About Chris Roerden Information About Editing Honors and Awards When You Are Ready for Editing
Home Page


1. REFERENCE BOOKS FOR WRITERS written by Sisters in Crime Members (2017 update now in process, below)

2. Unpublished Blog 9-5-16: My memories of Phyllis Schlafley & the ERA


- - - - - - - - - - - - - -

1. REFERENCE BOOKS FOR WRITERS written by Sisters in Crime Members (2017 update now in process, below)

To view the 2016 list, go to http://sistersincrime.org/?page=119

This is the official list of reference books for writers

written by members of Sisters in Crime International.  Rev. 1-1-17.


Police Procedure & Investigation: A (Howdunit) Guide for Writers

AUTHOR: Lee Lofland

PUBLISHER: Writer’s Digest Books, 2007

FORMAT 1: trade paper, 384 pp, indexed

ISBN: 978-1-58297

FORMAT 2: Kindle ebook

HONORS: finalist for Macavity Award

URL: www.leelofland.com


Books, Crooks and Counselors: How to Write Accurately about Criminal Law and Courtroom Procedure

AUTHOR: Leslie Budewitz

PUBLISHER: Linden Publishing, 2011

FORMAT: trade paper, 220 pp, indexed

ISBN: 978-1-610350-19-8

HONORS: Agatha Award for Best Nonfiction Book; finalist for Anthony Award; finalist for Macavity Award; finalist for National Indie Excellence Award

URL: www.lawandfiction.com


Breaking & Entering: The Road to Success, 3rd edition

EDITOR: L. C. Hayden (Anthology: 27 authors)

PUBLISHER: Sisters in Crime, 2010

FORMAT 1: trade paper, 140 pp

URL: www.lulu.com/content/paperback-book/breaking-and-entering/8558738

FORMAT 2: electronic/pdf

URL: lulu.com/content/e-book/breaking-and-entering/8582166

Shameless Promotion for Brazen Hussies, 3rd edition

EDITOR: Roberta Isleib (Anthology: 26 authors)

PUBLISHER: Sisters in Crime, 2011

FORMAT 1: trade paper, 154 pp

URL: www.lulu.com/product/paperback/shameless-promotion-for-brazen-hussies/14847372

FORMAT 2: electronic/pdf

URL: lulu.com/product/ebook/shameless-promotion-for-brazen-hussies/14848330


Don’t Murder Your Mystery: 24 Fiction-Writing Techniques to Save Your Manuscript from Turning Up D. O. A.

AUTHOR: Chris Roerden

PUBLISHER: Bella Rosa Books, 2006

FORMAT: trade paper, 304 pp, indexed, annotated

ISBN: 978-1-933523-13-2

HONORS: Agatha Award for Best Nonfiction Book; finalist for Anthony Award; finalist for Macavity Award; Writer’s Digest Book Club selection

URL: www.writersinfo.info; www.bellarosabooks.com

Don’t Sabotage Your Submission: Insider Information from a Career Book Editor to Save Your Manuscript from Turning Up D. O. A. (expanded all-genre version of Don’t Murder Your Mystery)

AUTHOR: Chris Roerden

PUBLISHER: Bella Rosa Books, 2008

FORMAT: trade paper, 312 pp, indexed, annotated

ISBN: 978-1-933523-31-6

HONORS: Benjamin Franklin Award for Literary Criticism; finalist for ForeWord Review Writing Book of the Year; Royal Palm Award for Best Educational / Instructional Book; Royal Palm Award for Book of the Year

URL: www.writersinfo.info; www.bellarosabooks.com


Sara Paretsky: Writing in an Age of Silence

AUTHOR: Sara Paretsky

PUBLISHER: Verso, 2007

FORMAT 1: hard cover, 192 pp, annotated

ISBN: 978-1-84467-122-9  

FORMAT 2: trade paper reprint, 138 pp 2009

ISBN: 978-1-84467-377-3

FORMAT 3: Kindle ebook

URL: www.saraparetsky.com

Seven Steps on the Writer’s Path: The Journey from Frustration to Fulfillment

AUTHOR: Nancy Pickard (with Lynn Lott)

PUBLISHER: Ballantine Books, 2003

FORMAT: trade paper, 237 pp

ISBN: 978-0-345451-10-1

URL: nancypickard.com

Writer to Writer

AUTHOR: Lynette Hall Hampton

PUBLISHER: Alabaster Book Publisher, 2004

FORMAT: trade paper, 192 pp

ISBN: 978-097250-311-2

URL: lynettehallhampton.net

Writes of Passage: Adventures on the Writer’s Journey

EDITOR: Hank Phillippi Ryan (Anthology: 59 authors)

PUBLISHER: Sisters in Crime / Henery Press

FORMAT 1: hard cover

ISBN: 978-1-94196-222-0

FORMAT 2: trade paper, 173 pp

ISBN: 978-194196-219-0

FORMAT 3: ebook

ISBN: 978-194196-220-6

HONORS: Agatha Award, Anthony Award, Macavity Award


Everything Guide to Writing a Novel: From Completing the First Draft to Landing a Book Contract

