Clarify and Clean It Up

I am deep in the editing process of Clock Shop Mystery Book #2, which is due next week. I am in the clarify and clean it up phase of the editing process.

Clarifying is just that–does the narrative make sense? Since I write mysteries, my readers need to be kept in the dark a bit, otherwise it isn’t a mystery. That said, there is a difference between red herrings (good) and confusion (bad). Some of the clarifying I am working on includes:

  • Making sure to give enough context for local idioms so that anyone understands them. Local phrases help place the story in specific settings, but if I use the term “wicked” I need it to be clear in the sentence that I mean “excellent”.
  • Adding conversation tags. In my brain, it is always clear when Nancy is speaking as opposed to Ben as opposed to Pat. But for the reader, it is often confusing, especially if three people are having a conversation. So add tags–let folks know who is speaking.
  • Bringing the reader along with me. If I mention that Ruth likes baked goods, I need to have her eat baked goods a few times. Maybe at some point she turns down a cookie. That is out of the norm, and could be a clue to the reader that she is upset, doesn’t like the person, or is on a diet. Not the best example, but you get the drift. If you set something up, use it, and let it pay off for the reader.

After the clarifying work, I clean it up. During this phrase, I don’t read, I look at the words. Reading them sucks me into the story. Looking at them helps me clean it up. This includes:

  • Watching out for repetition. In one paragraph, I used the word “nothing” three times. Do I remember doing it? No, of course not. Now I only use it once. You’d be surprised how many times I have duplicate words circled in my manuscript. Always remember, your thesaurus is your friend.
  • Do a word search on your bad writing habits. An example, I use the word “just” a lot. Most (possibly all) of them will be exorcised before the final draft. You’ll notice them as you are reading the manuscript through. Keep a list, and then find and replace.
  • I also start sentences with “And” more often than is healthy for a manuscript. Got to fix those.
  • Make sure all the names and places are spelled and used consistently. Does River Street turn into River Road mid-novel?

Don’t rush the clarifying and cleaning up part of the editing process. I don’t find this process particularly enjoyable, but I do find it satisfying.

Now, back at it!


J.A. Hennrikus writes the Clock Shop Mystery series for Berkley Prime Crime. The first book, Just Killing Time, will be out in October.

Time Is Flying!

It was almost two years ago that I signed my contract for the Clock Shop Mystery Series, which I am writing under the pen name Julianne Holmes for Berkley Prime Crime. Last week, on Wicked Cozy Authors, I wrote about how Julianne Holmes came into being. Today, I thought I’d write about the journey of the book, Just Killing Time, which will be published October 6, 26 months after I signed the contract. In a lot of ways, that is a long time. But in others? Yeesh, it is flying, especially since there are three books to write.

Just Killing Time debuts October 6!

Just Killing Time debuts October 6!

Just Killing Time has taught me a lot about the process of writing and publishing a book. Although other journeys will be different, many of the steps will be part of the process. Here’s what the past year has been like for me:

