feeling like an explorer. I’m a combination of Barb and Edith – a food-packing, book AND music (depending on my mood) listening, GPS-loving (I hate maps), coffee-app junkie, although it has to be Starbucks, not Dunkin. We travel with the pups a lot, and they mostly love road trips too!

Edith: I’ll tell you, having Clara and Mr. Tiffany on audio made six hours pass so much easier. I’ve never listened to an audio book since Charlotte’s Web read by EB White himself on three cassette tapes, and that was probably twenty years ago (and yes, it made our annual road trips with my sons to visit their aunt in Quebec so much easier). The narrator keeping all the main characters’ voices separate is impressive!

Julie: I’m surprised that my fellow Wickeds didn’t mention the Malice road trip this year. I was only on one leg, but it counts! Since my parents and one of my sisters lives in Maryland, I have made the Boston to Annapolis trip so many times I can’t even count. What has changed is my companions on those rides. For a few years, it was my Boston-based sister and I. Then she got married and had twins, and auntie started riding with the kids in the middle row of the mini-van, or shotgun if my brother-in-law didn’t want to make the trip. The snacks haven’t changed over the years. Cheese-Its, grapes, beverages (some with caffeine for the adults). Twizzlers.

When it was the single sisters, we’d always bring lots of music. And on the New Jersey turnpike we’d always listen to Les Miserables. With the kids, it is geared more toward them. Suffice it to say, I am happy that Strawberry Shortcake days are behind us.

M59Sherry: The Wicked/Malice road trip sounded like so much fun I thought about flying up to Boston and riding back down here! I’m glad I came to my senses because I heard the last twelve miles were brutal! Since my parents were teachers, the summers my dad didn’t work somewhere, were for road trips: a three week tour to the West, and two week tour to the East — that trip became a three week trip when we were hit by a car in Louisville, Kentucky and had to wait for our car to be repaired (the M above fell off our car) and trips to Florida. We sang a lot and played the license plate game. Remember Stuckey’s? We always liked to stop at them. And you can’t be married to someone in the Air Force without long road trips every few years when moving.

Readers: Tell us about your road trip trips and memories.

Living the Dream

By Julie, enjoying the waning days of summer in Somerville

I am days away from the deadline of my first Clock Shop Mystery. As I make that final lap of revisions and rethinking, I can’t help but remember that a year ago tomorrow I got the phone call that put this whole adventure in motion. In this year, I have signed a three-book deal, picked out a pseudonym, and am close to hitting send on my first manuscript. It is all, quite literally, a dream come true.

Thanks to my Wicked Cozy sistahs, I knew what to expect. And I have a cheering section in place for constant support. But there have been a few unexpected lessons along the way.

Helping me finish the final lap

The Final Lap!

Just because it is a dream, that doesn’t make it easy.Writing a book is a challenging process. And all the advice in the world doesn’t get the word count to rise.

Writing needs breathing room. With a deadline months away, it is very tempting to let writing goals slip. But that is a mistake. Finishing a draft, and leaving time to take a breath before going back in is a necessary luxury.

It is easy to get lost in your book. After a few rounds of edits, I got turned around. What was the name of the guy with the hat? Is his backstory the same all the way through? This is when I brought in a ringer, aka a first reader. Jason Allen-Forrest is a cozy reader, a good friend, and an excellent reader. He gave me confidence to keep slogging through the next round of edits.

Every day, I remind myself how lucky I am. I am living the dream. How blessed am I?

Gentle readers, what lessons have you learned while living your dream?