Red Pencil Thursday

Red Pencil Thursday

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Welcome back to Red Pencil Thursday. I apologize for the hiatus. I’ve been under deadline and then off on the family vaca, but I hope to get back on a regular weekly schedule of RPT. To do that, I’ll need some more volunteers, so if you have 500 words written, you are eligible to take the hot seat. Check out the details for how to submit. I hope to hear from YOU soon!

My guest today is Julieanne Reeves, a romantic suspense author. Sharpen your cyber-pencil and be prepared to offer her advice and encouragement in the comment section below. Thanks!


Mia: I like this title. It takes a familiar saying and gives it a twist.

Julieanne: The title gives a little insight into the book itself. Someone is out to destroy all Kayne holds dear. He lost his family once to a seemingly senseless murder and now it’s a race against time to get those answers before he loses his second family.

Payson, Arizona. Present day.

Mia: Interesting. Usually a prologue takes place in the past and contains some essential information without which the reader will not be able to understand what’s happening in the first chapter. Does this qualify?

Julieanne: Yes. This prologue lets the reader meet the Protagonists and gives the reader some insight into why we’re jumping back in time two years to “witness” the murder of Kayne’s family, and the death of Jessica;s firefighter husband when he rescues the baby. Without those two events the story wouldn’t fall into place and they just didn’t work seeding them into the story.

“All rise,” said the bailiff. “The Honorable Buck Johnson presiding.”

Mia: You’ve set the stage in just a few words. We know exactly where we are and what’s happening. Good job.

Julieanne: Thanks. If I can just get the rest of my writing in line, I’ll be okay.

There was his cue. Buck lugged the case file in and dumped it on the bench looking down as it landed with a resounding thud. All that paperwork for an unbelievably tragic custody battle over one of the sweetest little girls on Earth. How in the hell was he going to make this right, he wondered. God he felt so old today. Old and defeated and heartsick for everyone involved.

Mia: In the 2nd sentence you have a clause that seems to be attached to the wrong subject. For example, looking down seems to be referring to the bench instead of Buck. Think about how you can simplify what you’re trying to say.

Is Buck the hero? If not, we’re being treated to a lot of his internal dialogue.

Julieanne: I agree, Buck, while an integral part of the town, is not a main character. I’ll be quite honest, the prologue was an attempt to get the Hero and Heroine face to face on the first page, and it wasn’t done well.

“Everybody, just take a seat and let’s get on with this horse shit.” Every pair of eyes in the court room snapped to him. Good, he had their attention. Maybe they’d realize how disgusted he was. How disappointed. It made his heart ache to see the two of them tearing each other apart like this. Especially when both really wanted the same thing: For Gracie to be happy and healthy and in both of their lives. But secrets had come to light and emotions had run high and both had panicked. Friends and then lawyers had intervened fueling embers to flames before they’d even tried to work anything out on their own. Now he had a class-A cluster on his hands with only a Hail Mary’s chance of a happy ending.

Mia: Well, isn’t he colorful? I don’t have a legal background but it sounds to me as if Buck is deeply enough involved with the parties in this case that he ought to recuse himself. Any thoughts from the rest of the RPT gang?

Julieanne: Amazingly enough I knew a judge like this. Great guy, but his “bench side” manor left something to be desired. And yes, under normal circumstances, a judge should recuse himself in a case like this. However, with small isolated towns such as Payson it’s impossible for a judge NOT to know just about everyone involved in a case, especially if they have backgrounds in law enforcement, which both Kayne and Jessica do. Thankfully our laws are black and white and when followed to the letter, there’s no room for partiality. Otherwise a judge like this would have to recuse himself from just about everything that came across his bench.

So, as he looked out at the parties sitting in his court room, he paused for a moment to pray for a miracle.

“Since y’all have no problem speaking your mind, at least on paper, I expect some answers. How in the hell does a baby that disappeared, without a trace, from a murder/suicide scene in California end up at a fatality accident scene here in Payson nearly a week later, get dropped into foster care and subsequently adopted without anyone being the wiser?”

Dead silence.

