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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

    1. You didn’t know you had that many words in you.

      And no, they’re not all just variations on “and then.” They’re all possible variations on twenty-six simple little letters, higgledy-piggledy arrangements of sound and thought and meaning, and the images that leap out of them are a magic of physical manifestation that put you in actual touch with something you can’t explain but know now no one has ever lived without.

      The miracle of fiction.
    2. The party in your head just got a little more fun.

      It used to just be you and your alter-egos, the Nice You and the Mean You. Most of that was full-contact wrestling between the Nice You and the Mean You, with the Real You standing by, shaking your head, and saying, “Hey, guys. . .guys. . .guys! It’s getting kind of warm in here—”

      But now that’s only a minor aspect to the 24-hour excitement. Now the main stage is taken by a whole host of riveting characters meeting, talking, dancing, sparring, lying, confessing, stealing, recovering, moving and moving and moving around each other in an infinite choreography of fascination. The temperature’s gone way up. . .and YOU DON’T MIND AT ALL.
    3. You’re smarter than you used to be.

      You know so much more about words and what they can do, language and what it’s meant for, communication and why we need it to survive. You also know far more than you ever have about human nature and how the thousands of interactions between people even in a single day add up to life and what it’s all about.

      You even get—in an ethereal and intangible sort of way, when the wind is right—how the whole of humanity is greater than the sum of its parts.
    4. You’re more alive than you used to be.

      Your careful, note-taking attention to vivid details has made your world vastly more of an experience for you. You hear more things, see more things, feel more things. When you’re miserable you can identify a hundred nuances, when you’re laughing you hear the interweave and cacophony of how voices blend and emerge, when you’re quiet your physical self is so alive it’s like you’re on drugs. And free! Without hangovers!
    5. You’re saner than you used to be.

      Now and for the rest of your life, even when you’re overwhelmed, you still have this foundation on which to stand: the incessant inquiry into, What is happening to me? What are its significant and insignificant parts? How am I reacting? What do I understand about it? What if it’s something other than what I’ve always assumed it was?

      Your options for understanding yourself and others are opening outward in all directions like eyes seeing for the very first time.

      And even more importantly, your options for understanding your own beliefs about reality and meaning are far more complex, profound, and intriguing than ever before.

      You’ve gone to the core. You’ve wrestled with the angel.

      And the angel has taught you—just a smidgen of—their secrets.


    The Art and Craft of Fiction: A Practitioner’s Manual
    by Victoria Mixon

    “The freshest and most relevant advice you’ll find.”
    —Helen Gallagher, Seattle Post-Intelligencer

    “Wonderfully useful, bracing and humorous. . .it demystifies the essential aspects of the craft while paying homage to the art.”
    Millicent Dillon, five time O.Henry Award winner and author of the PEN/Faulkner-nominated Harry Gold

    “Teeming with gold. . .will make you love being a writer if only because you belong to the special little club that gets to read this book.”
    KM Weiland, author of Outlining Your Novel



    The Art and Craft of Story: 2nd Practitioner’s Manual
    by Victoria Mixon

    “Opinionated, rumbunctious, sharp and always entertaining. . .lessons of a writing lifetime.”
    Roz Morris, best selling ghostwriter and author of Nail Your Novel

    “As much a gift to writers as an indispensible resource. . .in a never-done-before manner that inspires while it teaches.Highly recommended.”
    Larry Brooks, author of four bestselling thrillers and Story Engineering

    “I wish I’d had The Art & Craft of Story when I began work on my first novel.”
    Lucia Orth, author of the critically-acclaimed Baby Jesus Pawn Shop


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    “The freshest and most relevant
    advice you’ll find.”

