Don’t Let Anyone Think You Published Your First-Draft

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I was zooming along with my first round of hardcopy edits on The Light Never Lies, feeling OK – when wham – the boom was lowered. I ran up against a couple of chapters that were so poorly written, they are headed right back to the drawing board. I found inappropriate conversation, passive voice, description details that dragged the story down like a loaf of bread that fell flat.

How did this hackneyed piece of prose get woven into my book? Here’s the thing I’ve discovered. A writer has to expect to see crap in the first draft of any piece of work.

The first draft is entirely in the service of getting the story down. Sometimes that’s done with finesse and sometimes not. That’s why we rewrite, and rewrite, and rewrite.

I’m a self-published author. I have joined a growing rank of people who have decided they will not query agents, wait around endlessly for rejections, and then start the whole process again. We won’t allow gatekeeper traditional publishers to say that our work is not sellable.

With this stance, comes considerable responsibility to the craft of writing. If the traditional publisher is not going to narrow the eye of the needle through which we must pass our work, then who will? We have taken on this burden ourselves, and as we all know, policing ourselves is not an easy task.

I have made a commitment to go out of my way to support the work of other self-published authors. I upload your books to my Kindle, and I read them (and not only when those books are offered for free.)

If, in good conscience, I can give your book a 4 or 5 star rating on Amazon, then I sit down when I’ve finished the book, and I write a review. I’m new to this whole thing, so I don’t have five hundred reviews out there, but I’ve read a lot of your work and I’ve done reviews. (A caveat here – I’ve read a few wonderful novels that have tons of reviews already. In the interest of my own use of time, I’ve skimped there on writing one myself. I’m rethinking that position. Every review is helpful.)

There’s no easy way to say this – some of what I’ve read has not been good.

When I do a review I don’t focus on comparing your book with every other book I’ve ever read. I read each book on its own merits. Did I feel drawn into the story, did I like the characters, did you make me care enough to want to keep on reading?

Here’s a news flash. Readers don’t want to be insulted. If I’ve taken the time to read your book, then I’d like it to make sense. I don’t want to run into plot holes I could drive a semi through, or characters that change personality in mid-stream, or dialogue that sounds patently ridiculous given the situation the characters find themselves in, or the crap you’ve decided to throw into the story for no reason that I can see, or one of my all-time pet peeve – storylines that dried up instead of getting tied up before the last page. I don’t want to read through your entire book only to discover that you got lazy at the end.

It matters not to me if the genre of your book is my thing. If a book is clearly in a certain genre (romance, or crime, or mystery, or fantasy, or paranormal urban trash vampire – I made that last one up), then it isn’t OK for me to evaluate that book harshly for remaining true to what it is. I plan to respect that. But I still hold your book accountable to the points I made earlier.

Naturally, poor formatting, lack of editing for the basics of correct grammar and sentence structure, is a turn off – but I’ll put up with that if the story is compelling. I’ll probably mention that there were some issues, but if the story got to me, I’m forgiving of those points.

I will spend months of my life rewriting and editing The Light Never Lies. When this book is self-published, and you spend $3.99 to buy it and invest your time reading it – I want you to know that I have done everything in my power to ensure that you are not insulted or disappointed. The genre of story I have chosen to tell might not be your thing, or you might not approve of the paths some of the characters have taken, but there will be internal consistency to my book.

My point here is that self-published authors owe readers more than some of us are giving. Don’t blow it. Don’t self-publish your book without being sure it is the best story that you can tell. And if it’s up on Amazon and some readers are writing 1 star reviews, pay attention to what they’re saying. Don’t compare the dozen 5 star reviews you somehow managed to have people who owed you something write, to the less than stellar takes on your work from objective readers. When I get to the end of your book, don’t let me think that you published your first draft.


Greys and Greens


I’m up early this morning contemplating shades of grey – no, not those shades of grey – the multiple layers of grey outside my window. Grey sky, clouds, lake, mountains, everything dripping and engorged with the day’s rain. And then there are the greens. I best not even get started on the shades of green we live with here in the coastal rainforest. I could fill a whole box of crayons – all hues and varieties of greens and greys.

