Monday, January 16, 2017

New Year, New Job

There's an old saying, attributed to various sources, that says if you choose a job that you love, you'll never work a day in your life.

Horse hockey.

There are plenty of nurses and teachers who would never consider a different career path, yet regularly ponder the merits of drinking-as-stress-relief. That said, doing something you love is a lot better than being stuck in a job that you hate.

Screaming customers in your office, bad coffee, a boss who withholds your pay, a miserable commute through sleet, tornadoes, and a spider avalanche while fending off drivers who no doubt fished their licenses out of a claw machine ... I needed a change, so I chose a job that I love. I'd like to introduce ALTO Editing Services, my answer to pretty much everything that ever bugged me about my other jobs.

Got a manuscript that needs the red pencil treatment? I'm here to help. Looking for someone to streamline your website homepage? Gimme a call. Want to feed my yarn habit? Send me your book!

I want my fellow writers to succeed just as much as I want to read all the things, so editing is right up my alley. I work from the Chicago Manual of Style (16th Edition), but I'm happy to adapt to your house style and other requirements. As a bonus, all works that I edit will be promoted on the ALTO Facebook page.

So, there you are. A new year, a new job. Will you share your new book with me?

When she's not looking after her husband and son, Audrey Lintner devotes a good-sized chunk of time to books, knitting, coffee, and chocolate. She has worked as a carnival ride operator, a hand model, and a rocket scientist, but not all at the same time. She has an extensive vocabulary of multilingual swears, so please do not ask her to forward a chain letter.

Friday, January 13, 2017

How I Keep It Fresh #FridayReads

My ninth Alafair Tucker mystery, The Return of the Raven Mocker, was just released in paper and as an e-book on January 3. And yet I’m already working on book ten. When I first began writing the Alafair Tucker Mystery series, I had a story arc in mind that was going to carry through ten books. This is a wonderful idea, but as anyone who has ever written a long series knows, after a couple of books all your plans for a story arc have gone by the wayside.

The reason this happened, at least to me, is that I seem to be writing about real people who have their own ideas about how things should be gone about, and once I put them into a situation, they react to it in ways I had never anticipated.

So much for a ten-book arc. Besides, I really want readers to be able to pick up any book in the series and have a satisfying experience without having to know anything about what went before. This poses the million dollar question for the author of a long series: How do you keep it fresh? How do you make every story stand alone, yet in its place as well? How do you keep from repeating yourself, or losing your spark?

Alafair is a farm wife with a very large family who lives in rural Oklahoma at the turn of the 20th Century. Each of the books features a different one of Alafair’s newly-grown children, with whom Alafair either works to solve a crime, or works to save from him or herself. Since each child has his or her own distinct personality and interests, this gives me a great deal of latitude to explore all kinds of things that people were into in the early 20th Century.

For each story I have to figure out a convincing way for Alafair to solve the murder or contribute to the solution, which isn’t that easy for a woman with ten kids! I have found over the course of nine books in the same series that I have begun to depart from the usual mystery novel format. The murders take place later and later in the story with each book I write. The later books are constructed more like thrillers than puzzles. In book seven, Hell With the Lid Blown Off, I told the reader who was going to die in the first sentence, but didn’t actually kill him for a hundred pages. In book eight, All Men Fear Me, we kind of knew who was doing at least some of the killing. But the questions became why, and was there more than one killer? In book nine, Raven Mocker, I immediately start out with the information that we have the wrong guy.

I want to mix it up from book to book. I want to keep the readers on their toes. And I want to keep myself amused as well!

Donis Casey is the author of the Alafair Tucker Mysteries, set in Oklahoma during the booming 1910s and featuring the sleuthing mother of ten children. Donis has twice won the Arizona Book Award, been a finalist for the Willa Award and is a seven-time finalist for the Oklahoma Book Award. Her first novel, The Old Buzzard Had It Coming, is currently being offered as a free download on iTunes. The ninth Alafair Tucker Mystery, The Return of the Raven Mocker, has just been released by Poisoned Pen Press. Donis lives in Tempe, AZ.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Beetling Along

Photo by Andi Gentsch, via Flickr

Years ago I came across the advice that exercise can help to kick-start stalled creative juices, so, since some sort of house cleaning had to occur at least once a month, I tried to convince myself that vacuuming was good exercise—a strenuous upper-body workout, albeit only on my right side. But to this day I remain unconvinced (as do the strained muscles in my right shoulder). Vacuuming only makes me cranky, and a cranky writer eats chocolate and checks Facebook.

