What We (Really) Found

By Kris Bock

Many writers are inspired by real events or people in their lives. This makes difficult situations a form of research. “This stinks, but maybe I can use it in a book!” I write romantic suspense for adults as Kris Bock and middle grade novels (for ages 9 to 12) as Chris Eboch. In most of these books, the connection to real life experiences isn’t obvious.

But one of my adult titles, What We Found, was inspired by a true case of murder.what-we-found

Two friends and I were exploring the mountains, looking for some suitable gravel to try gold panning (because, why not?). We found a likely spot and were about to take a sample when the guys smelled something horrible. A glance in the right direction showed them a dead body hidden just out of sight of the path.

The next hour passed in a surreal blur. None of us had a phone on us. We got back to our phones and then had to find a place with reception. We called 911, waited for the police, and led them to the body. Later that night we were interviewed by detectives. By the following day, they had identified the body as a woman who had been missing. Seeing her picture on TV and learning about her family made the situation real in a new way. We wanted justice for someone we’d never met. Fortunately, they already had a suspect, but it took nearly a year to resolve the case.

It’s All Research

As a writer, I knew I was getting rare first-hand experience into something powerful. I took pages of notes during that first week, even though I didn’t know how or when I might use them. I was fortunate to be with two men who talked openly about their experiences: the nightmares, the guilt over violence against women, the anxiety that came from now wondering what you might see in the bushes.

Three things struck me most strongly. First, we all felt deeply invested in the case, even though we’d never met the woman in life and didn’t know anyone else involved. We followed the news stories, and when the murderer was finally sentenced … well, I wouldn’t say we celebrated; more like we relaxed.

mad-monkSecond, it affected every aspect of our lives for weeks. Even though the likelihood of finding another body, or even witnessing a different crime, was extremely slim, we were on high alert at all times. It was a struggle to put it behind us while still honoring the memory of the victim and holding on to what we had learned.

And finally, we heard from someone in law enforcement that often people don’t report crime scenes like these. How could someone walk away from that? I started thinking about all the reasons someone might want to cover up their discovery, even if they had nothing to do with the crime. And that inspired What We Found.

Turning Truth into Fiction

Several years passed before I felt distant enough from the experience to fictionalize it, but I still had all those notes and memories to draw on. Some elements of What We Found, mainly the emotional ones, are taken directly from that experience. Most character and plot elements are completely fictional.

This isn’t an experience I would wish on anyone, but we’re glad we helped bring a crime to light and a murderer to justice. And it led to what I consider my most powerful and personal novel to date. After all, one benefit to being a writer is that the worst experiences are still valuable as research.

That’s the truth behind What We Found.

What We Found is currently free on Amazon,

What We Found

When Audra goes back to her small hometown after college, she just wants to fit in, work hard, and protect her 12-year-old brother from their overbearing mother. Finding a dead body in the woods changes everything. Her former crush, Jay, insists they don’t report the body. But the dead woman was murdered, and someone starts targeting Audra. She has to stand up for herself in order to stand up for the murder victim. It’s a risk, and so is reaching out to the mysterious young man who works with deadly birds of prey. But with danger all around, some risks are worth taking. This title stands alone and is not part of a series.

“Another action-packed suspense novel by Kris Bock, perhaps her best to-date. The author weaves an intriguing tale with appealing characters. Watching Audra, the main character, evolve into an emotionally-mature and independent young woman is gratifying.” Reader Ellen Rippel

This title stands alone and is not part of a series.kris-bock

Kris Bock writes novels of suspense and romance with outdoor adventures and Southwestern landscapes. The Mad Monk’s Treasure follows the hunt for a long-lost treasure in the New Mexico desert. In The Dead Man’s Treasure, estranged relatives compete to reach a buried treasure by following a series of complex clues. In The Skeleton Canyon Treasure, sparks fly when reader favorites Camie and Tiger help a mysterious man track down his missing uncle. Whispers in the Dark features archaeology and intrigue among ancient Southwest ruins. In Counterfeits, stolen Rembrandt paintings bring danger to a small New Mexico town.

Read excerpts at www.krisbock.com or visit her Amazon page. Sign up for the Kris Bock newsletter for announcements of new books, sales, and more.

Keep the Mystery in your Fiction!