AUTHOR: Joyce Lavene and Jim Lavene

PUBLISHER: Adams Media, 2004

FORMAT: 9x8 paper, 320 pp, indexed

ISBN: 1-593-371-32-2

URL: joyceandjimlavene.com

Everything Guide to Writing Your First Novel: All the Tools You Need to Write and Sell Your First Novel

AUTHOR: Hallie Ephron

PUBLISHER: Adams Media, 2010

FORMAT: trade paper, 304 pp, indexed

ISBN: 978-1-44051-063-2

URL: www.hallieephron.com

Writing and Selling Your Mystery Novel: How to Knock ‘em Dead with Style

AUTHOR: Hallie Ephron

PUBLISHER: Writer’s Digest Books, 2005

FORMAT: trade paper, 256 pp, indexed

ISBN: 978-158297-376-0

HONORS: finalist for Edgar Award for Critical/Biographical

URL: www.hallieephron.com


How to Write Killer Historical Mysteries: The Art and Adventure of Sleuthing Through the Past

AUTHOR: Kathy Lynn Emerson

PUBLISHER: Perseverance Press, 2008

FORMAT: trade paper, 224 pp, indexed

ISBN: 978-1-880284-92-6

HONORS: Agatha Award for Best Nonfiction Book

URL: kathylynnemerson.com

Writer's Guide to Everyday Life in Renaissance England

AUTHOR: Kathy Lynn Emerson

PUBLISHER: Writer's Digest Books, 2006; revised, expanded, 2010

FORMAT 1: hard cover, 272 pp, indexed

ISBN: 978-0-898797-52-7

FORMAT 2: Kindle ebook

URL: kathylynnemerson.com  


Writing the Cozy Mystery

AUTHOR: Nancy J. Cohen

PUBLISHER: Orange Grove Press, 2014

FORMAT 1: trade paper, 48 pp

ISBN: 978-0-9914655-1-4

FORMAT 2: Kindle ebook

ISBN: 978-0-9914655-0-7

URL: nancyjcohen.com

(Note: after identifying corrections and additions to this list, send the information to Chris Roerden, croerden@aol.com)


2. Unpublished Blog 9-5-16: My memories of Phyllis Schlafley & the ERA: Sunday, Sept. 5, 2016:  

The death today of Phyllis Schlafly, occurring so close to the anticipated election of our first woman president, fills me with ever greater hope for the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment. Athough Schlafley's most significant lifetime achievement was to successfully oppose adding to the US Constitution a mere 24 words, “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex,” her opposition did more than anything else could have to bring millions of new supporters to the cause of women’s rights. During the two years that I served as Wisconsin State president of the National Organization for Women, our statewide membership grew from several hundred to over 3,000.

So it felt like a small world indeed to sit in the visitor’s gallery the morning of October 6, 1978, for the Senate’s historic vote to extend the deadline for ratification of the ERA, and discover that Phyllis Schlafly occupied the seat directly in front of the seat to my right — close enough to reach forward to tweak the single loose curl peeking from the otherwise perfect hairstyle of this famed enemy of women’s rights. Giving into that urge was--fortunately or unfortunately--not possible.

That morning 38 years ago next month, Sen. Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin (who founded Earth Day in 1970 along with my friend, nature publisher Nancy Field) had escorted me, together with Judy Goldsmith, NOW’s Executive VP (to become NOW President 4 years later) and Susan Luecke (another activist), from his Washington, DC, office to the Senate hearing room via the connecting underground. Before the present subway system was installed, we climbed onto the shuttle train of small open cars, similar to the Disneyland ride through “It’s a Small World.”

Sen. Nelson guided his three constituents as far as the door to what was then (maybe still?) referred to as the "Senate Wives Gallery." There, we three received firm instructions to sit silently, because any sort of demonstration was prohibited. "Demonstration" included applauding, although how we were to stifle laughing was never explained. We were also not allowed to take photos or write, take notes, or knit--the latter undoubtedly a favorite pasttime of actual wives of Senators in the past. Today,of course, all tpes of electronic devices are prohibited as well.

Along with each visitor I was handed a small card printed in tiny letters listing the names and states of all the Senators. The only method of keeping track of who voted for or against the extension was by using a fingernail to make surreptitious indentations on the card. I envisioned past generations of Senators’ wives aching to reach into their bulging handbags for idle knitting needles.

Extending the deadline for ratification passed that historic day, but due to Schlafly’s continuing organizing efforts the ERA failed to gain the needed three states. We worked so hard to get 3 more states to sign on to 35 that had already ratified the amendment to reach the 38 required to equal 3/4ths of all the states.

Throughout the mid-seventies and early eighties, wherever I was invited to speak — forums, radio, TV, local chapters of the League of Women Voters, BPW, AAUW and many NOW chapters, as well as at the NOW state conferences of Michigan and South Carolina — I was often confronted by members of the Eagle Forum, a national organization Schlafly founded in 1972 that continues today. (I also had the privilege of delivering the opening welcome to Gloria Steinem at the Illinois NOW state conference, held in the neighboring lake country of Wisconsin because of the national boycott of unratified states, which included Illinois.)

