Agent Questions, Vol. 8: The Secret to Getting Published by Jennifer Haskin

Jennifer Haskin

What’s the number one thing I can do to get published? What’s your best piece of advice?

Authors ask these two questions the most. Interestingly enough, they have the same long answer. But in short: Strength. Have you heard the words “strong” manuscript yet? If you’re a writer, you will. Why? That’s what agents look for. I’m coining the phrase. A strong manuscript is one with good use of language, good sentence structure, no plot holes, a complete manuscript, it has a clear beginning with rising action to a climax and resolution, a strong voice (another post), showing action, not telling the reader things they’d rather “see,” and above all, they need a great concept.

Not just a good one. Agents get hundreds of good books that come close, but are not quite ready. “Good” is a debatable and subjective term; “great” means simply better than “good.” You can’t know what every agent’s stance and tolerance level is. Just to be sure, make yours as great as you can.

Agents are looking for a book that is either ready to publish, or one revision away from publishing. So, edits never hurt. Use your beta readers. If you need an editor, NOW is the time. The agent doesn’t have time to sign you and then wait for your manuscript to be edited to greatness. It needs to be there already for the agent’s signature. They will have edits for you right away, and the publisher may do multiple rounds of edits for/with you.

Hire the independent editor before querying the agent. Do all you can to make sure that your manuscript is ready to go, from the internal killer sentences, to the format of your manuscript. Look here for a checklist of items for completing your publish-ready manuscript:

You are the one who makes your manuscript a dynamic story. When you have a strong manuscript, it will capture an agent. That’s your job. The agent will help you find the right publisher and negotiate the contract. But what you have at the starting gate will determine the outcome of your “race” to the finish line.

Your query (How to Write a Query) is next; it is mostly about communicating your concept to agents, and how to show your level of professionalism, and how well you follow directions. Agents do reject on queries alone sometimes due to their volume, so it’s always good to have yours look professional, it gives the appearance of experience and forethought. This is a business and your query is your book’s resume, so treat it as such.

The most important piece of advice is this: make sure your book is different. Every idea has been written at least twice. Trust me, it has. No “but’s.” I have typed this a lot this week. Every author, yes, I am one, wants to believe that their story idea is completely unique because, “I have never heard it before and the whole thing came right out of my brain, word by word, which by definition makes it unique.” Right? Umm…no. That’s not what I’m talking about. That idea you had, someone else has already had it, written it, edited it, queried it, signed it, pitched it, and gotten it published. Sorry, but you’re late to the party. Actually, it probably happened before you were born. People have been writing stories since the dawn of time.

That’s the trick with writing. Find the most unique combination of ideas to string together in the most interesting of ways and present it to the world. This is your challenge.

Publishers want something “different,” something new and fresh. Yes, “regular” and “tropey” books make publishing deals, too. A lot are self-published or taken by small presses. That’s not to say they are bad. They all have readers. However, if your goal is to be traditionally published by one of the Top 5 Houses or their imprints, you are going to have to look for something new. Try two ideas together that you wouldn’t expect.

Cinder (Marissa Meyer)-a Cinderella retelling with cyborgs in space; Throne of Glass (Sarah J Maas)- a girl assassin who happens to be a fae queen; Twilight (Stephanie Meyer)-a vampire that can’t go into the sun because he sparkles; Hunger Games (Suzanne Collins)- a child killing-game; Angelfall (Susan Ee)- Angels that hate and kill humans, or classic stories and retellings, with a surprise twist. One of my clients has a book about Peter Pan in space opera form. Now, that sounds intriguing.

Some people cannot write within set parameters and insist on writing only what they feel passionate about. My suggestion is to write that book. It’s a learning experience. But when you are brainstorming your next story, think about your theme and do some research on what publishers are looking for. What’s the market looking for? Get a few ideas from those parameters. By the time your story comes out, it may not be on trend… but it might be. Either way, you’ve got a new book to be passionate about, to stand behind. One of the best ways to figure out what the industry wants is to look at what agents are asking for.

