Across the books and in person.

Welcome! Since I write two English mystery series, I thought it would be fun to chat about that. And about England. Specifically, Derbyshire, since that is the county I know the best. If you have questions about my books, about mysteries or your own writing, or want to know something about England -- perhaps you're planning a visit -- I'd love to talk with you. Let's start chatting, shall we?

Derbyshire VIllage

Derbyshire VIllage

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Fun Idea from Dakota Banks

What a fun idea writer friend Dakota Banks has!  She has a contest based on her new book Sacrifice, part of her Mortal Path novels. 
Sacrifice Badge  

I'm way behind the times, if this is an indication of current contests, and I think I better rush right into the 21st century.  To cut myself some slack, though, I must admit quite truthfully that I do do the contest that she's touting -- my sister (a book store clerk who has seen many many many author signings with contests and giveaways) suggested the contest idea to me this past spring.  But my contest version is currently live and in-person at my book signings.  I don't know why it's never occurred to me to do it via my website.  Well, as I said, ya live and ya learn.

I owe Dakota Banks so much, by the way.  We were members of the Greater St Louis Chapter of Sisters in Crime....don't know how many years we'd known each other when I got the idea and the courage to ask her to critique my current manuscript.  I wasn't published yet, but my manuscripts evidently were "close" to being accepted for publication.  At least, that's what a few editors implied by the one sentence notes they all scribbled on my manuscript's first page.  Close, but not close enough.  So what was the problem with it?  Was it my writing or the story?

I was in awe of Dakota (still am, for that matter -- she's a VERY detailed writer and has an incredible imagination that I can only imagine....) and nervous to approach her with the request for her help on my manuscript.  OK, more than nervous.  Apprehensive.  But my need to know my writing problem finally erupted one day and I swallowed my feeling and asked if she would read the thing.  Part of my anxiety came from the fact that, although fellow mystery writers, we didn't write the same sub genre.  My murders happened 'off stage,' while Dakota liked to show her readers exactly what was going on.  I was...ok, ok....afraid she would think my writing was first cousin to a skunk.

Well, I asked her, she said yes and read the thing.  Her professionalism shone through and she gave me many hand-written pages (front and back) of detailed criticism.  Constructive criticism.  Not the kind that tears down the work or author, but honest, no-honey-coated opinion and suggestion.  She had three suggestions, in fact, that astonished me: 1) change one of the men protagonists (my story was told usual-story-telling third-person about two male police detectives) to a female; 2) tell the story first-person from the female's point of view; 3) give the female a close friend whom she confides in -- this enables the first-person female to express her thoughts and emotions so the reader is let in on it.

At first I got my back up over these changes.  I liked my story the way it was!  It was my story, it was perfect!, it wasn't.  If it had been, it would've been published, Jo.  Duh.  Ok, ok, so it and I needed help.  Which was why I'd approached Dakota in the first place, right?  So I ignored my bruised ego and went through the entire manuscript, making Dakota's three suggestions.  When I finished and re-read the entire thing, I was amazed.  Shocked.  Ecstatic!!!!  The story leapt from the page.  It was fresh, alive, snapping with energy.  What's more, the characters danced and breathed and were real human beings!  Brenna Taylor had been born from a William Lynch, a sergeant to his superior, Detective Chief Inspector Geoffrey Graham.  Margo Lynch (I liked the last name...I wasn't going to lose that!!) now walked beside Brenna and shared girl talk and became one of my favorite fact, a girl friend I wish I had always had.  I could not believe the change in the story or in my writing.  All due to making three changes.  All due to Dakota's insight and willingness to help me, an unpublished writer.

That was 2003.  The first publisher I sent the new manuscript to accepted it immediately and the rest, as they say....  So the book came out in 2004 and the characters are still with me, becoming greater friends with each tale I tell.  And letting me into their lives and learning who they are beyond their professional shells.

All due to Dakota.

So, I do owe Dakota a lot....not just for nudging me and showing me a great contest idea.  A contest you, too, can enter by going to

Good luck if you decide to participate in her contest.  I hope I read about one of us as a character in her next book!

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