Monday, May 31, 2010

Day 23 - 1663 Words And Sorta Romantic

My fortune cookie said something about a romantic evening. Either it knew too much or too little about the chapter I was working on tonight....

I had some nice minor plot epiphanies tonight. And I did some plotting work on my next project - which will be to split a super messy rough draft into two books. I figured out how to untangle a subplot so it could be split too.

For the W.I.P. my main problem is that I keep trying to get everything right. Which is fine for some scenes. In the more difficult sections, though, what I really need to do is get everything down.

Running Total: 44317 Words.

44317 / 75000 words. 59% done!

In Today's Pages: A sigh is just a sigh.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

101 Twitter Followers - Accomplished!

I went to bed tonight with 99 followers and woke up to find 101! I've reached my goal. I tweeted the book coupons.

Now we shall see if I can reach my goal of a completed manuscript by June 7. I think I might make it, but parts of it will still be a mess, and probably not ready for readers. (I realized that one of the thing that was slowing me down was trying to edit and shuffle material before it was all there - now I'm not worrying whether a scene is in the wrong place. Just get it all in there.)

Day 22 - 2531 Words, with Cats, Bats and Many Kinds of Eggrolls

Boy what a day! We got up way early so we could round up three cats and haul them off to the vet for booster rabies shots (after a bat got into the house), where the vet decided to play his usual game of trying to manipulate us into coming back for multiple visits. Luckily we asked a question that caught the deception early, and said "no thanks" and hauled the three yowlers back home again.

We called the visiting vet, whom we hadn't used for a while simply because we'd had a series of emergencies a few years ago that required more than what she carried with her. She came right over and threw a party for the very happy cats, and cost less than it would have cost for a visit for one cat with that other vet.

After which I zonked out for lack of sleep, and then heat stressed after grocery shopping.

Luckily today's words were not so difficult. I had a framework of existing material, and it was easy enough to write the connections between them, especially the stuff about the food.

Running Total: 42654 Words.

42654 / 75000 words. 57% done!

In Today's Pages: George introduces Karla to Vietnamese food.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Day 21 - 1706 Words of Verbal Sparring

I meant to get further, but we had a bat in the house, and though we have no proof of contact, we need to take all of the cats in to the vet early tomorrow morning to get their rabies boosters. I must get up early. (I now remember why we used to use a visiting vet....)

Running Total: 40123 Words.

40123 / 75000 words. 53% done!

In Today's Pages: Karla plays Six-Degrees of George Starling. Zero is unusually disgruntled about it.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Day 20 - 579 Words of Emotional Texture

Busy day at work, but we made good progress. At home, writing progress was slower, but good. The scene was one of those tricky scenes where I had written a lot of material, but it didn't hang together. I think the few but choice words I wrote knitted it properly. (We'll see what I think tomorrow.)

Running Total: 38417 Words.

38417 / 75000 words. 51% done!

In Today's Pages: Karla recommends that George NOT watch Sunset Boulevard as it might hit too close to home.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

My WIP Opening in Authoress Contest

For those of you who don't know about the blog Miss Snark's Next Victim, it's a cool contest blog. A couple times a month, she will announce a contest - it may be a first page, or just a first sentence, or a particular kind of scene. There is usually a really limited entry time, so you have to be ready.

When the entries are posted, anybody can comment. But she also has a few agents who lurk. (And once a month or so she has an official "Secret Agent" contest which will be judged by an unnknown agent.)

I entered the first page of The Man Who Did Too Much in today's mini-competition. Stop by and have a look!

Day 19 - 1707 Words

I gotta go to work tomorrow, so I cut it off a little early. At least I hit 50 percent. I have some thoughts about MacGuffins I hope to post tomorrow, along with a clip in which Karla explains what a MacGuffin is.

Running Total: 37838 Words.

37838 / 75000 words. 50% done!

In Today's Pages: What do you do with a love-sick recovery agent? Part 1

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Free eBooks for Followers - The Book Descriptions

AFTER PARTY NOTE: Thanks for a successful promotion! I reached my 100 followers and I'm giving away a ton of books. I hope you like them and are eager for more. (And if you do like them, you can go back to Smashwords, or even to Amazon, and write a review. Reviews help indie authors stand out.)


The Search for 100 Twitter Followers Promotion continues. I will tweet a FREE eBOOK Smashwords coupon code for each of my books when I reach the 100 followers level. I have 19 new followers so far. I need 31 more. Just go to Camille LaGuire's Twitter Profile and click on "follow."

Here are the book descriptions:

The Adventure of Anna the Great, YA Swashbuckler/Adventure.

Description: Anna is a runaway girl disguised as a boy. After she nearly thwarts a kidnapping, she is offered a job in the royal stables. Now surrounded by horses and the intrigues of the court, she has the time of her life. But this is Anna's only chance at adventure. She finds the hero admirable but boring, and the villain is both dead wrong and a lot of fun. Whose example should she follow?

The Adventure of Anna the Great is available in multiple formats on Smashwords or for Kindle at Amazon.

The Wife of Freedom, Women's Fiction/Romantic Adventure.

Description: The fictional world of New Acton is on the verge of rebellion, and so is Mary Alwyn, the unfaithful wife of a rebel. But when she betrays her lover for the revolution, her husband holds her up as a hero, labeling her The Whore of Freedom both in public and in print. This becomes Mary's scarlet letter. If she's going to live down the first part of that name, she'll have to live up to the second. She becomes a spy, as bold as her reputation. But she'll never be free until she returns to face her past. (Note: the subject matter of this novel is mature, and while the style is not explicit, it does contain some intense scenes and material not suited for children.)

The Wife of Freedom is available in multiple formats on Smashwords, or for Kindle at Amazon.

If you're already a follower, you can help me meet my goal by tweeting or retweeting this article.

Day 18 - 1429 Words - More Fuehrer Or Less Fuehrer?

It was said that during the filming the movie Max, which was an alternate history about a young Adolf Hitler as an art student, the director was trying to give some complicated directions to the actor who played Hitler, Noah Taylor. Taylor interrupted him and told him, "All you need to tell me is whether you want 'more Fuehrer' or 'less Fuehrer.'"

I like this story as a metaphor for good clean communication, because not only was Taylor's statement short and effective, it was also colorful and entertaining.

We should all be able to handle explanations and exposition that well.

But since a mystery is about investigation (which involves not only the information, but also differing points of view of the same information, and red herring info too) it can be a real trick to get to that clean "more Fuehrer/less Fuehrer" statement.

