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Friday, March 27, 2015

What Rejections Can Tell You by Chris Eboch

 Getting rejections may be the hardest part of a writer’s job, but understanding what they tell you could save your career. By studying the pattern of rejections you receive, you may identify problems – the first step toward improving.

After your first 5 to 10 rejections, see what they can tell you by reading between the lines.

Query Fail

If you send a query letter and get only form rejections, you may have a problem with your concept or the way you’re presenting it.

Maybe your idea doesn’t appeal because the market niche is too small. Make sure you’re targeting appropriate publishers, maybe those with a specific genre or regional focus. Or try to broaden your audience appeal, for example by playing up the mystery angle and downplaying the historical era, if historical fiction isn’t selling well.

Maybe the idea feels too familiar. If you’re following a trend, you’ll need a fresh take on the subject to stand out from other imitators. If your pitch sounds like a hundred other books, focus on what makes it different.

If your manuscript isn’t currently marketable, you may need to make major revisions. If you can’t fix your idea, the best thing you can do is start a new project.

On the other hand, if you’ve done extensive market research and you’re confident that your idea is marketable, maybe you’re not expressing it well. Are you starting your query by clearly sharing a catchy “hook”? Are you focused on the main plot and character arc, or are you getting bogged down in unnecessary details about secondary characters and subplots? Ask friends who have not read the manuscript to read the query and tell you what they think the story is about. See if they get a good feel for what you’re trying to convey.

One final possibility is that you didn’t target appropriate editors or agents. If you suspect that’s the case, do more research.

Good Idea, Poor Execution

If you have a strong idea and a well-written query letter, you may get a request for a partial manuscript. That’s a great sign that your topic is marketable. But if an agent or editor reads a few chapters and then passes, you may have a problem with your writing. That means more work on the writing craft. Is your opening too slow, with lots of back story and info dumps? Are you struggling with point of view, showing rather than telling, or pacing? Are you sure the writing is as good as you think it is?

Many books and websites offer writing craft lessons. A good critique group can also help, but less experienced writers may have trouble identifying problems, and even published writers are not always good teachers. Consider getting professional feedback, perhaps by taking classes, signing up for conference critiques, or hiring a freelance editor.

If the agent or editor likes your sample chapters enough to request the whole manuscript, that suggests your “voice” is working for them. If they don’t make an offer after seeing the entire manuscript, maybe you have plot problems or the manuscript isn’t strong enough to sell well in a competitive market. At that point, you’re more likely to get specific feedback if they decide to pass on the manuscript.

Rejections are always painful, but think of them as chance to learn. You’ll lessen the sting, and maybe help yourself reach acceptance next time.

Help with Query Letters

Author and former agent Nathan Bransford has many excellent posts on query letters: has advice on writing query letters, with examples of hooks: allows you to organize and track your query letters, and also to see reports of agent responses, for comparison:

Query Shark shares hundreds of real queries critiqued by an agent:

Slush Pile Tales also critiques real queries:

Chris Eboch writes fiction and nonfiction for all ages, with over 30 published books. Advanced Plotting helps writers fine-tune their plots. If you struggle with plot or suspect your plotting needs work, this book can help. Chris also offers paid critiques. Learn more at or her Amazon page, or check out her writing tips at her Write Like a Pro! blog.

Chris also writes novels of suspense and romance for adults under the name Kris Bock. In Counterfeits, stolen Rembrandt paintings bring danger to a small New Mexico town. What We Found is about a young woman who finds a murder victim in the woods. The Mad Monk’s Treasure follows the hunt for a long-lost treasure in the New Mexico desert. Read excerpts at or visit her Amazon page.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Sam Spade to Today: the changing face of mystery

Saturday, March 14th, at 2 p.m. at The Book Barn on Clovis Ave., in Clovis, San Joaquin Sisters in Crime members, Sunny Frazier, Marilyn Meredith and Cora Ramos will be discussing pulp writing and noir that Hammet made famous as well as the role of women in The Maltese Falcon.

They'll touch on how Hammet used his setting, and know these two, no telling what else they'll get into. Both women are avid mystery readers and writers of series mysteries.Saturday, March 14 2:00 p.m. A Book Barn (Clovis) will have a panel discussion on the topic of:

Sam Spade to Today, the changing face of mystery

How mysteries have changed from the pulp fiction of The Maltese Falcon to the present.  There will be writer tips on the noir genre, an examination of the changing roles of women in fiction and advice on the all important topic of setting.    

