Space Coast Writer’s Guild Hosts Editing Workshop

Space Coast Writer’s Guild Hosts Editing Workshop

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The Space Coast Writer’s Guild hosted me to lead a workshop “Editing Down to the Bones” in Melbourne, Florida.

My best advice is don’t bother editing until you complete the first draft.

If that’s all anyone learned from the workshop, then follow it and you will thank me. I know writers who have rewritten their first chapter for years and never finished the book. You cannot judge the value of that first chapter until you can look back from the perspective of the last chapter. You might end up throwing away that first chapter!

There, there. This may come as a terrible shock, but you will discard much of that first draft, because the first draft helps you find the story, discover the characters, and shape the action. That first draft is not the final product. Think of it as fertilizer out of which your beautiful story will grow. Nobody picks up a cello for the first time and plays Vivaldi. After you write your first million words, you will learn how to shorten the process of reaching that finished product. Statistically speaking, you will write five novels before you write one worth publishing.

Author Joni M. Fisher connects her laptop to the overhead projector.

We discussed how the story’s structure is the foundation for the story. Is it sturdy? Is it complete? Does it have the elements of the bestsellers in your genre?

For further reading on structure, become familiar with what the experts of storytelling have to say.

I recommend buying a hard copy of these books because they will become your reference books.

open book emitting lights

Other topics covered in the workshop were:

  • choosing a point of view—whose story is it?
  • composing scenes by cause and effect
  • ordering scenes for maximum impact
  • establishing the story question and when to answer it
  • using the value of setting
  • choosing the types and levels of conflict
  • discerning scene from sequel
  • timing the use of backstory, flashbacks, and transitions
  • developing sensory details and fact-checking
  • crafting figures of speech and imagery
  • setting the pace
  • proofreading and line editing with critique partners and professionals.

Thank you, Space Coast Writer’s Guild, for hosting my workshop. All the best to you!

If your writer’s group seeks workshop presenters on dialogue, editing, or writing for magazines, see my Events page.

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East of Evil Needs a Cover

East of Evil Needs a Cover

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Nefi Jenkins dreams of becoming an FBI agent. After outing her mom and dad’s heartless killers, the Harvard grad focuses on getting into a stellar criminal justice Master’s degree program. But her career goals take a back seat when she inherits a ten-million-dollar trust from her late parents… with a hefty chunk gone.

A colossal fortune. A secret reaper. A young woman whose drive for due process might land her on the wrong side of a lethal bullet…

Seeking the help of a forensic accountant, Nefi is dismayed to discover a cunning thief has been stealing from one of the estate’s properties. And with her legacy at stake, the hidden enemy’s scheme to swipe her cash could turn deadly.

Can Nefi restore her parent’s wealth before her investigation turns fatal?

East of Evil is the fourth book in the page-turning Compass Crimes suspense series. If you like strong heroines, greed-driven motives, and jaw-dropping twists, then you’ll love Joni M Fisher’s hunt for the truth.

East of Evil cover art
East of Evil cover art B

Please vote for the cover you like best, and if you have a moment, explain why. Thank you for your help!

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Becoming Bold

Earning my pilot’s license was the boldest thing I have done since kissing Steve Gadow in seventh grade. Kissing Steve put me in the majority of girls in seventh grade, but earning my pilot’s license put me in a minority. An underwhelming six percent of the pilot’s licenses are held by women.

Why do so few women fly?

I’ll tell you.

The first reason that some women don’t fly is because of how they are introduced to aviation. When my husband earned his license he took me up for a ride. Being a guy, he thought like a guy and believed in his heart that demonstrating a simulated engine failure and recovery would instill confidence in his plane-handling abilities. Being a woman, I thought it was a ride in Hell’s theme park. I’ve met a dozen other women who were similarly introduced to aviation and most stayed away afterward.

