A Final Pass

by Miko Johnston

By the time you read this, the manuscript for my fourth A Petal In the Wind novel will be back from the editor and ready for its final draft before publication. Prior to sending it out, I made several passes through it, each time searching for ways to fix or improve the work.

In my first pass I searched for everything from formatting issues to misspelled words. In light of recent events I found parts of the story, which I’d begun writing in 2017, had become dated. I couldn’t gloss over a worldwide pandemic and the social rifts that emerged from political discord. Several new characters who were introduced in chapters written years before the book’s conclusion sounded too generic; I’d gotten to know them better as the story progressed and that needed to be reflected in their earlier dialog and mannerisms.

Other passes looked for repetition, excess verbiage, more precise word choices, missed misspellings, lapses in logic, and incorrect information. With that complete, I sent out my manuscript, anticipating a few more changes would be needed once I heard back from my editor. I took advantage of the wait time to put together all the additional material needed – logline, book blurb and synopsis.

Whenever I have to write marketing stuff, I cringe. It’s not what like to do, or do well. I view it as a necessary evil, and many authors I know feel the same way. However it must be done, and the good news: I’ve found an advantage to it beyond promoting the book.

When you have to encapsulate your x-hundred page novel into a one page summary, then a teaser for the back cover, and finally a one-sentence logline, it forces you to look at your theme in a different way. Gone are the long passages of prose, the snappy dialogue, the transitional scenes and flashbacks. You must have a laser focus on what your story is about – what you’re trying to get across to the reader in terms of theme, character, and plot. By doing so you sometimes will see aspects of the story that are important but may not have been shown in a compelling or complete way. So beyond my editor’s input, I saw that I wasn’t done with my revising.

I came to that conclusion when I encapsulated a 106,500 book into a few paragraphs with just a hint of where the story will eventually wind up. I had my external conflict and internal struggle, and pointed that out in my blurb. Then I wrote my logline:

Amidst the social and political upheaval in the aftermath of WWI, a woman who identifies as an artist marries the love of her life, but chafes at being relegated to wife and mother.

We can understand the difficulties a woman would face in giving up her career to marry and have children, especially at a time when such notions weren’t as accepted as they are today. But had I adequately shown how she feels in the book? Could I have made it not only clearer, but on a much deeper level?

The logline hints at the deeper issue. What she rails against is not being married to the man she loves, or even the challenges of motherhood. It’s losing her identity, having to see herself as only a reflection of her husband and children. When Jane marries John Doe, she becomes Mrs. John Doe. Her baby’s mama. She’d wonder—what happened to Jane?

My character Lala is a woman who’s accomplished a great deal despite her youth. She not survived the trauma and hardships of WWI and kept her family alive, but her home town as well. It’s described as a factory town north of Prague throughout the series. In America we’d call it a company town, where a single business – in this case a furniture factory – provides the economic base of the area.  Circumstances force her to take charge of the factory and oversee its conversion to wartime production. If it had closed, which it nearly did, the town would have been devastated. How can someone like this ignore all she achieved, the skills she developed, the talent that resides within her?

When the manuscript returns from the editor, I will review the comments and make some changes, including a few of my own – adding more layers of my character’s internal dilemma to the story. Then I’ll probably rework my promotional material. A writer’s work is never done…that is, until it goes to the publisher.


Miko Johnston, a founding member of The Writers In Residence, is the author of the historical fiction saga A PETAL IN THE WIND, as well as a contributor to anthologies, including “LAst Exit to Murder” and the soon-to-be-released “Whidbey Landmarks”. The fourth book in her series is scheduled to be published later this year. Miko lives in Washington (the big one) with her rocket scientist husband. Contact her at mikojohnstonauthor@gmail.com


Social Media and Me

by Linda O. Johnston

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First off: Happy St. Patrick’s Day everyone, and the best of luck to you!

Now, into my topic of today: social media and me. And I have to admit I’m far from being an expert. But does that keep me away from some of the sites? No! 

I’m always on my computer, or nearly so. Yes, I spend most of that time writing and editing and pondering the fiction I’m writing. 

But then there’s social media and me.  I spend too much time on Facebook, though I admit I’m not good at it. I look at other people’s posts and comment on them. On my own home page I’m likely to post stuff about anything special about the day, especially if there’s something going on about animals, particularly dogs.  Most recently it was National K9 Veterans Day.  Why?   Because I’m a full-time dog lover.


I belong to Facebook groups, too. Some involving writing, of course, but that’s  not all. Can you guess the topic in which I’ve joined the most groups? Well, what if I told you there are lots of Facebook groups featuring Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, the dog breed I’m addicted to? Right!

