Monthly Archives: September 2013

Guest Blogger: Win Blevins: The Last Five Things To Do Before Submitting Your Book

Power of Words


Okay, you’ve gone to the mat with your manuscript for months or years, and you’ve finally won the match with yourself.  Your book gleams like a Rolls Royce.  You’re throbbing with desire to submit it.

Heads up: STOP, it needs more work.  Because words on a screen are harder to proofread than words on a page, because human beings are imperfect, because no manuscript any editor has ever seen is letter-perfect—for all those reasons and many more, yours needs a final sprucing up.

Writing books (and mag articles and movies) for half a century has taught me to take five last steps before submitting a manuscript:

  • Read the entire manuscript again and beef up the verbs.  The man didn’t “move” (one of the laziest words in the English language), he “glided,” or “strutted,” or “shuffled,” or “hustled.”  The man and woman didn’t “argue,” they “clubbed each other with ugly names” or “slashed each other with knife-blade accusations.”  Etc.  You won’t find a page that can’t use a more graphic verb.
  • Cut as many adverbs as you can.  But don’t just cut them.  Wrap the adverb’s meaning into a more active verb.  Where you wrote, “The car moved slowly up the driveway,” change it to “The car inched up the driveway.”  Where you wrote “She laughed loudly,” write “She hooted.”  And so on.  Combine your adverb and verb into a more vivid verb.
  • Read the entire manuscript aloud to yourself.  This is the most powerful of these suggestions.  It’s an amazing experience.  You’ll see places where the language is mundane but yearns to sing, or where it meanders along when it should deliver a short, hard punch.  You’ll notice, especially, dialogue that is wordy—something like “I’m not going to put up with this” when “Screw you” would have done better.  Or dialogue that is explanatory when you wanted an emotional flare-up.  You’ll also notice words that have been left out, or typed twice, or repeated too close together.  You’ll spot awkward phrases and pronoun confusion. Read any manuscript out loud and flaws will be obvious.
  • Transform narration into scene with dialogue.  Read with a sharp eye for passages you’ve summarized instead making them into scenes.  Easy example:  You wrote, “Leaving, she told him she’d be back in an hour.”  Instead let the reader see and hear—“One hand on the doorknob and the other about to slosh her coffee on herself, she called out, ‘Sweetheart, I’ll be back in an hour.’”
  • Last, spell-check the manuscript.  Yes, damn well do it.  Sure, spell-check is nuts.  Its ideas about grammar are stiff and old-fashioned.  It doesn’t understand the use of words like “myself” and “yourself” and even confuses “its” and “it’s” (!).  But it does two things well.  It catches repetitions (when you’ve typed “sky” twice instead of once) and it can SPELL (it knows “accommodate” has a double m).  No matter how many crazy ideas Spell-check spews out, spotting the spelling errors and repeated words is worth it.

Five readings—and NOW you can hunt down that million-dollar advance.

Win Blevins


Powder River NEW





Posted by on September 30, 2013 in Guest Blogger, Writing


Robotic Surgery: More Problematic Than Helpful?

Robotic surgery is cool. Even the name is cool. Can’t you just see Robby the Robot standing beside the operating table performing some miraculous feat? Great visual. Actually it is ofte done employing the da Vinci Surgical System.


Real robotic surgery doesn’t work that way. Ih fact it’s basically the so-called minimally invasive surgery except that the surgeon is removed from the patient. In minimally invasive surgery small openings are made and cannulas (hollow metal tubes) are inserted into the patient. Instruments are passed through these tubes and the surgery is performed, usually with the guidance of a fiber-optic scope. The beauty of the situation is that the incisions are smaller and therefore recovery is much faster.

The da Vinci Surgical System

The da Vinci Surgical System

Robotic surgery is performed more or less the same way. The difference is, rather than the surgeon standing next to the patient, he is often on the other side of the room sitting in a console operating handles, which in turn move the instruments. He is able to watch everything on the screen, again using fiber-optic imaging techniques.

This technique has always been problematic for me. Much of surgery has to do with tactile feedback. What the surgeon’s fingers feel as they touch and move the organs and as they repair injuries or remove certain tissues and organs is a critical part of any surgical procedure. It’s all in the fingertips. Minimally invasive surgery removed some of this tactile feedback but still the surgeon had some “feel” through the instruments he worked with. Robotic surgery is another step removed from that.

Lately there has been some concern over the safety of robotic surgery, often for these very reasons. The surgeon needs all the feedback he can receive during delicate surgical procedures and the system seems to remove many of them. It’s not that robotic surgery isn’t useful or that it doesn’t have its place, it’s just that everything comes with a downside. But increasingly we are seeing problems with this cool technique. Sometimes the old ways are still best.


My second Dub Walker thriller, HOT LIGHTS, COLD STEEL, deals with robotic surgery. Far advanced from where we are now, but robotic surgery nonetheless.


