DoaCK Developmental Editing, Part 3

This is a three-part post regarding the developmental editing I got for my first novel through Steve, the Novel DoctorPart 1. Part 2.

This is Steve’s reply to my reply.  I included excerpts from mine to give context.

…In either case, it seems that the bulk of the marketing and advertising falls on the author’s shoulders which then seems to make the idea of self publishing all the more appealing. Except then there is the battle to rise above the huge amount of noise.

Just a note – marketing has always been something that lands most squarely on the authors’ shoulders. Yes, publishing houses have marketing budgets to help launch a new book/author, but unless they’re projecting huge sales, that budget is tiny. In this “new world” of social marketing, it’s truer than ever that authors have a lot of hard work ahead of them. That’s just the reality of trying to become noticed when there are literally thousands of books competing for the same eyes/ears/reviews/sales.

…Of course, I fantasized you’d say I was the greatest thing since sliced bread and tell me you knew just the right agent, but instead I’ve got my worst-case scenario: I need to put in dozens of hours (at least) to get it ready to approach agents, then the silly process of trying to actually get published, all for the pittance offered.

If you want me to tell you you’re a crappy writer, I can do that. But that would be a stretch. I know it’s frustrating to be caught somewhere in the middle, but the truth is, that’s where most authors are – both successful ones and those who don’t sell a single book. The number of truly awful authors is bigger than that of truly great ones, but most of us are somewhere in the middle of the bell curve. Of course, all of that is subjective, so what some editors/agents/publishers say is “middle of the road” could be “top of the heap” to others. Yeah. I know. More mud to slog through. In some ways I wish this were easier to assess – but then again, that would mean no space for surprises or outliers.

…I’m now convinced I’m not the right guy to do erotica, but I’ve only had the one reader that ‘specialized’ in that sort of reading (she was the one that said it was too much or too little). As mentioned elsewhere, I plan on (assuming I move forward) substantially upping the romance of the first sex scene, but don’t intend to add erotica back when doing so.

I can certainly look at that if you like. I’m more concerned with the overall “flow” of the plot regarding the romance and sex, though. It’s a bigger picture issue than merely adding more scenes. It’s about the slow build, I suppose, rather than plugging scenes in to hit some kind of nebulous quota.

…As one of Seacay’s hobbies is reading, I would expect he would attempt to adhere to a lot of things you are describing, so I believe that the changes you are suggesting will allow me to maintain the goal I set out to achieve.

I gathered this was the conceit, but still had to wonder if it might be more compelling with the past tense approach. It still has that immediacy and intimacy of first person, but without the occasionally clumsy present tense issues.

…I want to show some sort of transformation for her, though, because as I reveal later in this book and emphasize in later books, she has very little interest in sex with anyone, but particularly men. I felt it was important to show why she would be willing to consider trying to get her man, but I do agree it could be put further off in the story.

Yes. Sometimes when the backstory comes too soon, it steals some of that wonderful “wondering” that readers do while they read. It’s all a balancing act, of course, and knowing when to reveal something about a character is one of the trickiest parts of writing. But it’s worth careful review in the revision process because it’s often the difference between a compelling read and a benign one.

I agree with the ‘show vs tell’ issue, but often need some help in specifically addressing instances. I certainly ‘tell’ a lot, but I feel it is necessary to move the story along. Based on comments from you and other readers, my conclusion is much of my ‘telling’ is acceptable, so I need specific instances (like the one you point out above).

Yes. Telling is fine and necessary in fiction. But the most compelling sections tend to be those show, so more show will mean more engagement.

The way I wrote the original sex scene there was lots of graphic, fluid filled sex. I think I cut too much, or rather, didn’t adequately replace the fluids with something else. I’ve been working on converting the novel to a screenplay (as if I didn’t already have enough distractions already 😉 and have been looking at each key scene (I consider that one of the most key) and realized that, as written, there is essentially no way any reasonable reader (or viewer) would think these two people had got unrecoverably hooked on one another.

Agreed.

…If, as seems to be the growing consensus, stories written with this goal in mind are not ‘interesting’, then it is probably best for me to set these aside. I understand the general draw of ‘coming of age’ stories as they allow for the traditional angst, mistakes and dumbdumbs, but my whole goal is/was to write something after that point.

I certainly understand that. And there are successful novels with similar “super-hero” protagonists. I’m fine with that. I just like to point out things that stand out to me as “opportunities” for the author. In this case, the opportunity was to make Seacay a bit more relatable, despite his obvious skill and experience. It’s when we stumble that we most seem human, so that’s sort of the point I was making. Still, you need to trust your gut ultimately so it’s a book you enjoy.

…Considering myself a likely ‘conscienceless killer’, just an unproven one, I model Seacay after myself regarding the damn chick flicks (ever watch ‘Courage Under Fire’? Who knew a movie about war and blowing shit up was a chick flick; that happened to be the first movie I watched with my now wife and still acutely remember the pain of holding in the tears while we watched the damn thing).

Point taken. Yes, the ol’ “choked up” rather than tears. I actually liked that Seacay had this “chick flick” issue. I just mentioned it because I wanted to be sure you are being consistent with his character. Again, it works. But maybe you need him to acknowledge even more directly that while he’s emotionless on the job, and perhaps in relationships (apart from Isabel), for some reason he’s unable to put up the wall when watching those movies. You sort of address this – but I think having him acknowledge that disconnect could go a long way toward erasing any “is this consistent?” questions in the minds of readers.

I guess I would need some specific pointers where I need to shift from telling to showing. I understand your point, but have read quite a few authors that I like and respect and they often will tell just to move things along. I would rather ‘dwell’ on the plot points I think are important than invest a lot of time (mine and the readers) on what I consider points not germane.

I have found that a good “showing” scene makes up for a whole host of telling scenes meant to move something along. Think about the goal of the scene – is it to describe a job in detail? Then use your telling as much as needed. But if it’s to reveal something about a character, it seems to me there would be benefit in zooming in close to a “showing” scene and leaving space for the reader to play a role.

…Still, when I go around depending on a needle gun that knocks people out before they can fire their own gun, I figure a small addition of a heart attack inducing chemical isn’t that far a leap.

That’s fine. I only ask these sorts of questions because I know some readers will. I will say this, though, when an author says “Well, it happened in real life, so of course it could in a novel,” I have to press pause. Because what exists in real life, and what works in real life, doesn’t always work in fiction. Fiction has to be more believable than non-fiction.

Maybe I do need to remove/rewrite that, but it was a key scene I came up with early and I feel shows them both struggling with their feelings for each other. I also want to show that Isabel is struggling with their relationship as well.

I just wonder if there’s a better, still awkward, approach that doesn’t dive directly into misogyny. Which is what it feels like in context.

…I also feel that Seacay, in adapting his diaries, would be cagey about some of those details, but I can also see that he would conclude he should make some stuff up to help the reader. I’ll think about how to go about adding more such flavor.

Fair enough. But he does mention how many months/years it’s been in the text, so why not make that clearer for the reader. This actually could enhance the “diary” aspect of the form.

…On the one hand I hate sub titles, on the other hand, I hate Anglicizing everything, particularly since I think non-US viewers might be a significant fraction (at least I would be targeting them, were things to proceed to that point).

This is a case where clarity probably trumps cleverness (or even accuracy). This is the same dilemma historical fiction writers face when trying to figure out how much classical language to include, etc.

…As I said before, I don’t think I emphasis enough that they spent several sex-filled days at the end of their first job and no matter how fantastic the sex is, if nothing more there has to be some conversation while the body recovers. I think if I am able to effectively get that point across that perhaps this element won’t be as out of place.

Yes, that will solve this.

…The vulnerabilities I want to show (perhaps not well) is that he is out of his comfort zone because of Isabel. I can see to adding more layers of evident distraction, perhaps catching his mind wandering or something like that.

I think the key here might be for him to ponder more about his rather quick decision to partner. It goes so against his nature, yet there’s not that much resistance to the idea.

…This event (giving the second a specific drug cocktail) isn’t spontaneous, it is the result of a long period of careful planning on Seacay’s part. I’m trying to tell the story entertainingly, but quickly, to show his expertise is more than simply tripping people going down some stairs or shooting them with a needle gun.

Maybe what’s missing here is a piece of narrative that helps readers see how much time has gone into this job before what we see on the page. That would answer some of the concerns. And I’ve already noted my general concerns about “convenience” above.

…I wanted to show that he isn’t just about unbelievably beautiful women, but is more about personalities once there has been interaction.

This is fine. It’s just that there’s an abundance of things that appear rather conveniently. This would be stronger if there were fewer of those, I think.

…I could just drop Seacay’s story and keep Tessa’s if you think that achieves what’s necessary. I guess this also applies to below as well.

I like having more Tessa. Maybe you can solve the concern about “perfect” Seacay by addressing it more directly. As noted earlier, sometimes when you have the protagonist directly address the issue that the reader may be pondering, you eliminate it as a concern in the readers’ minds. It’s like you could have him say, “I know I’m a bit of an ideal – a superhero who has all the right skills at all the right time. But it’s not like I started out that way. And history is written by the victors, so I’m telling the story my way.”

I agree that some transition is helpful. Perhaps a good place for one of those ‘living it up’ scenes where he is having a great time, but is seeing Isabel everywhere he looks.

Yes.

…I was trying to make his earlier ‘vanishing’ acts more believable by showing some of what was involved in making that happen. I guess this applies to the below as well.

I could see this. But readers have already made their assessment about his abilities from the previous scenes where he just does these things. So the explanation comes a bit late, and may feel more like story apologetics than a narrative necessity.