It took months for me to get near another small airplane. Hubby intended to buy a plane and so eventually, I’d be a passenger again. I vowed not to be a helpless one ever again. I hired an instructor to teach me how to radio for help and land the plane. Dear Instructor Don Kohler walked me through radio work, reading the instruments for heading and altitude, and landings. Lots of landings. He demystified the panel of blinking instruments, knobs, and do-dads. His patience gradually built up my confidence and knowledge.

photo of Don Kohler

I confided in Don that aviation seemed an all-male club, so he introduced me to the legendary Betty Skelton, an aerobatic pilot whose Pitts Special airplane rests in the Smithsonian’s Air & Space collection. Back when women were expected to become teachers, wives, nurses, or secretaries, and mothers, Betty became an aerobatic pilot. Elegant, stylish, and bold, Betty’s passion for flying inspired me. Her plane’s N-number tells how she felt about aerobatic flying–22EZ. I decided to obtain my pilot’s license.

I told Hubby my intention. Well, I hadn’t seen him that excited—with his clothes on, anyway—in years. Who would’ve thought 110 low lead fuel would be an aphrodisiac?

Resources

A second large obstacle for women who want to learn to fly is resources. Flying is expensive and it costs time. Women tend to carry the heavier loads of parenting in terms of time. So to take lessons, certain factors had to converge in perfect synchronicity: the availability of the rental plane, good weather, my daughter’s presence at school, and the availability of the instructor.

After six months, I passed the written and practical examinations. Later, after being stranded in Claxton, Georgia due to cloud cover, I trained for and earned my instrument rating. Free to punch through clouds, I embraced flying. Now Handsome tends to work the fact that I’m a pilot into conversations. It always gets a double-take response and raised eyebrows. Never mind that I bore him a daughter and worked at a bank to support us through his grad school years. He brags that I’m a pilot? Men. Go figure.

We enjoy life at 8,000 feet. We’ve flown from central Florida as far south as the Cayman Islands; as far east as Crooked Island in the Bahamas; as far west as Las Cruces, New Mexico; and as far north as Mackinac Island, Michigan. We’ve flown to see the Balloon Festival in Albuquerque. We’ve visited Big Bend National Park, and Carlsbad Caverns because we could fly to them. We fly up to North Carolina to enjoy cool summertime weather and brilliant autumn foliage. We take turns to prevent a wrestling match for the left seat, which is where the pilot-in-command sits.

Fear

The largest obstacle for women in aviation to overcome is fear.

I have lost friends in airplane accidents. When traveling at 175 knots, 8,000 above the ground and things go wrong, fear can destroy judgment. Firefighters, police, Special Forces soldiers, and fighter pilots all say that the single greatest way to overcome fear and panic is through training, practice, and knowledge, because when an emergency happens—and it will—people revert to their training. Training is what enables us to shove emotion into the backseat.

I’ve experienced a few attention-grabbing events. Don taught me simple aerobatics: loops, rolls, and spins. In a spin you have to do the exact opposite of what instinct dictates to safely recover from the spin. It takes many practices to overcome the urge to follow instinct. Near Muskegon, Michigan the hydraulic line to the gear motor broke, so I hand-cranked the gear down and we landed safely for repairs. I’ve had a cylinder fail, and software go haywire, and watched a gyro tumble, but through it all, training trumped emotion. What began as boldness—to learn this new skill set and become licensed—has grown into steady confidence.

Being bold enough to learn to fly has been deeply rewarding. In 2004, I flew to Marathon in the Florida Keys to resupply friends who had lost power and food after a hurricane. In 2005, I brought my pastor to Pascagoula, Mississippi, so he could inspect the relief efforts of a smaller church post-Katrina to determine whether or not our larger church should send funds. Though I looked out of place among the military pilots and the jet pilots ferrying in FEMA representatives and supplies, I felt at home.

Flying has enhanced my marriage, not just because we can travel farther by taking turns at the controls, but because we are doing something we both enjoy. The world of aviation is still male-dominated, but I have to say everyone has treated me very well.

Being bold has paid off handsomely for me personally and professionally. We have a choice. We can live boldly or look back and wish we had.

—–

This article previously appeared in Skirt! Magazine, their BOLD issue, August 2016.

Writer’s Den Interview

Jane Waters Thomas interviews authors in her series The Writer’s Den. In the March 1, 2017 telecast, Jane interviewed me about the writing process used in developing the Compass Crimes Series. The first book, South of Justice, came out in May 2016. North of the Killing Hand came out in October 2016. The “West” book is scheduled for release in October 2017. A link to the video appears near the end of this blog.

