Mystery Writing Class Notes

Lesson One

Ten Keys to Writing Success

A report by Mark Zeid on a presentation by Chuck Sambuchino

  1. Always write the best thing you can.
  2. Know what you are getting into before getting into it.
  3. Build your writer’s platform.
  4. Keep moving forward and don’t let rejections stop you.
  5. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.
  6. Write for love and write for money.
  7. Don’t believe everything you hear.
  8. Don’t let agents reject your manuscript for the following two reasons. The first reason is nothing happens on the first page. The second reason is too much information too soon.
  9. Steal from yourself.
  10. Put down the TV remote.

Every writer wants to know the key to becoming a success. At a writers’ conference in Atlanta, Georgia, Chuck Sambuchino, a writer for Writers Digest, gave us a list of his ten keys to becoming a writing success.

First, always write the best thing you can. His point being many writers become impatient and grow tired of a project, so they hurry to finish and send it off. Sambuchino’s suggestion is instead, put the project aside, work on something else, and return to the project after taking a break from it. One issue with this is “What if I have a deadline?” I wrote many articles for magazines, and they always had deadlines. What I noticed was good writers gave themselves enough time to write, set the article aside for a few days, and return to it before the deadline.

Second, know what you are getting into before getting into it. It’s important to know the issues, problems, and process of traditional publishing versus self-publishing. This applies to any writing project. For example, if you want to submit a short story with a Christmas theme, you need to realize the story will be edited and printed in a publication months before Christmas. The vetting process for the story to reach the editor will be months before that. The best time to send in the story is not in November, but in the spring.

The third point is build your writer’s platform. The goal is to get as many people as possible to know who you are. Using social media is now becoming a must for any writer. Also, membership in professional, social, and veteran organizations is encouraged. It is important to remember membership is not enough. You need to be active and get your name out there. One reason famous people have best sellers is because the public recognizes the name. The more people know who you are, the better luck you will have in selling you writing. A personal example is my wife, who got commissioned to write a language textbook because of her social platform.

For his fourth point, he stressed to keep moving forward and don’t let rejections stop you. I have written hundreds of articles and I still get rejections. There are many reasons why a publisher or editor will not accept your project. You can’t let it stop you from writing. Sambuchino recommended joining a writers’ critique group. This will not only help you improve your writing, but also give you encouragement and motivation to continue writing.

The fifth point was don’t put all your eggs in one basket. His advice here was to keep writing and don’t limit yourself to just one project. He is not suggesting jumping from one project to another without completing any of them. The idea is not to put all of one’s energy and resources into a single project. Write articles, short stories, letters, novels, etc. Often a writer will have limited success with one project, but great success with others. For me, I had hundreds of articles published, before I got a novel published. While working on my novels, I continued to write articles and get published.

For his sixth point, Sambuchino says write for love and write for money. There is nothing wrong with writing for money to cover living expenses while writing things you enjoy. I work for the government writing technical documents. It’s a job. I don’t hate it, but it’s not my life’s dream either. I write these technical manuals to pay the rent while working on my novels.

The seventh point is don’t believe everything you hear. The main point here is to educate yourself about the industry. Go to conferences, talk to agents and editors, try things yourself, talk to other writers, and read books and articles about the industry. Learn things yourself instead of relying on second-hand information. It is important to note that other writers’ experiences may provide you with ideas and encouragement; not every book follows the same path. For example, my wife wrote and got a textbook published. She did free-lance work as a translator which led to her being commissioned by a publisher to write a language textbook within 90 days. This is extremely unusual, but it proves the point that everyone’s experience is unique.

Point number eight is don’t let agents reject your manuscript for the following two reasons. The first reason is nothing happens on the first page. It’s not compelling; there is no desire to keep reading. The first page should introduce one of the following: tension, a problem, conflict, or trouble. Make the reader curious as to what is happening. The second reason is too much information too soon. Too often writers tell the back story or describe the characters in detail. A good way to avoid this is to tell the back story in dialogue later in the story and limit any description of a character to a single sentence. One article I wrote was about a chemical substance that changes from a solid to a kind of goo, which can help keep buildings cool or warm. Starting with that kind of sentence is boring. Instead, I started with, “An ice cube may hold the answer to heating your home.” It seemed strange and therefore encouraged people to read the entire article.