Here’s a neat quote for today:

“Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.”
~ Dr. Seuss

A couple of days ago a terrific book review of Disappearing in Plain Sight appeared on blogger Roy McCarthy’s site – Back on the Rock. I’m amazed at the seeming ease with which he captured the essence of my book. Generally, I stumble and stutter along when asked to describe it. Please pop over to Roy’s blog and check out what he has to say.

P1060964Last night, I did another public author appearance at the local library in Port McNeill. I read aloud, fielded questions (where was Roy when I needed him?), caught up with old friends, met new people, signed books, and congratulated the winner of – you guessed it – a copy of Disappearing in Plain Sight. I can’t say enough about how incredible these events are. Each time I do something like this, my sense of myself as a published author is strengthened. I am slowly getting comfortable in this new skin, this brightly minted identity. Above, I’m posing with library staff, and below with the book winner.


Today, I am the guest blogger on Jessica Bell’s Wednesday feature, The Artist Unleashed. Jessica’s popular blog – The Alliterative Allomorph is jam-packed with brilliant stuff. Please go over there and read my guest post and check out all the fascinating things Jessica has on the go.

On the work front, what is new? I’ve started edits of The Light Never Lies. I’m pleased to report that it is not as rough going as it was with Disappearing in Plain Sight. Did a comprehensive brainstorm session for characters and plot twists in the next book I want to write. What a life – promoting a vision of the book that’s out, revisions of the book on the drawing board, and pre-visions of the book to come. I truly am a writer.


Oh, eeekkkk, Mr. Vonnegut has a point there.

Living Memorial Sculpture Garden


I have wanted to write a post about our experience at the Living Memorial Sculpture Garden (Near Weed, CA on Hwy. 97) since we returned from our California trip in November of last year. When I had missed Veterans’ Day, I shelved my notes thinking it would be best to wait until next year. Then I realized that today is Memorial Day in the US.

So, here I am, seizing the moment to share a moving experience of a phenomenal place on a day that has considerable significance for my neighbours to the south.

The garden, founded in 1988 by a group of Siskiyou County veterans, rests in the shadow of stunning Mt. Shasta, which acts as a natural backdrop for the ten monumental sculptures. The site is also home to 58,000 pine trees planted as a living memorial to the Americans lost in Vietnam.

The artist, Dennis Smith, is a Vietnam vet who works in metal. “Each sculpture has personal meaning for me in terms of life experience and personal incidents.” Smith sees his art as a means of peacefully considering violence, a process whereby we can ask essential questions.

It is, “A place to remember – a place to mend.” Our visit occurred on a clear, bright morning. The sun warmed the area as we strolled along, completely alone in this peaceful garden. Today, I will share four of the sculptures with you.


The Why Group

Situated as the centerpiece of the ten sculptures, on the ground a man rushes along to help a fallen comrade. High above, the central figure arches his back and stretches his arm to the sky. Why? Why war? Why this fallen man? Why any of it?


Coming Home

I stood by this sculpture until tears spilled from my eyes. What do these men and women feel, coming home to a world where nothing has changed, when their whole world has been rocked to the core? The embrace is intimate, yet fragile in some indescribable way.


The Flute Player

For the artist, the flute symbolizes peace and tranquility. The brochure says that if the right breeze is blowing you can almost hear the flute. It’s true. Being there in the early morning, with the garden utterly deserted, the birds rustling in the nearby trees, I heard a noise, gentle at first and growing louder as I stood in silent contemplation. It could have been a flute.


Those Left Behind

What could ever compensate for the loss of the life? The final gesture, the giving of the flag, is a stunning blend of patriotism and pathos. As I stood near this massive sculpture, the morning continued bright and sunny, yet I felt a shiver run through me. Perhaps a faint touch from those who have gone, reminding me to appreciate and understand all the mothers and fathers, wives and children who look to the flag to give meaning to what they have lost.

Public Book Selling Events


Try as we might, we can’t ever seem to take pictures at these events where we are actually engaged with anyone. We manage a quick shot setting up and then that’s that.