A site I send everyone to is: There you enter your genre and search for agents or editors (these are acquiring editors for publishers) who are wishing for just what you are writing. But occasionally on their wish lists, there are subjects that you notice are a common theme. Those are especially of notice. Other times, their wish lists have specific ideas. Write one of those stories, and you already know an agent you’ll want to query when you’re ready. Here are a few on there today:

  • Looking for queer gang ensemble casts in any YA genre/sub-genre that kick ass physically, mentally, at the arcade or in a high-stakes heist
  • Bonus points if they are set in the South or offer a diverse spin on a classic tale.
  • [Folk] witches/psychics
  • I want to see more mental illness stories that aren’t just about diagnosis and LGBTQIA+ stories that aren’t just about coming out.
  • Books that defy genre lines and is a total sucker for vivid descriptions of California

So, am I asking for perfection? The publishers seem to be. If writing a strong, compelling manuscript means perfection to you. But you want nothing less for your bestseller, do you? What publishers want is what they’ll contract for, so that is what agents are looking for. Sometimes you fit the mold, and sometimes you make yourself fit the mold. If it’s the success of my book in the balance, I am sure going to try. Wouldn’t you?

Finally, I encourage writers to google such subjects as: words to cut, writing killer sentences, plot structure, and showing, not telling. Knowing these things will make your writing stronger. Also, after you write the first draft, put it aside and read another book, get it out of your mind. Better, read two books. Then, go back and look at your manuscript with the eyes of an editor. And when you think you’ve seen about all you can, there’s a trick.

Change your manuscript somehow. Change the font, or the color of the text. It makes the text unrecognizable to your brain. You’ll see it as a new document, and the errors become so much clearer. My secret is to mail the document to my kindle and read it like a “real” book. That’s when the glaring mistakes jump out at me. Fix me! Fix me! It sure makes editing less straining. Maybe do the same thing for your beta readers when they read different drafts?

About the Author:

Jennifer Haskin is the author of the YA fantasy/romance series the Freedom Fight Trilogy. She is also a portrait artist and literary consultant. Jennifer lives in the Midwest with her husband and five children. When not attending writer workshops, she leads her own creative writing groups. She is a member of Savvy Authors, and Nebraska, Missouri, and Kansas City writers guilds. Actively publishing her debut trilogy, she is writing full time.









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A Short History of the Dawn of the Information Age by David Pollock

The early days of the Internet were particularly memorable.  No matter what service provider you used (Earthlink and AOL were the early favorites), there was a certain magical quality to the lovesick song of a dial-up modem calling out to its distant mate.  Then there was the strange thrill of hearing those three words, “you’ve got mail!”  The Internet was filled with endless possibilities.

David Pollock

It was hard not to think that humanity was witnessing the dawn of a new age of enlightenment.  No longer did you have to thumb through musty drawers of library index cards and wander up and down aisles of books, bewildered, trying to make sense of the Dewey Decimal System.  New services with strange names like Yahoo and Google would do all that work for you and place the world of knowledge literally at your fingertips.  It was awe-inspiring!

Finally, the masses would have unlimited access to information.  There was a multitude of opinions on every topic and the ability to converse with others you could never have connected with, let alone learn from.  And people almost everywhere started sharing what they know on bulletin board systems. 

I have to admit that there were some signs of concern even back then.  A good friend advised me never to use your real name on bulletin boards or chat rooms.  You don’t know who might be lurking there.  That made sense to a certain degree and I was careful, but the bigger concern for me was that anonymity seemed to allow people to be less civil.  Somehow knowing that there was no real-world consequence, you didn’t have to silence your darker thoughts or be polite.  It also turns out that there are a lot more cynics out there than I ever imagined.

Then social media took root, allowing everyone to share everything and anything from the morning’s breakfast to obscure mathematical formulas.  It almost seemed as if the earth was spinning faster.  It was the Internet on steroids.  You had control over who was your “friend” on social media, however exclusively or inclusively you wanted to define the word, but there was also a new game in town called “Likes.”

Noteworthy is that most everybody wanted to be popular, but never was there a way to quantify popularity like with social media.  I’m sure there will be many studies on the social and psychological implications of all this.  What is most concerning, however, is in the ether world of the Internet, popularity is so much more important than everything else, particularly facts and truth.  Being popular on social media is so addictive that it induces people to purposely promote ideas or assertions they know to be false.  In fact, the more outrageous the assertion, the more clicks, likes, comments and re-tweets you can garner.  The truth be damned!

