Tag Archives: editing

Sidetracked by Track Changes

Like Katie, I also turned in my final manuscript to my editor recently. But unlike Katie’s novel, my picture book manuscript has far fewer words. Like, almost a couple of orders of magnitude fewer. Including the back matter, my book will have about one thousand words. (And that’s considered L-O-N-G for a picture book these days.) So editing it should be a piece of cake, right? There are only a limited number of times you can read a thousand fairly simple words, right?

Nope. No cake. No limit.

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Even though my editor had relatively few comments (yay!), revising the manuscript took a lot longer than I anticipated. It was also much more interesting than I expected. From the first round of edits to the (hopefully) last, we were having a dialogue through Track Changes. Our comment-bubble conversation led me down side roads, some I had already traveled, most I had not.

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Side roads? Oh, yeah!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE NIAN MONSTER is a Chinese New Year story, a folktale retelling, a trickster tale, and a foodie story. It’s also set in Shanghai. One editorial comment, asking about whether the word “chef” would be used in China, took me down a historical path. I ended up writing a long-winded, horribly didactic, reply-comment-bubble about Shanghai’s history as an international port, the French Concession, and whatever other justification I could come up with. When my editor commented back, “Fascinating,” my inner geek did a little jig of joy. Or maybe just arched an eyebrow. (Note: I got to keep the word “chef.”)

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Addressing another comment sent me back to grammar school — Chinese vs. English grammar, that is. The comment was about using the word “the” in front of names of landmarks. We don’t say “the Times Square,” but is it appropriate to say “the People’s Square?” How do English-speakers in China refer to these places? I didn’t know how to respond to this. The little Chinese I know, I absorbed from listening to my parents and suffering through Sunday Chinese School. I knew when something sounded right in Chinese, but I could never explain why. It turns out that there is no equivalent of “the” in Chinese — it’s a language without a definite article. That answer allowed me to choose where to keep and where to delete the “the’s.”

the

Keep this one?

THE-UONWebsite-Homepage-TileFeature-246x143_02-1

Or this one?

the-copy-54773ed37044e362cda4eb8a261e079fb8c7d553-s6-c30

Or this one?

 

I did more research and thought harder about my story during the editing process than I had when writing it. None of the history or the grammar I learned will make it into the book. But I don’t regret any of it. More knowledge is never a waste, right? And I love that when I read the text, I see the fingerprints of my mentors, my critique partners, and now my editor. I hope that kids will come up with their own questions after reading the book. Or maybe even the same questions. I know they’re just dying to learn about the French Concession.

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I’ll have a cafe au lait, please!


Andrea Wang

Andrea Wang’s debut picture book, The Nian Monster, is a Chinese New Year folktale retelling set in modern-day Shanghai. The Nian Monster will be published by Albert Whitman & Co. in December 2016. She has also written seven nonfiction books for the educational market.

Andrea spent most of her first grade year reading under the teacher’s desk, barricaded by tall stacks of books. At home, she dragged books, chocolate chips, and the cat into her closet to read. Not much has changed since then, except now she reads and writes sitting in a comfy chair in a sunny room. With a lock on the door. Before embarking on the writer’s journey, Andrea was an environmental consultant, helping to clean up hazardous waste sites. She lives in a wooded suburb of Boston with her very understanding husband, two inspiring sons, and a plump dumpling of a rescue dog.

You can find Andrea online at http://www.andreaywang.com and on Twitter under @AndreaYWang.

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Filed under Editing and Revising, Editor, Picture books, Research, Uncategorized

Preparing to Leap

small__3965231381I’ve been working on my final edits for Book Scavenger. I began this novel over ten years ago, and I’ve always had the comfort of knowing whatever I put down on paper could be changed. Now I have about two weeks left of revising and fiddling, and then the version I send back to my editor will pretty much be the one that appears in stores. This is exciting and totally terrifying.

It’s terrifying because there’s no turning back now. There are nerves about sharing my writing with a wider audience. I hope people will like my book. I don’t want to disappoint friends and family who have supported me over the years. I want my editor and agent and critique partners to be proud of my book.

It’s exciting because I love my book. Over ten years ago, I set out to write a story I would have loved as a kid. I drew on some of my favorite things from childhood: Goonies; It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World; The Westing Game; The Egypt Game; From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler; Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. It took me drafts and drafts and drafts to get all the pieces of my story to work together in a way that finally represented the characters and world I held in my imagination. It’s not a perfect book–I doubt I will ever write something that I would consider perfect–but I love it nonetheless.

