Prairie Fire by Terri Branson is in the Featured New Book Spotlight

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book cover for Prairie Fire, written by Terri BransonLet’s welcome Terri Branson to West of Mars!

Terri is not only an author but a publisher, too, helming Dragonfly Books. Check them out.

Now, Prairie Fire isn’t a new book. Nope. It was published in 2008, but as I often say, new can mean New to West of Mars readers, and I bet that’s the case here. How many of you have already encountered this book? Not me! And I’ve run into Terri and spoken with her more than once.

Let’s get to it. Terri, what song makes you think of Prairie Fire?

In PRAIRIE FIRE, the handsome rancher Max is in newly opened Oklahoma Territory, because he is running from a murky past which includes a gunfighter. So he’s got trouble even before he meets Chloe. So the song that reminds me of this story would have to be DESPERADO, by the Eagles.

Ooh, an absolute CLASSIC song, filled with longing and emotion and all sorts of other chill-inducing stuff. Yes. Most definitely.

Need the official description, or are you ready to buy? Here it is, just in case:

Chloe plans to stay only a short time at her brother Joe’s ranch in 1893 Oklahoma Territory. Despite her efforts to avoid Joe’s matchmaking schemes, she is soon entangled in them. At the same time, she catches the interest of a nosy and possibly dangerous ghost called Fire Horse.

All Max McKee wants is to buy a few horses. Before he realizes it, he becomes part of Joe’s scheme to marry off the rich and lovely Chloe, who happens to be the owner of those horses.

Max is a man with many secrets. Despite the risks, he finds Chloe irresistible. When a series of strange fires spooks the local ranchers, Chloe and Max must work together to discover who is setting those fires and try not to get themselves killed in the process.

I’m curious about the dangerous ghost, myself. Is it a horse? A person? What? Who? And how does it try to mess up the relationship between our hero and our heroine?

Who’d like to find out? Grab a copy:
Amazon
Apple
Barnes and Noble
Kobo
Smashwords *Affiliate link

Of course, a Spotlight Feature wouldn’t be a spotlight feature without letting you know how you can connect with Terri Branson!
The book’s Website
Author Website
Amazon Author Page
Facebook
Goodreads
Smashwords
BOOK TRAILER

As always, the best way to thank an author for their hard work is to leave a review. If you’re struggling to write one, drop me a note and I can help.

And, as you’ve seen time and again — and I mean it! — if you’re an author, if your friend is an author, if someone you know is an author and would like to be featured here, that’s super. Complete strangers are welcome to drop me an email, especially when they’re willing to be more than complete strangers. Here’s the link to the handy-dandy form.

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Branding Or Authorial Signature?

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Graphic of a crossed sword and a pencilI may not leave the house much, but I do chat with colleagues and other editors. Today’s lesson comes from one of those discussions.

She had joking posted something like “All my characters ride bicycles. Is that my branding?”

And… a lot of authors said yes. That was her branding.

Which of course meant I had to chime in. “That’s an authorial signature, not branding.”

In the course of a private discussion, we wondered how many authors really know the difference between authorial signature and branding. Because the two are very very different.

In the most basic terms, branding is what you do so the reader thinks about you. You say to me “Lorelei James” and I think “Hot, steamy cowboys.” You say to me “CJ Lyons” and I think “Medical thrillers set in an alternate Pittsburgh.”

That’s branding. It’s associating the writer with the broad, overall picture of what they do. I have a client whose brand is clean, wholesome romance. One whose brand is dark paranormal. Branding is how to help a reader find a writer’s books.

Then… what’s an authorial signature?

That’s WAY more fun, especially because it generally takes a few books for the signature to come out. Most often, it does so without the author even realizing it. Like I said above, it’s “all my characters ride bicycles.” Or maybe “I write love triangles. All my heroes turn out to be cinnamon rolls. All my characters wear red underwear. I only write stories set in small towns, never cities.”

See the difference? Branding is about you. Authorial signature is about your characters. It’s the habits that sneak onto the page, consistent across your books. Maybe not all of them, but enough that those of us who know to look can see and find them.

Now. Go forth and work on your branding. Readers need to be able to find you.

Don’t worry about your signatures. They are what they are, and for people like me, they’re a lot of fun. Stay authentic to yourself and don’t try to change them.

Remember, I’m here if you need me. I’m also glad to feature your books via the Featured New Book Spotlight. And while we’re here, check out the new newsletters! Fun changes are on the horizon. Come be part of them!

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Just Wait…

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My telling you to just wait is NOT me telling you to skip writing for a day. Perish THAT thought; I subscribe to literary agent Barbara Poelle’s* mantra to “Read 2k a day; write 2k a day” — except if you don’t actually hit 2k words written or read, I’m okay with that. The idea is that you do what you can, but do it daily.

So what are we supposed to be waiting for?

It’s something that’s burned many an author. (And yes, now I am playing with you, mostly so I can say “Just wait” again and make the SEO gods happy) But it’s also something that’ll only bite you once, I’ve found.

It’s setting your release date too early, and the subsequent presale date.

What’s too early? Before your book has gone through editing, I’d say. Before it’s gone through beta reads. You know… before it’s landed in the hands of the people who may have you do a time-consuming change or six (hundred). Or who’ll encourage you to rewrite from the ground up. Yes, I know clients that’s happened to, even if it wasn’t me issuing that particular instruction.

Invariably, the same thing happens, over and over. The author — that’s the you in this scenario — winds up rushing, pushing, ignoring things that otherwise wouldn’t be overlooked. The book suffers. Readers aren’t happy with you. They make other buying choices going forward.

I know! I do know that you want to get that presale up, that you find it motivating, that you need it to give you the kick in the pants, the confidence to keep moving. You can’t take it back, so you’re committed. I get it. I DO.

But I also get that the goal here shouldn’t be to merely get a book on the shelf. Nope. The goal here should be to get the BEST book you can produce on the shelf. The best. Not the fastest.

