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Writer's Digest presents an excerpt from my webinar, "Three Secrets of the Greats: Structure Your Story for Ultimate Reader Addiction."

Joanna Penn of The Creative Penn, one of the Top 10 Blogs for Writers, interviews me about storytelling, writing, independent editing, and the difference between literary fiction and genre, with an impromptu exercise on her own Work-in-Progress.

Editing client Stu Wakefield, author of the Kindle #1 Best Seller Body of Water, talks about our work together on Memory of Water, the second novel of his Water trilogy.






  • By Victoria Mixon

    Carmen slammed her keycard on the counter. She was old enough to remember metal keys, much more satisfying when it came to slamming. Metal clanked; plastic only clunked. Dully.

    Her head ached and she was filled with remorse at the slip of the tongue that had revealed her insomnia. Only sometimes, she’d added quickly, but the agent had already checked the box. Hell’s bells. Mandatory end-of-life counseling, at age 52! What a world.

    A noise from the old furnace vent startled her. Carmen tilted her head, listening, and heard nervous laughter followed by a series of thuds and muffled exclamations.

    It was noon, and Shasta was downstairs instead of in school. Again. How long before a Social Enforcer buzzed? And what in God’s name was going on down there this time? Carmen faced the basement door, wishing she hadn’t declined the Aging Agent’s offer of nerve pills after all.
    —M. Shirey

    Developmental Edit

    This is a wonderful, matter-of-fact take on sci-fi, bringing it home to reality with a very human protagonist.

    Tense? check
    Realistic? check
    Raises a question? check What’s Shasta doing in in the basement?
    Drop-kicks us off the end? check What nerve pills?

    What does this paragraph tell us about the book we’re starting? A 52-year-old woman named Carmen with a child named Shasta has been to see someone called the Aging Agent and is bent because they prescribed mandatory end-of-life counseling when she accidentally admitted to insomnia. On top of that, she’s in trouble with some Social Enforcers’ agency because her child keeps skipping school, AND she turned down nerve pills! Nerve pills! I ask you!

    Do I want to follow this character through a whole novel? Man, Carmen’s completely got my attention. What kind of 52-year-old mother with insomnia and problems with Social Enforcers turns down nerve pills? Is the woman mad?

    Genre? Sci fi. Looks futuristic to me.

    Do we need to know who the character is, how they got here, where they were before? I’ve got it—she just came from the Aging Agency, where she royally screwed up.

    Do we need to know what she’s going to do next? I have a pretty good idea she’s going to investigate the giggling in the basement.

    Does this paragraph drop us right smack in a specific moment in this character’s story? So totally.

    Let’s talk about the structure of it. One note: numerals are spelled out, unless they’re extremely long, like years.

    Other than that, this is pretty darn tight. I like that the first that happens is Carmen slamming her keys down, but I’d like to skip over the backstory and go straight to the point, which is that Carmen just got herself in the dog house with the Aging Agency. And is about to get herself in the doghouse with the Social Enforcers.

    Clearly, this was the wrong time to turn down nerve pills.

    Can this be made shorter and snappier? Marginally. I am going to do something I virtually never do, and that is replace a sentence, turning a statement to a gesture.

    Copy & Line Edit

    Carmen slammed her keycard on the counter. That slip of the tongue about insomnia. Only sometimes, she’d added quickly, but the Aging Agent had already checked the box. Hell’s bells. Mandatory end-of-life counseling, at age fifty-two! What a world.

    She was old enough to remember metal keys, much more satisfying to slam. Metal clanked; plastic only clunked. Dully. She put a hand to her forehead.

    A noise from the old furnace vent startled her. Carmen tilted her head, listening to nervous laughter followed by thuds and muffled exclamations.

    It was noon, and Shasta was in the basement instead of in school. Again. How long before a Social Enforcer buzzed? And what in God’s name was going on down there this time? She wished she hadn’t declined the Aging Agent’s offer of nerve pills.

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    A. VICTORIA MIXON, FREELANCE INDEPENDENT EDITOR

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    4 Comments

4 Responses to “Free HOOK Edit: Carmen slammed her keycard—”

  1. M., wow! You had me going with lots of questions to answer and many things that made me curious…great job! Would love to see what happens next!

  2. Shivers! End-of-life counseling, at such a young age. Very creepy scenario (in a good way) that would compel me to read more.

  3. I loved this – both versions. Carmen’s first little internal rant about metal keys vs. key cards had me identifying with her right away (even though I’m not close to her age). I have a sense of foreboding about what’s going to happen next, in a completely delicious way.