I do have my own website: www.LindaOJohnston.com  And one of these days I’ll add an author page to Facebook. I hope.

 I also get on social media to help promote my published novels. Yes, I do that on Facebook, especially when there’s something new coming out. This year, I’ll have two new Harlequin Romantic Suspense books published, one in August and one in October. You can bet I’ll let the world know via Facebook then.

And then there’s Writerspace. I subscribe to the site, which calls itself Communities for Writers and Readers. They do a lot of promotion for me. There’s a monthly Author News newsletter that I always participate in. I can do blogs there, and have new books featured, and participate in their monthly contest.

You can figure out, since I’m here, that I like to blog. A couple of the sites where I used to blog regularly have shut down, such as Killer Characters. I still blog on Killer Hobbies each Wednesday, but now there are only two of us posting there.  I also blogged on the InkSpot blog fairly regularly, but that was one helping to promote books published by Midnight Ink, one of my former mystery publishers–that now has gone out of business. 

What about other social media sites? I haven’t really gotten into them. I have a Twitter account but never use it except to read others’ posts. I also have a Goodreads account but am seldom there. I don’t do Instagram–or really much of anything else.

 I admire people who do more than me in social media. And I’m generally open to trying something different as long as I don’t have to spend much time learning to do it. 

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So–What do you think of Social Media? What’s your favorite site and why? What do you like to post? How often? And do you think it helps your writing and selling?

Backpacking With a Pitcher

Guest post by Heather Ames*

lemonade unbornWhoever coined the phrase “making lemonade out of lemons” must have had an acerbic wit. As a champion receiver of citrus, I’ve always tried to look at each situation as a challenge instead of a mountain of acidity, despite the after-taste.

51NyNyt9s8L._UY250_My most recent pitcher of lemonade appeared last year, when I finished Book 2 of the “Indelible” mystery/suspense series and contacted the publisher of Book 1 to find out how much of the completed manuscript they wanted to see. After two attempts, I was told to send “whatever you want.” I sent a partial and waited, then waited some more. Much more. Months.

I then emailed the editor-in-chief, who said she had just returned from an extended hiatus. She told me to send the entire manuscript immediately, which I did. The contract came. I signed it. The CEO signed it. I breathed a sigh of relief. Then the momentum, which had built to its normal level, ground to a halt as I waited for my editor to be assigned. And waited.

A sense of foreboding crept over me. Bushels of lemons rolled onto the horizon and waited, poised to roll into my lap. I tried to ignore them. After all, progress had slowed one time before. They were probably just running behind due to the EIC’s absence.

But then it came…an email from the publisher, returning my rights due to their poor quarterly returns for the second quarter in a row. I wasn’t their only author to receive that email, the EIC assured me. She said the staff was upset about the situation. I found little comfort in that knowledge.

There had been other signs that the publisher, despite its growth and a propensity to purchase smaller competitors, was itself in trouble. One huge misstep resulted in all titles from one of those buy-outs, including one of my own e-books, suddenly disappearing from Amazon. Apparently, when the old site was pinged without success, Amazon believed the publisher had closed, not that the titles were in the process of being moved to their new home. A year later, despite an email from the publisher that explained all the titles would be reloaded “in a lengthy process,” that still hasn’t happened. Perhaps they are busy making lemonade, too.

A Swift Brand Of justiceI couldn’t afford to sit around waiting for my two year contract on “Indelible” Book 1 to expire before offering both books in the series to another publisher. Readers had been asking when Book 2 would be available. Since it had already taken me close to 3 years to get Book 2 out of the starting blocks (including the 9 months wasted over that abortive contract,) I decided there was only one way out of my dilemma, and that was to self-publish “Indelible” Book 2, “A Swift Brand of Justice.”

Self-publishing has become more accepted during the last few years. Many popular authors have departed their small publishers, taken back their rights and chosen that route. Financially, it makes more sense for them. They already have a fan base, and their back-listed books have all been edited and formatted. All they need are new covers. They no longer have to share their profits with the small publishers, who find themselves, as a result of this exodus, left with newer and less well-known authors. Their piece of the pie has become much smaller, and their bottom line has suffered as a result. Many of them have folded and others are in financial trouble.

For those of us who find our books orphaned (and there are a growing number of us,) “DIY” has morphed into an acceptable solution. I know of several other writers who have had to move their series from the original publisher. I will be another. After I complete Book 3’s manuscript, I hope to find another home for my series. If I don’t, then I know I can continue self-publishing and growing my brand, instead of waiting months, even years for a contract.