That means pushing yourself as a writer, not in terms of getting the book done, but in terms of craft. Can you write better? Improve this? That? The other?

And don’t forget about self-care. Yes, reading/writing 2k a day is a good goal, but let’s face it: some days, you need to take a day off. Unplug. Wander in the woods. Be present for your family. Throw a ball for the dog. Cut some catnip and laugh at how your cats behave. Doing any of those things — or whatever you need — isn’t hurting your writing goals in the least, I promise. It’s refueling you. Sometimes, you need that break. Take it.

Just wait.

Don’t schedule that release date yet. Don’t set up the presale yet.

Just wait.

Focus on making the best book possible.

As always, I’m here if you need help with that. And while I’m a little bit backed up as I type this, that situation changes by the day. However, don’t delay if you want to open a dialogue. My queue can fill up pretty darn fast.

*I always credit literary agent Barbara Poelle with that because she’s the first person I heard say it — at least that I remember — at a Pennwriters conference many years ago. And yes, mentioning Pennwriters here IS an endorsement, so come join us.

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Up to you!

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Graphic of a crossed sword and a pencilUp to you? What is up, and why do I leave it to you?

It’s a not-uncommon phrase I use in my comments when editing, and I wanted to talk a bit about it, as it can probably come off as passive-aggressive without an explanation.

Here we go. Ready? Buckled in? Braced? Hands inside the roller coaster?

Nah, it’s not that bad.

I make changes in your manuscript. That’s what you’ve hired me to do. They’re fixes, really, for grammar or readability (and, as an aside, if you ever want to know why, ASK ME! The best editing happens when we can trust each other, but also when I can help you grow as a writer.), and most of them aren’t negotiable.

So when something is, I like to let you know. Up to you.

But I won’t just point it out. Please. Zero context can be an awful thing. Instead, I’ll explain. You can just word it this way because [insert phrase] is implied by [this action]. The reason it’s up to you is that maybe it fits your authorial voice. Maybe it helps the rhythm of the sentence. Maybe you simply are more comfortable with the bit of extra words. Whatever the reason, it’s yours and you get to choose. In these instances, I’m truly letting you make your choice. It is, after all, your book, your baby, your creation. I’m here to make it better, not to override you. Well, unless your grammar sucks, your commas aren’t quite the work of art they need to be, or something doesn’t read right.

Up to you.

Don’t cringe when you see that. It’s a good thing. It means you are ready to stop and really think about the words on the page. It means you’re upping your craft.

Reaching that stage is, also, up to you.

As always, remember that if you need my editorial skills, I’m here. Reach on out.

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Sixshooter by Lyndi Alexander in the Featured New Book Spotlight!

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Woo hoo! Let’s welcome Lyndi Alexander back to West of Mars!

Lyndi’s got a new book out, called Sixshooter, and it’s part of the Horizon Crossover series. Want to know more? I sure do!

Let’s start with the usual, of course. I mean, it’s what we’re all here for!

Lyndi, what song makes you think of your book?

The Joker by Steve Miller. I mean, a SPACE COWBOY? I’ve been a long-time FIREFLY fan, and the thought of living out among the far-flung stars leads naturally to thoughts of Terran cowboys on the Plains. No one’s micromanaging you, and you’ve got the open spaces to call your own. You meet all sorts of interesting people and aliens, too. But as always, evil parts of government manage to get their tendrils into every life, and you’ve got to fight to stay independent and free.

Oh, and his name isn’t Maurice–but his grandfather’s is. 🙂

Like space, love has no boundaries.

Heh. His grandfather’s name is Maurice. Get it? (If not, hello? CLICK THE LINK.)

So. What’s the official book description?

Valeni Pascual wants to be free to make a living hauling cargo with her spaceship and to understand the shapeshifting alien who presents sometimes as the steamy male Nik and other times as the blonde bombshell Nikki.

As a rebel insurgence builds against the oppressive government known as the Agency, Valeni and Nik/Nikki encounter a sexy Terran cowboy named Garrett Rawls. Since being pulled into this region of space by another mysterious wormhole, Garrett has looked for a way to return to Earth. After meeting Valeni and Nikki, he might have found something worth staying for.

However, dark forces may have a much bigger picture in mind for all of them. Valeni, Nik/Nikki, and Garrett are pulled into a life and death fight that lays bare all of their secrets and their desires. Will they lose everything as the battle against the Agency rages around them or can love pull them through?

Pick up your copy!
Apple
Amazon
Barnes and Noble
Kobo
Smashwords (affiliate link)

And connect with Lyndi:
Website and Blog
Facebook
Goodreads
Amazon Author Page
Bookbub
Smashwords

Remember, if you like a book you’ve found here, the kind thing to do is leave a review (and if you hang out with me here, you’re kind. RIGHT?) wherever you bought your copy. Or, better, in multiple places. Tell a friend! Spread the word! Books bring us together as a community.

And if you’re having trouble with your review and need some help, drop me a line. I’m here to help!

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On Breakfast

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Graphic of a crossed sword and a pencilSeriously? An editor is here to talk about breakfast? What on earth FOR? This is a blog run by an editor, at least for the time being. (More on that later… when I have details)

Well, yes. We’re here to talk about breakfast.

Maybe it’s because I edit a lot of fantasy, which I love and so bring it, but bring your other genres as well. And one hallmark of fantasy is the journey trope: characters on a journey. Sometimes there’s an object they have to find, sometimes it’s one they have to deliver, sometimes it’s a journey of a different type. It doesn’t really matter; what matters is that you have people moving about, and they lack the creature comforts of home.

That last part is vital. They lack the creature comforts of home. That means they don’t have a kitchen — or the full kitchen they’re accustomed to — nearby.