…Perhaps the marathon dialog needs to be broken somehow, except I don’t want them to interact physically and don’t really see them being this intimate at, say, a restaurant.

I think the key here might be showing a little more dialogue earlier, or at least some aborted attempts at communication so when this flood comes it feels like it’s been building.

I can see I’ve hammered home my average looks and memory aspect, but I want to show him getting started before he joins the military and this story seems plausible to me.

The first kill comes without any real vetting of who he is, though, right? I think that was my concern.

…In my mind this doesn’t show anything particularly super human, he knows what meds the target has been prescribed and even if he didn’t already know the result of higher doses he could learn that trivially.

This is fine. Just keep in mind that my comments about this stuff are mostly about the abundance of convenient skills, etc. Readers will get to a breaking point on the believability of a story/character when they’ve had to swallow (pun intended) too many things that required suspension of disbelief. That point is different for different readers, of course.

…As I’ve said, I think my first sex scene needs a massive overhaul and with that done correctly, I think this scene might fit in better.

Agreed.

…I can see interweaving those discussions within the body of the novel, perhaps that would ‘speed things up’ on the job.

It might simply be an issue of the form you chose to write the novel. When it’s a series of jobs, there is going to be a baseline “sameness” to some of the action. But my concern here was more about the stuff that happened before that, which just touched on themes about Seacay that I felt had already been adequately addressed.

I agree in principle, but need specifics in order to focus enough to come up with alternatives. Perhaps, if I persuade myself to move forward with this writing, I can get your “Red Pen of Life and Death” or “Comprehensive Edit” and you can point those locations out.

[I’ll save my Kindle notes. Out of habit I started to highlight things I’d address in the Red Pen. They’re written in my own little shorthand, or I’d send them along.]

I suppose I could do away with the chapter, but felt it was important to show the reader some of the effort he puts into his layers of disguise.

Which you already did earlier, right?

…I get that when there is a theme with readers there is an issue that needs to be addressed and in this case I am not so attached to it that I would want to stick with it, but I feel something like this is important.

I’m fine with the psychological operations idea. It actually makes sense, assuming of course that Seacay is skilled in this as well as the other jobs (kills, observation, requisition of data, etc). Psyops would be a rather specialized field, wouldn’t it? So to make Seacay an expert at this too…well, you know my general thoughts on that.

…BTW, don’t really get the ‘bit on the nose’ reference, where does that come from? Going with what I recall in my reading, I would interpret ‘on the nose’ as being ‘right on target’, the opposite of what I think you are trying to convey.

The “on the nose” reference is just to say it feels too neatly packaged. It’s a phrase used a lot with movies – you’ve probably seen some dialogue that just feels like it was drafted to answer questions for readers, rather than sounding organic to the moment. That’s what I was referring to.

Well, I’ve designed and built a house (along with my wife, the two of us doing 90%+ of the work) as well as an indoor pool/greenhouse, all from reading books, so it doesn’t sound like any sort of stretch to me. My goal with the story about the bondage is to show how Isabel and Tessa came together, to make it clear that they have had a long, loving relationship. Perhaps it comes too late for proper impact.

Yes. It does come a bit late. It’s all bunched up at the end of the novel, though the truth of these two would have been evidence at least in clues here and there much earlier.

…I can see adding some of the elements scattered around the rest of the book, that would make this chapter much shorter.

Yes. That will help a bunch.

…I want to have to defend the elements I think are critical, if I can’t convince a professional editor that they are important, perhaps either they aren’t as important as I thought or, as is likely in this case, I’m just trying to do something that doesn’t have a ready market.

I didn’t mention funds because I skipped over that question in your editorial note. Not on purpose – I was focusing on the editorial notes. I can tell from your writing (and from these notes) that you have a great interest in making this better, but also that you have strong opinions on what that might look like. Both are admirable qualities in a writer. Being open to editorial suggestions and direction gives you the chance to grow, but without some conviction about the story, it’s like taking a writing class, rather than writing a novel. Which by the way, isn’t such a bad thing. I’ve worked with lots of writers on books that became a living writing class rather than a publishable work. Writing ain’t easy. And making money from it is even harder. But for those who feel the compulsion to write, the hard, long road is something to embrace.

Just a few more thoughts – first, there is no such thing as wasted writing for anyone who desires to be a writer. I have the sense that you’re not entirely sure you need to be a writer so much as someone who wants to make money writing. (Though as noted – your natural writing voice is good – you’re far from a hack.) The two aren’t entirely distinct, but if you find yourself frustrated by the process now, I can assure you it’s not going to get any easier.

This is something I tell all my writers: don’t quit your day job. I know, you’re talking about retirement, but the same truth applies. No one can tell you with assurance if your books will ever find a substantial audience. That’s been true in publishing forever. Of course, if you have to write, then no one can tell you not to (nor should they). But if it all comes down to dollars, you’ll never hear me saying “drop everything and write full time” because that’s simply unwise. Could you be a huge seller someday? I can’t say “no” because I can’t predict trends and luck and opportunities. But the vast majority of writers (including some brilliant ones and plenty of average ones and more than a few hacks) won’t earn back what they spend on editing/covers (if they self-publish) or much more than their advance (if they publish traditionally). That’s just reality.

Of all my writer friends (and clients), I only know a handful that make anything near 50K a year from writing alone. A great goal, and for a select few, reachable. But you have to be totally committed to the marketing game, however you get published. And that’s practically a full time job in itself.

Okay, enough harsh reality. If you feel you must write, write. I’d be happy to work with you to help shape a book into something that might garner more agent interest (no promises – but that’s always the goal). I enjoy the give and take that comes with the editorial process. I always grow as an editor with every project, but especially with those that are trying to do something a little different.


I hope those of you who stuck through this to the end got something out of my exchange. Steve’s input triggered me to make changes to my novel that I easily believe made it 10x better. His feedback also gave me confidence in my abilities as a writer, allowing me to believe my quixotic quest to become a professional writer wasn’t entirely misplaced. I felt it was well worth the money and the wait and recommend developmental editing to anyone who is serious about their craft, whether they intend to publish or just grow their skills.

DoaCK Developmental Editing, Part 2

This is a three-part post regarding the developmental editing I got for my first novel through Steve, the Novel DoctorPart 1. Part 3.

This is my reply to Steve.  I included excerpts from Steve’s where I felt it was relevant.

First, before I forget, a couple of friends are curious about your response, is it OK if I send them what you’ve sent me (and my reply)? I’m expecting to rely on their opinions on my decision to go forward or not, so would like them to see your input.

Second: Thank you for your input. I quickly read it yesterday before I went to bed expecting there to be a lot of issues that needed some repose to consider, but was ‘disappointed’ somewhat your responses weren’t as bad as I feared. Not as good as I hoped, which gives me a conundrum. I expected I’d need to make changes if there was potential and while the stuff you’ve recommended (for the most part, caveats embedded below) is stuff I agree would make the story stronger, I’m left with the conclusion that it might not be worth the effort at this time. I’m already involved in several projects that all have substantially more promise than the expected value of writing (given the pitiful average advance of $5K or so). Of course, they could all have value zero, as has been the case up to this point, but unless I were to become the next J. K. Rowling (I’m not getting that vibe from you or my other readers) it seems my time may be better spent on these other long-shot projects. I may simply leave writing until after our hoped-for early retirement in 6 years.

I’ve read a lot about the seemingly thankless effort to find an agent, then the rather dismal reality that getting a supportive agent only means the thankless process starts anew. Then, if that lottery pays off, the ‘reward’ is a few dollars, little to no effort to market the book, and the apparent reality that major publishers give a new book/author some 90 days to catch fire. It seems rather pointless to pursue publication under the most favorable situations. I’ve looked into the idea of targeting a small press. The information I’ve been finding indicates, if you past muster, they will invest a year or even a couple, before deciding there isn’t the expected market. In either case, it seems that the bulk of the marketing and advertising falls on the author’s shoulders which then seems to make the idea of self publishing all the more appealing. Except then there is the battle to rise above the huge amount of noise.

On the other, other hand (or the ‘gripping hand’, if you’re a Niven fan), I find myself obsessed with my characters and it is often hard to focus on my other projects. In addition to the three or so I’ve already written in this series and the two more I’ve got outlined, I have several other book summaries I’ve written that tend to grab my attention and imagination. As much fun as it is to think about the stories, characters, situations, etc. I just keep coming back to “where is the pay off?” I think I’d be better off if you felt I was a crappy writer. Indeed, there were many times over the last several months that was my hoped-for outcome. Of course, I fantasized you’d say I was the greatest thing since sliced bread and tell me you knew just the right agent, but instead I’ve got my worst-case scenario: I need to put in dozens of hours (at least) to get it ready to approach agents, then the silly process of trying to actually get published, all for the pittance offered.

What I would appreciate, if you choose to work your way through the remainder of the document, is a suggestion on whether you think I am editable or not. I know that many people who write are loath (perhaps that word is not strong enough) to alter their ‘baby’ in any way. I have very specific aims with this story and series and if sticking with them means I’m not commercial, then as difficult as it may be, I need to put this writing thing behind me. If, instead, you feel my justifications are reasonable (e.g., I may have commercial appeal sticking to my guns), I’m back to the conundrum of do I invest the time/energy in something with the huge hill to climb to have any measurable success, let alone the Mount Olympus climb to achieve the financial success I feel I need to justify taking time/energy away from my other projects.