By Glenna Mageau (Writing as Maggie Thom)


You’ve finished writing your novel and now you find yourself with the prospect of having to write a catching back cover blurb that will hook the potential reader and draw her/him in. Unfortunately, writing this brief but vital info seems to be a mystery for many authors. What to include? What to leave out? Where to begin? How to make it interesting?

It’s no wonder this task so daunting. You’ve just written 60,000 words, or 82,454, words or 102,383 words, and now you want to give a glimpse inside the meat of your story in only 200 words? The thing is though, for an author 200 words is really not that difficult a task to write. Where the problem comes in, is that authors of fiction tend to look at writing the book blurb as a summary, as a “this-then-that” kind of article, when really it’s not.


The key to the fiction blurb is that you want the reader to know they are departing on a grand adventure, an exciting and thrilling journey! But where will they actually go? That, you want to keep a mystery!

To give the reader a taste of the experience they will experience while devouring your book, you want to offer them a glimpse inside the pages and connect them to your protagonist and her/his journey without giving away too much of what lies ahead.

Sounds easy, right?

pulling out hair

I sure didn’t find it that way when I first decided to be Indie published. I had little idea how to write the effective fiction blurb, and no idea how to make it something that would pull the reader in and capture her interest. That frustrated me to no end. So, I set out to learn all that I could about what makes a such a blurb intriguing. Here are some vital points of what I have learned:

Where to start?

Keep the focus of the  blurb on the protagonist. Who is this character? What makes him/her unique? Why have you chosen this particular character as your protagonist?

What to include?

You want to include the struggles, the problems that the protagonist faces. And you want to include the major conflict that your story is about.

What to leave out?

You really don’t need to include all of the events and situations that happen. You don’t want to spell out the climax or ending. And you don’t want to mention too many secondary characters by name – maybe 2 or 3 at most.

Now that you have the reader’s attention, you want to pull them into the mystery of where the story is going.

How to make it interesting?

This is where you will use the climax and ending to hint at where the story is going. You want the reader to wonder, “Will the protagonist succeed or fail?” and what might happen if they fail.


If you ensure that you include the above information in your blurb, you are giving a good sense of who the protagonist is, what’s going on for him/her, and how they are handling it all. That’s what will grab the reader and connect them to your story. Then, when you tack on the mystery of how and where the protagonist ends up, you’ve got their attention–and better yet–you’ve got them wondering where the story is going. You’ve hooked them!

Remember–keeping the mystery in your blurb will pull the reader into your story, and won’t let them go!

I’m doing a free webinar – 5 Steps to a Compelling and Interesting Fiction Book Blurb – on Nov. 9. The best way to keep informed and get more tips on writing a fiction book blurb is to sign up for my free ebook – 3 Keys to Creating a Compelling and Interesting Fiction Book Blurb


About the author:Glenna Mageau is an award-winning suspense/thriller author who works with Indie/Self Published authors to create attention-grabbing blurbs. Her first attempts at writing fiction book blurbs were dismal, time-consuming and stressful. Over many hours of trial and error she finally figured out the keys to writing interesting, compelling and attention-grabbing back cover copy. This led to the author’s course – Mastering the Art of Writing the Catchy Fiction Book Blurb – to help all Indie/Self-published authors learn this vital art. You can learn more here: http://www.glennamageau.com/

Glenna’s motto: Escape to read… Read to escape… and Write for the Freedom!

Connect with Glenna at:

Twitter: https://twitter.com/GlennaMageau

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/thewritesuccess/

Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/glennamageau/

cj Sez: Your autumn wardrobe must-have: Tall leather boots from . . .

By: CJ Petterson

Oops. Wrong headline, and yes, here I am, in a state of flux. Caught somewhere between the beginning of fall (the autumn equinox occurred Sept. 22) and the end of daylight savings time (if you’re on it, it ends Nov. 6 at 2 a.m.). On a downward slide to the end of the year. Think about it. Right now, many stores have displays up for the generic harvest time and fall colors as well as for every single one of the upcoming holidays. So Happy HalloThanksHannukMasKwanzYear!cr-carter-more-friendsbundle-cvr

Now, if you’re a writer who likes a challenge, here’s another event to anticipate and celebrate: The beginning of NaNoWriMo—November, the National Novel Writing Month; the month where authors challenge themselves to write fifty thousand words in one month, that’s 50,000 (it looks bigger in numbers). Let’s see, “30 days hath September, April, June, and November.” That means you’ll have to write an average of (just a minute, calculations going on) 1,666.6 words per day to reach the goal. Whew!