Sometimes, they carry their own food. At which point, they don’t want the extra weight that food brings with it. (As an aside, ever notice how no one’s ever worried that carrying food will attract animals like bears? And yet, here on our planet, if you camp in grizzly territory, the experts tell you to make sure nothing goes into your tent, not even a water bottle.)

And sometimes, our characters don’t carry food and have to hunt and forage for it.

It doesn’t matter how the food gets to our characters. What matters is how commonly breakfast, the first meal of the day, the one some company decided was the most important meal of the day* winds up, in fiction, as being described as being “meager.”

Okay, sure. Let’s stop and consider. Your characters are on the move. They may not want/be able to light a fire first thing in the morning, or to stir the ashes from the fire the night before back to life. Carting food around adds weight, can possibly attract predators although that never really seems to happen in fiction, is hard to keep fresh if it’s something perishable… Not having a hearty breakfast of pancakes and eggs and sausage is the norm, and a bowl of Wheaties is even harder in most of these societies because first, breakfast cereal seems to universally be oatmeal, not Frosted Flakes and second, well, milk needs to be kept cold (and, for the majority of us, pasteurized, although have you tried raw milk? Wow, is that good stuff).

But does eating something like jerky and scavenged berries need to be meager? Do your characters ever eat leftovers from the night before? Why, or why not? Why don’t characters ever check traps, catch a fish, or the like first thing in the morning?

Oh, I know. I get it. I’m the same way, especially when travelling: Get me up, feed me, get me moving. The day is young, it’s promising, it’s full of potential. Who wants to waste the day catching fish or skinning an early-to-rise rabbit? Besides, our heroes have adventuring to do! Let’s not slow things down with the mechanics of an early morning hunt — a philosophy I happen to agree with.

Still. Breakfasts don’t always have to be meager, do they?

Just something to think about.

And remember, I’m here for your editorial needs. And I’m also glad to help spread the word about your book, your friend’s book, your acquaintance’s book via the Featured New Book Spotlight.

A hearty breakfast is always recommended.

*That link takes you to one of many citing the same history. However, I’m not discounting the science that people who eat big breakfasts consume fewer calories overall throughout the day, especially as the science isn’t yet conclusive about this.

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Worth the Wait

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Graphic of a crossed sword and a pencilSome things in life are worth the wait. I’d argue that most things are, although over the past few weeks, I’ve learned that it doesn’t necessarily include hospicing your cat. But that’s another story for another time.

No, today’s “it’s worth the wait” should hit closer to home for you, if you’re a writer. Or if you’ve got writer friends who run into this problem:

Really good editors are booked in advance weeks, months, or sometimes beyond one year.

Yes, some authors will wait a year or more in order for their favorite/preferred editor to have space for them!

Luckily for you, I don’t make my clients wait that long. Oh, sure, sometimes you’ll have to wait a few weeks — right now, the wait is about a month and a half, given what’s in my queue at this moment as I write this — and sure, sometimes, I’ll be able to say to you, “Hey, I can start on this next”. But it’s even rarer that I can say, “Yep, I have an opening right now. Come on in.” The last time I had time off was… well, I had two weeks, at two different times, in 2020. 2021 has seen me steadily working six or seven days a week.

Good editors are worth the wait.

And I know. I get it. The drafting process took longer than you’d anticipated. Revisions were a struggle. Your developmental or first editor was running late. You had to make massive changes that threw you off.

For whatever reason, you’re now behind your original, intended schedule. You need someone NOW.

But I’m telling you… the good editors? We’ve all got manuscripts lined up. The reason for this is obvious, isn’t it? We’re good. We’re worth the wait. Authors of all sorts are smart enough to realize this.

Which is all to say, authors, if you’re perpetually running late, if you perpetually need someone NOW, you are missing out on working with the best of us. Try reaching out earlier and asking if we can shuffle our queues for you — I often can and will. I’m here to help, after all. That willingness, though, is tempered: My loyalties lie with my recurring clients, not with you, even if you’re willing to pay a rush fee. Rush fees are fine and good. Steady work and relationships with my clients are better. Plus, the longer I work with you and get to know your voice, the better I am at what I do.

I’m worth the wait.

Don’t get frustrated when you’re someone new who’s not allowed to skip the entire queue. Once again, if you missed the memo: Good editors are worth the wait.

If you need me, as always, the contact form is up top, or use this link to get to it. I really do want to help.

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The Things Characters do to Themselves

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Graphic of a crossed sword and a pencilLike every other editor — every other human being, probably — I have opinions. Fortunately, I have a blog and a way to express those opinions, especially when they’re food for thought about the craft of writing, and might therefore help someone work toward mastering the craft.

Today’s rant is all about a phrase that’s ubiquitous. Ready?

They thought to themself.

I mean, hello? Unless you’re telepathic, you can’t think to anyone BUT yourself.

There are a lot of phrases that, as an editor, I’ll immediately change or delete. That’s because it’s not that awful a phrase. I mean, I don’t see it and cringe, like I do other phrases (they nodded their head, for instance. Or the famous shrugging of the shoulders). But I do smile.

Because, seriously. Who else would the character be directing their thoughts toward? Like… I can’t even.

Now, this is different from the also ubiquitous They smiled to themself.

Know why? Because even though your mouth is on the outside of your body (and I knew that without taking an anatomy class!), and therefore on display to the public, sometimes, those smiles are for your (or your character’s) sensibilities only. Not every single one, unless your character’s got a hell of an internal social life, but… yeah. It happens. Characters smile to themselves. People smile to themselves.

I think that one’s pretty normal.

But if there are too many, the words get highlighted and my index finger meets the delete button and yes, yes I do smile evilly.

That doesn’t negate the fact that They thought to themself is redundant and a waste of two words. While there’s more room to use words carelessly in a novel, why do it at all? Save those words for when you need them!

As a reminder, I’m here to work as your editor if you need me. Or if your friend needs me. But please, don’t send that person you don’t like. That’s really not very nice.

