The Importance of Your Book’s First Scene

The first impression you make on someone is vitally important. The same can be said about the importance of your book’s first scene. After writing my first draft of “Shell Game,” I came back and decided that my first scene didn’t have a strong hook. I went back to the drawing board in the rewriting process.

Do Some Soul Searching

After a day or so of soul searching, I came up with a new opening scene and revised first chapter. I actually did not realize the dramatic impact of the first scene until I let some fellow writers read it, and also, read it to my writing group. 

The rewrite accomplished several writing goals. The opening…

  • Started the story at a pivotal and suspense filled moment.
  • Introduced an unusual situation, intriguing characters and antagonists in a surprising and frightening setting.
  • Allowed me to package surprise, conflict and dread in the first encounter.

But I still wanted to up the ante of this suspenseful beginning scene. I added an unsuspecting protagonist, preoccupied with her own problems.

Up The Stakes

My job during the next chapters was to up the stakes. I needed to turn the screws to force my main character along with fellow protagonists and supporting characters to take direct action. I wanted them as deeply involved in the conflict and problems shown in the opening chapter throughout the rest of the book.

Critique Your Manuscript

When I gave my final manuscript to others for critique, I realized that I had done a good job in drawing people into the story of Shell Game. People were invested and interested in finding out what happened to the characters. I created a “whodunnit” and the question of “why.” 

Make Your Work Relatable

Shell Game has a universal element that is relatable, if not scary. The characters are placed into an unknown situation. Making matters worse, they are immediately fraught with physical danger from unknown persons and situations. 

The medical aspect of my thriller offered me some seriously creepy and gruesome means to inflict mayhem on my protagonists and their supporting characters. Being a medical “insider” has given me the ability to take what I know about hospitals and peri-operative processes and pervert it to create challenges and obstacles for my characters.

As for my next goal with my novels? I hope to invoke the same type of instant “Gotcha!” and interest that I feel I’ve created with the first chapter of Shell Game.


Truth is Stranger than Fiction

As they say, “Truth is stranger than fiction.” I’ve often wondered why I have been blessed or perhaps cursed with odd experiences. Add to that wonderment, the fact that I work in the world of anesthesia and my experiences become compounded. If I had to point to a reason for my unusual experiences, it must be to give me a wealth of material for my books.

Writing from Reality

Much of my writing  material has happened in one form or another. I like to write about the underside and back rooms of the glossy and polished for public consumption side of medicine. It is frequently not pretty or nice, and many times, a rosy, neat ending doesn’t occur. But within those messy endings is a universe of themes and characters to be explored and excavated.

I’ve found the reluctant heroine, the ruthless antagonist, the helpful sidekick — all with their own stories of consequence. My own life adventures and misadventures find a way into my stories and help to create my characters. Naturally, I want to frame them in the context of current day topics and situations to which people can relate.

My Process

I get to create a world of my choosing filled with people in all of their flawed, messy glory. How do I keep all my characters and their quirks straight? I write about them extensively in documents that never see the light of day. These are my “character bibles” — detailed analyses of every quirk, tick, and habit. The process of writing and conducting research to help me flesh out my characters, create their backstories, and find their motivations is both fun and fascinating. 

My quirky habit of traversing the internet rabbit hole in search of factoids, is finally coming in handy! People are far from monolithic and typical. Tropes and stereotypes are easy to write about, and, in my eyes, boring.  I strive to present characters who remind me of real people, in all of their foibles, weaknesses, and strengths. 

Taryn and Blake were fun and relatively easy to create and write about. Now, I’m on to the next challenge — my next protagonist. Who is… well, that’s a mystery writer for you.


The Editor’s Motto: Leave No Mistakes Behind

Leave No Mistakes Behind

In my final preparations to publish Shell Game, I felt like the editing and revision process would never end. The more I changed my prose, the more I needed to re-read it to guarantee my motto: leave no mistakes behind. It’s part of the process, but I didn’t realize how tedious it can be. To my chagrin, some typos still slipped through. However, I know this happens to everyone. I have seen typos appear in books by indie writers, but also within books from big publishing houses. Despite the knowledge that no one is perfect, little errors loom large in my OCD/Perfectionist/Anesthesiologist soul (where mistakes just can’t happen). 