…As written, it’s definitely not a romance novel. It isn’t erotica, either, though it sounds like you could almost turn it in that direction by going back to what you were originally writing. In that case, you’d have an alpha male (of the highest degree) who falls for one (or two) strong female characters. This might be the direction to go, since you already have the framework for adding more scenes that ooze sex and power and (eventually) something resembling love.

If you are open to it, I could send you the extracts with the detailed sex in it. I was told my sex was too mechanical, as well as too much or too little, which is why I took it out. I’m now convinced I’m not the right guy to do erotica, but I’ve only had the one reader that ‘specialized’ in that sort of reading (she was the one that said it was too much or too little). As mentioned elsewhere, I plan on (assuming I move forward) substantially upping the romance of the first sex scene, but don’t intend to add erotica back when doing so.

I have to wonder what the book would sound like in first person, past tense. I have a gut feeling it could be stronger that way.

The conceit I had when I started this ‘diary’ is that the author (Seacay) has decided to take his actual diaries (who knows what they would look like, probably be something encrypted) and write them into something novelish and sell it. When I originally started my character sketch I actually intended to have this ‘ghost written’ from Seacay’s verbal accounts. I decided that was cumbersome and chose instead to go with the first person POV. As one of Seacay’s hobbies is reading, I would expect he would attempt to adhere to a lot of things you are describing, so I believe that the changes you are suggesting will allow me to maintain the goal I set out to achieve.

…I almost wish you’d use the whole first Part to tease the coming relationship. Perhaps they do fall into bed by the end of the section, but don’t share all those intimate details about their lives. Leave some of that off the page early on to create more of that all-important intrigue that will compel readers. Let some mystery remain in Seacay’s head/heart, so the tug back to her becomes even more significant.

I think I can get behind your suggestion of putting off Isabel’s backstory. When I originally wrote the first part it was as a short story, but when it ran so long, I decided to shift focus to a novel instead. I want to show some sort of transformation for her, though, because as I reveal later in this book and emphasize in later books, she has very little interest in sex with anyone, but particularly men. I felt it was important to show why she would be willing to consider trying to get her man, but I do agree it could be put further off in the story.

Bottom line is this: secrecy is power – so wouldn’t there be some of that going on even in this budding romance?

I agree with the ‘show vs tell’ issue, but often need some help in specifically addressing instances. I certainly ‘tell’ a lot, but I feel it is necessary to move the story along. Based on comments from you and other readers, my conclusion is much of my ‘telling’ is acceptable, so I need specific instances (like the one you point out above).

Also, while I certainly can buy Seacay’s “no other relationship will compare to this” snap judgment, based on his experience with Isabel, it’s a big leap for someone who’s thus far considered women to be little more than distractions. I think it can work – perhaps even better if you do what I suggest above – but it’s the kind of thing that grows on you, rather than is immediately certain. At least I think that would be true. Perhaps even moreso if there are some unanswered questions – some secrets – re: Isabel.

The way I wrote the original sex scene there was lots of graphic, fluid filled sex. I think I cut too much, or rather, didn’t adequately replace the fluids with something else. I’ve been working on converting the novel to a screenplay (as if I didn’t already have enough distractions already 😉 and have been looking at each key scene (I consider that one of the most key) and realized that, as written, there is essentially no way any reasonable reader (or viewer) would think these two people had got unrecoverably hooked on one another.

Seacay

For someone who prefers to work alone, he sure was quick to agree to help Tessa and Isabel. I wondered if this was believable for someone who by choice, and by personality, needs to be highly protective of his choices regarding other people (especially people in the same business). He just needs to act honestly from that core of who he is for readers to trust him and care about him. Not that he can’t have cracks that show he’s not entirely consistent, but that he tries to be consistent to the core truths he’s embraced.

Yes, I like this. I should indeed show him reluctant, at least second guessing himself. He wants an excuse to be with Isabel, but worries he is losing his opsec because he is thinking with the ‘little head’.

I’ll mention this a few times, but his skillset is a bit hard to believe. Yes, in Part Three we see some imperfections and hiccups in the execution of his plans, but it’s rare. It’s something that will cause some readers to go “really?” when you want them to go “cool.” For example, he always seems to have exactly the tech he needs to get the job done. That can feel like a plot contrivance at times. What if he has to improvise once in a while? What if he screws up?

This is sort of the sticking point for me. For the most part (the use of the needle gun being the one I haven’t researched to my satisfaction yet), all the elements I use in the story I know are things active ‘in the field’. What you (and, I freely admit, other of my readers) feel are unrealistic elements I know are reasonable, even pedestrian in some cases. I intend him to be an expert and to pick up the story after he’s gone through his early, error-filled, apprenticeship stage. Allowing Isabel a reason to be rescued as a damsel in distress actually occupied me for a long time as I want her (and Tessa) to also be experts with extensive experience, thus unlikely to make mistakes. If, as seems to be the growing consensus, stories written with this goal in mind are not ‘interesting’, then it is probably best for me to set these aside. I understand the general draw of ‘coming of age’ stories as they allow for the traditional angst, mistakes and dumbdumbs, but my whole goal is/was to write something after that point.

He talks about being emotionless, but cries at chick flicks? And while I like that he develops a friendship with Tessa, I’d much rather see more of it than be told about it.

Regarding the second point, I agree and will/would move that aspect up and add more. Regarding the first point, I didn’t say he cried, I said he got choked up 😉 I know that I have a lot of attributes that Seacay has (write what you know, eh?) and I’ve always been a bit wistful that I didn’t get the chance to go into combat when I was in the military. I know for certain that with just a little bit ‘worse’ friends after high school I would have slipped into the mode of Seacay (but probably no where as near as successful, my memory for details sucks, as does my ability to focus for long term (I write what I wish I had)). Considering myself a likely ‘conscienceless killer’, just an unproven one, I model Seacay after myself regarding the damn chick flicks (ever watch ‘Courage Under Fire’? Who knew a movie about war and blowing shit up was a chick flick; that happened to be the first movie I watched with my now wife and still acutely remember the pain of holding in the tears while we watched the damn thing).

Finally, I wonder about what really motivates him. We get clues that he’s in it for the thrill, the job itself, and he talks about all the money. But we don’t see him really using that money, apart from the costs of the job itself (which is usually funded by the client anyway) and the details about his lavish house at the end. What’s his endgame? I wonder if we might benefit from more clues about that – and perhaps a few scenes showing him really living extravagantly, which would make sense considering the dollars he’s raking in. Something to support that aspect of his character.

Another idea I really like. Some wining and dining (though he doesn’t do the wine part) and interacting with sophisticated, smart hot women, but not being entirely satisfied as he keeps thinking about Isabel.

A Few More Notes About the Non-Traditional Approach

It’s true that “not much happens” in a global sense in the novel. As already noted, Seacay is nearly invincible anyway, so it’s almost a moot point. But it is exactly the kind of criticism you’ll hear from agents or publishers. One of the issues is the abundance of “telling,” too. When you give us a scene that’s more immediate, you compel the reader more. Those are good. And the dialogue is pretty good, too. But it’s otherwise an overload of “let me tell you some things” and that will wear on readers.

I guess I would need some specific pointers where I need to shift from telling to showing. I understand your point, but have read quite a few authors that I like and respect and they often will tell just to move things along. I would rather ‘dwell’ on the plot points I think are important than invest a lot of time (mine and the readers) on what I consider points not germane.

And a Bunch of Other Things

The Heart Attack Dart – Is it a real thing? A believable fiction? Just noting this because all invented tech choices in a novel need to feel believable or readers will roll their eyes. Too many eye rolls and you lose them. Also, why doesn’t he confirm the death? Wouldn’t that be part of his job? Wondering if “trusting things are all good” is a reasonable expectation for a professional.

It may be a contrivance, though I feel there are almost certainly substances that can do what I intend, though probably at a volume large enough that even a cursory autopsy would reveal. I know there are a number of substances that are deadly in slightly higher doses than are used therapeutically, though, again, the volume may be such it is impractical. Still, when I go around depending on a needle gun that knocks people out before they can fire their own gun, I figure a small addition of a heart attack inducing chemical isn’t that far a leap.

Chapter Naming – I find myself often saying “don’t name the chapters – you’re giving too much away” to writers. But I kind of liked your chapter titles. They’re fun and don’t reveal everything that’s to come. But that’s a good think to keep in mind – if your chapter title could be considered a summary of the coming chapter, it might be the wrong thing to use. You want readers to discover the plot along the way, not be told “here’s what’s coming” first. (Small note – chapter 21 reads “Why am I So Cautions” and I suspect you mean “cautious.”)

To a certain extent, my goal with the chapter names is either a joke that the reader would (hopefully) get as they read, or a misdirection. I may have let a few slip out that were too predictive and probably need to rework them. When I am writing I just go chapter by chapter without any numbering as I expect to rearrange chapters later and don’t want to have to keep renumbering them (no doubt this could be managed automagically, but I generally focus on content creation and am practically a Luddite when it comes to technology (I don’t even have a cell phone!), this, despite being a professional programmer).

The Crude Joke in the Vent – I wondered if that worked as written. I mean, the decision to speak it seemed almost out of character, though I suppose that was part of his plan. Still, it really stands out like a sore thumb. Wouldn’t there be another way to get his focus back? It’s probably fine, but it jumps out at readers as surprising, and not necessarily in a good way.

Maybe I do need to remove/rewrite that, but it was a key scene I came up with early and I feel shows them both struggling with their feelings for each other. I also want to show that Isabel is struggling with their relationship as well.