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Trend Alert! Everyone drives a Jeep

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Graphic of a crossed sword and a pencilI see this one come and go. It’s a popular one.

Yep, the headline says it all. Everyone drives a Jeep.

Oh, I get it. They’re iconic. They have that look. They have that feel, that lifestyle. People leave rubber duckies on them for each other! It’s a community! Let’s meet in Moab, Utah for JeepFest!

(They also don’t have great repair records, and at the least the ones I looked at aren’t great for tall people. Headroom, folks. It’s something to consider, both for yourself and your family AND your characters.)

Believe it or not, this isn’t always the good thing you want it to be. While a Jeep conveys a certain something about a character, make sure that you’re not using it as a way to define your character instead of doing the hard work yourself. The sort of car one drives should be a complement to your character, not their definition. Let it be one tool in your arsenal of showing the reader who your characters are.

Also, make sure your character fits the social shortcut you’re creating — either by leaning into the stereotype or by consciously bucking it. This isn’t much of a problem with Jeep-driving characters, but I’ve seen it be a problem with other vehicles. A billionaire CEO shouldn’t be driving the constantly breaking down, twenty-year-old bucket of bolts they are too sentimental to get rid of. Park it in the garage, drain the gas, preserve that baby. You have the means, Billionaire CEO type. Use them. Be as smart as we know you are.

But that goes for all of us: Be as smart as we know you are. Don’t let a car define your character, but DO be aware of what a car says about your character.

And yes, everyone loves Jeeps.

Remember, I’m open to new editing clients. Or if you just want to have a conversation about cars and how they help define character, I’m open to that, too!

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Phantoms of Ruthaer by McDonald and McDonald in the Featured New Book Spotlight

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book cover for Phantoms of RuthaerLet’s welcome the writing team of McDonald and McDonald back to West of Mars!

You may remember them from their Son of Cayn trilogy, which we featured here, here, and here. That was a couple of years ago, and between then and now, they’ve clearly been busy, with this first in a new series called Chronicles of Damage, Inc. (Oooh, don’t let Metallica’s lawyers see that! Although… good song.)

Still, Jason and Stormy have an other song or… well, three… that remind them of Phantoms of Ruthaer. And what songs would those be? Let’s let them tell us.

The characters who comprise the bounty hunting team of Damage, Inc. in Phantoms of Ruthaer have been waiting impatiently for us to tell their tale for a while now. During the early stages of their development, we began assembling a playlist of songs that spoke to us about each character, such as Drivin N Cryin’s “Straight to Hell” for the irascible archer, Dave, and “Adrenaline” by Gavin Rossdale for the team’s leader, Hector. Then we heard “The Outsiders” by Eric Church. Its gritty depiction of a group with a reputation for being dangerous, who aren’t afraid to go their own way, and are willing to stand up to anyone captured the essence of Damage, Inc and our novel.

Three songs, so have some aural fun as you read!

But… you’re not going to want to read until you know what the book’s about, right? Well, here ya go:

In the countries east of the White River, some call Damage, Inc. heroes. Others call the bounty hunters criminals. The truth lies somewhere in between. Hector de los Santos, the team’s leader, has only two rules about bounties: finish every job, no matter what it takes, and no charity cases.

Aislinn Yves, the team’s half-elven tracker, thought she’d never see the tiny village of Ruthaer again. That is, until a plea for help from her father’s old friend, Tallinn, arrives. The job sounds simple: track down a few missing people, perhaps a killer. The trick is convincing Hector to put their current job on hold.

Unfortunately, things are worse than Tallinn implied. Unnatural weather, restless dead, and gruesome murders are just the beginning, for the town harbors a terrible secret more dangerous than Aislinn or Hector could imagine. A secret that could spell the end of Damage, Inc. and drag Ruthaer straight to Hell.

Sounds like a winner? Grab your copy, exclusive to Amazon. And remember to leave a review once you’ve finished reading. There’s no better way to thank an author for their hard work, creativity, time, and inspiration.

And connect with our friendly authors!
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As always, remember to share the word of the spotlight with your author friends. Come one, come all! Here’s the link to the handy-dandy form.

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The Kindness in Women Characters

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Graphic of a crossed sword and a pencilWhat is it about us women? We talk about sisterhood and kindness and helping lift each other up, but…

Okay, so here’s the story. I’m in the middle of trying to read through the TBR Mountains that have been in my bedroom for the past ten years or so. And I’ll tell you, a lot of these books haven’t held up well over the years. Society has changed a lot. I’ve wound up DNFing six books in a row.

One of them was a chick lit style book, about two women who absolutely loathe the other women around them. There’s no kindness in them, I don’t think. I don’t know because I gave up around page 30.

But it’s that lack of kindness in women characters that got me. I’ve noticed it before, both in books that I’ve read and books I’ve been hired to work on. And I call it out then, too.

Kindness in women characters… but that’s maybe not the best way to describe it. Oh, in this particular book’s case, it is, as the women characters bitched and moaned about hating where they lived and the women around them and the lack of fashion and it wasn’t London and on and on and on. Sheesh. Give it a break. Who wants to spend 300 pages with people who are so freaking unhappy?

But in the other books, the ones I’ve read and the ones I’ve worked on, all too often, the only character showing kindness in women characters is the main character. The other women, the support cast, are… well, not nice. They’re not always people you want to be around.

Another really good example of this is Netflix’s Virgin River — but the second season. Those women were so awful to each other that I’d look at my daughter and say, “This is getting really awful to watch” and at first she asked me why. When I pointed out that the women weren’t nice to each other, she thought about it and said, “Yeah, you’re right.”

We’re not sure if we’re going to come back for Season Three, because of it. Because every time these women appeared on the screen, we’d cringe.

How is that fun?