Mia: I’m not sure how the plaintiffs could answer this question. Sounds like it was gross negligence on the part of the authorities. A baby doesn’t disappear itself. But more to the point, because you’ve got something really unusual that happened in the past, you’re pulling us out of the present. That’s the danger of backstory. I suggest you plow ahead and salt the information through dialogue, not soliloquy, and in smaller doses.

Julieanne: There are actually two scenes in the first chapter that are critical to setting the story up. The first taking place two years ago, where we learn the circumstance behind Kayne’s family’s murde and how “Gracie” survives. The second scene happens a week later with the automobile accident where Jessica’s husband dies rescuing Gracie before the car explodes.

The story then moves forward to where Kayne and Jessica meet when he pulls her over for speeding. They keep bumping into each other – small town life – and start exploring their attraction to each other. It’s through this process that they discover Gracie – now a toddler – is actually Kayne’s kidnapped daughter. Which lands them in court. And married.

Because of media coverage the killer now knows the baby – Gracie – survived and it sets off a chain of events. Jessica and Kayne have to discover who’s behind the threats before Gracie disappears or Kayne loses everything, again.

Buck looked first at Jessica and saw unspeakable love. A firefighter’s widow and now single mother who’d adopted little Gracie out of foster care when no family came forward to claim her. Jessica’s husband had responded to that accident and sacrificed his life saving little Gracie, protecting her with his body when the vehicle exploded. Her face was serene, but her hand shook violently as she turned her head and wiped a tear from the corner of her shimmering eyes clearly hoping no one would see that her world was falling apart.

Mia: Again, we’ve got backstory. Since the adoptive mother has so much to lose, I’m wondering if you’ve considered writing this scene in her POV.

Julieanne: That’s actually where I ended up while playing around with a response: See below

His gaze skipped to Kayne and saw unimaginable grief. A State Trooper and little Gracie’s biological father. A man who’d lost everything in this world that mattered. Knowing Kayne had come home from his shift only to find his infant daughter missing, and his wife standing over the bodies of their two other children, then having to helplessly watch as she took her own life too.

Mia: Or Kayne’s POV. Either he or Jessica would be a stronger emotional hook.

It was time for some tough love.

“Fine. Suddenly no one has anything to say? Isn’t that just great?” Buck heaved out a weary sigh. “Y’all get comfortable ‘cause so help me God, we’re getting to the bottom of this

Mia: Even if they had nothing to say, surely their lawyers would. Buck is an interesting character, but he distracts from the main conflict between the protagonists. I suggest you try a rewrite of the scene through both of their eyes and see which one speaks to you. Also, let me caution you against front loading so much backstory. Because we authors know everything that ever happened to our characters, it’s tempting to spill it too soon. You should save those details till they will have the most impact.

Good luck!

Julieanne: Mia, I’ve had some time to think about this, and I think I’d drop the “Prologue” and just make it part of the first chapter. It would read something along the lines of this:

Payson Arizona, Present day.

“All rise,” said the bailiff. “The Honorable Buck Johnson presiding.”

Jessica Hallstatt slowly rose on trembling legs, her heart pumping blood through her body so loudly that she nearly missed Buck say, “Everyone take a seat.” He adjusted his glasses, began shuffling papers and said, “Give me just a minute and we’ll get started.”

“Relax,” her Attorney leaned over and whispered. “The adoption has been final for over a year. The law is in our favor. There’s no way Buck is going to give custody to Dobrescu. Especially with Santa Barbara Police Department reopening their investigation into his family’s death. He was their number one suspect, that’s in our favor.”

Jess’ gaze strayed to Kayne and her heart gave a betraying flutter. Damnit! Why did the man have to look so incredibly sexy? He’d probably been on duty for hours, but his uniform looked freshly pressed, his badge and boots polished to a high shine. His right forearm rested on the butt of his firearm, his forefinger and thumb flipping the safety cover of his pepper spray up and down, up and down. That action the only indicator that he was nervous, otherwise he appeared calm and in control. And her attorney was wrong; anyone who knew Kayne knew he hadn’t murdered his wife and children.