  • Writing the first draft of Book #1 (Just Killing Time). Seems obvious, but until you write the book, which can be a slog, you can’t move forward.
  • Reading, revising, and editing it yourself.
  • Having someone else read it, to see if it is a book. My friend Jason is my first reader. He loves the genre, reads a lot, is supportive, but can also give me tough love.
  • Take those notes, make changes, and polish it a bit more.
  • Have an editor look at it. That person can help in two ways. First, to make sure the story hangs together logically. Second, with wordsmithing, grammar, and other stylistic choices. There are a number of folks on this blog who are freelance editors. Finding one to work with can be tough. You need help, but you don’t need someone to rewrite your book.
  • Work on those suggestions. Polish, polish, polish. Then take a deep breath, and hit send to your publisher.
  • Wait for comments back. This can days, weeks, or in some cases months. My editor at Berkley is incredibly attentive, and it didn’t take long for her to come back to me with her editorial letter. This is the moment where you really need to get out of your own way. I had to do a massive rewrite on Just Killing Time. The rewrite made it a better book, but my ego had to step aside so that the writer could get to work. I also had to put Book #2 aside, so I could work on Book #1. That has been something that I am still learning how to do, keep two projects moving forward at the same time.
  • Resubmit, and wait for the next round of comments. This dance can go on for a while, but at some point the work will be done, and the book will be accepted. Do not, however, lull yourself into thinking the next time you will see it will be when it arrives as a book.
  • Around this time, I got to see the cover. I love it! I was asked for some ideas for the artist, but left it in their hands.
  • Copyedits are the next phase. These edits are from another source who is looking at consistency, making sure you are following the style sheet for the publishing house, and making clarifying edits. At this phase you can add, subtract, change. But it is a dialogue. Again, there is some back and forth.
  • Ask other writers to read it, and give you quotes that can be used in marketing. I will admit, this was a vulnerable moment for me, since I had to let the public see my baby. It all worked out, and was made easier by my Sisters in Crime relationships. Knowing other writers makes all the difference in so many ways. Don’t wait to find those networks.
  • Proofs are the next step. This is what I am working on now–reading the book again, looking for mistakes. This is not a time to rewrite. One great part of this phase is that I get to see how the book will be laid out, how the chapters look, etc.

These are all the book steps I’ve gone through so far. Next up will be marketing, getting ready for the launch (figuring out what that will be!), and hitting send on Book #2 by July 15.

These days there are lots of paths to publication, but the steps are going to be very similar. I am one of the lucky ones. This is a lot of work, but it is a dream come true, and it is getting more real by the day. Now, back to the editing of Book #2…


J.A. Hennrikus writes short stories. Julie Hennrikus is an arts administrator. Julianne Holmes writes the Clock Shop Mystery Series. They all look alike.

Starting a blog 101

As some of you may know I’m teaching a college level online course called “Writing Blogs.”

I don't have a picture of a blog, do you're getting a chicken.

I don’t have a picture of a blog, so you’re getting a chicken.

This is my first 100% online course and it’s been a little tough because it’s difficult to sense frustration unless the students write about it in the forum. And I’m sensing frustration.

It’s been 3 weeks and my class is *just* starting to create their blogs. This was intentional, as I’ve told my students you have to know how to play your scales before you can improvise.

My students had to pick a topic based on their qualifications (and a hobby counts as a qualification) and then they had to look at other blogs in that field in order to begin figuring out who their audience is. We took our time with this because nailing your audience *before* you begin writing is critical. Putting the time into the design or foundation up front will save time (and heartache) later on.

We’ll be having a lifestyle blog that will use a lot of photos, a blog that captures the angst of youth and music (and baseball), a blog about surviving a TBI (Traumatic Brain injury) one on exploring life on a philosophical level and even a teacher’s blog.

It’s all good, these are great ideas.

But designing a blog and then creating one are two different steps.

I thought I’d share my class notes on creating a blog in wordpress with you (I know that we have some readers  at NHWN who want to set up a blog …someday – why not do it now?)

For my class, I’ve created a new blog where my students will be able to see real life examples of what we talk about each week. If you’re interested in blog design and you’d like to follow along on that blog please do, just be aware that it is a work in motion (on purpose) and it will be evolving.

So here are my “creating a blog” notes –


From the discussion board, some of you have actually created the beginnings of a blog on wordpress. Bravo, good for you.

But for some of you, it may feel like I gave you a hammer and told you to go build a house.

Sooooooo, for you guys, here’s how wordpress works.

To help you, I’ve decided to create a new blog on wordpress (I may kill it at the end of this course, I may not.) My audience will be primarily women who are interested in getting back into shape. I also hope to migrate some of my readers from my personal blog to this one.

My topic is: I am going to challenge myself to get back in shape to do a triathlon next year (there is more to this story that makes it compelling but that’s it in a nutshell.) Some of my friends are going to join me. It’s a challenge girl-power tale.

But the key word is compelling. I want my readers to keep coming back.

