Why not give up if your books aren’t selling?

Liking a book–or not–is subjective.  It may be something as simple as the setting is a place where a reader may have broken up with an old girlfriend. Your reader picks up your book and the first five pages remind him of heartbreak. That is not a judgment on your book.

Your book description may have conveyed the impression this was a light-hearted “cozy” featuring cats and an amateur detective. Instead your book is really noir, dark in tone, and not something your reader is in the mood for. Again, not a judgment on your book.

Your reader may read only a few books a year and faces your book with many competing agendas for his time. Just because you read dozens of books a year and are in the habit of reading, too many others aren’t. They’re TV watchers, or gardeners, or like to hang out with the family in their leisure time.

Another book may have taken precedence. All this publicity over Harper Lee’s new book may have compelled your reader to take another look at To Kill a Mockingbird. Or a popular summer beach read.

Your first five pages may have started slow. There’s no zing there to keep the reader turning pages and to drag them away from the TV.

A speaker, at one of the first writer’s conferences I went to, said when you’d written a million words you’d be published. I’d written about 5000 at that point so you can imagine how those words resonated. Now when writers no longer have to struggle past the bottleneck of agent and publisher to publication, these words may no longer to true in one sense.  You can publish your second draft, without the advice of an editor, critique group, or proofreaders. Your mother loves it. That’s good enough.

The reason readers may not like your book is that you may not be at the top of your game yet, sad to say. Your next story, or your next novella or full-length piece of crime fiction may be the one that grabs notice.

Sometimes it’s perplexing to look at two books side by side and wonder why one succeeds and another doesn’t.  It’s all subjective (when you hit all the high points that are currently popular in your genre.)

The important thing is to honor your own voice, to keep going when the shadows creep in and darken your optimism.  Keep going when the most published author in your critique group, the one with the most insistent loud voice, tells you to make your heroine a hero, rewrite the ending, or just give up on this story. Don’t do it. Persevere.

If you have completed a manuscript that has a beginning, middle, and end, with a plot that makes sense, characters that are alive and engaged with each other, and a colorful setting—whatever else is wrong with it can be improved.

starsIf your spirits are sagging, along with the middle of your story, don’t give up. Take an online writing course, find a critique partner, trust a friend who loves reading your genre. If you’re ready to listen and learn–and take helpful criticism to heart–there are techniques you can learn to improve your writing.

Did anybody sit down and draw like Michelangelo after a few tries? Play like the master cellist Pablo Casals? Till his death at 96, Casals practiced every day “because I feel as though I’m making improvements.”

You get better at it the more you write. No one else brings to your manuscript the same life experiences that color the characters, setting, and plot that you are writing. Your story is important.


I know a little about writing mysteries and the craft of telling stories. You might check out my eBook series on “Writing Your First Mystery.”



The Perseid Meteor Showers – 2016

Last night I witnessed the Perseid Meteor showers from a nearby peak in the Central California mountains. A huge, yellow half moon hung in the sky overhead and the stars were bright.

Of course my friends and I were not the only people excited about seeing the best viewing of the meteor showers at their yearly peak.  Nearby Mount Pinos is a popular viewing star-tracks-1247850__180  spot for amateur astronomers for what’s called dark-sky observing in the summer and fall months.  (MP)

A large paved, flat area lies at the end of the road that leads you up and up a twisty mountain road to 8300 feet. There were hundreds of people already there at 1:00 a.m. Maybe there were more. It was dark. As we parked the car and neared the center of the lot we got a lecture on good observing manners from an informed amateur astronomer who kept telling us she didn’t know anything, but obviously was more informed than we were.

You could only guess who the people were because it was so dark and chilly. We donned parkas, hoodies, and gloves. Did I mention it was chilly? And dark?

What impressed me was the respectful hush. This was hardly your hooligan football crowd. Voices were low, car lights were turned off immediately out of respect for the astronomers. The night was as silent as it gets amid hundreds of people. Parked cars ringed the lot along with RVs and camping vehicles. People had driven hours  to get out of their cars and turn their eyes skyward.

Knots of people gathered around telescopes and cameras set on tripods in low-voiced conversation about the technical challenges of astronomers and astrophotographers. I’m told the regulars know each other and take observing seriously. In winter the lot hosts the nordic base camp for x-country skiing and is the base for several surrounding campgrounds.

space-1106759__180The four of us placed our blanket on the pavement, lay back, and got ready for the show. Wow! Flash! Streak! “Did you see that one!” Swift as a camera flash they darted across the sky. Gone in a moment. No do overs. A transitory moment.