This is what I'm struggling with right now. This is why it's been hard to get through this particular section of scenes. I'm dealing with the information gathering part of the story. The body has been found, and everybody steps back and says, "okay, what's really going on here?" This is also the first moment when things slow down enough for characters to ask questions about subplot issues that have come up. I will not be surprised if I don't end up throwing this stuff out on the next go around and rewrite it completely yet again.

But I must get through it first. I must lay it all out to see where I need more or less info. Where to move it, etc.

The good news is that I just passed this info-tainment section, and have gotten back to some action. The next couple of chapters are still a mess, but I think part of that is because I didn't have the chapters before it done.

While I didn't do the full 2500 words - ALL of the words I wrote today were new words. And they feel like good words. So I am pleased.

(I also did about 2000 words on the series bible and plot arcs on the new character for the Serial.)

Running Total: 36131 Words.

36131 / 75000 words. 48% done!

In Today's Pages: George learns a little bit about the problems of three little people in this crazy world.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Day 17 - 2454 Words, and a New Character

A new character came to me today. (Well, he's been bugging me for a while but today he declared himself ready and chose his book). Unfortunately he'll be in the Serial that I plan to write next year. Fortunately, he's an antagonist and he gives me an opportunity for much more world building on the other side of the equation. You could think of him as Dr. Horrible meets a young Inspector Lestrade. (Only smarter but less lucky.)

This always happens when you're in a slow spot on the WIP. Other things start looking much more attractive. And the question always arises, can you work on both? And the answer is yes... At least, you can if you don't go fritter away three hours after asking yourself that question. (Well, one of those hours was used catching up with Chuck on Hulu, which is also important.)

The key about balancing such things is this: first, meet your deadlines, but after that, do what's necessary to be most productive. If the tough part is going slow, continue to chip away at it slowly, but don't waste time and energy spinning your wheels when you could also get a lot of other work done.

Today I did meet my goal, but I did it partly by skipping ahead.

Running Total: 34702 Words.

34702 / 75000 words. 46% done!

In Today's Pages: Rosie reminds Karla that The Saint was a thief.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Day 16 - 1560 Words and Back on Track, Mostly

I sat down and started knitting in some of the new stuff I've been writing into the manuscript. It is utter and complete chaotic garbage... but I think I have all the raw materials to have something great.

Although I did not hit the goal for today, I should point out that I cut about 1000 words before I sat down to write, so on some level I did meet the goal. Tomorrow I have a big gap to bridge - a whole chapter, I think - but now that I've got either side of it worked out, I think I can do it. (I still have a couple of messy chapters to go, though.)

Running Total: 32248 Words.

32248 / 75000 words. 43% done!

In Today's Pages: Karla gets the whole soap-operatic back story from Gwen and from Dahlia.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Free Books For Twitter Followers

I decided that this month's promotion goal is to get 100 Twitter Followers.

When I get to 100, I will tweet a free Smashwords coupon for each of my books. That's free excitement! Free adventure! Free revolutions, horses and even some kisses! And some dead people! (Even when I'm not writing mysteries, murders seem to happen.)

You don't have to accept the coupon to sign up, of course. Just go to Camille LaGuire's Twitter Profile and click on "follow." (If you're not registered for Twitter, you won't be able to follow. But then if you're not on Twitter, why would you want to? Oh yeah, the free books. Well, you could always sign up.)

Day 15 - 1871 Sideways Words

Still doing exploratory writing. I think I'm almost ready to start back in on the manuscript, probably tomorrow. I'll probably go back and forth for a little bit, because that whole middle section is tricky.

And because of that, I'm not sure how the pacing is going to be. Maybe going so slow will help. It gives me a chance to look at places to weave in interesting red herrings and action even in the slow bits.

I really think this draft is ready to hang together, though.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Day 14 - 1420 Sideways Words

I've got to do a lot of raw exploratory stuff, and I'm not ready to knit it into the existing prose. So I'm writing it in a different document, and not adding it into the total yet. I'll put them in as actual progress when I type them into the main document. I'm now about a day and a half behind, but I think I'll get back to eating up the word count later next week.

This story has a romantic subtext that has been giving me fits. I finally realized today that I just need to set Karla loose on it. She's a problem solver. And all the problems have landed in her lap anyway. She might as well take on mine too.

I also found it strange today.... usually I listen to music to warm up for writing, but I can't listen while writing. But tonight, I put on Rubber Soul as I mulled the scene in which Gwen unburdens her soul while Karla is desperately looking for something to eat, and oddly, I found myself writing faster and better.

Also had good barbeque today. This is a rarity in Michigan, but this particular diner turns out to be really fabulous at it. They started smoking their own bacon for their breakfasts, but their Carolina style brisket was yummy!

Friday, May 21, 2010

Day 13 - Tired, Reading

Just in case Thursday the Thirteenth is unlucky, I took a break today. I was busy all day, but I'm not sure what I did. (I did read quite a bit....)

Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Bad Boy on the Balcony (a blogfest entry)

Since people are already posting their entries, and since I am kind of lying low on the W.I.P. while I do some planning....

I now present to you my entry in the Bad Boy Blogfest. It is from The Adventure of Anna The Great, a YA swashbuckler.

Setup: The view point character is Anna, a runaway girl disguised as a stableboy. The Marquis is the good and true but stuffy hero. I think you can guess who the bad boy is.


It was at this point that we heard a scream. It was not very loud and it came from above us, in the palace. The two of us moved forward as one, and looked up. A second cry sounded and one of the unlit windows on the second floor burst open.

A human figure swung out and crawled down the wall like a spider, using the decorative moldings as a handhold. As he dropped lightly to the roof of the portico, I realized that the thin, agile figure must be Tybalt. With a quick glance at the window he had just left, he swung off the roof and dropped to the ground, and there he stopped to lean against a column and light a cigarette.

The marquis checked himself before he left the shadow, and put out a hand to stop me, whispering, “what’s he up to?” and glancing with alarm back up at the window. “That’s Claire Linder’s room.”

There was now a light behind that window, but I could see nothing of the inside of the room. Below Tybalt tossed away his cigarette and dashed out into the open, all wild-eyed and in alarm.

“Claire!” he called up at the window. Claire’s silhouette appeared at the window and tentatively she leaned out. “Claire, I thought I heard a scream.”

“Oh, Tyb,” she cried out. “Oh, Tyb, there was a man in here.”

“Where? In...,” he said, in seeming disbelief, pointing up at her.

“In here,” she said, nodding. “In my room.”


