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Writing

Video Interview with BookTrib

In which we talk about the inspiration for Rum Luck, humor writing, bringing out a character’s voice and my own eventful travels in Costa Rica.

25,000 manuscript edits in a single image

I made around 25,000 revisions to the manuscript for ‘Rum Luck’, from when I first queried agents to when I sold to a publisher a year and a half later.

Here’s what that looks like when crammed into a single image:

Merged Changes

(Thanks go to Amy McCullogh and Will Hill for first doing this with the edits they got back from their respective publishers.)

I almost didn’t post this.

It’s tough to be a writer who is sitting on a manuscript that hasn’t yet found a home. No one needs to make that time any more difficult that it is already. And there’s no doubt – that’s a lot of changes. A veritable sea of red. Quite possibly a very daunting sea, depending on where you’re at in the writing process.

Don’t be discouraged.

When that manuscript first left my hands, it was perfect in my eyes. But only in my eyes. It needed more.

That red is the ‘more’, those elusive improvements that could only come through outside feedback – in my case, the beta-readers, prospective agents, my former agent, a professional editor, potential publishers, and eventually the editors at Five Star – including the eminent Deni Dietz.

Over a year of editing.

I didn’t listen to everyone, all of the time. But I did look for trends. If several readers made the same suggestion, I took it very seriously. And even when one reader said there was too much description and another not enough, I asked myself – is there a problem with the description?

And by slogging it out – getting rejections, making changes, and repeat – I was able to get the feedback needed to bring ‘Rum Luck’ to where it needed to be. And get shortlisted for an Arthur Ellis award. And then get a book deal.

Aspiring authors – don’t worry if you think your book isn’t quite ready for prime time. You may just need to ask your beta-readers for a map to help navigate that sea of red.

Update: I’ve had some feedback to the effect of ‘OMG is that even the same book?’ – the answer, surprisingly, is ‘yes’. This is pretty much the exact same story as what I started with. I mostly streamlined the descriptions and removed a lot of unnecessary scene direction – character’s shooting each other looks every three lines, or spending half the book drumming their fingers on something. I also took out a lengthy flashback and added another day to the timeline. The dialogue, however, has remained virtually unchanged.

I used to live in fear of re-writes – I’d think, “I need to make sure this is perfect, or I’ll lose it all during the edits” – but the truth is that if it’s gold, you’ll find a way to use it. And if it’s not gold, you won’t miss it when it’s gone.

Rum Luck is coming out from Five Star Publications in February 2016. To stay in touch, join my mailing list (sidebar) or ‘like’ my facebook page.

Short Lists and Lessons Learned

I was very pleased – and more than a little surprised – to hear that ‘Rum Luck’ was shortlisted for the Crime Writers of Canada’s Unhanged Arthur award. It still hadn’t sunk in by the time the news had appeared in ‘print’, either. It was only a day or so before the Arthur Ellis awards dinner that it started to feel real – around the time I realized that I should probably have something to say if I actually won. (Insider Tip: Think Academy Awards – short and sweet.)

While ‘Rum Luck’ didn’t take the prized marionette – congratulations to Elle Wild for the win! – there were a few points I took away from the process of taking part in the Unhanged Arthur contest two years running:

Practice makes publishable: The previous year, I’d made the Unhanged Arthur longlist, but advanced no further. Thankfully, the rules of the contest are such that you can reapply provided that the manuscript in question hasn’t already made the shortlist. So, I took in another round of beta-reader feedback – along with a healthy dose of what I’d learned from sending out the work to publishers and agents – and did a massive rewrite. The shortlisting was proof that it paid off.

Take time to connect: Particularly up north, there aren’t as many opportunities as you’d like to connect with other writers and industry professionals. Add in a beautiful venue – the Arts and Letters Club – and some table wine, and you’ve got the makings of a great night. I particularly enjoyed speaking with Sian Bumsted of Whodunnit Mystery Bookstore in Winnipeg, who offered valuable insight into what independent bookstores hope to get from emerging authors. Independent bookstores thrive on curating hard-to-find content for their readers, so emerging authors shouldn’t be shy about getting in touch with indie bookstores.

Shortlists matter: When you’re trying to break into the writing scene, you take every advantage you can get. If an emerging author is selling a book at an event or trying to convince a bookstore to stock their work, then being able to say the book has been shortlisted for an award is almost as good as being able to say that it’s won. To be blunt, potential readers – even those who enjoy a book’s premise – appreciate any reassurance that the book will also be readable and not riddled with errors.

So huge thanks to the Crime Writers of Canada for putting this together – particularly the Unhanged Arthur for unpublished authors. I’m sure it was a ton of work, but very much appreciated. We need more contests like this.

