Posted by: Kathleen Mix | April 15, 2016

Mental Resets

When the time arrives to edit a manuscript, my brain has to shift out of author mode and into the mode of editor. I’m no longer creating. My imagination must stop running wild. Once I decide I’ve entered the revision stage of the process, I need to examine the mechanics of story structure, decide if I’ve told readers what they need to know when they need to know it, evaluate my characters, look for ways to be more concise or places where I need to expand, and check my grammar for the inevitable errors. Some people think of revision and editing as a function of the logical vs. artistic side of the human brain. I think of it as a time for pushing the button marked reset.

Authors who write one draft and claim they never need edits are only fooling themselves. Every book can be improved by a second or third look. But authors have to develop a new perspective in order to edit successfully. Word choice counts. Grammar counts. A paragraph must be examined with a different eye, a sharp eye that is concerned with sentence structure and variety and aware of the quickly forgotten features your high school teachers told you would someday be important.

An author needs to, in effect, become another person or put on another hat.

This is a difficult task. Sentences that have been read over several times become invisible, and your mind fills in missing words. Explanations seem clear as day. Surely readers will know what you’re talking about. Characters all seem to be open books, with no secrets that haven’t been mentioned earlier. Dates seem sequential. If I say there is a car in the garage, surely I haven’t had someone disappear with it previously.

Some of the errors won’t be caught until a proofreader finds them just before publication. But every author should at least try to find the mistakes. When I finish the last page of a story, I let it sit for a week or two then hit the mental reset button and dive into edits.

A manuscript can be a jungle. A close look by a detached reader can reveal embarrassing errors. I’ve learned the hard way that it is always better to hit the reset and find the whoppers now, before they become immortalized in print.

Posted by: Kathleen Mix | March 7, 2016

Eight Books and Counting

My eighth book, Impossible Ransom, is being released today by Entangled Select Suspense. My ninth book is with my editor, awaiting final edits. My tenth manuscript is in its final draft.

After several published novels, people tend to ask how an author keeps coming up with ideas for new books. The answer is simple: story ideas are everywhere. A writer only needs to look closer at the events happening around her.

The real question is not where to find ideas. Ideas are easy and plentiful. Culling through tons of dirt for a gold nugget is the part that’s difficult.

The sad truth is that many stories won’t interest anyone and shouldn’t be written. Some have no middle and are more a short story than a novel. Some ideas are like false gold, they look good on the surface and maybe through about forty pages but don’t have a glow when held up to the light of reality. Finding the gems I can be passionate about for eighty-thousand words requires a lot of forethought.

When I first started writing, every idea seemed worthwhile. But after a few thousand words, I’d wonder where to go and how to keep the story from disintegrating. Some of those false starts are stored in a drawer. Most saw their last daylight in my circular file. Now, I don’t begin writing until I’m sure the idea is good and can go the distance. The concept has to be unique and compelling, something someone beside my mother will want to read. I have to know the characters and like them. I need to know the beginning and the end. The story has to be interesting enough to make me want to sit down and write, make the moments in front of my computer fly by.

If an idea can pass all my tests with flying colors, then the time is right to bring it to life. Quantity of ideas is no problem. Quality is now the key.

For anyone interested, you can read more about Impossible Ransom here.

Posted by: Kathleen Mix | February 23, 2016

Insomnia & Suspense

Although most of my writing is accomplished by the light of day, some of my favorite scenes and bits of dialogue have come to me in the wee hours of the morning. As any writer will tell you, our characters don’t meekly go away just because we’ve shut down our computers. They haunt our brains when we’re awake and in our dreams.

I often have insomnia, and frequently my work-in-progress is the source of my sleeplessness. My brain refuses to yield to the quiet of the night and instead continues churning. I work out plot problems, write dialogue, analyze new story ideas, and study why a scene doesn’t work while the rest of the world slumbers.

Some mornings I awake and find the wonderful thoughts I had the night before have a lot less luster in the sunlight. But other days, I rush to my computer eager to record the words that appeared moments before sleep.

Occasionally, I’m frustrated. I struggle to remember: what was it that flitted into my brain last night that had seemed like such a wonderful way to build suspense? If it’s still in there, why won’t it come out? Why didn’t I jump up and write it down?

Then again, I have to wonder. Maybe the fabulous ideas aren’t real at all. Maybe they were just part of my dreams.

 

Posted by: Kathleen Mix | February 5, 2016

Doggie Love

 

One of the most enjoyable parts of writing a novel is the freedom to create characters along with their friends and sidekicks. Giving a character a pet who is also a friend and confidant allows a writer to share pleasant moments and emotions from her own life with her readers.

My characters don’t always have a pet (or companion animal, as some folks like to say), because sometimes the character’s lifestyle doesn’t allow them the privilege. But when they do, my pet of choice is usually a dog, mainly because I share my home and life with an aging Sheltie.

As in life, fictional dogs and cats are always loyal friends. They don’t criticize or argue. They listed to a character’s problems and musings and provide a perfect sounding board.

