AshEdit—News About Books & Writers

September 21, 2016

BESTSELLER METRICS—How to Win the Novel Writing Game

Filed under: Uncategorized — ashedit @ 1:17 pm

“It’s Moneyball for novelists.”  —Dan Kelly


Promotional poster for the movie of how Sabermetrics revolutionized baseball. The system was invented by Bill James when he worked as a night security guard in a pork and beans factory.

After a decade of novel editing, it was time to write down some of the information compiled  inside my head. The result? A book called Bestseller Metrics, also a patent pending system by the same name that can catch and diagnose many writing mistakes that development editors get paid to find. The manuscript is not yet finished, and I’m actively soliciting feedback, not just from senior authors (who might say nice things if they like it), but also unpublished writers who could benefit from using the system.  (Note: Response was huge and the trial is closed for now.)

I need to say here that I’m not pushing a formulaic style of writing. In fact, my system frees writers from formula to reveal principles that underlie successful novels. It works  for writers of most genres who have a full-length fiction manuscript from 50,000 to 150,000 words that they’d like to sell.

I start with an intensive examination of handpicked bestsellers in popular genres. Here is the first test a writer can easily apply to their own work:

         Character Counting—Believe it or not, most bestselling novels feature a similar number of characters in the first quarter, whether it’s recent hits like Harry Potter or The Hunger Games, or an all-time classic like The Big Sleep. What’s a very common problem with beginning manuscripts? Too many characters appearing too frequently to keep track! Bestseller Metrics catches the problem early and offers proven solutions—even for unfinished manuscripts.

Here’s an excerpt about the rationale behind Character Counting:

No matter how many minor characters swirl in and out through the mid-story, it’s a core cast that shows up at the beginning (or almost the beginning) and marches through to the end of any novel. Incredibly, the average amount of characters that carry through is 12— whether book length is 70k or 146k.

           Once you test a novel, any novel, on the character count of its first and last quarter, you gain a new perspective on continuity. The numbers are not subjective—character continuity is either there or not there. The results are like an x-ray into the skeleton of the story. It’s not the whole picture, but it’s an important part of story foundation.

            If the number of surviving characters in the last quarter is too low, this may signal a lack of interconnected relationships that flesh out the “world” of the novel. (Please note emphasis on the word “may.” Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice is a notable exception. Why? Because vampires live forever, outlasting all the human characters.) A low number may also indicate an absence of subplots that serve to keep interest high on a number of levels. Subplots develop on the strength of characters, and if they’re not there in the last quarter, it’s doubtful they’re there at all.

   If the number of surviving characters in the last quarter is too high, there’s risk of not enough page time for the core cast—readers don’t get acquainted with them enough to develop a bond. Characters start whipping by on the page, or drop in and drop out before readers have the chance to form an attachment. The more bonded readers are to your characters, the more invested and enthused they are likely to be about the story.

How to Test Your Manuscript

A series of simple tests, done on paper, asks questions about your story. Results are easy to calculate—anybody who can count from one to ten can do it. Scores are then compared to those of famous bestselling novels in a variety of genres, and suggestions are provided for improvements.

The system has pinpointed and solved problems that stubbornly elude writers’ groups, workshops, how-to books, and even critique in MFA programs. (In fact, I’m hoping educators will adopt the system as a tool in their writing classes.) It works for writers with a finished manuscript or one-in-progress; prepares beginners before they begin writing, and acts as a powerful tool in the hands of any seasoned professional who wants to deconstruct their literary competition.


