Editor – Sharon Umbaugh

Sharon has impressive credentials, having worked at a big 5 publisher in manuscript acquisition and sales, not to mention manging an independent bookstore.  It’s for these reasons that I approached her to do line editing for my Contract Killer book.  She did excellent work and was helpful in answering my questions.  I have recommended her to several of my author friends.

Editor – Leanna O’Brien, Writing Radically

I have a fondness for strong female characters (SFCs) and wanted input on the quality of my characters and their story arcs, so sought someone who could give me that sort of input.  After perusing Leanna’s blog, I found her with strong opinions that felt similar to my goals.  I contacted her and was able to get onto her queue for review.

Her feedback helped me polish my SFCs and shore up a few weak spots.  She also read my other DoaCK stories with the same goal in mind.  She had other advice which I used, but my interest in working with her was strengthening my SFCs.

She also gave me input on a new SFC I developed, my dominatrix.  Her input was wide ranging and all valuable, so I recommend her for all your editing needs.

Editor – Stephen Parolini, The Novel Doctor

When I was still writing my first novel, I did a bunch of research to find an editor I felt would be a good fit for my story goals.  I came across Stephen Parolini, whose website is http://www.noveldoctor.com/

Reading his blog posts, I felt he would understand what I was trying to do with my story, so contacted him to get his professional opinion on whether my writing had potential or not.  He responded that it was impossible to have an opinion on an unfinished novel, as so many people fail to finish, or if they do, their ending collapses.  I took his advice to heart, and focused on completing my story.

Fast forward… I’ve finished, then started to query.  A couple of months later, with no manuscript requests, I started to think that maybe I need a developmental editor and remembered Steve.  I contacted him, he looked over my first few pages, and put me on his queue (which was substantial; beware editors who aren’t busy!).  His feedback was incredibly detailed and even when he was picking my story apart, he managed to do so in such a way that I felt inspired, rather than put down.

I feel sure my story is 10x better than it was before I got his input.  Plus, his feedback gave me the confidence to consider myself a ‘real’ writer.  I can’t recommend Steve enough as a patient guy able to give constructive criticism.

Editor – Barbara Tsipouras

Barbara was my first beta reader.  I posted on Goodreads (my very first) and she responded almost immediately.  She’s always given me excellent feedback and even acted as alpha reader for DoaCK‘s 2, 3 and short stories.

Barbara is German and does German to English translations professionally.  She proofed my first 50 pages when I cheekily submitted to Tor/Forge, without realizing how raw and unread my story was (she did point this out, but I was counting on the publisher cleaning things up; they will, but it’s best if your work is nearly spotless when you’re a debut author).  I highly recommend her.

Her web site: https://reading-experience.blogspot.de/

Beta reading

Every writer needs beta readers.  Just like every writer needs editors.  Don’t be a Keith and think you can go and query just because a couple of friends read your work and had only nice things to say.  After I queried without any success, I decided to see if my work could be improved with the help of input from people who didn’t know me.

Yep, they had lots of good input!  I learned a lot more than I was blind to a lot of stupid editing issues (if you haven’t noticed by now, I cherish run on sentences), I learned how stuff in my head often didn’t make it onto the page/screen.  Of the three novels I’ve finished, I’ve had a total of 62 readers.  One of the things I learned, which was just as important: blurbs matter.  I was overselling the romance aspect (having cheekily decided mine was, without having read any to that point) and wound up with a number of disappointed readers, some militantly so.

I also paid a number of readers.  My notes say I paid 24, ranging from $22US to $150 with a mean of $40 and an average of $18.75. (The novels were all between 75-80K; size does matter.) My opinions are the paid readers provided about the same quality of feedback, on average, as the free ones, though please note the variation was substantial in both pools.

