Writer's Notes

Guest Post: What I’m Thankful for as a Writer

tangled web front cover jpegBy Marilyn Meredith

Though I’ve always written from the time I was a kid, I didn’t really get started on the submitting, getting rejected and re-submitting merry-go-round until later in life, I’ve had much to be thankful for—and I’m going to start with that first book that I sent out to a publisher.

1. The used portable typewriter my mother gave me. (This was in the days long before computers, copying machines, Internet and emails. I retyped that first 500 page book many times.)
2. My first computer and the dear man who sold it to me and taught me how to use it. (This was in the days of the real floppy discs.) I bought several computers from him and he continued to teach me the intricacies. And I am so thankful for all the time computers have saved me since.
3. The first critique group that listened to my historical family saga and pointed out that I knew nothing about point-of-view. I had no idea what they were talking about.
4. The Internet and email. I’m sure I don’t have to explain why.
5. My mentor, Willma Gore, who was in my 2nd critique group for many years and taught me so much about writing.
6. All the publishers (good and not so good) who took a chance with me. I learned from all of them.
7. The critique group I’ve been in for years and all the members along the way who have taught me so much and helped me make my writing better.
8. My son-in-law, the police officer who got me interested in police work and took me on my first ride-along. And all the law enforcement offices and mystery authors who’ve become my friends since that time—especially those who belong to PSWA.
9. All my writing friends who have given me so much encouragement along the way, including fellow members of Sisters in Crime and MWA.
10. Mike Orenduff of Aakenbaken and Kent who is republishing all of my Rocky Bluff P.D. mysteries, including this new one, Tangled Webs.
11. And to those mystery writers who had a great influence on me long ago like Agatha Christie and Ed McBain.

A special thank you to Thonie for hosting me today.

Marilyn, who writes the RBPD series as F. M. Meredith

Blurb: Too many people are telling lies: The husband of the murder victim and his secretary, the victim’s boss and co-workers in the day care center, her stalker, and Detective Milligan’s daughter.

Link: :

Marilyn in Vegas 1Bio: F. M. Meredith who is also known as Marilyn once lived in a beach town much like Rocky Bluff. She has many friends and relatives in law enforcement. She’s a member of MWA, 3 chapters of Sisters in Crime and serves on the PSWA Board.

Facebook: Marilyn Meredith
Twitter: @marilynmeredith

Though I’ve addressed this before, in case you ever wondered why I write police procedurals this answer is on John Wills blog:

Writer's Notes

Killing Your Darlings: Gloria Casale


Bioterror The Essential ThreatBy Gloria Casale

I don’t usually have a problem killing off any character – even the finely crafted ones. I’m often sure of the characters I want to dispose of when the story line is nothing more than an idea fighting for recognition in the murky darkness of my mind.
However, in my first published book, I had a character I’d developed to be strong, intelligent, and significantly concerned for the welfare of his family. In my original version, the man was promised freedom for his wife and family if he agreed to steal smallpox from the Russian laboratory at Novosibirsk (Russia) and transport the deadly toxin to Jakarta.

I developed this character carefully: the Russian scientist whose family was starving because the Russian government stopped paying their scientists, allowed the conditions in the laboratories to disintegrate, and devoted all their resources toward building up military power. Yuri was devoted to God, deeply loved his wife and children, and was a dedicated scientist.

At a scientific meeting, he met the Syrian chairman of a laboratory in the Middle East who promised and provided huge amounts of money in all the denominations the Russian and his family would need to escape from Russia. The Syrian also delivered alternate IDs and passports. The Russian scientist was also promised a laboratory where he could continue his work as a genetic engineer, and a lavish home and life-style.
Yuri steals the toxin, crosses the western border of Russia into Latvia, and flies from Germany to Jakarta. When he delivers the vials to an intermediate in Jakarta, he is stabbed and left to die in a back alley.

Originally, that was to be the last mention of this character. I didn’t plan to include him or his family as an integral part of the remaining story.
My critique group was fascinated by this character, his wife, mother-in-law, and children. Each and every person in the group voiced the opinion that I should not kill him.

Yuri was too good a character, one they all admired. He was doing the wrong thing – for all the right reasons – and had to survive.
The group wanted him to live. And all but demanded I keep him alive. They encouraged me to figure out how he would be found and what would happen to him and his family.
I was left with the chore of determining out who would save him, and why he would be saved. Then I had to add information on how his wife, mother-in-law, and children fared as they traveled west.

I faced a major re-write.

The resulting story carried the same message I wanted to convey but was enriched because of all the interactions between the characters. As a result, the story had interesting twists and turns. I loved doing the research to create all the situations the scientist and his family would eventually face.

