Posted in Writing

Not Quite DNF

Dear Author,

I took a couple of days off from work, only to come down with some virus.  I’ve never been too sick to read, however, so at least I had the opportunity to plow through some of my considerable book backlog.  Your series was part of this fiction binge, but it had some problems that would have stopped me from continuing if the books hadn’t otherwise been such a great read.  You truly have action and timing down to a science, and I was on the edge of my seat through most of the chapters.  Your stories were absolutely riveting, which makes me much more forgiving of any flaws.  Since I enjoyed your books so much and only want to see them get better, please note the following:

1.  Gunshot wounds.  Your description of the gun fight was good, very good.  You plunged me into the chaos and confusion, the adrenaline, the white noise buzzing through the ears, the alienating sense of being there but not being there.  You accurately depicted the shock and reaction to injury, something a lot of authors overlook.  Your scene at the hospital leads me to believe you have a nursing background, or that you did some extensive research.

So what happened between this chapter and the next, when your character engaged in a very athletic round of what I’ll just refer to as ‘Hide the Button’?  This scene took place within two days of the injury, with no mention of any physical accommodations made for that shoulder wound.  I understand that romance is all about the fantasy, so instead of laying in bed and whining about how his mom always put an ice cube in his chicken soup to cool it down, he’s up and back in action.  Still, I would think he’d at least have his partner do some more of the, um, heavy lifting.

2.  More gunshot wounds.  In another book in the series, your hero was grazed by a bullet.  You didn’t fall prey to the ‘it’s just a flesh wound’ nonsense, and while the injury was not serious, it did require some cleaning and a few stitches.  Good on you.

Then you were hit by a bus or had a year-long break from writing that story, because you absolutely forgot anything ever happened to this guy.  There was no mention of it again for the rest of the book, but the next day, your protagonist did several things that would have resulted in a twinge of pain, if not considerable discomfort to that stitched up area.  Yes, he’s macho enough to have done those things anyway, but I would have liked to see some sort of hesitation in his movements.  He’s also dating a nurse, and I can’t believe she didn’t bust his chops for not keeping that wound clean.

3.  Kissy-face in the women’s bathroom.  This one almost killed me.  On top of the ‘ewww, this is really unsanitary’ reaction, this is the women’s restroom.  The only women’s restroom.  Your hero just locked himself in with his fair lady, which means no one else has access to this room.  In a crowded bar full of bikers, someone’s old lady is going to be enraged when she can’t take care of business and things are going to get ugly.  When you have your couple ‘get a room’, perhaps it shouldn’t be that room.

4.  Style and naming inconsistency.  The side character was ‘Mark’ in one book, then five books later he had the leading role and was named ‘Marco’.  In one book the biker was wearing a leather ‘kutte’, in another, he was wearing a leather ‘cut’.  This can happen quite easily when writing a series, and sometimes it comes about as a result of switching editors or publishers.  Your mistakes weren’t serious, and if I wasn’t reading all five books in a row, I might not have noticed.  Since I did notice, I recommend you ask Santa to put a character bible in your stocking this year.

In spite of the above-mentioned problems, you are definitely going on my ‘follow this author’ list at Amazon.  I’d totally volunteer to beta-read for you, except I have no spare time to offer.  I’m too busy criticizing people who have accomplished what I have not, such as writing a book.




I was fortunate in this round, as only one of the books in my reading pile landed in the DNF category.  I’ve written a list of some of the reasons for this, but this was something new – failure to convince.  This is quite a feat, because I read mysteries, fantasy, romance, and various combinations of all three.  Like most avid readers, I dive into these genres with reality already suspended.

Dead body in the conservatory?  Hey, it happens.  Aliens?  Sure.  I’ve never believed we’re the only planet in this huge universe to have sentient beings on it.  Werewolves/Shifters?  Sounds like some fun magic, particularly if they’re well-muscled.

But this author’s scenario?  The reclusive, billionaire hero pulls a beautiful woman out of an ocean during a storm, and takes her to his mansion to recover.  Okay, not an uncommon trope, so I’m still in.  Then, because he’s considerate and doesn’t want her to catch a cold, he removes her wet clothing and wraps her in a nice warm blanket.  So far, so good.

Then, because she’s still resting, he goes out to the store and buys her some replacement clothing.  He takes it back to her, she puts it on, and they are on to the next step in the story.

Meanwhile, my eyes have rolled to the back of my head.  There are a lot of things I can believe, but there is absolutely no way anyone can convince me those replacement clothes actually fit the woman.  No freaking way.