“Yes! He...he grabbed me, then ran away when I screamed.”

Tybalt whipped out his sword. “Where did he go?” he cried. “I’ll kill him for you.”

“I don’t know,” she called back, starting to whimper.

“I say,” said Tybalt, lowering his sword. “Are you all right?”

“I think so,” said Claire. “I’m only frightened.”

“Oh, Claire,” said Tybalt, sheathing his sword. He took a step and made a fantastic leap to reach the cornice of the portico, swinging up and climbing the wall as easily as he had come down. Once inside the window, she collapsed into his arms, and they moved out of sight.

The marquis snorted, and I swallowed a chuckle. I did think it was funny. The marquis, however, moved out of the shadow sharply, looking up at the window.

“It’s about time somebody taught that young man some manners,” he said, moving toward the palace.

“Do you think it will do any good?” I asked.

“Probably not,” he said smiling grimly back at me. He moved on again, this time a little less purposefully.


(The Adventure of Anna the Great is available for Amazon Kindle as well as on Smashwords.)

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Day 12 - Giving Characters the Third Degree Instead

Zero words today. I know it's too early in the evening to give up on writing for the day, but I've burned my brain up and I think I have to spend the evening taking notes.

The whole next section really depends on what happens in stuff I haven't written. (That is, everything I currently have will have to be rewritten to suit the next couple of scenes I write.) And I realized part of the reason I hadn't written it was because I still didn't really know the beat-by-beat of what the various bad guys and witnesses and victims were doing behind the scenes.

So I sat them down, one at a time, and grilled them. "What did you know and when did you know it?" They squirmed, gave me inconsistent stories, lied, but eventually I wore them down, and they started singing like canaries.

The hardest thing can be minor motivations. Things like what did the victim actually say to the killer, or the killer actually say to the accomplice, or why the thug chose to do that rather than this. Why wait? Why not wait? Is this person cold blooded, or is there some reason to be so calm at this moment? And how did the rhododendron really get uprooted? (Okay, I admit, there actually are no rhododendrons harmed in my novel. But a tomato worm had a tough day.)

Anyway, by the time I was done, I was able to tie in a whole lot of other little moments that were okay as they were, but will be much better now.

Running Total: 30688 Words.

30688 / 75000 words. 41% done!

Upcoming Blogfests

I know there are a few writers subscribed here: WriteRunner has been keeping a list of writing oriented blogfests. It's nice to know about these ahead of time. Even if you don't write something specifically for it, it's good to have time to think about which clip you're going to choose.

I'll probably be posting something for the "Let's Talk" on May 18, and maybe a couple of the others. (There are some practical jokes and definitely a "bad boy" in The Adventure of Anna The Great. But my best beach scene would be a spoiler for the W.I.P. so I probably won't take part in that one. Although that other scene could take place on the beach. hmmmm.)

I'm thinking of hosting a blogfest for "discovery of the body" scenes or something like that. Not sure when. Definitely after this draft is done, though.

Day 11 - 1065 Words at The End

I ended up working on the ending today. I finally had an idea of how to wrap up the romantic subplots and subtext, which are non-traditional to say the least, but need to be satisfying. Since it's all new words, and since I am about 4k ahead of the game, I feel satisfied with only a thousand.

Running Total: 30688 Words.

30688 / 75000 words. 41% done!

In Today's Pages: The ending - so I'm not saying anything about it.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Day 10 - 2539 Words

I realized that I need to rewrite a scene I typed up yesterday. If I take a different approach, it's not only funny, and true to the characters (and revealing) but it's a much much much better way to get some exposition in.

But that will require some deep thinking and fresh writing, so I just put a note in the existing prose for today, and moved on. Tomorrow I hope to get that new bit written. (Especially since the next bit is where I had originally put that exposition, so that will require some editing....)

Unfortunately the part I moved on to was tough too. AND I had a busy day at work. I think I should get double points.

Running Total: 29623 Words.

29623 / 75000 words. 39% done!

In Today's Pages: Rosie discovers George's actual nationality, and Karla is still mistaking beverages for weapons.

Here's a small clip, where the police are trying to question the residents of the apartment building, who are mostly immigrants:

"You'd think somebody would speak English," said Lundgren. "It's not like we've got a whole Chinatown here."

"I speak English."

They turned to see that George Starling had followed Rosie into the building.

"I said you could go home," said Rosie.

"It's a long walk, seeing as my car is still by Ms. Marquette's house," he said, and then he turned to the woman and spoke to her in another language. The woman replied cautiously.

"You speak Chinese?" said Lundgren.

"I do," said Starling. "But she doesn't. Fortunately I also speak Vietnamese."

Monday, May 17, 2010

Day 9 - 2419 Words

I'm now into awkward sections with big gaps. This is the murder investigation. I want to keep the cozy, comic, slightly exaggerated tone while doing some justice to the local cops. Not easy. Still I almost made it to the daily goals.

Tomorrow is a long day at work, with evening events. We'll see what I can manage.

Running Total: 27084 Words.

27084 / 75000 words. 36% done!

In Today's Pages: Karla gets Gwen out of the house. Rosie attempts to get information out of George.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

A Scene for the Flirt Fest Entry

The blog "Critique this W.I.P." has a Flirt Fest blog festival today, where participants post a scene involving some flirting. I'm not sure I'm ready to post something from The Man Who Did Too Much, but I have something from another mystery that has some romantic elements.

In this comic cozy adventure mystery, Mick and Casey are newlywed gunslingers in the old west. He's young and inexperienced, and has much too sunny a disposition for a gunman. She's younger, meaner, less experienced, but a much better shot. They got married the day they met and still getting to know each other. Since Mick has to be very careful about how he goes about courting a rattlesnake, I figure any romantic scene between them is a flirting scene.

In this scene, they just accepted a job Casey thinks is beneath them, and she's very depressed about the murder of an old man, and the fact that nobody was impressed with her shooting the guy who shot him.


"We should be doing something more useful. We should be going after those guys," said Casey.

She was getting back to herself again now, but that made her a little too eager to go chasing. I raised my eyebrows and leaned closer.

"And help Addley squeeze out the settlers up the valley?"

"No." She turned her back, and sat there, hugging her knees. But she had her head tilted so she could watch me.

"Well," I said. "There are other useful things we could be doing."

"Like what?"


"That's all you think about, isn't it."