It seems that my early hopes for the Internet were misplaced, or at the very least premature.  In retrospect, it makes sense.  Society and technology are evolving in tandem and always have.  The Internet didn’t magically enlighten people because people are still people with all their perspectives, beliefs and emotions.  Their need for affirmation is all-too-often stronger than their thirst for knowledge.

For someone like me who lives a very public life, social media presented exciting new ways to connect with the community.  Or I should really say communities since it turns out people have infinite interests.  Social media has allowed us to seek out and confer with like-minded people.  And it turns out, that is strongly appealing to our tribal instincts.  It is much more comfortable to have your existing beliefs affirmed than suffer the cognitive dissonance of other views.

I am still hopeful that technology will once again tip the scales to reason over passion, but it looks like that road will be a very bumpy one.

About the Author:

David Pollock is a city councilmember, an advocate for the environment and a frequent guest lecturer at the California State University at Channel Islands.  He serves on several governmental and non-profit boards.  He will soon be publishing his own blog based on his lectures to promote civic awareness about the instruments of democracy.




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Editing Fiction V. Non-Fiction by Lorna Read

I have often been asked if one needs different skills to edit a non-fiction manuscript, as opposed to a fiction one. The answer is yes – and no! I have been an editor for forty years and have worked on everything from books on outdoor gear for walkers, climbers and cyclists, to novels of high fantasy, passionate romance and smart-paced thrillers.

Lorna Read

There is some common ground with editing fiction and non-fiction. The first similarity is obviously that, whatever the genre, the spelling, punctuation and text layout have to be spot-on.

With non-fiction, it is necessary to fact-check and this can be an arduous task. Here, there is a crossover into fiction too, as romance writers often incorporate elements from history into their plots and thriller writers cite details of weapons and warfare. Believe me, if you don’t know your M4 carbine from your AK-47, how is a reader with an interest in weapons going to take you seriously? And just imagine how much you would upset a reader from Bydgoszcz if the author of a romance novel set in Poland missed a z out of the name of their city!

I often advise fiction writers to make like a Method actor and totally immerse themselves in the personalities of the characters they are creating. As an editor, it is essential for me to do the same. With fiction, not only do I ‘become’ the characters in order to flesh out any skimpy or wooden writing, but I also do my best to retain the author’s literary style when doing any rewriting.

With non-fiction, the ‘Method acting’ consists of immersing myself in a subject, rather than a character. It is essential that a factual book does not bore the pants off the reader, so it must scintillate on the page, even if the subject is as pedestrian as gravel pits. (Yes, I really did both write and edit a newspaper supplement about those!)

Wearing my author’s hat, I have been on the other side of the editing game, too. Most publishers have their own in-house editing teams, so I am familiar with having my own written work edited. This gives me a lot of sympathy for authors, as I know only too well how it feels to have one’s precious words tinkered with. For this reason, I always supply a list of explanations for any editorial changes I have made, which I hope is a help to the writers with whom I work.

Never has an editor been more necessary than today, when anyone who fancies putting fingers to keyboard, can self-publish their work. Many writers think they can skip the chores of checking and proofreading but they are making a big mistake, for nothing screams ‘amateur’ as much as pages littered with careless misspellings and the misapplication of possessive pronouns and pronoun-verb contractions–especially those annoying ones like its/it’s, or their/they’re. A mainstream publisher is hardly likely to pick up on a self-published book if it looks as though the writer hasn’t cared enough about their work to correct these errors and typos.

An editor thus puts the polish on a rough diamond. And a good editor can raise a book from the merely adequate, to the realms of bestsellerdom. One of the joys of editing fiction is to get goosebumps from reading and working on something truly wonderful.

With non-fiction, an editor’s satisfaction is gained from knowing that every effort has been made to check names, dates and facts, so that the reader can feel confident in the author’s (or, more often, the editor’s) ability to get things right.

About the Author

Lorna Read is the author of over thirty novels and non-fiction books for all ages. Her most recent one is The Earl’s Captive, a historical romance set in the early 19th Century. Lorna is also a published poet. After graduating with an Honours degree in English Literature, she started her career as a local newspaper journalist then worked for many years as a magazine editor, for rock music and romantic fiction magazines. She is now a freelance writer and book editor. She has appeared many times on daytime television and on various radio programmes as a romantic problem expert. She is also a songwriter and won first prize at one of the Bridport Folk Festivals with a song titled,Sail to be Free.” She is currently putting the finishing touches to a book about the many supernatural experiences she has had.