So I invested in a time- and labour-saving gadget to make my life easier: a robotic vacuum cleaner. At first I was drawn to watch in fascination as “Beetle” laboured, making nice tidy bundles of dust bunnies and debris. Once I was confident of Beetle’s ability to navigate without getting stuck or nudging open forbidden doors, I reminded myself that Beetle was there to save me time—so what was I going to do with that gift of time? The answer was clear: this would be writing time, primarily, (or, occasionally, time won for necessary but otherwise easily-set-aside household tasks). While Beetle was working, I would work too. This was no time to check Facebook, or even for research (if I had instead used the money to hire a cleaner I would not be languishing on social sites and exploring Internet rabbit holes while someone else vacuumed my house). Like Jess, but instead of using a timer, I chose to turn Beetle on and get to work. Beetle runs for a minimum of eight minutes regardless of the size of the room, and there is a surprising amount of writing that can happen in that time. At the very least, it’s a start, and sometimes that’s all I need to get my working day going. That writing is never going to happen shoving a heavy Electrolux around.

What time-saving devices do you use? What do you do with the time this gives you? Have you ever thought of exclusively using that saved time for writing? Or do you have wonderful people who get the mundane stuff done for you so you can write?

Elle Carter Neal is the author of the picture book I Own All the Blue and teen science-fantasy novel Madison Lane and the Wand of Rasputin. She is based in Melbourne, Australia. Find her at or

Monday, January 9, 2017

New Stories

I love mysteries and cozy mysteries. I especially love Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in all its iterations from the old Basil Rathbone black and whites to the current crop played by Benedict Cumberbatch, Robert Downey Jr., and Johnny Lee Miller. There have been many fictional offshoots as well featuring Irene Adler, Moriarity, and female Sherlocks.

I have enjoyed multiple versions of the Bronte sisters' works and all the Jane Austen tales from Emma to Pride and Prejudice, though I draw the line at adding zombies.

I enjoy the endless Marvel comics-inspired movies from Iron Man to Guardians of the Galaxy. They will be making movies long after I am in the ground.

In fact, Hollywood and fiction writing are awash with sequels, prequels, and too many to count remakes of just about every classic novel, television show, and movie within my lifetime.

There are tried and true genre tropes repeated ad nauseum because they are comfortable and have been proven to work: the romantic triangle, the courtroom drama, aliens attacking earth, and being alone in space.

More and more I find myself craving new stories, especially stories that bring to light dark shadows of history, stories that inspire and elucidate.

For example, the movie Hidden Figures (2017) about three African-American women at NASA who helped launch astronaut John Glenn into orbit. They didn't make the text books. It is time historical women and minorities get their day in the sun.

Another example would be the Imitation Game (2014)  about the scientist Alan Turing, who created the "computer" that decrypted German intelligence codes during World War II. Now, more than ever, it is crucial that we humanize those who have been dehumanized by history.

I encourage you to resist writing what has been done simply because it has proven successful in the past.

As much as I love the old and comfortable, I am eager for the new. There are thousands of years of history and myriad cultures to draw from.

As our planet tilts toward what feels like a new dark ages, it has never been more important to advocate and enlighten as well as entertain.

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.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

The Editorial Critique

Photo credit: Dani Greer

I’m sometimes asked why I would hire an editor for my work, since I am an editor myself. Isn’t this a waste of money and time? 

The answer is simple: No, it is not a waste of money or time.  I’m too close to the book to see the mistakes or recognize the places it could be better. Although I will always perform a self-edit before I send it off to another editor, I know from experience that I’ll miss things.

Here is what I expect from my editor’s Manuscript Critique. First, I must recognize that it is an editor’s job to point out what does not work and where the problems are in a manuscript. They hunt for the bad stuff, so naturally they can sound negative and discouraging even though they might be positive, kind-hearted people. (I certainly try to be.)

The trick for the editor is to point out the good stuff too, and the trick for the writer is to hold on to their vision for the book in the face of the realization that it’s not yet perfect. (Actually nothing is ever perfect, not even carefully edited manuscripts.)

I expect my editor to make general suggestions and some specific suggestions about how to fix the weaknesses and highlight the strengths. I want to know if she thinks my book shows heart and humor, and its primary theme is evident throughout. I want to know if this is a fun book to read. I want to know if the end is satisfying or if it leaves the reader hanging.

I want to know if she thinks the chapters are in an order that makes sense and the story arc moves the characters and the action along. I want to know if the editor/reader gets confused at any point, and what she is confused about. I want to know if she thinks the sentences are too wordy or too long. I want to know if she thinks more dialogue is needed, or less description, or there aren’t enough sensory details.

When I get the manuscript critique back, my first reaction will probably be a bit of hurt feelings. What do you mean, my baby isn’t perfect? Then I will get over it. I’ll try a few of her suggestions, and then I’ll probably realize they make the book better. So I’ll try a few more. 

Kim Pearson is an author, ghostwriter, and owner of Primary Sources, a writing service that helps others become authors of professional and compelling books and articles. She has authored 12 books of her own, and ghostwritten more than 45 non-fiction books and memoirs. To learn more about her books or services, visit

Monday, January 2, 2017

The Pomodoro Technique and Productive Writing Time

Photo by Paul Downey, via Flickr
A lot of the writers I work with struggle with keeping up a productive writing schedule. And if I’m being honest, I sometimes struggle with the same time management difficulties when I’m faced with a big editing project. It can be hard to sit down and write when you have a million other pressing obligations, when you’re facing writer’s block, or when you’d just rather do something else. Procrastination happens to the best of us.