I have my audience and I’ve created a challenge with a storyline. People will follow to see if we “win.” It’s a story with a hook – we’ve talked about this. Having a hook for your readers to hold onto is very important.

To start your blog: first create an account on wordpress (user name , email, password)

Put a name for your blog in the URL box. Here’s where it gets a little tricky, if that name has already been taken you can’t use it.

There are millions of blogs out there, so chances are you won’t get your first choice – try variations, try abbreviations – just be careful not to have your blog name be too long or too complicated.

Once you have a name that works hit enter and voila, you are the owner of that blog!

I called my blog (fit2food was taken, darn it) – for every pound I and my friends lose we will donate a pound of food to a food bank (hence the name Fit to Food)

What now, right?

You will need to choose a theme. A theme is the wrapper that goes around your blog, it’s the template for how it will look. WordPress has a bunch of themes and you try them on until you find one that “fits.”

You get a chance to choose your theme when you create your blog, but if you didn’t do it then, you can always choose a theme under the Customization option in the left column.

A bit of caution – some of the themes cost money. You don’t need to use those, just look around for the free ones and use one of those. For my new blog I used that fruit banana one. It was clear after working with it for a bit that it wouldn’t work so I changed it to another theme. Not a big deal, I looked around for a theme, choose Preview (which lets you see how it will look) and when I found one I liked I switched.

You can always preview any theme (even the ones that cost money) and nothing is set (or charged) until you press SAVE.

Now you need to start defining your blog.

Under Customize (left column):

Enter a blog title – the url has no spaces so if you entered your name with no spaces that will be the default for your blog title. My original title was fittofood I changed the title of my blog to Fit to Food – notice that I chose what was capped.

Tag line – this is your subtitle and it gives your readers an idea on what your blog will be about. My tag line is “On a quest to feel bullet proof again.”

Still under Customize, if you click on Header you can upload a photo to replace the default photo that came with the theme. You’ll probably have to crop the photo so play around with a few photos. My first photo had poor resolution and so I went with the swimming photo that’s up there now. I’ll probably change that one soon.

Now you’re ready to put up a post.

On the left column, click on Posts.

If you click on All Posts, you’ll see everything that has been posted onto your blog. WordPress prepopulates your blog with a “welcome world” post. Go ahead and delete that one.

Now click on New Post and enter your new post. When you are ready click Publish.

Although you can type directly into the wordpress editor, get into the habit of using a program like word and then cutting and pasting it into your blog post. This saves you a lot of heartache when your network is unreliable.

NOTE: some word processing programs don’t paste well into wordpress and you might have to add an extra “Enter” or Return after each paragraph. If you find that the text all runs together when you cut and paste that’s why. I know it’s weird and it doesn’t always happen.

The wordpress editor acts very much like the word editor, you can bold, bullet and if you want to insert a picture, click on the photo icon and browse for the file on your system.

Remember that you need to give your post a title (you’d be surprised at how many people forget that.)

My first post is called “The Desire to do” I have a photo and a short story.

I wrote an “about me” and I put it on a new Page (not post) but I think I’m going to also put it as my second post (just because this blog is so new, people need to immediately know who I am.)

So that’s it. To get started you’ll need:

  • Theme
  • Name
  • Title
  • Tag Line
  • Header
  • Blog Post
  • Publish

Remember that there’s not much you can break. The only thing that’s permanent is the URL you choose, other than that you can change the title (in my personal blog I went from Simple Thrift to Lessons Learned from the Flock), tag line, and theme. You can add posts and you can delete them. You own this space and you can do with it what you want.

For those of you who have not created a blog, go ahead and give it a try. This is the very basics of what a blog needs. Soon we’ll be talking about things like keywords, categories, and widgets, along with many of the other options available.

Follow along on where you’ll see each of the options added to the blog as we discuss them.

Any questions (at all) let me know in the discussion forum.