Yesterday, I did a book selling and signing event at a local grocery store that has agreed to carry my book. (Cue up the band to play some sort of celebratory music, because getting a store to carry a self-published book is not easy. In this case, I have local going for me and that counts for quite a bit more than people realize. Kudos to MarketPlace IGA in Port McNeill, BC)

Here is my analysis of the event.

Pluses of sitting out in a public space selling a copy of your own book:

  • Selling copies of a book you have written. (dah!) (10)
  • Seeing people you haven’t seen in years. (10)
  • Meeting new people. (10)
  • Talking about your book. (10)
  • Talking about the process of writing a book. (10)
  • Creating a buzz about yourself as an author. (10)
  • Putting your public presence right up there with your book and showing people that you are proud enough about having written a book to sit in a public space and suggest people buy it. (10)

Minuses of sitting out in a public space selling a copy of your own book:

  • People show up in bunches, and you don’t get to give each person the attention you would like to (8)
  • There are times when no one talks to you at all (this is exceptionally difficult – if you ever see anyone sitting out selling anything, go and talk to them. You don’t have to buy what they’re selling. They will be grateful if you engage them. Most artists love to talk about their work.) (10)
  • Seeing people you haven’t seen in years (because you specifically chose not to see them – oh well, being in public is being in public.) (5)
  • Wondering if everyone feels sorry for you for sitting out in a public space selling a copy of your own book. (5)
  • Sometimes going unnoticed by people you thought would take notice and make a big deal. (or even talk to you) (7)

Lest you get discouraged because there is a minus list, look back to the numbers after each point. These refer, on a scale from one to ten, to the level of satisfaction or dissatisfaction related to each point. (ten being the most satisfied or dissatisfied and one the least)

Satisfaction points – 70

Dissatisfaction points – 35

Being satisfied with the process doubles any dissatisfaction.

This is a valuable way to view any situation in life. Go beyond simply listing pros and cons to applying a weight to each point. It gives a more realistic picture.

So, there you have it folks. Go public – it’s worth it.


(I would love to sell my book on this busy street in Quebec City.)

Wisterias in Bloom

“I will be the gladdest thing under the sun. I will touch a hundred flowers and not pick one.” (Edna St. Vincent Millay)


I know these Wisteria blossoms are beautiful, so enjoy them for a bit and then skip over to Gwen Stephens 4 A.M. blog to read the 2nd half of her interview with me, in which I wax eloquent on lessons learned about self-publishing. As always, Gwen does a great job!

P.S. One very real part of my novel, Disappearing in Plain Sight, was Izzy’s passion for the wisteria. That was all me. We have nurtured this vine along for almost 16 years. Whew!

Guest Interview with author Patrick O’Scheen

Fantasy is a popular genre, folks. It has gone main-stream and most readers have certainly put a toe in the water. (The Hobbit, Lord of the Rings, Mists of Avalon, Harry Potter).

Wikipedia defines fantasy by distinguishing it from horror (Fantasy generally shies away from the macabre.) and from science fiction. (Fantasy generally avoids science or modern technology.)

Fantasy is about magic, imaginary worlds populated by magical creatures and mythical heroes and heroines. The fantasy writer wields a pen as if it were a magic wand, taking us on journeys of wonder.

I’ve been a fantasy fan forever. So today, I am quite pleased to present an interview with Patrick O’Scheen, the author of Dreamer, the first of the Marithe Chronicles. (Check out my last blog for the book review I did for Dreamer)

Dreamer book coverMe: Dreamer is advertised as the first of a series. How did you go about deciding what should be in the first book?

Patrick: Dreamer is the first of four books in the Marithe series to date and there will possibly be more. The decision of where to begin seemed simple…I began with myself and spiralled outward. The story must start somewhere. There is no right or wrong about where to begin. I could say more by telling you that the second book is about Magic’s father… but that might be too much!

Me: Tell us about your choice of the title, Dreamer?

Patrick: Magic remains a “dreamer” through everything. He believes in people, finds good in their hearts, and forgives their transgressions. He never gives up hope. The name defines him and that elusive delirium that he embraces in both stories.

