Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Nancy Raven Smith - Guest Author

Nancy Raven Smith is a fellow Kindle Scout winner and member of the Guppy Chapter of Sisters in Crime. She says this about herself: I am an avid reader and former screenwriter who came to writing novels late in life. Mysteries and suspense with some humor and romance are what I love to write.

You have an all-expense-paid long weekend to spend with three guests. The Starship Enterprise has agreed to beam you to the place of your choosing, so travel time is not a consideration. Who are your guests (and why) and where are you staying (and why)?

The Starship is going to have to use the time travel beam. Two of my choices have passed away.

This might get mushy, but first would be my parents. I’d like to meet them in Bermuda or St Thomas, two places they enjoyed visiting when they were alive. I’d like the opportunity to share a heartfelt thank you. With the hubris of the young, I never truly expressed my appreciation for all they did for me.

My third guest would be Janet Evanovich. I’d love to talk with her about writing. Maybe she’d enjoy my parents and the Caribbean, too.

Are you a plotter, pantser or something in between and why?

I’m a long time pantster. If I were to outline a story, I wouldn’t finish it because once I solve all the problems, the story wouldn’t interest me any longer. That said, when I start, I think I know what the ending will be and sometimes an act break and maybe one of the themes.

But I’m open to changing all of it. I allow myself to go where the characters or the story leads me. I love ‘discovering’ things as I go along. I also realize that I probably do more drafts then people who outline in order to reorganize the material into a three act structure. My writing has been called ‘quirky’ (in a good way), and I like that.

When you start reading a book do you always finish it? If not, what causes you to permanently put a book down?

I try to finish any book I start, but I frequently sample writers I’m not familiar with and won’t continue if the characters are unfeeling or have no moral compass.

Name three not-well-known authors you would recommend and tell us what you like about their writing.

Well, I know of two whose work I love. Andrea Camilleri and Donna Leon. They are two writers based in Italy with a little following in the US. They both write detective stories with a very human touch. Their work has been excellently transferred to Italian MHz television series. Their books are available in English.

Do you read reviews of your books? Why or why not?

I’m a debut author so I do. I realize not every book is for everyone, but feedback from readers can be a help.

What do you do that you suspect causes your copyeditor to pull her/his hair out?

All my manuscript typos and punctuation errors. When I get writing, I tend to create in the moment and I figure I’ll go back and clean up the manuscript later. Which I do, but somehow the pesky errors persist. Sometimes I think they propagate when I’m not looking.

When you compare your first draft to your final draft, do you net add words or subtract words? In general, what is it that you add or subtract between first and final draft?

That’s a very interesting question. My intent is to tighten, clarify, and eliminate extraneous things, and that’s what I’m sure I do. Yet when I get to the end, I always have more words than I started with. Honestly, I have no idea how that happens.

What language error, when you hear or see it, grates on you like the screech of fingernails on a chalkboard?

Misuse of homophones - words that sound alike, but are spelled differently and have different meanings

Name three writers from whom you have drawn inspiration and tell us why.

There are so many writers. Three is hard.

Janet Evanovich for her tone and for her light blending of mystery, romance, and humor.

Dick Francis who wrote two of my favorite books – Danger and Blood Sport. For me, both are intricate, suspenseful stories with great characters as are many of his other books.

Andrea Camilleri for creating Detective Montalbano and for writing detective stories permeated with humanity, heart, and humor.

What is a piece of writing advice you think is worth sharing?

The writing advice I’d like to pass along is one I learned from a screenwriting instructor at UCLA. It’s to always finish the first draft of any project you start, even if it’s bad, even if you hate it. A screenplay or book that’s half finished is useless. There’s nothing you can do with it. If you struggle on and finish the project, then there are lots of ways to get help, including beta readers, instructors, and editors.

Thank you, Jim. It’s been a pleasure to visit My Two Cents Worth. I always enjoy talking about books and writing.