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The Importance of Love by Jane Merrow

This year is the 50th anniversary of ‘The Summer of Love’ festival, celebrated in San Francisco. But times have changed in the Western world since the festival began. The hippies have been supplanted by yuppies and the openhearted generous message of hope, seems to have been transformed into a more cynical, selfish, ‘what’s in it for me’ ideal, with people retreating behind the walls of money and technology. Love really is the one dynamic emotion that glues human culture, our humanity, together. Without it our world and we, who live in it, are nothing. We can be side tracked by money, power, religion, etc. But all the seductive messages that entice us are, without love, meaningless in the end.

I am an actress who has been fortunate to have a long and productive career. Back in the early days of BBC TV, when we were working in amazing dramas, almost non-stop, I played Julia in a BBC production of Orwell’s ‘1984’. The scene that resonated most for me is when Julia smuggles the note to Winston, which says quite simply, ‘I love you’. Orwell ‘got’ the dystopian society that seems to loom in our future. It is no accident that love fills most of our finest literature, plays, films, and music. Its enduring presence has inspired the greatest artists, writers, composers…all the creative minds.

In a world of increasing isolation where so many of us live in fear, in gated communities, worried about walking the streets, a terrorist attack, suffering online bullying, unable to talk to people, too busy to sit down and have a real conversation, love seems to be getting lost. We hear about children self-harming, old and disabled people who are shuffled into homes, lonely and unhappy, displaced people, and refugees, the list goes on. Humanity seems to have lost its way and forgotten about the power of love. You may say, ‘what’s different? We have seen it all before.’ Modern technology, however, is exacerbating the situation. When presidents are elected by social media; when love affairs are conducted through text messaging, which becomes nothing but quick, mindless coupling, without love, we need to stop and think. We must find each other as fellow human beings again, and very soon, before this kind of disengagement becomes the norm.

Hope for the Future

I am an optimist. I believe love is not lost forever, just misplaced. We will come to our senses and reach out to each other properly as fellow human beings. A world of carelessness, selfishness and indifferent communication cannot survive in the long run. The word love is not a sound bite, a “message” on Facebook, or a tweet. It is a deep and complex emotion, part of our DNA. As such, we must let the ‘Summer of Love’ return and remind us all of its importance in our lives.

About the Author:

Jane Merrow is a classically trained, Golden Globe nominated actress, trained at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. She has had a variety of roles in television, film and on stage. She has had starring roles in movies such as The System (U.S. title – The Girl Getters) opposite Oliver Reed. She played Alais in the film The Lion in Winter, co-starring with Peter O’Toole, Katharine Hepburn and Anthony Hopkins, which earned her a Golden Globe nomination as Best Supporting Actress. Her recent films include Almosting It, opposite Lee Majors. In 2016 she appeared as Lady Macbeth on stage at the Groundlings Theatre, Portsmouth, U.K.”

In addition to acting, in 1995 Jane began writing and producing for television and feature films. She co-executive produced The Inspector Pitt Mysteries for A&E and ITV and developed three feature film productions with screenplays by David Seidler, Julian Fellowes and the Reunion by John Caine, OBE. In 2009 she began production on New Chilling Tales, a continuing series of short Gothic films, adapted from the great classic writers. In 2015 she wrote, produced and appeared in Cougar, a short film, which won awards at several U.S. festivals.






Twitter: @janemerrow

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in guest blog posts do not reflect those of the blog host.

Do We No Longer Know How Much Is Enough? by James North

James North

As baby boomers, many of us were admonished throughout our adolescent years and then as adults to plan and save for the future in order to be able to stand on our own two feet. I translated this to mean, if you are able, you must work hard and provide for your own future—your own security. That advice seemed quite sanguine and occasionally proved its worth by the things that happened to people around me that left them struggling, without enough. Nevertheless, for many, if not most of us, these admonitions often went unheeded, particularly in our adolescent years and sometimes into early adult life. So if the words, “live like there is no tomorrow”, or “live life to the fullest” spring from the past and are echoing inside your head about now, you know what I mean.