She turned completely away and thought about it. Then, instead of turning back, she lay down and looked at me upside down. Took my breath away, to see her spread out like that in the firelight. Watching at me with her head tilted back and her chin pointing up, arms and braid flung this way and that. I got my breath back fast, and picked my jaw up off the floor before she could see my reaction. Casey got self-conscious real easy. I couldn't let her catch me gaping at her.

"We ain't gonna have too much chance for privacy coming up," I said. I leaned in slow and set my arms on either side of her face. "We'll be keeping watch and all that."

I brushed my fingers down the sides of her neck. Her eyes got a little wide at that and she looked nervous, but she must have liked it, because if she didn't she would have punched me. We didn't have too many communication problems in our marriage, for all that we were still awful new at it.

I leaned in and kissed her upside down. Down her lip, and then on the chin, rubbing my chin against her mouth. I started down her jaw toward the side of her neck.

"Ain't I too young for this?" she said. I liked the funny sound in her voice.

"Hope not," I said. I had a funny sound in my voice too, but that was partly because I had a mouthful of ear at the moment.

"You're kissing me upside down."

"Good way of doing it," I said. "Hats don't bump."

Her hat had already come off. She reached up and I pulled away, but she managed to rise up and knock mine off. I grabbed her while she was up off the ground and wrapped her up in a big tight squeeze, kissing her good.

It wasn't the most comfortable place to spend the night, but a couple of horse blankets and our bed rolls, and it did all right. No miners or lice.

end scene

I'll post the progress on my current book a little later tonight.

Day 8 - 3029 Words Easing Into New Territory

I actually wrote quite a lot that isn't in the word count yet. Raw stuff from revamping some upcoming scenes. I also came up with some idea of how to handle the wrap up of a secondary plot line. (However, it may accelerate the arc of the series, so I may not do it that way. It depends on if the story needs it when I get there.)

And I think it might be time to do an outline. See where I stand.

Running Total: 24665 Words.

24665 / 75000 words. 33% done!

In Today's Pages: Karla is offered too many colas, and meets Gwen.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Day 7 - 3109 Words, Getting Tougher

Today was tough writing. While I had a lot of the prose written, there were subtle changes from the scene before, which forced me to revisit every word. Still, I got it done, and I also got some raw words for future bits, which aren't in the word count.

I've also done some minimal preparations for the serialized fiction blog. I think that's going to be fun.

Running Total: 21636 Words.

21636 / 75000 words. 29% done!

In Today's Pages: The body, and the offer.

Guy Talk in a Cozy

I have a new first reader looking at the first couple of chapters. He mentioned that he had to keep in mind that he's a man reading something by and for women. I told him that's cool, but I also really do want the guy perspective. While you don't want to rewrite, say, a classic category romance into something a guy's guy would like, you also have to watch out for voice-narcissism. You don't want the internal attitude and expectations to feed on themselves and make the whole thing go flat.

An alternate view is what gives you depth. You can't see 3-D movies without those glasses that let you see two perspectives at once.

Anyway, his feedback has already caused me to notice some things. For instance, he made a quick general comment up front that he liked the voice in the second chapter better than the first - even though they felt like a similar voice. In particular, the first needed editing. Too many modifiers.

Now this I find incredibly interesting, because the first chapter undoubtedly does have too much sort of and very, the second chapter is Modifier City. (Although the third is probably worse.) Karla is a mid-westerner, and she will never commit herself to anything outright, and she is also a person with a wild fantasy life, and, well, her life is a run-on sentence.

The voices in first chapter are formal and predictable. The modifiers are more noticeable. Karla, on the other hand, modifies things in wild and unpredictable ways. Where Dr. Cannon thinks of George's accent as "vaguely British," Karla thinks of it as "Englishy, or maybe Austrailianish."

And I'm guessing that one of the issues is that the "chick sensibility" of the overall cozy story is a whole lot more noticeable in scenes written from a guy's point of view. This is not necessarily a problem, but frankly George is not Hugh Grant. He may not be Bruce Willis either, but I will be glad to get the line edits from a guy on this.

It also makes me think of a scene coming up, in which George talks with another guy who is a competitor. I was going over it today, blocking it out in my head, and I realized that what they would really say to each other would not be acceptable in a cozy. What they can say in a cozy would not be realistic. How do you handle that?

So far, I've been able to handle it in Karla's point of view. She can filter it for us through summary, or in the scene I wrote to day, she openly rewrites the scene in her head.

"Forget it," he said. Except he didn't use the word forget, but another word that starts with the same letter which you can't say twice in a movie without getting an R-rating.

But that's Karla's internal voice and I can't do that if we're not in her head.

But I do have three other choices: One is to let the language be a more explicit (it is mildly so now, really) and have fun with Karla's quaintness as contrast. For that I would have to find a way to dirty up the first chapter so that the story sensibility was less cozy overall. The second choice is to just go with the alternate reality of the cozy and be less realistic about language. Which is common and can work.

The third, and the one I'll probably use, is to develop the scene differently to avoid the problem altogether. Because I'm not sure they would actually talk about the subject in question, because... it's kind of a chick-sensibility feelings thing anyway.

But it does make me wonder what choices I would make if I had to.

Friday, May 14, 2010

An Agent On Serials

Agent Michael Larsen recently posted on his blog 12 Wasy to Excite Pros About Your Novel. He mentioned the usual things - great writing, irresistible first page, your online following....

And self-publishing. eBooks, podcasts, serializations, blogs.

He sees it as test marketing.

Since he didn't go into a lot of detail, I mentioned some of my own plans in the comments section. Serializing my already self-published work is a no-brainer, but I am considering "sacrificing" the first Mick and Casey novel to an online serial and self-publication.

He replied: "You won’t be sacrificing your book. You’ll be building an audience for it."

You know, as I read all the blogs, I'm not hearing a lot of agents so openly encouraging this. But I'm not hearing many openly discouraging it either. Which is a sea change.

A lot time ago, before "March of the Penguins" I saw a small documentary on the Emperor penguin's march to the sea, which pointed out one other odd behavior where penguins and people are the same. The penguins would march for days, starving, to get to the sea, and then when they'd get there, they wouldn't jump in. They'd just mill around on the bank, which would get more and more crowded. Then as the crowd pushed and shoved, some penguin would fall in. And then suddenly they'd all rush to jump in, until some penguin hesitated, and then they'd stop. And mill around until somebody fell in again.

I think this is where we are in the new publishing paradigm. Milling on the bank, falling in, jumping in, hesitating. Me, I'm still sitting on the bank, splashing my feet in the water (because I have longer legs than a penguin), but I'm thinking I may be doing a further dive soon.