Getting Honest Feedback

As a new writer, I sought a second pair of eyes to review the concept of my plot and how my characters were developed. I wanted to know if I had created the bones of a story that could engage readers and later become a series of books. It was a great investment. I received honest feedback about the premise, my storytelling style, and a number of plot points. Most importantly, I got the introduction that I needed to how one edits for story improvement, resulting in a novel that shines.

A Shared Vision

I ended up working with two different editors who did developmental and later, content work. In terms of editing, I think the biggest ‘must have,’ and one that I feel fortunate to have now, is an editor who believes in your vision and direction for your novel. Not to mention, finding someone who loves your protagonist as much as you do.

After working tirelessly to get my manuscript ready for publication, I truly understand the phrase “artistic differences” in describing conflicting thematic and stylistic points of view.  To write a page turner, you first have to be on the same page as your creative and artistic support people!

Find an Editor So You Can Focus on the Artistic Process

The line and style edits (spacing, punctuation) were the most tedious and voluminous edits, and the ones for which I was most grateful for my current editor, Mia Walshaw. Formatting or looking at the spacing of the printed page is not even close to book editing. I was quite happy to concentrate on the artistic aspects of writing and composition and allow my editor to take care of the technical aspect — the grammar, syntax, consistency of tense, and repetition of words or phrases. 

At some point in the process, you have to “push go” on your project, which can feel like the scariest prospect of all. Is everything perfect? Have I missed anything critical? Mia and I went back and forth, comparing our versions. Finally, we were both satisfied. All of the T’s were crossed and the I’s were dotted. In other words, every comma was in place and we pushed that “Publish” button. 

Now that was a happy day!


Everyone has an Opinion

Perhaps the most difficult aspect of being a writer is handling negative reviews. Everyone has an opinion. We can’t please everyone or write a book that will illicit the same response from every person who reads it. As much as we hope for good reviews, the fact that we all have varied opinions means that not everybody likes every book. Therefore, the occasional negative review may be valid. But when readers give damaging critiques without constructive feedback, a writer has little means to improve.

Focus on the Positive

When you are brand new to the field of publishing, it is easy to be steamrolled or overwhelmed by what you don’t know. Too often, it’s easy to focus on the people who emphasize what you did wrong over what you may have done really well. I again credit the editor who read my first draft and provided an honest, constructive critique of both content and style in order to help me improve my plot, characters, and dialogue. 

I also attended workshops and classes, and learned to apply the techniques presented to my work and writing. One of my biggest takeaways was the realization that in art, there is always room for different perspectives and opinions. Since experiences are likewise widely variable, those points should be considered when examining the validity and worthiness of critiques. 

Surround Yourself with Support

It’s unfortunate, but trolls and dour naysayers exist everywhere. This is why it’s so important to find a writer’s community and friends who are readers. They aren’t there to agree with bad writing or stylistic habits, but to provide support. I go by an old medical resident adage that is sad, but true: “When you swim with sharks and get bitten, it’s helpful not to bleed.” 

When someone provides an opinion in a forum that is unhelpful or downright painful, commiserate with friends and avoid challenging people who are hurtful or malicious. Learning from constructive critiques about content, style, or outright errors is one thing. Being harassed or demoralized by negative individuals who say or offer damaging assessments of your efforts is another. 

Go Forth and Be Productive

One has to grow a thick skin. You also must realize that this is part of the process of becoming an author. Thoughtful and carefully presented critiques will lead to your continued growth as a writer. Hurtful reviews without useful feedback should not weigh on your mind.


Ginsburg’s Legend: Success and Perseverance

Ruth Bader Ginsburg and her trailblazing work made an indelible and lasting mark on my life and career. She tore down irrelevant barriers affecting women, and for that, I will always see her as a hero. Using logic, the power of persuasion, and downright courage, Ginsburg opened doors for women to occupy a space that had been previously denied.

Part of Ginsburg’s legend is a story of when the dean of Harvard Law School asked the women who had been admitted how they justified taking a place away from a man. This dialogue was distasteful in itself, but even more surprising that it occurred at a dinner party meant to celebrate the students. Other future indignities occurred. Among them, at one of Ginsburg’s 1993 Senate confirmation hearings, she was turned away from a library at Harvard because it didn’t allow women inside.