PLAN

I am a plotter, that is I plot out the entire story before I write to target research on particular topics and to prevent wasting time writing scenes that don’t move the story along. Pantsers, that is those who write by the seat of their pants, tend to think about a story and plot in their minds and then write in bursts of time. The process of transforming a story concept into published form takes years of practice and study of the craft of storytelling. No matter which process the author uses, the reader sees only the result.

RESEARCH

Man, oh man, the internet can connect me to experts and data in seconds! I enjoy the field-research phase of the writing process best because I meet wonderful experts and get to try new things–like field-stripping an M-16, visiting foreign countries, and living on a trawler for a while. What’s not to love when work is such fun?

WRITE

Technology has vastly improved the writing process. I’m not sure I would have had the fortitude to type and retype a ninety-four-thousand word manuscript with each revision on a manual typewriter. Today, a writer can use computerized document software like Microsoft Word, or Scrivener to create novel-length manuscripts. Changes, additions, revisions are simply keystrokes. Move a word. Move a sentence. Move a paragraph. Move a chapter. Easy peasy. Writers today don’t even have to be proficient at typing. I use Dragon Naturally Speaking software to dictate my first draft. Sure, it tosses in a completely inappropriate homonym occasionally, but I can dictate faster than I type, so my productivity improves with technology.

MARKET

To quote Author and Pilot Jamie Beckett, “Writing is an art. Publishing is a business.”

Vincent Van Gogh, one of the most influential painters in the world, did not earn a living a a painter. He lived and died poor. He was unable to sell his work. Don’t be the starving artist. Learn the industry. Learn the market for your work. Learn about marketing principles for authors. Find social media sites for readers, like Goodreads, and connect with readers.

Authors today are expected to manage both the art and the business elements to build a career. Gone are the days when the author drops off a manuscript at the publisher’s then deposits the advance check and tromps back home to start the next book, leaving all the editing, proofreading, formatting, cover art selection, copyright, typesetting, layout, printing, binding, distribution, and marketing for the publisher to handle.

Authors are expected to participate in marketing through book signings, social media, and more. Building a readership takes time. Tom Clancy didn’t quit his insurance job the day his first or second book was published. Diana Gabaldon, author of the Outlander series, had a tough time convincing a publisher to contract her books. Her stories combined historical settings, war, romance, time travel, suspense, and mystery. Publishers didn’t know where to shelve her books in bookstores, so they didn’t know how to place her books where her readers could find them. In time, readers found her stories and today the Outlander series has been made into an amazing televised mini-series.

Click on the picture to view the interview.

Jane Waters Thomas interview for the Writer’s Den.

REPEAT

My readers, God bless them all, have encouraged me in this long process. They show up at book signings from New Mexico to Florida. They buy my ebooks in the U.S., England, Canada, Japan, and Australia. Thank you, readers, for your purchases, your reviews, and for recommending my books to your friends. So on I go, writing the next one.

Call Me Trawler Trash

Once the urge strikes to compose a novel, I draft a rough outline and launch into research. For my third novel this meant learning about boats–specifically Trawlers. Part of the story takes place on a trawler, so I needed to understand how they operate, navigate, smell, sound, look, and where to hide a body on one.

Using online research helps only up to a certain point. Cost, size, models, speed, and other performance facts about boats are readily available online. To fully capture the experience of being on such a boat, my BFF and her husband invited me to ride along. Meet hosts Caryn and Paul Frink. (South of Justice, book 1 of the Compass Crimes series, is dedicated in part to my BFF.)

Trawler Hosts Caryn and Paul Frink

Seeker

RESEARCH

For five days and four nights, I bunked in their guest cabin. The perfect hosts, they introduced me to life aboard the Seeker, a 37-foot, 22,600 pound, diesel-powered Nordic Tug 37. Aboard the Seeker, I learned the difference between seawater, fresh water, grey water, and black water (eeew). Captain Paul also explained the navigation equipment, maps, and the basic systems that keep the boat running smoothly whether powered by the engine or powered by the giant yellow power cable used while docked.

