Making a Book—Peg’s Recipe

(This article originally appeared in my December 2016 newsletter.)

Several weeks ago I completed the first draft of my new manuscript. The celebration was brief because I knew there was a lot more work ahead of me… edits and revisions. This new stage is where it’s possible to take an “okay” book to a “great” book. To me, the hardest part is over—finding the story and writing it. What happens next is pure magic. Yeah it’s work, but it’s still magic.

I thought I’d share a little bit of my process with you.

This particular manuscript took me about eleven months to research and write. That’s pretty much the norm for me. While I’d love to write two reader-worthy books a year, I haven’t quite figured out how to do that.

A few days after I finished the first complete draft (many scenes having already been rewritten numerous times), I do a series of self-edits. The first is a read-through where I look for plot and character inconsistencies, glaring errors, scenes that need to be cut or added, etc. and then apply those changes. Then I do a text-to-speech edit that points out over-used words, and missing words, and places where I used the wrong word. It’s a computerized voice that demands your attention. When I work through the same words over and over, my mind does an auto-correct from what is actually written to what I think is written. For example, I remember in this edit hearing the word “now” when it was supposed to be “know.” I make those corrections and then do another full read-through.

At this point I’m standing in the middle of a word-forest and have lost all perspective. I know the story can be better, but where? How? (Just so you know, the story can always be better. At some point I just have to let it go.)

That’s where my beta readers come in. For this manuscript, I have seven people who have agreed to read and share their comments with me. Four of them are successful authors in crime fiction, one is a trusted friend who could be an editor if she wanted, and two are readers whose opinions matter to me. I’m in the middle of my fourth round of revisions from beta readers, with a fifth one waiting. So far they’ve run the gamut from general observations to a line-by-line edit. I value all of them, and it’s amazing… they’ve each caught different things! And each person made this commitment during one of the busiest and most stressful times of the year. Every one of them has my gratitude.

After I finish the beta revisions, it will finally be time for me to bring out the Big Gun, a/k/a my editor. Each of my three books has had a different editor, perfect for that book at that time. I’ll be using the same person I used for THE SACRIFICE for a lot of reasons. First of all, she’s an amazing editor who makes my brain bleed (in a good way). She’s also familiar with these characters because this book is the second in a series, following THE SACRIFICE. She was referred to me by an author many of you might read, Timothy Hallinan. Peggy Hageman, formerly with William Morrow, was involved in the editing process for Tim’s Edgar nominated, THE QUEEN OF PATPONG. (If you haven’t read Tim’s Poke Rafferty series set in Thailand, do yourself a favor. My advice is to read them in order, beginning with A NAIL THROUGH THE HEART.)

Sorry, talking about books and authors can often get me running off on a tangent.

The process of the final edit can take anywhere from a couple of weeks to a couple of months, depending on the scope of the story and any issues with the manuscript. My plan, always, is to present something that’s fairly clean so the remaining editing process can be as smooth as possible.

While my manuscript is with Peggy, I’ll be in touch with my cover and interior designer. Together we’ll hopefully come up with a compelling cover that reflects the story inside.

And finally after it’s edited, it’s time for a really good proof reader.  So many edits and revisions and changes can wreak havoc on those tiny details—the same ones that text-to-speech helped me with earlier. Only now, even t2s is unlikely to work. My ears and eyes have grown numb and there’s a disconnect in my brain. So someone else, fresh to the manuscript, is needed to give it a nice, tight read. One more edit to go.

There you have it. My revision process. It takes a village to create a book, at least one of mine.

It’s all better with friends.

In Search of Imperfection

Recently I learned two new words: kintsugi and pentimento. While these were applied to objects, I think they fit well into who we are as creative humans.

Pentimento (Italian) refers to paintings or drawings evidencing that the artist has changed her mind, but instead of covering up the old work, she lightly erases it and creates the new image. I couldn’t find a photo of pentimento that I could freely share, but the renowned artist, Matisse, has such a drawing. I figure if he was willing to show fallibility, who am I to try to impress with (fraudulent) perfection?

We can cover up our past, refuse to acknowledge we’ve changed our minds about something, or we can hold it as a marker reflecting where we’ve been and how we’ve grown. We can admit to numerous rewrites of our stories, or we can assert we only need one or two drafts and it’s ready for readers. We can pretend our lives, and kitchens, are perfect, or we can be comfortable with the smudge marks.

Kintsugi (Japanese) celebrates the breakage and repair of pottery by putting the broken pieces back together with gold or some other shiny and noticeable element. Rather than trying to disguise the break, and in my mind treating it as a flaw, the object is made whole while beautifully acknowledging a history.

Who hasn’t made a mistake? Or been badly wounded physically or emotionally? Those are the moments and events that make us human and help us grow into something awesome and treasured.

Perfection is impossible, but pentimento and kintsugi are real and something I can relate to. They relax me.

Can you use these two concepts to incorporate into your life? Your 2018 Goals?


It’s all better with friends.


**Side note: January is Human Trafficking Awareness month. I’m pleased to announce that the audiobook for TRAFFICKED is now available at Audible, Amazon and iTunes.**

Grabbing Endings

Do you remember the first time your child ran up to you, arms flung wide, desperate for a hug? I bet you do. It’s etched into your memory. Wow. What a feeling.