    Thanks for sharing!

  4. I really like the voice here. The first line about the plastic keycard is great, and gives us a sense of the character’s age. Then the modern keycard is contradicted by the old furnace, which implies that not everything is up to date. The one-word sentence “Again” tells quickly and directly that us Shasta isn’t the best-behaved kid around. Nice job!




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Authors


MILLLICENT G. DILLON, represented by Harold Ober Associates, is the world's expert on authors Jane and Paul Bowles. She has won five O. Henry Awards and been nominated for the PEN/Faulkner. I worked with Dillon on her memoir, The Absolute Elsewhere, in which she describes in luminous prose her private meeting with Albert Einstein to discuss the ethics of the atomic bomb. Read more. . .


SASHA TROYAN is a Professor of English at Montclair University and author of the critically-acclaimed novels Angels in the Morning and The Forgotten Island, both Booksense Selections, tragic and beautiful stories based upon her childhood in France. I worked with Troyan to develop her new novels, Marriage A Trois and Semester. Read more. . .


LUCIA ORTH is the author of the debut novel, Baby Jesus Pawn Shop, which received critical acclaim from Publisher’s Weekly, NPR, Booklist, Library Journal and Small Press Reviews. I have edited a number of essays and articles for Orth. Read more. . .


BHAICHAND PATEL, retired after an illustrious career with the United Nations, is now a journalist based out of New Dehli and Bombay, an expert on Bollywood, and author of three non-fiction books published by Penguin. I edited Patel’s best-selling debut novel, Mothers, Lovers, and Other Strangers, published by Pan Macmillan. Read more. . .


SCOTT WILBANKS, represented by Barbara Poelle of the Irene Goodman Literary Agency, is the author of the debut novel, The Lemoncholy Life of Annie Aster, published by Sourcebooks in August, 2015. I'm working with Wilbanks on his sophomore novel, Easy Pickens, the story of the world’s only medically-diagnosed case of chronic naiveté. Read more. . .


SCOTT WARRENDER is a professional musician and Annie Award-nominated lyricist specializing in musical theater. I work with Warrender regularly on his short stories and debut novel, Putaway. Read more. . .


M. TERRY GREEN enjoys a successful self-publishing career with her three sci-fi/fantasy series based on her dual careers in anthropology and technology. I worked with Green to develop a new speculative fiction series. Read more. . .


DARREN D. BEYER is an ex-NASA experiment engineer who worked on every Space Shuttle orbiter but Challenger. In Casimir Bridge, the first novel of his debut sci-fi series, Beyer uses every bit of his scientific expertise to create a galaxy in which "space bridges" allow interstellar travel based upon the latest in real theoretical physics. Read more. . .


ANIA VESENNY, represented by Beverly Slopen Literary Agency, is a recipient of the Evelyn Sullivan Gilbertson Award for Emerging Artist in Literature and has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. I edited Vesenny's debut novel, Swearing in Russian at the Northern Lights, and her second novel, Sandara. Read more. . .


STUART WAKEFIELD is the #1 Kindle Best Selling author of Body of Water, the first novel in his Orcadian Trilogy. Body of Water was 1 of 10 books long-listed for the Polari First Book Prize. I edited Wakefield's second novel, Memory of Water, and look forward to editing the final novel of his Orcadian Trilogy, Spirit of Water. Read more. . .


GERALDINE EVANS is a best-selling British author. Her historical novel, Reluctant Queen, is a Category No 1 Best Seller on Amazon UK. I edited Death Dues, #11 in Evans' fifteen popular Rafferty and Llewellyn cozy police procedurals, which received a glowing review from the Midwest Book Review. Read more. . .


JUDY LEE DUNN is an award-winning marketing blogger. I am working with Dunn to develop and line edit her memoir of reconciling liberal activism with her emotional difficulty accepting the lesbianism of her beloved daughter, Tonight Show comedienne Kellye Rowland. Read more. . .


LISA MERCADO-FERNANDEZ writes literary novels of love, loss, and friendship set in the small coastal towns of New England. I edited Mercado-Fernandez' debut novel The Shoebox and second novel The Eighth Summer. Read more. . .


JEFF RUSSELL is the author of the debut novel, The Rules of Love and Law, based upon Jeff's abiding passions for legal history and justice. Read more. . .


LEN JOY is the author of the debut novel, American Past Time. I worked with Len to develop his novel from its core: a short story about the self-destructive ambitions of a Minor League baseball star, which agents had told him to throw away. Read more. . .


In addition, I work with scores of aspiring writers in their apprenticeship to this wonderful literary art and craft.

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