Night ShadowsI just self-published a second book. This one is the stand-alone suspense, “Night Shadows,” I was working on when my rights were returned for “A Swift Brand of Justice.” In order to retain and grow my readership, I need to offer new material on a regular basis. That won’t happen if I’m marking time while I wait for responses to queries, partials and even full manuscripts, or unexpectedly have my rights returned again.

I would much prefer the support and expertise of a new publisher. But if that doesn’t happen, and I need to self-publish again, I know I can do it. I still need to build my support list. Finding reasonably-priced editors is one challenge I haven’t yet mastered. But I’m getting better at designing my own covers, and the learning curve isn’t as steep or as angled as it was before those lemons rolled into my lap.

I’m keeping the pitcher handy as I write the first draft of “Swift Retribution,” Book 3 of the “Indelible” series, but I’m not resigning myself to using it yet. Hope springs eternal, but this time it’s couched. The publishing industry as a whole is in a state of flux, and these days, writers need to be ready for anything. Even a fresh bushel of lemons.


my big picHeather Ames knew she was a writer from the time she won first prize in a high school novel contest. An unconventional upbringing gave her opportunities to travel extensively, leading to nomadic ways and an insatiable desire to see the world. She has made her home in 5 countries and 7 states, learning a couple of languages along the way. She is currently pitching her tents in Portland, Oregon, and after a long career in healthcare, made her dream of writing full-time come true.

Heather is a current board member of the Harriet Vane Chapter of Sisters in Crime and a member of Toastmasters International. She moderates an online critique group and a local book club.

Visit her website at www.heatherames.com 


*Posted for Heather Ames by Jackie Houchin

Interview with Jacquee T

Jacquée Thomas is an authoress, poetess, lyricist and columnist. Miss Thomas’s background includes extensive Western European travel, knowledge of the Spanish language and involvement in Chicago’s Rockabilly scene. She was a computer instructor at Wright College and a freelance writer for the “Chicago Sun-Times” and “New City” magazine before she became columnist for “Letter from Chicago.”

She established Detour Productions as an outlet for her published works, events, and videos.
Welcome Jacquee!

When I think of Jacquee T. and Detour Productions, I think Romance. You mastered the branding process long before writers were talking about it. How did you go about deciding on the image you wanted to project, and what steps do you take to ensure that image remains clear?

I hadn’t set out with intention to “brand” myself; I set out to build a writing career. I needed to express my passions and perspectives – through creative and expository writing. Eventually, I realized I lived life as passionately as I wrote about it.

For example my writing helped me realize how much I loved being a woman, and how much that was a part of my identity – so that, I referred to myself as an authoress instead of an author, an actress, not an actor. And, true to form, when writing poetry I was a poetess.

Over the years, I realized and asserted my feminine side, which happened to be most of me. And the fellas had no worries, because I averred that a gal could not love being a woman without loving the fellas. Out of this attitude, I believe, resonated a voice that appeals to both women and men.

In knowing myself, and allowing myself, I’d honed a voice that resounded across mediums – newspaper, books, theater and radio – and I realized that my overall message was romance.

I’d already established my image with my readership. Now I needed to guard it as I appealed to wider audiences. How would I introduce myself to them?

The biggest draw, and the biggest deterrent, was the word “romance.” Everyone had their interpretation. Folks who heard “romance” might think of steamy formula novels, or of fluffy-puffy analogies, or they might think this was something for couples only.

While here I was, knowing that romance could be earthy, gritty, profound, heavy, airy, or soaring, and that it’s a part of our nature. How could I, ‘Jacquee T.,’ communicate romance?

I founded the company Detour Productions publishing and entertainment, to represent me and my products. The company message is “Slow Down” to taste life. The Detour web site, products and events, inspire to do so.

Please tell us about your book, Growing Up (the pain, the joy, the discoveries).

This is the first book printed under Detour Productions. It’s designed as a keepsake.

Growing Up is an 7″x7″ book, with a cloth hardcover and a silk screen title and spine. It has a beautiful dust jacket, and a red ribbon bookmark. It’s perfect to display on the coffee table or nightstand.

Inside is a collection of poems, quotes and essays I wrote throughout various stages of my life. The moods range from somberness to a sense of humor.

I call it “accessible poetry.” Usually when folks hear “poetry,” they anticipate needing to concentrate and de-code the meanings. With Growing Up, I’ve found that people draw their own meanings from my poetry. Both men and women respond passionately.

The retail price is $20. This is a great price for a book of this unique design and quality.