For Sambuchino’s ninth point, he recommends stealing from yourself. Many times, you write something great for one story, but the story itself doesn’t work. However, that passage will work great in another story. Many writers will write short passages, even though they don’t have a complete story; but later will find a place to use the material. I write lots of letters, and often an incident I wrote about in a letter can be used in one of my novels.

The last and most important point is quite simple. Put down the TV remote. In short, make time for writing. Every successful writer makes time for his or her writing. Hemingway, who spent a lot of time on his hobbies and drinking, made it a point to write every morning from seven to noon. While it was just five hours a day, it was time when he focused on writing. Sambuchino quoted Michael Jordan who said, “If you put in the hours, the results will come.” From personal experience I know finding time to write when you work full time is difficult. I spend an hour each day, during lunch, working on my novels. I may write only 600 or 700 words, but I am writing, and by the end of a week, I have written at least 3,000 words. That’s a good chunk of writing.

In short, there is no magic trick or shortcut that will make you a success. It takes work and dedication, but the rewards are worth it. Ask any writer and that person will tell you there is a great deal of satisfaction and pride when you see your name in print as the author, regardless of the number of copies sold.


Read authors you like and notice what you like about their books. When you read a bad book, take note of what you don’t like and why. Learn from bad writing.


Learn grammar! Poor grammar will get your manuscript rejected and turn your readers off. Review it often.

First person vs third person viewpoint

First person – focus on the narrator’s emotions and frustration at finding the criminal. Everything is seen through the narrator’s view. Information must be provided to the narrator through conversation or the narrator’s internal dialogue (what is he thinking). The reader experiences everything through the narrator’s emotions and actions.

Third person – great for thrillers, knowing where the victim and the villain will be and will the hero get there in time. It helps if the hero fails to save some of the victims – victim A brings the hero in, victim B is killed before the hero arrives, victim C has a special connection to the hero and is rescued.

Lesson Two

Types of mysteries

who dun it – the reader is given clues throughout the book and the killer is revealed at the end

thriller – suspense knowing what the killer intends to do, who the victims are, and can the hero get there in time

cozy – the person solving the crime is not a police officer or anyone in the criminal justice system, usually a shopkeeper or neighbor

police procedural – the hero is a police officer and has access to crime labs, data bases, etc. this requires a detailed knowledge of police procedures

private detective – usually a former police officer who has connections with police departments, sometimes works with them, sometimes works against them

court room drama – a lawyer, usually the defense attorney, must prove the client is innocent by finding the real criminal

medical thrillers – medical professionals must solve a mysterious disease or medical condition, but they are unaware of the criminal element involved

proving the villain did it – the police suspect a person, but they must find the evidence to convict that person, often a suspense since the villain is trying to hide the evidence or kill the important witness

catching the villain – the hero knows who the villain is, but must follow clues and find the villain before he or she escapes or commits another crime

Criminal justice system


    There are many models or representation of the criminal justice process in America.  Models exist with as few as eight steps and as many as fifteen.  Here, we use a ten-step model.  There are also different ways to diagram the criminal justice system.  Some sources utilize what looks like a multi-layered wedding cake or a funnel turned sideways.  Regardless of the model chosen, it’s important to remember that these are more analytical tools than a reflection of reality.  The purpose is to try and present a loose array of multi-jurisdictional agencies, institutions, and procedures (“non-system”) as an aggregate, comprehensive whole (“system”).  Admittedly, the notion of a coordinated, perfectly harmonious system is more fiction than reality.

