In the beginning was the word…

and then the Author decided it was the wrong word, and changed it. Then added a couple more, after which She took those out again and changed the word back to where it had been.

This is where I am at the moment: hacking through the jungle of verbiage to create a nice smooth path for the rest of you to follow.

I sent my editor the first draft of The Murder of Mary Russell at the end of June,murder_of_mary_russell

since I was going to New York for Thriller Fest, so we could schedule a nice long talk about where the story was going and how I could help it get there. And without making this a post filled with spoilers, I can only say that she pointed out some ways of bringing the story into tighter focus, and making it more exciting.

(So if the book keeps you up all night, you know who’s to blame.)

My editor is my First Reader, the set of eyes that sees how closely what I’ve written comes to what I think I’ve written. And because those eyes are linked to a clever mind with decades of experience at making books better, she can gently point out a well-proven means of transport so I don’t end up inventing the wheel time and again. I mean, there are times when the wheel needs reinventing, and other times when it just makes for a slow and bumpy ride.

(I think about this kind of thing sometimes when I listen to people extolling the virtues of self-publishing. I can’t imagine not working with partners in this venture. What, edit myself? Read a first draft and see instantly what it needs? I might as well give myself a back massage, or perform surgery on my own gallstones.)

The rewrite is also time to take my own advice:

When you’re “finished”: the rewrite

* Whether your “finished” novel has 60,000 words or 150,000, the rewrite is the time when you go through every one of those words, to make sure each contributes to the whole.

* If you are a writer of the Organic school, the rewrite is the time to produce your outline, as an analytical tool instead of a tool for planning. It doesn’t matter if your “outline” is of the traditional I/A/1/a format, or if it takes the form of a spread-sheet time-line, a branching tree-graph, or a wall full of arrow-shaped sticky notes: breaking down just what the plot and sub-plots do—and when—can shed strong light on any problems with the plot structure and the book’s pace.

* If you did write your book to an outline, now is the time to compare the outline with the final result. Do the major plot points of your outline actually coincide with the developments of the story, or are some of the high points submerged under peripheral material and sub-plots?

* Are all plot twists clear? Can the reader see not only where they are going and where they come from, but why they are there?

And so on. (That’s from Crime & Thriller Writing.) I generally find it’s the small things that make me craziest: in The Murder of Mary Russell, there’s a necklace that plays a fairly minor role in things, and because I can use it both as a clue and a personality element, I now find that I’ve done three different and conflicting things with it. And it doesn’t really matter which I do, I’m obsessing over this necklace, in part because I have to leave it in this tripartate conflicting state until I work my way through the final sections, for fear that whatever I choose for the earlier parts will screw up the entire plot later on.

You wouldn’t believe how many PostIts are stuck into this manuscript dealing with that bloody necklace.

Maybe I’ll change it to a brooch and have done with it.


  1. Kate Martino on August 22, 2015 at 6:20 am

    Keep it as a necklace, I imagine by the time and age this story is set in, broaches are fashionably obsolete except by the older class. Unless the owner is of said class, (ie: still considers wearing corsets, pinned up hair, etc) Then by all means, change it ‘and be done with it’. I look forward (frightfully so) to see how Mary Russell meets her end; if at all.

  2. Merrily Taylor on August 22, 2015 at 7:07 am

    Here’s to the value of careful writing and re-writing, and a good editor! Too many publishing houses (obviously not yours) are clearly cutting back on editors, and as a result I’ve seen too many books with horrendous errors in them, either in grammar or in anachronism. The best self-published books seem to use editors, though mostly of the volunteer kind. And as to the worst, well, ugh. I recently started to read one in which the author referred to Sherlock Holmes’ “brown eyes,” put the book down, and never went back!

    • Laurie King on August 22, 2015 at 7:27 am

      Those early color-changing contact lenses…

    • Chuck Haberlein on August 22, 2015 at 7:35 am

      Amen, Merrily!