It makes an elegant gift, and adds a little romance to those who receive it.

You regularly hold events that promote your book of poetry, evoke romance, and serve as fund raisers for worthy charities. Would you share with us some of your more unique events?

Detour events promote that “romance is accessible.” The venues are carefully selected; they provide a romantic backdrop.

Two milestone events were the Detour Productions launching party, and the “unveiling” party for Growing Up (the pain, the joy, the discoveries). Both included live music, and a “romantic raffle” to benefit a select charity.

In the Detour launching party, I sang the company namesake song, “Detour Romance.” Among the “Romantic Raffle” prizes were an Odyssey dinner cruise, “Chicago Chocolate Tours” tickets, a bottle of premium champagne, and an overnight suite in Chicago’s Amalfi hotel. Proceeds benefitted Alliance for the Great Lakes

At the “Growing Up” poetry book launching party, I signed copies of the newly “unveiled” books, and read some of the poetry. The Chicago WineStyles on Belmont hosted a tasting of “wines from romantic countries.” The event was titled “Roses for Mozart,” in fond memory of my cat Mozart who had recently passed on. Organic roses were part of the decor. Among “Romantic Raffle” prizes were a Winestyles-Belmont private wine tasting, dinner for two at the famous Pump Room, and tickets for Noble Horse Theatre, Proceeds benefitted Treehouse Humane Society, a cage-less shelter for cats.

Another event was a “Pink Champagne and Poetry” book signing and celebration at the historical Chicago Drake Hotel. This was celebrated in conjunction with the Swing band, The Flat Cats. They performed the song “Pink Champagne” in honor of the occasion. I took the mic regularly during the night, spoke about romance, and read poems from Growing Up. Per the Drake, all “Pink Champagne” purchases benefitted The Lynn Sage Cancer Research Foundation.

Those are some of the larger events hosted under Detour, and there are more like them in the works. They will be posted on the Detour web site once the dates and details are set.

How would an author or authoress go about setting up an event in conjunction with fund raising and then publicizing that event?

If you plan to host an event, plan to work hard. You’ll need to utilize both sides of your brain to make it successful. Set it up to make money, but of course, yet also to cause a buzz about who you are and what message you offer.

Firstly, be creative in choosing a theme to your event, a select venue, and a select charity. These will help you come up with the event title.

For example, if your book is “My Ski Adventures: the Good, the Bad, and the Human Snowball,” consider a snow theme. If it’s summertime, perhaps title the event “Snowy in July: author John Smith’s ‘Ski Adventures’ will give you chills!” Select an establishment with an outdoor terrace. Bring in a snow cone vendor. What else? Popsicles®, Slushies, and for those who want a potable – ice wine.

If it’s winter, select an establishment that has a fireplace and that serves hot drinks – some of them spiked. Potential event title: “Snow Lodge at Ike’s Tavern: author John Smith tells the ‘don’ts’ of skiing.”

In selecting a charity, perhaps one that protects Polar Bears, to go with the snow theme. Or perhaps you have a personal reason for benefitting a different charity.

Secondly, now that you have a focused title and theme, approach the people who can support this event, and whom you can support per the event publicity.

For example, if you approach Ike’s Tavern about donating his fireplace room, explain why his establishment fits perfectly with the theme. Offer to find a date and time that works for both of you. If Ike passes, try Irma’s Fireside Lounge, and so on.

Be prepared to send them in writing a description of the event, the benefitting charity, how you intend to publicize the event and to publicize the supporting establishment, how you expect them to publicize the event. Also, exactly what proceeds will benefit the select charity. A percentage of book sales? A raffle drawing? Sometimes folks like Ike and Irma opt to offer a percentage of bar sales to the charity. If so, be sure to publicize their added altruism – and to announce it during the event.

More details: Provided the drinks, appetizers they provide, what’s complimentary and what’s ‘available?’ Is there a cover price for the event? If so, how would you divide it with Ike or Irma?

Make sure everything is understood and agreed verbally, iterated via e-mail, and if need be, per signed agreement. This with the select venue manager, with the charity, and anyone else contributing to the event.

Thirdly, publicize! The moment you confirmed the event date, title, and location, post a “Save the Date!” on your web site and social media profiles, and send a note to your e-mail list. Offer updates and reminders, in moderation. Once details are confirmed, submit press releases to print and radio sources. Print announcements to distribute to friends, and to people you meet at networking events.

Check with the event venue folks, and the benefitting charity folks, on how they’re publicizing – before you sign them on, and as the event draws near. Offer to deliver fliers, or to send text they could use in blast e-mails or on their web sites.

