Thursday, March 28, 2013

Wow! It's been a hectic two weeks here in my neck of the woods. My computer's been down off and on due to a glitch in an AT&T connection program; my refrigerator died without any warning at all (there's nothing like finding totally liquid ice cream in your freezer at nine o'clock on a Sunday evening); and I spent two days fighting off migraines, plus one morning in the ER getting treatment for the kind of pain associated with kidney stones. What fun.

As a result of all of the above -- plus a lot of other things too mundane to mention here -- I'm way behind on posting those reviews I mentioned here the last time I blogged. I've been reading first books in a series, and have found a few that I can recommend for light summer reading, the sort often called "beach reads".

Jana DeLeon writes Harlequin romance novels (none of which I've read) while also penning humorous mysteries. I fell for the covers shown above and decided to try TROUBLE IN MUDBUG, the first book in her Ghost-in-Law series. I loved it! 

Botanist Maryse Robicheaux thinks she's losing her mind when she sees her detested mother-in-law rise out of her coffin during her funeral service. Turns out Maryse isn't nuts at all. Helena Henry is truly back -- as a ghost, that is -- and still causing trouble for poor Maryse. All the botanist wants is time left alone to pursue her hunt for a possible life-saving plant growing somewhere in the bayous near Mudbug, Louisianna. Helena has other plans for the young woman. One of those plans involves finding the person who sent Helena to an early grave; a second plan centers on saving a nature preserve from a greedy chemical company that views the bayou as a natural dumping ground. As if Maryse's life isn't complicated enough, DEQ Agent Luc LeJeune shows up on her doorstep masquerading as a state scientist. Luc can't tell Maryse about his true mission in Mudbug, and Maryse can't tell Luc about the ghost stalking her every move. But hiding the truth from each other doesn't help either one of them, especially not after someone tries to remove Maryse from the scene -- permanently.

DeLeon's experience as a writer shows in this bright and bouncy mystery. Both primary and secondary characters are unique and well developed. (I personally adored nasty old Helena and couldn't help but chuckle over her misadventures in adjusting to ghost-hood.) The plot moved smoothly along; the setting and pacing were excellent. I'm definitely going to read the other books in this series, plus the two books in DeLeon's "Miss Fortune" series and her stand-alone mysteries. 

PLAYING WITH POISON is the first book in Cindy Blackburn's "Cue Ball Mysteries" series. Romance writer, pool shark, and champagne lover Jessie Hewitt earns the suspicion of the police in Clarence, North Carolina when her neighbor's boyfriend stumbles into Jessie's condo and drops dead on her couch. Jessie can't tell Captain Wilson Rye why she automatically knew Stanley Sweetzer had been poisoned; Rye looks at her askance when she blames it on writer's intuition. His doubt deepens when Jessie denies any knowledge of the files that Stanley, a financial advisor by profession, kept on her. How did Stanley find out about her divorce settlement, her book royalties, etc.? Jessie makes it her business to investigate the dead man and his possible link to Jessie's ex-husband. 

When not sleuthing, Jessie and her condo friends Karen Sembler -- a carpenter and creator of one-of-a-kind furniture -- and Candy Poppe -- a lingerie salesperson and girlfriend to the murdered Stanley -- spend their time drinking champagne at The Stone Fountain, a cozy bar and eatery across the street from their building. Gossip reigns at The Stone Fountain, and gossip is what eventually helps Jessie solve the case.

Cindy Blackburn obviously had fun writing this book. I enjoyed her descriptions of Jessie's romance novel characters and the trials and tribulations those characters faced chapter by chapter. And of course it's hard to ignore Blackburn's choice of names for some of her characters. Candy Poppe and Stanley Sweetzer? Oh, yeah. Blackburn's tongue was firmly lodged in her cheek when she christened those two. 

I found Jessie to be an intelligent, gutsy woman who I could easily drink champagne with any day of the week. I liked the other female characters, too, and felt the dialogue flowing among them was realistic to their gender. I admit that the editor in me cringed a few times while reading this book, but the errors I caught really didn't detract from the story and probably wouldn't bother the majority of readers. On the whole, I found this book to be a pleasant beach read and quite a decent first effort. I'll definitely give the next book in the series a try.


Click on the pilcrow, or paragraph, mark on your toolbar when self-editing your manuscript. The pilcrow symbol (shown to the right here) should be seen at the end of the last sentence in each paragraph. It should not be preceded by extra periods. Right: The boy ran away.¶  Wrong: The boy ran away...¶   By clicking on the pilcrow, you'll also catch other formatting errors, like extra spaces at the beginning of paragraphs. The pilcrow is your friend. Use it!


Saturday, March 9, 2013

The Writer's ER Editing Service

In my last post I promised I'd return this week with news about a formatting and cover service and an expanded editing service. I'll get to the latter in a bit, but first let's talk about Donnie Light's 

Donnie specializes in eBook design, print layout, and cover design. I discovered Donnie through a friend who'd hired him to format multiple eBooks from her print series. Impressed with his work--and his reasonable rates--I hired Donnie to convert two of my backlist titles to print and eBook format. He was very easy to work with and accomplished the jobs in no time flat. My covers were designed by someone other than Donnie, but he inserted them in the appropriate CreateSpace cover templates for me, making sure the spines fit the number of pages and that there was enough bleed space around the cover edges. Again, I was very pleased with Donnie's work.

If you're looking for someone to format your print and/or eBook quickly and at a reasonable rate, you can't go wrong with Donnie Light. You can find his website at or contact him at

And now, let's talk about editing. As I wrote back in January, I once worked as an editor for a small press publishing company. That experience opened the door for me to free-lance editing jobs contracted by both new and previously published authors, as well as by post-graduate students who recognized the value of well edited research papers. I discovered I loved editing almost as much as I loved writing. Helping to pull other people's writing into shipshape condition was satisfying work that energized my own creativity.