To find more information about Nancy Raven Smith and her writing go to http://www.NancyRavenSmith.com and/or http://www.Facebook.com/NancyRavenSmith

To learn more about Land Sharks – A Swindle in Sumatra, go to

The Ebook for Land Sharks – A Swindle in Sumatra is on a promotional sale until April 14, 2016 for $0.99.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Guest Author - R. E. Carr

I am the lucky girl who fulfilled a twenty-one year old dream by getting a novel polished. I embrace the wacky and macabre and won’t be stopping any time soon.

What is the background noise when you write and why is it there?

I almost always write to music. Whenever I am dreaming up a book, it’s like a movie scrolling through my head and every movie needs a brilliant soundtrack. I sometimes think that I’m in The Matrix though, because it’s an awful lot of Techno that keeps me going nowadays.

What is your most recent excellent read (book, short story or essay) and why?

I am still quite obsessed with Andy Weir’s The Martian. One, I’m a science geek and I love the near real world technology of the tale. Two, I’m very sarcastic, and Mark Watney (the lead character) speaks my language. Finally, it’s just a gripping study in pacing. It manages to both perfectly capture frantic excitement and crippling boredom in a single story, and I really admire how the author did that.

Are you a plotter, pantser or something in between and why?

I’m an accountant by day so by all rights I should be an excellent planner. I scribble out notes and make little doodles and tell myself “today, I’m going to outline my novel.”

…And then I actually start writing and the insane, right-brain-dominant Rachel takes charge. I start dancing around my laptop going “Whee!” like a three-year-old on a scooter, and just write whatever I see along the stops of the crazy train. It’s quite thrilling actually.

When you start reading a book do you always finish it? If not, what causes you to permanently put a book down?

I tend to push myself to finish any book I start. As an author, I am keenly aware of just how much heart and soul is poured into any piece of fiction and I feel like I owe it to the creator to at least stick it to the end. Usually I’m turned off by overly neat and tidy endings or what I like to call the “Tinkerbell-Jesus” syndrome: where a special character of special-ness thinks positive thoughts or a bunch of people sing or something and then – boom— there are sparkles and happiness and people back from the dead and…everything is suddenly better. Yeah it’s enough to make a girl write a tragic run-on sentence!

Do you read reviews of your books? Why or why not?

I used to read my reviews compulsively. I began wandering down that slippery spiral of self-doubt and found myself so paralyzed by the opinions of others that I couldn’t function. The best and the worst of them made me cry and I finally decided that it was no way to live. Now, I remind myself every day that those reviews aren’t for me, they are for my readers and I have a “bouncer” skim them for anything genuinely useful (e.g. pointing out a typo) or to give me snippets for my editorial review sections.

What do you do that you suspect causes your copyeditor to pull her/his hair out?

You mean other than make them look up words in the Urban Dictionary? I am apparently physically incapable of using a comma correctly for more than 500 words at a time. While I have no problem writing papers or boring stuff, once I get going on a work of fiction all bets are off!

When you compare your first draft to your final draft, do you net add words or subtract words? In general, what is it that you add or subtract between first and final draft?

I usually end up with a net-zero sum when I edit. I have to usually add a few clarifications and transitions. I tend to be dialog happy so I often have to add who said a particular line when I go back and read the work. Then I get savage and trim out the unnecessary fluff since I know I tend to go mental with adjectives and adverbs while I’m drafting. My last book, Six, ended up with a less than 100 word difference between the first draft and the last.

How did you develop the idea for your most recent work?

Originally I wasn’t going to write anymore paranormal/urban fantasy. I was happy with the way Four ended and I certainly wasn’t going to cloud my vampire mythos with something silly like werewolves. Then the very same co-workers who dared me to write Four in the first place started teasing me that I needed to write about werewolves, and I just remember snapping back with “heck, the werewolves are in Accounting,” and then the damn idea never left my head. It seems that most of my recent works begin with sarcasm, including Six.