I’ve also done beta reading (for free) and feel I’ve learned at least as much doing my own beta reading as I did from those who read for me.  There’s nothing like seeing your bad habits in other people’s writing to drive home the feedback your own readers have given you.  My notes say over the last year I’ve read all or part of over 100 novels or short stories for 90 different authors.  Those authors ranged from jaw dropping jealousy inducing stories and prose to… not so much.  I try to be gentle when I give feedback, but I also feel I do no one any favors by sugar coating it.  I won’t say “you suck!” but I will let you know if I think you’re making systemic mistakes and need a lot of work.

I don’t charge when I read because I feel it gives me the flexibility to say, thanks but no thanks, if I don’t feel I’m a fit.  Sometimes I’m not grabbed by a story even if the prose and imagery is excellent.  Sometimes the story, as written, is hard to read due to prose issues.  Plus, I’m paid well in my day job and a lot of authors are working on shoe-string budgets (or less), so I feel reading for free is a way to give back to the community.  And to top it off, I got to read some amazing stories, for free.  Hard to beat that when a book can easily cost $7-10 today!

So, get input from people who don’t know you and have no reason to tell you pleasing things.  And get professional editorial input.  And, if you’re going to self publish, all that and proofing as well.

Interviewing a Dominatrix

I tried quite a while to find a dominatrix I could interview for my novel idea “The Dominatrix Wore Red,” but was having lots of problems finding one that would work within my budget (that would be zero, in this case).  I wasn’t able to connect with the woman who created the ad, unfortunately, and all the others that responded wanted some amount of money.  I got very lucky and connected with a local dominatrix who agreed to meet me in her dungeon, in mid Sept ’17, and answer my questions.  She asked me not to use her name.  Here are my notes from our conversation:

The Mistress works out of a high-end condo, in a high-end DC neighborhood, but very ‘cozy,’ at 750 sqft (and a grand a square foot). She had heavy curtains over the windows, completely blocking out any of the light, and the lights were dim. She had some jazz-type music going, a bit louder than I’d like, requiring me to speak louder than I would normally. The windows faced south, so probably would make the place quite warm without them. When I was there, her AC unit seemed to be on the fritz, though it had only warmed to 75.

Very clean, smelled fine (meaning, no smell), ambiance was neutral, beyond the restraints, of course. The kitchen peninsula (seating area to one side, with dark granite counter tops) had a couple of nook-type cabinets, some holding things like dildoes, other holding whips and chains. Very organized. She said she cleans everything with a germicidal compound after every session and even autoclaved some of the tools/toys.

Nominally, the place is two bedrooms, though one was the size of a medium-sized walk-in closet. The other would fit a king-sized bed, though little else. The larger had its own bathroom. The living/dining area, maybe 12×12, had several restraint systems around the periphery. The center of the room with what was basically a massage table.

The smaller bedroom was made up to be like a doctor’s office, complete with skeleton. I guess some people are into being restrained on the exam table.

The larger bedroom was the most normal. She said it was her consulting room, though she often would have her subs sit on the floor. It had a futon, where I sat for the interview, and was her personal space, meaning she didn’t let her clients there without her being present. Her small walk-in closet was full of costumes, she showed me a couple. She had a number of corsets, some of which cost several hundred dollars. And lots of leather and latex. She had a number of spiked high heels, one pair of leather boots she said cost several hundred. Clearly she had a whole lot invested in this, beyond the expensive condo.

She said she had a suspension rig she could put together quickly, and when I wondered about how much effort it would take to put it to use, she insisted it was easy to set up and didn’t take up much floor space.

She said that the US made restraint furniture wasn’t worth the price, and usually bought from European suppliers.

The payment is referred to as ‘tribute,’ which amused me. And she often gets extravagant gifts. Indeed, a friend of hers was so intrigued by the gifts, the friend became a sugar baby.

While most of her clients are wealthy, not all are. She does, though, rarely give any sort of discount. She minimizes any sort of fluid exchange, and feels a number of her clients chose her for that reason.

The Mistress has trademarked her professional name, and has been aggressive about going after infringers. She’s been married to her high-school sweetheart for, I believe she said, 34 years, which I calculate puts her at 51 (she said they met when she was 17). Her husband is completely comfortable with her work. They live in Virginia, and she commutes around 90 minutes one-way.

