Monday, April 30, 2012

New Blog

If you've stumbled upon this blog, congratulations. Please feel free to look around, get some basic information about me and read past blogs.

However, please be aware that as of 5/4/12, my regular blog will be located at and as of 4/30/12 my book review blog will be located at Please join the fun and see the new look.

Thank you and good writing!


Friday, April 27, 2012

Around the Globe with MIKE MCNEFF

I'm sorry this appears in this format. Blogger is having problems.

Iowa has turned cloudy and cold. Spring can't settle in properly. So, today, I picked this week's featured author and we transport to Local Grown, a coffee house at the end of the wharf in Coupeville, Washington, which juts out into Penn Cove on the eastside of Whidbey Island. The sun is out and the water is a deep blue and the trees are a rich green. Unfortunately, Mike ordered coffee for both of us, not realizing that coffee is about the last drink I'm going to have. I'll try to get the barista's attention and order tea during the interview.

1. Who are you and what makes you the most fascinating person in your city?

I guess the best description of me is I love life! I’m just happy to be here. I’m always interested in the world and the people I meet and I’m constantly learning from both. I’m lucky to be married to the love of my life and have four wonderful and successful children and seven grandchildren. I’ve had two exciting and interesting parallel careers as a police officer and a lawyer. I enjoy many outdoor activities and like to play blues on my guitar.

I am the most fascinating person in my town because I’ve walked around the world; hunted big game in Africa; been crowned chief of the largest tribe in Tanzania; dined with heads of state; invented a time machine and swam the English Channel.

And I don’t always enjoy beer, but when I do...

Did I mention I write fiction?

2. Without revealing a deep dark secret, what one thing would people be surprised to learn about you?

Most people don’t know I had polio as a child and if it hadn’t been for my father refusing to listen to doctors and just going with his instincts, I would be crippled today. After I was released from the hospital, he made me exercise every day until I was no longer paralyzed. Yep, he’s my hero!

3. What interested you to become a writer rather than something else such as an international spy?

Well, as you know I did do something else before becoming a writer, but I’ve always wanted to write. I’ve been a voracious reader my whole life and I knew I could write stories like the ones I read. I’ve written short stories, poems and essays since I was a young lad, but never with the idea of publishing them. When I retired from my two past careers, I decided to finally take writing seriously and write with the idea of getting published. I haven’t looked back.

4. Writers are readers. With which authors would you enjoy sharing dinner? Why?

There are so many writers I’d love to have dinner with, it would be a convention. However, if I had magical powers, I’d love to share dinner with Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner and Joseph Conrad. They are my favorite writers, yet each had their own style completely different from the other two. They were all instrumental in igniting my desire to write and were interesting and prickly men that sometimes clashed, especially on the topic of writing. I would think it would be a fascinating evening, especially after a few whiskeys.

5. If I were stranded on a deserted island (suffering a four hour layover at the airport), why would your books be great company?

My primary writing goal is to tell a good story that is both thought provoking and entertaining. Within my stories are different layers for the reader to discover. I recently had someone tell me that upon reading my first book a second time, they saw it as a new book. I’m striving to make my future books even more interesting in that way. So, I think you can read my books several times and come away with new thoughts each time.

6. Share your process of writing in regards to: idea and character development, story outline, research, writing schedule, editing and number of rewrites.

I write about cops and I try to write at least a thousand words a day. When I start a new story, I have the basic conflict and the ending in mind. I start with the protagonist and the story develops around that character. I really don’t have any idea how I’m going to get to the end, the characters determine how that happens, which is the fun part for me. Most of the other characters in the story develop in relation to the protagonist, but every so often a character appears and I have no idea from what little corner of my mind that character came...always an interesting experience.

Research is integral to my writing. I want my characters to be realistic at this point in my writing career and the plot has to be believable. I keep myself honest in that regard by putting my characters in a historical context, so history sets the parameters of how far my mind can play. The internet is a wonderful resource for research of just about anything and I use it extensively, but I also use books written by historians and journalists. I’m also a great fan of Google Earth.

As any writer knows, the first draft of a manuscript is crap. After I finish the first draft. I go through a painstaking rewrite to make sure all the pieces fit such as timelines, character consistency and other like issues. I also will expand in areas where I didn’t make things clear and look for parts where I violated the “show don’t tell” rule. After the first rewrite, the book goes to my professional content editor, who I call the “Evil Editor.” When she has finished her ruthless work and I pull the knife out of my heart, I will do at least two more rewrites before I submit the manuscript to my publisher.

7. “I think I have a good idea for a story, but I don’t know where or how to begin. Your process may not work for me. Any advice?”

Get your butt in front of your computer and start writing. Set a minimum word count for each writing session. If you don’t do this, you will never have a manuscript to work into a book. It doesn’t matter if you think you’re writing gibberish, that’s what editing and rewriting are all about. Just get the story written.