But I learned much from all those anti-ERA confrontations and challenges. In March 1978, opposition from Schlafly’s Eagle Forum empowered me to reserve the large City Hall Council Chambers in Brookfield, the suburb of Milwaukee where I lived at the time, and invite the head of Wisconsin’s Eagle Forum to debate me on the ERA. She accepted, along with two other officers of Schlafly’s group. For our side I’d gotten Judy Goldsmith, my predecessor as Wisconsin NOW State Coordinator, and Virginia Finn, a prominent Milwaukee Catholic and strong ERA advocate.

[photo of pro-ERA debators, March 1978]

For moderater I invited Bunny Raasch of WITI-TV, Milwaukee’s first female news anchor.

[photo of Chris introducing Bunny Raasch, March 1978]

Incidentally, in 1972-73 before women were hired by the networks as more than secretaries, I took part in picketing a major TV affiliate in Syracuse, NY, that refused to hire women as on-air broadcasters. The same for Sears in Syracuse, part of a nationwide NOW effort to get Sears to promote women to the higher-paying sales items, such as appliances.

Our public ERA Debate was so popular and heartwarming, drawing an overflow audience of all ages that perched on window sills and tables and stood in the aisles, that I organized a second debate for the same City Hall location later the same year, in October 1978, this time on a woman’s right to choose legal abortion. (As for my own illegal abortion in 1969, that’s another story entirely, willingly shared when requested.)

[photo: Chris with Betty Friedan and Gene Boyer, founders of NOW; 1981]

Shortly after the start of that second public debate, an opponent snuck out, I later learned, went to a nearby church, and returned with a group of pro-birth advocates, who rushed to fill the few remaining spaces in the audience. Every time a point was made, supporters for the respective side shouted approval. Despite the infusion of latecomers, shouts from our side came from the voices of the majority present.

That same year the Milwaukee’s Young Lawyer’s Association invited me to debate State Senator Monroe Swan, an outspoken ERA opponent, on live TV. The highlight moment occurred in response to Swan’s repeated denial of Congressional testimony. So I took the phone-book–sized Congressional Record from my lap, said “Here’s where it was said,” and dropped it loudly on the table between us. The studio audience roared.

I recall that after some other televised event, as the audience of pro and anti-ERA advocates filed from the studio to the lobby, a young white male wearing an ERA t-shirt, began asking around for a ride home. One Eagle Forum member called out that she’d give him a ride: she’d tie him to her car and let him run.

My other vivid memory of the lack of humanity demonstrated by members of the Eagle Forum took place one of the many times I led a group of ERA proponents to support our efforts in Illinois. Over the course of 10 years of volunteer work in the 70s and 80s, I had spent much time in Chicago registering voters, sometimes working alongside Molly Yard, especially in preparation for the initial candidacy of Carol Moseley-Braun, the first and to date only female US Senator from Illinois, the only female African-American Senator, and the first woman to defeat an incumbent US Senator in an election [source: Wikipedia]. At least twice I demonstrated in the Illinois state capital, Springfield, once with Sonja Johnson.

[photo: national pro-ERA march on Springfield, IL]

Early one morning in Springfield, our large, multi-state delegation, climbed several flights of marble stairs to the topmost visitors gallery to wait for the opening of the Illinois State Legislature. Having spent the night at the homes of Illinois NOW members, we were among the earliest arrivals. We waited in an orderly line on the winding staircase, each wide step packed by several of us crowded together. When the hour struck and the doors opened, a horde of bodies suddenly raced past us to grab the best seats in the gallery. Their ambush slammed dozens of us aside and knocked most of us into each other and the adjacent wall.

In the late 70s, I was twice elected from the Great Lakes Region to the National Nominating Committee. Ellie Smeal sent me to do field organizing in South Carolina and Indiana, and in 1978 Judy Goldsmith appointed me Coordinator of the Ratified Great Lakes States to work for Illinois’ ratification, one of the three additional states still needed for ratification. To fill Judy’s vacancy on the National NOW Board when she stepped up to its presidency, my name was proposed, though I knew nothing of this until later. Apparently I’d won the majority of votes but missed the needed plurality by one. After many tries at revoting, the state reps proposed breaking their deadlock by drawing straws. I lost when my state rep drew the short straw.

“321 NOW” was our popular ERA chant, and I had set up Wisconsin NOW's official postal box as 321 in Elm Grove, a small enough Wisconsin community near my home in neighboring Brookfield to have an assortment of box numbers available to choose from. And for many years in the 70s and 80s, my car sported the license plate ERA NOW.