If you’re going to take the challenge (I’ll admit only to “thinking” about it), now is the time to pre-plot, if you haven’t already started the process. Deciding to take the NaNoWriMo challenge is one of those times where it isn’t a good idea to jump right in and begin writing. In order to accomplish 50,000 words in thirty days, you will definitely need some pre-planning. You’ll need a basic idea of how you want the action to progress. Especially important to speedwriting is to know something (better would be a lot) about your characters, what their emotional and developmental arcs will be.

The plus side of all that pre-plot/pre-plan work is not only will you have a better chance of successfully completing the NaNoWriMo challenge and creating the nucleus of a new story, but it’s also a good bet that you’ll need a lot fewer rewrites to make that first draft into a viable, saleable novel. (How’s that for a sentence that leaves you breathless? On many levels.)

If you’re not in a support group (they are very good for encouragement and motivation), there are multiple sources of helpful forums and advice online. There is even an official organization: http://nanowrimo.org

So, what are you doing reading this? You should be plotting and planning! Put pen to paper or fingers to keyboards and get started on developing those characters and plots. There are only ten days left until Nov. 1 (I counted them). And now that I think about it, since I get paid monthly, I have only two more paydays until Christmas. Aarrgh!

You-all guys keep on keeping on, and remember, if you opt to enter NaNoWriMo, I’m rooting for you…even if I chicken out. Let me know how you do, okay?


PS:  Thanks so much, Kait and all the authors at MotiveMeansOpportunity, for giving me an opportunity to do a guest post on your blog. I’m coming back to study your tips on “How to Write a Private Eye Novel” . . . your insights are just what I need. Thanks again for hosting me.  cj

AUTHOR BIO:marilyn-johnson

Author “cj petterson” is the pen name of Marilyn A. Johnston. An incorrigible wordsmith who is published in several genres, Marilyn was born in Texas, retired from a career in Michigan’s automotive industry, and now lives with her family on Alabama’s Gulf Coast. As cj petterson, she has authored two contemporary romantic suspense novels—Deadly Star and Choosing Carter—and several short stories . . . the latest short is a historical fiction piece scheduled for publication in a Western anthology, The Posse, in February 2017. Her novel-in-progress (about 100 pages done) is a female, private detective mystery (her first true mystery), and she’s promised herself the case will be solved before Christmas.

Follow author cj petterson on her blog site at www.lyricalpens.com and at



Amazon Central Author Page:  http://amzn.to/1NIDKC0


When you ask cj about her contemporary romantic suspense Choosing Carter, she’ll give you its Jane Bond elevator pitch in less than twenty words: “Somewhere in the mountains of Colorado, a woman must choose between the man she loves and her terrorist brother.”

Choosing Carter is one of the six romance novels bundled by publisher Crimson Romance in an offering they call “More than Friends.” The bundle is available on Amazon from now until February 2017 for 99 cents (sometimes less, sometimes free) … a great gift idea for the “holidaze” (or Valentine’s Day) for yourself, BFF, or writing buddy … hours and hours of entertainment for less than a buck! Check it out at http://amzn.to/2dnqnLJ



Author Connie Cockrell releases Troubled Streets, a Sci-Fi Mystery/Thriller!

First, I want to thank Michael Helms and Motive Means Opportunity for the invitation to post here. Isn’t it lovely when you’re invited somewhere? Michael was kind enough to notice I’d just published a new book, Troubled Streets, and offered up this blog to talk about it. It was too good an offer to pass up.


Where did the story for Troubled Streets come from? It was prompted by one of those on-line memes I see go around every once in awhile. We’ve all seen them, rants about why honest, hard-working, taxpayers should pay for food, shelter, medical support of drug users, criminals, you get the picture. Anyway, I’ve seen these rants for years but this particular day it got me thinking: What would a society that decides they aren’t going to support their “undesirables” look like?


I could have set the story anywhere, modern day, a fantasy location, but since my favorite genre is science fiction with a dash of mystery and thriller added to the mix, I decided to set the story on a planet far away and in the future. That’s what Sci-Fi is for, after all—looking at current events in a way that makes it safe to consider alternatives.