Me: What can you tell us about how the relationship Magic and Scheen develop in real life affects how they play together in the game world?

Patrick: I don’t think the two places are easily separated. The man who has been stricken by illness has difficulty discerning between reality and fiction and some of this distortion is distributed to the reader. To tell his story only from one view would be deceptive—so much is revealed about his personality and relationship with Scheen through the game world. It is the interplay of reality and fantasy that defines who they both are. Scheen struggles with concepts that Magic innately understands. Their interaction on both levels brings an intimacy to their friendship that surpasses one experience or the other.

Me: Sexual expression becomes a way of exploring a number of boundary crossings in the novel, Dreamer. Sexual experiences also create triangles between the characters. Tell us how crossing boundaries and creating triangles drives the story you want to tell?

Patrick: This is a particularly difficult question given the amount of press I have received about strong sexual content. Several triangles drive the passions of the characters as well as the relationship of good and evil. Scheen and Magic are at the center of the dilemma. Scheen is a character driven by change–thrown one way and then the other by his desires and adherence to prejudicial concepts —while Magic holds to a simple faith in the world’s compassion. Their shared love for the Queen inevitably changes them both.

Me: Your female character, Umbra, is a strong woman and queen. She is capable of compassion, but is able to deal death when the situation warrants such action. This first book in your series creates quite a dilemma for her – caught between her love and desire for two men, one of whom is a dragon. In future books will we see Umbra play more of a role in the real world? Will her dilemmas in Marithe be reflected in her real life?

Patrick: Although I loved her strength, Umbra’s role in the next few stories is minimal. However, book 5 –yet unwritten—will include more about her —and Vinia.

Me: The novel makes a challenging statement about adhering to strict stereotypes that keep groups at one another’s throats, often leading to war and destruction. You also go out of your way to create situations that suggest there is good in evil and evil in good. Can you discuss how these themes weave through your work?

Patrick: We all struggle with the understanding of right and wrong. Some of us attempt to define the answers by religion, some seek inspiring words and yet others look inside themselves for inspiration. Violent conflicts seem to erupt when ideas and dogmas are challenged—the dragons and the humans are involved in just such a battle and the outcome could result in the destruction of their world.

Me: When writing a series, the author faces the challenge of choosing the place to finish one book and start the next. Can you share your thoughts on how you chose to end Dreamer?

Patrick: The pattern begins and ends with the same voices. I don’t want to spoil the ending for others. It concludes with hope and a glimmer of the future. What more could anyone want?

Indeed – time to bid Patrick (and Magic, and Scheen) goodbye. A quick request before I let him go – give us Book Two in the Marithe series as fast as you can. Please.

Pitcher plant flowers

Please visit Patrick’s blog and check him out

Dreamer is available at – click here

Blog hopping for tasty treats – A review of Dreamer by Patrick O’Scheen


Today my blog is like one of those walking and eating meals – stop at one place and have an appetizer, walk on to the next spot and have a crispy salad, stroll further along for a main course, and finally end up somewhere else for coffee and dessert. I’ve never actually attended such an event, but I would love to. Especially if it was outdoors and there was a great view of Alcatraz Island and San Francisco Bay from a bench on the side of the road in Sausalito. But I digress, first things first.

Dreamer book coverLet’s get started with the appetizer, which takes the form of a book review of Dreamer, Patrick O’Scheen’s recently released novel, the first of a series entitled The Chronicles of Marithe.

First reaction – this book is a marvellous read. The dual themes of love and fealty penetrate the relationships of lovers, friends, and some special families created by necessity. Bonds are forged that refuse to be limited by species, gender, time or space.

Two main characters go back and forth from a “real” world where Scheen is a wealthy man who has never known the love of a friend. He has formed a strong relationship with Magic, a man whose health and strength are slowly seeping away. They enter a world of gaming that carries the reader right along with them into the fantasy land of Marithe. In this gaming world, Magic is a dragon who can shape shift to human form, a creature of perception and allurement. Scheen is the steadfast captain of the King’s guard. A soldier with a conscience, a man who constantly gets himself caught between his loyalties in his own rigid beliefs.

