What I Learned By Reading Novels By: Phillip Margolin

Issue #5 * Blog #2-2015 * Read Time: 5 minutes * Section: Author Joseph Clay’s Writing Tips

I had never heard of Phillip Margolin, when I pick up Woman with a Gun from the Inglewood branch library. After reading and reviewing Woman with a Gun I checked out another Margolin book titled Sleight of Hand.

Phillip Margolin is becoming my favorite author, his work is outstanding. With each book I read not only do I get a great story that I can lose myself in, I learn something about the craft of writing. Woman with a Gun and Sleight of Hand are both fine examples of cover art, writing technique and naming characters.

Cover Art:

As stated above I had never heard of Phillip Margolin before I stepped into the library. So what made me pick up Woman with a Gun instead of one of the other thousand books at my disposal.

The cover, that’s right, the cover art.

Cover Art is Important: Since the first thing a potential reader sees is the book cover make it unique and eye-catching while looking professional.. The art work should reflect the story inside the book. I suggest using a graphic designer to accomplish the above

Don’t be afraid to make suggestion to the graphic designer, work with them to achieve a cover you are happy with. After all it’s your book.

Never use a plan cover or a cookie cutter template cover. Here is why.

Your web site is the only place that markets your books with no competition. Book stores, libraries, and e-book retailers, carries everyone’s work. Your published book will be tossed among hundreds if not thousands of others.

The cover art makes the first impression and we know what they say about first impressions. In my opinion Phillip Margolin does this better than anyone else.


Look at Phillip Margolin’s covers. In a way they are simple, Woman with a Gun has  a red background with white lettering. That background frames a single black and white image. That image, a woman, back to the camera, staring out at the ocean with a gun behind her back.


Sleight of Hand‘s cover is a little more complex but is simple in its own way. The background is black with white and red lettering framing four aces. Instead of the Aces having clubs and spades, diamonds and hearts they contain the images of keys and justice scales, knife and scepter. The front Ace is blood splattered.

Both covers convey clues and messages of what the tale is about.

Writing Technique:

Back Story: Woman with a Gun has a lot of it. Part One, Woman with a Gun, takes place in 2015 with Chapter One. Next Mr. Margolin takes us back to 2005 in Part Two, ‘The Cahill Case’ begins in Chapter Two.

Part Two leads to Part Three, ‘The Kilbride Case’, the year 2000, and begins Chapter Seven. Mr. Margolin uses Part Four, ‘The Cahill Case’ to bring us back to 2005 beginning in Chapter Fourteen.

Part Five, ‘Palisades Heights’ brings us back to 2015 starting with Chapter Twenty Eight. Chapter Thirty Six opens Part Six, ‘The Smoking Gun’, still in the year 2015 which takes us to the end of the book in Chapter Fifty.

Why did I bring this up?

Well that’s over twenty-five chapters of back story!

From the books I’ve read, classes I’ve taken, and editors who have bled on my work, that’s a no-no, if you’re new.

Mr. Margolin taught me a way to bring the back story to life with action, character building, and events that tied to the main plot through sub plots. Also the way Margolin broke the book in to parts placing the back story in a new part with each time change. Parts are new me, but I see how they can be useful if done correctly.

I found this technique to be pure genius on Margolin’s part.

Point of View/Line Break: Dana the private detective, in disguise, leaves the apartment of Tiffany Starr, a Person of Interest, after questioning her. Once the door closes, the point of view changes from Dana to Tiffany’s.

Philip Margolin didn’t begin a new chapter, add a paragraph heading or symbols to represent a line break.

Margolin used white space, it appeared to double spaced,  to tell the reader of the change. Margolin also does this when an amount of time has passed from one paragraph to the next.

This type of line break was new to me.

[Bloggers Note: If you use this technique you may want to inform the person formatting you book. Most of them look for spacing issues like extra spacing and remove it to make the e-Book and printed version look good. This happened to me so I have reverted back to *** for a line break.]

Thesaurus: Some authors will discover a new word and over kill it, using it every chance they get. Phillip Margolin used the word ‘seethe’ in Sleight of Hand.

‘Seethe’ – to boil or stew. He only used the word once, giving it impact when he did..

To come up with new words for a word you use a lot always have access to a Thesaurus. Never write without one as its difficult for a writer to make a book interesting when using the same words over and over.

Naming Characters: : Some people so the names you give your characters are not important.

I disagree and try to give my characters names that suit them. I don’t stereotype them but look at their occupation, family history and other aspects.

Tiffany Starr – By only seeing the name what occupation do you think Tiffany has. Think about it before you continue reading.

I believe a Joe should act like a Joe. If he is more sophisticated than a Joe I call him Joseph. To show what type of character he is he will inform anyone who shortens Joseph to Joe that he prefers to be called Joseph.

Now when you read Tiffany Starr above what occupation did you come up with.

Tiffany Starr is a stripper in the book. There’s something to say about a strong character name.

Thank you Phillip Margolin for two great suspense mysteries, and the opportunity to learn from your writing.

Want to read my reviews of Philip Margolin’s books.

Other blogs in this category:

I hope you picked up a few pointers from my blog on what I learned from Phillip Margolin.

NOTE: What I Learned By Reading Novels By: Phillip Margolin was original written and posted on February 6, 2015 to Author Joseph Clay’s Official Blog. The blog was transferred to this site on September 12, 2020.

Blogger: Joseph Clay

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