Category: Guest Posts

How I Signed with my Dream Agent by Julie Anne Lindsey

Let’s face it. Looking for an agent is the pits. The very scary, Pits of Despair, Princess Bride, pits. I fumbled across my first agent four years ago, right after I’d begun writing. We met online in a chat room. She was new to agenting. I was new to writing. Why not partner up? It was a wonderful experience for a while, but a couple years in, my career had stagnated, and I was frustrated. She and I were friends, and I knew she was working hard for me, but something had to change.

I needed to break up with my agent and start again. I was a wreck at the thought. How could I give up my security blanket? Even if my agent wasn’t perfect for me, she was still there. Real. Mine. I thought about it for more than a year before I made the call. We’d just signed another digital first, no advance, minimal support contract with a publisher I didn’t need an agent to submit to, and I told her it would be my last.

And just like that. It was over. I was adrift. And terrified. But I’d taken my time (LOTS of time) making the decision to let her go, and I knew it was the right thing for my career.

So, I wrote a new cozy mystery.

I found three published friends to read for me – none of whom actually write cozy, (I still don’t have a partner who writes cozy to trade with) but my girls are good at their craft and they love me, so they chipped in and gave feedback. I made the changes and ate my weight in Ben & Jerry’s.

This was it. Nine months after the dreaded breakup call to my former agent, I was ready to query again.

Holy hopscotch! What was I thinking???

My list of ideal agents had been drafted, refined and cultivated over many months of daydreaming. Stalking my favorite authors to see who represented them. Following the agents on social media. Reading their blogs. Interviews. Tweets. I thought quite a few agents were funny. Some would be a blast to have drinks with. And then there was the One. The one who was my tip-top, out-of-my-league, dream agent. So, I started with her. Obviously. Her name is Jill Marsal co-founder of Marsal Lyons Lit. She represents so many AMAZING, successful authors. She has a law degree from Harvard. I love telling people that about her. Smart people float my boat. I wanted HER.

I sent a query and waited. I will admit that it took an extra-large glass of wine to make me hit send…at two in the morning….on a Friday night. I woke Saturday morning with a headache and regret. WHY WHY WHY??? did I think I was ready to contact my dream agent???? Stupidstupidstupidstupid….

And then I opened my email.

Jill had received my late night tipsy query and she wanted my whole manuscript. Not a couple pages. Not a few chapters. She wanted to read the whole thing.

…… …………… <— those dots represent the part where I stared slack-jawed at my screen for two hours.

By lunchtime, I was moving in mental fast forward. I reread the manuscript from start to finish, plucking and culling, licking my thumb and smoothing flyaways until there was nothing more I could do. This was all I had in me. It was a full representation of my very best. If it wasn’t good enough, I’d try again next time, but for now, this was it.

Being Julie… I sent two more queries that night. I figured, I’d already set the thing in motion, I might as well give myself something else to fret about. It was highly unlikely Jill would want me, and I had months of waiting ahead of me while she read the manuscript. So, I sent two more queries and now, I had contacted my top three agents.

I sent the manuscript to Jill on Sunday night, after a trip to church and lots of prayers for sanity during the sure-to-be-maddening wait. I mostly hoped for feedback. When she rejected me, which I believed was 90% inevitable because she was Jill Marsal and I was….well goofy, awkward, a bumbling forty-year- old authoring dork… but her feedback upon rejection could change my game. I could use it to improve the work before someone else asked for pages. While I was at it, I sent two more queries. There. I’d contacted my top five. It was over. I could go puff into a paper bag and wait for the rejections to roll in.

My phone rang at nine am the next morning.

Jill had read my manuscript through the night and called as soon as it was business appropriate. That’s so sweet and professional of her. I would have gladly rolled out of bed to get the call at literally ANY hour, but nine am the next freaking morning worked also.

I didn’t play it cool. I didn’t ask for time to contact other agents or think it over. I dorkily barfed all my internal monologue on her. She was my number one choice. She was the one. Yes. Yes. Yes, please and thank you. Yes. “Perfect,” she said, because she’d already compiled a list of publishers who needed to read my story. I may have rolled off my couch silently. She emailed her contract for representation and while I signed and returned it, she put together a package for six presses. The next morning, she called again. Four of the six had requested to read me. The day after that, another call. She had two offers. If you’re still reading and keeping track, that made FIVE DAYS between my tipsy-query-send and a new agent with two publisher offers. By day 7 after the tipsy query, I’d signed a NICE three book deal with Crooked Lane books. And I’m still wondering when Jill will realize what she’s gotten herself into and politely flee from me.

