“Ask the Editor” Day at Wicked Cozy Authors

RamonaGravitarI am delighted to be today’s “Ask the Editor” guest at the Wicked Cozy Authors blog.  My post is called The Language of Editing.  In the post, I discuss types of editors and some helpful terms writers should know when seeking or working with an independent editor. Please stop by!

About the Wickeds:

“We are six authors who write wicked cozy mysteries set in New England. This blog aims to foster a conversation between readers and writers about all kinds of topics connected to our writing, our setting, and our fans….”

Jessie Crockett writes the Sugar Grove Mystery series
Sherry Harris writes the Sarah Winston Garage Sale Mystery series
Julie Hennrikus writes the Clock Shop Mystery series
Edith Maxwell writes the Local Food Mystery series. As Tace Baker, she writes the Speaking of Mystery series.
Liz Mugavero writes the Pawsitively Organic Mysteries
Barb Ross writes the Maine Clambake Mystery series

Are you a Texas Sharpshooter writer?

RamonaGravitarOnce upon a time, a cowboy from Texas took a bunch of  pot shots at the broad side of a barn. When his gun was emptied, the cowboy moseyed to the barn and found the spot where the most bullets had hit. He took a can of black paint, marked a bullseye around the cluster of bullet holes, and announced, “Hey, look! I’m a great shot!”

 True story? Tall tale? You decide.

The Texas Sharpshooter bit is a joke, but it also illustrates a fallacy. A fallacy is an argument based on unsound reasoning. A fallacy can be intentional and employed as trickery, or a fallacy can be unintentional and based on a mistake.

The Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy has been used by epidemiologists—medical professionals who study disease clusters—to show the danger of reaching a conclusion based on chance instead of cause. In lay terms, that means a disease may cluster in an area because of a cause: a local industrial plant is spewing toxins that seep into well water and make townspeople ill.

Or, a cluster results by chance: a person carrying a contagious disease eats at the local diner and shakes hands with a few people. Clusters are studied to determine if they reveal a genuine pattern or if they are random.

The Texas Sharpshooter joke is amusing because we all know cowboys are right honest fellas who never lie about their marksmanship. And what kind of psycho shoots up a perfectly good barn?

The real question of this post is, what does this have to do with plotting a mystery novel?

If you are writing a murder mystery, you need a murderer. Some writers know the identity of the Bad Guy from the start. If your candidate for murderer is Brad, you’ll create a plot that surrounds Brad with figurative bullet holes labeled  motive-means-opportunity. When Brad is revealed as the Bad Guy, it is based on cause—concrete evidence—and you hit the target because you aimed at Brad all along.

 If you write this way, consider yourself a Marksman. Your target was chosen. Every scene was a shot aimed toward the bullseye that is your murderer.

 But what if you are one of the many authors who don’t know whodunit from the start? Is it possible to plot a murder mystery if you—the author—don’t know the identity of the murderer?

 If you’re writing backwards, as it were, does that mean your reveal is a fallacy? If you don’t decide on the Bad Guy until you yourself reach the climax, does that mean you’re a Texas Sharpshooter writer? And if you are a Texas Sharpshooter kind of writer, is that a bad thing?

 Maybe. Maybe not.

Texas Sharpshooting is based on randomness. If you have no clue about the murderer, but as you write you find most of the bullets start to land around Brad–bingo! You can still write a reveal based on cause. Done correctly, the plot will give Brad the required motive-means-opportunity to prove him guilty. Maybe your subconscious knew Brad was the Bad Guy and it guided you as you wrote. Good job, subconscious!

 But what if you have no particular Bad Guy in mind, and when the time comes to reveal one, you don’t have enough bullet holes around any particular suspect? Does this mean your Bad Guy is relegated to  plot convenience, coincidence, or the dreaded deus ex machina? Will your solution to the mystery be a fallacy?

 If you close your eyes and choose a Bad Guy because someone must have done it and you have a deadline pending, your choice is random. You are plotting using unsound reasoning–creating the bullseye after shooting the gun.

But don’t burn down the barn just yet.

Can the Texas Sharpshooter method of plotting work? Of course it can–if you go a few steps back and plant the bullets in the right spots.

To remove fallacies in your plotting, go back into the manuscript and revise or double check the logical case against your Bad Guy. Does your plot reveal motive-means-opportunity? Is that shown in the action of the story? If not, make that happen, and your pot shots hit the correct target after all. The unsound reasoning in your plot disappears, and you have cause to call out the Bad Guy.  If you don’t go back into the manuscript to correct your aim, you may have an ending that feels random–because it was.

 Have you ever read a murder mystery where, when you reach the reveal, you think, “Really? This guy? Who knew!”  Maybe the author didn’t know, either. Maybe he or she is a Texas Sharpshooter.

 What kind of plotter are you?

Do you take the Marksman approach, knowing from the start who had the means-motive-opportunity, and you write to prove that out?  Or are you more of a Texas Sharpshooter? Do you write until all the evidence is revealed and then you have to back up, reload, and revise to show the murderer must be, and can only be, this one Bad Guy?

In mystery writing, there’s no one way to plot. After all, when the reader gets the finished product, she has no idea if you painted the bullseye on the barn before or after you began firing. As long as the target is hit, only you know if you’re a Marksman or a Texas Sharpshooter.

But feel free to ‘fess up here about your particular brand of plotting!


