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Rx from the Book Doctor: Did You Say What You Mean?

July 11, 2014

How can you drop a raw egg five feet onto a concrete floor without cracking it?


Think about it. Now read my answer.


Not to worry; you can never crack a concrete floor with a mere raw egg. The floor is too hard.


What? You did not expect that answer? Were you trying to keep from cracking the egg? Well,

that’s not what the question asked. The confusion came from the misuse of a pronoun.


Because pronouns should refer to the last stated noun. The pronoun “it,” in my initial question

then refers to “floor.” Even the most skilled writers, though, forget the basic rule of pronouns,

and the result is that their sentences do not always say what the writers intended.


I’ll state the rule again: For clarity, every pronoun should refer to the last stated noun. If the

pronoun is plural, it should refer to the last stated plural noun. Here are some examples of

correctly placed pronouns: John looked for his socks under the bed. [The pronoun "his" properly

refers to John.] Daryl and Joe worked on their homework together. [The pronoun "their" properly

refers to the plural subject, Daryl and Joe.] How can you drop a raw egg five feet, without

breaking it on the concrete floor below? [See how rearranging the original question puts the

pronoun "it" clearly after "egg" and makes the sentence say what was it really meant to say?]


Misplaced, incorrect, and misleading pronouns are a major issue in many of the manuscripts I

edit. Once you become aware of pronouns and the fact that they should refer to the last stated

noun, you become an aware author, an author who writes clearly, and an author whose work says what it was intended to say.


Let’s examine the following items I’ve found in manuscripts I edited. Ask yourself if the authors

intended to say what the sentences actually say.


She heard the sizzle of fajitas being served as they followed the hostess to their table. [The last

plural noun before the pronoun "they" is "fajitas," so as written, the fajitas followed the hostess

to the table.]


Dark eyes crinkled against the sun as they trudged along. [I'm glad I didn't come upon those eyes

trudging along all by themselves. Yuck!]


He brings a fresh bag of chips, tears open the top with his teeth, and sets them on the coffee

table. [Seeing his teeth on the table would certainly kill my appetite for chips.]


In rural areas, almost every farm kept a dog to kill rats and alert them to strangers. [I’ll bet the rats appreciated being alerted when strangers came near, but I'll also bet the author meant that the dog alerted the farmers, not the rats.]

b. christmas

About the Author: Bobbie Christmas, professional editor and award-winning writer, founded Zebra Communications in 1992 to help writers prepare books for publication. A lifetime member of FWA, she oversees the Editors Helping Writers service. Because she cures ailing manuscripts, people refer to her as a book doctor. Her website is, and her e-mail address is

Exercise Wednesday: Phobias

July 9, 2014

Snakes. Why’d it have to be snakes?

I hate snakes.

It’s not a “gee I’d rather not be around a snake because they’re…you know, snakes.” No, it’s a revulsion that includes physical effort to not flee when there’s a snake around. It’s an Indiana Jones-like fear. In fact, if I were Indy, I’d have jumped from the plane at the beginning of Raiders of the Lost Ark and taken my chances with the Hovitos.

If you stuck a snake in my face and put your sweet grandma in the doorway of the only exit from the room, sweet grandma’s a doormat. It’s not something I’d think about. I wouldn’t even be aware of Grandma until after I ran over her and removed myself from the snake.

Snakes are relentless. You can’t stop them no matter what you do. The can go over and around anything. Hell, they can even fly, the bastards.

Today’s prompt is about phobias.

It’s not about the question what do you fear?. That’s small potatoes. I fear abandonment and having no one who loves me, but I’m not going to run over your grandmother about it.

Today your protagonist is presented with his or her phobia. For me, it’s snakes. For someone else it might be frogs, wasps, heights, or enclosed places. Whatever it is, it’s not really something they can man up and overcome. It’s truly an irrational phobia.

As you write, make the reader understand what your character feels during the encounter and what they feel immediately after. Make me feel their irrational fear as much as possible.

Time limit: 30 minutes

Does Your Author Website Need a Makeover?

July 7, 2014
1970s fashion

This used to be a groovy look.

I’m in the process of making over my website. (Don’t look now, the new stuff isn’t up yet.) The refresh is overdue and that’s kind of embarrassing. I’m like the plumber with a leaky faucet. Although I’ve let some things slide,  I’ve never really let it go fallow, because my website has proven over and over again to be key to my marketing efforts.

Many authors have virtually abandoned their websites in favor of social media. That’s risky, because you can never control what Facebook or any other social  media site does with its interface and functions–or your followers. These days Facebook wants Page owners pay for reach.  Only some of your followers see your posts unless you pay to promote them.

Social media sites go out of style. (Look around and you can see that Facebook isn’t the draw for the younger crowd it once was.) When the social media site where you’ve put all your eggs loses popularity, you’ll have to rebuild your presence somewhere else.