I understand the implication of this – he could guess her size because he’s very familiar with women’s bodies.  Reformed Playboy is another common romance trope, although not one I particularly care to read.  But I can’t walk into a store and pull something off the rack with any guarantee that it will fit my own body, and you’re telling me he can dress a stranger?  He might get lucky and guess correctly on the t-shirt, but her bra?  More than cup size goes into the sizing of a bra, and as any fitting assistant at Soma will tell you, three completely different shapes of women might all correctly wear a 36-C.

Maybe if he took her wet clothing with him and bought the exact same items, but at least one of those items is probably no longer made, so…nope, can’t go any further.  Come back to me later with a different scenario, and I might finish your book.  Meanwhile, I’ll be reading something far more realistic, such as Arrested by the Alien Vampire.  Book ‘em, Zhyrg.

Posted in Writing

All In a Day’s Work

I’m currently staying in Arizona, anticipating attendance at a writers’ conference later this week.  I have been having a great time, and the Catfish-I-Haven’t-Met is now the Friend-Who-Really-Exists.  My travel was uneventful, the hurricane stayed out of my pocket of Florida in my absence, and I am so relaxed right now I can’t even get worked up over the Saints loss to the Vikings.  In short, life is good.

Which is why it’s time for another Reader Rant.

My reading preferences cross a lot of genres, but I really enjoy romance, fantasy, supernatural and mysteries.  Bonus points if they are combined (I’m envisioning Arrested by the Alien Vampire right now, and it’s amazing.  Someone should totally write this.  Or just design the cover, which would be filled with blue muscles and a look of utter adoration on the face of the alien as he gazes at the woman he’s hauling down to the station.)

Ahem.  Anyway, one of my chief complaints over the years has been a lack of variety in the protagonists’ careers, and while all of the genres are guilty of this transgression, I’m looking right at you, Contemporary Romance.  Why, in this day and age, are the men still magazine publishing tycoons and the women working as executive assistants?  And why is ‘bada$$ ninja sniper’ the only alternative to this?

Too many authors treat the protagonists’ means of making a living as an afterthought.  They choose to focus on the story and the action, and relegate the job to the background.  I get this, but it’s lazy.  Most people spend an awful lot of their time at their job, and the standard work week in the USA is considered to be 40 hours a week minimum.  Many of us work more hours than that, so how does that not impact the story itself?  And is the CEO/Admin pairing really the only possible way you can imagine them spending time together?

I took my rant to a friend last year, where I commented that I was so thrilled to read something the other day where the heroine worked in a grocery store AND THE HERO DIDN’T ‘SAVE’ HER from this terrible job.  The author treated her protagonist’s work situation as perfectly acceptable, because people who stock produce need love, too.  The author also understood that ‘success’ is not defined by your job.  A Fortune 500 CEO is no more ‘successful’ than an electrician.

Somewhere in this discussion arose the need for a ‘what career should my novel’s heroine have?’ flow-chart.  The bean-counter in me prefers a matrix over a flow-chart (nice, orderly boxes!), so I’m offering up some employment suggestions to get you started.  Please note that since men are stereotyped as much as women, most of these careers would be a refreshing change for either one.

A brief preview is listed down below; the expanded version is available here: All in a Day’s Work

Location Overdone Ambitious Blue-Collar Bad A$$
Office Secretary, CEO Director of Business Development Facilities Maintenance Collections Agent
Airport Flight Attendant, Pilot CEO, Airport Authority Procurement Board Baggage Handler Federal Air Marshal
Newspaper & Magazines Journalist, Photographer Production Manager Distribution Press Operator
Places with Food Chef, Bakery Owner Franchise Owner Inventory Stocker Food Safety Inspector
Places with Drinks Bartender, Barista Brewer Beverage Delivery Bouncer

You’re welcome.

Posted in Vacation, Writing

Cat-Fishing Vacation

“So how’s the software conversion going?” my friend asked.

“About like you’d expect,” I sighed.

She oughta know.  Of the three major financial software conversions I’ve done over my career, two of them were done while I was working for her.  Software conversions follow the same Rule of 3 as home construction projects:  no matter how well you plan, it will take 3 times as long and cost 3 times as much as your original estimate.

The comparison is particularly appropriate at this time, since I also happen to be in the middle of a kitchen remodel that should have finished last month.

“It’s a good thing you’re taking this vacation.  You really need it.”