Time Table – I wonder if you can include dates (even just general ones, like season or month and year) at each Part of the novel, or chapters that occur much later than the previous ones to help readers see the passage of time more readily.

I have already tried working on some of those issues pointed out by other readers. One of the reasons I set the ‘parts’ off with blank pages is to try and clue the reader into a time jump. I also feel that Seacay, in adapting his diaries, would be cagey about some of those details, but I can also see that he would conclude he should make some stuff up to help the reader. I’ll think about how to go about adding more such flavor.

Language – You often refer to the fact that a character is speaking this language or that. This can be fine, but also, when overdone, quickly becomes a distraction. Only mention it when the plot demands and you’ll be fine.

Yes, I see I can let the reader assume he is using whatever language is appropriate. Interestingly (to me, anyway), this particular element has been driven home in thinking about how to adapt this to a screenplay. On the one hand I hate sub titles, on the other hand, I hate Anglicizing everything, particularly since I think non-US viewers might be a significant fraction (at least I would be targeting them, were things to proceed to that point).

The Signals – I wonder if the story would be more interesting if Seacay and Isabel hadn’t created signals to flash to each other when meeting in the future. Then there’s more “hmm…how’s this going to turn out” in the readers’ minds and that could be a good thing. More uncertainty/mystery is a good thing. For novels in general, and romance in particular. Again, I’m just looking for natural places to add some intrigue. It’s the little things like this that can make a novel stand out.

This is an ‘expert’ element where I figure they would have made these arrangements almost automatically. As I said before, I don’t think I emphasis enough that they spent several sex-filled days at the end of their first job and no matter how fantastic the sex is, if nothing more there has to be some conversation while the body recovers. I think if I am able to effectively get that point across that perhaps this element won’t be as out of place.

Chapter 4 – I wondered just what Secay wondered – was that whole thing too easy? I’m fine with characters who are unusually skilled at their job, but so far things have gone pretty much without a hitch for our protag. You mentioned in your note that this isn’t a traditional narrative approach to the genre (well, depending on the genre we’re talking about) and that’s fine. But when you have opportunity for some added tension or obstacles, you might as well take advantage of those moments. More tension means more intrigue means more reader engagement.

This I’m not sure about. To my end, I feel creating things that trip up Seacay are going against what I’m setting out to do. Later in the book I try to show he is not invincible, but particularly at this point I want to show that he is (largely) a master. The vulnerabilities I want to show (perhaps not well) is that he is out of his comfort zone because of Isabel. I can see to adding more layers of evident distraction, perhaps catching his mind wandering or something like that.

Chapter 7 – Is that specific cocktail believable? It strains credulity just a bit, since it does all the intended things and that might be a bit too convenient for some readers. As noted earlier, we could use some errors and mistakes early on in the story to make our hero less unbeatable.

Again, if this is not a leap of faith the reader can make then probably the whole story is moot. Just to add to your point: I’ve had complaints about this particular aspect when I mentioned the drug results as they were happening and modified the story to show the drugs being selected ‘laced with some additional special ingredients’ to ameliorate that complaint. This event (giving the second a specific drug cocktail) isn’t spontaneous, it is the result of a long period of careful planning on Seacay’s part. I’m trying to tell the story entertainingly, but quickly, to show his expertise is more than simply tripping people going down some stairs or shooting them with a needle gun.

Agatha – It’s rather convenient that S. has a contact with just the right equipment so nearby to where he happens to be. Just noting the “plot convenience” elments because too many and you get reader disengagement.

I suppose she could be further away, but then I feel I stall the action too much. Of course, I could drop her all together, but I’ve included her in subsequent action and in any case, I wanted to show that he isn’t just about unbelievably beautiful women, but is more about personalities once there has been interaction.

Exploding Bullet – So Seacay is an engineer of ballistics? Hmm…reminds me a bit of a scene in that George Clooney movie, The American. In fact the novel has shades of that (and maybe a touch of Mr. and Mrs. Smith as well, without the humor). Just made me pause a bit because it’s one more thing that makes him “perfect” and that can be off-putting. (Along with his great shooting skill, skill with women, disguise-making ability, photographic memory, etc.)

Once again back to the ‘experienced’ issue that I’m trying to do. I agree that I could drop the entire section, but wanted to have some back story for Tessa and show them interacting and developing friendship. I could just drop Seacay’s story and keep Tessa’s if you think that achieves what’s necessary. I guess this also applies to below as well.

Chapter 15 – Would love to see more showing vs. telling here. Seacay says “I am surprised how much I think about her” about Isabel, but it’s been three years, right? I wonder if readers are going to wish they’d had a scene or chapter earlier that showed us this longing, rather than suddenly say “I think about her a lot” once three years has passed. Maybe we need a small chapter before this where we see Seacay between jobs, just living his life but wondering if he’ll run into Isabel around the next corner. Watching him try to have a kind of “normal,” considering his job and his current love for Isabel could be interesting to readers.

I agree that some transition is helpful. Perhaps a good place for one of those ‘living it up’ scenes where he is having a great time, but is seeing Isabel everywhere he looks.

Chapter 16 – Not much to this chapter, really. Nearly a filler chapter. I wonder if the important bits could be incorporated into a different chapter.

I think the content is important, but can see your point in spreading it around. My goal with this whole section, though, was to show the reader how he goes about his recon by assuming persona that allow him to vanish. I was trying to make his earlier ‘vanishing’ acts more believable by showing some of what was involved in making that happen. I guess this applies to the below as well.

Chapter 18 – The second half is very “talky,” which could be an issue, but I do like the fact that Seacay begins to ponder the whole “trust” thing. I just thought that might be something that would have come up long ago, considering his general lack of trust (as noted earlier).

Certainly talky, but that was my exact point. I wanted to show them interacting non-sexually. Perhaps the marathon dialog needs to be broken somehow, except I don’t want them to interact physically and don’t really see them being this intimate at, say, a restaurant.

Chapter 20 – I like the backstory stuff here. You do repeat the “average guy” theme that’s already been established, as well as the “I have a good memory” thing, though. Also, the first kill seemed a bit far-fetched.

I can see I’ve hammered home my average looks and memory aspect, but I want to show him getting started before he joins the military and this story seems plausible to me.

Chapter 22 – This is a good example to illustrate what I mean about Seacay being “perfect” and nearly a superhero. Even when things don’t go as planned (he slipped up in his planning?) he happens to have the access and skills to accomplish his goal anyway. He can tamper with meds? Hmm…one more skill that shows up just in time to save the day. Here’s another way to look at it – it’s like Batman’s utility belt in the old TV series. He has exactly what he needs (or in Seacay’s case, access to exactly what he needs) just when he needs it. It strains credulity just a bit.

Perhaps it was my choice of words regarding the ‘tampering’ with the meds. I use ‘adulterate his meds’ when all that is happening is he is swapping out much higher strength versions of the same drug (later I say ‘I’m exchanging them for much higher doses’, but perhaps the initial verbiage clouds the perception). In my mind this doesn’t show anything particularly super human, he knows what meds the target has been prescribed and even if he didn’t already know the result of higher doses he could learn that trivially.

Chapter 24 – The bartender comment “I wonder how he keeps track” seems out of character. Doesn’t Seacay have to keep track of multiple things at once? Maybe instead he’d feel a kind of affinity with bartenders? Also, you spend almost as much time on the sex scene with the two women as you do in the earlier scenes with Isabel. Seems out of balance to me. Maybe we need more Isabel on the page earlier?

Maybe this was too cute, or letting too much of the author’s mind in, I’ve always wondered that so felt like articulating it. I can see that Seacay might actually not be impressed at all, or even have an affinity, like you say. As I’ve said, I think my first sex scene needs a massive overhaul and with that done correctly, I think this scene might fit in better.

Chapter 25 – This seems awfully familiar to me. Most of the chapter is redundant themes and claims by Seacay. Once you get to the actual job (“It is nigh on two weeks…”) it starts to feel new again.

Maybe it depends on the reader. I’m trying to show a variety of methods Seacay can use to take out targets and am trying to avoid repetition. I also figure that Seacay would be interested in showing off the breadth of his skills, and everything else has been urban, so wanted something outdoors. I also figured it would be an ideal way to weave in his evolving thoughts. In considering this section for the screen play adaptation, I was actually thinking of conveying much of this information as flashbacks where he would discuss these elements with Agatha, Tessa and Jim. I can see interweaving those discussions within the body of the novel, perhaps that would ‘speed things up’ on the job.

Earlier… – You use the “Earlier, I did this…” form a lot in Seacay’s narrative. That’s fine because you can’t show everything in “real time.” However, an abundance of this usage can steal the edge from the narrative. If you’re going back to say what he’s done “before” too often, the reader starts to lost the all-important sense of immediacy that comes from the first person present tense approach. And you need that, to help with building tension.

I agree in principle, but need specifics in order to focus enough to come up with alternatives. Perhaps, if I persuade myself to move forward with this writing, I can get your “Red Pen of Life and Death” or “Comprehensive Edit” and you can point those locations out.

Not a Target? – I had to wonder throughout the novel why Seacay could just get away with all of these kills, etc., without anyone targeting him. Maybe he’s just that lucky? But wouldn’t clients want to cover all their tracks, and if he’s a loose end, he might be considered one of those tracks? Just wondering aloud on this one.

I like this idea a lot. I can show him noticing observers and having to make some detours in order to avoid them. I can also see him taking some active measures from time to time to steer the observers in the wrong direction or temporarily incapacitate them. This could add some interesting flavor.