What People Are Saying

Elaine Ash is surfacing the boundary between art and science. She is a pioneer. —Dr. Timothy Allison-Aipa, Statistics PhD

[BESTSELLER METRICS] codifies insights that I have been groping toward in the dark for years.   —Albert Tucher, author

This is one of the most enlightening books on writing I’ve read, and I’ve read a lot of them. —Rochelle Staab, President, Sisters in Crime SoCal

“I’m a big believer in the value of empirical evidence over anecdotal. Yours will be the first book I’ve ever seen that applies those principles to writing without coming across as pressing for a formula.” —Dana King, Nick Forte series, speaker, P.I. novel expert

“Why settle for subjective feedback about the inhabitants of your manuscript when industry book doctor Elaine Ash has discovered the great novels all share serious math. Compare your character list to those of the literary champs and learn why numbers tell their own story.”—Jack Getze, Author, Austin Carr Mysteries, Fiction Editor, Spinetingler

It shows you how others have written successful bestsellers, not how to fit your work into a formula. It makes you aware of the rules, so that when you DO break them, you know WHY and WHEN to do so.—Sam Wiebe, Last of the Independents, Invisible Dead

Elaine Ash doesn’t teach you how to write in this book, she teaches you what works using a method that revolutionized the entire industry of baseball already. Learn how to play moneyball with your creative writing! Benoit Leliévre, Deadend Follies




June 28, 2016

Dana King – Writing the Private Eye

Filed under: Uncategorized — ashedit @ 7:21 pm

If you’re seeking expertise on the PI novel, it makes sense to ask a Shamus Award nominee. (For the uninitiated, PI stands for Private Investigator, or Private Eye.) You’ll want someone well versed in the oeuvre with a library of titles stored in the grey matter, ready for instant recall. Mastery of the craft goes without saying, and in the looks department your expert must seem at home behind a battered manual, or  nursing a Wild Turkey at some local gin joint.

The first name that comes to mind is DANA KING.Dana.King dark headshot

I first heard Dana speak in Albany at Bouchercon 2013. He wasn’t the headliner, the room was restless as he walked to the podium, and my eye was roving to the exit for a quick getaway. But as Dana started to speak, the room quieted. A respectful attention took hold, and Dana let us know he had the goods. He knew Chandler’s writing, knew the genre, and knew how to blow long and soulful riffs of information that had us wide-eyed.

I never forgot that presentation. Spinetingler magazine published a glossy version of it in 2013, but here are the original notes, written in Dana’s noir voice which delivers clear and clean. May I suggest a little Chet Baker horn in the background as you read on?

Dana writes his own PI novels, of course, and A SMALL SACRIFICE, starring Chicago PI Nick Forte, was nommed for the Shamus Award’s Best Indie PI Novel for 2013. His earlier novels were praised by Charlie Stella, Timothy Hallinan, Adrian McKinty, Leighton Gage and more. His first traditionally published novel, GRIND JOINT (Stark House) was named by Woody Haut in the LA Review of Books as one of the fifteen best noir reads of 2013.

And now to the talk I never forgot…

Dana King Header

I assume you’ve all read Chandler?

Have you read the essay, The Simple Art of Murder?

If you’ll indulge me a few minutes, I’d like to read the key feature, which is what this session is all about:

The realist in murder writes of a world in which gangsters can rule nations and almost rule cities, in which hotels and apartment houses and celebrated restaurants are owned by men who made their money out of brothels, in which a screen star can be the finger man for a mob, and the nice man down the hall is a boss of the numbers racket; a world where a judge with a cellar full of bootleg liquor can send a man to jail for having a pint in his pocket, where the mayor of your town may have condoned murder as an instrument of moneymaking, where no man can walk down a dark street in safety because law and order are things we talk about but refrain from practicing; a world where you may witness a hold-up in broad daylight and see who did it, but you will fade quickly back into the crowd rather than tell anyone, because the hold-up men may have friends with long guns, or the police may not like your testimony, and in any case the shyster for the defense will be allowed to abuse and vilify you in open court, before a jury of selected morons, without any but the most perfunctory interference from a political judge.

The Big Sleep

The Big Sleep (1946)

It is not a very fragrant world, but it is the world you live in, and certain writers with tough minds and a cool spirit of detachment can make very interesting and even amusing patterns out of it. It is not funny that a man should be killed, but it is sometimes funny that he should be killed for so little, and that his death should be the coin of what we call civilization. All this still is not quite enough.