As I’m writing this, I’m realizing what I feel in this moment is similar to something I worry about as a mother: How will the world treat this piece of my heart that I love and have nurtured? Will people buy it, praise it, recommend it? Will they hate it, trash it, make fun of it? Will they ignore it?

The fate of my book will soon be out of my hands and literally in the hands of others. These last moments I have with Book Scavenger are me doing my best to prepare my baby for the big, wide world out there.

It helps that I recently saw the rough sketches for interior illustrations. Not only was this an incredibly happy, surreal moment, but it helped me detach from the book as “mine”. The incredible Sarah Watt‘s rendering of the characters is going to go hand-in-hand with a reader’s consumption of my words. When I think of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, I think of Quentin Blake’s illustrations. When I imagine Tara Dairman’s Gladys Gatsby, I picture Kelly Murphy’s drawings. When I picture Wilbur from Charlotte’s Web, I picture Garth Williams illustrations.

So this is all part of my process right now. Final edits, fact-checking, fussing with words, and preparing myself to let go, step back, and let Book Scavenger leap out of the nest.

 

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jenn.bertman-2002139Jennifer Chambliss Bertman is the author of the forthcoming middle-grade mystery, Book Scavenger (Christy Ottaviano Books/Henry Holt/Macmillan, 2015). Book Scavenger launches a contemporary mystery series that involves cipher-cracking, book-hunting, and a search for treasure through the streets of San Francisco. Jennifer earned her MFA in Creative Writing from Saint Mary’s College, Moraga, CA, and is represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette.

You can find Jennifer online at http://writerjenn.blogspot.com where she runs an interview series with children’s book authors and illustrators called “Creative Spaces.”

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Filed under Anxiety, Editing and Revising, Helpful or Otherwise, Uncategorized, Writing and Life

The Second Time Around

One of the pieces of advice I’ve heard most frequently from authors who have published multiple books is “Enjoy this time—you only debut once!”

penguin-logo

You’re official! Now please rewrite this piece-of-dreck manuscript.*
(*Not an exact quote.)

For about a year after I sold my first book, I kind of got where they were coming from…but there was definitely another part of me that thought “Yeah, right. Because it’s sooo enjoyable is it to be a clueless noob about absolutely every single step of the publishing process!”

I regularly felt like I was flailing around in those months. I had no idea when to expect my contract, my editorial letter, my advance check. The conferences that more experienced authors referred to with casual ease sounded like alphabet soup to me. And let’s not even mention the looming challenge of how to promote a book when you have no fan base yet and zero name recognition.

But today, four months before my debut, I think I finally understand what those old hand authors were talking about. It just took selling a second book for me to get it.

Now, I’m absolutely ecstatic that All Four Stars will have a sequel. And this time around, I definitely feel more at-ease about the whole editorial process, since I’ve already been through it once. For instance, after I turned the manuscript for book two in to my editor, I found that I wasn’t constantly refreshing my inbox like I did after turning in book one; I was actually able to appreciate and enjoy the enforced time away from that story while I waited for her edits.

But I also have to admit that the things that felt like big milestones for me with my first book just haven’t been as thrilling this second time around.

I took copious pictures of myself signing my first book contract, and my first check. I may have squealed a little with delight when I received my first editorial letter, if only because every page had that official-looking Penguin logo. But that wasn’t really because other authors had told me to “enjoy it”—it was because these were pieces of hard evidence that my long-held dream of becoming a published novelist was really coming true.

The second time around, though, I just signed my contract quickly, wanting to get it back in the mail so my payment could get processed. When that payment came, I deposited the check with no fanfare. And as happy as I was to get my editorial letter for book two a few weeks ago, this time I didn’t squeal over how official it looked. I’d already done this once, so I knew how much work was ahead of me—and that I really needed to get right down to it.

So, I guess I’m on the brink of becoming one of those authors who warbles the song of experience, warning the whippersnappers that they’d better enjoy every little moment of their debut process, or else. “Never again will paperwork feel so exciting to you!” I’ll preach.

But you know what? I’m okay with becoming that person. Where I used to feel clueless and anxious, I now feel confident and…well, not exactly mellow, but at least a little more chill than I used to be. Publishing may not feel like a thrill a minute anymore, but overall, I think that the trade-off will be worth it.

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Tara DairmanTara Dairman is a novelist, playwright, and recovering world traveler. All Four Starsher debut middle-grade novel about an 11-year-old who secretly becomes a New York restaurant critic, will be published on July 10, 2014 by Putnam/Penguin.

Find her online at taradairman.com, and on Twitter at @TaraDairman.