Truth.  She’s my best friend, so she knows that in addition to the remodeling and the conversion, I’m also dealing with some extremely stressful personal issues.  She really should be asking me if I intend to come back, and if not, do I still want my Amazon history erased before MFB can see it?

I put my vacation plans into motion last spring.  A lunchtime conversation with this same friend wound up on the topic of doing things just for ourselves, and not our family, our friends, or our jobs.  Right at the top of my list was this enduring fantasy I’ve had of taking a vacation by myself.

Totally selfish, I know.  It’s not that I don’t want to spend time with my loved ones; it’s just that the notion of spending a week doing things that only I enjoy is incredibly appealing.  When I’m traveling with others, I can’t stay holed up in the hotel room vegging out.  I have to participate in activities, and I have to socialize.  I have to do things.

Don’t get me wrong, I always have a good time.  We aren’t doing things that I hate, it’s just that we’re not doing anything I would love.  My introverted self loves things like spending the entire day in my pajamas reading a book, which my extroverted family members view as a violation of the Geneva Convention protocols.

Thoughts of fantasy-fulfillment usually remain just that – thoughts – but this one wouldn’t leave me alone.  A casual lunchtime conversation with ‘hey, maybe you should check out a writing cruise,’ instead morphed into a week in Arizona, where my chances of getting seasick are considerably lessened.

My fantasy came to life in two phases.  The first was when I looked at my various travel rewards statements and realized I had enough points to pay for a flight and hotel, which eliminated any lingering guilt over doing something fun without my spouse.  The second happened a week later, when I stumbled across the announcement for a writers’ conference.

Arizona is a place I have wanted to visit for years.  You wouldn’t think it would be a tourist destination in September’s brutal heat, but this is where my Friend-I’ve-Never-Met lives.  Talking about her always sounds like an online dating testimonial:

“Oh, we met about thirteen years ago, when she commented on something I wrote.  I answered back, she replied, and I don’t know, we just clicked!”

Today’s version would involve pulling up the Nerds United app and swiping right to meet a fellow introverted, book-loving, language nerd who happens to enjoy writing.  (Does this app exist?  It should.)

We’ve wanted to meet up in person for a long time.  The stars aligned, so I booked my flight.  I also told my staff that if they contacted me during that time period, they had better start that conversation with “I’m only calling you because _______ is dead and if I don’t resolve _______, the United States will be forced to surrender to Liechtenstein’s invading forces.”

Having related the above, I do have to acknowledge the small possibility that I am being cat-fished.  Since we’ve never met in person before, ‘she’ might be an overly-large balding man with hairy knuckles and nefarious intentions.  The odds of her being fake are pretty slim, though, since she is listed as one of the convention’s instructors.

In addition, there are the relatives.  Her sister knows my aunt.  Her aunt knows my cousin.  I’ve personally met one of her cousins, not a distant cousin, but a ‘your parent is my parent’s sibling’ cousin.  We both could hold a family reunion, and the same people would show up.

The whole ‘published author’ thing tips the scales further in favor of her being who she says she is, but what if Amazon is involved in the scheme?  They’d be the perfect partner in crime since they already know everything about me, right down to my fondness for brazil nuts and love of old Barbara Cartland novels.  (Don’t judge.)

But in order to orchestrate an evil scheme on this level, she would have to be an absolute genius.  It would be the Greatest Cat-Fish Ever.  “They found your grandma’s body in a ditch, clutching an empty Diet Coke can,” my kids would tell their children, “and they never did catch the guy.”

Which really makes this all the more reason that I have to go.  I am morally obligated by the Rules of Literary Engagement to carry this through to the end.  *Reference Rule 172, Section 6, Penalties for Early Plot Cancellation.

Even if – especially if – Amazon is involved.

Besides, the prospect of impending doom still sounds more appealing than another week at the office.

Posted in Defense Contract Accounting, Writing

The Accidental Accountant

Ever since I was a little girl, I always knew what I wanted to be when I grew up.  Every morning, I’d take out my 10-key calculator, sharpen my pencils, and start filling in ledger entries.  I’d spend hours reading books about revenue standards and the best method of inventory valuations, and then I’d review the tax code for possible loopholes.  And just when I reached a new discovery –

I’d wake up from my nightmare because I had to get ready for work.

OF COURSE I never thought I’d become an accountant.  Who does?  Are there seriously kids out there who fantasize about debits and credits?