Day 6 - 3026 Words, and one quarter done!

Iron Man 2, good Vietnamese food, and much revamping of Chapter 6.

I think I just undercut something fun in a future scene, but I guess I can do without it. It was a clever reveal but I think this moves the story forward better and faster. We'll see when we get there.

Running Total: 18527 Words.

18527 / 75000 words. 25% done!

In Today's Pages: Karla extracts a promise.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Great Titles Are Not Always Great

Recently I had my first review of The Wife Of Freedom at Smashwords (Also available at Amazon's Kindle Store.) It was a five star review, and the only negative was "I liked the original title better."

Yeah, me too.

But for those of you who haven't been following the adventures in eBook publishing from the start, the original title was The Whore of Freedom. I debated with myself about using that title, and decided to go with it. It's provocative. It comes from within the story. Mary's husband, Jackie, writes a book about her after she leaves him. He's an anarchist and prone to say things he shouldn't, and this is one of them. Although he meant it as a compliment, "The Whore of Freedom" becomes Mary's scarlet letter.

But I couldn't get people to even look at the book with that title. If you haven't read the book, it just doesn't have the same connotations. I also couldn't actually name or list that title in a lot of venues. (Can you imagine mentioning in the company newsletter that you just published "The Whore of Freedom"?) Apple insisted on listing it in the iBookstore as "The W***e Of Freedom" -- which leaves it open to the possibility that it could have been The Whale of Freedom. (Which might be an interesting book....)

I decided to change the name when I had asked for some feedback on the cover, and I got the following response, "Oh, I ignored that because of the title, but now after seeing the cover, I want to read it!"


So I changed it. And now I get a trickle of sales, even without promotion, and occasional blog mentions.

J.A. Konrath has noticed that generic seems to sell in ebooks in particular. He challenged Lee Goldberg to rename and give new covers - going for a more updated but generic look - to his backlist books. Goldberg took him up on it, and by golly his sales improved considerably.

Titles are so important. They are a mini-logline, which tells the audience what kind of book it is at a glance. But I think, like with the cover, it really isn't enough to go on by itself. The audience doesn't really want to be challenged, or even intrigued that much. (Maybe a little.) They want to know if it's worth their time to click and look further. If the title is too provocative, they make exaggerated assumptions, and move on.

This is why publishers have whole committees working on titles. (And why they often don't let the author choose the title.) If you're an indie author, you've got to figure that out for yourself.

Day 5 - 1142 Words and Some Rewriting

I finally did line up some critics, and so immediately all the words in the manuscript moved around and saw glaring problems I had to fix. (Well some people on Nathan Bransford's forum pointed out some little issues in the first scene that led to bigger changes. Plus the earlier epiphany that I had earlier about the subplot.)

I may blog about coyness and subtlety, and the need for a big hammer sometime. But tonight my brain hurts, and I'm going to sleep, and then tomorrow I'm going to see Iron Man 2.

Running Total: 15501 Words.

15501 / 75000 words. 21% done!

In Today's Pages: Karla suggests that it's too bad that thugs don't get workman's comp. That is, too bad for the thugs, not for everybody else. Unless jail counts as a kind of Workman's Comp.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Make a Word Cloud of your Novel

Someone on the Kindle Boards put me on to this site where you can create a word cloud of your novel (or any other collection of text you might want). It's called Wordle and it's a lot of fun.

And it's also a tool to show you what words you use most, and perhaps may overuse. This is the cloud that was created by the current retyped version of the novel (just the first five chapters).

(Dang, even though I carefully chose a layout that would fit the width of this column, Blogger shrank it anyway. You can click on it to see a slightly larger and more readable version.)

More rewriting

I just realized that I will need to rewrite Chapter 3 again before I go on to Chapter 5. The first chapter kind of makes a promise to the reader about the George and Gwen subplot. Gwen is a complication that has totally overwhelmed George's life.

So the man who does too much has got to do more than just a little planning.

Feh. But that's why I'm starting over at this point.

Day 4 - 2744 Words

I had work today, and was also quite tired. Wasted some time trying to round up critique partners. So far I've only managed to find one person who was happy to yell at me for my proof-reading. (I'm beginning to think that there is a big cultural difference between Mystery people and SF people. SF people will crit at the drop of a hat. Mystery people, not so much.)

So tomorrow back to the slog.

Running Total: 14359 Words.

14359 / 75000 words. 19% done!

In Today's Pages: A chase.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Day 3 - 3287 Words and 50 Pages!

I actually went back and rewrote some of yesterdays words and I finally figured out how to handle a couple of transitions. The rest of the day was mostly rewriting, so I am still able to really rip up the word count.

I will surely have to slow down in a couple of days when I get to some spots that have big gaps and need extensive revision.

But I hit the fifty page mark, and that seems like a milestone. I would like to find some mystery writers/readers to give feedback on this much (or at least the first thirty pages). Not anything extensive. Just gut level reader reaction stuff. If anyone is interested, you can comment here, or shoot me an email at

Running Total: 11615 Words.

11615 / 75000 words. 15% done!

In Today's Pages: How do you solve a problem for Maria?

Monday, May 10, 2010

Lena Horne, Rest in Peace

Lena Horne has died at 92. I thought the woman was immortal, but maybe she is anyway.

We all think of her from this clip singing Stormy Weather back it the forties.

However, we saw Lena Horne perform in London in the 80s, and she introduced this song by saying that, back when she first performed it, she'd has NO idea what it was about or how to perform it. Then she went on to show how much difference fifty years of living and learning makes.

Here is a later performance of Stormy Weather, very similar to the one we saw (performed as a medly with "If You Believe.")

Day 2 - 4228 Words in The Return of the Flamingo

I got through the tough gaps and pushed on through to the end of Chapter 3. I also had some very good ideas for the big gaps later on, and I noted them ALL down.

Running Total: 8328 Words.

8328 / 75000 words. 11% done!

In Today's Pages:

(George, suspicious that the missing child may be inside, has burst into Karla's house. She grabs the nearest weapon at hand -- a garden flamingo with a yo-yo tied to the beak -- and follows him inside.)

And thus armed she went in to beard the lion.

She crept into the living room as if there might be a dozen men around. Even though there was only the one and she could hear his footsteps as he moved and paused and finally came trotting down the stairs. She instinctively crouched, ready to run.

He came into view and saw her crouching there, brandishing the bird, and he sighed deeply and faced her.

"I apologize, Ms. Marquette, for bursting into your house."