I ask my clients to think about their characters carefully. Are you cutting down other women in order to make the main character look better? Can there be kindness in women who aren’t the main character? What does it serve to make the women surrounding the main character — and sometimes, these women are the main character’s tribe — bitchy or nasty to each other, or to the main character? Is this the sort of portrayal of women that you want people to associate with you?

Just some food for thought as you look at your own main character. Are you showing kindness in women characters? Do you think maybe your manuscript would be better if you did?

If you’re stuck or need help, reach out. The joy of doing what I do is that I’m here to help.

Kindness in women… Right? I’m trying to practice what I preach. Join me?

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Crush by Lucinda Race in the Featured New Book Spotlight

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Woot! Lucinda Race is CRUSHing it with the book releases of late! She’s back today with the next in the Crescent Lake Winery series, Crush. Because she’s so fast I can barely keep up with her, let’s get right to it! Lucinda, what song makes you think of your book?

The song that reminds me of these characters is Ed Sheeran – Perfect. It’s about getting a second chance at love. The first time Colin and Anna meet its just not the right time – but the second time he’s determined to not let her go. Anna is perfect for Colin and Colin is perfect for Anna.

Now, I’ve got ONE Ed Sheeran song on my Spotify playlists. So sometimes, I’m not sure how Lucinda and I get along so well, but this song’s quite lovely. And yes, it fits this book. Listen hard!

Are you dying to know what this installment is about? Oh, you should be!

He’s just the spark she needs…

Anna Price is an Enologist, a world-renowned expert in anything having to do with wine. Her work at her family’s Crescent Lake Winery in the Finger Lakes region of New York has her feeling as if she’s treading water. There has to be more to life than just wine. Has she lost her spark? She’s jolted when her father suffers a heart attack, then gets a jolt of a different kind from the man taking care of her father.

Colin Grant is a nurse practitioner, specializing in the care of cardiac patients. He’d met Anna once before, but had just ended a long-distance relationship and wasn’t ready for someone new. But this time it’s different. There’s no denying his attraction to the curvy girl who has no idea how beautiful she is.

When Anna is offered a job in France, they may find their growing relationship crushed. How can she say no to the offer of a lifetime? Colin’s job is caring for other people’s hearts; he’s determined not to have his own broken again. Absence doesn’t always make the heart grow fonder. But is it worth the risk, for a lifetime of love?

Seriously. This is a keeper. Don’t miss it!

And, of course, once you’ve finished it, remember to leave a review! Reviews are a great way to say thanks to an author, even if all you’re thanking them for is the hard work they put into a book.

Grab your copy!

And be sure to connect with Lucinda, as well:
Facebook
Lucinda’s Heart Racers Reader Group
Amazon Author Page
Bookbub Lucinda Race
Goodreads Lucinda Race
Website

As a reminder: the Featured New Book Spotlight is open to ANY author, regardless of… anything! Share the link, tell your friends, send them on over, and have them fill out the handy-dandy form. (It’s working again, in case you had tried when it was broken, and thanks to the author who notified me it was broken!)

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Lessons Learned!

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Graphic of a crossed sword and a pencilHere’s a good one for you. At least, it’s a story that ends with me grinning in pride at my clients. It’s a story of lessons learned.

There’s a tendency among writers to basically disembody a character’s parts from the whole. He reached with his hand. Or Her eyes ran across the faces of the people in front of her.

It’s a problem on many fronts. And it’s one I always ask my clients to be aware of. The body works as a whole, after all. And eyes don’t run or slip or do many things other than see. (Note the many other here, as I know a couple of those legit other things personally.)

While working on a manuscript a few weeks ago, my client left me a note. I know this disembodies his hand, but I didn’t know any other way to word it. Help?

I… jumped for joy. I did! THIS is what makes the editor-client relationship so amazing. When I can say, “Lessons learned.” When I know my clients listen to my words of (hopeful) wisdom and realize they’re there to help improve your craft. Because really? That’s the best part for me.

Oh, don’t get me wrong. It’s gratifying when clients come back with manuscript after manuscript. Bring it. I love long-term clients maybe a little more than I love one-book wonders. I love the chance to get to know an author’s writing (and, often, the writer themselves, but that’s up to the writer), and the chance to go deeper in my work with it.

Lessons learned with this one.

Don’t disembody your characters. But most of all?

Ask for help when you need it. This is what I’m here for, after all. To be your helper, your ally, the one you can show your uncertainty to. I’m here to help you work through it, grow, improve, excel.

Lessons learned?

Hope so!

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Says the Editor: Editor Speak Versus Review Speech

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Graphic of a crossed sword and a pencilSo I wrote a brutal, scathing review of a book I attempted to read a few weeks ago.

Doesn’t matter what book.

And yes, I am one of those awful, horrible authors/industry professionals who leaves scathing reviews. That’s another topic for another time.

Today, though, I want to talk about the way it struck me that if this book review were actually an edit, how different my approach to it would be. Oh, I’d still have hated the draft handed to me, assuming this published book was the final draft — and assuming that earlier versions were even more problematic.

But there’s a difference when you’re working with an author and when you’re reading and reviewing a book once it’s been published. A big, huge difference, in fact.

The reason is that when I’m editing, it’s a time to identify all these problems, and to work with the author to fix them. Hey, this wording has a really sexual connotation to it. Did you realize you’d done that? Hey, let’s take a look at the main character a little bit. She’s got a ton of self-loathing, and look how it’s operating. Are you seeing how she undermines herself here? How about there?

And one of my favorites, which I do use fairly often: Believe it or not, the story is stronger when you start on page 36. Look at all the backstory in the first 35 pages! What’s the conflict in that opening? How does this hook the reader when they get all this information about a character they haven’t made an emotional connection to? Keep your eyes open because as I see spots for all this backstory to come out, I’ll point them out. It’s good that you know so much about your characters; you should always know more than shows up on the page…

It’s so much more pleasant to catch these issues in the editorial stage.