The story of Troubled Streets originated as a flash fiction. I like to use short stories, even flash fiction (1000 words or less) to explore story ideas. My heroine, Zoe Ohale, is seventeen. Her parents, declared undesirables, are both dead and she’s been on the streets since she was twelve. There’s no support on her planet for the children of undesirables. She’s running from the local police (Law Enforcement or “Lees”) because she was engaged in illegal commerce. She was trying to trade some copper wire for credits (money). But she was set up and in the end, was captured. I called that flash story, “Betrayal Moon.” Later I expanded it to a full short story and subbed it to a few ezines and contests. There were no takers but the story had hold of me so in 2015, I used the short story as my base and wrote Troubled Streets for my November National Novel Writing Month story.


And that’s it. My process is to set a story aside for a while to let my brain forget it. I pulled it out in July and began the rewrite and edit process. Now, here we are, a brand new book, first in its series, Zoe Ohale. I have plans for Ms. Ohale. Oh yes I do. I hope you enjoy her story as much as I do.


Synopsis of Troubled Streets

Zoe Ohale has had a hard life on the streets of Baia Mare. It’s about to get a whole lot harder.

A gang of credit thieves has come to the city, and Zoe is tasked with finding them. She makes some progress in her quest, but who should she tell? The gruff cop who might be her ticket off the streets? Or the underworld crime boss who can kill with a word? Neither side can be trusted, and Zoe is left dangling in the middle with no way out.

But when a young girl from her orphan gang is kidnapped by a ruthless mobster, it becomes personal, and it’s up to Zoe to navigate the treacherous streets and bring her back. Going it alone brings more trouble than Zoe expected, and soon she is forced to rely on her own allies to help even the score… including assistance from the most unlikely of places.

As the debts owed pile up and blood starts to spill, Zoe has precious little time to figure out how to balance the scales and bring justice to Baia Mare. From the rich and powerful in their lofty council halls to the downtrodden folks on the dirty streets, the city is heading for a rude awakening – and at the center of it all is Zoe Ohale.

My Bio: A 20-year Air Force career, time as a manager at a computer operations company, wife, mother, sister and volunteer, provides a rich background for Connie Cockrell’s story-telling.

Cockrell grew up in upstate NY, just outside of Gloversville, NY before she joined the military at age 18. Having lived in Europe, Great Britain, and several places around the United States, she now lives in Payson, AZ with her husband: hiking, gardening, and playing bunko. She writes about whatever comes into her head so her books could be in any genre. She’s published fifteen books so far, has been included in five different anthologies and been published on EveryDayStories.com. Connie’s always on the lookout for a good story idea. Beware, you just might wind up in the next one!

connie-cockrell-img_4629-small    Author Connie Cockrell can be found at www.conniesrandomthoughts.com or on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/ConniesRandomThoughts or on Twitter at: @ConnieCockrell


By: Bob Van Laerhoven

Picture this, a lonely and vaguely melancholic, 17 year old boy in 1970, living in a smallbaudelairesrevenge_cvr Flemish/Belgian village, surrounded by pine woods, at the border with The Netherlands.

Later in his life, that boy will learn the hard way that border places are often rough and dangerous places, woods or no woods.

But now, he’s searching for something that will appease a shapeless longing in him.  His parents,  poor and hard working people,  wish that he’ll become a postman.  Regular job, steady income, smooth life.

Healthy too: each day biking many miles in the flatlands of De Kempen, that Flemish region of small farmers and workers in Antwerp’s harbor, distributing  letters, written in the gnarly handwriting  of simple people.

Life is tough. Don’t go out late. Don’t catch a cold. Don’t drink. Work hard. Build a house. Be normal.

That’s what simple people say to each other. That’s what his parents said to him.

The boy is a dreamer and likes to read. No good spills forth from this laziness. He needs some character.  He’s skinny; let him do some real men’s work.

So, the boy did some real men’s work in the harbor.  He steeled his muscles in the holds of ships filled with Rhine sand.  But his dreamy and sad nature didn’t evaporate in the sand.  He did his reading after dark in bed with a flashlight.

The village sported a small but well kept library, and there the boy found, by chance, by accident, by Fate, Den Bloemen van den Booze, a translation in archaic Dutch of Les Fleurs du Mal by Charles Baudelaire, whom the French like to call un poète maudit.