So when I’m finding it hard to be a productive writer or editor, I turn to the Pomodoro Technique to get me back on track.

But what even is the Pomodoro Technique?

In the late 1980s Francesco Cirillo developed a time management technique that uses a timer to break down work into intervals separated by short breaks. So, twenty-five minutes of working followed by five minutes of play. Rinse and repeat until the work is done. Cirillo named his technique and the intervals after the Italian word for “tomato” because of the tomato-shaped kitchen timer he used to time his intervals. And it’s really that simple.

The idea is that frequent breaks improve mental agility. So while you can use the Pomodoro Technique for just about any kind of work, it’s especially useful for writing and editing because it keeps your imagination from getting stagnant and your mind from burning out. Plus, if you know that you only “have” to write for a short period of time before you can do something else, you’re more likely to just sit your ass down and get it over with.

There are also proven health benefits associated with getting up and moving around every once in awhile instead of sitting in a chair typing for hours on end. A lot of the time I use my break pomodoros to do squats, tricep dips, or lunges around my office. It gets my blood flowing, freaks out my interns, and makes me feel smug about my physical fitness while still making progress on my nerdy indoor goals.

You can choose the length of your working and playing pomodoros according to what works for your schedule and workload. I usually stick to the traditional twenty-five minutes of editing interspersed with five minutes of reading for fun, exercising, doing laundry, or playing fetch with my dog, but you can break it down into even smaller or larger pomodoros. An hour on, ten minutes off. Thirty minutes on, thirty minutes off. Assess your scheduling needs and pomodoro accordingly!

I recommend the Pomodoro Technique to authors who are struggling with procrastination, buried under other obligations, or just overwhelmed with the amount of writing they need to get done. Breaking writing and editing down into manageable chunks will help to make the work go by faster and keep track of your progress. And I often find that within a few pomodoros, I hit my stride and don’t want to stop for breaks anymore. Once the writing is flowing, you don’t have to force yourself to stop for break pomodoros anymore. Just ride out the productivity as long as it lasts, and then start cycling through breaks and working pomodoros again.

You can even pair the Pomodoro Technique with a site blocker for maximum focus. I personally use this free browser plug-in, Strict Workflow, to make it easier to stick to my writing or editing while on my computer. The site blocker makes it so you literally can’t access particular websites during your writing pomodoro. If you try to visit Facebook, for example (that black hole of wasted time and energy that is the enemy of any productive visit to the Internet), the site blocker will instead reroute you to a message that tells you to get your lazy ass back to work. It makes it so you literally can’t procrastinate during a working pomodoro.

The Pomodoro Technique isn’t for every writer and editor, but I highly suggest you try it, especially if you’re easily distracted, if you live with ADD, if you have a hard time staying motivated, or if you’re overwhelmed by your to-do list. I used it to write this blog post, and got the whole thing done within two working pomodoros with a break in the middle to walk my dog for ten minutes. Now I have a complete, polished blog post and a happy dog. Everybody wins!

Jessica d’Arbonne is an acquiring editor at the University Press of Colorado. She is an alumna of the Denver Publishing Institute and Emerson College. You can follow her on Twitter @JessDarb.

Friday, December 30, 2016

A Matter of Style—On or Off the Grid

This top post of 2016 was first published on March 17.

Image courtesy of vikas bhargava

Hello, dearies! While Mother Nature has seen fit to deck the yards in our neck of the woods (So many lovely daffodils!), there are a great many readers who are suffering the ravages of floods and other assorted nasty weather. To them we send our wishes for safety and a quick recovery.

I will admit that while the local weather has been mild, the interior of my home currently looks like Tornado Alley. It’s bad enough that the squirrels are laughing at me; I’m unable to locate my beloved Chicago Manual of Style!

Fear not, duckies. Whilst grumbling and tossing various bits of clutter, it is still entirely possible to set one’s mind at ease regarding elements of writing style. Simply visit the online edition!

For a fee, groups and individuals may access everything that the print edition has to offer, as well as taking part in the Forum, an online kaffeeklatsch for writers and readers of every stripe. Site visitors who do not purchase a membership may still access the always-helpful Tools and Q&A sections.

Well, I haven’t found my print edition yet, but I have managed to unearth that package of pencils that I bought last month. All I have to do now is find the sharpener …

Ah, well. It’ll show itself eventually. In the meantime, keep your chin up, keep your pathways clear, and remember: a well-turned phrase is always in style!

In keeping with the spring foliage, The Style Maven is "busting out all over," and intends to visit the gym as soon as possible in order to rectify the situation.


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