While that was all lovely and fine and exciting, I want to tell authors in the find-an-agent boat, it wasn’t a reflection on my phenomenal writing skills that made that wild and wonderful story unfold. I probably don’t completely suck at this job, but I’m also no better than most other authors out there and I’m a LOT worse than plenty of them. Remember those other four queries I sent? I had ONE request to read. I also had a big rejection. Not a form letter, a “No thanks. I don’t see this finding a home in the cozy world today,” break-my-heart style rejection. And TWO agents just flat out ignored the query. ie: Rejection by avoidance. It’s a thing. *shakes my head*

So, you see, if I hadn’t had the wine and sent the query to Jill, I might not have an agent or a contract today, and I’d be questioning my craft, my future and my viability as an author. There’s no guarantee the one other agent who asked to read me would’ve wanted to represent me. Maybe no one else would’ve seen promise in my silly story of a woman in New Orleans making custom couture clothing for pets and solving murder. Who knows? That’s why you to have to be brave. Are you sitting on a query? Afraid to pull the trigger? Don’t be. Hit send. Have some wine if you need it, but put yourself out there and don’t stop being your number one advocate. If you need a first agent to move forward, seek one. If your current agent isn’t right, it’s okay to say so. Do the thing, whatever it is. Go for it. If I can do it, YOU can do it.

So, do it!


About Julie

Julie Anne Lindsey is a multi-genre author who writes the stories that keep her up at night. She’s a self-proclaimed nerd with a penchant for words and proclivity for fun. Julie lives in rural Ohio with her husband and three small children. Today, she hopes to make someone smile. One day she plans to change the world. Julie is a member of the International Thriller Writers (ITW) and Sisters in Crime (SinC). She is represented by Jill Marsal of Marsal Lyons Literary Agency.

Julie also writes as Julie Chase. Learn more about Julie Chase books here.

Find Julie Online:

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Natalie Richards: How to Write More Compelling Fiction

We will be kicking off 2016 with our first speaker, Natalie D. Richards, on January 30th. She will talk about her writing and discuss how to make your writing more compelling. To get the ball rolling, we reached out to Natalie with a few, fun interview questions. See you all Saturday!

Natal672426ie D. Richards won her first writing competition in the second grade with her short story about Barbara Frances Bizzlefishes (who wouldn’t dare do the dishes.) Now she writes about awesome girls, broody boys, and all things dark and creepy. When she’s not writing or shopping her manuscripts, you can probably find her wading through the towers of dog-eared paperbacks that have taken over her bedroom. Natalie lives in Ohio (Go Bucks!) with her techno-wiz husband, three amazing kids, and a seventy pound dust-mop who swears he’s the family dog.

In my life movie who would play you and who would co-star:

I always have such a hard time with these questions because I can’t fathom anyone wanting to make a movie of my life.  Far too many hours spent at a laptop, living in my imaginary world! I guess Zooey Deschanel might be a decent person to play me, because I am prone to bursting into song for no real reason–but she’d have to go a little darker with her quirky!  😉 As for a co-star? Lord, I couldn’t even dream of where to start.

For you, what is most challenging about being a writer and what do you find is your strength:

By far, far, far the most challenging thing is keeping my confidence up enough that I don’t stall out on a project.  I tend to pick myself apart, so I can let the self-doubt completely railroad me if I’m not careful.  As for the easy part, probably coming up with ideas and dialogue. I know dialogue can be super tricky, but it’s one of the few things that comes easy to me.

What super-power do you wish you possessed and why?

I wish I had the power to remove all types of cancer from the planet in one fell swoop forever.  I lost both of my parents to cancer and I can’t think of anything I’d wish “special powers” for that would trump destroying that awful cluster of disease and suffering.  Cancer sucks.

If you had a time machine, where would you go, what would you do?

Well, aside from obviously going back to hang out with my parents more, uh….is there a pause button?  Hm.  This is a hypothetical time machine, so I’m saying yes, yes there is a pause button and that’s where I would go.  Right here and now, but I’d hit pause occasionally so I could curl up and read like twenty bazillion books without failing to mother my children or meet my deadlines or what not.  You know, a time out for funsies. 🙂

Best Writing Advice I’ve ever received:

Kill your darlings.  I didn’t receive it specifically but it’s a guiding force through my editing process and I think it’s the key between a book that BANGS and a book that meanders along getting lost in very pretty, but cobwebby, word corners.

Find out more about Natalie on her website at


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Lucy A. Snyder, Past SICCO Speaker, Makes Stoker Award Ballot

Lucy A. Snyder spoke to us last year about writing, publishing, and the specifics of the horror and dark fantasy genres. Her newest book, While the Black Stars Burn, was just listed as a contender for a 2015 Bram Stoker award. In keeping with our support of SiCCO speakers, we asked her to keep us updated and she shared the following guest blog post. Thanks for sharing and good luck Lucy!