There are many key differences between piloting a boat and piloting an aircraft. The boating maps are huuuuge and very detailed. Navigating canals and waterways means watching for red and green signs with numbers, called markers. The markers guide boats through the deeper areas so boats don’t run aground. “Red, right, return,” became my mantra. Binoculars in hand, I tried to help find the markers as the horizon pitched up and down. The Seeker chugged along at a top speed of 8 knots. The Cessna 210 I fly cruises at about 175 knots, so yeah, boating is slower. More leisurely.

The trip began in Naples, Florida at the city dock made of wood. At lunch in Tin City, we saw a pelican try to swallow a beer can. Other pelicans even tried to steal it from him. Not the brightest creatures. I think they’ve become accustomed to human handouts. We traveled an inner passage of waterways south to Marco Island which had a floating cement dock. From there we headed into the Ten Thousand Islands between Marco Island and Everglades City.

Marker 44

The constant rocking meant learning how to walk differently. At first, I staggered like a drunk, but by the end of the week walking around became easier and less bruising. Paul and Caryn helped me resolve a few key issues with the plot of my next book. It involves a kidnapping, a trawler, and a navy brat who refuses to be a victim.

Unnamed island

Not only did my hosts help me find the perfect spot to use in my book, but they took me there and we anchored overnight. The term ‘dead calm’ has new meaning for me. We found a remote spot that turned pitch black at night. The only sound at night was the glub-blub of water against the hull. Creepy quiet. It would have been peaceful if I had not been thinking about the book. Eventually, the boat rocked me to sleep.

We saw dolphins playing on the ride back to Naples.

Bow candy or Trawler trash?

LOOPERS

Since we “crossed our own wake” on a mini loop, Caryn dubbed me a mini-looper. There is an entire society of Loopers, complete with a newsletter, blogs, and harbor hosts. They too, will play a part in the third book in the Compass Crimes–West of Famous.

The best part of the trip was spending time with Caryn, my dearest childhood friend. Thank you, Caryn and Paul, for putting up with a pesky stowaway who asked lots of questions and took notes and photos of all kinds of places. West of Famous is richer for this research.

Hubby calls it a vacation. I’m still calling it research. Ignore my tan.

Reader’s Favorite Review and Research

5-Star Reader’s Favorite Rating

North of the Killing Hand is another brilliant entry in the Compass Crimes Series by Joni M Fisher, a compelling and intricately woven story for fans of crime fiction. The plot centers on Nefi Jenkins, whose experience of murder will shape her future in unimaginable ways. She is just fourteen when she witnesses the murder of her parents. Rescued from Brazil and brought to the US, she learns a new way of life, and connects deeply with those who have stood by her. As she grows up, the desire to join the law enforcement service becomes an obsession for her. But is it for the sheer desire to serve her new country or the thirst for revenge? The answer will surprise readers and it’s worth finding out. Joni M Fisher’s work reminded me powerfully of the movie Colombiana, but there is nothing that makes the 2011 film close to this well-imagined and masterfully executed story. Witnessing one’s parents being murdered is a powerful premise for a psychologically absorbing story and the author has used this premise as a springboard to create a character that is rock-solid and with great psychological depth. The international setting is equally fascinating and readers will enjoy the way the author establishes the contrast between two worlds, building a powerful conflict around it as the protagonist adjusts and evolves. The themes are well explored, including crime, love and devotion, the sense of justice and revenge. North of the Killing Hand is a beautifully paced, absorbing story that keeps readers’ eyes on its pages.” —Reviewed by Ruffina Oserio for Readers’ Favorite 5-stars

Many thanks to the reviewer for this wonderful review! Thank you to all my readers for your support.

RESEARCH

I am hard at work on the next novel which will be the West part of the Compass Crimes Series. Next week, I will be living on a boat named Seeker off the west coast of Florida. My hosts are Paul and my BFF Caryn “Cookie” Frink. This is their boat:

Seeker

Caryn is an avid reader, one of my BETA readers, and South of Justice is dedicated to her. I am researching a group known as Loopers, who live on their boats and loop the eastern U.S. via rivers, canals, and lakes to the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico. The lively Looper community features a role in the next book. As a pilot, I am well out of my depth on a boat. Still learning my port from my aft. Anchors away!