  • INVESTIGATION and ARREST — The process begins with the police discovering something or having it discovered for them. This is known as proactive or reactive policing, respectively. Most policing is reactive, with the police following up, or probing, allegations, or complaints. Someone becomes a “subject” of investigation when they are someone police are looking into, and someone becomes a “target” of investigation when it is likely they will be charged with a crime. There are many constitutional safeguards at this step of the process, but nobody questions the right of police to investigate and make arrests.
  • BOOKING — This is a part of the process that involves custody, detainment, deprivation of liberty, and other personal intrusions. Someone is “booked” when their picture and fingerprints are taken. An administrative record is made of the arrest, and it’s at this step of the process when the suspect finds out the details of what they are being charged with and fills out a form that they have been advised of their rights. This step is characterized by accuracy of identification and records  Interrogation and confession can also occur at this stage.  
  • FIRST APPEARANCE — Within hours of being booked, suspects are either brought before a magistrate, have their cases heard before a magistrate, or have the going rate determined by a magistrate, all for the purpose of setting the amount of bail. Bail bondsmen and appointed counsel also become initially involved at this step, depending upon a person’s financial circumstances. This step is characterized by something that makes the justice system look bad – how much money a person has.
  • PRELIMINARY HEARING — The purpose of a preliminary hearing is for a judge to look at the probable cause the police used and determine if probable cause exists for continuing with legal proceedings. A hearing judge considers the sufficiency of evidence, whether a connection exists between the statutory elements of the crime and what police say the person did, and whether the proper jurisdiction exists. This step is characterized by discovery and disclosure, which means people share information about the suspect in their respective advocacy roles (prosecution, defense). Upon completion of this step, a suspect has either cleared himself or herself, is declared incompetent to stand trial, or formally becomes a defendant for trial.
  • INFORMATION or INDICTMENT — The word information refers to a form the prosecutor files with a court to declare his or her intention to prosecute the case. An information is only filed upon completion of a successful preliminary hearing. A prosecutor also has the option (and is required in some states) to go before a Grand Jury, which is best seen as a standing committee of honorable citizens. Defendants and their attorneys are not allowed in Grand Jury proceedings. Any majority vote by the Grand Jury to proceed with prosecution is known as a true bill, resulting in a different form, called an indictment, filed with a court. As a general rule, felonies are usually handled by indictments and misdemeanors by information.  Prosecutors have an enormous amount of resources and decision-making authority at this point.
  • ARRAIGNMENT — This is the first public appearance of the defendant in open court that has the jurisdiction to conduct a trial.  The accused must stand and listen as the indictment or information is read, although they should have already been given a copy. Their identification is confirmed, and they are asked if they have been informed of the charges and their legal rights. The judge may also inquire as to whether the defendant has legal counsel, and why or why not, but this is not required, and many judges prefer not to go into it. An arraignment is generally a brief process where the judge only wants to hear one of three things: guilty, not guilty, or no-contest (nolo contendere, an admission of guilt that cannot be used as an admission of guilt in civil justice). This is known as the plea, and the defendant must utter one of those with no room for explanation or elaboration. If the defendant pleads guilty or no-contest, they are sentenced on the spot. If they plead not guilty, they are scheduled for trial and/or ordered to undergo psychiatric evaluation. A defendant who stands mute has a plea of not guilty entered on their behalf. Most defendants will have had their defense attorney arrange a plea bargain beforehand, so that the act of pleading guilty is openly noted as a negotiated plea to which the judge has or does not have prior knowledge of, but in all cases must consent to. Some 90% of all criminal cases are resolved with plea bargains, but they can’t go on at the last-minute during arraignment. A judge can reject a plea of guilty if they think it was made under duress, non-intelligently, or if the bargain is too last-minute or lenient.
  • ADJUDICATION — This is an open or closed trial in which matters of fact and law are examined for the purpose of reaching a judgment of conviction or acquittal. A jury is usually the trier of fact (did they do it) and the judge the trier of law (admissibility of evidence and penalties). Less serious offenses don’t require a jury, and even in serious cases (if state law allows), the defendant can waive his or her right to a jury trial. Such proceedings are called bench trials where the judge serves as both trier of fact and law. The adjudication stage is ruled by strict rules of procedure, evidence, and precedent. An adversarial system is also adhered to where both sides (prosecution, defense) argue within boundaries set by professional ethics. The standard for conviction is beyond a reasonable doubt. This step is enormously expensive, time-consuming, and stressful. There are many salaries to be paid. Private attorneys, for example, make $800 an hour for time spent in the courtroom (public defenders make less, about $40 an hour). Add DNA testing or forensic analysis, and each modern trial in America easily costs millions of dollars.
  • SENTENCING — This is a hearing held after a judgment of conviction where a judge imposes some form of punishment. Prior to this hearing, the judge may order a presentence investigation on the defendant’s family history, economic circumstances, emotional state, social background, and criminal history. A judge has considerable discretion in sentencing, although some state and federal laws now place limits on that discretion. Offenders found guilty on more than one charge can serve sentences consecutively (one at a time) or concurrently (all at the same time). Sentencing is also used to order court costs and victim reparations be paid by the offender. Many sentences are appealed, but the appeals process is complex.
  • CORRECTIONS — This is the process of doing time in prison, being classified according to local procedures, being housed in an appropriate facility, and being assigned to an adequate treatment program. Also called institutional corrections, prisons are generally places characterized by violence, overcrowded conditions, and minimal opportunities for treatment. There are no luxuries, and prison life is becoming less attractive with the elimination of privileges like smoking, cable TV, weightlifting, boxing, and martial arts.
  • PROBATION and PAROLE — Not all convicted persons wind up in prison, and most of those that do, eventually get released back into the community. Traditionally, probation occurs as an alternative to prison and parole as a form of supervision after prison, but things such as shock probation (a taste of prison life before probation) and shock parole (a taste of prison life after parole) have become commonplace. Also called community corrections, probation and parole involve monitoring and readjustment to society under strict rules or conditions. Violators of those conditions are called technical violators, and those kinds of violators far outnumber the few who commit new crimes while out in the community. A number of people are on probation or parole. Adding them to the correctional count (calling it the number under some form of correctional care) comes out to about six million.