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Filed under Advice, Book Promotion, Celebrations, Editor, Helpful or Otherwise, Satisfaction, Writing and Life

Fling, Flang, Flung

Party hatAfter finishing a major round of revisions this past week, I wanted to celebrate by posting something profound, or inspirational, or at the very least something helpful to other writers. What I landed on is probably not any of those things, but it’s a topic that’s been stuck in my brain for days.

A line from Rebecca’s hilarious post on Thursday sums it up well:

“Not everyone knows what it is like to work for hours, agonizing over the subtleties of word choice. (Is it a secret meeting? A clandestine meeting? Does a stealthy meeting make sense?)”

Word choice. As writers, it’s our job to play with words, to throw them against the wall and see what sticks. It’s fun. Too much fun, maybe, because in addition to spending waaaay too much time wrestling with a single word or phrase, I get carried away with my own little writer quirks that I don’t even recognize until a) someone points them out or, b) they suddenly become glaringly obvious after I failed to notice them on fifty-three previous read-throughs.

My most common quirk, and luckily the easiest to fix, is adverb overkill (see paragraph above). I love Stephen King’s view on adverbs in the fabulous On Writing: “I believe the road to hell is paved with adverbs, and I will shout it from the rooftops.” He compares them to dandelions, and if you haven’t read this book or even if it’s been a while, I highly recommend…uh, I recommend it a lot. Mui mucho. Page 125 in particular.

OnwritingQuirk #2: Sentences where I like two adjectives equally well and can’t choose between them: “Joe felt worn and worried.” “Floyd’s briefcase looked scuffed and scratched.” Why use just one when you can double up for twice the impact? And yes, most of the offending phrases throw in some alliteration for extra kick. Sweet!

Quirk #3: Recurring verbs—oh, the verbs. I try to choose strong verbs, verbs with impact, until they turn into doorstops strewn across every other page. My favorite verb in this manuscript turned out to be fling. Well, flung, I guess, since it’s written in the past tense. Characters were flinging things all over the place. Objects were flung to the floor with reckless abandon. It was a flingin’, flangin’ train wreck. HOW DO I NOT SEE THIS STUFF UNTIL IT’S TOO LATE?

I could keep going. No shortage of quirks here. But as much as I like to torture myself, deep down I know that all writers have to face similar demons. That’s why we’re so grateful for editors and critique partners and understanding spouses. They help us spot the quirks so we can smooth them over. They allow us to view our work through a more objective lens. And they remind us not to stress so much. Yes, writing is hard work, but it really is supposed to be fun, too. Overwhelmingly, amazingly joyful and jubilant (she typed emphatically, flinging feisty fingers across her fragile keyboard).

Wishing you all a fine Monday honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

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May Arboretum 027Christine Hayes writes spooky stories for middle grade readers. Her debut novel, THE MOTHMAN’S CURSE, is due out spring 2015 by Roaring Brook Press/Macmillan. She is represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette of the Erin Murphy Literary Agency.

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Filed under Advice - Helpful or Otherwise, Anxiety, Celebrations, craft~writing, Creativity, Editing and Revising, Writing

The Numbers, or, How Writing a Book Is Like Giving Birth

Numbers 7/52

Before embarking on a second career as a writer, I was a software engineer. I majored in applied mathematics in college. Obviously, I enjoy using the analytical parts of my brain as much as the artistic ones. So now that both BE A CHANGEMAKER (my young-adult nonfiction) and MY DOG IS THE BEST (my fiction picture book) are in copyedits, I thought I’d reflect a little on some of the behind-the-scenes numbers involved in these 2 very different creative endeavors.

I knew when BE A CHANGEMAKER was acquired that it was going to be a lot of work in a short period of time: I’d sold it on proposal as a 20,000-word book that would take me 1 year to write, but they wanted at least 45,000 words in 5 months. I was open with the publisher that I wasn’t sure if I could do it (I’m a SLOW writer), but that I would give it my best shot. I dove in and started researching like crazy.

Almost immediately, life threw me a curveball, and I lost pretty much the first 2 months to an unexpected surgery, recovery, and ensuing complications. Things began to look pretty hopeless. Because of the time constraints, I was already drafting on the fly, sending it to the acquisitions editor, and incorporating her feedback as I went along. I became a much faster writer than I ever thought possible, but I still couldn’t quite get there in time. The editor and I strategized on what the highest priority pieces were and what could be left for later. TKWhen I submitted the “final” draft on the original deadline, the manuscript was a not-entirely-off-the-mark 42,200 words, but with 10 known holes left as TK, “to come” later. I continued working to fill in the TK pieces while the manuscript moved on to a full developmental edit round.