Overcoming all the problems I invented for each member of the family, providing a believable, unique voice for each character was a challenge.

As a result, I learned a great deal, and the story became fascinating read.


Gloria CasaleAbout Gloria Casale

Gloria Casale Writes, based in Albuquerque, New Mexico, offers mystery novels for lovers of spy thrillers. So far, she has published Bioterror: The Essential Threat. The prequel to Bioterror will be published in the next twelve months. Her second series, Counting Down, details the lives of ten women from one neighborhood. The women are disappearing one by one years later. A female serial killer is determined to kill them all. The author is also currently working on An Emergency Medicine Memoir she hopes to have the first of a two to three part series released in December 2016.
Gloria Casale earned her medical degree from the University of Kentucky, and completed advanced training in anesthesiology, preventative medicine, and public health. She received training in bioterrorism and bioterrorism response at the United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, and is a recognized expert in the international transport of disease. Gloria served as a consultant to the Division of Transnational Threats at Sandia Laboratory.
The author has been an invited speaker to members of the US military and various ports associations on the topics of bio-weaponry and the international transport of pathogens. She currently lives in New Mexico with her tuxedo cats, Hugo and Thumbs.

Website: Gloria Casale

Buy Bioterror: The Essential Threat

Writer's Notes

I’ve Had Lots of Help on my Writing Journey

By Marilyn Meredith


Me at Art ConIn the beginning, my sister helped me connect with a critique group because I couldn’t locate one where I lived. She read my chapters and reported the problems and suggestions to me. My sister has been a great support to me in many ways.

Through that support group I met an agent. Though he never offered my book to any publishers, he gave me lots of help with my writing.

When I moved to another area, I joined a long established critique group. In that group was a multi-published author named Willma Gore who mentored me for a long time and I owe a lot of my writing ability to her guidance. I’m still in the same group, though the members have changed many times. But the focus has continued on, to help each writer make his or her work even better. Criticism is necessary, because we authors often don’t notice our own flaws. I want to know what’s confusing, what doesn’t work, if I haven’t accomplished what I set out to do. Every mystery I’ve written has been heard by members of this group.

While thinking about critique groups, I must mention that I learned more about writing from the various members than from any class I ever attended or the many writing books I’ve read.

Many years ago, I joined what was called The Police Writers Club which has now evolved into the Public Safety Writers Association and has members from all different law enforcement agencies and other public safety fields, plus a few mystery writers like me. I became friends with many of the members who in turn have helped me in so many ways: answering questions about police procedure and giving me ideas for my mysteries. These men and women have become important to me in many ways.

Like Thonie, I hire an editor to go over my manuscript before I send it off to the publisher. I found the editor through the PSWA group and I chose her for two reasons, one she knows law enforcement, but second, and probably most important, she’s young and will catch anything that sounds like it came from an old lady (me.)

Despite the help of my critique group and my editor, errors still slip by. When the publisher sends back the text block or what is also called a galley, it is important to print it out and go over it carefully for any mistakes or inconsistencies. It’s much easier to find them on a printed page.

And of course, I receive much support from my writer friends too—those busy folks who are willing to let me be a visitor on his or her blog like I’m doing today. We don’t get to see each other often, but when we do at conferences and writers groups and meeting, itUnresolved’s wonderful to talk about the writing life and share ideas with people who understand. Yes, the writing life is solitary, but it’s important to get away and mingle with others, including readers.

This is the last stop in my blog tour. I hope it’s been helpful to writers and intriguing to readers.

FM aka Marilyn Meredith


#13 in the Rocky Bluff P.D. series, Unresolved:

Rocky Bluff P.D. is underpaid and understaffed and when two dead bodies turn up, the department is stretched to the limit. The mayor is the first body discovered, the second an older woman whose death is caused in a bizarre manner. Because no one liked the mayor, including his estranged wife and the members of the city council, the suspects are many, but each one has an alibi.


Bio: F. M. Meredith lived for many years in a small beach community much like Rocky Bluff. She has many relatives and friends who are in law enforcement and share their experiences and expertise with her. She taught writing for Writers Digest Schools for 10 years, and was an instructor at the prestigious Maui Writers Retreat, and has taught at many writers’ conferences. Marilyn is a member of three chapters of Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, and serves on the board of the Public Safety Writers of America. She lives in the foothills of the Sierra. Visit her at and her blog at














Writer's Notes

It Takes a Village


By Thonie Hevron

You’ve all heard the African proverb (a cliché these days), “It takes a village to…” fill in your blank. My answer is “write a book.” Writers are solitary creatures—shy by nature. But if you think a writer completes their work alone, let me educate you.