Wendy Thomas is an award winning journalist, columnist, and blogger who believes that taking challenges in life will always lead to goodness. She is the mother of 6 funny and creative kids and it is her goal to teach them through stories and lessons.

Wendy’s current project involves writing about her family’s experiences with chickens (yes, chickens). ( She writes about her chickens for GRIT, Backyard Poultry, Chicken Community, and Mother Earth News.

Frank Underwood Saves the Humane Society

If you haven’t read Save the Cat by Blake Snyder, you should – right now. It’s a reference written primarily for screen writers but the guidelines also work for other writers. In a nut shell, the premise is that within the first few minutes of a movie (or pages of a book) the hero needs to do something significant to make us align with and like him.

The hero saves the cat or he calls home or he brings flowers to mom or he get up so that an older woman can sit down – you get the idea, he has to do something that humanizes him and that immediately puts us in his court. We like him because he took the time to do something we would consider doing.

In movies (and TV) this is particularly important. Take a look at this trailer for House of Cards season 1 (where it was paramount that we immediately like the main character.) Frank Underwood is a sly fox, he’s part of political Washington. We shouldn’t trust a word he says, BUT because once we see that he is addressing *us* directly in the very beginning of the show (literally minutes), we realize that we’re being treated as a confidant. He’s letting us in on the joke.

We trust one of the most devious characters in recent TV history, because he saved the cat – in a big way. He addressed us directly and now we feel like we are part of a secret club. As devious as Frank behaves, we know that he will always be honest with us.

That inauguration scene knocks House of Cards out of the ball park. Frank Underwood, not only saved the cat, but he personally bankrolled the entire Humane Society.

We love him. We’re on team Frank.

Go back to some of the movies you’ve loved over the years. Watch only the first few minutes and see if you can figure out where the cat is saved.

And then, try to translate that action into your writing. No matter what your work is (with the exception of non-fiction how-to) you’ll need to humanize your hero. If it’s a romance, we need to see that the hero may be clumsy but he’s got a soft heart. If you’ve got a memoir, establish up front how people can connect to you, use an example of a time when you stumbled and by the end of the story, correct that stumble to show people how you’ve grown. Same rules apply to any fiction (YA, Romance, mystery, etc) give us a reason to care about your hero and then give us a reason to put ourselves in his shoes. Make us like your character.

Saving the cat is one of those little tools that is so subtle, you may not even catch it the first time you see it, but if you learn to recognize the technique, then like buying a new car, pretty soon, you’ll start seeing that exact model all over the place.

Once seen, trust me, you won’t be able to unsee it.

Feel free to share any “Save the Cat” moments from favorite movies or books in the comments.


Wendy Thomas is an award winning journalist, columnist, and blogger who believes that taking challenges in life will always lead to goodness. She is the mother of 6 funny and creative kids and it is her goal to teach them through stories and lessons.

Wendy’s current project involves writing about her family’s experiences with chickens (yes, chickens). ( She writes about her chickens for GRIT, Backyard Poultry, Chicken Community, and Mother Earth News.

Character. Action. Setting.

Lucky you! By chance, I pulled two blog spots this week!


Photo credit: PeteJackson

Yesterday I talked about paring down your words to the bone – which is a message, when boiled down, is simply put as- “get to the point.”

Sometimes it’s tough to do that. It can be difficult to know what’s important to you and what’s important to your story.

Like many other writers, I received a boatload of writing books this holiday season (what do you get a writer? A book on writing of course!) I’m in the midst of reading Structuring Your Novel – Essential Keys for Writing an Outstanding Story, by K.M. Weiland and I came across this bit of brilliance:

“A professor of mine once posed it to me this way, thumping the podium for emphasis: “It’s not “World War II began”! It’s “Hitler. Invaded. Poland.””

Character. Action. Setting. That’s what’s important to a story and that’s what you need to work on. Forget about background story (unless you can make it full of Character. Action. and Setting. *WHILE* advancing the plot.) Forget about moral conundrums or even introducing absolutely everyone at the party. Sometimes Doorman #2 is simply Doorman #2. Move on to what’s important.