Stop for a second and think about it. The editorial stage is where you get to pause and make things better. To catch these errors that really don’t belong in a published book.

But in a review? Well, that’s where people like me get frustrated. Because we can see the potential for the book, if only the author had been able to work with someone else who saw that same potential. Who had the experience and time to put into catching and fixing these problems.

So bear in mind that if you are thinking of working with me as your editor and you come across one of my reviews, I’m not like that in the editorial process. Ugh. Absolutely not. Because the challenge in the editing stage is to find the problems and help you fix them.

When the book’s published and out of our hands?

It’s too late then. And all we can do is rant in frustration at the lost potential for this poor book. And that lost potential, my friends, is a travesty.

Give yourself the gift of time, if you are able. Find the best editors you can, people who can bring out the best in your work of fiction. No one wants to read a bad book. No one should have to.

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Says the Editor: Details and Character Development

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Graphic of a crossed sword and a pencilSo last week, I brought up the idea of using the wrong details in the wrong places. I probably owe you a better example, but when you’re yanking something out of context–let alone writing it from scratch!–it’s hard to do.

So much of editing and revising depends on context. On narrative voice, on the narrative character… There are so, so many things to consider.

Let me add one more to the pile, and I consider this one to be one of the few golden rules of fiction: The author should always know more about their characters than what appears on the page.

Why?

Because the deeper the well of your knowledge, the more authentic your characters appear on the page. You don’t need to tell us Justin is afraid of spiders. There may never be a spider in your entire manuscript. (Really. Spiders? Don’t appear all that often in fiction. Charlotte was a total unicorn, I’m tellin’ ya.) Justin’s fear may never be discussed, brought up, hinted at. But you, author, you know this simple detail: Justin’s got this fear.

And that, right there, makes him more complex. He’s not invincible. He’s not perfect. He screams worse than I did the day I saw a Daddy Long Legs on my front porch and climbed up my sister. (True story!)

Knowing this means that when you write about Justin, you yourself don’t think he’s invincible. You know he’s got a chink in the armor.

That knowledge means Justin can surprise you. He can show you another one.

Or maybe it means that the characters around him know, even though it’s, again, not voiced on the page. But they know their hero here? Will go running into the sunset, abandoning them to their fate if a spider appears. And that’ll change the way they interact with him–not necessarily in a negative way. Maybe in a better way. Maybe, instead of thinking he’s the be-all, end-all hero to solve the story’s problems, the supporting cast has more agency. They help protect Justin while he protects them.

This gives your characters depth, which in turn allows them to feel more real on the page. I can always tell when an author hasn’t done this work, when they don’t know much, or enough, about their characters.

Make the commitment. Do the off-the-page work. Heck, buy yourself a pretty pen*, fill it with pretty ink, grab some paper, and brainstorm. Create your character’s personal details. Maybe be like me and use different pens and different colors so your ideas don’t run into each other, and each one instead stands out, visible and ready to be referenced.

Whatever your choose. Do the work. It’ll pay off in the end, I promise.

And, as always, remember: If you need my editorial help, I’m here! When my comments are more directly pointed at your own words, you’ll get it. I promise.

*I, myself, now own a TWSBI Eco and can vouch for what a nice pen it is!

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Says The Editor: It’s all in the Details

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Graphic of a crossed sword and a pencilSo. What’s with the focus on details? And why is there so much to say about them?

Well, the fact that there’s a lot to say means that they’re important. Details can make or break your story — the pacing, the worldbuilding, even where the reader puts their energy. You want to make sure you get your details right.

Get them right? Susan, what are you talking about? How can details be wrong?

Let’s start with the issue of focusing your reader on the right stuff. I see this a lot: authors who are trying to do the right thing by setting their scene. So we get lots of details about the scene: the furniture, the surroundings, the clothing the characters are wearing… and that’s all good. It’s important. You want the reader to not just have a feel for the fictional world they are immersed in, but you want them to be able to picture it in their minds. Their own private movie.

The problem enters when you spend a lot of time describing things that don’t matter, things that we only see once in a book and things that aren’t important at all. For example, the amateur sleuth goes to the house of someone who may be able to provide details about the case. The reader gets to see the contact: Ms. Myrna was old, stooped over, wearing a light blue cardigan with a button missing and black orthodpedic shoes. Her skirt was navy and didn’t match either the cardigan or the shoes, and when she smiled, she revealed three missing teeth and deep lines around her eyes, as if she smiled often and enjoyed doing so.

(Can someone help Ms. Myrna? She could use a caretaker.)

But then, here’s where we go off the rails. She invited Genie in, graciously, shuffling three steps out of the way and letting Genie have a glimpse of her home. There was no entry, so they were immediately in the living room, with its worn brown carpet, which was threadbare in spots in front of the old peach-colored three-person sofa. A glass and brass coffee table sat in front of the worn spots, a pair of bright yellow slippers underneath and three magazines — Genie looked at the titles, surprised to see one was the bass pro fisher’s association monthly magazine, one was the Smithsonian magazine, and one was a catalog of geeky gifts. The catalog had a water mark on it, or maybe it was a coffee stain; Genie couldn’t be sure.

The walls were a basic white, the ceilings smooth, the windows framed by curtains in pastel colors that compromised between the peach sofa and the brown carpet. A few paintings hung on the walls along with four photographs. The paintings were all landscapes, sunsets or maybe sunrises, and all done by an amateur hand, and the photographs were of people, but Genie couldn’t figure out a polite way to get close enough to look to see if any of them featured the woman she was looking for. They looked to be full of people who might have been related to Ms. Myrna, although even that was hard to tell because from what she could see, no one had a completely white head of hair. Nor were they wearing fashionable clothes. Or clothes that had been fashionable in the past twenty or even thirty years. Maybe, Genie thought, she ought to Google what fashions had looked like fifty years ago, well before her time. Those pictures were possibly, probably, that old, and that made Genie wonder what had happened to the people in them. Were they still alive? Did they talk to Ms. Myrna? Take care of her? Write her letters? Send her email? Help her figure out the Internet? Did they live nearby or had they dispersed? Why? Why not include this old lady, who so far seemed lovely, in their lives? Why were there no recent pictures on the walls?