Chapter 26 – It’s more of the same “I have a great memory” and “I’m good with disguises” braggadocio here. And maybe that’s my issue with Seacay in general – he keeps repeating himself about all these skills (and tricks) he has (and uses), and that repetition starts to make him less appealing/compelling.

I suppose I could do away with the chapter, but felt it was important to show the reader some of the effort he puts into his layers of disguise.

Chapter 27 – The painted on eyes? On the boy? A bit of a stretch again, but mostly I was bugged by the shift in narrative tone to talk directly to the reader (“Come on, you didn’t really think I would do such a thing…”). I’m wondering if you even need this chapter. It’s quite a bit different from the rest, though perhaps even more unbelievable. And it’s gruesome, so it’s going to turn off some of your readers.

Several people have complained about this chapter and while I agree that it is discordant, I am trying to show the breadth of his skills and figure this is a realistic job he would take and also one he would feel is worth while relating to his readers. I am open to alternative ways to convey what I want, meaning how to show him doing a psychological operations job. I get that when there is a theme with readers there is an issue that needs to be addressed and in this case I am not so attached to it that I would want to stick with it, but I feel something like this is important.

Chapter 28 – This feels like it’s coming too late. Too much after the fact. Just show us that scene with Tessa earlier in a chapter that’s more immediate. It will carry far more emotional weight that way. You can have Seacay show a hesitation there, even, if that works for him. Something to suggest he’s thinking about Isabel when Tessa walks out of the shower. We could use more moment of “showing” like that, as already noted.

As I think I mentioned above, I agree with the idea of moving this earlier in the book.

Chapter 29 – Tessa’s long explanation about Isabel is really wordy and a bit on the nose. It doesn’t come across as organic conversation – especially for someone who is upset. Dialogue here could be more fractured, as I would expect from someone in a near panic. The patterns of dialogue can reveal as much about the characters as the words themselves. Also, in this chapter Seacay one again manages to do everything right. Wouldn’t this be a place where he might fail? That could raise the stakes a bit for the reader.

I like the idea of showing Tessa upset and frustrated and think doing so would increase the drama a lot. Last night I thought of having her get tongue tied and punch the dash or something, then Seacay realizes that he’d seen a bunch of bumps in the roof of the car and can see knuckle prints in the headliner and cracks in the dashboard. BTW, don’t really get the ‘bit on the nose’ reference, where does that come from? Going with what I recall in my reading, I would interpret ‘on the nose’ as being ‘right on target’, the opposite of what I think you are trying to convey.

Chapter 31 – We can add architect and builder to Seacay’s list of skills here. Hmm…he doesn’t sound real. And Isabel’s story to proclaim and explain her bisexuality? That’s the stuff of male sexual fantasy, I suppose, but it’s not needed in this moment. Less is more in this case, and this is a case of “more is more” instead.

Well, I’ve designed and built a house (along with my wife, the two of us doing 90%+ of the work) as well as an indoor pool/greenhouse, all from reading books, so it doesn’t sound like any sort of stretch to me. My goal with the story about the bondage is to show how Isabel and Tessa came together, to make it clear that they have had a long, loving relationship. Perhaps it comes too late for proper impact.

Chapter 32 – The male sexual fantasy continues. Will it appeal to men? Some. Women? Maybe not as much. And while it was nice to get the tour of Seacay’s place, it just kills the story momentum. Maybe we needed some of that earlier, if at all, though it’s another bit of evidence that Seacay is The Perfect (Self-absorbed/Self-confident) man. Some of your readers will want to be him, most will think he doesn’t exist (which is true). Yes, it’s a novel – in a way, a pure spy/assassin fantasy – so going over the top is somewhat expected. But I think there are opportunities to make it a little more believable, without losing that “fantasy” element. Thus, all my previous comments. The ending, while again an attempt to humanize Seacay a bit (his acknowledgement that Isabel needs to feel feminine after all she’s been through) comes awful fast, and in a strange way emphasizes his lack of nuance in understanding women/love. It’s kind of a “duh” realization that she would need some time, so for him to state it, while correct, just comes across as saying what he’s supposed to say. It doesn’t resonate.

I did intend some of the ‘duh’ part, he is still adjusting to his new emotional state. Going from a misogynist to a partnership should have some rough patches. I also wanted to (quickly) document some of the ‘what comes after’ that rarely seems documented. Perhaps, as you say, it is too much. I have read a number of complaints about how Tolkien seemed to go on and on about the whole bit back at the shire in LotR. I can see adding some of the elements scattered around the rest of the book, that would make this chapter much shorter.

My final thoughts…

I appreciate you picking out a ‘few good words’. I write ‘naturally’ in that for the most part it just flows from noggin to keyboard. When I edit, it tends to be more along line editing, so overall structure doesn’t change. I’m guessing, by you avoiding any mention of the funds/time to pound this into acceptable shape, that either you don’t see that as happening without too much work on your part or you aren’t sure I’m capable of taking editorial direction. If it is the latter, then hopefully the comments above will allow you to either conclude you were right or offer hints that I might be someone you could work with. When I have asked for input on business proposals I’ve written (a silly hobby that, so far, hasn’t made me a buck) I prefer to get back a ‘trashed’ document and hate it when I get back otherwise. I want to have to defend the elements I think are critical, if I can’t convince a professional editor that they are important, perhaps either they aren’t as important as I thought or, as is likely in this case, I’m just trying to do something that doesn’t have a ready market.

I get that there may not be any interest in what I’ve written. I get that finding an agent (just the foothill of the Everest climb) could be a nightmare, even if they like it (I’ve had a couple of what seem that sort of response, I can relay them to you if you’re curious). And I completely get that even with everything happening to get the book published, the reality of the publishing world may mean that even a potential best seller languishes because no one gets a chance to learn it is available. It is against this backdrop that I find your overall response so maddeningly unsatisfying. Though I fully expect the need for a fairly decent back list in order to bring in the money I’m targeting for retirement (I would be happy with $50K/year, according to my projections that leaves enough in our retirement that it continues to grow rather than shrink), one of the reasons I started with a several book series, if I can’t get the first book sold because agents/publishers won’t put effort behind it, I think it may be time to cut my losses. However, you encourage me to keep writing. If, after reading all this (assuming, of course, you’ve read this far) you think I’m not capable of being edited into something salable (meaning I’m too stuck on my baby to consider changing it where necessary), I think my clear course of action is to put it all behind me. Of course, if you answer that I can take enough direction that you don’t think the dollars spent on a comprehensive edit you are just leaving me just as messed up as before…

In any case, thanks again for your critique.

DoaCK Developmental Editing

This is a three-part post regarding the developmental editing I got for my first novel through Steve, the Novel DoctorPart 2. Part 3.

My hope is by reading this you can get some sort of idea on what dev editing is and how it works to help improve your novel.  Even though I didn’t always agree with Steve (you’ll see that in Part 2), his feedback always inspired me.  That’s the relationship I think you should look for in a dev editor.  If, for some reason, you aren’t clicking on that level with yours, I suggest trying someone else.  I read a lot of Steve’s blog posts before I felt he was ‘the one;’ you may need to invest that level of research as well.  There are lots of good editors out there, but you want one sympathetic to your story goals and interested in your story (he read the first two chapters before committing).

Editorial Review for Diary of a Contract Killer

The Big Picture

This is mostly what you’re looking for – that quantitative measure of how close to “there” you are with the novel. You know what I’m going to say here – that’s kind of an impossible thing to provide. And here’s why: I’ve read dozens of novels I’d have said were brilliant or nearly so; clearly better than most of the stuff that gets published. But only a smattering of those books actually found a publisher, and fewer still found any modicum of success. Alternately, I’ve worked on some novels that, to me, fell notably short of “there” that went on to find a sizable audience. There are just too many variables to offer any kind of trustworthy prediction about possible success. The notes that follow will outline the areas I think need the most attention – and I believe addressing those can help you get closer to the “there” you’re looking for.

Let’s look at it this way – can you write? Yes. There’s a quiet confidence in your writing voice that suggests you have some natural talent. Is this a story that readers will enjoy? With some revisions, I believe there is an audience for it. However, the challenges of finding that audience may make it difficult to grab an agent’s interest. Whenever writers step out and try something that doesn’t have a proven track record of sales, agents find themselves in a quandary. If they love the story anyway, they might take on the author, hoping to find a way into a publishing house with something “new” despite the overall concern about whether or not that thing can actually sell enough copies to make them money. But more often, when considering the manuscripts in front of them – the cool, but different “DoaCK,” and a half dozen genre novels that may not be as cool but are selling a ton in the market – they’ll go with the one they think publishers will jump at. That’s not a judgment on the quality of the writing or even the novel itself; just the realities of publishing as a business. (My own writing is similar in that it doesn’t immediately tell agents “this will sell,” but rather sneaks up on them and makes them feel bad that they can’t choose to represent me. Heard that from three very sad/apologetic agents on the most recent work.)

This needs some work, though. Even though you can eschew a traditional narrative structure and approach by design, you’ll still need something to compel readers to keep reading. Ostensibly, it’s the romance between Seacay and Isabel, but there just isn’t enough on the page as written to compel readers to stick around. The contract jobs are interesting and will appeal to some readers, but anyone looking for romance will instead find scattered scenes of sex, a tease of something more substantial, and a few intriguing but underdeveloped themes of longing on the part of our hero. If you can develop those aspects of the story, and build Seacay’s growing love for Isabel over time, you’ll have that audience’s interest. I’d probably just call it contemporary fiction – and not try to oversell the literary angle. “Literary” is an assessment more than a genre, anyway. And it’s a label that screams “low sales” to many agents. As written, it’s definitely not a romance novel. It isn’t erotica, either, though it sounds like you could almost turn it in that direction by going back to what you were originally writing. In that case, you’d have an alpha male (of the highest degree) who falls for one (or two) strong female characters. This might be the direction to go, since you already have the framework for adding more scenes that ooze sex and power and (eventually) something resembling love.