In everything that can be called art there is a quality of redemption. It may be pure tragedy, if it is high tragedy, and it may be pity and irony, and it may be the raucous laughter of the strong man. But down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid. The detective in this kind of story must be such a man. He is the hero, he is everything. He must be a complete man and a common man and yet an unusual man. He must be, to use a rather weathered phrase, a man of honor, by instinct, by inevitability, without thought of it, and certainly without saying it. He must be the best man in his world and a good enough man for any world. I do not care much about his private life; he is neither a eunuch nor a satyr; I think he might seduce a duchess and I am quite sure he would not spoil a virgin; if he is a man of honor in one thing, he is that in all things. He is a relatively poor man, or he would not be a detective at all. He is a common man or he could not go among common people. He has a sense of character, or he would not know his job. He will take no man’s money dishonestly and no man’s insolence without a due and dispassionate revenge. He is a lonely man and his pride is that you will treat him as a proud man or be very sorry you ever saw him. He talks as the man of his age talks, that is, with rude wit, a lively sense of the grotesque, a disgust for sham, and a contempt for pettiness. The story is his adventure in search of a hidden truth, and it would be no adventure if it did not happen to a man fit for adventure. He has a range of awareness that startles you, but it belongs to him by right, because it belongs to the world he lives in.


If there were enough like him, I think the world would be a very safe place to live in, and yet not too dull to be worth living in.

* * * *

Forty years ago, Robert Altman deconstructed Marlowe as a character in his film version of

The Long Goodbye

The Long Goodbye

The Long Goodbye.

  • “Rip van Marlowe” on the set and when discussing the screenplay. (Written by Leigh Brackett, who also wrote the screenplay for the best Marlowe movie, The Big Sleep, with Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. Of course, she had help from William Faulkner on that one.)
  • Altman set out to show the idea Chandler ideal had become an anachronism, no longer relevant to the hipper 70s.
    • The irony is, Chandler knew Marlowe was a man out of his time when he wrote him. There are two overt references to knights in The Big Sleep; in both Marlowe acknowledges he’s out of place, going so far as to say of a chess problem, “This was not a game for knights.”


Here’s the real question: if even Chandler knew his hero was an anachronism when he wrote him, when would Marlowe not have been?

  • Think back to the description of Marlowe’s time. Substituting the vice of the day for Prohibition, when have those conditions not applied? They’re certainly true today.
    • Are witnesses still afraid to testify?
    • Are witnesses—and victims—abused in court?
    • Who makes things right for these people, if the systems—both legal and de facto—do not?


The PI is, by definition, an outsider.

  • Otherwise he’d be a cop, working on the inside. (You understand we’re talking about fictional detectives, right? The lives of actual private detectives resemble what we’ve come to expect not at all, with rare exceptions.)
  • This has plusses and minuses, both in real-life and fiction.
    • He cannot compel anyone to talk to him,
    • he can be beaten up with impunity,
    • arrested for doing things a cop can do almost without thinking.
  • On the other hand, the PI gets to choose his battles. (At least fictionally.)

Ross MacDonald

The fictional PI can look into things the average cop never touches.

  • Could Ross Macdonald have explored the rotting foundations of crumbling families with a cop, or did Lew Archer have to be a PI?
  • A cop concerns himself with who and what; why is nice, but is primarily important as a way to get to what, or to help to convince a jury as to who. His caseload is too great to do otherwise.
  • Private eyes are paid to find out why, which often compels some worthy introspection. Cops are about closing cases; PIs are about closure.


PI stories are also better suited for ambivalent endings.

  • A cop’s job is to catch the bad guy.
  • The PI can appreciate the bittersweet nature of all cases, balancing the satisfaction of solving the mystery with the knowledge of his pre-ordained failure: no matter what he discovers, things can never be put right. The dead are still gone.
  • The cop can catch the killer and exact a measure of justice; the PI may be brought in to clean up the mess that doesn’t quite meet the necessary standard of illegality.


The situations where a writer with some imagination can place a PI are almost limitless.