Expecting an invitation to sit on the couch–which, as she got closer, she realized was full of stains and even a hole–she resolved not to sit, and to keep it short.

She turned to Ms. Myrna. “I wanted to ask you if you know Grace Gold.”

“Never heard of her. I don’t know anyone named Grace. Now, why don’t you produce your medical bag from wherever you’ve hid it and take my pressure? I ain’t got all day.”

Genie paused. “I’m… I’m not here for that. I’m here to ask if you know Grace Gold.”

“I just told you I don’t know no Graces. Now if you ain’t here to take my pressure, and you ain’t here for any reason other than to ask me about this mystery Grace I ain’t never met, maybe you should go back out through the door and come back when you are ready to take my pressure for real.”

Genie apologized to the old lady but stopped herself from asking if Ms. Myrna was okay. She wasn’t Genie’s responsibility. Then again, maybe that was what her family said, too, as they abandoned her to her old decor and her old pictures and her old lady-ness.

Did you catch it? All that detail about the photographs.

Now, maybe this doesn’t seem so outlandish to you, but what if I tell you that Genie has twenty-four hours to track down Grace Gold? That before this scene, our hearts were in our throats and we were joining Genie in hoping beyond hope that Ms. Myrna would have the answers.

And all that came crashing to a halt as we learned about people in photographs. People who don’t matter, who won’t return to the story at all, even as a fleeting thought in Genie’s day.

Sometimes, it’s good to slow the pace. To get the reader to calm. But it’s usually better to do it in ways that the story can build on.

Often, I’ll find myself commenting to an author, “This is a lot of detail about a teapot. Can you show me something else instead? Something that’ll be a key to the story?” And, as you revise, that’s what you want to think about. Does this advance the story? How does this detail function? What’s its purpose? How does it affect the pace? The reader’s mindset? The character’s arc? The plot? The mood?

A lot to think about.

I’ll be back with more next week.

Remember, if you’d like to have some of my fun comments on your own manuscript, reach out! I’d love to chat about your editing needs.

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#SaysTheEditor: Two Observations. New Trends?

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Graphic of a crossed sword and a pencil

It’s not that I’ve lost the blogging bug, it’s that my clients keep me so busy, I haven’t had time. So, as a result, I’ve got a list of stuff I want to talk about. A very long list. That spans multiple pieces of paper. And is threatening to overwhelm me and get thrown out.

Instead of letting that happen, it’s time to talk to you more often. I do kind of miss it. (So be sure to leave me comments and check back for replies!)

Today is just a quick little observation I’ve been making of late. Two things actually. Are two things enough to make a trend? I think so.

First: Characters listening to jazz. In their cars, at home. Doesn’t matter, but a couple authors have done this across multiple books now, and so jazz seems to be one of the hot musical trends of the moment (I say as Stone Sour pounds on in the background over here). Also, don’t ask me what the other hot musical trends might be. Stone Sour’s not exactly trendy or trending. Or even active at the moment.

Why not check out some jazz? I will the next time I sit down to chill and work on my own writing.

The second observation is an abundance of Physician Assistant (PA) careers held by characters, main and secondary. PAs are showing up in fiction, and I am here for it! I have a lot of respect for PAs; I have a PA friend and saw the PA at my old doctor’s office more than I saw the doctor himself. I’d have followed her when she left the practice, but insurance. You know the game.

So there you go. Two observations that may or may not be trends. Noticed any? Tell me about them!

And, of course, tell me what music you’re jamming to. I’m always game to explore something new.

As a note, if you need an edit, get in the queue now for May! June’s looking a bit tight and like the $200 rush fee will be applied again, as it currently is for any emerging April needs. Drop me a note ASAP, and never ever be afraid of money. We can work it out.

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Kim McMahill’s A Measure of Madness takes the Featured New Book Spotlight

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Book Cover for A Measure of Madness

Let’s welcome Kim McMahill to the Featured New Book Spotlight! Her newest release is the fourth in her Risky Research series, and it sounds like if you are into federal action heroes, this is right up your alley! We’ll get to more about the book in a second, but first, let’s get to what we’re all here for: the music!

Kim McMahill, what song makes you think of your book?

Whenever I hear, In The Air Tonight, I’m transported back to the 80’s television show Miami Vice and picture organized crime, hot tropical nights, and those iconic speedboat scenes off Miami. The latest installment in my Risky Research Series, A Measure of Madness, is primarily set in Florida, Puerto Rico, and Brazil. In the opening chapter, as the yacht races through the night, the bow rising and then slamming down over the gentle waves with the moonlight reflecting off the ocean and wind rushing through Max’s hair after successfully completing his mission, I can almost hear the music queue up. It really isn’t as much about the lyrics as it is about the mood the music creates.

Ahh. Classic song with a new twist. And yes, I can picture this scene? Can you? Well, we’ve got to know what happens next to this dude named Max, don’t we?

FBI agent Devyn Nash’s pursuit of a deadly organization heats up in this fourth installment of the Risky Research series.

The FBI locates the mastermind behind Coterie, but attempts to bring him in result in a shootout that sends Coterie’s members scrambling for cover. When Devyn’s partner is left fighting for his life in a Puerto Rican hospital, she becomes more determined than ever to bring them to justice.

Devyn’s decision to ignore her orders and pursue the head of Coterie to Brazil puts her job and her relationship with Sheriff Gage Harris in jeopardy, but she is unwilling to allow those responsible for so much death to live out their lives in paradise.

Hey… where’s Max? Max of the cool opening scene?