Throughout the book, the author moves us effortlessly between these two worlds, as adventures of life and death play out in each. In Marithe, we encounter an evil sorceress, a magnificent crimson dragon, lesser dragons called morgiths, kings, queens, and children (dragon, morgith, and human). All these characters weave their way into our thoughts and emotions. The author never allows us to fall into the trap of shallowly judging anyone’s actions as good or evil. As humans are challenged in their belief that all dragons are inherently evil, so too is the reader challenged in what they may deem the faults or missteps of the various characters. The reader is invited to become part of a constantly shifting and complex game where the stakes are high.

I have always been a sucker for a book with a dragon as a main character. Dreamer did not disappoint. The idea is original, the writing is smooth and clear, the characters appealing and well-drawn.



I invite you to come back next week and enjoy an interview I’ve done with author Patrick O’Scheen. I throw him on the grill with a good coating of my insatiable curiosity related to a few of the finer points of his book (like who sleeps with who and why) – perhaps he’s the main course.


I’m getting ahead of myself. Run along now to Gwen Stephens’ blog at the 4 A.M. Writer for your choice of salad or soup, which will be served up to look a lot like an interview Gwen did with me (Part 1) The Scoop on Self-Publishing. I go into the ups and downs, the good, bad, and the ugly.


I’m confident you will enjoy getting to know Gwen. She’s a terrific host. Bon appetite.

Do stop back here and let me know what you think. The cook always appreciates your comments.


Fiction Writing is not a Linear Process


Definition: A linear process is one that moves along a line from A to B to C in a straightforward fashion. Conversely, a nonlinear process may develop in different directions at the same time.

I can only speak for my own fiction writing process . . .

I do not follow anything that would even slightly resemble the linear definition above. I am currently writing the last five chapters of The Light Never Lies. Yesterday, I wrote the first draft of the final chapter. Then I roughed in parts of the third from the end and then the fifth from the end. I’m going to move from both ends of this last section to the middle so the climax will be written last.

Lest you think my entire process of writing is erratic, let me explain. I began the book with ideas, the lightest of brush strokes that allowed me to see a starting point, some vague, shadowy lines of action, a climax, and an resolution.

I blocked out three sections for the whole book. For each section, I created my sticky note chapter outlines with one page of blank paper for each chapter. The sticky notes started out containing mere hints about what could happen in a given chapter. They got rearranged, scrapped, and rewritten as I actually wrote.

Definition: A hermeneutic circle is a process by which individual parts inform the whole and in turn the whole informs individual parts.

What happens in my fiction writing is an example of a hermeneutic circle. I work and work on a part of the story – a setting, a chunk of dialogue, an action scene. Then I plug that part into the whole and let it wiggle into place. There it sits as pleased as punch and before I know it, that part has begun to inform the whole of the story. So now I might need to go and make changes to other parts. At the same time the whole is doing its work. I may need to go back and tweak that first part I was telling you about. The whole process keeps going back and forth.

Right now I can almost taste the end of the entire first draft of The Light Never Lies. I actually typed the words THE END the other day – a bit of a cheater since I wrote the last chapter before the lead up chapters or the climax, but the light (so to speak) at the end of the tunnel is there.

Definition: An iterative process is a process for arriving at a desired result by repeated cycles of operations. The objective is to bring the desired result closer to discovery with each repetition (iteration).

It is in subsequent drafts that the iterative process takes hold. The finished product is a journey of discovery. I have to actively seek what in many cases is already hidden within the text.

Do you believe that you can write a complete draft of a story or book and not be aware of the underlying themes or connections you created?

I believe this because I am still discovering things about Disappearing in Plain Sight that I didn’t know were there.

It happens all the time. Here’s another example. The last blog I wrote contained two pictures. I wanted people pictures, one of women and one of men. We have a massive file of high quality digital photographs that Bruce and I have taken over the years (his more high quality than mine – but that’s a story for another post). This has proven to be a phenomenal resource in blogging. I scrambled a bit through my memory and looked through the photos from a couple of trips and found what I was seeking. I didn’t realize, until the day after the post was up, that both photos featured photographers. If you look back at that post, you will ask yourself how that could be. But it’s true.