  • Find a reason for the PI to be involved, and, if you want to be realistic, to get him paid.
    • Ross Macdonald and Declan Hughes explore dirty family secrets.
    • Travis McGee—not really a PI, but close enough—is, in most respects, an insurance investigator who earns a living collecting recovery fees, just not from insurance companies.
    • The Maltese Falcon gives Spade an interest in the murder because it’s his

      Original cover 1930

      partner who has been killed, yet he never overtly investigates it. Spade solves the murder almost as an afterthought.


I’ll admit PI stories are currently in a decline.

  • A sign of the times.
    • People’s fear or terrorism has led them to seek out apocalyptic thrillers, here omnipotent government agencies send agents who’d whip James Bond’s ass and not break a sweat out to thwart baddies who want to destroy not just whole cities, but “our way of life.” (Jack Bauer, anybody?)
    • This is not a time for outsiders; it’s outsiders who caused all this trouble in the first place. No one wants to deal with the troublemaker who turns our protectors on their back to show how much clay in their feet.
  • Public perception to recent events may signal a change.
    • Government interference into people’s lives—real and perceived.
    • People may become more sympathetic to the outside who holds abuses up to the light when even a person of good conscience may not be able to do so from the inside.
    • I don’t mean to make this political; I’m taking no sides here.


Who steps into the breach when people have had their fill of super-governmental agencies?

  • Jack Bauer is not going to go private


    Jack Bauer – 24

  • Jack Reacher walks his own path.
  • It must be an outsider—almost by definition—but an outsider with an inviolable code.
    • He won’t get everything he wants
    • he understands he’ll never put everything right again; the ripples of what he’s investigating spread too far.
    • He understands his victory is in the struggle itself. In the beginning of The Little Sister, Chandler wrote in Marlowe’s voice:
    • It was one of those clear, bright summer mornings we get in the early spring in California before the high fog sets in. The rains are over. The hills are still green and in the valley across the Hollywood hills you can see snow on the high mountains. The fur stores are advertising their annual sales. The call houses that specialize in sixteen-year-old virgins are doing a land office business. And in Beverly Hills the jacaranda trees are beginning to bloom.
    • The man we’re discussing can see both and not let one detract from his appreciation of the other.
    • He’s a man who may need to appear to be not as straight as he is, but whose compass can be relied on to point him in the right direction.

When this man becomes irrelevant—well, we’ll have bigger problems than deciding which book to read.

Visit DANA KING online.

June 4, 2016

Dana King Coming Soon

Filed under: Uncategorized — ashedit @ 2:20 pm
The lecture that rocked Bouchercon Albany
is now in print by popular demand.
"Follow" this blog to get an email alert the minute it's up.

Dana King Header

 Dana.King dark headshot

March 21, 2016

Les Edgerton Drops BOMB

Filed under: Uncategorized — ashedit @ 6:07 am

Bomb Coveer

BOMB Page 1


Believe me, the Background/Introduction to BOMB is a primer for adventures in publishing, and rivals the story itself. Release date: March 22, 2016

January 20, 2016

THE RETURN of Slavery to America

Filed under: Uncategorized — ashedit @ 6:47 am







Return 2

Return quote2

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Find out Updates on THE RETURN

Below: Benjamin Gaskell, Cinematographer, and Writer/Director Matthew Szewczyk

Return 3



December 20, 2015

Have a Holly, Jolly Holiday 2015

Filed under: Uncategorized — ashedit @ 11:39 am
Santa 2015

Photo courtesy Orange County Register and dragnet2

December 7, 2015

Mia Phoebus Remembers Tennessee Williams

Filed under: Uncategorized — ashedit @ 6:17 pm


M-G Mia reading 2

Mia reads from her first book of poetry, REMINDERS OF AN I NOT LEFT BEHIND.

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000038_00068]

NINETY-FOUR YEARS YOUNG and she had the audience at GATSBY BOOKS hanging on every word. Mia Elkovsky Phoebus showed us the character, intellect, and energy that so fascinated Tennessee Williams way back in 1940. The event was the release of Mia’s latest book, WALKING THE DUNES WITH TENNESSEE WILLIAMS, a poetic memoir of the Provincetown glory days so often mentioned in Tennessee’s biographies.