As a technical writer, I was taught to avoid action unless it was a command – “Hit DELETE and exit the program.” As a memoir writer, I often struggle with action. I can clearly see what is going on in my scene – shouldn’t it be obvious to the reader? I tend to be more of a cerebral thinker, focusing on my thoughts as opposed to what is going on and where.

In short, my actions and settings sometimes suck.

But pick up any (good) book and just read for a few minutes, you’ll start to see how important all of these ingredients are as they work together to form the story. Consider this example from The Homesman by Glendon Swarthout:

“Come daylight Vester got up and dressed and went to the stable to feed the stock and saddle his horse. Line got u pad dressed and started a fire in the stove and went to the outhouse. On return she emptied the buckets and waked the girls and standing in mud made corn dodgers. All she has left was fornmean. Which she mixed with water until it was too thick to run, then fried. She made extra, enough for herself and the girls later. Vester came in and she used the last of her sorghum molasses on his dodgers and the last of her coffee, which was rye parched brown, for two cups for him. He guaranteed again he’d be home by dark. Loup was sixteen miles north and east of their claim. He tried to kiss her on the cheek, but she turned her face away from him.”

This passage has it all, Character. Action. Setting. But, and here’s what makes excellent writing stand out, the author has presented each aspect in a way that moves the plot forward.

The character in scene is a frontier woman who is going mad. By using so many “ands” in the description we are forced to endure this woman’s never ending monotony. We see how she sacrifices herself for her children and husband, my God, she even gives this man the last of her coffee. She must really love him, but yet she turns her face from him. Clearly something is not right.

In that short passage by fully exposing and emphasizing the character, action, and setting (can’t you just see that pathetic coffee) we get a real feel for what’s going on. The descriptions all add to the continuation of the story line.

So here’s what you (and I) need to do.

Get an index card and on it write “Character. Action. Setting” and then put it on your desk where you can see it.

Next take a passage you’ve already written and see where it might be lacking in these 3 areas. Either revise it or write a new one and then take a step back and compare it to the first.

I’m willing to bet that you’ll see an improvement.

Looking forward to hearing about your experiences.


Wendy Thomas is an award winning journalist, columnist, and blogger who believes that taking challenges in life will always lead to goodness. She is the mother of 6 funny and creative kids and it is her goal to teach them through stories and lessons.

Wendy’s current project involves writing about her family’s experiences with chickens (yes, chickens). ( She writes about her chickens for GRIT, Backyard Poultry, Chicken Community, and Mother Earth News.

Get to the friggin’ point

Get to the point. How many times have I said this to my kids when I have been involved in agonizing conversations along the lines of: “and then, you know, he said, whatever, and I said yeah, I know, right?”

I’ve also said this about books. Especially when the author has spent too much time describing the setting – okay I get it, the action is taking place in a bucolic meadow, I get it, now can we please get to the action? Or when a conversation continues (and continues) without adding any information *specific* to the plot (much like my kids’ conversations do.)

Stop wasting my time. Stop wasting everyone’s time.

Get to the friggin’ point already.

There is a diet book series out there called Eat This, Not That. It is hugely popular because it cuts to the chase. The author provides a picture of what you should eat and then one of a comparable food you shouldn’t. Bam – clarity at its best – it’s what you need to know and only what you need to know.

The author got to the point.

It’s difficult to cut your writing, after all, every word was born of sweat and blood – writers tend to be rather attached to what they write. But if you want to have impactful writing, you must learn to trim until all that is left is the bone that moves your reader forward.

Consider these two examples:

It was ridiculously cold when I woke up this morning.

And –

It was ridiculously cold when I woke up this morning.

The first example has too much information in it. You’re supposed to be concerned about the cold, but why is the door open and what is that thing over there, a bike?! The focus is spread over too many areas and you haven’t made your point.