0Raw Dog Screaming Press published my latest book While The Black Stars Burn two months ago, and since then it’s been well received by readers and reviewers. Most recently, it was selected for the preliminary Bram Stoker Awards ballot (titles which advance to the final ballot become official award nominees.) I’m very excited about being on the Stoker long list; other working horror writers vote on the award, and it’s always a joy to know that your peers enjoy the work you’re creating.

Publishers Weekly had this to say about the collection: “Malevolent lineages and emotionally fraught familial relationships propel the plots of most of the 13 genre-spanning stories in Snyder’s strong collection. … Snyder (Soft Apocalypses) excels in her depictions of characters struggling desperately—and often futilely—to extricate themselves from terrifying snares set by loved ones. Readers will find her stories a cut above most other tales of interpersonal and supernatural horror.”

While the Black Stars Burn is the follow-up to my previous RDSP collection, Soft Apocalypses. I think that readers will enjoy While the Black Stars Burn even more than Soft Apocalypses, and if you’re new to my short fiction, it’s an excellent place to start. It’s got a gorgeous cover from Italian artist Daniele Serra; he’s been creating covers for a whole lot of Lovecraftian and weird fiction books lately, and it’s easy to see why! He’s an amazing talent, and I’m thrilled that the folks at Raw Dog commissioned his work for my book. This is hands-down one of the best covers my books have ever received, and it’s even prettier on the trade paperback than it is on screen.

About three quarters of the stories in this book are tales I’ve written in the past two years. The collection is a mix of horror, dark science fiction, and dark fantasy. Several of the stories have Lovecraftian and King in Yellow mythos themes, and the stories all feature female protagonists, most of whom are struggling against terrifying family situations.

Here’s the Table of Contents with a quick description of the stories:

  1. “Mostly Monsters” – A literary short story about a woman attempting to cope with a recent PTSD diagnosis.
  2. “Spinwebs” – A medieval fantasy story about a family in a mutualistic relationship with giant spiders.
  3. “The Strange Architecture of the Heart” – A near-future science fiction story about a woman with an intrusively helpful android.
  4. “Approaching Lavender” – A horror story about a woman artist whose family is destroying her identity.
  5. “Dura Mater” – A science fiction horror story about a woman who encounters a malevolent force during a faster-than-light space journey.
  6. “The Still-Life Drama of Passing Cars” – A horror story about a desperate family on a road trip.
  7. “Through Thy Bounty” – A science fiction horror story about a female chef who’s forced to cook humans for her alien captors. It’s one of my older stories, and a reader favorite.
  8. “Cthylla” – A Lovecraftian story about the daughter of a cult movie star.
  9. “While the Black Stars Burn” – A horror story about a young violinist; this ties in with the King in Yellow mythos.
  10. “The Abomination of Fensmere” – A story about a girl detective named Penny Farrell who goes to visit her Southern relatives and quickly finds herself ensnared in a plot to summon Lovecraftian horrors.
  11. “The Girl With the Star-Stained Soul” – The continuing adventures of girl detective Penny as she finds herself transported to Carcosa and trapped in The King in Yellow’s sinister plans.
  12. “Jessie Shimmer Goes to Hell” – A horror adventure story featuring Jessie Shimmer, the protagonist of my urban fantasy novel series (the first book in the trilogy is Spellbent). This tale also features Lovecraftian monsters.
  13. “Fable Fusion” – A Doctor Who story that originally appeared in Doctor Who Short Trips: Destination Prague. It features the Seventh Doctor (portrayed on television by Sylvester McCoy) and his companion Ace.


Lucy A. Snyder is a four-time Bram Stoker Award-winning writer who wrote the novels Spellbent, Shotgun Sorceress, and Switchblade Goddess. She also authored the nonfiction book Shooting Yourself in the Head for Fun and Profit: A Writer’s Survival Guide and the story collections While the Black Stars Burn, Soft Apocalypses, Orchid Carousals, Sparks and Shadows, Chimeric Machines, and Installing Linux on a Dead Badger.

Her writing has been translated into French, Russian, Italian, Czech, and Japanese editions and has appeared in publications such as Apex Magazine, Nightmare Magazine, Pseudopod, Strange Horizons, Weird Tales, Steampunk World, In the Court of the Yellow King, Shadows Over Main Street, Qualia Nous, Seize the Night, and Best Horror of the Year, Vol. 5.