Despite these epic and often short-lived “devil-may-care” episodic attitudes, most of us baby boomers, and no doubt a good many Generation Xers, can recall the excitement of our first job. It was an opportunity. The money was usually “small potatoes” and getting it was frequently the result of a newspaper route, a part-time job at a local market, yard work for a neighbor or a summer job that involved more physical, backbreaking stuff. Still, we earned it and the feeling of entitlement to things we wanted were inextricably linked to those earnings. Putting in our share or buying it outright were the only ways we got the things we wanted. We were content, at least until we were struck by the desire to have something else. For me, having money I earned in my pocket created a sense of pride. It was to some extent, freedom. I earned it, so I’ll do as I please with it!

I reflect on those things and make the following observations because today in the developed world the concepts of having enough and what I call excess surplus (hoarding) have merged and are now conjoined with unwarranted expectation and a sense of entitlement—the belief that the things we want can be acquired with minimal work and sacrifice, or no work at all. This disturbing phenomenon has been evolving and observably on the rise for several decades. It now appears to be growing at a quickening pace—spreading a toxic cloud that is raining poison on our values, threatening to condemn mankind to a moribund state.

As we watch, we see the abandonment of important concepts and the blurring of lines between that which we as human beings have long judged as good or evil, honorable or dishonorable. We can find many examples of this skewing of distinction, particularly if we look at the way in which opportunity and opportunism have become all but synonymous in their interpretation and acceptance. Frightfully, the latter is now tolerated behavior. In fact, it is not only accepted, it is expected. It is seen at nearly every level of human interaction—within families, schools, universities, social circles, in the work place and increasingly among countries.

The question is, how do we put human beings and humanity back on a safer track and stop the world from descending into an abysmal place—a heartless, uncaring, greed-filled, unsympathetic and egregious place, without empathy and where everyone is bent on pursuing opportunism instead of working to create opportunity? In other words, how do we determine when enough is truly enough? How do we create a more stable and less aggression-filled world? To answer these question, I suggest we start with the person we see daily in the mirror. But to sustain any effort toward progress in mitigating the effects of opportunism and greed we should ask, “What am I doing to prepare those who must continue to make these changes?”

Can A Person Ever Change? by Swan Morrison

swan-morrisonI was employed as a mental health social worker for very many years. ‘Can people ever change?’ was a question I was sometimes asked. I never came to a definite conclusion about that. I have, however, observed a related phenomenon: I have seen lives turned around when individuals discover an activity that inspires them and for which they develop a passion. This might relate to a different career path or a spiritual calling. Alternatively it might be a new creative direction. The common feature lies in finding something that adds a new meaning to life—something that awakens previously untapped elements of a person’s true self.

I remember experiencing such an enthusiasm when I gave up a career as an engineer to work in mental health. I recall the feeling fading, however, after I accepted more senior positions and discovered, too late, that being a manager was not an extension of my previous role but a totally different one—one for which I was never suited. It was at this point that I began to write and discovered a pursuit that re-engaged with the person that I felt I was inside.

This was a theme in my first novel, Judgement Day, which saw a number of its characters escape the narrow constraints of their everyday lives to discover surprising new facets of their own personalities. I was heartened when this book gained the silver medal in the humour category of Dan Poynter’s Global Ebook Awards in 2016.

If I could go back in time and speak to myself at age eleven, I would tell myself to follow my interests, follow my instincts and be brave when the world around wanted me to be someone else. Sometimes during the past fifty years I have done that, but far too often, however, I have not. At least now that I am retired, I have been able to reflect and take my own advice.

I have now published five books: three collections of short stories, a novel and a novella. I have also learned to sing and to play guitar and ukulele. In addition, I have turned my garden into a vegetable allotment and, in a voluntary capacity, resumed direct work with people who experience mental health issues.

If only one could turn the clock back—but also make use of subsequent wisdom. It is probably no coincidence that the forthcoming sequel to Judgement Day, called Until the End of Time, explores exactly that idea.

About the Author:

Swan Morrison is the pen name of Brian Huggett. Brian lives with his wife and a cat named Blackie in Hampshire, England. He has been publishing work on the Internet and in print since 2001. In 2006, he created the Short Humour Site at for comedy writing of around 500 words.