How his heart thrilled when he read The Flowers of Evil of this cursed poet!  Here was a twin soul speaking to him in delicate words and sublime rhythm.  Baudelaire evoked the unbearable weight of living in a neurasthenic, hypersensitive language, rich and contrasting, vile, exquisitely beautiful.  The boy vowed to read the original, knowing that French was a more melodic language than his guttural Flemish, a Dutch dialect.  The librarian, a retired schoolmaster with the reddest hair you ever saw, noticed the  esthetic hunger burning in the clunky youth  and promised him a copy of Les Fleurs du Mal. He held his promise and the boy spend many nights with the bundle and a French-Dutch dictionary.  The lines he read, scoured against his heart like the cracking of innumerable insect wings.

dangerous Sans cesse à mes cotés s’agite le Demon

  Il nage autour de moi comme un air impalpable

 Je l’avale et le sens qui brûle mon poumon

 Et l’emplit d’un désir éternel et coupable.

A demon, lurking agitatedly in the depth of his being, surrounding him with an invisible cloak, and evoking an eternal and guilty desire that burns in his lungs.

Yes, that was what the boy felt. He was guilty of dreaming an impossible dream: becoming an author.

His parents said it couldn’t be done. They said: “Your dream is not for our kind of people.”

So, two years later, the boy left home with nothing but his hopes, starting a life that rambled from pillar to post, 12 crafts, 13 mishaps , eventually learning to publish novels by writing and discarding them, writing and discarding them, writing and discarding them.

No longer a boy, he became known as a novelist in the Netherlands and Belgium.  But his unrest remained, whispering in the night, like Socrates’ Daimon. What, exactly, is a Man?

To search for the answer,  for thirteen years he became a travelling writer in war-torn countries in a vain attempt to quench the fiery challenge in the demon’s question, learning the hard way that, as Baudelaire’s  verses had predicted, it was grief that was swirling around him like an impalpable mist. Grief for this wretched world, grief for the endless suffering mankind inflicts on itself.

In Somalia, Bosnia, Gaza, Iraq, Iran, Lebanon, Kosovo, Liberia, Mozambique, Burma, Burundi, and many other countries, he tried to analyze the eternal and guilty desire of the human race. In the end, he became confused and afraid, losing himself in nightmares about the Human Condition.

He withdrew from the world, and only spoke to his horses, the creatures he had learned to love and cherish. In their ancient ways, they taught him that he had to witness all this suffering and violence in order to be able to go back to his roots, and to fulfill a promise the 17-year old boy with his flashlight underneath the blankets of his bed had vowed:  I will write about Charles Baudelaire, and it will be a somber and wretched and harsh parable of intricate passion and deceit; I will disclose the seeds of the Flowers of Evil that grow in everyone of us.

Now picture this 63-year old author of 36 books, living in a tiny country – Belgium – at the other side of the Ocean, and with a past that seems as surrealistic as Magritte’s paintings.  At 57, he wrote, at last, the novel Baudelaire’s Revenge, which, among other countries, was published in the US in 2014, a year later followed by the short story collection Dangerous Obsessions. Currently, he’s working on The Shadow Of The Mole, his third novel in English.

Oh, he’s busy all right, but sometimes, when mornings are misty over his prairies and the forest around his house, when he hears the whinnying of his beloved horses, he muses about that 17-year old boy, and remembers how he was standing at the edge of the vast pine woods that surrounded his village, shouting words at the trees, which, unresponsively, absorbed  every syllable and every verse, and wonders: was that truly me?

To know the answer, the writer has to listen to faint murmuring, deep in the night, like the cracking of innumerable insect wings.

Bob Van Laerhoven – Flemish authorboblaatste

Baudelaire’s Revenge was published in the US in hardback, paperback, and e-book version, by Pegasus Books. The novel also appeared in France and Canada. Italian and Russian translations are on their way.

The novel won the Hercule Poirot Prize for best suspense novel of the year in the LowLands, and the USA Best Book Award 2014 in the category mystery/suspense.

Dangerous Obsessions was published in the US, in hardback, paperback, and e-book version, by The Anaphora Literary Press. The story Hearts Don’t Beat On Letters  in the collection was first published by the literary magazine  Conclave,  journal of character.  Checkmate In Chimbote was first published by  Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine.  Dangerous Obsessions was voted “best short story collection of 2015” by the  San Diego Book Review.