For more info on writing mysteries, check out these posts:

Why Your Mystery is like a Lost Puppy

17 Ways to Mess Up Your Murder Mystery

Fudging Facts in Fiction


Be Yourself Promotion

RamonaGravitarLast week, I was informed I was no good at BSP.

For those who don’t know, BSP stands for Blatant Self Promotion. It’s a term among authors who must publicize their stories in addition to writing them. BSP  means plugging your signings, appearances, awards, guest posts, and anything else that draws attention to your work—and yourself as an author.

Not all writers enjoy BSP, but as PR departments shrink and more writers self-publish, promoting yourself is a reality in today’s world of publishing.

Being good at BSP means you boost yourself with dignity. Being bad at BSP can mean one of two things: you are too pushy, or you are not pushy enough. Finding the right BSP balance means recognizing the difference between effectively highlighting your achievements, being obnoxious, or being too shy.

My efforts at BSP include this blog and website, a personal Facebook page, a Facebook Editor/Author page, a Twitter account, listings in various artist registries, membership in professional organizations, and a few online writerly list- serves and author groups. There are many other options. These are the ones I’ve chosen to utilize.

Why did someone say I was no good at BSP? Because last week, when I won an award, I posted this short status on my various places:

“So…this happened + a smiley face” followed by this link to the announcement.

What I should have done was post something more Blatantly Self Promoting, such as: “Attention, everyone! Great news! I was named by the Delaware Division of the Arts as the 2014 Cape Henlopen Writers Retreat Fellow! Woot!”

I am not being sarcastic. I am THRILLED to have been selected by the DDoA for this honor, but I thought “So…this happened + a smiley face” was a cute way of making the announcement–not too braggy, not too timid, but just right. The Goldlilocks approach to self-aggrandizement. Maybe it was a little less brazen than a PR firm might like, but I don’t want to be the BSPer who is pushy or obnoxious.

We all have limits to what makes us comfortable. Do you see the words “award winning author” on this website? No, you do not. That’s not within my comfort zone. Additionally, because some of the works I’ve edited have won awards, I could hawk myself as an “award winning editor” but I don’t do that, either. That would be stealing the light from the author and perhaps a little misleading.

Do others describe themselves as award-winners? Of course. Maybe I am bad at BSP, but I keep Goldilocks in mind and do what feels right.

All that being said, and no matter how squirrely BSP makes me inside, it must be done. Over time, I’ve come up with my own rules of publicizing myself and my work. I call it Be Yourself Promotion.

Here are my 5 Principles of Be Yourself Promotion:

1. Be Myself. If I had to describe myself in three words, they’d be goofy, passionate, and curious. I have a silly side, so what I share on social media can be wacky, or it can be an enlightening piece about writing. I enjoy current events and don’t fear voicing my opinion. I mention my family, but don’t air personal problems online. I ask questions. Lots and lots of questions. In other words, I’m a person so I act like a person, not a writing machine.

 2. Respect my clients. I never discuss my clients’ works or the condition of their books when they appeared to me as a first draft. I won’t disparage a student’s homework or efforts. If a client wins an honor or award, even if I participated in the editing process, the award or honor is theirs, not mine to share or horn in on.

3. Don’t rag on a working author. If I dislike a working author’s work, I say nothing. I don’t care how famous, or infamous, an author may be, if he or she is writing to make a living, I will not hurt their efforts—publicly. Privately, of course I tell my friends if I think a book stinks, or a writer phoned one in or make a bad choice. In writing or in public, I keep that to myself. Why? In part because, if I wanted to offer a critique, I’d do that in a proper review, and I don’t do reviews. Second, any author you trash is sure to sit next to you at a panel at a conference. Uncomfortable!

4. Never trash entire genres. If I don’t like a certain type of story, I don’t read it. There is no need to announce that to the world, and certainly no reason to put down another genre or tell others what you perceive to be all wrong with it. The reasons people give for disliking another genre usually reflect badly on the person, not the genre.

5. Be encouraging. Was I a cheerleader in a former life? Maybe. I want everyone to succeed as a writer. This is why I write How To posts on this blog, why I start a Sprint at 7:00 Thread every single morning on Facebook, why I Tweet helpful craft articles and submission opportunities. My proudest online creation might be Good News Friday. I mean every bit of the rah-rah, too.

Those are the operating principles of my Be Myself Promotion: Be authentic, respectful and encouraging, and skip the ragging or trashing.

 Do you have a set of professional principles you live by? Want to share?

 Oh, and to prove I am not 100% sucky at BSP, have you Liked my Facebook Editor page?  Checked out my Awards & Honors? Read some of my writing?

There. That should satisfy Goldilocks for a while.

A Gallery of Writers’ Journals

RamonaGravitarYesterday, Literary Mama, an online magazine for the maternally inclined, published my guest post, “What in the world is a  sprint journal?” The post appeared as part of LM’s After Page One blog series.

After Page One posts are intended to motivate, encourage and inspire writers on their journeys as mothers who are also write. In addition to its articles and stories on motherhood, Literary Mama offers numerous craft pieces that would aid any writer.

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50 “How To” Writing Posts on Craft

RamonaGravitarIn May of 2012, I announced a blog project for the coming month: I would post a How To craft post every day for the month, Sundays excepted. My month of blogging resulted in 27 posts about writing log lines, avoiding typo blindness, breaking the that habit, curing overpopulation, introducing characters, writing thematic statements, and so on.

Eventually, I put together all of those posts in a How To collection, which can be found under the FOR WRITERS tab. I continued to write How To posts in a more sporadic fashion, when the need or an idea arose.

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