"Breaking into my house."

"But a child is in danger."

"He's not in dan...ger." Too late, she realized she had just admitted that she knew where Elias was, or at least how Elias was. She clamped her mouth shut and brandished the flamingo.

"I'm not here to harm you or threaten you."

"Then get out."

"I need you to hear what I have to ... say ...." He drifted into silence as he finally seemed to notice the flamingo. He looked slowly along the length of it and down at the swaying yo-yo, and he paused to chew his lip thoughtfully.

"Are you threatening me with a flamingo?" he said at last, as if he were not quite sure.

"Yes," she said firmly.

"A plastic flamingo."

"And a yo-yo."

His eyebrows went up, but he didn't smile, but he also didn't look patronizing. Just puzzled.

"I understand the yo-yo. It makes a decent weapon, I suppose. But why is it attatched to the bird's beak?"

He might have been just trying to engage her in conversation, but he did look curious. She kept looking him straight in the eye, chin tucked in so he wouldn't see she was shaking.

"Because it's funny," she said in her best, flat, dry Clint Eastwood impression. You know what funny is, doncha punk? she thought, but she said, "Do you watch cartoons?"

"No...." he said slowly, looking even more thoughtful than before.

"If you haven't seen Fantasia II, you wouldn't get the joke," she said, and then she couldn't help but add, under her breath, "Philistine!"

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Query Exercise and Contest

I almost never hear about online writing fest and contests (such as the Bad Girl Blogfest I entered the other day) until it is too late to enter. (Except for this one, which sounds time and brain consuming, and I need to commit all of that to my current Dare.) So I'm passing it on.

On the Public Query Slushpile Blog, they're running an experiment on how differently each writer handles a similar premise. In this case, he has set a political thriller premise, and each participant will write a query and five pages based on it.

If it sounds interesting, check it out at:

Day 1 - 4100 Words for a Decent Start

I made it to my real goal of 2500, and my mental goal of 4000. But today wasn't as easy as I'd thought. We had an end of semester gathering, which was fun, but lasted longer than expected (and was more mentally taxing that expected too - we played games, and of course none of them could be easy).

Tonight sleep; tomorrow, better.

Running Total: 4100 Words.

4100 / 75000 words. 5% done!

In Today's Pages: George makes a bargain. Karla makes an unusual recommendation.

Friday, May 7, 2010

May Dare - Finish The Book!

Tomorrow I begin the final push on the work in progress.

About the Work:

The Man Who Did Too Much is a cozy mystery suspense with emphasis on the humor.

Description: George Starling, former International Man of Intrigue, is retired. In limbo. Waiting in a small town in the middle of nowhere for the woman he rescued to recover enough to know whether she loves him or not. When he gets the call to check out the report that a missing prince was spotted in the company of a local woman, he almost turns the job down. But his girlfriend insists he take it. Perhaps she knows he's drowning.

Karla Marquette is a small-town movie-obsessed spinster, who was just doing a favor for a friend when she took care of that little boy for a weekend. Now, suddenly, she's dealing with thugs, break ins, and this guy in a trench coat with a funny accent and no sense of humor.

All Karla knows is that her friend is not a kidnapper. All George knows is that Karla Marquette may have the secret to life.

The Goal:

This is a hybrid dare. The plot is complicated enough that I need to revise what I've got so far in order to finish it - so I will be re-typing the whole thing from start to finish as I write the new material. Therefore the daily goal is high.
  • 30 Days - from May 8 to June 7
  • 75,000 words total, or until done
  • 2500 words per day average
(For tomorrow, I hope to start with a real bang, because the first chapter is pretty much done, and I want to get at least a thousand words into the next chapter.)

A Great Synopsis a la YouTube

Ahhhh! A friend just sent this Lego version of the original Star Wars trilogy.

It's amazing how all the important details are included.

The Bad Girl Blog Fest - Casey Keeps The Gun

I am participating in the "Bad Girl Blog Fest." Writer bloggers are posting scenes featuring a bad girl. The deadline is the end of the day today. Since I only just found out about it, I couldn't write something specifically for it. But I did have something that I've been working on, so I decided to join in.

Bad Girl Blogfest

This is from Have Gun, Will Play, a novel for my Mick and Casey mystery series about a pair of very young, recently married gunslingers. Mick and Casey have escaped from the badguys with nothing but the clothes on their backs and a bag of toys belonging to a kidnapped girl. Mick (the narrator) has lured one of the bad guys into the stable where Casey is hiding, in hopes of an ambush....

* * *

I left the door open as I went in, so he could sneak in after. Casey wasn't anywhere to be seen. Not that you'd see her if she didn't want to be seen, but she didn't show up when he came in and saw me. Had she got what I intended? I couldn't imagine she'd missed it. Casey wasn't one to give up on a chance for ambush--not even if I hadn't meant it.

I didn't see him but I could feel him behind me as I went past the row of stalls and stable clutter. I slinked on by the wall of gear and glanced back. He was there all right.

Casey wasn't at the back door either, so I scooted out into the alley, and around to the carriage house. Still no Casey.

He wasn't hiding any more as he followed me in. I could see him resting his hand on his gun. I scrambled off to the other end of the carriage house. I didn't want to lead him upstairs to our hideout, so I scrambled around a carriage, and found myself facing him on the other side. He had just drawn his pistol. I put my hands up, and gave him a nervous smile.

"You're a hard man to lose," I said.

"Hold still," he said. I did, but it didn't matter, because that's when Casey swung down from the top of one of the carriages. I saw her arm swing.


She hit him just behind and above the ear, and he went down like a sack of potatoes.

"Damn!" I said. "What did you hit him with?"

She held up a leather bag--a bag of marbles that had been among the toys. That was where the crack came from. It was the marbles, not his skull. I bent over him. He'd gone down hard, but he wasn't quite out. I rolled him over to get his gun. Casey grabbed it away.

"Give it to me," I said.


"You already got the marbles and a knife," I said. She held out the bag of marbles to me. I didn't take them. "Come on, Case."

"No, I got it. I'm the sharp-shooter. I back you up. I need a gun."

"You aren't that good with a pistol."

"Am too."

I sighed and took the marbles. Then I remembered and I straightened up to look at her.

"Wait a minute," I said. "You already got a gun. You got your boot gun."

"You want it?"


She shrugged. I sighed and held out my hand, and she squirmed around to get it while keeping an eye on him. She handed it to me; a little one-shot derringer, with no range and maybe enough power to get through a leather vest if it wasn't too thick. I took it and stuck it in my pocket. She was right. I was the one up front and talking, so I probably could make better use of it.