Time, though, was a problem for me. I had my own writing to do, plus I was still working part-time as a nurse. I could only take a limited number of editing jobs if I was to have any time left for my family and outside activities.

Then in late January, a Doogie Howser look-alike doc with a high-grade Napoleon complex and a distinct dislike for female nurses entered my life. Suddenly, my work hours were cut drastically, as was my paycheck. I found myself at loose ends, unable to write due to an overload of anger aimed at you-know-who (although I did plot a great short story where a baby-faced MD winds up dead at the hands of a nurse activist!). 

What helped me get through it all was a January editing job I did for a fellow mystery writer. As I worked on her story, it occurred to me that I now had enough free time to expand my editing business.  

And so, without further ado, I'd like to present the following information for writers seeking help in polishing their manuscripts.

The Writer's ER Editing Service

A former small press editor now working freelance with private clients, Mary V. Welk has helped authors of all ages and levels of skill improve their manuscripts through careful attention to detail. As a published author of four novels, two novellas, and numerous short stories and magazine articles, Mary has experienced the editing process firsthand and can relate to writers who require help but do not want to lose their unique voice and writing style in the process.

Mary offers the following services:

Proofreading:  This service is designed for authors whose manuscripts have gone through the revision stage, are ready for publication, and only require a final reading to check for grammar, punctuation, and spelling errors; misused words; typos; and indentation issues.

The current rate for this service is U.S.$1.00/page using the industry standard of 250 words/page.

Copy/line and developmental editing:  This service includes everything mentioned under "Proofreading", plus an in-depth evaluation of plot organization; character development; descriptive narrative; pacing; internal and external conflict; dialogue, point of view; overused and weak words; show vs. tell; descriptive inconsistencies; active vs. passive verbs; use of backstory; and clarity and believability of the storyline. All comments and suggestions for change or improvement will be sent to the author in the form of chapter-by-chapter critique notes.

The current rate for this service is U.S.$2.00/page using the industry standard of 250 words/page. This rate covers the initial edits, plus edits of two revisions at no additional cost; i.e., you get three edits for the price of one.

To estimate your cost for either service, divide the total number of words in your manuscript by 250, then multiply by the rate listed for the service. Payment is expected upon completion of the project.

Please submit your manuscript electronically as an attached Word document in the standard double spaced format using 12-point Time New Roman or Courier as your font.

For questions, or to submit a manuscript, please contact Mary at 

Feel free to share both the formatting and editing information presented above with your friends and fellow writers. 

Next time at Cicero's Children: book reviews and a medical question.

Friday, March 1, 2013

More Mystery Reviews

Just got back from a two-week vacation in the warm South, and while I read two good mysteries while away, I haven't gotten around to reviewing them yet. But fear not! Carl Brookins and S.D. Tooley are here to save the day with their own great book reviews. 

There Was an Old Woman 
by Hallie Ephron
ISBN: 978-0-06-211760-1, 304 pages
A William Morrow 2013 release

I could hardly put it down. Creepy, tension filled, elegantly crafted, filled with emotional turmoil and characters that seem to rise from the pages and sit beside you while you read. Not a mystery in the usual sense, not a novel of slam-bang adventure with bodies dropping on every other page. This elegantly crafted novel demonstrates a mastery of story-telling, of how to feed tidbits of information to the reader in a way that not only keeps one glued to the book, but step-by-step raises gut-wrenching questions of life and death and reality.

Somehow, Ephron has plumbed the dark recesses of the mind of an elderly woman named Mina Yetner. Independent still at ninety-one, and living in a small New York City neighborhood on the edge of a salt marsh, she’s sound of mind if physically frail and she’s determined to live out her life as she has always done, to the very end. Mina is a wonderful fresh character and readers shouldn’t be surprised if her voice comes unbidden to mind while they turn the pages.

In this time of aging baby boomers, of rising concerns about privacy, rampant mortgage offers, retail development, and uncertain government, here is a universal crime novel that should be read by just about everybody on the planet.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins,


Nick Santora
Reviewed by S.D. Tooley

Robert Principe is an attorney in New Jersey.  All of his life he has had an uphill battle fighting the belief that anyone with a vowel at the end of his name must be in the mafia.  His cousin, Jackie, enjoys living up to the rumor as the enforcer for Big Louie, affectionately known as BLT.  Robert is the first in his family to make it “big” and tries hard to fight for the little guy.  

But cases are few and far between, and with a pregnant wife, bills piling up, and a pregnant sister who has been deserted by her boyfriend, he’s desperate.  He comes up with a one time plan.  Rather than have Jackie break the hand of another guy in hock to BLT for big bucks, Robert suggests the man get a job at a construction site, fall down, then Robert could sue the company.  Robert would take one-third and Big Louie would have far more money than he was cheated out of.  The poor patsy would be happy to fake a fall just to save himself from losing a limb.  

Unfortunately, BLT is loving the money and Jackie is happy as a lark.  They won’t let Robert out of the scheme.  Things fall apart fast.  Robert is guilt-ridden, Jackie threatens to kill Robert, and Big Louie is not a man who takes no for an answer.  The reader is easily sympathetic to Robert’s plight.  He’s good hearted but in over his head.  A good son, a loving husband, but he’s ready to stand up to Big Louie.  Then the FBI pays Robert a visit.  SLIP & FALL is Gun Monkeys meets Goodfellows with humor thrown in to lessen the blows.  A pure joy to read.


I'll be back next week with more reviews, plus some good news for writers looking for a reasonably priced editing service. I'll also tell you how to contact a man who specializes in print and eBook design and formatting while also designing covers, all at affordable rates.