All profits from the writings of Swan Morrison are currently donated to charity.


The Short Humour Site:

Amazon Author Page (US):


Websites for Swan Morrison’s books:

The Short Humour Trilogy:

Deep Black:

Judgement Day:


The Great Communicator by Gilda Evans

Gilda EvansWhat makes a great communicator? President Ronald Reagan was known as “the great communicator.” Was it his skills as an actor or politician that afforded him this moniker? What are the qualities that help get your point across and make people take notice?

When people think about communicating, usually the first thing they think about is talking. In my opinion, talking comes second. The thing that really facilitates positive and productive communication is listening. Active listening, where you are truly paying attention to what the other person is saying. Also, listening with an open mind and keeping your ego in check go a long way towards creating a bridge rather than a moat. When you listen to someone you offer them a kind of validation, respect and consideration. And people who receive these things are more likely to give them in return. Even if you don’t agree with what the other person is saying, you can still respect their opinion and “agree to disagree” as the saying goes. Who knows? By the time the conversation ends you may find that your opinion has changed. But if you don’t hear what the other person is saying, how will you ever learn the things that change that opinion or, at the very least, be able to respond intelligently?

When the time does come to do the talking, remember that it’s not only what you say but also how you say it that often makes or breaks things. Your tone of voice, the words you choose and the way you couch them will make all the difference as to how they are received. Again, this is where keeping your ego out of the equation plays a vital role in the success of the conversation. Here are some guidelines that I feel make the communication process much easier:

  1. Never try to communicate in the heat of the moment. If you’ve just had an argument or if one of you is in a bad mood, continue the conversation at a later time. Unless it’s life or death, a few hours or even a day won’t matter.
  1. Never play the blame game. Pointing fingers never solved anything. Rather, seek solutions to the issue at hand.
  1. Be prepared to say, “I was wrong” and “I’m sorry”. There is no shame in that. On the contrary, it takes a very strong and confident person to make that kind of admission. And it’s amazing how much of a positive effect it has on the outcome of the situation.
  1. Offer opinions instead of judgments. Your way is not the only way. And someone else’s might be just as good or even better than yours.
  1. Express your feelings instead of your anger. If someone hurt you, tell him or her. Give them the chance to make amends. Giving them your anger will only make them defensive and shut all lines of communication down completely.
  1. Give advice if it’s asked for. Otherwise, inquire whether it’s wanted before you throw it out there. No one likes to feel bossed around.
  1. Use the words “please” and “thank you” a lot. Your mother always told you those were magic words. She was right.

That’s not to say you’ll never have an argument or that every conversation will go smoothly. But if you follow these few simple guidelines, I believe that your conversations will be more productive and positive, and arguments will be much fewer and further between.

About the Author:

Gilda Evans is an experienced wife, mother and bon vivant extraordinaire who started her first business while in college which she later sold to embark upon a career in entertainment. After nearly 15 years in the media, she willingly left behind her role as writer, producer and director at such venues as CBS, HBO Warner Brothers and Showtime in order to devote herself to her family. Later, while still in search of the ‘happily ever after’ that had eluded her, Gilda decided to share her experiences with followers on social media and the S’LIFE series was born. She is also working on the first installment of a Young Adult novel series.

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Gilda is currently seeking high schools and organizations that are interested in participating in a pilot project for her book, S’LIFE, Slices of Life for Teens, prior to publication.


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Research that Keeps Critics at Bay by Jane Risdon

IMG_4969On several occasions, recently, I’ve been asked to provide my expertise to authors whose books have featured characters in the Music Industry – I’ve worked in the International Music Business for most of my adult life – and it got me thinking about my own writing and areas where I’ve been in need of ‘expert’ advice. I write crime stories and sometimes they venture into the hazy world of MI5 and MI6, and although I can call on my own experience back in my distant youth when I worked at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in Whitehall, London, limited though it might be, I still need to clarify details and exactly what each part of the British Secret Security Services does. Of course I can always delve into their websites for general information and it is now possible to contact their Press Offices who are happy to work with authors. I’ve also been fortunate enough to have met a retired Detective Chief Inspector – also an author – on Facebook, who has been kind enough from time to time to answer my many question about police procedure.