[photo: "321 NOW" license plate, 1978-86]

We never did get three more states to ratify the ERA. The night before the final vote, despite firm assurances by many specific legislators across the country that they were with us, Schlafly and her ERA opponents nevertheless persuaded enough of the legislators to betray their word at the last moment. First proposed in 1923 by Alice Paul, the ERA has been reintroduced in every session of Congress since 1982. A bill is currently alive to remove the ratification deadline ex post facto and make the ERA part of the Constitution as soon as the required three more states ratify.

Maybe times have changed? Maybe there are enough supporters in only three states among the 15 unratified: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Utah, and — surely Virginia. What do you think? Join me in getting re-involved. www.equalrightsamendment.org


Chris Roerden has been a book editor for 50+ years, is the mother of 2 feminist sons and grandma of 3 grandsons, and has been a community volunteer since 1964. She has ghostwritten 5 nonfiction books and authored 6, including On To The Second Decade: NOW 10th Conference Anniversary (the 1977 commemorative and accompanying poster) and two national award-winners for writers, Don’t Murder Your Mystery and Don’t Sabotage Your Submission. In addition she developed 2 feminist games, notably Oops’n’Options written as a NOW fundraiser, reviewed in Ms magazine, and purchased by a number of women’s support centers in at least 3 countries and by the US military for officer training at Rickenbacker AFB. The military had been motivated to acquire the game because of the high cost of having to settle so many sexual harassment suits. The Air Force officer and NOW member who led Rickenbacker's officer training said the officers "really got into the game" because, with its 128 playing cards each describing a situation faced by a woman or a girl, these highly competitive men had to do a great deal of hard, strategic thinking to win.


Voice Lessons

©2014 by Chris Roerden

Here are my suggestions for developing your writer’s voice. Entirely optional, of course, as is any comment from any editor—unless a contract hangs on your compliance. (But that’s a separate decision-making process I hope comes your way.)

The longer you’re in this crazy business called publishing, the more you’ll run into the phenomenon of Conflicting Editorial Advice. Don’t let contradictory feedback from others get to you. Editors mean well; our opinions are the result of long experience in observing what appears to work best.

Writing is an art, not a science. Ultimately, you are The Decider—of what makes the most sense to you after you try each suggestion, and of how to get the results you discover are most effective in the context of your own story.

  1.    Begin by finishing the draft manuscript you’ll use for practicing voice. Go ahead and use clichés, repetitions, misspellings, and whatever else comes quickly to mind so you simply get it all down and keep moving ahead. Finishing a first draft, and being able to write “The End,” is excellent practice in itself.

  2.    Then put the whole thing in a desk drawer for a week or more while you write something else, thereby making the ms seem fresher when you become ready to revise it—like cleansing your palate during wine tasting.

  3.    One way of revising is to start on p 1 and work through to the end, cleaning up whatever you spot as you go. Another method is to focus on only one major element at a time, such as plot, then continuing to return to the start again and again to track only one character at a time all the way through. Whenever you get sick of reading your ms one more time, you might start at the final scene and work forward. Or give the whole thing another rest in the desk drawer for another week.

  4.    After repeated revising, inevitably you’ll decide to pack off your ms to an agent or editor. (Note that however many times you've revised it, whenever we receive a ms it’s still a "first draft.") So stop right there. Remind yourself of your intention to use this ms to practice voice. So wherever you may have stopped in your process—in the middle of a revision cycle, after it or before—begin practicing voice with a scene you like.

  5.    Examine one sentence or paragraph at a time, trying various ways of rephrasing it so the words and images become more concise and precise.

  6.    For example, experiment with rearranging your compound and complex sentences and paragraphs, and transposing subordinate and dependent clauses, so you discover how your strongest images, words, or effects make their greatest impact at the more powerful endings:

              His eyes seemed to penetrate her soul as he looked at her. (Bleh, weak.)

              As he looked at her, his eyes seemed to penetrate her soul. (Better.)

              He looked into her eyes, seeming to penetrate her soul. (Even better.)

  7.    Replace nearly every occurrence of “just” with only, merely, simply…or nothing at all. Limit “just” to time concepts, such as: “He just arrived.” Place modifiers directly before the words they actually modify. Compare: “I only want to read good books” vs. “I want to read only good books.”

  8.    Get rid of all or most adverbs, and replace verbs with more specific, energetic choices.

  9.    Change walking, standing up, and sitting down to action beats (my Don't books Clue #17) to advance the plot or reveal a speaker’s character, attitude, or reactions.

10.    Kill clichés, repetition, redundancy, wordiness, finally, and suddenly. (See my Clues #14, 20, 21, 24, and reread either of my two Don’t books to learn what else to scrub—and why.)

11.     Next, search for specific habits that an editor might have pointed out to you or that you suspect need revisiting, such as the word “as.” Type those two letters into your search feature, click “whole word,” and skip past "as" when used in a comparison. Instead, look for issues of “false simultaneity”—two actions that are made to appear as if they occur at the same moment or for the same duration, but in reality do or could not. (Besides, “as” is a greatly overused construction that’s usually weak.) Let’s say you wrote: “As she walked along the beach she heard a voice.” Experiment with different phrasings, and choose what’s most effective in the context of the particular scene:

         She walked along the beach. She heard a voice.”  (Yuk, too choppy.)