A piece of writing advice you think is worth sharing.

There will always be that voice in the back of your head telling you that you aren’t worth it, that you should just quit; or, even worse, tell you to sell out and do whatever is popular. It’s OK to have that little bit of reservation in your subconscious, but it is also OK to imagine a roll of duct tape to stick its virtual mouth shut.

To find out more information about R. E. Carr and her writing be sure to check out her author page on Amazon http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B01259PCNI or you can tweet her @TotalRECarr. Four is currently available on Amazon and its follow-up, Six, is available March 29th, 2016.

And here is a quick blurb for Six:

Paige Carmichael has one simple rule: don’t rock the boat. She lives a quiet life in the suburbs with an adequate boyfriend and a job that pays the rent, all the while trying to hide the fact that she’s the daughter of a world-renowned paranormal investigator. Her happy bubble bursts when the father she’s tried so hard to forget appears at her door with an ominous message—vampires are real.

Paige’s safe little life doesn’t have secretive strangers that hide from the sun, arcane laws, or mysterious covens that stretch back for eons, but change as sure as the cycle of the moon is headed her way. Unfortunately for Paige, it’s a dog-eat-dog world, and if she doesn’t learn to adapt and discover her own inner strength, she might just find herself at the bottom of the food chain—quite literally.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Northern Lights

As many of you know, Jan and I recently embarked on a nearly two-week vacation with the primary purpose of enjoying ourselves in new territory and experiencing the aurora borealis. The pictures decorating this blog are ones I took on this trip. Neither of us had ever been to Churchill, Manitoba or anywhere on Hudson’s Bay, and we enjoyed the two-day train ride up from Winnipeg. Jan had never seen the northern lights, but I had seen them on several occasions in the vicinity of our camp in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. The most recent had been more than a decade ago.

I had stood on a low hill in a clearcut (now filled with twenty-five-foot larch) with open northerly views and watched a shimmering of greens appear with a fleck here and there of red or purple. Each time I had seen them, I had prior notice because the experts had detected a major solar event that they expected would trigger excellent displays.

It turns out those northern light views I experienced were akin to the blast of newfound love: brilliant, colorful, shimmering in excitement, leaving me breathless and a bit dizzy. What I came to realize on this trip is that, unless one is exposed to a major solar occurrence or one has prepared themselves to see the colors, we witness the more typical aurora borealis (in its long-term love affair with earth’s magnetic field) as silver.

Our visual hardware causes us problems in our quest of magnificent colors in auroras. Our eyes have two sensors, rods and cones. In a simple model of sight, rods allow us to see in low light levels. Cones are effective in brighter light. Rods do not provide color vision. Cones come in three flavors and generate electrical currents that allow our brains to “see” color.

That’s the problem: at night, we have low light. That requires rods and yields no color. To get our cones involved and generate color, the light must be brighter—or we need to have sensitized our eyes to the darkness. For the impatient among us who would like to rush out from our well-lit houses to see the aurora, our cones have no chance to acclimate.

As an example, think of what happens when we rush in from the brilliant sunlight of the beach and enter the dark of the men’s or ladies’ room. We can’t see a thing. Our cones are still stimulated from the sun bouncing off sand and water, and all we see is a smear of white. Our rods are still on break, off smoking a cigarette or chatting up the lovelies at the concession stand because, as far as they knew, there was nothing for them to do.

My few experiences with northern lights in Michigan had been on evenings when the lights were bright and my cones were able to paint the scene in color. Our first night in Churchill, we had a very nice display—and for me (and everyone else) it was all white. After that experience, I now believe many of the times I went out to look at northern lights in Michigan and believed I had not seen them, I had in fact witnessed the display without realizing it. I thought I saw only patterns of high cirrus clouds and did not recognize them for what they were.