Jess pressed her fist against her roiling stomach. God, she didn’t know how she was going to make it through this. What if she actually lost Gracie? What would she tell her other children who were still too young to fully understand why their baby sister would suddenly be “gone”? Would he really take Gracie away from them? She was terrified that answer was “yes”. After the events of this past week she feared Kayne would never let her see Gracie again if he won custody.

She couldn’t imagine how badly Kayne must be hurting, and she hated that she cared. She glanced his way, only to find him staring at her, his eyes full of sympathy and understanding, and something else that looked suspiciously like pain. She didn’t want his sympathy, she didn’t want him to understand how badly just the thought of losing custody of Gracie was hurting her. But most of all, she sure as hell didn’t want to understand the pain he must be feeling, to know his daughter was alive and that he had no rights to her. It’s a pain she was prying to God she’d never have to feel. She wanted him to be an asshole so that the guilt of fighting him for custody wouldn’t be tearing her apart.

I’m sorry, He signed. So sorry, he mouthed, his left hand still resting flat over his heart. Jess closed her eyes and looked away fighting the tears that threatened to fall. Yeah, she was sorry too. So, so sorry. The should have found a way to work this out between them. But they hadn’t. Instead they’d thrown angry words and threats and then attorneys at each other.

God, how had they gone so wrong? A week ago they’d been friends, maybe headed for more. Much more. Now they were standing on opposite sides of a fence that seemed impregnable. All because Kayne recognized a necklace. So here they stood, both knowing only one of them could end up with custody of Gracie. It was all in the hands of a judge to decide the fate of her daughter. Of their daughter. Jess might be the only mother Gracie had ever known, but the simple fact was, Kayne was indisputably her biological father.

Judge Johnson cleared his throat. “All right folks let’s get started. Mr. Dobrescu, For the record, can you explain what happened the day your daughter disappeared?…

Mia: This is a fascinating study in how a story can change depending on the POV character. Thanks for sharing.

Julieanne Reeves’ Bio: With a background in law enforcement, a talent for solving mysteries and a romantic heart it seemed only natural for Julieanne to combine her skills and do something she loved. Writing. An adoptive mom and foster parent, Julieanne has seen the good and bad of the foster care system, and has become an advocate of children’s rights. She enjoys a small town lifestyle and has been lucky enough to work with some of the best law enforcement personnel in the world. Add to that a family tree full of exiled Jacobites, French nobility, a few notorious 19th century gang members, a sprinkling of Native Americans, and more than a handful of law enforcement officers through the generations and Julieanne has enough literary fodder to last a lifetime.

Find Julieanne on Facebook!


Now it’s your turn to offer Julieanne some advice and encouragement. Remember, Red Pencil Thursday is only as strong as all the creative minds around this cyber-table. I hope you’ll take a little time to give an aspiring writer a hand. Thanks!

13 thoughts on “Red Pencil Thursday

  1. Reading this, I kept thinking it felt more like two books. The first would be about the battle for Gracie, with the loss of Kayne’s first family in what appears to be a murder/suicide as the opening hook. That story would cover the death of Jessica’s husband, build throughout the recurring encounters between Kayne and Jessica as the attraction between them grows, and culminate in the fight for Gracie. (As Jeanie Ryan commented above, this court scene would work well just before the black moment.)

    I’m a small town resident myself, and I must admit it jarred me when I reached the revelation about Volkov and the Bratva War–it just felt like a whole different kind of plot than homey, colorful Buck Johnson seems to promise. In other words, the first half of the events you’ve described seem to belong to a small town “missing child” story, while the Volkov Russian crime war sounds like a high-stakes conflict on a world stage. That’s why it seems to me to make more sense if you break the story in which Kayne is desperate to save his second family from the same fate as his first off into a second book, one for readers who are already familiar with your core characters and their backstory.

    1. Mia says:

      Excellent points on the “whiplash” factor of homespun Buck vs. Russian crime war. The beginning of any story is the author’s promise to the readers about what sort of story they’re in for. We bait and switch them at our peril.