I’m sure there were many other competent women back then and even now that have heard similar sentiments. I know this to be true because it occurred to me while in medical school. It became personal when a man, who was also pursuing anesthesiology, suggested the exact same mindset to me. Yet, whether it is medical school, law school, or flying fighter jets, that mindset  — the one that tries to hold women back — must end. We cannot live in a world where 50% of the population is not able to pursue the career and life of their dreams and choosing.

Justice Ginsburg was denied jobs upon graduation from law school because of her gender. And yet, she ended her career as a Supreme Court Justice. This accomplishment occurred after the earlier successful career as an academician and litigator. I believe that nothing beats down bias like showing them they are wrong. Ginsburg’s Legend: Success and Perseverance. It is a life and lesson to remember.

Like the inexorable power of water dripping on rock and cutting its own path, life and the course of rivers change with time. Lasting change is often slow with each inch hard fought. Sentiment, opinions, and biases create barriers to progress for many people in many fields. Unfortunately, there is no way to totally eliminate implicit bias in work or the arts, writing especially included. There’s even a hashtag about it: #ThingsOnlyWomenWritersHear. Although the posts were jaw dropping, the knowledge of them did not stop me from pursuing my passion to write. Nor did I stop my pursuit to practice medicine and anesthesiology. 

It’s a matter of being creative, and most importantly, persistent. I also had to learn to be my own loudest cheerleader, and find others willing to do the same for me. My goal remains to live my truth, write about it, and in the process make it easier for the next woman or nonconformist to do the same.

We fight on, push forward, tear down barriers, gain allies, and just maybe… have some fun in the process. It reminds me of one of my favorite RBG quotes: “Fight for the things that you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you.”



Series Books Create a Bond

When I originally developed the premise for Shell Game, I knew I didn’t want it to be a stand-alone book. I’ve always loved getting comfortable with a character, knowing their inner most thoughts and traveling a path with them. To me, one book is just the introduction to this special relationship. What I wanted most was to write multiple books about the same character. In my mind, series books create a bond that stays with myself and my readers.

Life Experiences Drive Characters

The “coming of age” theme that made the young adult Harry Potter series so popular was genius, but not exactly the right fit for my adult characters. I knew that their life experiences would be a driving motivation for many of their actions. I wanted to give my characters a satisfying arc and watch them develop. I also knew how I wanted each book to end and where my character’s journey would take them.

What I wasn’t prepared for was to experience a strong desire show my character’s backstory. This would provide the dramatic and thematic impetus for future Taryn Series books. But in reality, I see this not as simply a series, but a constellation of books and interwoven stories.  Surprise on me and my planning!

An Unpredictable Thrill Ride

While my female protagonist, Taryn Pirelli, is the driving factor in these books, other characters began to intrigue my imagination and demand their place in the spotlight. One of the cool things about writing thrillers is that they are just that — an unpredictable thrill ride with twists in action from one near miss to the next.

The changes in direction are also true in this case for the sequencing of other books in the world of Taryn Pirelli. Contrary to our “timelines” on social media, when it comes to series books, one can jump forward or back in time. I look forward to showing my readers what has made Taryn the woman she is today.

More “Taryn” to Come

I have early readers who have asked for “the next Taryn book”… in one case, a good natured threat was cast and compelled me to get on with it (nods and winks to my bud, SSI)!  Rest assured, the next book is well underway as is the research behind it. I’m sure it will unfold and take both myself and my readers on an unexpected trajectory. Trust me when I say there’s a necessary detour on the way. 

As one of the lines early in Shell Game references, this is going to be a journey, rather than a straight out run from start to finish. I’m already enjoying the process, and hope you choose to join me on that unpredictable journey into the void of possibilities!


The Dark Side of Writers’ Groups

In my fiction, I love taking readers for a walk on the dark side of medical practice. Recently, I decided to extend that walk to the dark side of writers’ communities. Typically, most writers’ groups are constructive and supportive, but on occasion, a few bad apples crop up. I want aspiring authors to not only feel successful, but be successful. More importantly, if you’re starting out on your writer’s journey and unwittingly venture into the dark side of writers’ groups, I want you to know that you are not alone.

Believe in Yourself

The first step to your success is to believe in yourself. This doesn’t mean you sway to the side of arrogance or not being open to instruction and honest critique. Just be wary of people who will attempt to deflate your sense of well-being and sense of self in the guise of being “helpful.”

I regretfully saw a tweet from a fellow indie writer that was less than supportive for a another writer. She actively spread negative sentiments when this author announced the publication date for her upcoming book. I was surprised at the behavior. This “community” reprimanded a fellow writer for announcing her success!