You had to be looking at exactly the right sector of the sky to see them, and heads don’t exactly rotate on a stalk which would have been convenient. Observing requires patience. The comet is not casting off meteor showers every second.

What got in my way was having recently seen a fireworks competition in Montreal. The largest pyrotechnics competition of its kind in the world, the Montreal International Fireworks Competition has been going strong since 1985 and remains one of this city’s top summer attractions.

The occasional Wow! Flash! streak of a meteor across the sky didn’t compare and I didn’t try.  I was there on a mountain peak with my friends enjoying a wondrous show that people everywhere in the world were seeing, perhaps not all at the same time. But we had all stayed up  late and carved out  a moment from the secular world to sense the infinite.

For once the world was united in a common experience.


Join me if you like in reading other observations about life, crime, writing, and living in the world. https://marpreston.com/category/mar-preston




The Fickle Crime Fiction Muse

The hard work of writing my crime fiction novels has brought me joy, some success, and even enjoyment, this setting down of dark crime fiction for others to read.

But once in a while the passion fades. And it becomes plain work that I just don’t want to do. I learned long ago that you can’t publish a fine book and hope that it will attract readers. Sadly it doesn’t work that way.

What I don’t enjoy is the constant striving that’s called marketing. To me, it feels like pushing and shoving, shouting and grabbing. I wish I could believe that I have written a crime novel that everyone in the world will love and it’s my duty to share it with them. That’s what you need to spend your own money to find readers. To jump up and down waving your book at passing traffic to get attention.


Yet the murder mystery game has introduced me to some fine people, other writers and fans of the genre. These writers’ conferences I go to are fun. I still love to read crime fiction. I love to keep track of other writer’s lives and writing careers.

I’ve enjoyed the chance to say what I really think about the way we behave in this wrong-headed society we live in. Writing a mystery allows you to sneak in a little social commentary, to put words in character’s mouths and arrange them in situations that light up your own world view. Damn little chance, though, or readers rebel. You can’t get preachy.

Maybe there isn’t the same mystery in the game for me nowadays. I’ve learned, over the course of many year’s study, as much about police procedure in big and small departments as is necessary to know to create a fictional world that is convincing. I’ve learned something about story craft, character creation, and storytelling. I’ve got some chops, a little inborn talent. What I’m lacking right now is momentum.

I’ve got a crime novel in the can that’s been edited and proofread, another eBook nearly completed on the craft of writing mysteries, and enough short stories to put together to make another book—and I just don’t have the energy or purpose right now to take the next steps to bring them into the market.





I don’t know yet where these feelings will take me. For one thing, they’re feelings and feelings come and go. Facts remain. I’ve had some success measured by modest sales and visibility.

I’m waiting for my Muse to sneak up behind me and crash a picture frame down over me so that I can see my reality with a new perspective. The answer probably isn’t falling in love instead of taking a break from writing.  Or taking up an absorbing interest like golf? Moving to Montreal? I love Montreal, but oh, the winters.

I do know that the Psyche always provides what is needed. Not always on demand. Usually the answers are found in the application of fingers to keyboard. I know now to keep writing through the hard times, exploring a short story perhaps. Plenty of ideas came to me while I was in Montreal recently.

Perhaps when I say it out loud like this, I’ll hear myself finding that springboard to launch myself off into what’s next in life. It could happen. My fickle crime fiction muse will return.

And how do you get yourself out of fallow periods like this?


The Writers Conference I Should Have Attended

Though it’s fast fading into the past—it happened in July 2016—I’m still thinking about this terrific group of law enforcement types, firefighters, and EMTs I met in Las Vegas. Here it is, the Public Safety Writers Association conference in July 2016 in Las Vegas.

pswa logo





I’ve been to quite a number of writers conferences since I took up writing murder mysteries, all over the US and Canada.  This was the conference I should have gone to first back when I was writing my first police procedural No Dice in 2009. The one where I could have learned the most.

Half the writers registered are law enforcement types of one kind or another, most retired: some are fire fighters,  EMTs, and forensic specialists. The other half are mystery writers who want to get it right. Right in the sense that the law enforcement aspect of your work makes sense. Over and over again I learn that readers, including me, read for the story.  They want to be whisked up and transported into a world they will never know, filled with characters they’d love to meet.