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    The Art & Craft of Writing Fiction

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    A. VICTORIA MIXON, FREELANCE INDEPENDENT EDITOR

    VICTORIA’S ADVICE COLUMN

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  • By Victoria Mixon

    1. Are your heroine/hero and villain related? Closely? Are they, in fact, siblings or, maybe, parent & child? Because if they are, you’re going to have a lot of trouble explaining your idea of parenting.
    2. Do your characters care about the dilemma you’ve given them? Passionately? Desperately? Enough to carry both them and your reader through 72,000 words on the edge of their seats? Or are they actually thinking about that ticket they booked to Bermuda back last winter before they read up on the hurricane season and wondering whether they can sell it on eBay when the time comes. . .and maybe even make a killing. . .wait—who are you, and why are you so annoying?
    3. How many of them are there? Do you even know? Proust put over 2,000 people into Remembrance of Things Past. Guess what? Nobody can name them. Nobody remembers what they’re there for. Nobody knows what was important to them and why it matters to anyone. This is why nobody’s read all seven volumes. (Except a small but elite cadre in San Francisco who hold a Proust Wake every year, most of whom actually lie about whether or not they’ve read his work, themselves.)
    4. Do you like your protagonist? A lot? A WHOLE LOT? Almost infinitely? Because you’re stuck with them almost infinitely longer than your reader is. Agatha Christie grew to hate Poirot, just as Conan Doyle got tired to death of Sherlock Holmes, but they made the huge blunder of being popular authors and got stuck with them forever. Don’t make the same mistake.
    5. Can your characters recognize the dividing line between likeably inept and sadly hopeless? between hilariously dark and simply unpleasant? between intriguingly naive and boring? Because your reader can.
    6. How many facets do your characters have and what distinguishes them from each other? ANYTHING?
    7. Which ones are just entertaining duplicates of each other? How are you going to merge them into single individuals with a lot of contrasting traits that make a weird kind of sense when they’re all put together?
    8. Which ones are dull as ditch-water? Uh-huh.
    9. Do your characters have the foggiest idea what they’re doing in your book? Or are they just sitting around waiting for you to enlighten them? Are they going to do anything about it when you do? Or are they going to pat their yawns and goggle at you politely?
    10. When they talk, do they say interesting things? Because if they don’t, don’t let them talk. I mean it.
    11. Do they have imaginative ideas about how to handle trouble and strife? Do they have the cojones to follow through on them? When trapped beneath a falling elevator, will they scream and bang helplessly on the walls, go into a fetal position, have a bad underwear day, or grab the upward cable and be yanked, yodeling like Tarzan, skyward and through a conveniently cracked door? Or will they, in a bizarre but inevitable twist, suffer a cosmic visitation that will have your reader looking askance at elevator shafts for the rest of their natural born days?
    12. What the hell do your characters NEED? Because if you don’t know this, you don’t have a story at all.
    13. Finally, is your villain really your heroine/hero? Yeah—I know. Caught you with your pants down, didn’t they? Again.

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    “The freshest and most relevant
    advice you’ll find.”

    —Helen Gallagher, Seattle Post-Intelligencer

    The Art & Craft of Writing Fiction

    The Art & Craft of Writing Stories


    A. VICTORIA MIXON, FREELANCE INDEPENDENT EDITOR

    VICTORIA’S ADVICE COLUMN

    8 Comments
  • By Victoria Mixon

    1. It’s already been done by other writers

      Thousands of others. Thousands of times. And some of those times were classic.

    2. It doesn’t care if you know

      In fact, it wants you to know.

      “The truth will set us free.”

    3. It plans to keep being done by others

      Even after everything you’ve meant to each other.

      “It’s not my fault,” your story says. “They pursue me. I have to let them have their way—it’s just my nature.”

      Those are the words of an addict. And there is no such thing as rehab for unfaithful stories.

    4. And yet it will still keep coming to you. . .

      . . .in the middle of the night: when you’ve got insomnia, when you’re most yourself, most alone, most wounded, most vulnerable.

      It will swear you’re the only one who ever really understood it.

    5. It will mean it

      It really will.

    6. You can try to escape it

      You can get a great job that has nothing to do with it, fall in love and get married, have children, buy a home, invest your money wisely, go on with your life. . .but you won’t be able to get it out of your system. It will always be there, waiting patiently.

      It knows you can’t stay away.

    7. You can try to treat it in an honest and honorable manner

      You can set schedules, make plans with it, be forthright about negotiating for what you want, what it wants, what you both want from this relationship.

      But it’s a liar. It’s not going to stick to any plans.

      It knows this perfectly well, even while it’s enthusiastically agreeing with everything you say.