Lesson Three

Police procedures—In this lesson I usually demonstrate to the class many of these procedures.

Protective sweep

Lifesaving measures

Apprehend the suspect

Secure the crime scene – crime scene tape and patrol working the rope line – assign a scribe (discuss the roles of people at the crime scene)

Secure a warrant or permission to search

Walk through – initial assessment

Crime scene processing



Collecting biological

Collecting fingerprints

Collecting physical evidence

Canvassing – looking for witnesses and evidence

Interviewing witnesses

Dealing with the press

Interviewing the suspect

Collecting and interpret lab results

Reinterviewing witnesses

Getting a warrant and making an arrest

Use of force by the police

Tennessee v. Garner – Fleeing Felon Rule (2017 one source stated more than 600 people were killed by police officers – Washington Post database). Cannot shoot a person who committed a crime if that person is running away and does not present a danger to others. If the person does present a danger to others, then deadly force is acceptable

Graham v Connor – (Graham – diabetic victim; Connor – police officer). Three conditions for use of force – the crime the person is suspected of, is the person a danger to himself or others, is the person resisting arrest or attempting to flee.

Crime scenes and forensics

Know who is at a crime scene – the coroner, patrol for crowd control and one as a scribe, the detectives, crime scene techs, press

Search and seizure rules

Search incident to an arrest – area of immediate control

No such thing as the “Homicide Exception” any more

Probable cause and search warrants—must have probable cause, reasonable belief the person committed the crime or evidence in located at the place to get a search warrant.

Carroll Doctrine—doctrine which allows police officers to search a vehicle without a warrant under these conditions: probable cause, exigent circumstances requiring immediate action, and the vehicle is capable of being driven.

Consent search—The suspect allows the police to search the car or premises.

Plain sight doctrine—while conducting official police business, they observe evidence of a crime.

Miranda rights and confessions – spontaneous exclamations—a suspect is advised of his or her rights under the Constitution. But if the suspect says something without being asked, that statement is admissible in court.