Readers are smart. At least as smart as you and I.  They know about probable cause and Miranda Rights.  Despite CSI shows, most mystery readers know that forensic specialists don’t carry guns or interview witnesses.  They want to sail into the experience, panting along beside the sleuth, not encounter bone-head mistakes that jar them out of the story on page one.

Joseph Wambaugh was the first cop I knew of that wrote from real life experience: Earl Emerson the first firefighter. At the Public Safety Writers Conference I met dozens of men and women mining their real life for fictional experiences: some notables, Michael Black, Bob Haig, David Knop.  Names unfamiliar to you? Stay tuned. I’m picking and choosing and plan to write more on the subject.

I met writers who create their fictional worlds from a cop’s point of view: me, Marilyn Meredith, and writing from the Hamptons, Marcia Rosen.

The first day of the conference offered an intensive session on improving writing skills led by Mysti Berry.  Public safety types are moving out of their comfort zones and learning new skills. Imagine how difficult it is for experts in their field to become novices. Writers are casting aside long-held opinions and beliefs to learn what being a first responder really means. The conference was limited to 50 participants. That way probably everyone got to be showcased on a panel.  For the writers it was a chance to pick out an informant you thought you might connect with.

I also liked the good mix of information on the publishing marketplace, the ever-present dilemma of point of view, writing short stories, and the many different types of editing. If you kept your ears open, no matter what your perspective and breadth of experience, you could learn something.

I don’t want too many more people to apply to this conference. Please. I like that it’s small. Over the course of three days, I could have talked to anyone. I just plain ran out of social energy at the end. I boldly suggested going out to dinner with people I didn’t know. I didn’t feel that intimidating force field of energy around big names and cliquish groups that scare me off being myself. We were all there to learn. And have a good time.  We all have war stories to share.

I sat on a panel with SWAT and street cop leaders, a weapons expert—and me. What could I add? I had a place there and a role I felt comfortable in. Let me save that for my next blog.  Here’s where to learn more about the Public Safety Writers Association—if you must.

Which writers conferences have been a highlight for you? I’d love to know why.


Critique Groups and Beta Readers

Writers with more than one publication seldom work alone without help from a critique group, a writing partner, or a paid editor. This means they are sharing their Work In Progress (WIP) or completed drafts with peer reviewers. Good writers will acknowledge that feedback from an impartial viewer  can spot loose ends, plot holes, sentences and even paragraphs that flap like a flat tire.


Other lucky writers have an in-house partner or best friend who is that impartial reader who can give feedback on the WIP. But often people who love you can’t articulate how  to fix a particular fault in a manuscript. Other writers can.

Often successful writers will workshop WIPs through a critique group.  The most useful group in my case are fellow crime fiction writers. Poets, memoir or screenplay writers operate with different rules and structure.

Usually members send around an agreed upon amount of pages by email in the week before the meeting. Reading aloud pages at the meeting is not as useful as  printing out that week’s submission and returning it with comments marked up on the page. When you’re reading your own work you can add inflection and meaning that may not lie there on the page. Plus you need a moment to reflect before opening your mouth and offering opinions on what you just heard.

The best critique groups are small and composed of your peers who are writing at your level. You don’t want to be the beginner in a group of seasoned pros.

Your role is to help group members write well. Their goal should be to help you write the book you want to write. Take care not to rewrite your work according to the strongest voice in the group, or the most published member. Record comments so you can listen  later. If you’re anything like me, you stew over the negatives and forget all the positive things that were said.


A bad critique group can sabotage you to the point you want to go home and drown yourself. Don’t commit yourself to a new group right away. Be very careful who you entrust your work (your heart) to. Listen to how members give feedback.  Is it kind? Is it helpful? God knows it’s hard enough to write without some mean-spirited hack sniping at you out of jealousy.

Editing and writing are separate skills. The best writer may not give the most helpful feedback, or may not be able to articulate weaknesses in your writing, and more importantly, how to fix them. If you want to get more from your group, give more. Read each submission carefully and give it all the time you can afford.

If you catch yourself saying, “My critique group loves it. I’m not changing anything,” watch out. Your critique group is not every reader.  For that you need precious beta readers. Anyone you can hornswoggle into doing this is valuable to some extent. Beta readers are fans of the genre you write in and willing to read the entirety of your best first draft. They are somewhat similar to your critique group members, but your critique group may have read Chapter IV seventeen times. Beta readers have fresh eyes.

It’s not easy finding the right critique group or partner. Personalities, writing styles, and time commitments get in the way. Applying seat of pants to chair for the long periods of time necessary to write well is a lonely enterprise. Letting the right people into your writing life can ease the I Wonder Why I Bother syndrome.