    8. You can try to purge yourself of it

      Throw yourself at it, merge with it, spend all your time with it, force yourself to admit to all its warts and blemishes and wrinkles. . .but as soon as your get yourself out of its clutches and think you’re finally free, it will come slipping back into your subconscious, refreshed from the conflict and full of its own impossibly imperfect beauty. And you’ll be hooked all over again on the heartbreaking potential in it, the complexity and anguish and glory.

      And you’ll take it back, suckered even worse than before.

    9. For all life. For all eternity

      And do you know why?

      Because you’re an addict, too.

    UPDATE: 9 Secrets You’re Keeping from Your Story

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    “The freshest and most relevant
    advice you’ll find.”

    —Helen Gallagher, Seattle Post-Intelligencer

    The Art & Craft of Writing Fiction

    The Art & Craft of Writing Stories


    A. VICTORIA MIXON, FREELANCE INDEPENDENT EDITOR

    VICTORIA’S ADVICE COLUMN

    4 Comments
  • By Victoria Mixon

    1. You have no idea what you’re doing

    2. Even if you did know. . .

      . . .you wouldn’t be able to articulate it.

    3. You read all the advice on writing out there

      How to do it, how not to do it, when and where and why to do it, and what to do with it when you’ve done what you’re doing to it—and you would parrot without a qualm anyone on earth who said, “It’s all in the service of the story.”

      But when nobody’s looking you spend the vast majority of your time wondering what you’re going to wear on Oprah and answering imaginary questions for your Paris Review interview.

    4. You have never read such a stupid, clumsy, inane, self-aggrandizing story

    5. You have never hated a story so much

      You’re ashamed to know such a story exists in the world. You want to hit it on the nose with a newspaper: “Bad story! Down, story! Play dead, story!”

      You feel trapped, cheated, robbed of life you’ll never get back by this story

    6. You’re already planning your next story

    7. You know your next story is the one you really love

    8. You know, deep in your heart, this story was only practice

      Someday you will write the stories you really want your name on.

      You’ll finish this story to the best of your abilities and then put it in a drawer, part of an artist’s inevitable backlog of old work that never sees the light of day.

      You know it takes years to learn how to do this right. You know you’re only partway there. You’re dedicated. You want to be good. Practice, practice, practice.

    9. You have looked at that stack of pages at the end of the workday. . .

      . . .when it’s raining outside your leaky window and the sun is hot and moist on the pina coladas under the coconut trees in Costa Rica and there’s a folding chair on the beach there with your name on it.

      And you have thought about matches.

    UPDATE: 9 Secrets Your Story Is Keeping from You

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    “The freshest and most relevant
    advice you’ll find.”

    —Helen Gallagher, Seattle Post-Intelligencer

    The Art & Craft of Writing Fiction

    The Art & Craft of Writing Stories


    A. VICTORIA MIXON, FREELANCE INDEPENDENT EDITOR

    VICTORIA’S ADVICE COLUMN

    10 Comments
  • By Victoria Mixon

    Today let’s read a Scott Berkun article on time management. He calls it “The Cult of Busy.”

    I have a real problem getting any writing done these days, besides blogging and emails and paying jobs. I used to spend hours and hours out in the sunshine with a notepad and a pen, coming up with fresh work, writing first drafts, noting down interesting ideas to explore. Or else I was writing actual stories and scenes, working on revision, reading great writers and taking notes, analyzing their plots and following character development and sometimes just copying out longhand the sentences I loved. I also spent a lot of time hanging out with my little boy.

    But when am I supposed to do stuff like that now, when there are blogs to read and links to follow and conversations to have over IM about whether or not my friend in a cube in Silicon Valley gets M&M’s in the break room today? I mean—really. I’m not infinite.

    Do you know when was the last time I wrote a story or even an article, just for the sake of it? Neither do I.

    How busy are you? How much of your life (especially now that we have the endless blogosphere to mess around in) do you spend busily staying busy without actually accomplishing anything? How many evenings do you look up and say, “Huh. I had stuff to do, but the day seems to have just gotten away from me. . .”?

    And, most importantly, how is this affecting your writing?

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    “The freshest and most relevant
    advice you’ll find.”