         She walked along the beach and a voice shouted to her. (Better.)

         She walked along the beach. “Stop right there,” shouted a voice. (Even better.)

Practice is doing something often enough to implant a habit. Because “everyone writes,” every writer (including moi) is burdened by one or more old, ineffective habits that could be replaced—and, for more successful commercial publication, should be. Getting rid of old habits, especially replacing them with new, more effective skills, requires practice. (Not too different from practicing ballroom dancing or shooting hoops.) By searching during revision only for precisely the "right" word and for the single most effective phrasing, you’ll achieve stronger, more effective writing habits. You'll enable the best characteristics of your own unique voice to shine through.

By continually practicing rewriting you will continually develop your voice. Most authors agree that rewriting is where the real "art" of the writer takes place. Without continuing to rework your writing, Truman Capote might say about it (as he famously said of the work of beat poet Jack Kerouac), “That’s not writing, that’s typing.”

Because each revision you make is what you deliberately choose to make over all other alternatives, you could end up with the same phrasing you wrote initially. But if you don’t repeatedly practice making those revisions you’ll never know whether what you ultimately submit is really the best you can do—or, equally as valuable, what ineffective writing you might have previously accepted as "good enough." I don’t suggest you strive to become a perfectionist, but what Antoine de Saint Exupéry said is nevertheless true: that “perfection is achieved not when there’s nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”

Voice is not found in what you add. Your own unique voice has always existed; it's merely smothered by poor ineffective habits. Which we all begin with. Eventually your voice will develop by continuing to practice revising. In the process of experimenting as I describe above, you will also sharpen your sense of hearing.

How does the ability to hear voice develop? Through the most basic, essential practice of all: by a lifetime of reading. Read widely. Read in your genre, read out of it. Read what’s good, read what’s trash. Read your favorite authors again and again to see how they create the effects that make them your favorites. And read your own writing aloud, in a closed room and into a tape recorder, taking notes while playing back your words. The only way to build your own sense of what voice “sounds like” is by reading as much as possible from the earliest age possible, until you instinctively recoil from awkward phrasing, odd rhythms, and repetitions—developing instead a taste for the sound of a unique, fresh, original voice.

The most common words offered with rejected manuscripts—when agents and editors take the time to write any comment on the 95+ percent of the manuscripts they reject—are: “We are looking for a fresh, new voice.” Few authors have well-developed fresh, new voices; most get there intentionally, through practice revising the unique voices each of us does start with.

Visit Chris Roerden’s website, www.writersinfo.info, to download free all of Part I of
Don’t Sabotage Your Submission (Benjamin Franklin Award for Literary Criticism) and its genre-specific edition Don’t Murder Your Mystery (Agatha Award for Best Nonfiction Book).

Helen McCloy/MWA Scholarship

Membership in Mystery Writers of America is not require.

A personal note about what follows:

If you ever intend to submit your writing for publication or to a competition of any kind, you may find the 26 Questions & Answers below enlightening. If you've no patience for reading all the Q&As, at least scroll down to what's printed in purple, because that information is relevant to ALL writers.

For 3 years I served as national chair of the committee that handled the competition described below; for an additional 4 years I served as a judge on this committee; plus I frequently judge other writing competitions. And as an editor for more than 50 years, I've received thousands of submissions of all kinds.

From time to time, I and others who receive submissions exchange our reactions and frequent dismay over the many items of common knowledge that hopeful writers do not know or fail to find out. Frankly, such exchanges are one way of venting our own frustrations, since so much of that information is relatively easy to find by belonging to writers' organizations and participating in various list serves.

What's represented below reflects an all-too-common lack of awareness and resourcefulness that affects many otherwise talented writers. I would really like to eliminate as much of that lack as possible so talent will not have such a difficult time getting the attention it deserves. One of many ways to develop as a writer is to enter all the free no-fee competitions you can.

First, here's what the Helen McCloy/MWA competition offers:

Each year, two mystery writers receive up to $500 each to use toward the tuition and registration fees for a course, workshop, or program that involves actual writing and feedback.

What follows are some of the previous FAQs, but for each year's official application form, latest FAQs, and complete instructions, please visit Mystery Writers of America:

about the annual Helen McCloy/MWA Scholarship to help applicants better understand their role in the process

1. Q.  "Did you receive my scholarship application? I mailed it 2 months ago."

A.  Yes, we did receive it, and the same week we emailed a confirmation to the email address written on your application form. Now I can see why you wouldn't have received your confirmation. The email address we sent it to, compared with the address on the inquiry you just emailed to us, is off by one letter. I recall that two people in my office, in addition to me, had struggled to decipher the hand-printed edress on your application form.

Contact information for submissions of any kind must be unambiguous, which is why the scholarship application says: "PLEASE TYPE OR CLEARLY PRINT ALL INFORMATION." Hand-printed edresses are more challenging to decipher than anything else. A wrong guess doesn't always trigger an undelivered notice, so we won't necessarily know when a confirmation fails to reach its destination.