I am convinced that creativity is like the proverbial iceberg, a lot of it is under the surface of even the artist’s consciousness.

How does that relate to an iterative process? In each draft of a story I need to keep spiralling backwards and forwards through the entire text. A theme discovered on spiral number two, three four, or fifty-four, will be like a thread that I might decide to draw through the entire fabric of the story, enhancing here or there with more precise brush strokes. Or I might pull that thread right out, deciding that my subconscious was a bit off course the day that thread got wove into the whole.

Fiction writing, for me, is a spiral process, a feedback loop, a back and forth, here, there and everywhere mosaic of creating. The one thing it has never been is linear.

I’d love to hear some thoughts on how other people see their own fiction writing process. Do take the time to share.

THANK YOU on speech bubble price labels

(The photo at the top of the post is street art mural in Montreal.)

Gender Scrubbing Your Dialogue


Dialogue can be difficult. It has to sound authentic. It has to get across the point the character (and ultimately the author) wants to send. It can’t be too long, but it must be long enough. It shouldn’t sound phoney, or forced, or stilted. The reader should be able to feel the emotion (or lack of emotion) in the voice of the character. And the dialogue should never get in the way of the story. It can’t be something that trips the reader up. It has to flow.

Dialogue would be hard enough when all a writer did was express their own unique voice. Imagine how difficult it becomes when the author speaks in the voices of others. A particular problem comes up when a woman writes in the voice of a male character and vice versus.

I recently read an article on the Writer’s Digest site about creating believable gender-specific dialogue.

This article got me thinking about the way I write when I’m trying to be inside my male character’s heads. Is it harder? Is it feasible? Am I making my male characters speak the way a woman would like a man to speak, rather than how a man actually sounds?

In the Writer’s Digest article, writers are advised to pay attention to the fact that men ask specific questions, resist giving detailed explanations, and then tell you what to do. (OK – I added that last bit myself. Sorry.) Men tend not to talk about feelings unless specifically stressed into such activity. (Usually by a woman – shoot, I added that part, too.) Men don’t speak in abstractions – they are direct. They don’t check for details, and they don’t go out of their way to seek approval.

Women sympathize and share their own experiences rather than giving advice or telling other’s what to do. Women don’t brag themselves up, they are often self-deprecating when they speak of their own accomplishments. Women tend to be indirect and manipulative rather than outright aggressive (Who wrote this? Male or female?) Women seek out details and they regularly check out the emotional temperature of others by paying attention to body language.

Hmmm . . . Men get to the point, women skirt around the edges of issues seeking something men are either not interested in or don’t even know exist.

Now to be fair to the stereotypes, I don’t see the guys gathered in the photo at the top of the post stopping what they’re doing to check out how each other are feeling, or to say, “Geez, those pants look so comfy. Where did you buy them?” But maybe a bunch of women photographers, wouldn’t stop for such things either.


I could see these women stopping the whole shoot to talk about how great those heels look. And the boots on the one in the orange top – awesome. I wonder where she bought them?

When I write in the voice or the head of the opposite gender, I want that voice to be authentic. Still . . . I’m not sure about using stereotypes to guide my writing.

My only answer to this dilemma is that we have to know our characters, inside and out. We have to get up close and personal with them. We need to live with them for a long period of time. If we don’t hear their voices in our heads, we can’t write them.

The article listed a couple of exercises that seemed sensible.

  • Listen to real men and women talk, and take mental note of what you hear.
  • Read your dialogue out loud and try to be objective. Does it sound right? Does it ring true with your personal perception of the character?
  • Have a member of the opposite sex read your characters dialogue out loud and honestly listen to how it sounds coming out of that person’s mouth. (So, if you are a woman, have a guy read your male character’s dialogue out loud.)

I say, don’t give into stereotypes, unless of course, those stereotypes move forward the story you want to tell. Get to know your characters and stay true to their unique voices. Let them tell the story. Everything is in the service of telling the story. Nothing else matters.