    —Helen Gallagher, Seattle Post-Intelligencer

    The Art & Craft of Writing Fiction

    The Art & Craft of Writing Stories


    A. VICTORIA MIXON, FREELANCE INDEPENDENT EDITOR

    VICTORIA’S ADVICE COLUMN

    15 Comments
  • By Victoria Mixon

    Hey, folks, I’ve been interviewed on Bob Spear’s Book Trends Blog!

    Bob’s a bookstore owner who ventured into self-publishing many years ago, way back before it was fashionable. He made a success of his early nonfiction and is now back—blogging about the experience of self-publishing his series of mysteries, beginning with Quad Delta.

    Do you ever wonder what the heck an editor DOES all day, anyway?

    I told Bob.

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    “The freshest and most relevant
    advice you’ll find.”

    —Helen Gallagher, Seattle Post-Intelligencer

    The Art & Craft of Writing Fiction

    The Art & Craft of Writing Stories


    A. VICTORIA MIXON, FREELANCE INDEPENDENT EDITOR

    VICTORIA’S ADVICE COLUMN

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  • By Victoria Mixon

    The history of literature is made up of millions of individual voices. Strive to be worthy of the choir.

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    “The freshest and most relevant
    advice you’ll find.”

    —Helen Gallagher, Seattle Post-Intelligencer

    The Art & Craft of Writing Fiction

    The Art & Craft of Writing Stories


    A. VICTORIA MIXON, FREELANCE INDEPENDENT EDITOR

    VICTORIA’S ADVICE COLUMN

    4 Comments
  • By Victoria Mixon

    According to WordPress, we broke 1000 views of JUST YOUR HOOKS in only three days!

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    “The freshest and most relevant
    advice you’ll find.”

    —Helen Gallagher, Seattle Post-Intelligencer

    The Art & Craft of Writing Fiction

    The Art & Craft of Writing Stories


    A. VICTORIA MIXON, FREELANCE INDEPENDENT EDITOR

    VICTORIA’S ADVICE COLUMN

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  • By Victoria Mixon

    There’s really only one thing we can talk about today: CLIMAXES.

    The climax of your novel is, bizarrely enough, the premise. It’s the point of the entire story.

    Suppose you’re a writer working intensely on an incredibly deep and meaningful story. You’re an eighteenth-century American who’s been in Europe and are on your way home, so you have to do this work on shipboard. But that’s okay because you’re so completely immersed in it that you could work on it anywhere. Or else you’re a European who’s been in America. But, anyway, you’re on a ship, working, working, working away as towering waves crash over the prow and the tang of salt wafts to your nostrils.

    Now, news of this extraordinary story has leaked out into the general public. Since you have a huge international reputation as a storyteller, everyone knows this story is worth a fortune. It’s rumored to be the pinnacle of your career. It’s the most amazing production of a brain that’s already produced stories greater than Homer’s, plot twists more baffling than Cervantes’, audience investment more powerful than Shakespeare’s. Anyone who possesses it will be richer than Croesus. But of course you keep it top secret so no one can steal it from you. It is—as Bertie Wooster would say—a real pip.

    But disaster strikes
    . Oh, no! Your ship is hailed and, in quick order, boarded by pirates. They kill everybody on board and take command. You are hauled up in chains before the pirate captain, the notorious Assuipe, with his reputation for collecting strange and unusual treasures and selling them to buyers of enormous wealth known only to him. This guy could sell snow to Eskimos. He’s that good.

    And he wants your story.

    “No!” you cry. “I won’t tell you! I’d rather DIE FIRST.”

    He’s okay with that. In an instant, his minions have flung out a plank, and you are encouraged at sword point to climb up on it and begin your promenade. They’re leaning over the side of the ship tossing edibles into the depths to attract sharks. This guy’s mean.

    “Well?” he calls when you’re a third of the way down the plank.

    “I won’t!” you yell furiously over your shoulder. You rattle your chains above your head at him.

    Poke, poke go the points of the swords.

    “What do you think?” he calls when you’re two thirds of the way down the plank.

    “Never!” you bellow, yanking futilely against your chains. One foot slips, and you jerk it back with a private whimper.

    Poke, poke go the points of the swords.

    “It’s time, matey. Will you tell me or won’t you?” he calls when you get to the end of the plank.

    The pirates lift, and the plank begins to tip. Below your feet, shark fins are circling. The tang of salt wafts to your nostrils. You shriek.