* * *

Later tonight I will continue with my regular blog posts. (In the meantime, you can check out some published Mick and Casey short stories at Mick and Casey Mysteries.)

Starting With A Bang

On Saturday I will start the final push to get my current work in progress, The Man Who Did Too Much, done. There are some gaps, and some areas I need to replace and rework.... so rather than try to figure out how to keep the word count straight, I'm going to retype from scratch. I have about 60 thousand words now (a lot of it redundant or wrong) and I expect it to end with about 75 thousand.

Therefore the goal will be 2500 words a day, new or revised. I hope to finish on June 7, but I'll just go until it's done.

The essay I read in Cut To The Chase today was "Explode Out Of the Blocks." It was about pausing and preparing for your day so you can really get started with a bang. This is, I think, my favorite of the tips from this business productivity book, because it acknowledges two things: one is how important it is to get off on the right foot if you want an endeavor to go smoothly. The other is that to get started right, you do have to spend a little time vacuuming the cat and sharpening pencils before you can settle in.

The equivalent bit of advice I got when I was screenwriting was a director who advised young filmmakers that the most important thing you can do to get a film production going is set a date to start. Yes, you do have to research and prepare and futz around, but to really get going you have to set a date.

For my preparations today, I sat down and wrote a list of 28 questions that need to be answered in my book. I hope to make that list longer before I go to bed.

Tomorrow I will ponder the answers to those questions. And I'll post my formal "start the dare" post.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Be Brave, Be Fair, Do Good Work

I wasn't going to blog today, but I saw a topic on agent Nat Bransford's forums that intrigued me. Someone asked about what makes a person good. Of course, just defining the word "good" could involve a whole lot of disagreement - but to me whether you're talking about a real person or a fictional character, it all boils down to the title of this post.

Be Brave, Be Fair, Do Good Work.

An interesting character will at least strive for two of these. A less interesting character can at least be redeemed by just one (especially if they achieve it in spite of obstacles).

Waging an effective struggle to be courageous, fair and competent makes a character worthy. It's not necessary to fully succeed, and certainly not necessary to easily succeed, but with an honest and earnest drive to achieve those three things, you don't really need anything else.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Red Herrings Must Lead to a Truth

To a dog, a stinky old red herring smells awfully interesting. Drag one across the path of a beagle or bloodhound, and he'll follow it rather than what he's supposed to follow.

And that's where the term "Red Herring" comes from in a mystery. People tend to use it to refer to any suspects who turn out to have not done it. But as a writer, I think it's much more useful to think of it as any clue or element that leads the detective - and audience - astray.

If we're going to write a mystery, it's important to mystify. And to properly mystify, you have to let the audience feel that they know something. If everything is a complete puzzle, and they know nothing, the audience will only be confused and bored and likely never follow the trail.

A red herring has to fascinate the reader. It's got to be nice and stinky and distracting and full of all kinds of great information.

I think, more importantly, that a red herring has to be more than a trick of the trade. We're not just mystery writers, we're storytellers. And in a good story, nothing is wasted and everything is relevant.

So above all, a red herring must pay off. It must lead to good information for the detective, and the reader. For one thing, the reader will not feel that her time has been wasted when she finds out the truth. For another, it gives the reader respect for the detective, if the detective overcomes both the lure and the failure of a red herring, and wrestles a triumph out of it.

So the fact that the butler was behaving so suspiciously only because he was having a fling with the daughter of the house must lead to the revelation that the daughter, on her way to the assignation, saw a blue car pull away from the grange an hour earlier than anyone knew. And it may also cause some other alibi to crumble, or reveal a motive.

This is basic stuff, but it can be easy to forget or overlook when you are wrestling with all the layers and complications of a good whodunnit. Red Herrings are not just distractions, they are pieces of the puzzle.

In the meantime today was a really hellish day at the day job, and my favorite Cantonese restaurant would not answer the phone, so I didn't get to have any Three Cup Chicken as reward. I consoled myself with a bag of potato chips, a container of sour cream and a bag of double-chocolate Milano cookies, and watched Chuck on Hulu with my cats.

I think, though, that I shall take tomorrow off from blogging. (Unless I come up with some really interesting thing to say.)

eBook Experiment Update

I know I promised more writing theory posts, but I'm tired, and I got my "Ice House" video from England, and I spent the evening watching it.

It was good, but as with any adaptation, some things felt rushed, and others left open to interpretation. (Like in one scene, when McLoughlin insists that Catrell really is a lesbian when another cop says he has discovered that she actually sleeps around with lots of men -- is he defending her reputation? I swear he is, even though he pretends he still being a bigot.) I need to read the book before I can really comment I think.

In the meantime, I'll update you on the eBook Experiment.

The Wife of Freedom is now selling several copies a day. I don't have exact figures because Amazon put the April figures in limbo when it became May, and I'm told that they will reappear in the archive data in a few days. But I can say it's Amazon ranking these past few days beats every Agatha Christie novel I've looked at this week. And most of Donald Westlake, and the backlist of some of my favorite current authors like Archer Mayor and even Robert Crais. Yeah, those are all backlist but... Wow!

Of course, it's also priced much lower, and still has zero reviews or ratings.

The Adventure of Anna the Great has sold a few copies, like WoF did at first. I have done even less to promote it, although I'll fix that later.

I am considering putting my Mick and Casey mysteries up - even the novel. I was going to save all real mysteries for marketing in traditional publishing, but the more I see going on, the more concerned I am that things are changing too fast. I don't want to sign any first contract in this climate. Not until standards for erights and prices shake out. I don't think that will be long, but it makes me hesitate.

I'm wondering if Mick and Casey might serve not only as something that seems really suited for the current ebook market, but also as a better test than the scattershot books I have been putting up.

I figure that it would be good to have some real healthy experimentation under my belt going into any negotiations I might have when I market The Man Who Did Too Much.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Attempting a "Blog Hop"

I don't usually participate in internet memes and things like that. (For instance, anything that smells like a chain letter I won't do. I don't like "pass it on" pressures.) But a Blog Hop sounds interesting, if I understand it correctly. Basically it's an "opt-in" blogroll that appears on any site that carries the code.

However, I'm not sure I've got this right, so if a list of blogs doesn't appear below this text, I screwed up.

(Edit: Ah! I understood the blog hop itself okay, but I misunderstood the point of THIS blog hop - which was for people who participated in a blogging challenge last month called "Blogging A to Z". I will leave it up for now, though, because it was an interesting challenge, and might be of interest to my readers.)