It is important as writers, especially crime writers, to get our facts right when telling a story which may well involve the investigation of a particular crime. And, as I mentioned earlier, I’d been thinking about my knowledge base and how to expand it for some time. Late last year I was lucky enough to discover the answer. I found several British Universities offering on-line courses in various aspects of Forensics – fantastic. Just what I was after. Somewhere I could educate myself at my own pace at home. Since starting my first course – Human Identification and Forensic Science – which introduced me to the world of clandestine burials and the identification of skeletal dismembered remains, which I and the other students managed to eventually identify – using the most recent methods of facial reconstruction, DNA and Anthropology – working as part of the Forensic and Police investigation of a missing person, I have undertaken two further courses.

The second course I’ve completed was an introduction to Criminal Justice and Forensic Science. I learned about the complex world of DNA profiling and Fingerprint analysis and researched many criminal cases where miscarriages of justice had been discovered and how convictions had been over-turned and the role played by Forensic Science in obtaining evidence and solving crimes. It was a real eye-opener I can tell you.

The third course I’ve completed recently, Forensic Psychology: Witness Investigations, has been fascinating and has made me realise just how we cannot always believe our own eyes and memories. During this course I and the other students worked alongside the police in the investigation of an armed robbery and we (virtually) sat in on the interviews with witnesses by two detectives. One used old fashioned methods investigating the case and conducting interviews, getting the witness to tell their story, often with prompts and leading questions using Photofit pictures of a selection of potential suspects and a physical line-up to identify the suspect. The other detective conducted their witness interviews using the latest methods – neuro-psychological techniques – to question the witnesses, allowing them to relate their story uninterrupted and not prompted, and using computer generated images of faces where the witness was able to move the eyes, nose and lips etc. to build an image they felt was closest to the suspect they’d witnessed. This method helped solve the case faster, more accurately, and didn’t lead or suggest anything to the witness.

Now, armed with my new knowledge and basic understanding of how to investigate a crime, make an identification of a skeleton from basic anthropology and forensics, right through to getting a witness to a crime to relate what they saw more accurately, I am more confident in my crime writing. Those authors for whom I was a musical consultant tell me I gave them that same confidence. Keeping things real and accurate for our readers. Most important for me as a writer and also as a reader. I hate finding inaccuracies in crime stories I read and I hope my readers won’t find any in mine.


Jane Risdon has spent most of her adult life in the International Music Business, managing songwriters, musicians, singers, and record producers with her musician husband. Always longing to write she never had the opportunity until a few years ago when her husband’s former fan-club secretary, ex rock journalist, and now award winning author, Christina Jones, urged her to take the plunge. Since then Jane has become a published author with Accent Press and has contributed to various anthologies as well as co-writing with Christina. Their novel is due out later this year. Jane is also writing a series of novels, Ms Birdsong Investigates, about a former MI5 Officer who finds herself investigating a missing woman and ends up tackling Russian Mafia and Ukrainian people traffickers in rural Oxfordshire.

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Life’s Peaks and Troughs by James North

James North_Author_DEEP_DECEPTIONHave you ever wondered why your ability to capitalize on the growing momentum of some important undertaking or effort waned and eventually evaded you, just as you were on the verge of monumental success? That undertaking might have involved positioning yourself for an opportunity to propel your career forward and upward, completion of a personal project or activity, or some other endeavor that had you bursting with satisfaction about the prospect of success. Sure you have, as have most, if not all of us at some point in our lives. But if this has happened to you many times you may begin to think, as an American cliché goes, it’s your destiny to always be “a day late and a dollar short.”

Each time it happens you feel as if the golden chalice that was just within reach and the swell carrying you toward it, like the one that evolves into the peak of the big wave the champion surfer catches, petered out and you ended up in the trough behind it. Do you hold on to those experiences? If so, collectively they can be soul destroying—particularly if you saw your competitors or rivals just ahead of you, riding the peak of the huge wave while you fell back and got left behind.

If you answered “yes” to each of the above questions, you are still “crying in your soup,” but you are not alone. I can tell you from experience that success, despite the nature of the goal(s) you set, is rarely experienced consistently. What I have learned is that nearly all efforts in life are, metaphorically speaking, like waiting for the next wave. The trick is to get into position—in the right place—to capitalize on the next wave’s momentum.