Posted by on September 23, 2013 in Medical Issues


Crime and Science Radio: The Science of Sherlock Holmes

CSR 970x250


Tomorrow, Saturday, 9-21-13, at 10 a.m. Crime and Science Radio presents:

The Science of Sherlock Holmes: Jan Burke and Leslie Klinger

Leslie Klinger is a Holmes expert of the first order. His THE NEW ANNOTATED SHERLOCK HOLMES is one of the most highly regarded studies of Holmes and his creator, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.  What influenced Holmes’s scientific and investigative methods?  And what influence has Holmes had on forensic science and criminal investigation?




Breathprints? As Good as Fingerprints?

When we breathe, we take in air which is rich in oxygen (02) and expel air which is richer in carbon dioxide (CO2). The oxygen in the inhaled air is removed by the bloodstream and carried to the body so that the cells will have the oxygen they need to perform all their functions and indeed stay alive. A byproduct of cellular metabolism is CO2, which is picked up by the bloodstream and carried back to the lungs for exhalation. Good air in, bad air out. Simple and clean.

But the exhaled air contains more than just CO2. Hundreds of other molecules and compounds, also byproducts of our metabolic processes, are excreted by the lungs. These can be sampled and analyzed.

It seems that researchers at ETH Zürich and the University Hospital Zürich have begun analyzing exhaled air in the hopes of finding a “fingerprint” that could serve to individualize people. Much as true fingerprints and DNA do.



So far they have discovered that the chemicals exhaled by a given individual is highly specific and does not change dramatically over time. There are minor variations on a day-to-day basis but in general it seems that a person’s “breath print” is indeed unique. If so this could prove to be another useful method of identification.

Not to mention its medical possibilities. For many years doctors have used the odor of a patient’s breath to help make diagnoses. The odor associated with diabetic ketoacidosis, renal failure, and liver failure are each quite distinct. Though further testing is necessary to prove the diagnosis, it is often suspected from the odor surrounding the patient.


Q and A: Can My 1920’s Linguist Effect A Permanent Change in Another Character’s Voice?

Q: In my story, set in a time analogous to the 1920s, an errant linguist captures a young male prostitute. She hopes to recreate him into her lost daughter, which is part of a longer investigation to discover how her daughter died at her finishing school. Part of the prostitute’s transformation involves a vocal shift upward into a more feminine range.

My question: Supposing the linguist is understandably obsessive, the prostitute is helpless, and there are some generous funds available to fuel her undertaking, how long would it take for the vocal feminization techniques to have a convincing (and consistent) effect? What other aspects would their therapy focus on–semantics, syntax, word choice? Should the prostitute regain his freedom after about nine months of speaking in this artificial way, would it be difficult for him to resume speaking in his normal range?

A. Luschei, Ladera Ranch, CA 


A: The technique you describe is simply a different form of speech pattern where the individual is trained to talk in a certain way and at a different timbre. This is the same thing that actors do when practicing for a role that requires a certain accent or speech pattern. This is learned behavior and does not change the individual’s natural speaking voice. He could at any time fall back into his normal voice though the longer he spoke in the new voice the more difficulty he might have in unlearning this behavior. The point is that this learned behavior doesn’t cause a permanent change in his voice because he must always use the affected voice and be conscious, at least on some level, of doing so.


Adam's Apple


But there are surgical procedures that alter the timbre of the person’s voice. In the situation you describe it would be called vocal feminization. These procedures often involve suturing the thyroid cartilage (Adams Apple) and the cricoid cartilage closer together. This would cause a more permanent change. I don’t think these were done in the 1920s so you’re left with the linguist teaching the young man a type of affected speech. This training would include syntax, word choice, rate and pattern of speech, as well as things like facial expressions, body language, and hand gestures.


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Posted by on September 16, 2013 in Medical Issues, Q&A


Guest Blogger: Jodie Renner: Big-Picture Problems to Look for Before You Pitch or Publish Your Thriller

Here are some typical “big-picture” problems to watch out for in your thriller or other suspense novel, then, if necessary, revise before pitching it to an agent or publishing it yourself. These types of glaring gaffes in writing, pacing, plot, or structure will bog down your story and could sink your reputation as a thriller writer. Fortunately, they can all be remedied at the revision and self-editing stages.

~ A protagonist readers can’t warm up to.

Make sure your protagonist is charismatic and sympathetic enough for readers to want to identify with for a whole novel, but complex enough, with baggage and inner conflict, so readers find him/her intriguing.

~ Overwriting. Not enough self-editing. (Verbal diarrhea)

Today’s bestselling thrillers are mostly between 70,000 and 90,000 words long. Unless you’re an absolutely brilliant writer, and experts in the business have told you so, if your manuscript is over 95,000 words long, it needs tightening up. Look for areas where you go on and on or repeat ideas or imagery and cut the repetitions.

~ Meandering writing – the main story question / problem is fuzzy or buried.

What’s the protagonist’s main goal and fear, and his main problem? This should be obvious early on and be the overriding driving force behind your whole story. Don’t let it get lost in meandering writing, too much backstory, frequent info dumps, too many characters, too many subplots, and unrelated plot details.

~ One unrelated thing after another happens

Don’t get caught up in “and then, and then, and then,” with a bunch of sub-stories or episodes that aren’t related to each other and don’t directly tie in with the main plot problem and story question. Your events and scenes need to be tied together by cause and effect. Each scene should impact the following scenes and complicate future events.