In all publicity, you need the grabber title, and to assure all is clear to potential guests. For example:

You’re invited to

‘Snow Lodge at Ike’s Tavern’
book signing and benefit for Protect Polar Bears
5 East Elm Road, Paw Paw Michigan
7 p.m. November 1, 2010
John Smith, author of My Ski Adventures: the Good, the Bad, and the Human Snowball
tells the ‘don’ts’ of skiing.

That’s an informative grabber. It also gives Ike’s Tavern and Protect Polar Bears reason to make the same announcement, or to use the announcements you send them.

For the ensuing info, provide more reasons folks would want to attend, the cover price, if any, etc.

As a poetess and authoress, how do you determine which format is best for what you want to say?

An inspiration comes to me, and I write it down. A poem comes as a poem, a song as a song. With the song, I must find a recording device to sing into to make it complete, and that’s usually via calling my own voice mail before I find a musician to transcribe the tune.

Sometimes a character’s action comes to mind, and I write it down, or their dialog with another, and I write it down. When this happens, it’s an excerpt, that may fit into a poem book. Yet later I may get another action or monolog, and realize it’s connected with something I wrote before, and I put those notes together; as notes accumulate I realize this is a short story … (or) this is a novelette …. (or) this is a novel!

Sometimes the dialog is so dominating, I write the inspiration as a screenplay or play. The initial format I put it in remains the medium in telling the story.

Sometimes my thoughts are purely expository. They are released on my Internet outlets.

If I were to offer advice on inspiration, I’d say, allow it raw, don’t force it in any form, record it and make room for it. Do that, and the idea will manifest in its own form.

It was from your website that I discovered the recipe for perfect mashed potatoes! I’ve also read movie and wine recommendations, learned how to take care of my Shamrock plant, and through the “A Romantic in Chicago” link, vicariously enjoyed my favorite city. Where do you look for the content on your site?

Thank you. You’re referring to my Vignettes weblog, on the Detour site, and the new web site under Detour Productions, A Romantic’s Perspective.

Vignettes is a “tip of the fingers” outlet, as I may have an inspiration and be informal about sharing it. A la “Perfect Mashed Potatoes.” It’s not a recipe, it’s a depiction of my experiences that led to a Eureka! that potato lovers would appreciate – especially as they prepare to sit down for a holiday feast.

A Romantic’s Perspective (.com) has a section titled, “The Wine Corner,” where suggestions on wines and wine places are featured. The web site also has “The Green Romantic” section that covers earthy and sustainable subjects. This web site offers features by the month.

March 2010 featured Ireland, and included “wines to go with Irish fare” under “The Wine Corner,” and “Shamrocks, the Wild Irish Clover” under “The Green Romantic.”

As a former columnist for “Letter from Chicago,” it behooved me to include my knowledge about Chicago as a separate entity under A Romantic’s Perspective – “A Romantic in Chicago.” It’s a sub-site under A Romantic’s Perspective (.com), and has the same categories: “The Wine Corner,” The Green Romantic,” with Chicago-based features.

Where do I look for content? I cannot keep up with my ideas. A Romantic’s Perspective was designed to tame them – under categories like “The Wine Corner,” etc. At the same time, those categories spawned new angles.

For example, I anticipated that the March A Romantic’s Perspective to include a splash of Irish among the categories – until I attended a “Flavors of Ireland” event that I thought would merely enhance the “splash.” I left the event with more article ideas than I had categories, and ended up covering all Romantic’s categories with an Irish flair, plus adding a special “Claddagh Ring” page.

These all- Irish subjects knocked out previous features I’d planned. Not only because they were conjoining in the “St. Patrick’s” gaiety, but also because my contacts were prompt to provide requested photos, and to answer questions in rich detail.

All my contacts, I realized, were Irish, with the exception of an Irish American, a few generations removed, who hosted Ireland trips and spoke of them like poetry. It behooved me to let go my previous plans to fill the Romantic’s categories, and to take on the wild Irish subjects.

The previous plans were shelved for later months.

This process keeps me on my toes and excited. At the same time, as a professional writer, I respond to sources who are timely in responding to my information and photo requests.

Do you have any final thoughts you’d like to share with our readers?

If you have a conviction for a writing career, start putting out your writing. Assure your grammar skills are intact, but of course. Yet the most important thing is giving of yourself. Spill into your writing, be it first person or third person; write from your core, not your surface. Readers will sense the difference and respond accordingly, whether or not you hear from them.

And, dress well. Dress as if you respect yourself, and your writing, and the people you meet.

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