Lesson Four

Mystery as a quest – follow evidence to find the villain

It is a quest, following clues to find the villain. The hero may know who the villain is, but he must find him. There will be dead ends, leads that take the hero in the wrong direction.

Barriers to the investigation – social standing (going into a social setting unfamiliar or uncomfortable for the hero), language, culture (foreign and religious), bureaucracy, military and private installations, guards or people paid to stop the hero – can be a physical barrier (blocking the door) or misleading information

Elements of the Crime


            Primary – the original target

            Secondary – those who got in the way of the original target or prevented escape

            random victims – victims of opportunity (mugging)

Crime Scenes

            Primary – where the crime occurred

            Secondary – where the body was discovered (body dump)

Method of operation – how was the crime committed (very important with serial crimes such as robberies, muggings, burglaries, etc.



            greed – to gain money or possession




            protection – to maintain power, possessions, reputation, family

            just cause – terrorists and religious zealots (Army of God)


            Who has an alibi and who doesn’t

            Check out alibis and discover who is telling the truth


            Access to the weapon

            Knowledge of how to use the weapon or poison

            Weapons of opportunity

            Access to the victim

            Ability to commit the crime (To Kill a Mockingbird)

How to research – write what you know & explain it to those who don’t

Attribution – know your source, make sure it’s valid

News stories about real crimes can inspire great ideas

Facebook – not valid, but can be a source of ideas – one example is a post about the death of a journalist who exposed political corruption – how did the person die? – Murder? Traffic accident? Natural causes? Answer is unknown.

Textbooks are great for explaining police procedures

Types of clues

Something is said – killer says something accidently that incriminates him; tend to use a particular phrase

Idiolect – individual language habits – phrases the person uses all the time

A strange or unusual action – a habit unique to a suspect

Physical evidence – blood, fingerprints, weapon, fruits of the crime (art, etc.), DNA, video, voice recordings

DNA – both ways – suspect to victim, victim to suspect

Witnesses – great for probable cause, any good attorney can discredit an eye witness

Circumstantial evidence – motive, opportunity, means, in the area, fingerprints, similar car or clothes

Location of objects at the crime scene – lights on or off, windows or doors opened or closed, objects on or off (computer, printer, TV, stove, etc.), objects warm or cold (car, coffee, food, etc.)

Something is missing – food, records, valuables, pets

How to note personal habits & what is strange

Go places with a lot of people – shopping centers, airports, colleges, bars, restaurants, libraries

Note the age and how people of different ages interact with each other.

Note the procedures the establishment uses and how customers and clients react

Example: at a grocery store, a woman was walking around, going from place to place randomly, while talking on a cell phone, but not picking out any groceries

Lesson Five

Developing characters

Victims – basic characteristics – naïve, unsuspecting, weaker than the villain, not stupid, children and women are natural targets. Victims are often isolated and controlled by villains – kidnapping, domestic and sexual abuse, child abuse, blackmail, protection money, etc.

Heroes – strong, smarter than the villain, brave but knows fear and the danger, mentally strong character, has flaws

Villains – intelligent, brave but aware of the danger they are in, strong, has strong motivation for criminal acts (greed, vengeance, vanity, social injustice), has some good qualities

Red herrings – must have a motive, opportunity, and means for committing the criminal act; will have an alibi revealed later in the novel, are not nice people

Witness – reason for knowing what they know, why are they there, they provide clues, but rarely a suspect, may or may not like the police so the police need a way to connect with the person

Comic relief characters – they provide humor – think of strange behavior that is harmless but unexpected of the person

Roadblock characters – people who hinder the investigation

Uncooperative witness or victim

Bureaucrat who places red tape and rules and regulations in the way of the investigation

Antagonistic supervisor – person who hinders the investigation because of a dislike of the hero

Concerned colleague who stops the hero for the hero’s protection

Investigator with a different opinion – person who is pursuing a different path to solving the crime


            Always identify the person speaking if there are more than two people in the scene.

            A new paragraph for each speaker

            Correct grammar – John said, not said John.  “You are in danger,” John said.