On our second night in Churchill, Jan and I were two of only four in our group of twelve who stayed up late enough to witness the northern lights. Around 12:30 a.m. this aurora borealis started very softly, but soon built into a rollicking dance of light, some of which was bright enough (and I had been outside for over an hour) that I once again saw patterns of dancing greens.

That aurora spanned the heavens with an arc I’d estimate at almost 1200, and reached high into the sky. It was so massive that even with my 17mm lens, I could not catch it all in one photograph.

The third night it snowed. The aurora may have been burning bright, but we weren’t about to see it. Having been up two nights in a row until after two in the morning, I took it as a sign that I had nurtured my soul the previous evenings and that going to bed early was appropriate to nurture my body.

We left Churchill the evening of the fourth day and were treated to more northern lights as we awaited our plane. I stood in the airport parking lot, lit by sodium lamps, and once again saw splashes of color in the aurora. As an extra treat, we saw the aurora (back to silver) from the airplane as we flew to Winnipeg.

So what did I learn?

My camera sees much better in low light than I do. Its cone-equivalents can gather light for twenty or twenty-five seconds before rendering an image. My eyes can’t accumulate light in the same fashion as they are required to report to my brain on a continual basis. Patience is indeed a virtue. Some nights the aurora did not start until quite late. Often the initial burst of aurora activity would die out, only to return much later with an even more brilliant display. Even though I had read a book on auroras and understood how and why they are created, I had not considered how my eyesight would affect what I would and would not see.

I am a really, really lucky person. I appreciate that and do not want to forget it.


~ Jim

P.S. Here's a picture of a boreal chickadee and his reflection for those who might think I only looked skyward on this trip.


This blog originally appeared on the Writers Who Kill blog, 3/20/2016

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Guest Author - Katie O'Rourke


Fellow Kindle Scout author Katie O’Rourke is a writer of contemporary fiction and women’s fiction. She’s a hybrid author with traditionally published and self-published books. Her latest novel, Finding Charlie, was selected for publication by KindlePress.

[The stars aligned for this long-scheduled post: KindlePress has put the Kindle version of Finding Charlie is on sale today for $0.99!]

What is your most recent excellent read (book, short story or essay) and why?

Celeste Ng's debut, Everything I Never Told You, is a beautiful exploration of family dynamics and the struggle to know and be known in spite of miscommunication, secrets and silence. With an omniscient narrator, the author is able to explore the thoughts and memories of each character so the reader understands everything they knew and everything they never told each other.

Are you a plotter, pantser or something in between and why?

For me, stories are about people. The characters drive it forward and I never know exactly where it’s headed when I start even if I have an idea of the direction. I plot as I go. Right now, I’m about ¾ into my work-in-progress and I’m just starting to figure out how it will end.

When you start reading a book do you always finish it? If not, what causes you to permanently put a book down?

I used to be that reader who has to finish even the most tedious of books, because there’s always that chance that the ending will tie it all together and make it worthwhile. But in the past few years, I’ve decided life’s too short. If I’m dreading picking up my current book, counting the days until I finish it, it’s time to move on. I almost always have another book waiting in the wings and if I’m more excited about the next book than finding out how this one ends, that’s a big sign. But I have to say – this is rare. I do a lot of research before I select a book.

Name three not-well-known authors you would recommend and tell us what you like about their writing.

I read Cass McMain’s first novel, Sunflower. Her dialogue is exquisite. It makes you feel like a fly on the wall. Her stories move a bit slower and are very introspective and make you consider how small moments in our lives become meaningful.

I’ve been lucky enough to form a critique partnership with Mary Vensel White, author of The Qualities of Wood. I’ve been able to read some of her work that hasn’t been published yet, and readers are in for a real treat. She builds such relatable, interesting characters.

I just finished Bradley Wind’s debut, A Whole Lot. His narrator is a thirteen-year-old savant who sees the world in very different ways from the rest of us. The perspective was fascinating and so well written. KindlePress is lucky to have him.

Do you read reviews of your books? Why or why not?