Granted, most of the hard work is done solo. Charlotte Bronte hardly had a critique group to whip her text into shape. While “taking a village” may be a stretch, the support systems we have now weren’t around in their day. I refer to critique groups, beta readers, editors, and experts.

Here are a few words on my support systems:

  • I owe my growth as a writer to the members (current and past) of my critique group. They’re honest enough to say, “This just doesn’t work,” and tell me why. If I want compliments, I’d ask my mother. If I want the truth (and constructive suggestions), I ask my critique partners. To be clear, I’ve written these pages in solitude. But their review and input are part of the process. Their criticism can only improve my work—and it has.
  • Another writer notion is that writers prefer aloneness. We do. I cannot deny it. But having a group of people behind you, cheerleading, challenging, and empathetic, soothes the ouch of an agent’s rejection letter. When I joined Redwood Writers (RW—a branch of the California Writers Club) in 2006, I had two books completed and I needed to figure the next step. Between monthly speakers and workshops, I realized I had more work to do before the manuscripts were polished enough to submit to a literary professional. Through the club, I found my critique group, mentors, learned how to set and achieve goals, and many other lessons. I learned the value of networking. As my genre is mystery/thriller/police procedurals, I joined the Public Safety Writers Association (PSWA). I applied RW lessons here. This group was comprised of active and retired law enforcement, fire, emergency medical, and military personnel. Several publishers also belong. It was through PSWA that I found my publisher.
  • While I could write a post on each of these support systems (I think I will!), here I need to stress how important it is to put another pair of eyes on my work. I wouldn’t think of letting an agent look at a manuscript without review from two or three Beta Readers (readers who check for general critiques-flow, plotting, etc.).
  • An editor is critical. A submission should be as error-free as possible. More on that later, too.
  • I can’t live without my “experts.” I had my third novel almost half done when I found Mike Brown, a retired lieutenant from Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office. I’d worked with Mike years before and re-connected on Facebook. After he looked at my outline, he said, “It couldn’t happen like that.” Sheesh. As I market heavily to law enforcement, I knew my story had to be authentic. Back to the drawing board. The result was, “With Malice Aforethought.” Yet to be published, it won PSWA’s Writers Contest second place award in the 2016 unpublished novel category.

All this before the book is even published! In the weeks that follow, two of my esteemed colleagues will present their ideas on the same topic. Be sure to check in every Friday, or better yet, subscribe to my blog post, Just the Facts, Ma’am.




Writer's Notes

Writers Helping Writers

By Thonie Hevron

“Writers helping writers” is the motto of my writing club, Redwood Writers, a chapter of the California Writers Club. Granted, it sounds a bit overused, trite maybe even idealistic. But this chapter takes its motto seriously. It’s something we all learn when we become members. From the President, Sandy Baker, Past President, Linda Loveland Reid down to the newest member—all are willing to share expertise, time and the wisdom gleaned from years of scribbling.

Something in the Attic by Billie Payton-Settles
Something in the Attic by Billie Payton-Settles

So when a friend, colleague and critique partner, Billie Payton-Settles, asked for help marketing her new book, I jumped at the chance. After all, didn’t romance writer Sharon Hamilton spend almost a full day helping me set the perfect sig line for my emails? Didn’t Kate Farrell teach me WordPress to help with the club website? I could go on and on, but you get the idea. Payback time.

Tonight, after our critique group, Billie took me into her office to show off her new website. It was wonderful! She now had a place where readers, agents and publishers can go to find out about her, contact her and order her book!

Another “Yay!” moment was my cousin Sandie, setting up a blog site within days after spending time exploring her new adventure into authorship. Yay, Sandie! She now has two posts on her site, with the promise of more. This while she works on her new book.

I know this post sounds like I’m patting myself on the back but my intention is just the opposite: I want to let the world know that these two women have taken the plunge–beyond writing a pristine manuscript and into the brand new world of social media and book promotion. This is not for the faint of heart as it requires commitment, organization and drive. Writing, publishing and marketing books isn’t like a Jessica Fletcher TV show. Times have changed. Publishers and agents demand authors promote their work more than ever before. This is almost as much work as the actual writing. And it’s a tough thing for writers, who are normally pretty shy. It’s work to put yourself and your project out there.

There will be times when they’ll be at the keyboard instead of having lunch with friends because of that commitment. Be patient, honor that streak of creativity that drives them. I guarantee, you’ll find a happier friend next lunch date.

Billie and Sandie are on the right track and I’m so pleased I could be a part of it.