            John stood up. “You really should move.” Introduce the speaker through action

            Be aware of your idiolect

            Be careful of jargon – identify it if it’s not common

            Use synonyms for said

Stated, specified, told, replied, responded, asked, inquired, lied, commanded, demanded, ordered, barked, screamed, exclaimed, yelled, shouted, bellowed, whispered, silently mouthed,

            Take note of how others write a dialogue, note what you like and what you don’t like

Lesson Six

Good Beginnings.

The first page should introduce one of the following: tension, a problem, conflict, or trouble. Make the reader curious as to what is happening.

Examples: First Paragraph

I opened the front door expecting a pizza, not a man with a 38 pistol pointed at me. (I stole this line from a writers’ conference.)

Although he didn’t know it, in two minutes and seventeen seconds, James would kill Cynthia.

Media Loves Murder and Mayhem

A complete night’s sleep was one of the things Detective Nick Marshall treasured. It wasn’t happening tonight.  “What’s so important that you had to drag me out of bed at two in the morning,” he said to his partner, Detective David Freedman.

Cold Case Leads to Hot Press

“This is all your fault,” the man said. He kept his eyes on the road, although every few seconds he would glace over to the woman on the seat next to him in the cab of the pickup truck. The young, pretty brunette with reddish brown hair didn’t respond.

Examples: First Page

Media Loves Murder and Mayhem

A complete night’s sleep was one of the things Detective Nick Marshall treasured. It wasn’t happening tonight.  “What’s so important that you had to drag me out of bed at two in the morning,” he said to his partner, Detective David Freedman.

“Hey, don’t blame me,” Freedman answered. He pointed to an elderly man and woman, both buck naked. “Here you see Lynda, with a ‘y’, ‘Moonbeam’ Boswell and William, or Billy, ‘Wind Spirit’ Ferguson.”

Marshall groaned. “You brought me out here for a couple of elderly streakers? This is a gated community. Don’t they have their own security?”

“We’re not here because of their lack of clothing,” Freedman replied.

“We have a right to be free,” exclaimed Lynda with a “y” as she stretched out her arms, proudly displaying her 73-year-old body. “This is how nature made us.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Marshall agreed. “Now, other than wanting everyone to run around naked, why are we here?”

“It’s because of him,” answered the nude gentleman, just as proud of his wrinkled body as Lynda.

“Who?” Marshall asked. “Someone complained about you running around without any clothes.”

“Oh no,” Lynda answered with a giggle. “We do that all the time. No one here cares. It’s because of the other guy.”

Freedman couldn’t help smiling. “What other guy,” Marshall asked with frustration.

William pointed to a form on the beach. “That guy. The dead one.”

Cold Case Leads to Hot Press

“This is all your fault,” the man said. He kept his eyes on the road, although every few seconds he would glace over to the woman on the seat next to him in the cab of the pickup truck. The young, pretty brunette with reddish brown hair didn’t respond.

The road had no streetlights or artificial lighting. It was dark, like going into a cave, a total and complete absence of light except for the illumination from the car’s headlights. The driver saw two red dots ahead. They soon materialized into a lone coyote scurrying across the road.

“I mean look at this from my point of view,” the man continued. “I’m not a bad guy. I mean I didn’t want this to happen. It’s all your fault.” 

The woman’s hazelnut-colored eyes continued to stare ahead.

The driver pounded the steering wheel. He continued driving. “Seriously, what was I supposed to think? You didn’t have to do what you did.”

The driver saw the headlights of another vehicle approaching. He made it a point to keep moving forward. He didn’t want anyone stopping because they thought he was a stranded motorist. The car passed him, going in the opposite direction. The driver watched until the car’s rear lights were out of sight.

The driver brought his pickup to a stop. Yes, this is a good spot, he thought. There are no lights. There’s very little traffic, so I can stop on the pavement and not have to pull over onto the shoulder of road and stay out of the dirt. There is a small ditch. It will help hide her. Yes, this is the perfect spot to dump the body.

Example of an introduction

Although he didn’t know it, in two minutes and seventeen seconds, James would kill Cynthia.