    “It’s—!”

    What?

    Read the full post on The Art & Craft of Fiction.

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    “The freshest and most relevant
    advice you’ll find.”

    —Helen Gallagher, Seattle Post-Intelligencer

    The Art & Craft of Writing Fiction

    The Art & Craft of Writing Stories


    A. VICTORIA MIXON, FREELANCE INDEPENDENT EDITOR

    VICTORIA’S ADVICE COLUMN

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  • By Victoria Mixon

    So you’re sitting at the table in the captain’s cabin across from Assuipe, guzzling wine and trying not to bang your elbows on the brass table rail that keeps stuff from flying off during storms. He’s allowed you to change your britches, but you’re still wondering whether your heart will ever stop pounding. Probably not.

    “Tell me again,” Assuipe says, clutching his quill and preparing to write laboriously as you speak. He’s not very literate.

    “It’s the story of a genius of a writer whose greatest idea, the most extraordinary premise, the pinnacle of a brilliant career, is stolen by a—by a—well, a pirate.”

    “I like it!” Assuipe belches into his fist. “Go on.”

    “It starts in a little seaside village, where the writer lives. She’s down in the waterfront pub with her friends, when she hears the story of this terrible pirate. It’s her best friend, Panther Jack, who tells the story—”

    “Screw that,” says Assuipe. “Tell me about when the pirate steals the idea.”

    “That’s at the end.” It’s obvious Assuipe knows nothing about the art of storytelling. What a cretin. “Panther Jack is this kind of maverick sailor. She could be a ship’s captain, she’s so experienced, but she’s not into power or authority, so instead she roams the seas on whatever adventure strikes her fancy. She and the writer grew up together—”

    “Screw Panther Jack,” says Assuipe. “I want to hear about the pirate.”

    “I’m trying to tell you—”

    “Your idea about a pirate.”

    “NO. The pirate’s not even in most of it. He only comes in at the very end, when he wrecks everything. He’s just part of the climax. He’s not the actual story.”

    “I like him.” Assuipe grins, and you immediately wish he hadn’t, because his teeth are the worst. “Your climax is the whole point of your story. Bozo.”

    “Assuipe—” You suddenly realize why nobody ever says this guy’s name out loud.

    And so you go back and forth for hours, dickering over your genius idea.

    “—so the writer goes overseas to think this all out, and while she’s there the pattern of everything she’s been through crystalizes in her mind, and—bingo!—Panther Jack’s story of the pirate comes back to her, and she realizes it’s the kernel to the most brilliant premise—”

    “—which is that a terrible and swashbuckling pirate king steals a stupid story so he can live happily ever after—” Assuipe is trying to massage the cramp out of his writing hand.

    “No.” You shake your head. “Living happily ever after isn’t part of the climax. It’s the resolution.”

    Assuipe sighs and puts down his quill. “Living happily ever after is the resolution to the story. But before that, the resolution to the climax is me letting you get down off that plank.” He hawks with a revolting sound and spits into his empty flagon. “You know, for a famous writer, you sure don’t know squat about structure.”

    Read the full essay on the Art and Craft of Fiction.

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    “The freshest and most relevant
    advice you’ll find.”

    —Helen Gallagher, Seattle Post-Intelligencer

    The Art & Craft of Writing Fiction

    The Art & Craft of Writing Stories


    A. VICTORIA MIXON, FREELANCE INDEPENDENT EDITOR

    VICTORIA’S ADVICE COLUMN

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11 posts. . .because this blog goes to 11



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, 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 multiple sci-fi/fantasy series set in the Multiverse, based upon her expertise 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 has worked on every Space Shuttle orbiter but Challenger. In his sci-fi Anghazi Series, Beyer uses 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. Read more. . .


ALEX KENDZIORSKI is an American physician working in South Africa on community health education and wildlife conservation. I edited Kendziorski’s debut novel Wait a Season for Their Names about the endangered African painted wolf, for which he is donating the profits to wildlife conservation. Read more. . .


ALEXANDRA GODFREY blogs for the New England Journal of Medicine. I work with Godfrey on her short fiction and narrative nonfiction, including a profile of the doctor who helped save her son’s life, “Mending Broken Hearts.” 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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