When a character has a loving pet, we know that person may have flaws, but deep down, they’re someone caring and worthy of our empathy. Animals are great judges of character, and we trust their judgment.

Every pet lover understands what I mean when I say that the pets in stories we read touch our hearts, just like the animals who brighten our lives.

Today, I’m writing about a wonderful dog who, in his own way, is the hero of my story. Which means that today I’m not working. I’m honoring a true friend and having fun.

Posted by: Kathleen Mix | January 14, 2016

Why Resolutions Fail

January is the month for resolutions. By February, many of them have withered on the vine and died. Why does this happen?

The most common cause is rooted in the fact that change is scary. Campaign promises aside, most of us hate change. We’ll do just about anything to avoid it, and unless our motivation is strong enough to overcome our resistance, resolutions are doomed from the start.

Wanting to change or improve elements of our life or behavior is good. But change causes us interior or exterior conflict, and most of us like to avoid conflict. So if we truly desire change, we have to be ready to fight for what we want.

As an author, I relate many things to fiction. And in the case of change, fiction provides a host of excellent examples. Most stories start when something changes in a character’s life. They might set a new goal, get a new job, lose a job, move to a different city, suffer the loss of a loved one, get a new assignment, meet someone new, or face a sudden danger. Whatever the catalyst for the story, something has changed. The story itself relates the events and happenings that occur as that protagonist deals with the change. The change causes conflict; the character must fight an inner and outer battle if he or she is going to translate the change into something good and transform their life for the better.

When you want to change, you must become the hero of your personal story. Fight to make change a positive element. Don’t give up the first time you face conflict.

Whatever your resolution was, it undoubtedly involved change. And the best way to combat your resistance to change is to understand it. Why do you want the change to happen? How important is it to your happiness or success? What is holding you back?

Build a plan of attack and go out there and fight.

Change can happen in any month and start at any time. You haven’t failed, and your resolution hasn’t turned to dust, until you give up.

 

Posted by: Kathleen Mix | December 22, 2015

Some Like It Short

Earlier this year my short story, Another Day, Another Murder, was published in the Mystery Writers of America Bouchercon 2015 anthology, Murder Under the Oaks. I’m as proud of that story as I am of any of my books. Most people, unless they’ve attempted to write a short story, don’t appreciate how difficult the task of writing short can be.

A short story must have a beginning, middle, and end. The characters must be likable, the setting must be described, the timeframe delineated. In an eighty-thousand-word novel, the author can spend page after page slowly building and layering the plot. A short story writer doesn’t have that luxury.

Every word in a short story is important. The writing must be concise.

Mark Twain once wrote: ‘I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.’ A similar quote is attributed to Blaise Pascal. Regardless of who said it first, the idea they’ve expressed is clear: writing short requires the time to choose words carefully, edit ruthlessly, and rewrite until every sentence is packed with substance.

For me, short stories are a fun change of pace. I enjoy the challenge of trying to tell a complete story in twenty to twenty-five pages while also entertaining my reader.

I hope you’ll pick up a copy of Murder Under the Oaks and give my story a read. By the way, all profits from the book go to the Wake County North Carolina library system.

Posted by: Kathleen Mix | November 30, 2015

Quantity over Quality?

In the writing community, November is known as the time for NaNoWriMo, an event that celebrates National Novel Writing Month. Writers sign up to take part in a community event with the goal of finishing a novel of at least fifty thousand words in a month. Some writers participate because stating their goal and sharing their progress gives them the incentive to sit down and produce pages, some take part for the camaraderie.

I wish every one of them the best of luck. I also hope they face reality. Most are working more quickly than they are accustomed to and focusing on quantity rather than quality. As a result, the pages they produce will not be a finished product.

Very few writers can sit at their computer and produce a perfect manuscript. The overwhelming majority write a first draft that will require substantial editing before it can shine. When a writer is trying to sprint toward a word goal in a limited timespan, editing isn’t an option.

For everyone trying to get that story out of his or her head and finally written, I hope you reach your goal. But keep the manuscript you produce in the proper perspective. It is a first draft.

A couple of years ago, one agent blogged about the flood of poorly written, unedited manuscripts that arrived at her in-box in early December. Writers had typed fifty thousand words and submitted the product, wrongly believing it was publishable. With self-publishing getting easier all the time, many NaNoWriMo manuscripts don’t get sent to agents or editors but go directly up for sale in December. These books are often substandard and destined to fail.

The freedom to write quickly and accumulate words without judgment of quality is a valuable tool. But writing fifty thousand words in November doesn’t mean the author has a finished, publishable book. So, NaNoWriMo participants, do what works for you and write your draft in a month, but remember it is only a draft. You are now closer to your ultimate goal of a good book: you have a file in your computer to fix.

 

Posted by: Kathleen Mix | October 30, 2015

Story Time

Time is an invisible factor in every aspect of life and a significant element to consider when writing fiction. A story can span generations, a lifetime, a season, a day, or an hour. For the best telling of any story, its duration must be carefully chosen.