I do. I am flabbergasted by writers who don’t. The audience response is the only point to being published. Otherwise, I’d just keep my stories on my computer. You have to take each review with a grain of salt – you can’t please everyone and I don’t think you should try to. But readers have a right to their opinions and sometimes their feedback can be helpful.

What do you do that you suspect causes your copyeditor to pull her/his hair out?

I have learned a lot about myself as a writer through my copy edits. I have spent so much time figuring out when to use lie or lay. I still get further and farther confused. And I hate commas.

When you compare your first draft to your final draft, do you net add words or subtract words? In general, what is it that you add or subtract between first and final draft?

I think my first run through a scene can be more of an outline of what I want to happen. It may be just the dialogue and I go back to add the meat of the scene: the visuals, the internal monologue.

How did you develop the idea for your most recent work?

It started with Delilah. She’s in a public restroom, having a panic attack and everything flows from that point. Who is she? Why is she having a panic attack? Why should the reader care?

What is a piece of writing advice you think is worth sharing?

There is no one absolute way to write or be a writer. We all do it differently. It can help to hear what works for other people, but ultimately – find your own path!

To find more information about Katie O’Rourke and her writing, check out katieorourke.com or her Amazon page: http://www.amazon.com/Katie-ORourke/e/B00KLIH4YG/
She’s also a contributor at todaysauthor.com


Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Polly Iyer - Guest Blog

Polly Iyer is the Kindle bestselling author of eight suspense/thriller novels, including Kindle Scout winner, Indiscretion. She’s working on the fourth book in the Diana Racine Psychic Suspense series.

You have an all-expense-paid long weekend to spend with three guests. The Starship Enterprise has agreed to beam you to the place of your choosing, so travel time is not a consideration. Who are your guests (and why) and where are you staying (and why)?

I thought about all the interesting/famous people, past and present, I’d like to know, but honestly, for one weekend, two days, I’d want to be with people I’d have fun with rather than feel uncomfortable with Greatness. The place: Rome, Italy. The three people are good friends: Mickey, Sheila, and Sharon. We’d stay at the Hassler Hotel at the top of the Spanish Steps. I lived in Rome a long time ago, and there’s something magical about the city to me. We’d eat, shop, and just have a merry old time.

What is your most recent excellent read (book, short story or essay) and why?

Drawing Breath, a book by Laurie Boris. Though it was not my usual read—not one person murdered—the characters touched me, and I’m still thinking about them. That’s a mark of a good book.

Are you a plotter, pantser or something in between and why?

I’m definitely a pantser. The story dictates what happens to the characters, and I couldn’t develop either the plot twists or the characters before I get to that point in the story. (I hope that makes sense.) I do think about the next “leg” of the story though, usually in bed, at night, in the dark. Sometimes verbally. My dog doesn’t seem to mind.

When you start reading a book do you always finish it? If not, what causes you to permanently put a book down?

I try to finish, but there are a few things that make me quit. An impossible plot is one. That said, it is fiction, so there is flexibility there, but it can’t stretch credulity too much. I don’t read much science fiction, but there would be lots more leeway there. I won’t waste my time with characters I don’t like. I want to root for the characters in a book. If I don’t care about them, I can’t root for them, and will stop reading. Bad writing is another reason to stop. I am getting better at shutting the book (turning off the Kindle) rather than wasting my time being annoyed on multiple levels.

Do you read reviews of your books? Why or why not?

I do. I might learn something about my writing and avoid making the same mistake/s in another book. One of the benefits of being an indie writer is the opportunity to make changes. I don’t think a lot of people realize how cruel they can be in slashing someone’s work: The book sucked. Just hated it. Okay, so say it nicer, please. I only read really bad reviews once, however. I am not a masochist. I had one guy get totally apoplectic and hateful about one of my books. I’m sure when he finished, he had a seizure. Reading his vitriol once was enough for me.