Space/Time Continuum

space-time-continuumWay back when in the stone age, before YouTube or even MTV, there was a TV show named The Twilight Zone. It was hosted by Rod Serling who had one of those fantastic announcer’s voices that made you see his words. That was the first time I heard the phrase space/time continuum. I didn’t understand it until I became a writer.

Because we write on deadlines, our backs are always to the wall. Add in day jobs, family commitments, general life, and it becomes apparent that twenty-four hours in a day are simply not enough. Honestly, neither are thirty-six maybe seventy-two would be adequate. Every writer handles the time drain differently. Some carry notebooks or keyboards to all of their appointments. Using the waiting time to outline, write, polish, draw characterizations, study people and take notes (makes ‘em nervous I can tell you). Others set aside a sacred writing time and warn their families that if it ain’t bleeding, broken, or on fire, don’t interrupt. That doesn’t work in my house. As soon as I hang out the “do not disturb” sign my family beats a path to my door. I can only kill them in writing. My research tells me there isn’t much writing time in prison either. Not an option. But a great plan for more research.


Credit: http:/kleinganz.com/w

How do I solve the problem? Dark of night. I’ve always been a night owl. I can do fine with six hours of sleep and get by with four. And something about the dark sparks my creativity. It may be the absence of outside stimulation. We live in the country, so night is…night. Few cars pass, no party noise, no street lights. Just deep, buttery, darkness that is broken by the occasional moon or meteor shower. Images flow across my imagination in the night. I can turn myself inward and watch the movie of my book unreel in my mind. Characters speak, scenes unfold, situations deepen every move or word draws on all the senses, and the book almost writes itself.


Bring on the dark.

What about you. Do you have a favorite time to work? If you could, would you rearrange your life schedule to accommodate your preferred schedule?

Author photos 009Kait Carson lives in an airpark in south central Florida with a pilot husband, seven tropical birds, and six rescue cats. By day, she’s a practicing probate and litigation paralegal, in the evening, legal pads give way to a keyboard, and she spins tales of murder and mayhem set in the tropical heat. Kait writes two series, the Catherine Swope series, set in Miami, and the Hayden Kent series set in the Fabulous Florida Keys.

Kait loves to hear from readers, check out her website at www.kaitcarson.com; follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/kaitcarsonauthor, on Twitter at @kaitcarson, or e-mail her at kait.carson@gmail.com.


Let’s Start at the Very Beginning*


By Margot Kinberg


I saw an interesting interview with Billy Joel (come on, if you know me at all, you’ll know I had to include something about Billy Joel here!). In it, he was asked why he has such ‘staying power’ – such a lasting influence. His response has stayed with me. He said, ‘I’m competent.’

By that, he didn’t mean a false-modesty sort of answer. Rather, he meant that he’s honed the basics you need to create music. Whether you’re a fan of his music or not, I think most people would agree that he’s got a lot of talent. His point was that it’s not just natural talent; it’s also working on and developing the skills that go into writing and performing music.

That part of the interview has stayed with me, because, at least for me, quality writing is very similar. It’s not just a matter of having a brilliant idea, committing it to words, sending it out, and becoming a best-selling novelist. It’s the regular discipline of putting words together.


All of those basic writing skills do matter. In each language, each dialect, there are standard ways in which nouns, verbs and so on are put together. There’s standard punctuation. There are tools such as alliteration and metaphor that can help make one’s writing that much more powerful. There’s also the matter of matching one’s writing to one’s audience. After all, writing is communication.


Think of the last book you read that really drew you in. Of course a strong plot and well-developed characters probably made that book memorable. But I’d also suspect that the author used those behind-the-scenes tools that make writing flow. My guess is that the paragraphs all had topic sentences and each paragraph led logically to the next. The writing transitions were probably smooth, and the author likely varied the length of sentences. Spelling, punctuation and the like were probably on target as well. You might not have noticed those things; in fact, if they were done effectively, you probably didn’t. But they were likely there.