Home Stretch

Feedback from the peer edits is in. It’s time for the final push on the ‘Death in a Bottle’ edits. By early next week, I’ll be sending out the first of the query letters to agents. It’s an exciting time – the project has never felt as real as it does now.

I’d like to extend a huge thank-you to everyone who took the time to review the novel and share your thoughts. Andrea, Janet, Sheri, Seb, Graham and Garry. When I first asked for help with the review, I had no idea that so many would be interested in reviewing the novel. After I sent out the dozenth copy, I started to wonder whether I hadn’t made some sort of horrible mistake – that I was essentially asking for my novel to be edited by committee.

But as feedback arrived, I soon realized that this kind of peer review was exactly what I needed. Comments like “awesome”, “excellent”, and “magical” reaffirmed that the plot, characters and setting were still on the rails, while your solid constructive criticism will help ensure the novel is polished to a high sheen in the days to come.

I would like to give special thanks to Andrea, Graham and Garry for taking the time to perform a full copy edit on the work. I had reached point where my eyes simply don’t see the errors any more, and was debating sending ‘Death in a Bottle’ out for a professional copy edit until your feedback came in. Your edits have saved me a huge amount of time and money, for which I am very grateful.

For those of you who still have a copy that you were planning to review this week or next, please do continue reading and send over your feedback when available. I expect it will take weeks before an interested agent requests pages, so I will continue making modest changes after the initial letters go out.

Back to the word mines. Wish me luck.

Canada Writes – Lawmakers and Lawbreakers Challenge

I had the pleasure of taking part in the CBC Canada Writes Lawmakers and Lawbreakers Challenge yesterday, in which writers were asked to prepare their best description of a sleuth or villain in 140 characters or fewer.

Here is a selection of my favourite entries:

 

Lawmakers

Jackson rose on unsteady feet, port sloshing in his glass. “To absent friends and fallen officers,” he said, eyes bleary.

Litz yawned. His breath tasted of stale coffee and sweetener, with a hint of the Highland malt he kept beneath his cold files.

Jack opened his locker and found it full of silver spoons. There was even a photo of a spoon taped to the door. “Ha ha, guys.”

 

Lawbreakers

She smiled. “What you smell now is air mixed with magnesium dust. One spark, and both us are little more than red mist.”

A lone drop of blood slid down the blade of the gleaming dagger. It clung to the tip for a small piece of eternity, then fell.

 

And a few from my fellow writers:

Sarranto Jones was a thief, a liar, and worst of all, a lousy tipper. @ryanbyrneman

He tried to always make it special. After all, he would kill dozens of times, but a person only ever gets one death. @BlizzardWriter

He was born to catch killers, jail thieves. But this one had his heart. And if he didn’t watch out, she’d have it on a platter. @TweetTinaW

No kid dreams of working homicide. Not the real deal, anyway. The day his daddy met the axe, Trent had stopped being a kid. @RRBrunet

 

A huge thank you to everyone who organized the event. I very much enjoyed myself, and appreciated the introduction to many of Canada’s writers.

Eye of the Storm

(or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Peer Edits)

Suddenly, in the midst of a maelstrom of e-mails and edits, a strange calm has descended over my keyboard.

Writing a novel is a daunting challenge. Not only does the word count seem to grow at a snail’s pace, but there is the constant nagging worry that plagues every author – “Is it any good?” I took breaks during this creative period, but they were more… reprieves than anything else. It’s hard to truly take a break when you know that you have another 30,000 words left to write.

The day I finished the novel was a good day. I took the evening off, watched Captain America and Thor, and washed down a plate of beef curry with a cold lager or three.

The next day, the real work began. Editing. I gave myself a week to edit the rough draft, but I should have set aside two or three. Sometimes, I spent hours on the same page. But after a sixty-hour death march, I finally reached the end.

Or so I thought. Then it was time to build a website, draft a synopsis, craft a query letter and start knocking on doors. And, the most important of tasks, send the novel out to people who can tell me whether it’s any good. It will be two to three weeks before I find out the answer to that question of questions.

There is, of course, always more to be done. I could be researching agents and publishers. I could be integrating each and every piece of feedback as it comes in. I could start on the second instalment of the Bar on a Beach Mystery series.

But instead, I am enjoying the brief window in time, this eye of the storm, when there is no mammoth task begging for my attention. I am going to tidy my office and pull dandelions from my garden, and steel myself for the months ahead – the daunting business of convincing a publishing house to place their chips on my square for the next spin of the wheel.

Wish me luck.