Okay, that’s the big picture. I have a sense that your writing voice isn’t quite “there” yet, but that it’s well on its way. The only way to find it is to keep writing, of course. Can this become something worthy of a significant audience? Hard to say. But if you enjoy writing (or feel compelled to write), I’d encourage you to keep doing that no matter what this book does. I will, however, caution you to say that writing typically doesn’t turn into much in the way of income. I have a few writers who are making some money (not a ton, but enough to pay a few bills and keep writing), but most are lucky to break even, at least on their first books. It really does take having a backlist before you start to see notable income, and only then if you’ve managed to build a good list of readers.

Discouraging? Sure. Writing is hard. Making money as a writer is harder. But both are possible if you stick to it and embrace the paradox of patience and persistence.

With that, on to the more specific notes…

The Inner Monologue Dilemma

One of the great challenges of first person narrative (particularly first person present tense) is finding the balance between inner monologue and external action/exposition. The tendency is to overdo the inner monologue, but the result of that is exhausting the readers (often due to repetition of themes or ideas). This draft shows that you have tried to address that (whether by design or happenstance), and that’s a good thing. However, you can tighten the voice even more. Here’s a small example from early in the novel. You wrote:

She considers this for a while. I look at her as she drives, her hair is so silky I have to actively resist the urge to reach out and run my fingers through it. I’m of two minds of being on my own again: I really find her distracting but I don’t really want to end the distraction. Watching her think is fascinating. She’s capably driving the car yet making plans for infiltration at the same time. I think, on balance, I’ll be better off clearing my mind and perhaps breaking this spell she has on me.

Thing is, we already know Seacay is distracted by her. That’s been well established in what has gone before. So every time you mention it after that, it has the effect of pummeling the reader with something they already know. The solution is to cut back the obvious and let readers intuit what they’ve already learned. For example in this paragraph, you could just as easily say:

She considers this for a while. I look at her as she drives, her hair is so silky I have to actively resist the urge to reach out and run my fingers through it. Watching her think is fascinating. She’s capably driving the car yet making plans for infiltration at the same time.

This tells the readers he’s entranced, curious. And readers will already make the leap to conclude that it might be wise not to be distracted. They don’t need to be told.

Another general thought about the narrative – Seacay describes a lot of things as “this is what I usually do” in his internal monologues. I’m fine with seeing some of his planning in “real time,” but too much preliminary analysis/planning can steal some of the wonder of discovery from the moments when he actually enacts his plans. It’s a case of telling the reader what’s coming, then showing them when it happens, and if they’re not demonstrably different, it feels like redundancy.

Suspense and intrigue are built as much on what’s not said as what’s said. This applies equally to a budding romance.

I have to wonder what the book would sound like in first person, past tense. I have a gut feeling it could be stronger that way.

The Romance

I like the tease back and forth between Seacay and Isabel. Especially the way Seacay analyzes her skills and is equally distracted by them (and her obvious beauty). But they sure do get deep fast, at least in the last chapters in Part One where she’s sharing all about her backstory, without any apparent hesitation. It seems to me that trust is a rare thing for a contract killer, so I’m wondering if this is believable for them. I almost wish you’d use the whole first Part to tease the coming relationship. Perhaps they do fall into bed by the end of the section, but don’t share all those intimate details about their lives. Leave some of that off the page early on to create more of that all-important intrigue that will compel readers. Let some mystery remain in Seacay’s head/heart, so the tug back to her becomes even more significant.

BTW, “Isabel as distraction” is a good plot device. But maybe have less obvious mentions of this – show, don’t tell. Let us “feel” Seacay’s distractedness, follow his eyes to Isabel, his thoughts as well, instead of saying “Isabel is a distraction” in so many words.

Bottom line is this: secrecy is power – so wouldn’t there be some of that going on even in this budding romance?

Also, while I certainly can buy Seacay’s “no other relationship will compare to this” snap judgment, based on his experience with Isabel, it’s a big leap for someone who’s thus far considered women to be little more than distractions. I think it can work – perhaps even better if you do what I suggest above – but it’s the kind of thing that grows on you, rather than is immediately certain. At least I think that would be true. Perhaps even moreso if there are some unanswered questions – some secrets – re: Isabel.

See other notes below on the romance and how to make it stronger.

Seacay

For someone who prefers to work alone, he sure was quick to agree to help Tessa and Isabel. I wondered if this was believable for someone who by choice, and by personality, needs to be highly protective of his choices regarding other people (especially people in the same business). He just needs to act honestly from that core of who he is for readers to trust him and care about him. Not that he can’t have cracks that show he’s not entirely consistent, but that he tries to be consistent to the core truths he’s embraced.

I’ll mention this a few times, but his skillset is a bit hard to believe. Yes, in Part Three we see some imperfections and hiccups in the execution of his plans, but it’s rare. It’s something that will cause some readers to go “really?” when you want them to go “cool.” For example, he always seems to have exactly the tech he needs to get the job done. That can feel like a plot contrivance at times. What if he has to improvise once in a while? What if he screws up?

He talks about being emotionless, but cries at chick flicks? And while I like that he develops a friendship with Tessa, I’d much rather see more of it than be told about it.

Finally, I wonder about what really motivates him. We get clues that he’s in it for the thrill, the job itself, and he talks about all the money. But we don’t see him really using that money, apart from the costs of the job itself (which is usually funded by the client anyway) and the details about his lavish house at the end. What’s his endgame? I wonder if we might benefit from more clues about that – and perhaps a few scenes showing him really living extravagantly, which would make sense considering the dollars he’s raking in. Something to support that aspect of his character.

A Few More Notes About the Non-Traditional Approach

It’s true that “not much happens” in a global sense in the novel. As already noted, Seacay is nearly invincible anyway, so it’s almost a moot point. But it is exactly the kind of criticism you’ll hear from agents or publishers. One of the issues is the abundance of “telling,” too. When you give us a scene that’s more immediate, you compel the reader more. Those are good. And the dialogue is pretty good, too. But it’s otherwise an overload of “let me tell you some things” and that will wear on readers.

And a Bunch of Other Things

The Heart Attack Dart – Is it a real thing? A believable fiction? Just noting this because all invented tech choices in a novel need to feel believable or readers will roll their eyes. Too many eye rolls and you lose them. Also, why doesn’t he confirm the death? Wouldn’t that be part of his job? Wondering if “trusting things are all good” is a reasonable expectation for a professional.

Chapter Naming – I find myself often saying “don’t name the chapters – you’re giving too much away” to writers. But I kind of liked your chapter titles. They’re fun and don’t reveal everything that’s to come. But that’s a good think to keep in mind – if your chapter title could be considered a summary of the coming chapter, it might be the wrong thing to use. You want readers to discover the plot along the way, not be told “here’s what’s coming” first. (Small note – chapter 21 reads “Why am I So Cautions” and I suspect you mean “cautious.”)

The Crude Joke in the Vent – I wondered if that worked as written. I mean, the decision to speak it seemed almost out of character, though I suppose that was part of his plan. Still, it really stands out like a sore thumb. Wouldn’t there be another way to get his focus back? It’s probably fine, but it jumps out at readers as surprising, and not necessarily in a good way.

Time Table – I wonder if you can include dates (even just general ones, like season or month and year) at each Part of the novel, or chapters that occur much later than the previous ones to help readers see the passage of time more readily.

Language – You often refer to the fact that a character is speaking this language or that. This can be fine, but also, when overdone, quickly becomes a distraction. Only mention it when the plot demands and you’ll be fine.

The Signals – I wonder if the story would be more interesting if Seacay and Isabel hadn’t created signals to flash to each other when meeting in the future. Then there’s more “hmm…how’s this going to turn out” in the readers’ minds and that could be a good thing. More uncertainty/mystery is a good thing. For novels in general, and romance in particular. Again, I’m just looking for natural places to add some intrigue. It’s the little things like this that can make a novel stand out.

Chapter 4 – I wondered just what Secay wondered – was that whole thing too easy? I’m fine with characters who are unusually skilled at their job, but so far things have gone pretty much without a hitch for our protag. You mentioned in your note that this isn’t a traditional narrative approach to the genre (well, depending on the genre we’re talking about) and that’s fine. But when you have opportunity for some added tension or obstacles, you might as well take advantage of those moments. More tension means more intrigue means more reader engagement.

Chapter 7 – Is that specific cocktail believable? It strains credulity just a bit, since it does all the intended things and that might be a bit too convenient for some readers. As noted earlier, we could use some errors and mistakes early on in the story to make our hero less unbeatable.

Agatha – It’s rather convenient that S. has a contact with just the right equipment so nearby to where he happens to be. Just noting the “plot convenience” elments because too many and you get reader disengagement.

Exploding Bullet – So Seacay is an engineer of ballistics? Hmm…reminds me a bit of a scene in that George Clooney movie, The American. In fact the novel has shades of that (and maybe a touch of Mr. and Mrs. Smith as well, without the humor). Just made me pause a bit because it’s one more thing that makes him “perfect” and that can be off-putting. (Along with his great shooting skill, skill with women, disguise-making ability, photographic memory, etc.)