Bring your note pad and your questions for three successful valley writers:  Sunny Frazier (The Christy Bristol Mystery series), Cora Ramos (Dance the Dream Awake and the soon to be released Haiku Dance) and Marilyn Meredith (The Sheriff Tempe Crabtree series and Rocky Bluffs PD series).     

Sunny Frazier


Sunny Frazier trained as a journalist and wrote for a city newspaper, military and law enforcement publications. After working 17 years with the Fresno Sheriff's Department, 11 spent as Girl Friday with an undercover narcotics team, it dawned on her that mystery writing was her real calling.

Sunny has won numerous short story awards, including three Coveted Dead Birds. Her stories appeared in “Valley Fever: Where Murder Is Contagious,” along with Cora Ramos and Joann Lucas; “Seven By Seven: the Seven Deadly Sins Anthology;” “Never Safe” and “Gone Coastal,” Central Coast Sisters in Crime anthologies; and in various magazines and ezines. Her novels “Fools Rush In” and “Where Angels Fear” are based on actual cases with a bit of astrology, a habit Frazier has developed over the past 42 years. “A Snitch In Time” is based on a small town in the foothills of the Sierra Nevadas. All of her writing is based in the Central Valley. To learn more, go to 

Books are available on Amazon, Kindle and Nook as well as the Black Opal Bookstore.

Marilyn Meredith

Marilyn aka F.M. Meredith's Bio:

Marilyn is the author of  35 plus published books (she's lost track) mostly mysteries. She writes two mystery series, The Deputy Tempe Crabtree series, and under the name F. M. Meredith, The Rocky Bluff P.D. series. She's a member of three Sisters in Crime chapters, Mystery Writers of America and is on the board of the Public Safety Writers' Association. Se lives in the foothills of the Sierra in an area similar to where Deputy Crabtree keeps the peace. For over twenty years she lived in a beach community much like the one depicted in the Rocky Bluff series.


Books are available in the usual places.

Cora Ramos is an award winning author of stories of mystery and suspense that straddle the edge, whether that edge is the paranormal, a deadly decision or the place where science ends and magic resides.

A collection of her short stories can be found in the anthology, Valley Fever, Where Murder is Contagious.

Her current novel, Dance the Dream Awake, a paranormal romantic suspense that dips into a Mayan past life, is being reissued by Black Opal Books on May 13, 2015 (with a new book cover).
Her spicy romance novel, Haiku Dance, set in ancient Heian Japan, (era of the Tales of Genji, Sarashina Diary and The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon) will also be released this year by Black Opal Books.
She is currently finishing the 3rd book in the Dance series, Dance the Edge.

The authors will have copies of their books for autographing and sale.

Questions welcomed.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Short Stories: Why Write Them? by Maggie King

Short Stories: Why Write Them?

Do you write short stories? If so, you know how satisfying and enjoyable they can be. But for the past three or four decades many writers and readers have turned their backs on these literary gems, considering them mere writing class exercises. Not any more—shorts are back with a vengeance, due in large part to the e-book. Author and blogger Anne R. Allen says we’re in a new golden age of short fiction. See her complete post here.  

Here are just a few reasons to try this time-honored medium:

·         After struggling with your novel, writing short can give you a feeling of accomplishment;
·         It helps you to hone your writing skills;
·         While writing short is a challenge like any good writing (you need to develop a compelling plot and characters), but as you’re dealing with a minimum of scenes and characters, the process is simpler;
·         It keeps you fresh material to promote while you’re working on your novel, keeping your readers engaged;
·         In a short piece, you can resurrect scenes and characters that got edited out of your novel;
·         You can further develop a minor character from your novel in a short piece;
·         You can experiment with new genres

Many Sisters in Crime chapters have published anthologies. My own Central Virginia chapter collaborated with the Mysteries by the Sea chapter (Virginia Beach) and published the Virginia is for Mysteries anthology in 2014. I contributed the story “A Not So Genteel Murder.” My second story, “Reunion in Shockoe Slip,” was accepted for Virginia is for Mysteries II.

My friend Caroline gifted me with a copy of Murder in La-La Land by the Sisters in Crime Los Angeles chapter. As a special treat she had each contributing author sign the copy at an event held at the Santa Monica Public Library.

I have to say that I’ve turned into a fan of short stories and plan to make them a significant part of my oeuvre (I love that word!). I’m in the “thinking” stages of plotting a flash fiction piece. Sunny Frazier gave me a nudge recently with her chilling True Confections: A Valentine’s Day Mystery Short Story.