Since it had already been through 1 round of editing and the feedback I’d been getting was that it was in pretty good shape, I wasn’t expecting the developmental edit to be overly difficult, even though I had less than 2 weeks to do it. Wowzers, was I wrong! The marked up document I got back from the developmental editor (a different person) had 570 insertions, 414 deletions, and 339 comments, most of which were something along the lines of, “Can you please add x here?—where x was a quote, an exercise, an example, etc. They were excellent suggestions, and I knew I’d have a much better book to show for it if I could do them all! No TKBut try though I did, I still couldn’t get it all done in time: I just needed a few extra days. Luckily, the publisher was willing (bless her!). So, less than 3 weeks from receiving the revision letter, I returned a clean manuscript that was nearly 60,000 words, with 100% of the TKs removed and developmental edits accounted for. Phew!

During those weeks (and, to a lesser extent, the months that preceded them), I definitely questioned both my sanity and my career choice on more than one occasion. I told myself if I survived this experience, I would never, ever write another book like that one. Afterward, I walked around the house like a zombie for a few days, barely able to function, let alone dig out from under the piles of dirty laundry and unpaid bills that had accumulated. All of this couldn’t possibly be worth it, right?
Couch potating

Then a marvelous thing happened. Just like the pain of childbirth fades instantly when you hold your newborn child, I soon forgot the 10- to 12-hour days, the missed meals, the cramped EVERYTHING. The manuscript was accepted: I had done it! Unicorns and rainbows, kittens and puppies, walking on sunshine—that was me. I’d brought to life something that never would have existed without me, and I was on top of the world.
Unicorn

Then I moved on to completing the author questionnaire about who might like the book, review the book, use the book, etc., and THE BOOK started to become a real thing in my mind, a real thing that real people would really read! Recently, the publisher sent me the cover proofs… with my name on them! And now I’m thinking about blurbs and preliminary marketing ideas. I’ve got that floating-on-air feeling again, that hopeful exuberance that comes after an offer. Maybe, just maybe, someone out there will read my book someday and it will matter to them. What was I ever thinking? Of course it was worth it, every single minute! As Adora Svitak, one of the amazing teens I interviewed for the book, said, “It’s good to push yourself. When you really go all out for something… it’s the best feeling in the world.” She is absolutely right about that. I can hardly wait for my next opportunity to do it all over again!

On the opposite end of the spectrum, MY DOG IS THE BEST clocked in at 96 words, and I just found out it went straight to copyediting with zero revisions necessary. As you can probably guess, that feels pretty darn good, too!
smiley face stress ball


Laurie Ann ThompsonLaurie Ann Thompson’s debut young-adult nonfiction, BE A CHANGEMAKER: HOW TO START SOMETHING THAT MATTERS, will be published by Beyond Words/Simon Pulse in September, 2014. She also has two upcoming picture books: an as-yet-untitled biography with Schwartz & Wade/Penguin Random House and MY DOG IS THE BEST with Farrar, Straus, & Giroux/Macmillan. Please visit her website, follow her on Twitter, and like her Facebook page.

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Filed under Editing and Revising, Editor, Happiness, Writing and Life

The Gibbet Stays in the Picture

The writer/editor relationship is one of trust. We trust that when we allow ourselves to freefall into waiting editorial arms, the support and structure we need will be there. They trust that what comes barreling onto them out of the sky won’t be a load of bird poop.

Seagull

HERE COMES THAT NEW CHARACTER ARC YOU WANTED.

But there’s another kind of trust that must be part of the equation, and it might be a bit harder to come by.

As writers, we have to learn to take criticism. Criticism is like vegetables — you may not like it, but you have to eat it or your organs shrivel up. Or something. We fear what Rita Williams-Garcia calls the “Righteous Manuscript,” the prose so precious and perfect it can’t be exposed to the corrupting oxygen of real world feedback, and so molders in a drawer. We learn how to be in critique groups without fainting from the butthurt. We learn to adjust and adapt.

And it’s freeing to get rid of the risen hackles, to look back on our rebellious writer-youth and smile condescendingly.

maturity

Ah, maturity!

But we can also get too used to criticism, and sometimes, you just have to trust yourself.

I started out as a playwright. Plays are not like novels. Novels might get bounced off the critique group or the writing class or the bachelorette party along the way, but by the end of the process, they usually only have two brains looking at them and jiggling them around. Plays acquire brains as they go. It’s never very clear when they’re done or where they’re going or who changed that line and where are they so I can stab their eyes out.