Writer's Notes

Thinking About a Critique Group?


By Thonie Hevron

RW logoBack in 2007, I joined Redwood Writers, a local branch (pardon the pun) of California Writers Club. At my first meeting, author Christi Phillips appeared to read from her new book, The Rossetti Letter. After her reading, she took questions. Someone asked her, if she had it to do over again, what she would change about the writing process. Her answer was quick and obviously well-considered. “Join a critique group.”CWC logo

In those days, I was a fledgling author. I scribbled mostly with no sense of purpose. I’d written two novels, one of which I’d brought to an “open” critique group. It was a horrible experience. Poets and literary writers listened to my work—a suspense police procedural—and panned it. With little tact, they dismembered my chapter, eviscerated my characters, and dismissed my plot.

Well, I’m Norwegian and I don’t know any better, so I kept writing. The thing is every one of their comments was on target. When I calmed down enough to be objective about the novel, I realized they were right: my structure was haphazard, my characters were one dimensional with hidden agendas and the plot, well, let’s just say, the plot was a story I needed to tell, then package up and shove it on the top shelf of my closet. Which is what I did.

While the result (a critique) was why I attended, the experience lacked the positive solutions that I so desperately needed.

In the intervening years, I joined Redwood Writer, heard Phillips talk, and decided to give crit groups another try. A senior member of the writers club matched writers by genre. About 2008, I attended the inaugural meeting of the “Thrillerz” group. Of the five attendees, three are still active, committed members. We meet every two weeks with ten pages (hardcopy or later emailed pages) of our work. We exchange the pages to be read and critiqued by the next group night. Our ground rules are simple: make a commitment to be there (as reasonable as possible), present your pages, and respect others work.

I’m a firm believer in critique groups, but they have to be the right one for you. The wrong readers can present even bigger problems than dangling participles.

  • Members who are defensive in this setting will not learn, nor will they be able to contribute to the betterment of the group.
  • The same goes for writers who have agendas or are competitive.
  • Overworking the work in progress (WIP) can be an excuse for writers who are afraid to move forward.
  • By their nature, crit groups have trouble seeing overall work structure, pacing, turning points, and story and character arcs. (Here is an argument for closed groups)
  • Not all opinions are equal. My schoolteacher friend has more clout when it comes to punctuation. We’ve had members in the past who I consider less credible than others yet I always take something away from their corrections. I have to remind myself that everyone has value.

With all these drawbacks, why would one want to join a group of people who tear your work apart? Simple, to improve your writing. Here are some of the reasons I keep coming back to my group, year after year and have two books published to show for it:

  • The need to clean up prose for punctuation, grammar, and context.
  • It forces me to make a commitment to other people that I will write and turn in 10 pages every two weeks.
  • Other readers can spot weaknesses like passive voice phrasing, excessive adverbs, and poor sentence structure
  • We share info on contests, publishers, our experience and much more. Most of our time is critiquing but when someone has something to share, it is welcomed. Three out of five of our current members have published.

A few more thoughts on choosing a critique group:

  • Decide whether you need an open or closed structure. Open means drop-ins are welcome (think poetry, short story and flash fiction); closed have only committed members (much better for novel-length works).
  • Does your work need to be exclusive to genre? My group has a tough time with different genres like romance (even with a mystery sub-plot) but we did fine with an author who wrote speculative fiction that was suspenseful. Go figure.

Deciding whether to do an online or in person group may be dictated by geography and/or time. Both have value; you can decide which will suit you better.

To find “in person” critique groups, I suggest you join a local writing club, attend a writing class or network with other writers. Online resources include,, Critique Circle and Scribophile. Just be sure your site is reputable and doesn’t charge. Some of these are open critique circles who trade reviews/critiques with other writers. Be willing to check into the rules before you sign up.

I hope your experience is as productive as mine is. Thank you Billie, Susan, Andy, Fred, Julie, Ron, and Robin!

Writer's Notes




We welcomed a new member to our critique group tonight. Patrice Garrett joined Billie Settles, Andy Gloege, Julie Winrich and myself for a full dance card. Actually, we’re looking at a sixth possibility due to periodic members absences.

When I first joined Redwood Writers Club back in 2006 or so, Christi Phillips, the author of The Rosetti Letter and The Devlin Diaries was the guest speaker at a General Membership meeting. After her talk, she took questions. Someone asked her what would she do differently if she had a “do-over”. Without much consideration, her answer was, “I’d have joined a critique group and gotten the first book done much faster.”

This is why I love my group. They make me a better writer. The call me on phony or stilted dialog, make suggestions when the plot is under-drawn and cheer me on when I need it. Of course, we all do the same thing for each other. I’m not special—this is a group dynamic.