While she kept the place dark, I was able to see her face ‘had some miles on it,’ but I still feel she’s attractive. Her body still looks good. She was wearing blonde hair, and, based on her eyebrows, I commented I figured she was a natural. She replied that she was more of a dirty-blonde (no pun intended) now, and lightened her hair with highlights.

Most (92-93%) of her clients are men, 5% are couples, and 2-3% are women. Sometimes the couples are both subs, but often one or the other is being trained as a dom for the other partner. She charges $300 an hour (but discounts two hours to $500) and has only raised her rates $50/hr since she bought the condo in ’05. I suggested she was leaving money on the table. She didn’t dispute that, but said something along the line of maximizing income was a balancing act. Higher hourly rate resulted in fewer hours, and she’s been happy with the rate she’s been charging.

She’s a major force in the DC area ‘prodom’ scene, and commented when she raised her rate, many other doms followed suit. She rarely travels for work any longer, but used to do that when she was younger.

She has done professional modeling and her images have been used on book covers.

She’s been in the ‘pro dom’ business (as opposed to the ‘lifestyle’ doms, who do it just for fun) since 1998, but doing it full-time for 17 years. Her early careers were in computers and graphics.

Except for some minor physical differences (she is blonde and not quite as ‘hippy’ as I envision my character), I feel she’s intellectually a perfect match for the character I envisioned. While ‘my’ dom has a PhD, she said that wasn’t unheard of at all, and she knows several. She also knows several who have anthropology background. One woman she knows, but not as a dom, was a stripper for her PhD thesis, then later wrote a book about the experiences.

As far as my novel is concerned, I feel she completely validated everything I’ve written.

The Dominatrix Wore Red

Mid May of ’17 I was at a doctor’s office and browsed through a local magazine. For whatever reason, I tend to start at the back and look at the ads and classifieds. I read an interesting personals ad for a dominatrix, but what really caught my mind was the line “provides erudite, loving conversation.” My mind latched onto the idea of a dominatrix beating the hell out of a guy, while having deep philosophical conversations. Somehow, my mind migrated to the idea of her being interviewed by a detective about a murder, and how she might very well seem guilty and hiding information simply because of the way she talked.

By the time I got home, I convinced myself I wanted to write a murder mystery with a dominatrix as the main suspect. Before my mind could organize itself to record ideas, it wanted to get a copy of the ad, for posterity, but I couldn’t find it online anywhere I searched. I first tried a book store (one of the few bricks-and-mortar ones left), but the ad wasn’t in the latest edition of the magazine. We went to the local library, but it was shut down for renovations. We went to another library, when I’m sure I saw on the web site it was open until 9 PM, but it closed at 6. We happened upon another, small one, but it was for kids only. Finally, the next day, we went back to the one that was closed. The ad wasn’t in any of the ones in the box they handed us, but we noted it was missing May. We asked about May, but the guy didn’t have any idea where it would be. Oh wait! Here it is, next to where it belongs. Finally I got a copy of the ad, and saw how much I had romanticized it in my memory. Nonetheless, here’s what got “The Dominatrix Wore Red” started:

Yes, my website is boring!

Yes, I understand that my website is dull and lifeless.  I’m a content-oriented person and absolutely hate any form of animation, music, etc. when I reach a web page.  I may have (only possibly) over reacted when I created my website and went with the less is more school of thought.

I’m also a very old-school, manual HTML sort of guy, having learned it 20+ years ago when wysiwyg editors simply didn’t exist.  Thus, I stick with what I know and you’ll find little beyond HTML 1.0 here.  No need to lecture me.  If you want bells and whistles, the closest you’ll get is at my blog, where WordPress insists on some minimal decorum.


I’ve been writing my screenplays in the markup language Fountain because I find the tedium of learning to use software other people wrote to be painful and demoralizing.  What I like about Fountain is I can write in any text program, then run the formatter on it.