Ready to get started on this exciting and rewarding writing medium? Read and study the works of the greats in the mystery genre: Agatha Christie, Arthur Conan Doyle, Edgar Allan Poe, and Ruth Rendell. And check out your talented Sisters and Misters in Crime—you can view the cover art for their anthologies and learn about the guidelines for producing one for your chapter here.

For more information on writing short stories, check these resources:

A compendium of courses, teaching guides, and articles are here.
Short Mystery Fiction Society (SMFS). Join and maybe you’ll win a Derringer!
Kurt Vonnegut’s eight tips for writing a good short story are here.

Do you write short fiction? If so, do you enjoy the process?

Maggie King is the author of Murder at the Book Group, published in 2014 by Simon and Schuster. She contributed the short story, “A Not So Genteel Murder,” to the Sisters in Crime anthology Virginia is for Mysteries. Maggie is a member of Sisters in Crime and the American Association of University Women. She has worked as a software developer, retail sales manager, and customer service supervisor.

Maggie graduated from Elizabeth Seton College and earned a B.S. degree in Business Administration from Rochester Institute of Technology. She has called New Jersey, Massachusetts, and California home. These days she lives in Richmond, Virginia with her husband, Glen, and cats, Morris and Olive.

Visit Maggie at, on Facebook at, and on Twitter at

Nothing can kill a good book group discussion like cold-blooded murder. Especially when the victim is one of the group’s own. Cyanide is the topic du jour for the mystery fanatics of Murder on Tour, but for their poor hostess, Car­lene Arness—who just published her own whodunit—it makes for a surprise ending. One minute, Carlene is speaking animatedly about featuring the poison in her new book. The next, she’s slumped over in a chair, dead from a sip of tea. Did the writer take her research too far? Or did one of the group’s members take a love of true crime to the extreme?

Founding member Hazel Rose is rounding up suspects. Any of her fellow bibliophiles could be the killer. And she soon discovers that almost all of them had a motive. Even Hazel herself, whose ex-husband married Carlene, could be accused of harboring jealousy. The truth is, Carlene wasn’t just hard to read, she was also hard to like—and the scandalous secrets Hazel unearths would make Carlene’s idol, Agatha Christie, turn over in her grave.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

What's In A Name/ by Cathy Strasser

Scarlett O’Hara. Atticus Finch. Bilbo Baggins. Harry Potter. Rebecca. Oliver Twist. Hercule Poirot. Could any of these characters have been as effective with a different name?

Character names in An Uncertain Grave –  the first book in my White Mountains Mystery series –  are extremely important because I want the reader to like them, engage with them and come to feel they are friends. At the same time, I wanted the character’s names to in some small way reflect their personality.

Chapter one introduces Kenny Brainerd, a hapless hiker who stumbles across a dead body at the conclusion of a hike gone horribly wrong. Kenny is not a very competent man– at anything – and I needed a name that would reflect that. His first name was inspired by a bungling co-worker in a long ago summer camp job. Next, I needed a last name that also suggested incompetence, someone who didn’t use his brain and seemed kind of nerdy…. So I took the words brain and nerd, combined them, lost an “n” and it was good to go.

The next names, Cliff, Mike and Kurt, were chosen to show the opposite quality – strength. One syllable, they all had a quick, decisive ring to them. Cliff and Mike are the New Hampshire State Troopers that investigate the dead body Kenny discovered and I wanted their names to reflect their abilities. And Kurt, head of a local mountain search and rescue team, also needed a strong name that reflected his major personality trait.

The two New York characters needed names that were a bit on the pretentious side, and Nelson Simon sounded appropriate for a nosy reporter without being too much of a mouthful, while Alyssa gave me a mental picture of a glamorous career woman.

The next book in the series will expand the cast of local and out of town characters even further and their names will reflect their abilities and personalities. Keep an eye out for the flamboyant lady lawyer, the well-educated recluse, and a handful of nosy neighbors!

An Uncertain Grave is available on Amazon in paperback and on Kindle:

 Author Bio:

Cathy Strasser is an Occupational Therapist and author whose first book, An Uncertain Grave, has been published by Oak Tree Press. It is a humorous hiking mystery set in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. 

Cathy’s short story “Afterward”, published in the Chrysalis Reader, was nominated for the 2007 Pushcart Prize. Cathy has had short stories published in several anthologies and magazines and was a finalist in the “Family Matters” competition of Glimmer Train Magazine.

Cathy belongs to The New Hampshire Writer’s Project. She lives in Sugar Hill, NH with her husband and is currently working on her second book. Her website is .