When you compare your first draft to your final draft, do you net add words or subtract words? In general, what is it that you add or subtract between first and final draft?

First, I edit as I write. Being a pantser, plot points change as the book grows, so I go back and clarify. I make notes, but it would weigh on my mind if I didn’t fix the changes right then. I cut and add. I cut wordiness. Why say in ten words what you can say in six? I add grounding. Where is my character? I have a tendency to jump right into the action/dialogue without setting the scene, so I try to remember to do that in each chapter. I will also add an occasional internal. What is my character thinking? I’ll elaborate on a description, which I tend to neglect. Details are important for the reader to visualize the character or the scene, but too much detail is too much. Cut, cut.

How did you develop the idea for your most recent work?

I was walking on the beach and a really good-looking guy walked by. (He was much too young, but I looked.) Now, I’m a married woman, but I was also single for a long time. I thought what if…. And that’s how it started. What if I, um, I mean my character, had an affair with the perfect man? What if he wasn’t so perfect? What if he was a famous art thief? I’m from Boston, and after twenty-five years, no one has found the stolen paintings from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. Where are they? What happened to them? What if…. It kept evolving from there, and Indiscretion was born.

What language error, when you hear or see it, grates on you like the screech of fingernails on a chalkboard?

Clichés. Not the kind most people think of, but overdone movements or actions. …he said through clenched teeth. …lips in a straight line. (I give in to nodding. Anything else is forced. I just have to make sure I don’t overdo them) I find those two in almost every book I read. There are others, but you get the picture. Also long motions: …he said as he entered the room, pulled up a chair, and opened the mail. Not sure those are errors, but they drive me nuts and pull me out of the story.

What is a piece of writing advice you think is worth sharing?

A writer’s voice is like a fingerprint, unique to that writer and not an imitation of anyone else. It’s also one of the hardest things to develop. My advice to writers is to read your work out loud. If it doesn’t sound like you, rewrite it. Dialogue should sound like how people talk, not how writers write.


Read more about Polly at PollyIyer.com and follow her here:
Facebook: Personal page: https://www.facebook.com/polly.iyer

Here’s a quick blurb for Indiscretion

What happens when a romance novelist, separated from her husband, embarks on a torrid affair with a man she meets on the beach? Not just any man. He’s handsome, of course, an art history professor, speaks five languages, and knows how to treat a woman. Though he really is conversant in many languages and is knowledgeable about art, he’s also a first-class con man whose expertise derives from the fact that he’s stolen as many masterpieces as fills a small museum. If you’re thinking no good can come from this relationship, you’re right, especially when she finds him dead, then discovers she’s in possession of a Vermeer stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. Before long, she’s accused of murder and theft and is on the run with her estranged husband and his jewel thief brother, with the police and FBI in pursuit.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Elizabeth Zelvin - Guest Author

Please welcome fellow Guppy Chapter of Sisters in Crime member and Kindle Press author Elizabeth Zelvin. She  is author of the Bruce Kohler mysteries and historical novels Voyage of Strangers and Journey of Strangers. Her stories have been nominated for the Agatha and Derringer awards.

Are you a plotter, pantser or something in between and why?

I don't outline, but I detest the word "pantser," which sounds pejorative to me. I'm an "into the mist" writer, ie I can see only a little way ahead and have to keep parting the mist to see what's next. I have ongoing characters whose voices I know well, but the way I create secondary characters is to listen for them and put them on the page as they show up. I've tried pre-assembling a list of traits and slapping a name on them, but they've come out lifeless and unusable.

What is your most recent excellent read (book, short story or essay) and why?

I've recently finished Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith, aka J.K. Rowling. I love the main characters in this mystery series, one-legged PI Cormoran Strike and his appealing and determined assistant, Robin Ellacot. Rowling is as much of a pro when she writes for grownups as she was for kids in the Harry Potter books, and she's as knowledgeable about modern-day England as she was about Hogwarts. There's no doubt in my mind that she deserves her success.