(1) Go to MWA's home page, http://mysterywriters.org.

(2) In the menu bar click About MWA.

(3) Click the link for the Helen McCloy/MWA Scholarship.

(4) Once you're on the scholarship page click: "download application here."

(5) If that final link doesn't work for you, let us know and we'll see that you receive the form. However, if you can download it yourself from the MWA website you're more likely to receive it sooner.

2. Q.  "Hello, anybody there? I emailed you two days ago and need your reply right away!"

A.  Sorry we couldn't get to your email before this. The mailbox that receives scholarship mail (see mysterywriters.org) is checked every day in January and February, but more likely every week in March and April, and every few weeks the rest of the year. From May through September in particular there's no specific schedule, because that's when the one member of the scholarship committee who checks the mailbox year-round is most likely on her or his own book tour or attending one of the many national mystery conventions.

You see, only published authors in the mystery field comprise the scholarship committee, and all are volunteers. Also, during those months, the need by scholarship applicants for information is rarely urgent, and can almost always be found by reading these FAQs as well as the instructions and application form at http://mysterywriters.org

However, should a recent scholarship recipient need a reply that's not immediately forthcoming by emailing us, contact info is posted on http://mysterywriters.org.

3. Q.  "My submission was returned by the post office as address unknown. I'd mailed it to the address in Minnesota shown on the application form."

A.  If you mailed your materials to, for example, a Minnesota address or a North Carolina address, you used a former year's application form. Our mailing address changes every year or so depending on which MWA author chairs that year's scholarship program.

4. Q.  "When does the next scholarship open for applications?"

A.  For each scholarship year, the application form is posted on MWA's official website, http://mysterywriters.org several months in advance of the submission deadline, which is always the last date in February.

5. Q.  "How firm is the deadline of February 28?"

A.  The deadline and all other requirements are the same for all applicants. Submissions are eligible if they are postmarked the last day in February. But it's risky to wait until close to the deadline, especially if you don't already have in hand all the materials asked for.

You won't want to jeopardize your eligibility by missing the February 28 deadline or by submitting an incomplete set of required materials. Start early, and set your own deadlines.

6. Q.  "I'm mailing this to your P. O. Box because this is my second attempt to get an answer to my question about the scholarship. I realize you must be very busy at this time of year with so many applications arriving, but if you could reply to my question as soon as possible I'd really appreciate it."

A.  Sorry that your original email went unanswered. I just checked our spam folder, and I see that an email from a similar name as yours had been diverted to spam. For any email sent from or to individuals who won't recognize your name, always place words in the subject line that are unmistakably relevant. In the case of email sent about the scholarship, please put the words "MWA scholarship," "McCloy scholarship," or even "scholarship" in the subject line—not "I have a question" or "Greetings."

Also, write your question in the body of the email. We don't open attachments from senders we don't recognize, and you'll find that agents and editors won't do so either—not until a relationship is established and an attachment has been requested of you.

7. Q.  "Can I submit writing samples from a manuscript that I submitted to two agents and a publisher, none of whom I've heard back from yet?"

A.  There's no prohibition in the scholarship program about submitting work that's still out at agents or publishers.

8. Q.  "Do you have to be a writing major to apply?"

A.  Students need not have a declared creative writing major or minor to be eligible for a scholarship.

9. Q.  "The application form asks for the name of the writing course I'm going to take. I won't know that until I get to college. Can I put down that it will be a course in writing at the college I'm planning to attend?"

A.  No. The application form requires that you select a specific educational institution and a specific writing program, course, class, seminar, or workshop, including the specific dates involved. The official description we ask for is the description or listing from the course catalog, community education bulletin, or whatever printed description is provided by the educational institution.

Eligible applications also include the name, mailing address, and telephone number of the course provider to whom the scholarship check and a copy of the award letter should be sent. Applications that lack specific information are declared ineligible and are not included among those made available to all the judges.

10. Q.  "Do the writing classes I want to enroll in have to be in mystery writing?"

A.  No. Although your writing sample and essay must demonstrate your mystery writing interests and abilities, you will most likely be able to apply the skills you learn from a generic writing class to your mystery writing. If, for example, your scholarship submission is a mystery screenplay, a screenwriting course is most likely to advance your ability to write more effective mystery screenplays.

However, any writing you work on to fulfill class assignments during the scholarship period must be in the mystery field.

11. Q.  "I've graduated from high school but I'm not planning to attend college, at least not right away. Would a non-college writing course be eligible as a scholarship choice?

A.  The educational institution need not be a college or other post-secondary school; it can be a community-based arts organization, weekend mystery writing workshop or series of workshops, a summer writing session at the local community college, a playwriting seminar offered at your local community theater, or a writer's retreat that incorporates learning.

Programs advancing a talented mystery writer's abilities are the kinds of programs that the scholarship is intended to support.