The timeframe has the most impact on pacing and structure. Thrillers often cover a short interval of time and ratchet up the tension with a clock ticking down to disaster. Clipped dialogue and frequent sentence fragments move the action at a breakneck pace. Subplots are few or non-existent.

A family saga that spans several generations is structurally different and naturally slower. The story requires more description and narrative transition. Readers expect a relaxed journey along a storyline with peaks and valleys and the occasional pause at a scenic overlook.

The time available for a story to unfold also influences how deeply an author can delve into point of view and connect with a reader’s emotions. A coming-of-age novel requires poignant intervals when the protagonist can reflect on recent events, learn a valuable life lesson, and mature. The time required to motivate the growth passes slowly while the author goes deep into the character’s mind showing angst and confusion and, eventually, the revelation that completes their arc.

In contrast, the saga may show relevant episodes in the lives of important players, but the pressure to keep time moving forward over years or decades precludes an in-depth examination of a large number of characters. Readers may feel empathy for a few select characters but not know any of them intimately.

A thriller racing to a climax often draws the camera back further. The focus is on the story action and excitement. The hero, who may be James-Bond-like character, doesn’t stop in the midst of a gun battle for self-examination. He or she has a more archetypical role and is less fully developed.

Time is an important consideration when planning a novel. What genre are you writing? How much time does your story require? What events do you want to show? At what point in time should your story begin: what moment is too early, what moment is too late? Is your story plot or character driven? If it’s character driven, will your protagonist grow through trauma and an over-night epiphany or spend weeks moving slowly through incremental changes that lead to a dawning of knowledge?

Time must pass as your story progresses. So, when you’re starting a new story or revising an early draft, take a moment to consider duration. Matching your story to the proper timeframe will help you make the most of every fictional minute.

Posted by: Kathleen Mix | October 15, 2015

Loving / Hating Reviews

Authors want readers to love their books, and reviews are one indicator of how a book has been received. But reviews can also mess with a writer’s mind. Many authors avoid looking at them as a means of self-defense.

Glowing reviews aren’t the problem, of course. They may make a writer feel over-confident or smug, but a little appreciation can also be a boost to a previously wounded ego. Self-doubt is the enemy of creativity. A few kind words can keep an insecure writer from quitting.

The less-than-glowing reviews are the reason authors shy away. When a criticism is deserved, most of us will admit we’re imperfect. But not all the comments are fair or even accurate. Readers’ reactions to characters and plots are subjective. One woman may hate the heroine. Her husband may find the same character charming. One reader may consider a secondary player’s language offensive, another won’t be fazed. What is graphic and disgusting to a few is accepted as part of the genre to others.

The publishing industry considers reviews significant. The current philosophy is: the more the better. A large number of reviews indicates readers are engaged and makes a book’s publisher happy. In the last few years, reviews have become a measure of success.

So I appreciate every review, whether complimentary or derogatory, even though I’m reluctant to read them.

The reality of publishing is: not everyone will like every book. And I’m okay with that. I don’t rave about everything I read, either. But writing is a difficult occupation with an ample supply of rejections and reasons to get depressed. Bad reviews can bring on writer’s block, so I’m not going to indulge my curiosity. I have a new manuscript I’m trying to finish.

On the other hand, I like to have a dialogue with readers. If you want to comment on my book, email me at Kathleen (the @ sign) kathleenmix dot com.

Posted by: Kathleen Mix | September 27, 2015

A Radio Interview: Oh, my!

Last week, I was interviewed on a local radio show. The interview was timed to coincide with the release of my new book, Sins of Her Father, and I appreciate the publicity. But as a writer, speaking in public or making a media appearance is always a stressful event.

When I sit at my desk and work on a manuscript, the words I type are subject to change. I can have second thoughts and edit my verbs or nouns. I can change the order of words or phrases, add or delete, polish and perfect.

On a live radio show, there are no second chances. The words that are spoken, right or wrong, sparkling or clumsy, can’t be snatched back. Since mumbling a correction or retraction doesn’t work, I worried I’d embarrass myself with answers that didn’t come out correctly the first time.

Experts advise authors to prepare for an interview by thinking of answers for a list of anticipated questions. So I brainstormed and composed several answers. If I was asked why I began writing or where I got the idea for my story, I was ready. I agonized over possible questions and what I might respond, but I wasn’t prepared for the first question. The interviewer said: “Your last book was about a cybersecurity expert, is this one about computer crime too?” To my mind, my spur-of-the-moment answer sounded lame.

Experts also advise authors to have two or three main points they want to communicate to the audience. I knew my talking points and wanted to mention the address of my website and title of my book as many times as possible. Working those facts into a conversation is always a challenge, and steering the interviewer who wants to talk about unrelated topics back on subject can be next to impossible. Politeness versus self-promotion. Which way is best to go?

A radio interview is an interesting experience. This was my third, and each one has been unique. Did I sell any books? Who knows. Did I have a pleasant conversation with a radio personality who I would like to turn the tables on and interview? Definitely. Am I glad it’s over and I no longer have to stress about what gaffs I might commit? Yes, yes, yes.

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