When I first started writing The Assassin, I was sure that it would ultimately become the title of the book. It was short, catchy and told potential readers what the book was about. Yes, I know there are several other books out that have the same title. Copyright issues aside, I liked the title and hence those two words became the preliminary or working title.

But, like anything else in the writing biz, it is subject to editing. That’s why I often use the adjectives preliminary or working to describe the title. And now, with the book’s first draft all but finished, I began thinking about the title at odd moments. My brain focused on three options.

The Assassin. This is what I started with and believe it is a good title but it has its challenges and competitors, not the least of which is Clive Cussler’s book called The Assassin. The Retired Assassin. This is really what the book is about. Janet Pulaski has changed her name to Janis Goodrich and is now wealthy, but comes out of retirement. Researching it on Amazon, there’s no book out there with this title. There are lots of books with the word ‘assassin’ in them, but none with just the words ‘the retired assassin.’ Hmmm, not bad and not used.

The Red Star of Death. This is the translation of the moniker la estrella de la muerte (the red star of death) Janet earned during the book Forgotten. For the past twenty years, nobody knew who or where Janet was which is the way she wanted it. It is an interesting title and again, not used.

Do I think the title should change? Not sure. So, what do you think?

Please let me know by going to this link on my web site http://marcliebman.com/author/contact/ and dropping me an email. I’d love to get your input. Thanx.


This is a quick status report as to where I am in the first draft. As of the moment this blog appears, I’ve written about 99,000 words divided into 22 chapters. The number of chapters may go up and I may add an epilogue and a glossary. Don’t know yet.

For the record, the font I use is 12 point Bookman Old Style font. It takes up more space than Times or Times Roman, but it is easier for my old eyes to read. The manuscript is spaced with 1.5 spaces per line, so as of the moment, the book is 333 pages long.

My guess is that it will ultimately be about 115,000 – 120,000 words long and about 450 - 460 pages. Right now, that's an educated guess.

Normally, when I go back an edit it the first time, the number of words expands about five or ten percent because I find passages that need to be added or fleshed out in more detail. Then, I go back and start trimming. Sometimes the number of words comes down, other times it increases.

Some people will tell you that the ideal manuscript should be 80,000 – 100,000 words long. I find that to be nonsense. Here’s the rough length of my five published works: • Cherubs 2 – 115,000

• Big Mother 40 – 127,000 – it was an Amazon best seller and was rated as one of the top 100 war novels.

• Render Harmless – 174,000

• Forgotten – 194,000 – won three national awards

• Inner Look – 149,000 – won one national award

Now you know why I am not worried about the length or the number of pages or the chapters. It will be what it will be. As long as the story is well told, nothing else matters. More on this when I finish.


As I noted in a recent blog, I was struggling with the manuscript. It wasn’t coming together and intuitively I knew something was wrong. I just didn’t know what.

Some might call it a writer block. I call it being brain dead and thought I was mentally tired from the effort to write the first draft. While it may not be physically tiring, writing/researching an initial draft of a novel is an adrenalin filled evolution and it is mentally taxing.

The break, if you want to call it, was over three days encompassing a weekend. I didn’t walk completely away, but didn’t write a word in the book. Instead, at private moments I talked to several of the characters. No, I am not crazy and you don’t have to send for the guys in white who have the jacket that zips in the back. What I was doing is trying to see what was happening through their eyes.

My original ideas for the events conflicted with what the characters were thinking and wanting to do. So, since as the writer, I have a bird’s eye view of the plot and intimately know the characters see, changes were needed.

Some of my original ideas wound up being deleted. New ones were created. Some still weren’t good enough. Others survived. What evolved after all the cut and pasting of the bullets that ‘outlined’ what would happen by each passage was a major change in direction of the story line. It wasn’t a reversal, but a course correction. Think in terms of a 30 to 45 degree heading change rather than a ninety-degree or even greater turn.

The next step was starting to write the passages. The first two I wrote worked, but it led to adding a more passages and fleshing out a few more Eventually, I think I got it right, but am not sure because I am not finished with the book. I still have to resolve what will happen with two or three of the characters. That, should come, as I write the last few chapters.

Net net, am back at it.


There’s a big difference between the plot’s timeline and the sequence of passages. In my last blog, I wrote about some of the problems I’m having with the direction the plot is going. I was stuck and had to work my way out of the jam.

Besides not having the right (write?) action scenes and events, the timeline was out-of-whack and not in the right order. The timeline is the calendar flow of the plot. In others, what happens on what date and where. On some days in the stories, events happen almost simultaneously. Other times, there are several days in between each passage. To keep the events in order, everything is sequenced by time zone.

For example, if there are three scenes on the same day with one in Tel Aviv, a second in Berlin and the third in Washington DC, they have to follow the time zones. In other words, Tel Aviv is one hour ahead of Berlin and seven ahead of D.C. So, the time scene happens also has to reflect the relationship to the other time zones. For example, you can’t have the Berlin passage at 1300 before one taking place in Tel Aviv at 1130 because 1300 in Berlin is 1400 in Tel Aviv.

It sounds like a minor point but it isn’t. The tyranny of time zones forces one to rethink the sequence or change the time it occurs or move it scene to a different place in the book.

Sequence is the order in which the scenes take place within the timeline. Sounds simple, but it is not. What I find as I write is that some scenes are out of order when they are originally written. Sometimes I don’t realize it until a few pages or even chapters later when it dawns on me that they are out of order. This is one of the reasons that I had to stop writing The Assassin. Way to much was out of sequence and it had to be fixed before I continued creating the manuscript.

Well, why don’t I use flashbacks? Good question. My experience is that they are hard to write and often confuse the reader. Now you know why I pay close attention to the timeline and to the sequencing of the passages.

The Assassin takes place almost entirely in 2002. In fact, the majority of the book is between March and October, or seven months. The tightness of the timeline forces me to have the events in the right sequence. Doing so, adds to the pace of the book and creates drama unto its own.


I just finished writing a fight in which Janet takes on a man almost twice her size. The scene starts with Janet awakening from being drugged and held in a metal framed chair by a belt and her hands tied together in somewhat amateurish fashion. There are two men in the room, one in a white lab coat that suggests he is a doctor or a medical technician of some sort. She recognizes the other man as the bodyguard of an arms dealer she’s been sent to kill.

So, then what happens? How does it get started? To write the fight scene, I had to script the sequence in Janet’s mind. First, she had to come up with a plan that starts with getting her hands free. Second, she has to neutralize the bodyguard’s advantage because she assumes, rightly so, that he has a pistol. Third, she doesn’t want to take on two men at once.

That’s the outline of the passage. Now I have to write it from Janet’s perspective. This is kill or be killed, or fail to kill and be tortured. As the words flowed, I was getting excited. Several times, after a few sentences, I had to stop and pantomime the moves Janet made, the other men’s counters so that they were realistic. If you were watching, as my dogs do – they’re very astute observers of their human’s behavior – you’d have seen this septuagenarian walking through martial arts moves. Once I had it visualized, I could write the moves. Then, I went back and added the sensory part, what Janet sees, what she sees and hears, what the other two men do.

To write what probably amounts to about 750 words took well over an hour and when I was done, I was tired. It was almost as if I was in the fight. I took a dinner break to get away from the keyboard and then, I went back to work, with a clear mind, energy from food and added in the other stuff that fleshed out the fight. It was/is mentally draining and borders on the physical, but well worth it. It is what keeps you turning the pages.