12. Q.  "Are there any costs involved in applying for a scholarship?"

A.  There are no application fees whatsoever. The only out-of-pocket costs to you are for printing or photocopying five copies of your writing sample and essay, and the postage for shipping everything to the correct address. All this can form a rather bulky package so plan ahead. Don't pay for unnecessary overnight shipping, because it's the postmark that must not be later than February 28.

13. Q.  "Will you let me know that everything arrives okay and on time? Should I include a self-addressed stamped envelope?"

A.  Not necessary to enclose a SASE because we use email to confirm the arrival of every package. Be certain the email address on your application is legible, and use the checklist on your application form to verify that everything required is actually part of your submission. Send everything together, not in a series of separate parts, and use one sturdy envelope or box.

One year, a submission arrived in an envelope that had gotten torn in transit; fortunately, nothing had fallen out. Several other years other submissions had been placed loosely in much larger envelopes that the pages "sloshed" around inside and arrived wrinkled and bent; and although wrinkling did not affect their eligibility, that's probably not how those authors intended their work to appear. Judges (as well as agents and editors) are frequently surprised by the condition in which authors submit their work for evaluation!

Pages ship best if contained by one or two "manuscript-sized" rubber bands or a tightly wrapped plastic bag or envelope within an outer shipping container.

14. Q.  Is there anything I should know about your preferred formatting of my submission?

A.  Glad you asked, because here is what one of our judges wrote about one year's submissions: "The formatting on two of them was so bad, I cringed at trying to stay with the story, not to mention the writing. About the only positive I saw was a lack of misspelled words. It's shocking that people would enter a scholarship competitiion with such poorly formatted entries."

The Internet and several books for writers offer numerous articles and lists of do's & don't's for formatting and other mechanics, including the size of margins, the wording on a title page, the wording and page numbering that goes into the header for every subsequent page, and much more. As for the font, stick to one of the two classics: Times New Roman 12 point (which is preferred by most agents, editors, and contest judges because Times lets them speed-read), and Courier 12 point (which is preferred by most hands-on manuscript editors because Courier lets them read slowly, see each word and punctuation mark, and insert edits precisely where they belong).

Be sure each copy of your submission—ANY submission—is readable, and that every numbered page is there, since each copy goes to a different judge. Don't use an old, worn-out ink cartridge, and don't assume that your printer didn't misfeed the paper though it kept on printing.

Incidentally, the most frequently misused punctuation marks are the comma and the quotation marks for dialogue. If you read a great many mysteries and other works of fiction published in the USA, you'll catch on to the conventions for representing dialogue. The most reliable resource in book publishing for the use of commas and other punctuation is the Chicago Manual of Style. You can find the latest edition in your local library; also check the Internet.

15. Q.  The writing course I want to take costs $200 but the cost of my travel and accommodations is much higher. If I were to become a recipient of the scholarship, could I use any part of the $500 toward those expenses?

A.  Travel and accommodations are not eligible expenses. The scholarship may be used to offset only tuition and registration fees for the writing programs themselves. Applications must specify the name and address of the specific writing workshop, class, seminar, or other program to which scholarship funds would be applied, and must include a hard copy of the educational provider's supporting documentation—such as the official registration brochure (printed), or a series of printed screen captures that show costs, dates, location, and other details expected to be provided by established writing programs.

16. Q.  Who judges my writing?

A.  First, the chair of the scholarship committee reviews all submissions for completeness and compliance with the requirements stated on the Helen McCloy/MWA Scholarship Application form. This review determines the eligibility of both the candidate and the selected educational program. Then the writing samples, synopses (for novels), and essays written by the eligible candidates are forwarded to the committee's additional four judges. All five members of the scholarship committee are authors published in the mystery field whose publishers meet the standards of Mystery Writers of America.

The composition of the five-member committee is as diverse as possible, including men and women from different parts of the country who write in different subgenres for different audiences (adult and young adult, for example), and who are knowledgeable about the various forms of the mystery: fiction and nonfiction, as well as novel, short story, and script.

17. Q.  "Your application form requires that the three chapters from a novel also include a synopsis. How long should the synopsis be?"

A.  There is no word or page limit to the synopsis of a novel for the purpose of fulfilling the scholarship's application requirements. We're not looking for a detailed synopsis, only an idea of how you plan to carry out the story's general plot and themes, since the judges are seeing only the beginning of a complete work. One or two pages should be sufficient, and although these could be single-spaced, I'm sure you realize that it's easier on the eyes of our judges if your synopsis is at least 1.5 lines.

If you were sending a synopsis to a literary agent or editor, you'd of course want to follow the guidelines of each individual recipient, which are usually posted on their individual web sites.

18. Q.  "Should the fiction writing samples be in the style of a traditional mystery, or can they cross genres, such as a paranormal mystery?"

A.  There are no requirements about a mystery's subgenre. Your writing sample may be that of a thriller, whodunit, police procedural, private eye, true crime, romantic suspense, psychological, paranormal, literary, traditional, or any other kind of mystery. Some stories are hard to classify. Write the best story you can, and if your writing is good that will show through, and we probably won't care about how to pigeonhole your work.