Chapter 11 – This was a fine chapter, but it felt a little like “filler” to me. You have Seacay and Tessa share stories, but while they’re interesting, they aren’t that important to the general flow of the novel, so you might have a few readers skipping ahead. They want to see what happens next. It’s a pacing issue, I suppose. And it’s certainly not a big deal if you keep these stories, but you already have so much detail about the current timeline “jobs” that your protagonist does, this will feel somewhat redundant.

Chapter 15 – Would love to see more showing vs. telling here. Seacay says “I am surprised how much I think about her” about Isabel, but it’s been three years, right? I wonder if readers are going to wish they’d had a scene or chapter earlier that showed us this longing, rather than suddenly say “I think about her a lot” once three years has passed. Maybe we need a small chapter before this where we see Seacay between jobs, just living his life but wondering if he’ll run into Isabel around the next corner. Watching him try to have a kind of “normal,” considering his job and his current love for Isabel could be interesting to readers.

Chapter 16 – Not much to this chapter, really. Nearly a filler chapter. I wonder if the important bits could be incorporated into a different chapter.

Chapter 17 – This is another chapter full of “making plans.” I’m fine with those in general, but it’s the abundance of “here’s what we’re going to do” moments that tends to drag the pacing down a bit.

Chapter 18 – The second half is very “talky,” which could be an issue, but I do like the fact that Seacay begins to ponder the whole “trust” thing. I just thought that might be something that would have come up long ago, considering his general lack of trust (as noted earlier).

Chapter 20 – I like the backstory stuff here. You do repeat the “average guy” theme that’s already been established, as well as the “I have a good memory” thing, though. Also, the first kill seemed a bit far-fetched.

Chapter 22 – This is a good example to illustrate what I mean about Seacay being “perfect” and nearly a superhero. Even when things don’t go as planned (he slipped up in his planning?) he happens to have the access and skills to accomplish his goal anyway. He can tamper with meds? Hmm…one more skill that shows up just in time to save the day. Here’s another way to look at it – it’s like Batman’s utility belt in the old TV series. He has exactly what he needs (or in Seacay’s case, access to exactly what he needs) just when he needs it. It strains credulity just a bit.

Chapter 24 – The bartender comment “I wonder how he keeps track” seems out of character. Doesn’t Seacay have to keep track of multiple things at once? Maybe instead he’d feel a kind of affinity with bartenders? Also, you spend almost as much time on the sex scene with the two women as you do in the earlier scenes with Isabel. Seems out of balance to me. Maybe we need more Isabel on the page earlier?

Chapter 25 – This seems awfully familiar to me. Most of the chapter is redundant themes and claims by Seacay. Once you get to the actual job (“It is nigh on two weeks…”) it starts to feel new again.

Earlier… – You use the “Earlier, I did this…” form a lot in Seacay’s narrative. That’s fine because you can’t show everything in “real time.” However, an abundance of this usage can steal the edge from the narrative. If you’re going back to say what he’s done “before” too often, the reader starts to lost the all-important sense of immediacy that comes from the first person present tense approach. And you need that, to help with building tension.

Not a Target? – I had to wonder throughout the novel why Seacay could just get away with all of these kills, etc., without anyone targeting him. Maybe he’s just that lucky? But wouldn’t clients want to cover all their tracks, and if he’s a loose end, he might be considered one of those tracks? Just wondering aloud on this one.

Chapter 26 – It’s more of the same “I have a great memory” and “I’m good with disguises” braggadocio here. And maybe that’s my issue with Seacay in general – he keeps repeating himself about all these skills (and tricks) he has (and uses), and that repetition starts to make him less appealing/compelling.

Chapter 27 – The painted on eyes? On the boy? A bit of a stretch again, but mostly I was bugged by the shift in narrative tone to talk directly to the reader (“Come on, you didn’t really think I would do such a thing…”). I’m wondering if you even need this chapter. It’s quite a bit different from the rest, though perhaps even more unbelievable. And it’s gruesome, so it’s going to turn off some of your readers.

Chapter 28 – This feels like it’s coming too late. Too much after the fact. Just show us that scene with Tessa earlier in a chapter that’s more immediate. It will carry far more emotional weight that way. You can have Seacay show a hesitation there, even, if that works for him. Something to suggest he’s thinking about Isabel when Tessa walks out of the shower. We could use more moment of “showing” like that, as already noted.

Chapter 29 – Tessa’s long explanation about Isabel is really wordy and a bit on the nose. It doesn’t come across as organic conversation – especially for someone who is upset. Dialogue here could be more fractured, as I would expect from someone in a near panic. The patterns of dialogue can reveal as much about the characters as the words themselves. Also, in this chapter Seacay one again manages to do everything right. Wouldn’t this be a place where he might fail? That could raise the stakes a bit for the reader.

Chapter 30 – A few things. I’m thinking Seacay will come across as less of a heroic figure than he thinks he is, based on how he deals with Isabel after her abduction. When he says he’ll wait for her to be “ready” for sex, it sounds like the right thing to say, but it still comes across as rather self-focused. If she’s been sexually abused, raped or otherwise tortured, it could be a very long time before she’s even going to think about sex or that kind of intimacy. Seacay’s thoughts on the matter in the story show little sensitivity, despite saying some “right” words. And while I was expecting the declaration of love, we need more scenes earlier to support that idea. As written, he has previously referred to her as an object of lust, even as he’s mentioned how surprised he is to think of her so often. Give us two more scenes/chapters with her. And one with Tessa to build up that complication as suggested earlier. Then when we get to the “love” moment, it will have been well-earned.

Chapter 31 – We can add architect and builder to Seacay’s list of skills here. Hmm…he doesn’t sound real. And Isabel’s story to proclaim and explain her bisexuality? That’s the stuff of male sexual fantasy, I suppose, but it’s not needed in this moment. Less is more in this case, and this is a case of “more is more” instead.

Chapter 32 – The male sexual fantasy continues. Will it appeal to men? Some. Women? Maybe not as much. And while it was nice to get the tour of Seacay’s place, it just kills the story momentum. Maybe we needed some of that earlier, if at all, though it’s another bit of evidence that Seacay is The Perfect (Self-absorbed/Self-confident) man. Some of your readers will want to be him, most will think he doesn’t exist (which is true). Yes, it’s a novel – in a way, a pure spy/assassin fantasy – so going over the top is somewhat expected. But I think there are opportunities to make it a little more believable, without losing that “fantasy” element. Thus, all my previous comments. The ending, while again an attempt to humanize Seacay a bit (his acknowledgement that Isabel needs to feel feminine after all she’s been through) comes awful fast, and in a strange way emphasizes his lack of nuance in understanding women/love. It’s kind of a “duh” realization that she would need some time, so for him to state it, while correct, just comes across as saying what he’s supposed to say. It doesn’t resonate.

A Few Good Words

I always like to end an Editorial Review with a few brief excerpts from the novel that I really enjoyed.

Setting up a really good security system is hard to do: make one small mistake and you might as well have nothing. [Just love the truth of this statement. Seacay makes a lot of smart observations. Some of those, like this one, make him an entertaining and enjoyable protagonist.]

She has a very tight sweater barely buttoned together, with a loose weave that allows for intriguing peaks on what lies underneath. Sporting a short skirt that flares out at the waist, it’s carefully calculated to be revealing if she bends over or spins about. She understands that half the fun in getting a present is unwrapping it; plain nakedness leaves nothing to the imagination. [Descriptions in this scene are good. Enough for readers to “see” but not so much that the details distract from the moment. This gives me hope that you can become a highly skilled writer of descriptive scenes with a little more writing experience.]

“It may sound strange to put it this way, but you are the most warm hearted cold blooded killer I’ve ever met.” [Just thought this was funny. You used it again in the last chapter, I think. But I love the line.]

For those of you who like data…

An author friend of mine was interested in what was involved in my first novel effort. I guess, to compare with what she was putting into hers. Here’s what I sent, along with some additional information.

I started DoaCK on March 7, 2015 (I date a lot of documents just for these reasons).

I submitted the first 50 or so pages to Tor/Forge on 7/23/2015; it took them 243 days to say no.

My aunt, who was in the publishing biz decades ago, convinced me the cost of an agent (e.g., 15%) would be paid back in higher negotiated advance, so I decided to query.

First queried on 10/29/2015; she got back to me in only 4 days. She was the only one who asked to see anything, but it was queries for future work.

I sent out my last query on March 17th of 2015 and that agent got back the same day with a ‘no.’ In total, I queried 26 agents. Of those that got back to me (11 out of 26, or 42%), the average response time was just shy of 7.5 days. Several got back to me the same day, but four took 38 days or longer (one of those took 48 days).

After many months of fruitless query-ing (e.g, no MS requests), I decided on getting independent input and, perhaps, some professional editing. Note that this is BACKWARDS and you should do your editing first.

My notes tell me I had 34 different people read various versions of the novel (over close to two years), paying 11 of them a total of $727.

Jun 24, 2016 contacted a developmental editor to get on his schedule ($750).

Aug 29, 2016 sent him the work.

Oct 22, 2016 got his initial feedback and started the exchange of notes.

Mar 16, 2017 sent him my updated MS for his critique (another $350).

Apr 12, 2017 got his comments back.

May 3, 2017 sent it to line editor, after incorporating everyone’s suggestions to that point ($425)

May 15, 2017 got it back from her.

September 19, 2017, after incorporating the line editor’s input, I sent my MS to a proofer, $105.

Oct 2nd 2017, she got it back to me.  I have yet to incorporate her changes.