After numerous discussions with others in my profession, I’ve come to the conclusion that we all sort of fell into it by accident.  There’s no shortage of business schools or bankers, so I can only guess that at some point in our early adulthood, something led us over to the Dark Side.  We ventured into a world where everything must be sorted and matched to its proper time frame, and we discovered we were really, really good at playing ‘one of these things is not like the other’.

Since the Dark Side has snacks in the break room, most of us stayed.

Non-accountants usually say they could never do our job because they aren’t good at math, which shows how little outsiders know about the profession.  Accountants don’t do math; we organize piles of numbers and tell the CEO whether or not she can afford that new Lexus.  In fact, a lot of us can’t do simple addition without a calculator.

CEO:  “What’s 1 and 1?”

Intern:  “2”

Accounting Dept:  “11”

IT Dept:  “3”

Proposals Dept:  “What do you want it to be?”


I personally wound up in the accounting profession because I wanted to be an engineer.  Allow me to connect the dots:

  • Enters college eight years after graduating high school.
  • Decides it would be fun to be an engineer.
  • Secretly wants to be a writer, but doesn’t think it’s possible.
  • Learns most engineering degrees take five years to complete.
  • Decides to work as an accounts-payable clerk to help put food on the table while pursuing engineering degree.
  • Decides to pick up a two-year degree in accounting in order to get promoted at company while pursuing engineering degree.
  • After a fifteen-year absence, rediscovers joy in writing fiction.
  • Fails chemistry class three times.
  • Wonders why engineering seemed like a good idea.
  • Really wants to be a writer.
  • Keeps getting promoted in accounting.
  • Stops and starts college multiple times over the next two decades, because several other degrees seem way more interesting than accounting.
  • Sucks it up and finishes four-year degree in accounting in order to find a new job.
  • Gets promoted into management.
  • Still dreams of being a writer.


As a child, you are asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”  As an adult, you discover the question really should have been, “How do you plan on paying your bills?”  You find that your dreams are replaced with practicalities, and you trade youth and passion for responsibility and security.  Your dreams fall into a dark corner, and after a few years, you start to believe you should just give up on them because it’s frustrating to want something that seems so far out of reach.

After a while you decide to give up your dream and it seems like the right decision; especially when you come home after a 10-hour work day and you can’t sit down to write because you’re exhausted and your vision is blurry and you need to go to the grocery store or you’ll be eating cold cereal for the third night in a row.  But while you’re grabbing a frozen pizza, you notice everyone around you is in swimsuits and shorts and you’re standing there in a skirt and heels, so you wonder what all these tourists do when they go back home.  By the time you get to the check-out, you decide that the couple behind you came down here from Ohio in order to murder his rich great-uncle, and you load your groceries into the car while contemplating ways to kill someone at the beach.  “Death By Sand Spurs” seems like a good working title, and the first chapter is written in your head by the time you fall asleep that night.

Then in the morning, you get back up, dust off your dreams, and throw your personal laptop in your work bag.  You’re going to write during your lunch hour, because you can no more quit dreaming than you can quit accounting.  And maybe by the time you finish the first page, the break room will have more snacks.

Posted in Writing

DNF Romance

Dear Author,

I wanted to finish reading your book.  I always want to finish.  In fact, there was once a time in my life when, no matter how difficult, I would slog through to the bitter end.

I had more free time on my hands in those days, and a far greater tolerance for pain.

You might not think this is a big deal, but I read a LOT of books, and so do my friends.  We’re always looking for a ‘new’ author, and when we find one we really like, we go and purchase everything the author has written.  You’re not just losing sales on your future books, you’re also losing them on your back catalog.

On the off-chance that you are looking to improve, here are some of the reasons your book landed in the dreaded DNF (did not finish) pile:

You bored me.  Life is too darn short to spend it reading something that puts me to sleep.  Textbooks are the primary culprit in this category, but your fiction committed this cardinal sin as well.  Please get a beta reader/editor to help you tighten up the narrative.

I can’t stand being inside your character’s head.  You wrote from the first-person point-of-view, but your character wasn’t capable of holding the entire narrative on her frail shoulders.  I felt like I was listening to a coworker talk about her divorce, wondering if it all really happened just like she said, and curious as to the other side of the story.

I hate your protagonist, Part I.  The greatest risk of first-person POV is that it can make a merely annoying character truly unbearable, because now I’m locked in her head.  Please tell your whining-and-making one-poor-choice-after-another drama queen to shut up.  I shouldn’t be rooting for the bad guys to win, or worse, wishing for a ‘rocks fall, everyone dies’ ending.