19. Q.  "As an aspiring mystery writer, I would like to know if the Helen McCloy/MWA Scholarship may be applied to fees for attending Bouchercon and Malice Domestic."

A.  No. The sholarship is applicable only to writing programs in which the recipient's participation furthers the development of his or her mystery writing, not its marketing. Bouchercon, Malice Domestic, and several other national mystery conventions are designed for mystery fans to see and hear published mystery writers discuss their books, and for published mystery writers to gain greater exposure for their writing among readers of mysteries.

These annual conventions are also excellent ways for writers, both published and not-yet-published, to network with others and learn of writing resources and avenues for marketing. But a "fan" convention is not a writing program. In fact, some readers' conventions have specifically asked panelists who also teach writing to not propose panels on writing topics. You will learn many things by attending one or more of these mystery conventions, but they are not eligible as writing programs for the purposes of the Helen McCloy/MWA Scholarship.

20. Q.  "I'm writing a mystery that takes place in a foreign country. Could the scholarship be used for a course in that country's language? You see, I don't speak the language, yet much of the source material I've found has not been translated into English."

A.  The scholarship funds are for writing programs only, so a language course, even though it could help you with your writing, would not be an appropriate use of scholarship funds. Sorry.

21. Q.  "I'm a teacher of writing and I'm curious to know the kinds of disqualifiers you see in the scholarship submissions you receive."

A.  Here's what a former chair of the scholarship committee wrote in 2006, and I have to agree that many of the same problems disqualify entries in recent competitions, too:

       Potential applicants are urged to read the application instructions carefully; these are posted on the Mystery Writers of America website, http://mysterywriters.org. Some applications are disqualified nearly every year for one or more of the following reasons:

       (1) Writing samples submitted were not mystery related;

       (2) Incomplete applications were missing such items as the mystery writing sample, or the essay, or the synopsis, or the printed descriptios of the specific writing program for which the scholarship was to be usede;

       (3) The program for which the scholarship was to be used was not related or applicable to the writing of mystery fiction, nonfiction, screenwriting, or mystery playwriting.

22. Q.  "If some of my short stories are longer than average should I still send three, or can I send only one or two?"

A.  We do not have a length requirement for short stories submitted with the scholarship application. In general, short stories tend to run between 4,000 to 6,000 words. For applicants writing in that form, because the application requirements specify three short stories, that's what is required, no matter their length.

23, Q.  "I'm a high school senior whose teachers say that I write very well. Can I apply for the scholarship you offer?"

A.  You can and may apply; however, by waiting another year or two your choice of writing program will become clearer and your writing experience will develop. Because the scholarship program is intended for serious aspiring mystery writers, most applicants tend to be college students and adult learners. Entries are judged on the effectiveness of many elements, from character and plot to the techniques and conventions of mystery writing—and everything in between.

24. Q.  "Dear Mystery writers company, I would like to know if the contest is open for high [sic] students who are inexperienced with mystery writing? I write stories from my own knowledge indepndently [sic]. Do I need to be enrolled in any special class to enter? All I have ever taken throughout school were regular english [sic] courses. Thanks foryour feedback."

A.  About your being inexperienced in mystery writing, realize that your entry will be judged not only on your writing ability but also on your mystery writing ability. Published writers agree that the most effective way to learn to write in the mystery genre is to read mysteries. Read once to find out "whodunit" and why; then read the most compelling of those mysteries a second time to analyze how each author achieves his or her effect. Reading is key to writing—as well as to entering contests focused on particular genres.

You do not need to be currently enrolled in any special class to be eligible to enter, and high school electives taken in the past are also not eligible for scholarship funding. Applicants must plan to take a specific writing class, writing workshop, or writing seminar outside the home. If you are still in high school, you should be signing up to take a course at—for example—an educational institution such as a university or college, community-based arts organization, weekend mystery writing workshop, summer writing workshop at the local community college, or playwriting seminar offered at your local community theater. Some programs that incorporate learning, such as a writer's retreat, often have their own eligibility requirements.

25. Q.  "It states on the application which type of program to which the scholarship would be applied. I do not understand what exactally that means. Can you please clear that up for me, Thank you very much for your time."

A.  The question on the application form that asks for the "type of course/workshop/seminar to which the scholarship would be applied" is followed by three choices, each with a box that you can check for the answer that comes closest to your individual plan of study. These choices are:

         [  ]  College/University-Level Writing Class

         [  ]  Writing Workshop/Seminar/Program

         [  ]  Other (please explain) ________________________

       Following these three categories, the application also asks for the title of the class/workshop/program, dates, and other specifics.

26. Q.  "The info on the website says that this award can be used to offset fees for writing programs and such. What if I will not be participating in writing workshops and seminars but just need money for school? Can I still apply?"

A.  Please read, very carefully, both the application form and the instructions posted for the Helen McCloy/MWA Scholarship Program on http://mysterywriters.org, especially the stated purpose of the scholarship. Also, please reread the above "Frequently Asked Questions" for guidance.