From Drafting to Editing to Polishing to Publishing, Part 2

Last week, I wrote about how I develop ideas for my novels. It’s not a particularly sexy method, and many authors do much the same thing. This time, let me tell you what happens to prepare the early drafts—and there are quite a few—to step out in public. Typically, I write between four and six drafts before taking the next step. I worked through seven–count ’em, seven–“first drafts” of The Bishop Burned the Lady before I felt it was ready for the next step: trusted readers.

The first draft is just that, a rough draft (very rough!). I let it sit for a couple of weeks (unless I’m really in love with it, in which case like any love, I can’t bear to stay away). Draft 2 is structural—do the inciting incident, the four plot points, the three twists, the climax all fall more or less where they should? Is the build of the story–the logic of each scene following those before it and preparing for those to come–sound and compelling? Draft 3, assuming I’m satisfied with the structural integrity and logic of the story arc, focuses on pace and timing. Does the story move well? Are there slow spots or passages during which my mind wanders from the story? Does the tension build appropriately through every scene (in some fashion)—including the scenes designed to offer some relief?

Draft 4 focuses on language and style: Are the verbs robust and the nouns able to carry the weight of the job they are doing? Are the style and language well suited to the scene? By “well suited” I mean, do they carry forward the scene’s purpose and do the words themselves reflect the dominant mood of the scene? For instance, if the scene’s purpose is to show a character facing a crucial decision on which much depends, are the words tension-loaded, heavy with implication?

Once I am satisfied (well, I’m never really satisfied), I turn to my trusted readers, also called “beta readers.” My wife, Michele, is the first one. She marks up the manuscript with her well-tuned teacher’s pencil, showing me breaks in the logic or word repetitions, confusing sentences or passages, inconsistencies either of plot or character, grammar goofs, and all sorts of other errors. So now I’m back to draft 5 or 6.

When that’s ready, I call on my other trusted readers, four or five folks who graciously read as, well, readers. They don’t offer editorial advice, but they do offer their insights into the story or the characters, criticism about passages that don’t work for them or don’t fit the flow of the story, suggestions for improving it, and overall challenges targeting how to make the manuscript stronger. Their feedback is always helpful, very often nuanced, and frequently wise. I wait until I have heard from everyone, then compile their feedback into a single document organized according to the structure of the book. Emphasizing the changes that more than one beta reader suggest, I use that document to work my way through the manuscript again, draft 6 or 7.

Finally, it is ready for editing. I’ll write about that next week.

Tasty Appetizers from My Four Novels

Many of you have read and enjoyed my first novel, Climbing the Coliseum, and many of you have been asking when the next one, Nobody’s Safe Here, will be coming out. I have some exciting news on that, which I’ll be sharing in a week or so. In the meantime, I though you might be interested in reading brief blurbs from the back covers of all four of my books:

  • Climbing the Coliseum, published June 6, 2014, available from, from, and your local bookstore on request.
  • Nobody’s Safe Here, to be published soon by Black Rose Writing.
  • The Bishop Burned the Lady, coming in 2017.
  • A Patriot’s Campaign, coming in 2017 or early 2018.

Climbing the Coliseum


Psychologist Ed Northrup, desperate to escape his unhappy life, faces a cluster of mysteries: Why was 14-year-old Grace Ellonson abandoned and where is her mother? Where does rancher Vic Sobstak go when he sneaks off the ranch at night? Why has Vic’s church-organist wife, Maggie, turned up almost fatally drunk? Who’s hanging racist flyers around town? When Ed helps Deputy  Andi Pelton investigate, no one knows the answers, but they’ll soon find out—disastrously. Amid the chaos of the mysteries’ violent collision, Ed, Andi, and Grace face the most formidable decision of their lives.

Nobody’s Safe Here


When cattle baron Magnus Anderssen turns suicidal, psychologist Ed Northrup struggles to help him find the cause – a tragic event buried deep in Magnus’s unconscious. Meanwhile, Deputies Andi Pelton and Boyd Ordrew clash as they investigate Jared Hansen, a boy caught with a weapons cache and a paranoid plan to kill his schoolmates – and a clear record with no previous problems or suffering to explain them! They recruit Ed in the search for whatever caused his radical  transformation from a great kid to a psychotic killer. Will Magnus survive his harrowing therapy? Will Jared’s insanity be resolved in time? Will Andi’s conflict with Deputy Brad Ordrew and Ed’s radical plan to save the boy destroy their romance?  Another story of good people facing extraordinary challenges in beautiful Monastery Valley. . .

The Bishop Burned the Lady (cover design in progress)

A mysterious fire in a remote forest clearing; a young woman’s charred bones in the ashes; unexplained tracks in the rutted road – the only clues Deputy Andi Pelton has to what happened – until she meets a hostile old man living alone in a forest compound that obviously houses many people. Sex trafficking in the Montana wilderness? Psychologist Ed Northrup wants to marry her, but Andi puts him off, absorbed in the investigation–and in a struggle with her own demons. Ed agrees to wit and to help her with the case. What they discover leads them deep into the horrific reality of prison gangs, cults, and murder. When Andi finds the mastermind behind the murder, she nearly loses her life arresting him. And then she must deal with Ed’s proposal . . .

A Patriot’s Campaign (cover design in progress)

“Shots Fired!” The 911 call sends Deputy Andi Pelton to the scene of a murder of a young boy in a garage. The home-owner readily admits killing him, claiming he was “standing my patriotic ground” against an intruder. But as Andi begins the investigation, what she discovers casts doubt on the shooter’s story–and his motive. Her investigation, though, is complicated when Sheriff Ben Stewart, Andi’s mentor, is forced out of the re-election campaign against Deputy Brad Ordrew, who has promised to fire Andi if he wins. Andi has to confront the fact that Ordrew will run unopposed–unless she enters the race against him. Ordrew claims he will run a “patriotic” sheriff’s office, but Andi sees his plans as a cover for militarizing the department. Should she run, which could interfere with her murder inquiry? Or should she do the job she swore to do: concentrate on the murder and take her chances with Ordrew? Which is the truly patriotic thing to do? And who’s the patriot?

I hope these brief teasers stimulate your interest and that you’ll be on the lockout for Nobody’s Safe Here when it comes out. Watch this space!