When you start reading a book do you always finish it? If not, what causes you to permanently put a book down?

I get pickier and pickier about what books I'll buy, much less read all the way through. I'm grateful for Amazon's "look inside," feature, because so many books sound great until you pick them up and experience the writing: flat characters, stilted or insipid dialogue, a narrative that doesn't draw you in and make you care. As a lifelong writer and editor, I have no patience for writers who aren't honing their craft or demonstrating both talent and experience.

Name three not-well-known authors you would recommend and tell us what you like about their writing.

Jane Casey is not that well known, at least to American readers, although one of her police procedures about Irish London detective Maeve Kerrigan won the Mary Higgins Clark Award. I like this subgenre not because procedure fascinates me but because in a good writer's hands, it can provide the framework for a suspenseful character-driven novel. Casey's on my read-everything list along with Deborah Crombie, Jill McGown, and the late Ruth Rendell's Wexford novels.

Donna White Glaser is a former Guppy who, like me, is a Kindle Scout winner with the first in a series about a slightly paranormal protagonist whose job is cleaning crime scenes. She's also written a series about a therapist who's a recovering alcoholic. Both series and their protagonists are engaging, and the books are funny. She's grown enormously as a writer since I read some of her unpublished work. As a therapist myself, I can say she gets that part right. And it's nice to know I'm not the only mystery writer who sees the humor in sobriety.

Betty Webb is a fine writer I've known for years on the mystery e-list DorothyL. The prestigious Poisoned Pen publishes both her series: the Lena Jones PI novels, set in the American Southwest, which tackle highly charged issues of social justice, and the Gunn Zoo mysteries, which are fresh and delightful cozies. One of the Lena Jones books, Desert Wives, contributed to changes in legislation regarding abusive polygamous cults. In the recent The Puffin of Death, the zookeeper protagonist visited Iceland to pick up a polar bear cub. Webb deftly blended the murder mystery, a lively cast of characters, and a fascinating picture of today's Iceland in just the right proportions.

When you compare your first draft to your final draft, do you net add words or subtract words? In general, what is it that you add or subtract between first and final draft?

I tend to subtract words, because I try to remain uncritical as I write the first draft. My motto is, "Just keep telling the story." I put down plot points as I think of them, so when I revise, I may want to keep just one and place it exactly where it needs to be to generate suspense or reveal character. I'm also constantly on guard against being preachy--about addictions and recovery in the Bruce Kohler mysteries and about intolerance, bigotry, and genocide when I'm writing about my 15th-century characters. With the manuscript of my most recent Bruce mystery, Dead Broke (aka Death Will Pay Your Debts), I cut 6,000 words between the first and the final draft, most of them over-explaining about AA and other 12-step programs. I kept the references that furthered the plot or were essential to revealing character.

What language error, when you hear or see it, grates on you like the screech of fingernails on a chalkboard?

My pet peeve is the split infinitive. When I was working as an editor for a big publisher in the 1970s, I was once ordered to restore all the split infinitives, because the authors, who were not writers, "didn't like them." Sheer torture! And I hate how it's somehow crept into popular usage that it's okay to separate the "to" and the verb if the word between them is "better," as in "to better understand." Example: "I've come to better understand this issue." Would it kill 'em to say, "I've come to understand this issue better"?

What do you do that you suspect causes your copyeditor to pull her/his hair out?

It's the other way around: most copyeditors cause me to pull my hair out. I learned to edit at a young age at my mother's knee, and I'm a natural speller. I've had them deconstruct my idioms, tromp on my jokes (particularly infuriating when they've done it after I signed off on the proofs), and replace every correctly placed comma (between independent clauses--and not between dependent clauses modified by a single preposition) with incorrectly placed commas that I had to spend hours restoring. They've also queried facts in my historical works that I'd laboriously researched in university libraries in books and articles published as far away as Turkey and India by saying, "I couldn't find this in Wikipedia." I've had wonderful substantive edits that helped me a lot with structure and pace, and I've been blessed a couple of times with short story editors who left the story alone because I'd gotten it right the first time. But a copyeditor who really knows her stuff (ie what to fix and what to leave alone) is a pearl beyond price.