Your mistakes killed me.  The advice is to ‘write now, research later,’ but you forgot to come back and do the research part.  I’m not referring to the sort of error that would only be noticeable to a subject matter expert, but your romantic lead is in the military and there’s no excuse in the age of wiki for not knowing what rank is appropriate for the age of your character.  A 24 year-old Lieutenant?  Sure.  A 24 year-old Colonel, not so much.

Your lack of personal experience shows.  Not everything can be gathered through research, and the sad truth is that some things require first-hand experience if you choose to focus on them.  In your case, you chose to be rather explicit describing something that I’ll just refer to as peeling potatoes, but it was obvious you had never peeled potatoes.  In fact, it was clear that not only had you not peeled potatoes, you had never so much as held a spud.  In this instance, it would have been best if you had left the couple to peel potatoes behind closed doors.

I hate your Protagonist, Part II.  If your romantic lead spent the first half of the book being a jerk, why should I believe he won’t start mistreating his One True Love later on, once the honeymoon is over?  And why would she want to hook up with him in the first place?  If this guy’s going to have a mighty change of heart by the middle of the book (and I wouldn’t recommend waiting until later), please don’t try to base the transformation solely on the love of a good woman.

You grossed me out.  We all have different tolerance points, which is why sub-genres exist and M18+ books have warnings.  Your graphic description of a sucking chest wound would have been fine in a war thriller, but it wasn’t appropriate for your target audience in a contemporary romance.  I know your character was a nurse, but most readers don’t want to stumble across the dirty details while they’re eating lunch.

Your protagonist is a fashion plate.  Descriptions of the physical world are necessary to good fiction, but your character’s clothing took center stage.  I don’t need to know that she chose to wear a black pencil skirt with a sheer, soft coral blouse and silver hoop earrings.  I might need to know what her love interest thinks of her appearance, but I doubt he’s looking at her earrings.

You have an obvious author tic.  By the third chapter, your protagonist had rolled her eyes seventeen times.  Your romantic lead blinked twelve times.  You referenced his deep blue eyes in six different places.  I should never be able to play drinking games with your prose.

The worst part of all of this is that it didn’t have to be this way.  A good beta cures most of these ills, and a great beta has the courage to tell you that your character is unlikable.  I started reading your book because it looked interesting, so there was something there to draw me in.  You just didn’t close the deal, which is a shame.  The world needs more good books, and I was hoping one of them would be yours.



Posted in Writing

Not Not-Writing

“So what would it take for you to not not-write?” – Kate, who for some reason has not given up on me

If the definition of a writer is someone who writes every day, then I guess I’m a writer.  Emails count, right?

They should.  My communications at work are masterpieces, crafted to placate government bureaucrats known for large egos and limited reading skills.  I write emails to explain to employees why they have to fill out a time sheet even if they are salaried, why they have to use the company travel program instead of some discount site, and why we deduct taxes from the next paycheck to cover that $100 gift card bonus.

With a few well-placed words, I calm the troubled waters that sometimes arise between program managers who need their data yesterday, and my financial analysts, who can only accomplish so much in a single day.  I soothe the souls of executive management, who placed me in charge of a major financial software conversion project because I’m the only person in the company who has ever used the product.

I take the time to carefully answer questions from multiple audit agencies, knowing my emails will become a permanent part of the work papers and used as unofficial policy statements in the next ten audits.  Every single email I write is done with one eye to open communication and the other eye searching for anything that might come back to haunt me during legal discovery.

When I was a child and dreamed of becoming a writer, this wasn’t exactly what I pictured.

So here I stand (or sit, because I’m chained to my desk for hours every day), unable to transfer the characters living in my head to a better location.  And those characters are tired of staying in that cramped, confined space where they share a room with several crazy family members, cowboys, soldiers, villains, supernatural beings, and anyone else who decides to show up for the party.  They’re tired of me waiting for that elusive day when I’ll have time to write, uninterrupted by work, school, the military, professional advancement or family commitments.

The characters in my head know the truth, which is that if I’m not being interrupted, my casket is being lowered into the ground.  Dying with all of these stories stuck in my head?  That really would be hell.

So dearest Kate, what does it take to not not-write?  Judging by the amount of time I spent on this blog post, 27 minutes of constant paragraph revisions, because when I’m not not-writing, I’m also not not-editing.  Maybe I’ll find another 27 minutes this week to not not-write again.

Please don’t ever not not-give up on me.