When I say the audience hung on every work, I’m not exaggerating. Mia’s rich, resonent voice filled the shop easily and she poured operatic emotion into her reading. Sean Moore, the owner of Gatsby’s and a poet himself, called the work “remarkable,” and instantly invited Mia to come back early in 2016.

M-G arrival w Sean

Mia and Sean with her books.

Sean mentioned that a sample copy left at the store a week ago for him to M-GMia w Seanlook at had sold before he could open the cover!

Special guests included authors Treacy Colbert, who read two poems dedicated to TW,  and dance-romance author Tonya Plank. Dr. Vicki Harvey read from WTDWTW, and had audience members closing their eyes to listen as Mia’s elegant words poured forth.

M-G Mia, Vicki, Treacy laughing

Special guests Vicki Harvey and Treacy Colbert share a chuckle.

M-G w Tonya2

Beautiful Tonya Plank gets a signed copy.

M-G w Lisa3

MFA candidate and Ashedit contributor LISA CIARFELLA assists.


M-G w McCall

Literary fiction writer Margo McCall said hello.


M-G w Bill Herd

Poet Dale Herd paid respects. and gifted Mia with a copy of his book EMPTY POCKETS

M-G w Elaine

The author and her editor.

Please friend Mia on Facebook.

Walking the Dunes with Tennessee Williams on Amazon.

Reminders of an I Not Left behind on Amazon.


November 29, 2015

Strengthen U. vs Coddle U.

Filed under: Uncategorized — ashedit @ 7:38 am

The university freedom-of-speech wars exploding on campuses will, given time, affect books and writers. Stand-up comics were the first to feel chilling effects on speech. Comedian Chris Rock quit playing colleges because, in his opinion, students are too constricted, “in their social views… they can’t take a joke.”

Although it may not have affected you yet, dear writer, it’s coming.

Jonathan Haidt is my favorite social scientist, and he recently gave this entertaining talk about Strengthen University and Coddle University. Below the video is a link to South Park’s hilarious view of “safe spaces” that are popping up in universities—places where students don’t have to hear any ideas that conflict with their own.

Love it or hate it, this trend may affect your writing in the future.



South Park “Safe Space”


November 20, 2015


Filed under: Uncategorized — ashedit @ 8:17 pm
 SWL crop


Greg Salem was a long way from the beach. Thin streams of sweat raced from his short blonde curls and down his neck. The tips of the tattoos that covered his back and chest were poking up just above his collar, like the tentacles of a giant squid. His hands shook as he forced a clip into the Glock. It was almost impossible to concentrate over the sound of the woman shrieking, but the sickening silence that followed was worse. Greg tensed and waited for the shooting to start.

His partner was a rookie, so new to the force that they’d only met that day. The third partner he’d had in as many months. The last one left the force to become a private security guard for some Hollywood starlet. Greg didn’t keep in touch with any of them.

The rookie was pressed against the hallway wall making ridiculous hand signals that he must have memorized at the academy. Greg winced. Some part of him still hated taking orders from cops, even though he’d been one himself for a decade.

The sleeve of his partner’s nylon jacket made a soft scratching sound as he motioned. The high-pitched ringing in Greg’s left ear was drowning it out. Tinnitus was a dubious badge of honor from years touring the punk rock circuit. It only got worse when his heart raced.

Greg swung into the hall, lifted his foot and kicked hard with the sole of his boot. The door split away from the jamb, spraying splinters. His partner slipped into the apartment ahead of him, waving his gun from side to side. A bedroom door slammed shut on the far side of the living room. The woman began shrieking again, louder this time, like a caged animal. Greg followed his partner deeper inside.

They split up, Greg securing the kitchen while his partner checked the closets. The coast was clear leaving only the bedroom. The two officers edged toward the door slowly. Tense moments ticked by. The shrieking was replaced by muffled sobbing. His partner checked the doorknob. Unlocked.

Greg turned the knob and let the door creak open. The officers waited for any signs of movement. There was only stillness and a faint humming sound. They traded looks, silently daring each other to go first.