~ Dog’s breakfast

A common problem is too many characters crowding the scenes with no elbow room, and readers getting confused and frustrated trying to remember who’s who. Or maybe you have too many subplots that veer off in different directions and confuse the issue. Or a convoluted, overly complex story with too many issues and events that don’t directly connect to the main character and their overarching problem.

~ A thin plot

This is where the story line is obscure, with all kinds of unrelated happenings and way too much yak-yak dialogue that doesn’t have enough tension, conflict, or purpose. Also, often the issues aren’t serious enough and the stakes aren’t high enough. Anything that doesn’t directly relate to your major story problem, develop your characters, or drive the story forward should be revised or cut.

~ A predictable story line

Write in some twists, surprises, reversals. When a character has to make a decision or her actions cause repercussions, brainstorm for all possible consequences and choose one readers won’t be expecting. Add in reversals here and there that force a change in goals, actions, reactions, or consequences. Don’t overdo this, though, and be sure your reversal makes sense and is in character, or your readers will feel manipulated or cheated.

~ Flat scenes

When scenes are boring, it’s because there’s not enough conflict, tension, suspense and intrigue. Make sure every page has conflict and tension. Every scene needs a focal point or a “hot spot” – its own mini-climax. Also, be sure to start scenes late and end early. And don’t tie everything up with a neat little bow at the end. End with the protagonist in more trouble (most of the time), or with a cliffhanger.

~ Overkill: Nonstop action

Unrelenting car chases, explosions, and violence, with a constant break-neck pace, can numb readers. Vary your pacing, and write in some quieter moments here and there for variety and breathing space before the next onslaught.

~ Plot holes

Watch for those actions, events, character reactions, and other details that just don’t make sense for one reason or another. Look for any inconsistencies, illogical details, or discrepancies. Make sure all your story questions are answered at some point. If you’ve made changes or eliminated a character, be sure to go through and check for any latent references to the scene or character you’ve cut.

These types of gaffes are often difficult for the author to see, so this is where your critique group or beta readers can be invaluable, especially if you specifically ask them to flag anything that doesn’t make sense for any reason.

~ A sagging middle 

It’s easy to get bogged down in the middle and turn it into a muddle. If you’re losing interest or inspiration, go back to where the story really grabbed you, and consider what came between that and the scene you’re at now. Can you oomph up, change, or delete the scenes in between?

~ No noticeable character arc

With the exception of many action-adventure or military stories, most compelling thrillers show the main character undergoing change, caused by the adversity they’ve gone through and the resources they had to pull out of themselves to survive or conquer evil. This is satisfying to readers, who have hopefully bonded with this character.

~ An unsatisfying ending

This can be caused by a number of factors, such as:

– The hero wins by a coincidence, act of God, or help from a minor character. We want the hero to win by his own resourcefulness, cleverness, determination, courage, and inner strength!

– The hero loses. Unsatisfying and disappointing. Leave that for literary fiction. Or if you must make him lose the last battle, make him win/gain in another way.

– Ending is too predictable. Brainstorm for possible ways to add a surprise twist at the end.

– Logic flaws – the ending doesn’t really make sense given the details supplied earlier.

– Things wrap up too tidily and suddenly. Don’t be in a hurry to finish your story – make sure all or most of the story questions are addressed and all the elements of the ending make sense.

– Things dribbling on for too long after the resolution. Know when to stop.

To remedy these kinds of gaffes, be sure to enlist some savvy beta readers who read bestselling thrillers. Then contact a well-respected freelance editor with good credentials and references to go over your manuscript.

Readers and writers – Can you think of any other big-picture errors to watch out for at the revision stage?

Jodie blogs


Jodie Renner, a freelance fiction editor specializing in thrillers and other fast-paced fiction, has published two books to date in her series, An Editor’s Guide to Writing Compelling Fiction: WRITING A KILLER THRILLER and STYLE THAT SIZZLES & PACING FOR POWER, both available in e-book and trade paperback. For more info, please visit Jodie’s author website or editor website, or find her on Facebook or Twitter.


Style that Sizzles_Final_medium (2)

Writing a Killer Thriller_May '13


Posted by on September 9, 2013 in Writing


Drowning In Space: When Your Space Suit Is Your Enemy

Gemini 4 Spacewalk

Gemini 4 Spacewalk


You would think that the last thing that an astronaut would fear while performing a spacewalk would be drowning. How on earth does that happen? Oh, wait a minute, he wouldn’t be on Earth. I guess out there in the wild blue yonder all the rules change. Ask Luca Parmitano, an Italian astronaut who worked on board the International Space Station (ISS). It seems that over a liter of water accumulated inside his helmet obstructing his ears and his eyes and raising the possibility that he could drown in space.

He isn’t the only one to suffer spacesuit problems during spacewalks, Extravehicular Activities or EVAs in NASA-speak. Here is an interesting article from The New Scientist on five such situations.



Posted by on September 3, 2013 in Asphyxia, Medical Issues, Space Program

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