8. I saw an amusing T-shirt the other day which read, “Every great idea I have gets me in trouble.” What’s your philosophy of life?

Don’t be afraid of life, it’s going to kill you sooner or later. Follow your dreams and do everything you can.

9. Please tell me you’re not going to stop writing. What’s next for you?

Well, I’m glad you asked, Stephen. The first draft of Shadows, the sequel to my first book is almost done and I’m looking for it to be published this summer. I’m also writing a closed case mystery that delves into the dark side of being a homicide detective and a western that explores the concept of justice. I hope to have both of those finished by the end of the year as they’re both half completed now. Then I have another mystery set in modern times, but written in the style of the thirty’s and forty’s detective novels. Lastly, I’m writing a book for writers on how law enforcement works.

10. Where can people find more information on you and your projects?

People interested in my books and thoughts can visit me in Tanzania or drop by, Twitter @Mike_McNeff and Facebook. I always respond to comments and inquiries.

Friday, April 20, 2012

When Do You Edit

Katherine Hinkson, a writer friend, and I both agree editing is probably the worst tribulation about writing a manuscript. Certainly, it is the most tedious and frustrating. One of the reasons is because we are constantly finding mistakes, even after the third, fifteenth, and fiftieth read through. Then, when the publisher’s editor(s) get a hold of it, they’re finding even more. Plus, they’re coming back and mentioning not just the fundamental errors (grammar, spelling, punctuation), they’re noticing continuity and time mistakes among others. For instance, they’ll catch the misspelled word ‘fiend’ when you really meant ‘friend’. They’ll also notice you left the door open in a certain scene, yet your hero, upon leaving the room, opens the door and steps out.

My last book went through several editing phases and then, when I thought everything was kosher, the publisher came back with highlights on all the ‘were’, ‘was’, and ‘that’ words. I couldn’t believe how many I’d used, especially in what she called ‘clusters.’

I think the best way for you to recognize mistakes and problems in your own writing is to edit others’. During my short stint as an editor for Echelon Press, I edited several manuscripts and finding errors in those helped me find errors in my stories, even while I was currently writing them.

Another interesting method to learning editing is to take a random book, and start writing it. Open to page one, grab a pen and paper and start writing from the first word in the first chapter. By doing this, you’ll see what the author is doing, how he/she is using words and phrases, grammar, and punctuation.

My second book, “Beta”, didn’t have as many problems, but only because I’ve been editing and rewriting it for nearly ten years. For those of you struggling with editing, I say, “Good for you.” Everyone should. However, we’re all in this together, so I’m not going to sit back and laugh and poke fun. Instead, I’d like to offer a few tips on how I edit. I’m not saying this is the correct way. It’s MY method and until I find a better one, (or someone offers me tips like I’m doing for you), I’ll stick with it.

For Beta, I wrote the first draft longhand. I used up a couple of pens and several legal pads. Today, I write a few stories’ first drafts on the laptop. I prefer longhand, though, because it is my first chance at editing. I can think faster than I can write. So ideas and descriptions and dialogue will form and stack up waiting their turn to be put down. Other scenes may intrude or details may come to mind for me to include elsewhere. Conversely, when using the laptop, I can type faster than I can think, so sometimes, I lose some of the ‘fine tuning’.

After a chapter or two, I’ll then type what I’ve written onto the computer. This is the next chance to edit. I’ll fix the fundamentals, and I may substitute words and sentences for others that sound better. Again, while typing, other ideas may present themselves, other scenes to include.

After I’ve typed in the entire manuscript, I’ll celebrate what I’ve accomplished. Then it’s back to the pen and pad for an initial read through, catching typos and jotting down questions for research or areas of concern. I’ll spend a period of time with corrections, then another read through. Somewhere in this process, even before completing the manuscript, I’m reading chapters or scenes to members of a critique group. I’ll jot down their concerns and suggestions, then when I’m correcting the read through, I’ll insert those as I see fit.

I’ve been trying to follow a course laid out by Todd Stone in his book “The Novelist Boot Camp”. He suggests looking at specific aspects of the story for each read through. Action, Dialogue, Sentence Structure, Setting, and others. I think this is a good guideline to follow. By focusing on specific areas you’re not as overwhelmed by trying to catch EVERYTHING on each round.

Even when I’d edited “Beta” many times, the critique group still had suggestions. I needed to tone down the brusqueness of my main character. Plus, they didn’t like the names for two of my male characters. After reviewing this, I agreed. So Jamie became Darren and Lauren was renamed Lawrence. I like them better.

Find your editing method. Get frustrated, but realize that with each correction, you are improving not only your story, but your writing as well.