Now consider the second example. It was ridiculously cold – see? Here’s the supporting evidence. I dare say that the second example would be a better start to a story. There’s nothing extraneous, every detail belongs, you know exactly what the story will be about. Bam.

Think of these photos as you attempt to pare down your writing. Focus on what’s important and what supports the plot. Try to remove all that is unnecessary and for goodness sake, force your writing to get to the point.


Wendy Thomas is an award winning journalist, columnist, and blogger who believes that taking challenges in life will always lead to goodness. She is the mother of 6 funny and creative kids and it is her goal to teach them through stories and lessons.

Wendy’s current project involves writing about her family’s experiences with chickens (yes, chickens). ( She writes about her chickens for GRIT, Backyard Poultry, Chicken Community, and Mother Earth News.

Book Review: The Art of Social Media by Guy Kawasaki and Peg Fitzpatrick

The Art of Social Media by Guy Kawasaki and Peg Fitzpatrick

I had been hearing about the birthing pains of The Art of Social Media for some time. Peg went to school with my husband and as a result is one of my Facebook friends so I’ve been able to vicariously watch the book’s progress as it developed. Of course, I was intrigued.

art of socialAs a little bit of author background, Guy was the special adviser to the CEO of the Motorola business at Google. Peg is a social-media strategist and director of digital media for Kreussler Inc. Both of these people live and breathe social media and they know their stuff.

A few weeks back, I reviewed a book on social media specifically for writers. It was a good non-overwhelming start into the basics of what a writer needs to do in order to be visible on the internet. The Art of Social Media is the next step. It’s what you need to do to take your social media presence beyond basic and to the next level.

The Art of Social Media is organized into 123 tips for marketing and promoting what it is you want to “sell” using Social Media. As writers, and as writers who fervently desire to be published, you’re going to need to know this information at some point, so pay attention.

Peg and Guy have many effective suggestions and tips based from actual experience. In fact, there are so many suggestions that you might feel like you’ll never have enough time to do your social media, as well as do your writing.

But here’s the thing, you don’t have to do it all. You need to pick and choose what will work best for your platform and don’t do what won’t. To that end, you need to know what’s out there to use because as we all know, you can’t use it if you don’t know about it. Peg and Guy do an outstanding job of explaining what tools are available and how best to use and manage them. Some of the tips are common sense (or at least should be) like “Don’t Swear.” Other tips give you a bit more to chew on, like the tips for managing Pinterest and SlideShare.

The book was originally written as an ebook that contained many hyperlinks (up to 6 on a page) that if clicked, will automatically take you to the reference on the internet. This obviously doesn’t translate well to a hardcopy. Although it would be fairly easy to locate the links (using searches and going to websites) for some this might be an unforgivable annoyance. If that’s you, purchase the ebook and stay away from the hardcopy.

Chapter 12, though, ties everything together and, in my humble opinion, is worth the price of the hardcopy just so that you can have the list in front of you. It’s titled “How to put everything together.” In the chapter the authors spell out what needs to be done for a non-fiction book release, starting with Building the Foundation, Amassing your Digital Assets and then Going to Market. It is a detailed step-by-step online marketing plan.

Here’s another tip, this very same plan could also be used for a fiction book, a series of magazine articles, or virtually any product you’ve created that you want to sell to the world. That chapter is a gold mine for anyone who plans to self-market.

If you tried to use every tool in the book, I’m afraid that you might be spending too much of your time doing social media and not your writing, however, if you followed some of the guidelines, especially those for sharing blog posts on various platforms and cleaning up your biographies – you’d pretty much be guaranteed to increase your numbers.

And like it or not, in the end it’s your numbers that potential publishers will find truly impressive.


Wendy Thomas is an award winning journalist, columnist, and blogger who believes that taking challenges in life will always lead to goodness. She is the mother of 6 funny and creative kids and it is her goal to teach them through stories and lessons.

Wendy’s current project involves writing about her family’s experiences with chickens (yes, chickens). ( She writes about her chickens for GRIT, Backyard Poultry, Chicken Community, and Mother Earth News.