Sound boring? Working on those basics isn’t, admittedly, the most exciting part of being a writer. But honing those tools puts the writer in a good position for a few reasons. First, the more the writer pays attention to those elements, the more automatic they become. That frees one up to focus on crafting plots, developing characters, and putting together a story that will engage readers. What’s more, the end product – the story – is more satisfying. It’s more professional, too. Editors everywhere will appreciate that, and so will readers.


But, Margot, I can hear you asking, what about creativity? What about innovation? Working on the writing equivalent of scales and arpeggios doesn’t mean you can’t innovate. The fact is, once you truly know and understand those conventions (spelling, punctuation, dialogue, audience, paragraph structure and so on), you can use them much more strategically. You can even bend those rules here and there as necessary. It’s a bit like using dissonance in music. You can’t use it effectively if you don’t have a thorough understanding of harmony. So, in a real sense, having a grounding in those conventions helps you innovate.

Shut Up! He Explained

You may also be thinking, what about dialect? Being really competent with those conventions isn’t going to help me if my characters speak in a non-standard dialect. Dialect can be a powerful tool in conveying character and a sense of place. So go ahead and use it if it’s appropriate. But you’ll be much more skilled at knowing when it’s appropriate, choosing it carefully, and getting it accurate if you really understand its conventions. Every dialect has conventions, including standard speech. The better you know those conventions, and the more automatically you can use them, the more authentic your writing will be.


So how does one hone those basics of writing? For me, anyway, it’s a matter of putting words together every day. That daily discipline, even if it’s just a few sentences, helps keep the focus on what writing looks like and feels like, and what makes it (not) work. There are lots of options for doing that, too. For instance, my blog has been very helpful to me in that way. Since I post every day, I get plenty of opportunity to put words together, see how they sound and fit, revise, edit and publish. In short, I go through the writing process every day. Even if you don’t post daily, keeping a blog is very helpful as a writing activity. A regular blog may not work for everyone (although I do recommend it for writers who want to develop a readership). But I think that daily writing is vital.

Self-Editing fiction

It’s also worth the time to re-read and revise what you’ve written with an editor’s eye. Go over each paragraph to make sure it’s cohesive. Check for spelling and grammar conventions (should that really be ‘your’ or ‘you’re?’ ‘They’re’ or ‘there?’).  Read your work aloud to yourself or to someone you trust. Believe it or not, doing that can help you spot overuse of words, run-on sentences, abrupt transitions, and those other small details that can weaken your writing. Sound blatantly obvious? Perhaps it is. But those basic aspects of writing are the underpinnings of an absorbing story that keeps readers wanting more.


It’s true that working on those very basic elements of writing isn’t particularly thrilling for most of us. But understanding them, using them and honing them help to support your story. And your readers will be grateful to you, whether they’re aware of the effort you’ve put into them or not. You’ll make mistakes along the way (I make embarrassing ones on a painfully regular basis). But your writing will be better. It’s why I work on those things as frequently as I do. I’m hoping to be competent.

Thanks very much for hosting me!

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II’s Do-Re-Mi.


3610_picture1_of_margot_kinbergMargot Kinberg is a mystery novelist (she writes the Joel Williams series) and Associate Professor. She has also been blogging about crime fiction since 2009. She has written three Joel Williams novels (Publish or Perish, B – Very Flat, and Past Tense) and is currently revising the fourth. She is also the editor of the charity anthology In a Word: Murder. Margot blogs at Confessions of a Mystery Novelist.

3d-past-tense    Coming soon!  A long-buried set of remains…a decades-old mystery.

Past and present meet on the quiet campus of Tilton University when construction workers unearth a set of unidentified bones.

For former police detective-turned-professor Joel Williams, it’s a typical Final Exams week – until a set of bones is discovered on a construction site…

When the remains are linked to a missing person case from 1974, Williams and the Tilton, Pennsylvania police go back to the past. And they uncover some truths that have been kept hidden for a long time.

How much do people really need to know?

It’s 1974, and twenty-year-old Bryan Roades is swept up in the excitement of the decade. He’s a reporter for the Tilton University newspaper, The Real Story, and is determined to have a career as an investigative journalist, just like his idols, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein. He plans to start with an exposé article about life on the campus of Tilton University. But does everything need to be exposed? And what are the consequences for people whose lives could be turned upside down if their stories are printed?  As it turns out, Bryan’s ambition carries a very high price. And someone is determined not to let the truth out.