  2. Barb Bettis says:

    Wow, Julieann. Your book is sitting on your editor’s desk–that’s tremendous news. Congratulations on the upcoming publication. Your rewrite was very nice. It’s so hard to change the beginning of a story when we have it set in our minds–good job.

    I agree with the others that the opening scene was better in Jess’s POV. Being a little slow on the uptake, I had to reread the opening of the story a couple of time to get all the plot strands separated. I’m hopeless. That’s why I don’t write mystery or suspense :)

    Best of luck with your book. I want to read it to see how it all comes out.

    1. Mia Marlowe says:

      I’m with you, Barb. I’ve tried writing romantic suspense, but I just don’t have the knack for it.

  3. Barbara Britton says:

    Hi Julieann and Mia,

    Julieann, I like the premise of your story. The second version in Jess’ POV was much stronger and kept me invested as a reader. I do agree with the first post by Jeanie that it would be nice to see the relationship Jess and Kayne have before this court battle. We are told they were involved but we don’t get to see it. The court scene seems like it should come later in the book.

    I would read more. You hooked me. Good job!

    1. Mia Marlowe says:

      Thanks for dropping by, Barbara!

  4. Karri Lyn Halley says:

    The concept of this story is very unique and interesting and through both versions of the beginning and your answers to Mia’s questions, I understand what is going on and I want to know what happens next!

    With just the first version of the story, I’m not as invested in what happens. The second version is much stronger, but I agree that it may not be the best place to start. I don’t know the best place to start, but I’d love to know what happens now!

    1. Karri Lyn,

      This has actually been revised since I initially submitted it to Mia, as such it’s getting close to publication. Sitting on my editor’s desk.

      As far as what happens next? It’s a wild ride all orchestrated by a very powerful man called Volkov, a Russian word that means “The Wolf”. Basically Kayne’s family were pawns in a Bratva war – one Kayne knew nothing about – between his first wife’s father and The Wolf.

      When Volkov learns the baby is still alive, he realizes he has a pawn once again and he won’t stop until he has her…

      It’s a Suspense at it’s core, but the love story isn’t sacrificed.

      1. Mia Marlowe says:

        Yay for a manuscript on an editor’s desk!

  5. Jane L says:

    Wonderful job, I love the emotional impact of the second version, written in her POV.

    You can relate to her being, scared, nervous and emotionally torn in the scene. In my opinion it is a much stronger start to your story.

    Since the judge, I am assuming is a secondary character, we only want to see a glimpse of him. (I do like his off the cuff personality, hehehe)

    One other small note. Be aware of repetition of words. Sometimes, it can slow down the flow of the story.

    Thanks for sharing, this sounds like a great book.

    Just a thought, as a reader, I actually really dislike prologues. I know they are sometimes needed.I feel a story is stronger and well written if you can somehow not use them. Again, just an opinion.

    1. Mia Marlowe says:

      Good point about the repeated words. I find I catch more echoes when I read the work aloud.

  6. Jeanie Ryan says:

    As queen of not knowing where to start my story, my gut says this isn’t the right place. The moment where everything changes is different for the hero and heroine. For the hero it’s either when his family dies or when he finds “Gracie.” For the heroine it’s when she learns about Kayne being Gracie’s father. This court scene feels like it belongs right before the BBM. I wouldn’t worry about getting the h/h together immediately. There is more leeway for that in romantic suspense.

    Here’s what my gut says to start with. A scene with Gracie and Jessica where Jessica is frantically searching for Gracie. She only turned her back a minute or her other kids demanded her attention or something like that. That will set up 1. Mother’s love 2. Missing kid theme 3. hook.

    The other option is Kayne seeing a girl in public and thinking she is Gracie. A mistaken identity scene. Another way to go is for him to be on a missing child case or returning a child to her parents. I’d really like to see a scene showing the h/h love for the child, rather than be told “saw unspeakable love.”

    1. Mia Marlowe says:

      Jeanne, great brainstorming ideas. I always say it’s good to jot down 20 things that could happen. The one that should is likely at the end of that list.

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