Know When You're Not Needed

There's a really great business productivity book that I just love. It's called "Cut To The Chase" by Stuart R. Levine, and it's a collection of 101 essays - each about two pages long - about how you can streamline your work and processes in business. While a lot of the essays are really specific to managers, I find that somehow they all can relate, at least on a metaphorical level, to the writing life. I use it like the I Ching - I'll open it to a random page and read the essay of the day as a bit of wisdom to ponder.

Today's essay was "Know When You're Not Needed." It was about letting your employees handle things on their own and not obsessively attending all their preparation meetings and such. But when I take it back to the essence, it actually was pretty timely for me. Here's why:

I am seriously tired tonight. Partly because the Day Job is rising to a crescendo, and partly because I've been on a creative binge. And partly because I've been trying to turn this week into a mental vacation by reading and schmoozing on a lot of blogs and forums.

Silly me.

I am tired, and I am now part of a thousand cool conversations I'll never keep up with. That didn't quite work the way I planned.

Of course it's never a waste to wear yourself out running around the internet and schmoozing, because it's good for promotion and networking. And golly I did have a sudden burst of sales on one of my ebooks, and a few more subscribers and followers here and there.

But would it have been worth doing specifically for promotion? No. The return on investment here is pretty low. But that's to be expected. That's how networking works. It's not so much an effort in, progress out kind of expense. It's more like overhead. Or dues. You have to put the time in, and it's really great if you enjoy it, but you've also got to keep a handle on it because it's non-productive, and it's never ending. It's a great time and energy sink.

Furthermore, though I'm pretty sure the new subscribers are due to my running around and making new friends, I'm positive that the burst of ebook sales is not. Not directly.

The reason the ebook started selling was because it was listed on a blog as a 99 cent special. Now, how it got on that blog could be due to all my networking, but I think it really got there because earlier I had announced it as a 1.99 special on a forum announcement topic. And the owner of that topic saw the price change on her own and moved it to the cheaper list, which was then perused by the blog owner. It all came from one effort on my part.

So all that busy-ness was not really needed to have the success I had this week. All I needed was the right effort in the right place. No need to kill myself trying to put more effort in to get more results out.

At the same time, it is worth putting in that schmoozing effort in general. I learned about the forum from schmoozing on the Amazon discussion groups, and I learned about the bargain book list from schmoozing on the forum itself. You do need to put in some of that background effort. It's just not necessary in a specific "to do list" kind of way.

So generally you are not needed in schmoozing circles. Where you are needed is at your keyboard, producing good writing, and working on necessary promotional items, such as your pitch. Don't let useful things wear you out and take time away from the really necessary things.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

The Next Dare and the First Chapter

I'll be starting the run to finish/rewrite the work-in-progress next weekend. However, it's really catching fire right now, and I'm itching to go.

It's the last week of the semester now, and I just won't have time to do what I want, but I figure I'll create a seven-day Prep Dare to get me ready. The goals will be to get down good notes on all the ideas popping up in my brain, as well as to read the existing material. Maybe scribble some scene snippets.

And to get the ball rolling, you can Click Here to Read The First Chapter of The Man Who Did Too Much.

I could use some cheerleaders. And though comments are always nice, you don't even need to comment to cheer me on. Thanks to modern hit counters, I KNOW when you silent little elves are visiting.

In the meantime, more theory posts coming up, like the difference between various mystery and crime genres, and applying some business productivity tips to writing. Also definitions of various kinds of critique.

A Good Alpha Reader Should Be Prized Above Cookies

Yesterday I mentioned my Alpha Reader, and how we disagreed on the interpretation of the end of that video clip I analyzed on Tuesday. Our tastes don't jive one hundred percent. Maybe seventy-five percent and the rest of the time, we're at ninety-degree angles.

And this is part of why she is such a great Alpha Reader. She can see and understand what I'm trying to do, but she also comes at it from a different angle so she can show me things I can't see.

We've known each other online for about twenty years (met on the old GEnie network) and have never met in person. I think I posted something about Rupert of Hentzau, the sequel to The Prisoner of Zenda, and she replied "I cried my eyes out over Rupert of Hentzau!" and we were fast friends. She's an experienced and generous writer, who mentors dozens of others while struggling to keep at her own work and look after her family.

She's so busy, but she has never once begged off reading something of mine. She's always been a cheerleader, and if necessary a nudge. And what's really cool is that she can set me back on the right track without reading much of the work at all. A lot of the time I just post a snippet on a forum where we both are members, and she finds it and gives me exactly the direction I need.

Often she will just say "looks like you nailed it" or something like that, but many conversations between me and the Alpha Reader go thusly:

AR: Good pace, I think you're close, but I just didn't like the part about the fish.
Me: The fish? But that part's the whole reason I'm writing this! I mean, everything else is just an excuse to write the fish part.
AR: I'm sure it's just me.
Me: (pondering in concern) Hmm. I wonder. Are you a fan of Great Fish Bestseller? Or Fishy Tales Sitcom?
AR: Oh, no. The book jacket turned me off on Great Fish Bestseller, and I just couldn't get into Fishy Tales.
Me: Then that's probably it. I love both of those, and I know you don't like things so scaley. Not that this is scaly, but I suppose it is underneath.
AR: See, it is just me! ... But you know, it would probably work for me if it was a Dolphin.
Me: You know, I like dophins, but I just couldn't make it work. Dophins breathe air, and I can't find a way to get air into the scene without throwing it off.... Maybe I'll just rearrange the whole book in this other way so that the fish shows up later and has more context.
AR: That sounds great.
Me: (after some cogitating) You know what would really work? A porpoise! It's actually perfect. Much better than a fish. It has all of these things that fit my theme and tone, especially the need for air!
AR: (with no hint of sarcasm) That's brilliant! I never would have thought of that!

Okay, this doesn't just happen sometimes, it happens, like, every time. I should learn.

To find a really good alpha reader like this takes time and patience. You need someone who knows more than you do, at least about your biggest blind spots, but you also need someone who knows you and your goals - who trusts that maybe you DO want the fish. And of course, they probably need to be a fellow writer, who understands that fragile "early draft" time when you hadn't quite got your vision fixed down, and can be easily thrown off.

The only way you are going to find such a person is by exchanging manuscripts with a lot of beta readers. After a while, you find you build the relationship you need with some of them, and you can get useful info out of fragments and bouncing ideas off them.