She lives in Columbus, Ohio and is a mentor in Seton Hill University’s MFA program in Writing Popular Fiction. She also writes a column for Horror World. You can learn more about her at and you can follow her on Twitter at @LucyASnyder.



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Killer Nashville Recap Part 2 Pacing







Terry Odell has kindly granted Sisters in Crime Columbus Ohio permission to reprint her recaps of Killer Nashville.

By: Terry Odell

Now, onto my Killer Nashville Recaps.

I’m always inter­ested in pac­ing pan­els, because there are so few ref­er­ences devoted to the topic. These are my bullet-point take­aways from the panel, and, as always, are based on my inter­pre­ta­tion of what the speak­ers said. Errors are mine.

The pan­elists for this ses­sion were David Bell, Don Helin, Sharon Marchis­ello, and Ken Vanderpool

They included two hand­outs, which were for ref­er­ence and cov­ered the basics—the things most in the audi­ence prob­a­bly knew. The sec­ond hand­out demon­strated how punc­tu­a­tion can also be used to con­trol pac­ing, so I’ll share that:

“I have never in my entire life seen any­thing like this.”

“I have never, in my entire life, seen any­thing like this.”

“I have never, in my entire life, seen any­thing, like this.”

Punc­tu­a­tion is a tool. In dia­logue, sim­ply decid­ing where to put the speaker tag, beat, or inter­nal mono­logue can affect the pace.

Most of us think of pac­ing as mean­ing things have to move quickly, but that’s not the case. Watch­ing a movie that’s one huge action scene after another doesn’t give you time to know the characters.

They con­tin­ued by com­par­ing con­ver­sa­tion to writ­ten dia­logue. In a live con­ver­sa­tion, pitch and emo­tion are what pac­ing is in a novel. When speak­ing, vari­a­tions in tone and inflec­tion keep peo­ple inter­ested, and vary­ing sen­tence length, dia­logue, inte­rior mono­logue, and nar­ra­tive serve that func­tion in a book.

Bell said the first page is prob­a­bly the most impor­tant words you write. Some­thing has to hap­pen, but it has to hap­pen to a char­ac­ter. Ini­tially, you want to ‘accelerate.’

Helin stressed that the reader needs to know only what it takes to get to that point at that par­tic­u­lar time—the incit­ing inci­dent. Can me men­tal, emo­tional, as well as physical.

After you hook them, then you can add the back story.

Marchis­ello agreed, say­ing it’s impor­tant not to start the story too soon.

The next topic was how to han­dle pac­ing when deal­ing with inter­nal tensions/emotions. Dia­logue and nar­ra­tion need to be bal­anced. (*Per­sonal note: Long ago, when I was sub­mit­ting a requested man­u­script, the edi­tor said she could judge pac­ing sim­ply by look­ing at the words on the page. Lots of dia­logue prob­a­bly meant it was too fast-paced, while lots of dense nar­ra­tive meant it was prob­a­bly too slow.)

Helin: Con­flict gives sus­pense, sus­pense gives you pacing.

Inter­nal con­flict and back story have to relate to a big­ger con­flict in the story.

Van­der­pool: Inter­nal con­flict can slow things down.

Pac­ing as it relates to char­ac­ters – what does another char­ac­ter think about that char­ac­ter? This gives reader a dif­fer­ent per­spec­tive, can slow things down and let them think.

Dia­logue can accel­er­ate the pace, nar­ra­tive can slow it. You don’t want every­thing to come across as one break­neck car chase. Read­ers need time to breathe and reflect. Pac­ing should be var­ied through­out the book.


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Killer Nashville Recap: M. Williams Phelps

SICCO_dark city revised


Terry Odell has kindly granted Sisters in Crime Columbus Ohio permission to reprint her Killer Nashville 2015 recaps.

By: Terry Odell

Today kicks off my recaps of ses­sions I attended at Killer Nashville. This, and all my recaps are based on my notes and my under­stand­ing of what the speak­ers were pre­sent­ing. Errors are my own.

The first ses­sion I attended was a pre­sen­ta­tion by author M. William Phelps, who spoke about his days in jour­nal­ism and his research into ser­ial killers. Phelps began by telling us of his days spent with for­mer NYPD offi­cer, William Acosta, a man who put on a bullet-proof vest, even to get cof­fee. As Phelps fol­lowed his men­tor and source, he dis­cov­ered that what he thought was going to be a mag­a­zine arti­cle about cor­rup­tion in the NYPD would need to be a book. Phelps learned inves­tiga­tive tech­niques, which included going through garbage. He got used to being fol­lowed by cops.