Greg always thought of his brother Tim in situations like this, when everything was on the line and there was only one person in the world to rely on. Whatever was waiting for them inside that room, he knew it wasn’t going to be his brother. He closed his eyes and tried to clear his thoughts before pivoting inside.

A middle-aged woman sat tied to a chair, tears streaming down her round cheeks. Balled up socks were lodged in her mouth and held in place with a pair of nylons tied around the back of her head. She watched the two men with terror in her eyes. Her panties were down around her ankles and she was shifting in her seat in a vain attempt  to dge the hem of her skirt forward. An oscillating fan was behind her, mindlessly scanning the room and ruffling the curtains around the open window.

His partner untied her while Greg made sure the room was clear. The woman collapsed into his partner’s arms, never taking her eyes off Greg’s Glock.

“No more guns, please…”

Greg was turning back to check on her when he saw something move outside of the window. He spun around with his gun leveled. The suspect dropped to the street from a drainpipe that ran vertically along the corner of the building. Greg ran out the apartment door, taking the stairs two at a time. He looked up at the bedroom window to get his bearings and then started off down the street at a sprint.

He was almost forty years old but still pretty fast thanks to all those early morning runs on the beach. The sidewalks were mostly empty except for the occasional warehouse worker wheeling dollies full of boxes between buildings. He bounded from block to block looking for the blue baseball cap and white T-shirt. The plastic sheath that held his badge swung from the string around his neck and banged into his chest.

The blocks passed by in a blur. His lungs were burning from the suffocating industrial air, so he stopped to catch his breath. He was bent over with his hands on his knees when a blue and white streak flashed between two slow moving buses across the street. He ran out into the light weekend traffic narrowly dodging trucks as he crossed. He kept his eyes focused on the blue cap bouncing in the distance a few blocks ahead of him, and watched as it vanished between two buildings. Greg used his last burst of energy and rounded the corner into the small service alley several agonizing moments later.

The kid in the blue hat was standing on top of a dumpster trying to climb into a second story window that was just out of reach. Greg pointed his gun and shouted, “Stop! Police!” The kid half looked over his shoulder in disbelief while his fingers groped for the sill. Greg repeated the warning, motioning with the Glock toward the ground with a series of exaggerated gestures. The kids hands slowly left the wall as he raised them up above his head in a practiced motion.

Greg acknowledged his surrender. He gestured for him to climb down off the dumpster. The kid reached the ground and spun to face his captor. Greg watched the fear flickering in his eyes as they darted from side to side, desperate searching for an escape route. Greg planted his feet and leveled his weapon at the kid’s chest to discourage him from making another run for it.

Moments passed. Greg inched forward, closing the distance between them. The kid looked young, not much older than his friend Junior’s son. He was half way there when the kid reached into his waistband, bringing his hands up in front of him.

Greg had practiced for this. He instinctively squeezed off two shots, the first he ever fired in the line of duty. A deafening sound echoed off of the tall brick walls surrounding them. The black object flew from the kid’s hand and spiraled up into the air before clattering across the pavement and out of sight.

He seemed to fall in slow motion. His body twisted and his arms flailed around him as he spun from the force of the bullet. Greg couldn’t see any blood on the white T-shirt yet. He prayed he had missed, but had spent too many hours at the firing range to have that kind of luck.


SW Lauden Book Shot






October 27, 2015

Seeking One Good Project

Filed under: Uncategorized — ashedit @ 5:08 am

AceCLOSED** Call for Submissions. Co-author project. CLOSED**

Got a manuscript that’s made the rounds of rejections and you’re tired, so tired, of improving the story? No money for an editor? Then consider a co-author opportunity with me. Let me take a look, make suggestions for a rewrite or whatever it needs, in exchange for a co-writing credit. Then I’ll use all my contacts in publishing to land a deal with a Big 5 publisher. (Big 5 means an imprint with one of the 5 largest publishers in the world.) Genres: Mainstream mystery, crime, noir, hardboiled, romantic suspense, cozy, P.I. etc. Sorry, no fantasy or sci-fi at this time. SORRY, THIS CALL FOR SUBMISSION IS NOW CLOSED.

Photo credit:

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