The way I see it is that people will be themselves, and social media can be a real cesspool of negativity. However, it can and should be a way to build community, meet other writers, and support each other. Moving forward, go with your gut to determine the difference between negative energy and positive support, but always believe in yourself.

By the way, I friended and followed the writer who was berated by this group. That is what indie writers should do — encourage and celebrate each other’s success and progress. Writing success is not a limited sized pie; there’s plenty to go around.

Dreams Have No Limits

My first interaction with a critique group came from someone who gave me the run-down on how the group was organized. It went like this: “We, who lead the group, will inform you when we think your work is ready to move forward to publication.”

I was taken aback. This was not a published author, teacher, editor, agent, or in any way an individual who had a track record of getting new authors published, or had an actual job doing same.  He was also the only ‘group leader’ of this MeetUp group. Additionally, I have no idea if he meant “we” in the royal sense or if he truly had another collaborator. Needless to say, it wasn’t a good first impression. Point from this? Don’t let one person define you or your writing style. Your dreams have no limits and nobody should try to weigh them down.

After a lovely sojourn in the forest to clear my head, I was left with peace and the overwhelming desire to help, not hinder, fellow authors. I hope this post does just that.

Let’s celebrate each other! (Insert fist pump and happy dance here). Write on, read on, my friends!


How I Banish Writer’s Block

Writer’s block is a condition, primarily associated with writing, in which an author loses the ability to produce new work or experiences a creative slow-down. This loss of ability to write and produce new work is not a result of commitment problems or the lack of writing skills. Wikipedia

How I Banish Writer’s Block

I’m going to share how I banish writer’s block. In fact, I’m going to blow the concept of “writer’s block” out of my perceptual universe. In my opinion, it doesn’t exist. I am back to writing and blogging after a short, but necessary break following an incredibly busy and challenging period at my primary job (you know, giving people drugs that make them unable to breathe for themselves and safely managing them while they have surgery).  Regardless that I have a driving motivation to write, I’m not at my most creative when I’m tired.  Instead of looking at this time as a period of writing failure or writer’s block, I choose to see it as time to think about my experiences and how challenges relate not only to my writing, but to my characters as well.

What Would Taryn Do?

If I’ve had a particularly long day, I ask myself how my protagonist, Taryn, from Shell Game, would handle it. Would she go for a hike in the woods of Seattle? Would she call her new love interest, Blake? Maybe she would simply have some quality time with her pooch, Maxx. Stay tuned for teasers about Taryn’s adventures. In the meantime, thinking of what she would do to banish writer’s block actually helps me succeed as well.

Perspective is one of those absolutely golden words and concepts when it comes to writing. Magic happens when you combine perspective in the optimal proportions with point of view, which has to do with first person, second person, third person…lots of writing technical stuff.  The bottom line is that I chose to use the experiences and perspective I gained during a daunting work period to better imagine the world of my characters as I plan my next story.  There are lots of crossover challenges that I experience and can now call upon to enrich the setting and experiences found within my books. In retrospect, it’s actually pretty cool.

Take Time to Breathe

I’ve also come to understand that a short pause in productivity is as necessary to the quality and importance of the work as breath is to life. I’ve come to understand that a period of “not writing” should not be viewed as a barrier or evidence of incapability, but as a necessary pause in action.  Regardless of where I am in the actual process of writing, of creating words and content, I am a writer. To my fellow writers, remember that there is a rich vein of value and information to be gained by mining every life experience on the writing path.

Obstacles do not block the path; they are the path. — Zen Proverb


The Power of a Writer’s Community

One of the first, surprising things I realized when I began to write was how isolating and lonely it can be. I loved living in the world I was creating. Imagining my characters’ emotions made me feel alive. However, I discovered that the creative process of writing required, perhaps even demanded, a degree of isolation. I needed the power of a writer’s community.

Honor Your Muse

The isolation is necessary to let you find your voice, develop it, and honor your muse. This is how creativity begins. I don’t mean to imply that you must crawl into a hole and disappear. Frankly, creativity is always sparked by like creativity. While writing, I read extensively in genres similar to mine. I dove into thrillers of all flavors, mysteries, biographies, even non-fiction, paranormal, and romance.