Sept. 22nd, 2017 I contacted a cover artist, as at that time I was intent on self-publishing.  She gave me a steal at $100 for the design.

We went back and forth, refining the design, until 10/11/2017, when I soured on the whole idea of writing novels and told her to stop her work (we were in the midst of discussing how to tie the covers for the series together visually).

My notes say I’ve spent a total of $2,457 on book one (I’ve paid for a lot of betas), plus $314 on book 2, $285 on 3 and an additional $22 for someone to review my short stories for a grand total (that I’ve managed to record) of $3,078, with no visible signs of publication yet. I’m sure there are a couple of hundred bucks of other expenses (Tor wanted paper, for instance and I think I spent $50 or so on a contest that went nowhere).

I made a serious effort to track the hours I spent working on the novel.  I’m sure I missed a lot, but my records tell me I spent a total of 126 hours writing or editing (I never tracked time just daydreaming).  The total word count is just shy of 80K, for a calculated WPM, after all has been said and done, of 10.54 (I love spreadsheets!).

I started writing books 2 and 3, as well as a series of short stories, while I was waiting for feedback on this novel.  I believe I have more than 260K words written in this series.

The thing about this business that’s been hardest for me to adapt to is how bloody long it takes for anything to get done. I’d read somewhere that, for a conventionally published book, 24 months was considered lighting fast to go from concept to bookstore shelves. The reality is it usually takes at least a year longer for the writer to write and the editors to edit and the writer to make changes. This is when there’s already a contract with the publisher and checks already cashed. Had I continued to self-publish, I would have been ready in the November 2017 time frame, or around 33 months, assuming my math is correct.

Is you is, or is you ain’t?

When I was wondering how to know if I were a writer, I scoured the Internet looking for some way to evaluate my work.  Eventually, I accepted that in order to be a writer, one must only write.  So, having written, I’m a writer. Plain and simple.

The next question was, am I a novelist? The general conclusion I arrived at is, one is a novelist the moment one actually completes a novel.  That gave me a second check, I’ve completed three.

How to measure yourself once you’ve become a novelist?  That’s when it becomes much more complicated.  I’ve had a lot of beta readers and while the feedback was far from uniform (some actually detested my story), enough of the feedback gave me confidence that I was reaching my target audience.  My problem was how to identify that audience, something I still struggle with.

I worked with editors to refine my work.  While they’re getting paid, and thus have an incentive to say nice things to encourage repeat business, I nonetheless felt their feedback was honest.  Indeed, I kept trying to get one of them to tell me I sucked, so I could use that as justification to try and quit my obsession.  Sadly (and yes, I did feel that way many times), he refused to do so.

Since I started writing February 4th, 2015 (fiction, I’ve written lots of non-fiction over the years, not to mention lots of business proposals, etc.), I’ve gained the confidence to think, deep down in my psych, that I am a writer.

If you write, rest assured, you are a writer.  If you’ve finished your novel, that makes you a novelist.  Where you go from there is very much dependent on your tolerance for rejection.  No tolerance at all?  Stick your novel in a drawer or leave it on your computer (but please make backups! in the cloud, if possible!).  Low, go with self-publishing as, statistically speaking, no one will read your book beyond a handful of friends and family.  Unless, of course, you want to invest even more time into marketing and promoting your book, setting up a website, a Facebook page, tweeting, getting reviews, etc.  Or, if you’re really a masochist, go with conventional publishing and query agents and publishers (you get to do all the same self-promotion, by the way).

At first, I queried.  While I hate rejection as much as the next guy or gal, I’ve developed a thick skin over the last half century and know that the unasked question always has the same answer.  When querying failed, I did what I should have done in the first place and got beta readers and editors.  I was set to go back to querying, when I was consumed by a new idea, one I thought would be better to be my first (never assume your first novel written has to be your first novel published! writers write; I wrote two more novels while awaiting feedback on my first).  That didn’t go as far as I intended, so thought about self-publishing for a while.

That aspect ground to a halt when I realized we were spending our retirement money (I negotiated a grand-a-book budget from my boss (wife)) with no realistic chances of ever getting that money back, let alone any sort of return.  After wallowing in depression for a while, I decided to focus my energies on becoming a writer/director, so decided I wasn’t going to publish anything at all.

Does any of that mean you shouldn’t either?  Of course not.  If you want to self-publish, by all means go for it.  Several people I beta read did exactly that.  To my knowledge, no one I beta read for has conventionally published, but I only started beta reading in Dec of ’16 and it can often take 12-18 months from when a publisher says ‘yes’ to the book being on the bookstore shelves, so perhaps no one has made it that far yet.  Should you query?  Absolutely, if you’re OK with the process and can be rejected without it destroying your soul.

Or put it on the shelf and write something else.  Writers write, after all.  It’s so damn hard and soul sucking to get people to read your novel. I think there’s no shame at all in simply having a few beta readers love your story and then moving onto another project.  Yes, it’s nice for the world to read your story, but there are so damn many books being published each year, the world has a hard time keeping up.  If you enjoy writing, but not all the stuff that’s required to promote the book, there’s no reason to think less of yourself to just tuck it away and going on to another.  And another.

Good luck, no matter what decision you make!

Yep, Queries

I wrote this a long time ago to post on someone else’s blog, but couldn’t for some reason.  I sent it to a couple of people and just stumbled across it. It’s a perfect thing to put here.


Yep, queries. I feel fairly certain that had I taken the time to learn about what happens after a novel is written, I never would have started in the first place. Unfortunately, I foolishly became obsessed with writing first, then learned about the Everest climb to achieve success afterwards.

Distilling 80K words into 100-150. Be unique, but also follow the conventions. Hook the reader, but don’t spoil the story. Be clever, but not too clever.

Then, even if you somehow manage to navigate this ridiculous maze, you have to have your query reach an agent when that agent is in a good mood, is looking for what you’re selling, isn’t already representing an author with something too close (or, if they’re part of a firm, that their firm isn’t representing such an author!).

And you got, maybe, 10 seconds. In that 10 seconds, you need to impress the agent enough to garner an additional 20-30 seconds to actually finish reading your query. That micro novel that took longer to write and edit the novel it represents (really!). That thing you labored over for so long, taking wildly contradictory input from dozens of people all sincerely trying to help. You got 10 seconds (this is on the good day, when the agent isn’t tired, cranky, hungry, pissed at their SO, just stubbed their toe, spilled coffee down their neck, etc., etc., etc.) to garner those additional few seconds. What are those seconds supposed to get you? A request for a manuscript. Only if you somehow survive this gauntlet do you finally get a chance to impress a gatekeeper with your prose.

If you can’t get an MS request, you can’t get representation. It’s that simple and that basic. The query’s only purpose is to convert that 10 seconds into 20-30 seconds into a request for the MS. All that work. For 10 seconds. Why the hell did we start writing again?

The Seeds of Winter: Artilect War, Book One – A.W. Cross

Andrea and I have become friendly, exchanging a number of emails on a variety of topics.  She has a diverse background that has some parallels with mine.  One of the reasons, I guess, she asked me to beta read for her.

Amazon link; my review:

I initially read this when it was in beta. I purchased a copy, to support a fellow author, but also to reread and give a review from the published version.

This is a complex novel, covering a lot of different events from many different viewpoints. It’s a challenge the author has overcome, with wonderful style, as the story is engaging and easy to read, despite the complexity. It’s not easy to predict how the story unfolds, but as it unfolds, all the elements make sense.

I eagerly look forward to reading the rest of the series!

Full Dive – T M Rain

I’m big into scifi, probably 80% of my bookshelf over the years, so was excited to read “Full Dive.” As I title my review, I “Retained [the] sim[ulation] even after reading.”

Tom’s website.

Amazon link; my review:

I beta read for Mr Rain, then, because I loved his story so much, bought a dead-tree version to reread.

I found myself so immersed in the story, that, for several minutes after taking a break from reading, I saw my real world overlaid with the simulation he produced in my head. I don’t think I’ve been that immersed in a story for years, possibly decades, and can’t wait for his next novel so I can do the same.

Stolen Things – Stephen Parolini

Full disclosure, I used Steve as my development editor for my Contract Killer novel.

I was actually depressed for a while after I read it, thinking if he couldn’t get someone to take on that beautiful gem (he self published), how could I ever find anyone to take on my stories. Eventually, though, I settled on (or grasped upon) the lottery notion of success.

Website for the book.

Amazon link; my review:

When I started reading this book I expected it to be good, but planned on reading it slowly over several days. Unfortunately, despite my efforts, I wasn’t able to do so and wound up reading it in a single day. Now I’ll have to reread it several [times] so I can enjoy it longer.

I love the mystery and I particularly love that the mystery isn’t resolved. Berry is the most engaging 12 year old I’ve ever spent a few hours with and her imagination was very real to me.

Thank you Steve!

Latte Girl – Katia Rose

I’ve read a number of romance novels since I started beta reading through Goodreads.  Not something I’d likely ever pick up off the shelf, but that’s part of what I like about beta reading: exposure to new things.

Katia’s website.

Amazon link. My review there:

I started reading Latte Girl as a beta reader for Katia, but didn’t have time to finish before she published. I bought a copy, not just to support a fellow author, but because I wanted to finish and wanted the final version. I’ve read several romances now, and found Katia’s approach fresh and appealing. And her sex scenes are steamy! I like how her happily ever after doesn’t make everything perfect, and shows that Hailey and Jordon are starting a long road, but with support for each other.

Thank you Katia for a lovely story! I look forward to reading your next work!