What are your experiences with a critique group or with beta readers?

Finishing Your FIrst Mystery - thumbnail2


A Reader’s Attention Span

freee ebook downloadHow long do you give a new book to hook you? Readers of contemporary fiction don’t have the attention span and discretionary time that readers had in the 1900s. Or even a decade ago. Now, readers will skim until they get to the point where something interesting happens. Or they put down the book and never finish it.

Thousands of pages have been written on the topic of the first five pages of your manuscript. According to agents and acquisition editors I hear speak at writer’s conferences, those first few pages are the make or break point.  They determine whether you’re going to be offered a contract, or get a call from an agent willing to take you on.

If your fiction–short story, personal essay, or novel—doesn’t connect, the editor or agent will never get to the good part where the story really takes off. It may be there in chapter two, around page 20, but if there’s a typo, or a dream sequence, a flashback, your piece is flipped face down on a towering pile of rejects.

Sometimes there’s a typo on page one. A misspelled word. A cliché that’s so old and hoary the agent—or reader—groans. Something like:  “Little did I know that today would be the day I would meet _____ and my life would change forever.” These are strong indicators that bad writing, more cliches and typos are piled high in the pages ahead.

Today we start the story when something happens to tip the protagonist—the teller of the story—into a world of trouble. He’s been sailing along in the world of finance, say, or kick boxing or Tenth Grade when something happens.  Something big that’s going to knock him flying. This captures the reader’s attention.

The protagonist is presented with a problem that will carry him to the finish of the story, where to some extent he has solved the problem, done something that he couldn’t do in the first pages, grown and changed along the way.

New writers think they have to work in the back story, fill in what’s been happening to the central character or characters or readers for the last five years. They worry that readers will be left not knowing what’s going on. I’m of the opinion that readers are at least as smart as I am. What went before can be implied, or filled in later in the story.

But if I open with my character rambling around in his head about Wall Street or the Indochinese family of kickboxing sports, I’m losing readers who couldn’t care less.  They want to see something happen.

They don’t have to know how my protagonist—the detective in my case—got his first job as a stockbroker, or became a kick boxing champion. If I throw a likable character into the fire in the first few pages, they’ll keep reading. We fill in ourselves. What would I do if I discovered a major fraud by my trusted employer friend? How would I enter the cage if I knew my opponent had all but killed the last guy who went up against him?

That’s part of the joy of picking up a new book. What would I do? Would I catch the clue the murderer left? Would you?

Check out for yourself how long you give a new book to hook you. Check out my first three Santa Monica crime novels in a boxed set.

Have I followed my own advice?


boxed set-4





Choosing The Books I’m Reading

I read a lot. In fact, it’s my major recreation. Most writers do. It’s not that we’re looking for ideas. Writers simply enjoy the dance and frolic of the printed word. And there’s something primitive in all of us, harking back to ancestral times sitting around the fire listening to a storyteller.

Did you know there’s a Storytelling evening at Basecamp this Friday night? https://www.facebook.com/groups/124002567726461/

Reading also welcomes you into a world that you will never experience, whether it’s Amish romances, the mind of an anthropology scholar, or the secret thoughts of a 15-year-old Syrian refugee.

Choosing the books I read is a hit and miss process.  I wonder if yours is the same.

I buy a lot of books and also choose books from the library in Frazier Park. I also choose books to read from the bookshelves in the clubhouse’s recreation room. People—and I love them—give me books. Still, it seems as though I’m always scrounging for something to read. When I near the end of one book, my mind is skittering around, reaching for the next one.






I read myself to sleep at night and over the decades have become much more choosy about where my mind has been before I enter into the world of sleep and dreams. The last thing I’d pick up is a Stephen King or a Scandinavian mystery writer.



I buy books on Amazon and Google and, like everybody else, I look for bargains, sales, and eBooks. I love my Android tablet on which I read eBooks. You know about searching for “kindle books free”, don’t you? Or “kindle romance free.”

You don’t have to read book reviews or depend on friends giving you books to find stories you like.

I also choose books from reading Facebook posts.  I spend way too much time alone, and Facebook is a somewhat real community for me. Facebook is not just for reading your Friends bitch and moan about road rage incidents, the latest village scandals, and which restaurant dished them up a lousy meal last weekend.

My Facebook friends are the people in my village, old pals in Santa Monica, and other writers I’ve become acquainted with over time. My writer friends—and others—post about their new books and the books of their friends. Scanning through these posts is the way I spend my Facebook time and often spend my money.