How many times have we all heard the cliché, “it’s all about timing”? Countless times I would venture to say. Beware! That cliché suggests leaving success up to fate. Sometimes we must take charge and make opportunities by creating the next wave or at least learn precisely when to catch the right one. If you read the extraordinary stories that forged the lives of highly successful artists and entrepreneurs like Yvon Chouinard (outdoor industry businessman/Patagonia), Mary Kay Ash (Mary Kay products), Lee Iacocca (automobile developer/executive), Sidney Poitier (Oscar-winning actor), Michael Dell (Founder of Dell Computers), Sam Walton (Walmart), Maya Angelou (award-winning author/poet), George Lucas (Oscar-nominated filmmaker) and others, you will quickly discover several important traits they all possessed: ingenuity, drive, tenacity and commitment.

So, it’s up to you. If the outcome you seek is one that is truly worthy of the attention of others and you believe they will want to be part of or benefit from it in some way or another, you’ve eliminated the first obstacle. Now it’s a matter of figuring out how to let them know about it. If you are simply waiting to ride the next wave, you must study wave activity and develop a strategy that puts you in the right place to take advantage of the next one’s momentum and get on it. But as you set out to create or catch the crest of the next big wave, keep one thing in mind: “Quitters never win and winners never quit.” Here’s to your future successes!

Why a Dog? by Margaret Mizushima

DSCF4389_pp Low RezAuthors are often asked what inspired their characters. My debut novel, Killing Trail: A Timber Creek K-9 Mystery, has three primary characters and one happens to be a dog. My husband is a veterinarian, and his work inspired the development of Cole Walker, DVM. But Deputy Mattie Cobb and her dog Robo were inspired by more serendipitous circumstances.

When our children were young, we decided to train our Rottweiler, Ilsa, in search and rescue. We live in Colorado, and occasionally children become lost when hiking or camping in the mountains, so my husband thought it a good idea to have a dog that could find our kids if this happened to us. We joined a group of volunteers who worked in search and rescue and trained dogs together.

We would set up tracks in incremental levels of difficulty, always providing treats and celebration when a dog discovered a person at the end. The dogs loved it. Ilsa showed great potential, and soon the whole family—kids included—enjoyed playing hide and seek with her. Fortunately, neither of my daughters wandered away from our campsites during our weekends in the wilderness, so we never had to test Ilsa’s skills under more serious conditions. But it planted a seed for developing a dog character later in my life.

A chance meeting with a retired K-9 officer named Beth led to the development of my character Deputy Mattie Cobb.

My mother worked as a public health nurse and while on the job, she met and became friends with Beth’s mother, also a nurse. When Beth came to visit, her mother brought her to Mom’s house to introduce them to each other. Beth and her German shepherd Robo had retired from the police force, having both been injured in a warehouse explosion which also deafened Robo. My mother invited them into the living room where Beth sat, and Robo assumed a body-guard-like position at her feet. For the entire visit, he stayed alert and on guard, staring at my mother. She said she was afraid to approach Beth even to offer her a cup of coffee.

By the time I met Beth, Robo had died of old age. Beth let me shadow her while she trained dogs for tracking and evidence detection. She shared stories of Robo’s prowess, and he must have been an exceptional K-9 partner. She gave her permission for me to use his name in my series, and many of the skills that the fictional Robo demonstrates—like searching for narcotics, evidence, and missing people—came out of these interviews with Beth. I’m fortunate and grateful to have been able to meet her.

These life experiences inspired me to write about a dog, and time spent with Beth led to writing about a K-9 partnership in particular. Since then, I observe police dog trials and training whenever possible. These dogs and their dedicated handlers never fail to amaze and impress me. They can often be found standing together on the front line of duty, facing danger as a team.

About the Author:

Margaret Mizushima is the author of Killing Trail: A Timber Creek K-9 Mystery to be released December 8, 2015 by Crooked Lane Books. After earning a master’s degree in speech pathology, Margaret practiced in a hospital and her own rehabilitation agency, and now she assists her husband with their veterinary clinic and Angus cattle herd. Her short story “Hay Hook” was published in the 2014 Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers anthology Crossing Colfax. She enjoys reading and hiking and lives in Colorado on a small farm where she and her husband raised two daughters and a multitude of animals.

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Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in guest blog posts on this website do not reflect those of the blog host.