I do all my work on Linux, so needed something that would run there.  I wanted something to run from the command line, which is one of the reasons I switched to Linux in the first place.  After much research, I got the program for conversion off GitHub, then followed the instructions on StackExchange to install and use.  I’ve been very happy with the results.  Now I can write in Google docs without any need to do more than adhere to a few stylistic elements, then run the conversion script and have a nice (if a bit large, the ‘magic’ seems to be done with a plethora of spaces; it compresses nicely, though) PDF file beautifully formatted.

As a BTW, I found, once I felt I was done editing the text version, that if I reviewed the formated version I could pick up a lot more typos, etc., not to mention catching the places I didn’t to the markup correctly.

Diary of a Contract Killer Query

When I first finished DoaCK (as I like to shorten it), I was very full of myself.  I had a couple of friends read it and say it wasn’t too bad, so I decided I’d let the publisher clean things up and decided to query (nothing like ignorance, eh?).

My first attempt was pretty bad.  I considered it a romance, not realizing I violated most of the tropes, and my blurb emphasized this.  I’ve since learned it’s just as important to screen out prospective readers that won’t like it as it is to attract interested ones.  The query and blurb below represent lots of thinking and false starts, along with input from the good people on Goodreads.


Hello <personalized>,

Because of <personalized> I think you’ll enjoy “Diary of a Contract Killer”, ~78K. An unconventional love story between trained killers. Adult contemporary fiction, with elements of spy, crime and espionage, tied together with the love story.


Enter the mind of an international contract killer.

Analytical, patient, and methodical, Seacay works alone since leaving the special forces; he sees any dependency as weakness. Seacay works when he wants, charges what he likes, and moves around the world anonymously. Picking up women – the more, the better – Seacay enjoys spending his money and building his secure mansion in the mountains.

Seacay’s life is perfect…until a gorgeous Brazilian spy complicates a routine mission. More intelligent than she is beautiful, Isabel has lightning-fast, deadly reflexes. Almost involuntarily, Seacay collaborates with Isabel and her team to complete his mission.

After they go their separate ways, Seacay’s left with feelings he’s never experienced and doesn’t understand. He throws himself into work just to clear out the cobwebs.

In the ensuing years, fate, and Isabel’s girlfriend, Tessa – a matchmaking fellow spy – conspire to bring Seacay and Isabel back together. But Seacay fights fate – and Tessa – until Isabel suddenly vanishes.

Can Seacay find Isabel? Should he?

Negotiating unfamiliar feelings, Seacay throws himself into this new rescue mission.

But will it be too late to save Isabel?


Seacay is an anti-James Bond, except when it comes to women. The story is like Tom Clancy’s “Without Remorse,” with less revenge and more love story. Similar to the original Mission Impossible TV series, with episodes tied together by the love story. It has parallels with the TV show “Burn Notice” where the MC explains why he does certain things or provides background for tools and techniques. Viewers who enjoyed the movies “Payback” or “Kill Bill” or the TV show “Covert Affairs” may like this. The novel is written in intense first-person (mostly present-tense) from a man’s POV. However, he interacts as equals with very strong, independent women.

Isabel and Tessa are bisexual characters who know what they want and are diligent about getting it. The genesis of the tragedy is not due to stupidity on anyone’s part, it naturally flows from who the characters are. There are prominent secondary characters that are gay and an older female arms dealer who sometimes requires Seacay to provide extra ‘service’ in addition to his cash payment. The violence and sex are non-graphical.

I’m a first-time author with a non-traditional background:

“Keith has had a wide range of careers from newspaper boy, fast food hamburger jockey, pizza delivery driver to plant manager, biochemistry laboratory specialist, MBA, inventor and programmer. He’s been a member of his country’s military and intelligence community. With an interest in research, he is co-author on several papers in biochemistry and operations research and has a hobby of writing business proposals.”

I’m working on building a social media presence and have the domain keithalanwriter.com where I blog and have excerpts, short stories and background for my writing and characters.

Though this book is stand-alone, I have already written follow-on work for a series.