How did you develop the idea for your most recent work?

My most recent work, Journey of Strangers, is the sequel to my first historical novel, Voyage of Strangers, which was in turn a sequel to two short stories that first appeared in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine. I knew I wanted to continue the story of my young Jewish sailor, Diego Mendoza, and his sister Rachel. I had to research the general sweep of events in Europe, the Ottoman Empire, and the Guinea Coast in order to inject my fictional characters into the stream of history.

I started Journey of Strangers where Voyage of Strangers left off: Diego and Rachel, sickened by the enslavement and massacre of the Taino people, return to Europe. When the Jews were expelled from Spain, Diego and Rachel's family fled to Italy, which was relatively hospitable to Jews at the time. But a major war started, the political landscape of Italy changed, and the family had to flee again. I had to send Diego and Rachel across Europe to find them.

In the course of my research, I learned that in 1493, the King of Portugal abducted 2,000 Jewish children, forcibly baptized them, and sent them as slaves to São Tomé, an island off the coast of Africa to be slaves on the sugar plantations there. So I created Joanna. Her compelling changed the shape of the book. The Mendozas had to end up in Istanbul, because so many of the Iberian Jews did. But what would they do there? A footnote on Jewish women who acted as purveyors to the Sultan's harem gave me a job for Rachel. There had to be a love story. And then I had to tie everyone's story together . . .

What is a piece of writing advice you think is worth sharing?

Don't quit five minutes before the miracle. There's not a writer alive who doesn't deal with discouragement, whether the ideas are not coming, the words not flowing smoothly, agents and editors not biting, or readers not buying. Sooner or later, it will change, as long as you keep going. And if the miracle leads to disappointment, don't quit five minutes before the next miracle.

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You can learn more about Liz on her author website at http://elizabethzelvin.com and friend her on Facebook at http://facebook.com/elizabeth.zelvin. All of her books and stories are available on Amazon at http://tinyurl.com/zelvin-amazon. And if you search Liz Zelvin instead of Elizabeth Zelvin, you'll find her music site at http://lizzelvin.comand Outrageous Older Woman, her album of original songs.

Elizabeth Zelvin's latest publication is her Kindle Scout winning historical novel, Journey of Strangers, a sequel to Voyage of Strangers. She has just released a complete e-book edition of her Bruce Kohler mystery series, starting with Death Will Get You Sober and including four novels, a novella and five short stories. Her short stories have have appeared in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, a variety of anthologies including Sisters in Crime New York’s Murder New York Style series, and Mysterical-E among other e-zines. Liz’s work has been nominated three times for the Agatha Award and for the Derringer Award for Best Short Story. A standalone story, “A Breach of Trust,” was listed among 50 top stories in Best American Mystery Stories 2014.

Blurb for Journey of Strangers

1493: Joanna is one of 2,000 Jewish children torn from their parents on the Lisbon docks and sent as slaves to a pestilential island off the African coast. 1495: Diego Mendoza and his sister Rachel return to Spain in 1495 after two years with Columbus in Hispaniola, heartsick at the destruction of the Taino. With their friend Hutia, a Taino survivor, they search war-torn Europe and the pirate-infested Mediterranean searching for the family they lost when the Jews were expelled from Spain. Joanna endures abuse and tragedy, determined to survive. In Istanbul, heart of the Ottoman Empire, Rachel finds work in the Sultan's harem. Hutia, determined to marry her, adopts a new name and a new faith. 1497: Only Diego's life lacks purpose. Inspired by tikkun olam, the Jewish mission to repair the world, he sets sail for the hell Jews call the Isle of Crocodiles.