James had spent the last half hour carefully timing the sequence of the traffic light seventy-five feet from his parking space. The green light lasted one minute and forty-five seconds. The yellow signal lasted ten seconds before turning red for a full two minutes. With a stopwatch in his hand, James continued to time the traffic signal.

Everyone said Cynthia was a good old soul, although Cynthia didn’t think of herself as being old. After all, being your fifties was middle age, not old. Being a black woman from Mississippi, Cynthia grew up eat fried foods which contributed to round figure. But she was a church-going woman with a Bible on her desk at the office where she worked.

Cynthia smiled and said to everyone she met as she walked down the street on her way to one of her favorite fast-food places for lunch. Most people ignored her or glared at her for interrupting activities on their cell phones. Cynthia didn’t care. She believed you should be nice to everyone. You never knew when that simple act of kindness could make a person’s day so much brighter.

Like most college kids, Brenda was glued to her phone. She walked confidently, eyes on her phone, miraculously avoiding everyone else on the sidewalk. However, two men sitting at a sidewalk café watched as seductive blond trekked down the street. She stopped at the traffic light, waiting for the signal to change.

“Good morning sweetie,” a large black woman standing next to Brenda said. “How are you doing today?”

Brenda looked up from her phone. “Fine thank you. How about you?”

“I’m just doing fine, thank the Lord.”

“I’m happy to hear that.”

“Thank you, Sweetie. So, where are you going?”

Brenda smiled at Cynthia. “Just on my way to class.”

The traffic light shown green for one minute and thirty seconds. James put the car in drive and pulled out of the parking space. He made sure to slowly approach the traffic light, all the time watching the two women standing on the corner waiting for the signal to change. The traffic light changed to yellow. James continued to slowly approach the intersection. The light turned red. James sped up, hoping to reach sixty miles per hour before entering the intersection.

The walk icon flashed on. Cynthia and Brenda stepped off the curb. They were 20 feet into the crosswalk when Cynthia turned to see a car speeding toward them. She grabbed the young blond and pushed the woman back toward the curb. The car continued to speed forward.

The car was moving forward too fast for James to stop. It hit the overweight black woman. She flew over the hood of the car and smashed into the windshield. A large spider-web crack appeared, obscuring James’s view. The woman bounced off the windshield and fell, knocking off the mirror on the passenger side. She landed on the pavement, blood flowing from her nose and ears. He braked the car, skidding to a stop eighty feet passed the intersection. He looked in the rear-view mirror, watching people rush to the body. James pounded the wheel. He had just killed a person. The worst part was he killed the wrong woman.

Editing & Writing tips

Find someone to edit your manuscripts – it can be a friend, but the person must have good grammar skills, recommend having at least two others review your manuscript

Review the manuscript for wordiness – many times “the, that, just, then, in order to” can be eliminated – they are often unnecessary

Have conflict or problem on the first page. By page three, the reader must be interested in reading more. Describe and develop the scene and characters later.

Find local writers and writers’ groups to promote motivation to write. Be careful of too much praise and encouragement. You want constructive criticism.

Use review tab in Word – spelling, grammar, and wordiness

Great source for writing tips and answers –

I also publish writing tips on my website –

The publishing industry – reality vs fantasy

Fiction is a small part of the book market

Many publishers select books years in advance. Also, they can select only a limited number.

Famous people sell more books, regardless of quality of writing

Winning awards helps sell books and gain standing with agents

Book reviews by readers help sell books. If you like a book write a review and publish it.

Series sell better than stand-alone novels

The first novel rarely sells well

Writers must promote themselves through social media and public appearances. Learn to develop your own website. Get others to start logging onto your website.

Agents do not trust their instincts – you need to prove you are a good writer through social media contacts, past publications, and more than one idea for novels

You must edit and have your book ready for publication before approaching an agent

Conferences are good places to meet agents, develop writing networks, and meet other writers who can give you ideas

At conferences, it is common for you to pay a fee to meet with an agent, and you will have a very limited time, usually ten minutes.

Contests are good ways to get your first novel published