If your children are older, do you remember the last time that happened? And if you can remember, would you have it happen one more time? Just so you could mark it in some way? Make it special in an understanding that this level of spontaneity would never happen again?

Because it was an ending you didn’t know was an ending. There’s no page to turn to find it again. It’s over.

If you’ve lost a loved one, can you recall that last kiss? That last hug? That last, “I love you.”? Don’t kick yourself if you can’t. Few of us can.

We easily remember the first time. We’re confident there will be more. And if we’re lucky, there are. We even get used them. Expect there will always be more. We’re so naive.

Endings are harder. We never, ever know when it’s the Last Time.

I propose that every positive moment you enjoy today, tomorrow, next month, with someone you love, you mark it. Squeeze it. And make this action your norm. Not out of fear, but out of love. Write it in your Gratitude Journal as if it’s the last time it will happen. Grab it like a brass ring. If it’s not, you’re lucky. If it is, you have enveloped and preserved a moment in a rare and special way.

Grabbing endings is a way of living in the moment. Don’t take anything for granted. Understand that this minute—those arms flung wide—might never happen again.


It’s all better with friends.



#NotMe, but I Stand With The Family of Women

Women have found their voice, and damn it’s loud. And solid. And proud. And it brooks no doubt or slander or thrown tomatoes. We’re finally standing strong and solid with arms bound and spirits raised. We’re finished with all forms of subjugation to men.

It took us awhile.

In my mind the very first brave woman was Anita Hill during the Clarence Thomas vetting for the Supreme Court. She took backlash and whiplash and everything else, but she held fast and honorable to her values.

And no one listened. Not even women.

While other questionable male entitlement came out over time, I don’t remember other women standing up. As far as I know Monica Lewinsky never said a thing.

But then we saw the sheer number of women accusing Bill Cosby—and oh man, did that hurt. Really? Bill Cosby? America’s favorite dad? My heart still cries with that one. But I’ve come to terms with what I wish to be true versus what is likely true.

Today we’re hearing women’s voices, from politics to entertainment to business. Some people wonder if all of them are credible. Some people, even women, think it’s all just some silliness they need to get over.

#NotMe. #NotEverAgain.


It’s all better with friends.





Villainy + Power

I’ve been pushing the concept of villainy around in my head for a couple of days, trying to decide how I wanted to put my mark on the amazing discussions from my fellow Mysteristas. You guys rock!

It occurred to me that without some kind of power, villainy is rather innocuous and impotent. It’s still evil, but it’s evil that’s ineffective.

Villainy + 23 weapons modified to fire like automatic rifles

Villainy + Harvey, Irma, Marie, Nate (Yep, nature can be villainous.)

Villainy + Professional connections, inflated egos, money and lifestyle that says you can’t be touched

Villainy + Assumed privilege.

In Real Life, when something abominable happens, I find myself stepping back from my manuscript for a period of time. One can only take so much. Gradually the story beckons and I realize that within the pages of my book I can vanquish the diabolical. While it doesn’t exactly balance the scales, it does feel good.


Peg The Conqueror


It’s all better with friends.




Night Play

Air shifts as the earth moves through its rotation.

Dawn brings a fresh current that’s both quiet and invigorating. A promise and a plan. Your plan. Possibilities.

The day is filled with chatter and movement and news and emotion commotion. The current is busy and robust and packed with energy. Wins and losses. Joy and pain. That point when you realize your plan is so much smoke. The usual.

Twilight into dusk is a time for calmness. Reflection. A bit of mental planning (yes, you’re an optimist) for the following day. Deep breaths. Soft breezes carpeted with fragrance.

From evening into night we strip our faces, don comfy pajamas, and decide how we want to relax for a few hours. (Or if you’re a writer, what to work on next.)

Lights flick off. The urban wave of traffic calms, and almost—but not quite—disappears.

And night slides into the deep.

In the deep current Darkness rules. Spirits and magic and things that hide from the light come out to play. To tempt, trick and trap.

It’s when I can see you. The real you.

And I know exactly how to get to you. Are you ready to play?


It’s all better with friends.




When Vindication Sucks

“I know I’m right, and so do you.” Anna Palmer looked at her partner, her eyes drilling his for a sign of concession.

“What we know doesn’t matter without solid evidence,” Kevin DeGross made a dismissive gesture with his hands. “There’s no way we can take what we’ve got and get a warrant.”

“Forget a warrant,” Palmer pushed. “We don’t have time. She doesn’t have time.”

“I’m not going down this road with you again. Every writeup I’ve ever received is because I’ve gone along when you’ve cut corners, crossed the line—”

“I’ve never crossed the line.”

“—and I don’t want to deal with that crap again.”

Anna felt rage rise inside her gut but pushed it down. Now was not the time. “Louise Jackson’s life is in danger. We need to protect her.” It’s not about me or you or your lousy career.

“We can pull him in for questioning.”

“Yeah, and hold him for how long?” Palmer asked, her voice dripping sarcasm.

And so it went. Palmer and DeGross battling each other, trying to gain traction and make a case for their particular position.

The next morning they got the call. A murder scene.

Anna Palmer arrived first.

“Evidence enough?” She spat the question, handing her partner a coffee.


It’s all better with friends.