There’s a Facebook group for every type, or genre, of fiction that you can imagine, from paranormal World War II romance, to admirers of pulp fiction of the 40s, to dystopian Christian animal novels. Type in search words in the Search bar at the top and go exploring for a Facebook group where people post about the kind of books you like.

Mostly I read fiction, and lots and lots of crime fiction at that.  But I do challenge myself to read The Atlantic cover to cover and the occasional nonfiction book of big ideas.  I’m enjoying Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind right now. This one’s going to take a while but I may no longer be able to deceive myself that humankind is better than it is.

How do you choose the books you read? Is it hit or miss too?


Perfection in Home and Word

It’s not easy selling a house or finishing another murder mystery. I find myself combing the fringe on the downstairs rug and setting up a search in Word for every time I’ve over-used the word “grin.” In short, polishing to perfection.

I’m not having much fun. My house in the mountains is up for sale because I can’t endure the cold of another winter, even though I know that we only have baby cold in California. I grew up in Northern Ontario. I know what cold is.

At the same time I’m just about ready to turn over my sixth crime fiction novel to my editor and  aiming to carve out each unnecessary word. I looked at every sentence in which I used “was” or “were.”  Why? These sentences often reveal the passive voice, anathema in crime fiction. For example, “She was driven by jealousy to stab him in the heart.” Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.

It should read: “Jealousy drove her to stab him in the heart.”  I know. It’s subtle but when these passive voice sentences pile up they can deaden the pace of a story.

I also pulled out every “going to” and “trying to”. Just say it straight out what they’re doing and trying. Make your characters sound decisive. It’s amazing the number of times you use “that.” Think about it. It’s often not necessary. Very early in the process I pulled out “very” and “just.”

Looking at a 300 page manuscript with a magnifying glass makes you very aware of the peculiarities of the English language. No wonder it’s so difficult for non-native speakers to master.

Just as difficult for me is making my house perfect every morning, or every time I leave it. A realtor can bring by a potential buyer at any point in the day. No more leaving dishes in the sink or my bed unmade, a cupboard door ajar, the cat boxes untended. Shriek. Horror. My realtor and potential buyers expect an inhuman state of perfection. I draw the line at the front door however. I live in the forest and anything that happens to grow outside is on its own.

I know that there are women—and I suppose men as well—who maintain their house at a perfection standard every day, and have done so every day of their lives. I have never been one of them I confess. Before this house selling business began, I always had an excuse to leave dishes in the sink and the bed unmade. The house got cleaned when I couldn’t stand myself any longer and dashed through it in a mad frenzy. Or I hired someone to do it for me. Or on those occasions I invited people over for dinner and couldn’t bear the thought of them seeing how I really lived.

Now it’s up to me and I’ve discovered something. It really doesn’t take that long—maybe 20 minutes a day—when you do it every day. I do it in fits and starts when I need to take a break away from my novel.

Didn’t my mother tell me this long ago? I hear her voice ringing in my ears as I write this.  Her words are so familiar.

Dammit, I learn these lessons so late in life.


Think you might like escaping to Santa Monica?

Santa Monica, California, is home to the homeless, a city of haves and have nots, ripe for dirty politicians, psychopathic homeowners, car thieves, and celebrity troublemakers.

Check out A Very Private High School, my recent crime novel





The Guilty Pleasures of Crime Fiction

I never wanted to hang out in a cop bar, or be a cop, but I’ve always been fascinated with police work and that’s why I write police procedurals. Most law enforcement jobs offer bursts of excitement, danger, and thrilling action—in sharp contrast to the way I made my living. For most of my working life I worked on academic social science research projects.

Wouldn’t say there were a lot of thrills and chills, would you?  Oh, the work had its own set of puzzles and intrigues, its own small excitements. Except for the earthquake that smashed through Los Angeles—and the University of Southern California where I worked for a generation—I felt pretty safe.

Cop life is anything but safe with a traffic stop or a felony pick up going sideways in a nanosecond. I’m not alone in my enjoyment of crime fiction with its thrill me, chill me, scare-me- to-death aspect of getting up close to Hannibal Lecter on the printed page. We love Halloween, death-defying roller coasters, tornadoes.  Don’t we? Why do I feel such glee in learning new forensic details of death and dying?