One story he told was the night he was going to secure his research papers, and got the feel­ing he was being watched. He ducked into an alley, where he ran into flash­ing lights, cop cars, and peo­ple look­ing at him with a “What are you doing here?” atti­tude. Turned out, he’d run into a street shoot for NYPD Blue.

How­ever, before his book could be pub­lished, 9–11 hap­pened, and a book about cor­rupt cops, who were now the good guys, wasn’t approved by his publisher.

Phelps moved into research­ing ser­ial killers. He made it clear that a ‘real’ ser­ial killer is noth­ing like what they por­tray on tv. They don’t lock their vic­tims into base­ments and make lamp­shades out of their skin, but tele­vi­sion is about the drama and entertainment.

He men­tioned one ser­ial killer he researched, a woman who led a nor­mal, every­day life. She was a house­wife, a com­mu­nity vol­un­teer, and a nurse at a Veteran’s hos­pi­tal. She was killing peo­ple for 7 years before she was caught. Phelps pointed out that given his expe­ri­ence with research, a sim­ply data analy­sis of patients dying on one nurse’s shift show­ing a huge dis­par­ity with aver­age deaths should have been a red flag much sooner.

Phelps says the crimes tell you a lot about the killer. In gen­eral, child moles­ters were molested, bur­glars need money to sup­port drug habits. One ser­ial killer who, as Phelps politely put it, left his DNA after killing his vic­tims, had been taken by his father on his Peep­ing Tom calls, where he got off on watch­ing women.

Female ser­ial killers tend to use poi­son; it’s imper­sonal. Males like killings to be hands-on, where they can stare into the eyes of their vic­tims. Male ser­ial killers kill for fan­tasy. Females are plan­ners. They might walk into the store where they’re going to buy their poi­son many times before mak­ing the pur­chase. When they buy it, they’ll put it on a shelf for a while before using it.

Phelps began to get calls to serve as an expert for tele­vi­sion shows. He worked on a show where the premise was to inter­view a ser­ial killer for “advice” in solv­ing cold cases—Dark Minds.

In the sec­ond sea­son, Phelps had a new killer who was will­ing to dis­cuss what he’d done. Accord­ing to Phelps, the man (called Raven) was a psy­chopath, and also accord­ing to Phelps, was miss­ing any empa­thy. They don’t feel bad about any­thing, and they’re born that way. Oth­er­wise, Phelps said, “I could have been friends with Raven if it wasn’t for the whole killing thing.”

Unlike on tele­vi­sion, ser­ial killers don’t play “cat and mouse” with their vic­tims. They don’t want to be caught. They also have their own com­fort zones. They don’t choose strong, pow­er­ful vic­tims, and if you put a killer off his game you can win. Never go with a killer to the sec­ondary location—that’s his turf, and where he’s in con­trol. Fight back beforehand.

Phelps said the cur­rent pro­file of a ser­ial killer is a male African Amer­i­can in his 50s. Phelps left us with his advice for cre­at­ing characters—there’s no need to take them over the top.


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Book Review: Writing a Novel With Scrivener by David Hewson

SICCO_light-dark-bed-lamp revised








Review by David Ploskonka

Writing a novel is a daunting prospect, and writing mystery novels pose their own unique challenges: clues, motivations, timelines, red herrings, suspects, and keeping all of that straight. Thankfully, there is a piece of software to help. It is called Scrivener.

Depending on what you want to do, you can dive right in to Scrivener just as easily as you would a standard word processor. But its real power resides in its more advanced features. Scrivener includes tools for every step of the writing process: brainstorming, outlining, and researching, and tracking key story elements during the writing and revising process. When you’re finished, you can export your novel into Microsoft Word or formats compatible with Kindle and other e-publishing services. (Yes, it works for short stories as well, and even has versions for Windows and Macs.)

However, as great as Scrivener is, it is not without a learning curve. It takes a little practice before it becomes more of a benefit than a burden. But, trust me, once you mess with it a bit, you’ll wonder how you survived without it.

Scrivener provides tutorials on YouTube, but my favorite resource is David Hewson’s Writing a Novel With Scrivener (

Hewson’s guide is practical and concrete. It covers all of the basics for the software and then digs deeper into each feature and its use. Each key feature is covered in its own section, enabling you to refer back to it as you’re writing. Even better, the book is chock-full of screenshots to help you understand exactly what part of the software is being discussed. Hewson is a writer himself and has lived and died by Scrivener for years. Because of this, Writing is more than technical book. Writing is as much a helpful primer on writing itself as it is on the technical aspects of Scrivener.

If you’re struggling to start writing, or want to better organize a work-in-progress, give Scrivener and this book a shot. Scrivener retails for $45, but they offer a special for NaNoWriMo each year.

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