I read for fun as well as my own education. While reading, I analyze how other authors create their settings. I derive information from non-fiction books and articles, even conversations and interviews with authorities on my subject. I’m curious to see how other writers accomplish their goals while entertaining their readers.

The Power of a Writer’s Community

I learned that developing a community of writer-friends was just as vital. It was important to converse with people who understood firsthand the process of becoming a better writer, and the challenges of writing. Through conferences and small writing groups, I developed a community of like-minded writers to laugh with, commiserate with, learn from, and support them as they supported me.

My writer’s community also bonded on a curiously common finding. Many of our friends, family, and co-workers outside of our writing circle were sometimes less than positive about the idea of writing a book. Go figure? I heard every negative argument in the book. You will never succeed. You will never get published. You will never make money.

But instead of taking their criticism to heart, I filed it in the category of “Your opinion…everyone has one” and forged on.

I’m pretty sure that every writer, visionary, inventor and revolutionary thinker has heard these arguments. I am just as sure that those visionaries also had the determination to continue pursuing their dreams. They (writers, inventors, tech geniuses) continued to push forward and follow their dreams and Muse. They had that passion and willingness to put in the hard work to create their dreams. I say ONWARD! And, it also helps to have the encouragement and support from some like minded dreamers and friends.

Find your community and tribe, and move forward!


The Case for Self-Publishing

The case for self-publishing versus traditional publishing is widely debated. I read numerous books and even more blog posts that discuss the pros and cons of each. I attend book and writers’ conferences. Yet, in spite of my research and studies, I still have volumes to learn. For now, I’d like to share what I’ve learned thus far about the implications of each.

A Book Launch Success

When thinking of a book launch, I wanted to emulate the fantastic approach taken by Andy Weir, author of “The Martian.” Originally, Weir published parts of his novel online to attract a following. Once he had a numerous people invested in the story, he decided to self-publish. That wasn’t the end. With a healthy following, his book was widely downloaded. In fact, it received enough downloads to attract the attention of a large, traditional publishing house who re-released the book. The result: best-seller! That’s not all… it was then optioned by a production company and made into a movie.

This effort shows that in our current climate of high competition, it’s possible to achieve success as an indie author. The decision to self-publish can be later altered toward traditional publishing. A similar chain of events occurred with “Fifty Shades of Grey.”

Commit to Your Vision

If you have a strong vision for your book’s plot line and characters, stick to your guns. Just because a publishing house doesn’t recognize your vision, doesn’t mean it isn’t without merit.

I am inspired by the success of JK Rowling and other “unknowns” who believed in their concept and achieved success. Many authors find success after being rejected numerous times. Sometimes, rejection isn’t a reflection on the work, but simply the publishing house doesn’t want to invest money with a new author.

I wanted to carry through with my vision for my book and characters, which I felt might not be a topical or thematic match for prospective agents or publishers. Many agents and publishers have an agenda that they want carried through in the works of their authors. It boiled down to artistic freedom. I had a vision for my story and characters. I’m proud that I saw my book, “Shell Game,” through to the end and committed to that vision.

Timing is Everything

When you go with a traditional publisher, things rarely move a warp speed. The delay in publish time made me want to self-publish. Traditional publishing is a big machine that may take up to and over a year to get a book into reader hands after an author receives initial acceptance. There are numerous steps. It may sit for months with an agent, then find a home at a publisher, but then you may be asked to rewrite sections. You may need to negotiate the rewriting process if they ask you to soften certain scenes, make others more politically correct, adjust the dialogue of your characters etc. You get the idea.

I’m an Artist

My experience in a career that featured huge, hierarchical rules and living by the accepted dogma, I deeply wanted to do my own thing! I’m an artist and a rebel at heart, who has ALWAYS danced to my own, heard-by-me-only music. It was highly appealing to my heart and soul to do my own thing with the able assistance of a wonderful book packager (Thanks Evatopia™!) who helped me with editing and marketing. I also thank my website artist (, and the support of writing groups ( and, along with the wonderful women writers I met during that course. I attended writing conferences coast to coast (ThrillerFest, PNW Writers, Hedgebrook-Authoring Women, Seattle 7 Writers), and continue to do so.  All inspired me and are helping me learn my craft.

My encouragement is that you can do this, too!  I hope I’m inspiring and encouraging all of the secondary writing career writers, primary career writers, and everyone in between. Just do it! Write!