I grew up with a mother who read them all and gave me the good ones. Had she lived longer I wonder if she wouldn’t have tackled one herself. I had good models—The McDonalds, Elmore Leonard, John Dickinson Carr, Ed McBain. I never liked the Grand Old Dames of mystery fiction, the Agatha Christies, or what came to be known as the “cozies.” I’m bored with Sherlock Holmes, no matter what contrivances they think up to make him new. I relish the dark side, a bit of noir, semi-hardboiled.

Crime fiction has its appeal because we’re assured that in the end goodness will prevail over evil and the villain will be punished. Things will end up right. I happily confess my guilty pleasure in crime fiction but I also know that murder in real life ripples outward and causes life-long misery and suffering in the lives of victim’s families.

Another pleasure of crime fiction is that I can dance on the dark side, speed into a dark alley after midnight, insult a gang banger or talk back to a cop with impunity. I can do things in fiction that would be unthinkable in daily life. In my fictional life I can be 32 and 5 foot ten. I can have curly blond hair and a romance with a hard-bodied cop who can dance the tango.  Sigh.  It all happens between my ears.

I can make things come out right. All the loose ends tie up. The villain goes to jail.

Living out a fantasy at the Writers Police Academy 2015
Living out a fantasy at the Writers Police Academy 2015

Isn’t that a great reason to write crime fiction? I don’t understand why you’re not doing it too.



To get you started you might like to look at a series of 4 eBooks I’ve written which cover topics you need to think about in “Writing Your First Mystery.” Here’s a link: http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=mar+preston+writing

The overview “Writing Your First Mystery” is free on my website: https://marpreston.com



Common speech – Written speech

I’m marveling at the difference between common speech and dialogue that lays on the printed page as I edit my sixth crime fiction novel.

If you ask anybody a question in daily life they don’t answer, “Yes.” Full stop.

They say, “Yeah, right. Like I said…So…yeah…like I mean, you know.” And they may rattle on about what the clerk at the DMV said and the cellphone plan they chose.

Saying…“Yes.” Full stop..sounds abrupt. And worse, could leave a dreaded gap of silence in a conversation, which we dread. So most of us chatter.

DividerBut you can’t do that when you’re writing crime fiction. The author can’t let any character rattle on about the perplexing dying patch of grass on the lawn, or a new recipe for broccoli cheese casserole. Unless it matters to the plot. Or reveals something about their character, their motivations, or diabolical agenda. Or something particular about their speech pattern like an accent or a stammer.

The watchword in crime fiction—of the sort I write—gritty, psychological police procedurals is to write tight. No wasted words. Keep the plot moving.  Each scene has to advance the action.

I also write for entertainment. Cops have their own salty jargon the way any closed society does. So I’m going to use a colorful phrase I’ve picked up in my research and avoid the leached out, desiccated language of police report prose.

For example, “Back To The Barn – heading back to the police station. Or: “Cue Ball – a bad guy, especially a gang member, with a shaved head.

You would hardly have your hero speak the way cops write reports.   “I exited my vehicle.” For “I got out of my car.” “I gave chase and pursued…” For  “I ran him down”…”Be advised.” For “Listen to me, dammit.”

At this point in the editing process, I’m chasing down wasted words. Words like “just.” I could not believe that I had used “just” 293 times in 307 pages. Editors call almost, probably, nearly “weasel” words. Just say it. If your villain gets shot he doesn’t almost, probably, nearly die. He dies.

I ruthlessly deleted most of the “justs” but noticed as I did so the difference between common speech and written speech. Maybe you’re not as aware as I am of just how often we use this word. It just makes things sound better. It’s an emphasis word, like “very.”

“Just” is also used as a spacer, the way that “like I said” trips off the tongue. It’s a way of holding your place in the conversation. “Hey, I’m still talking.”

Try not saying just or very.  It’s hard.



We all compete in the conversation sweepstakes. Nobody wants to be thought the dullard on the sidelines with nothing to say. We all want to be the lively, sparkling wit.  Few of us are. Hardly anybody really, really listens.

Phrases like this give us a moment to think, to reel in our next point. “You know what I’m sayin?” is another popular one that makes me grit my teeth. Yes, I’m following you. You think I’m stupid?

But as I go through my manuscript, probably for the 53rd time, I’m writing tight and it does make a difference. Okay, there’s less words, but it moves faster. It makes characters appear more decisive, my cop more proactive. He’s detecting. Clues don’t fall on his head like an anvil. He makes things happen.

Surprising what a few words can do. Then think of what poets can do and that economy of line.


By the way, this manuscript is the follow up to Payback and is set in the peaceful mountain town in Central California where I live.

Payback - Murder Mystery