Not all groups are created equally. I was in one in Bishop years ago and my offering was my police thriller in the middle of poetry and literary fiction. I got merciless criticism and left feeling like I should trade in my hobby for stamp collecting. I didn’t return to the group even though I did take a Creative Writing class from the teacher/leader. In fairness to the group, my writing wasn’t very good. The plot was riddled with my personal agenda and the scope of the novel wasn’t well thought out. In short, they were right.

Last Thursday, I put a problem scene to my group. We brainstormed and I walked away with some good ideas. The next day, Andy emailed me a scene synopsis he’d conjured up that was spectacular. I haven’t decided how much I’m going to use from his idea but at least I have a direction. He gave me some solid character quirks to work with and ways to advance the plot.

It doesn’t get much better than that.


Writer's Notes

All Fired Up

Redwood Writers Author Support and Craft Support Groups had our inaugural gathering today before the General Membership Meeting.
The Author Support concentrated on getting to know each other and deciding how the members could best support each other. Each person decided on a goal for next meeting and how to achieve it. Future topics could include: How/when do you write? What tricks have you learned to help carve out time to write? What do you do with ideas you don’t yet have time to write about?
Craft Support used a prompt to generate discussion: How do you organize your story? Do you outline? Each of the half dozen participants had a different answer. Some used outlines while others didn’t but everyone gained a different perspective on how to put together their story. A discussion began on plotting but alas, we ran out of time. Next prompts will include: characters, dialog, and developing resources.
Both groups were moderated by a member who kept participants on track (not an easy task for writers!). Leaders will vary each meeting as will those who attend. All members of Redwood Writers are encouraged to take advantage of these unique Writers Support gatherings. They are free and are held from 1pm-2:15 pm on the day of the monthly General Membership meeting in the Empire Room at the Flamingo Hotel.
I am still gathering names for critique groups. The plan is to offer the same venue and time slot to people who want to meet. In the next 3 weeks, I should have enough information to decide whether we can go forward with the critique groups at this time. I’ve also been considering who best to work in a technology discussion—maybe a panel, but that will have to wait for another day.

Writer's Notes

Inspiration is in the air!

Blog post Jan. 9th, 2012
What an incredible group of people! Redwood Writers members have done it again!
Months ago, President Linda Loveland Reid had an idea to start genre groups before the Redwood Writers General Meeting. Over the holidays, we exchanged a few emails, came up with some thoughts and decided to meet with any interested parties on January 8th before the General Meeting.
The meeting time rolled around and two people showed up. Holy moly, I thought. This is going nowhere fast. Within the next 5-10 minutes we had a dozen people! Okay, so writers aren’t known for punctuality.
We started with a round-table on what each member wanted from the group. With some variations, the resounding answer was—craft support—as in “conversations”. We discussed meetings for techniques to enhance our writing as well as platform building and generally everyone agreed they could use help with this, too. However, the idea of small groups to meet, talk over ideas that pertain to the writing life, offer support and resources was the winner!
So here’s what I’m thinking: twelve people is too many for a discussion group so we’ll split into two. We’ll meet in the Empire Room at the Flamingo on February 12th at 1 pm. I want to designate a moderator for each group-someone who will keep the discussion moving forward and an eye on the time. This will be voluntary but I’d like to rotate the position.
The rules will be simple:
o Disagree kindly
o Wait your turn to speak
o Observe time constraints

Some seriously GOOD suggestions were offered and I want to memorialize them so we can come back to them as time allows (or dictates) later.
o Meeting more often than once a month-off site, probably during the day but flexible
o Topic/education focused groups-technology/platform building is a big issue that many would like more training in
o Critique groups-both genre-specific and general. I would only act as a facilitator to get people together. Group members need to decide their own terms. Please email me at if you are interested in finding a group.
o Resources-I will be taking this on. Our group is so talented that we should be able to find help for whatever ails the writer in need. Bear in mind, many of our members make their living at technology, social media, editing, etc. Discuss fees before making commitments with them so both of you know what to expect
o Mentoring wasn’t mentioned but I thought we could look at this for writers who have specific issues, for example: a member who doesn’t finish anything she starts. It wouldn’t take too much effort to call, email, or facebook her to keep her on a pre-determined track

I’ll be emailing a copy of this to Redwood Writers members. I want everyone to see the fruits of our labors. Someone might see something here that intrigues them. We can always take more members! Our muses are busy but sometimes they need a little nudge in the right direction. So stand-by for truly dynamic members who want to share and motivate each other!

Inspiration is in the air!

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