Unlike social media, you always have total control over your website (and your mailing list) and you can make them stronger and better over time.

Make an honest appraisal of your website. Is it showing signs of age?

1) Outdated content

Your blog hasn’t been updated in months; you’ve got a notice that your book is “coming in 2013″ and it’s 2014; and many of your links are broken. Why should a visitor stay—or return—if it looks like you’ve abandoned your site?

2) Doesn’t play well with mobile devices

Nearly two thirds of cell phone owners use their phone to go online, and one in five cell owners do most of their online browsing on their phone.   If your website doesn’t look good or function as well on a mobile device (smartphone and tablet) as it does on a desktop computer, you’re missing out.

3) No content management system (CMS)

You shouldn’t have to pay a website designer to make routine changes to your site. A CMS  (such as WordPress) makes it easy for you to create and update content, add images, and blog.

4) Old-fashioned elements

Is your design clean and modern-looking? Details such as a guest book, visitor counter, animation, flash introduction, and auto-play music or  auto-play video date your website and you look out of touch.

5) You aren’t being found by search engines

Search engine algorithms change. If you want to be found and draw traffic to your site,  you need to optimize your site’s content,  images,  links, and more.

6) No interactivity

It used to be that websites were a one-way conversation. Now, visitors expect clear invitations to interact with you by doing such things as leaving a comment, signing up for your mailing list, participating in a contest, or buying your books.

Your website is the foundation of your web presence. Technology changes rapidly. Even if your website is only a few years old, it could be old fashioned, poorly optimized, and ineffective. Perhaps it’s time to bring your website up to date?

What do you enjoy seeing on an author’s website? What features make you want to return or stay connected to that author?

Mary Ann de StefanoMary Ann de Stefano is the editor of The Florida Writer (the official magazine of the Florida Writers Association) and MAD’s Monday Muse. She is also a writer, editor, and organizer of writing workshops with 30+ years experience in publishing and writing consulting. Besides working one-on-one with writers who are developing books, she designs author websites. Mary Ann does business at MAD about Words, named as a play on her initials and love for writing.

Shy about sharing your work? How about a private professional critique?

July 6, 2014

Shy about sharing your work? How about a private professional critique?

One of the hardest things that you may ever have to do as a writer is to share your work. It looks great on your computer and as you read it to yourself, it sounds like an amazing story. That doesn’t always translate well when you go to sell it, which is why it’s important to get a critique.

There are many ways for you to go about such a thing. A common way is to join a critique group. These are found online as well as in many of the writer groups around the state. You share your work with a close group of people and they provide you with insight and critiques. Then, to be fair, you do the same thing for them.

However, you may be a little shy. It’s understandable. You don’t want people talking about your book in a group. Opening up and sharing a story that you have poured your heart and soul into is not easy by any standards.

A private, professional critique can be scheduled. This allows you to sit one-on-one with someone who has knowledge of your genre. He or she will have read excerpts from your book ahead of time and have a critique prepared for you. During this session, you can get valuable feedback about your story and your writing style – and ask some questions as well.

These critiques can be found in various places. For your convenience, they are available at the Florida Writer’s Conference in October for the low price of $40 – which is incredibly low in comparison to what you would find online.

Three critiquers can be found at the conference:

• Dr. Douglas Houck works with historical fiction, adult nonfiction, and virtually any adult genre. Dr. Houck has a bachelor’s in speech and communication and a master’s in public policy as well as a doctorate in English. He teaches English at Edison State College and Barry University.

Houck, Doug 2

• Dianne Ochiltree works with picture books, chapter books, and middle grade/YA novels. Diane is a children’s author and received the Florida Book Awards Bronze Medal for children’s literature in 2012.

Ochiltree, Diane

• Peter Gordon works with poetry. Peter’s own poems have been included in various collections and reviews. He is also the president of the Orlando Area Poets. You can read their bios as well as the bios of other presenters here.

Gordon_Peter_2014 headshot

Sign up now!

You can pay online

Deadline is September 15.


July 4, 2014

–by Su Gerheim, Collections Coordinator

Gerheim, Su 1Egads! What an exhilarating contest and thrilling record-breaking results. Within our 60 winning authors we will publish 30 first-time-in-the-Collection-book authors!

That’s right! Half of the winners are being published in our Collection book for the first time. Incredible! I’m so excited I cannot stop jumping up and down.

On top of that, FIVE of those authors were chosen by our Person of Renown, New York Times bestselling author Mary Burton, for her Top Ten Picks! Can you believe it? How great is THAT? I’d say it’s time for some giant celebrating going on all over Florida.

Here’s another blast that will tear your socks off – ROBERT HART, one of our winning authors again this year, is the ONLY contestant to win in all six of our Collection books. All this record breaking makes me want to dance in the rain like a five-year-old girl! Woohoo!