Well, shoot. Now I GOTTA read this to find out!

Pick up your copy; you know you want to!

Amazon
Barnes and Noble
Kobo
Apple Books

And remember: authors are fun to chat and connect with. Here’s Kim McMahill’s social information:
Blog
Twitter
Facebook Page
Instagram

As always, if you’re an author or have a friend who’s an author, the Featured New Book Spotlight is open to you or them. And, of course, no matter who you are, leaving a review is always the best way to say thanks to an author for their hard work. If you’re struggling with a review, never hesitate to reach out. Yeah, it’ll cost you a nominal fee to cover my time, but I am worth it. More importantly, so are you.

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Breathe by Lucinda Race in the Featured New Book Spotlight

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Book cover for Lucinda Race's Breathe Yes, it’s back to back weeks of Lucinda Race! Woo!

Jealous? Step into the spotlight, yourself. You know I want to host you.

So last week, we learned all about Blends, the prequel novel in the Crescent Lake Winery Series. Now it’s time to dive in to the actual meat of the series, and hoo boy, is there meat to this series! Yes, I’ve had a sneak peek and yes, you will LOVE what Lucinda’s cooking up.

So. Book One. Breathe. Let’s talk about the important stuff first: the music! Lucinda, what song makes you think of Breathe?

In Case You Didn’t Know – Brett Young

Max holds so much inside, afraid of being hurt that he overly cautious – but he does fall hard for Tessa and when I hear this song I always think that Tessa didn’t know…

Okay, so what’s a rocker chick like me doing, hanging out with the likes of Lucinda Race, who’s exposed me to not one but TWO good country songs that I’d actually add to my playlist? Well, expanding my horizons and learning new things, of course! And yes, I can totally see this being Max’s song! Want to know why? Get the book.

But before we get to the buy links, here’s the official book description:

Romance and fine wine both need time to breathe…

Her family’s successful winery business in the Finger Lakes region of New York should have gone to Tessa Price. She’d always dreamed of running the winery, but when the “prodigal son” returns to take up the reins, she boldly strikes out on her own, purchasing Sand Creek Winery—a cash-strapped competitor—right out from under her family. She can forge her own destiny, using her marketing skills and big plans to bring new life to the winery. But first she has a proposition for the sexy previous owner. And he’s likely to hate it.

Kevin “Max” Maxwell would never have willingly sold his winery to anyone named “Price.” Family always comes first, and if paying for his sister’s cancer treatment cost him his business, it was worth it. But when the new owner offers him a one year contract to stay on as general manager, with a possible bonus, he really can’t afford to turn it down. He can ignore the effect her deep brown eyes and heart-shaped face have on his senses for a year, can’t he?

Relationships, like slowly ripening vineyards, take time. But Max has been keeping a secret from Tessa, one that could destroy her hopes for their future. Will a terrible accident force Tessa and Max to face how much they have to lose, or tear apart their budding relationship forever? Sometimes a romance is like a fine wine. To be its best, it just needs time to breathe.

Ooh, do you love that? “To be its best, it just needs time to breathe.”

YES.

Here’s your universal buy link. Because universal buy links are the way to go.

And remember to connect Lucinda Race so you don’t miss out on any of the great books in this series. Yes, I’m still biased, and proud of it.

Twitter
Facebook
Goodreads
Bookbub
Amazon Author Page
Lucinda’s Heart Racers Reader Group
website

Remember: I’d love to host you, your friend the writer, the person you really don’t like but pretend to… I don’t care! I’m about helping books find readers, so take advantage!

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Blends by Lucinda Race in the Featured New Book Spotlight!

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Book cover for Blends, written by Lucinda RaceI am beyond thrilled to welcome romance author Lucinda Race to West of Mars today! And how can I not me? Lucinda is ALL kinds of awesome. If you haven’t read her books yet, you’re in for a treat. And yeah, I may be a bit biased, but that’s okay, right?

So, Lucinda, tell us what song makes you think of your book!

Making Me Look Good Again – Drake White

The line – leather and lace and denim and pearls just sucked me into Sam and Sherry’s story – all about opposite fitting together.

This is a new song to me. Probably my first Drake White, too, and… ummm… WOW! Yearning, longing, and yet nostalgia in there. Good stuff.

Ready for the book description? I sure am!

His mother’s final illness waylaid Sam Price’s college dreams, but he’s content working in his family’s vineyard in the Finger Lakes region of New York. When he finds a woman with a flat tire on a vineyard road, he’s stunned to discover it’s the girl he’d had a crush on in high school. He’d never been confident enough to ask her out back then. He’d been a farm kid. Her daddy was the bank president. Way out of his league.

Sherry Jones is tired of her parent’s ambitious plans for her life. She’ll finish her college accounting degree like they want, but how can she tell them about her real love: working with growing things? Then a flat tire and a neglected garden offer her an unexpected opportunity, with the added bonus of a tall, gorgeous guy with eyes that set her senses tingling.

What does a guy with dirt under his nails and calluses on his hands have to offer a woman like Sherry? It will take courage for her to defy her parents and claim her own dreams. Sam and Sherry’s lives took different paths, but a winding vineyard road has brought them back together. Are they willing to take a chance to create the perfect blend for a lifelong love?

People. THIS is the start of a family dynasty. Right here. Don’t miss it.

Grab your copy. Here’s the universal buy link, and can I tell you guys how much I love universal buy links?

Connect with Lucinda Race, because she’s fun and totally bad for my discipline and yet so totally disciplined herself and yes, I just adore her.

Twitter
Facebook
Goodreads
Bookbub
Amazon Author Page
Lucinda’s Heart Racers Reader Group
website

Remember, the Featured New Book Spotlight is always open! You don’t have to be a friend, an acquaintance, or a client to step into it. I’ve met amazing authors and read great books they’ve written — and I know many of my readers have, too. Don’t be shy!

Featured New Book Spotlight

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