    • Agee on September 2, 2015 at 7:23 pm

      So his (the author’s) brown eyes made you blue? (sorry, couldn’t resist)

  3. Lauren McFeaters on August 22, 2015 at 7:13 am

    Holmes’ gift of a brooch to a younger Mary?
    Gone missing?
    Put me on the case…

  4. Teresa on August 22, 2015 at 7:50 am

    Change it to a pair of opera glasses. Whatever you do, just keep going. I can’t wait to read this. 😉


  5. Diane on August 22, 2015 at 10:08 am

    Editing is so important! I agree with Merrily on some of the errors found in self-published books. Although, to be fair, I have also found some errors in books published by known publishers, which made me wonder who did I the editing!

    I can’t wait for the book to come out. We can all look for the necklace clues and see how it turns out.

  6. Kristie on August 22, 2015 at 11:14 am

    “I was working on the proof of one of my poems all the morning, and took out a comma. In the afternoon I put it back again.”― Oscar Wilde


  7. Chine-Chine Wang on August 22, 2015 at 11:36 am

    In Chinese this is called “push-knock” if translated literally – that came from the story of a poet going back and forth between “the monk pushed the moon out of the door” and “the monk knocked the moon out of the door” and coming up with a myriad of merits for each version of the verse, though the difference was only one word.

    • Laurie King on August 22, 2015 at 12:36 pm

      I like it!

      • Chine-Chine Wang on August 23, 2015 at 7:55 am

        That poet’s dilemma happened during Tang Dynasty, about 1200 years ago… And to this day Chinese-speaking people still commonly use “push-knock” as a verb to mean carefully comparing the advantages between two things, which by the way is an internal process – the poet was seen gesturing “push” and “knock” to himself over and over, and some thought of him as a little mad. (Glad I’m not a translator! It takes so many words to get the entire meaning accross sometimes, the beauty of simplicity gets lost…) He had an editor of sorts too, a literary friend he consulted advised that “knock” was superior, and the matter was settled.

  8. Julia French on August 22, 2015 at 1:00 pm

    A brooch would be fine for this time period. My mother wore cameo and other brooches as a young office worker in the 1950s in England

  9. Laraine on August 22, 2015 at 1:09 pm

    You started with a necklace for a reason. Good luck finding the teeny, tiny spark that makes sense of the way the necklace is meant to be throughout. You can do it.
    I’ve actually stopped reading ARC’s, because the natural number of errors in them are just plain distracting and lead me to a lower opinion of an author than I otherwise would have, even though I know there would be plenty of errors in an ARC of anything I write . . . .

  10. Madonna Smith on August 22, 2015 at 2:49 pm

    I agree with Laraine–the necklace was chosen originally for a reason. Could make for a nice bit of continuity. And, meanings assigned to objects can change over time as the “owner” changes and develops. Or, make it a brooch if it doesn’t carry that much weight as that particular object–stones can be reset, pendants worn as brooches, new pieces created from old, pieces added to a collection.

    • Mary on August 22, 2015 at 8:22 pm

      If a broach, Mary can use the pin to open a lock or distract her assailant or prick her finger to use the blood as a lubricant or ink… 🙂

  11. Pamela on August 23, 2015 at 9:25 am

    Can it be a parure?

  12. Margaret Wood on August 25, 2015 at 7:41 am

    Coincidence…Suffering from insomnia last night, I put on a beloved old book to lull me back to sleep. I chose Tony Hillerman’s memoir, “Seldom Disappointed”. In the introduction he paid tribute to the editors who had encouraged and shaped his writings. One steered him toward his great mysteries set among the Navajos.

  13. Jill Galvin on September 14, 2015 at 2:57 am

    Necklace or brooch, I imagine you will still be in a pickle! Whatever the outcome, judging by all previous publications, this book will be worth the wait. The gift of extra time means I can read some of your other books! Thank you editor?

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