Here’s Mary Burton’s Top Ten Picks. If you know any of these authors, email a CONGRATULATIONS their way, or holler across the street! EHA! YIPPEE! GREAT JOB!

FWA Collection #6 – The First Step


Mary Burton’s Top Ten Picks

01. Karen Dillon, Wild Rose

02. Mark McWaters, Hunger Pangs

03. Micki Browning, Wreckage

04. Robert Alan, A Walk In The Park

05. Michael Goldcraft, It Was a Dark and Stormy Night

06. Judy Harte, Lethal Injection

07. Ian Darling, High Flight

08. Frank T. Masi, Shadows of War

09. Charles Harris, My First Day on the Job

10. Catherine Giordano, Te Amo

Don’t stop celebrating yet! For the first time ever, we have three winning authors from our newest contest, FWA’S YOUTH COLLECTION, who will be published in Volume Six with our adult winners! Isn’t that marvelous!

Although the books won’t be physically available until they are unveiled at the conference, you can reserve your copy ahead of time. Check the shopping cart on the FWA website. The option to purchase copies ndividually or in multiples (special bulk rates) will be posted soon.

Don’t miss the Collections book signing the morning of Friday, October 24, at the Annual Florida Writers Conference.

Join me in congratulating all the winners in FWA’s Sixth Collection, a truly banner year.

Exercise Wednesday: Watch me walkin out the door (Lies, part II)

July 2, 2014

There’s nothing more painful than a lie that hurts you so much you have to leave. It’s the kind of deep betrayal that changes everything–and not in a good way. It’s the kind of betrayal that can only come from someone you’ve invested deep emotions in–and who’s disappointed you.

Today’s writing prompt is the second in the series of prompts about lies. The last prompt dealt with the betrayal of self in response to a lie–when the person who’s been lied to tells the same lie internally to keep the illusion of the lie in place.

Today, the response is external, inspired by this Eurythmics classic from the 80s.

Today, your character responds in a way that makes the lying end permanently by leaving, finding another job, or perhaps something more sinister.

Time Limit: 30 minutes

FWA Member Benefit Spotlight: The Florida Writer Magazine

June 30, 2014

By Larry Kokko

I intend to take the next few months to highlight a benefit of FWA membership. In part, this is so new members can become aware of all that FWA has to offer. I believe even some of our more seasoned members may benefit from becoming reacquainted with established benefits, as well as a growing number of newly stabled ones as well.

This month I want to examine The Florida Writer, our quarterly magazine. The periodical we enjoy has undergone many changes since its inception. At the beginning, six members, armed with long staplers, put together a monthly newsletter. Each member had a specific task to perform: writing, editing, affixing the mailing label, marking off each name as it was labeled, quality control checks, and mailing.

At some point, the newsletter became a magazine called The Palm Magazine, which was mailed by Vicki Taylor, one of FWA’s founding members. Then in 2007 the first issue of The Florida Writer was published through SPS Publications and edited by Sammy Smith.

Today The Florida Writer is a highly professional, quality magazine, edited and designed under the direction of Mary Ann de Stefano of MAD About Words, published by the Florida Writers Association, and printed and mailed by OnLine Binding.

So why is this magazine considered a benefit? This is why:

  • The magazine is members ­only (although extra copies are provided for nonmembers as a marketing/promotion tool).
  • Advertising is affordable. We offer discounts to members who want to reach our circulation of 1700+ with a print ad.
  • Members who want to share news of the writing­related accomplishments can send a notice to be published in the magazine’s “Celebrations” section.
  • Members are invited to submit their creative writing to each issue of the magazine. Those published are selected from submissions that best respond to a prompt that appears in the magazine.
  • We are fortunate to attract industry experts who share their knowledge about writing, publishing, and marketing. Penny Sansevieri, a renowned book marketing expert; Anne Dalton, a lawyer who has advised creatives for 36 years; and Vic DiGenti, author of nine books, all write regular columns that appear alongside articles written by others who have special expertise.

Members can see the latest issue of the magazine for details on any of this or contact Mary Ann de Stefano via email.

Chris Coward, our president, summed up the benefits of The Florida Writer best. “Throughout the years, The Florida Writer has grown in polish and professionalism, but it has never lost its warm ‘family’ feel and never ceased to embody our organization’s motto, Writers Helping Writers. We invite you to peruse its pages for inspiration and nuggets about your craft and industry. Who knows? Something within the pages may make all the difference in your writing future.”

Next month I will focus on the many benefits of the FWA Network.

Kokko, Larry

Larry Kokko is the vice president for administration and membership. He has been an active FWA member for five years. He has several short stories published in anthologies. He writes horror and dark fiction. His first novel, Blood Alley, is in the editing phase with Scriptor Publishing.


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