The playwriting/producing process is great at making you examine your creative choices quickly and decisively. Plays are in your face. No hiding or ignoring the bits that make you cringe. Regret using the word “rhinoceroserian” in Act II? Too bad you have to hear an actor belt it out, a director tweak the emphasis, and someone’s busybody mom bitch about it every day for weeks. 

And remember all those brains you picked up along the way? Take the back and forth that happens between a writer and an editor, and throw like twenty other people into the mix. People who have their own vision of your play. People who decide what it looks and sounds like, people who worry about the logistics of set pieces and sight lines and whether Greg has enough time to change his pants before his next entrance. All those people need to be happily spinning cogs in order for The Greater Thing to function.

So playwriting also teaches you to choose your battles, and, in doing so, to trust yourself when it matters. A few years ago, my writing partner and I were commissioned to do a stage adaptation of Victor Hugo’s The Man Who Laughs, which is not actually as hilarious a novel as you’d think. The theater company had a respectable budget, but choices had to be made, and in the midst of the period costumes, hand-made puppets, visual effects, and pit orchestra, I had written a gibbet.

A gibbet that appears for all of two minutes. Maybe. At the beginning of a three-hour show. In the dark.

gibbet

Ta-DAA!

OK, so technically it was Victor Hugo who had written a gibbet. But he’d written 800 pages of The Man Who Laughs, and I had no qualms about axing a lot of it. (Srsly. We know the duchess’s bedroom has nice things in it. Stop describing them. Nobody cares.)

The thing is, even though this gibbet had less stage time than pretty much everything else in the show, I didn’t want it to be a victim of production penny-pinching. It was important. The main character, a child, is mutilated and abandoned in the middle of the night, left to trudge barefoot through the snow toward certain doom. The first vestige of humanity he finds is the gibbet, whose occupant’s tootsies are so decayed his shoes have slipped off and are lying on the ground below. And the main character is so terrified, he can’t bring himself to take the shoes, even though his own feet are frozen.

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Sorry, I know. I was waiting for a punchline, too. Um . . . they all die?

How important did I consider this visual element? Put it this way — a photo of me is literally the first Google image result for “the man who laughs gibbet.” Go ahead, I’ll wait.

RIGHT? Already looking haggard and jaded at 25. Anyway, I went to bat for the gibbet, it looked amazing, and it set the tone for the whole show.

So, yes, trust your editor. Be thoughtful. Be a grown-up writer who can look objectively at your bloodstained manuscripts.

But hang on to your gibbets.

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Filed under Advice, Editing and Revising, Happiness, Publishers and Editors, Satisfaction, Writing, Writing and Life

My 3-day Blind Date with my Editor

“A writer’s relationship with an editor is a sacred one.”

True words spoken by Kadir Nelson at the Texas Book Festival, 2011

My debut book, WE’VE GOT A JOB: THE 1963 BIRMINGHAM CHILDREN’S MARCH, was fortunate enough to attract interest from three publishers. Naively, I assumed I’d choose the highest bidder. Wisely, my agent suggested I talk to the acquiring editor at each house to get a sense of how we’d relate to each other during the revision process. Oh, I suddenly realized, editing JOB won’t be just a mechanical process of deleting commas and making verbs and subjects agree. We’d communicate about the substance of the book, share ideas, maybe disagree, negotiate. Yeah, I’d need to get along with that person.

Ultimately, I chose not only by bid but also by person. The others were very hard to turn down but when Kathy at Peachtree Publishers told me she’d been looking for a writer to tell the story I was proposing, I knew she was as committed to it as I was. But, could we commit to each other? I would learn soon, as Kathy’s bid included a trip to Atlanta, where Peachtree lives, and then a two-day research trip to Birmingham—together.

I was honored by Kathy’s support for the book. But, I also felt like the boy in the Dr. Seuss story who meets up with the green pants in the woods. Was she as scared of meeting me as I was of her?

You don’t have to break the ice with your editor the way we did. But, getting to know each other over a bottle of wine on my son-in-law’s parents’ back porch sure helped. We hugged at the door. We learned that Kathy’s husband collects cartoons. Their five-year-old son adores zombies. This sounds like a real person!

At Peachtree the next day, I met everyone, including the publisher, the receptionist, the artists, the publicists and marketers, the woman who packs the boxes of books shipped from the warehouse, and both cats. And, the doughnuts were yummy. Kathy and I also started on our substantive work.

One of the four people who marched in Birmingham  when he was a teenager now lives in Atlanta. Although I had talked with James by phone many times, we had never met. He agreed to come to Peachtree and to bring artifacts of his involvement in the civil rights movement.

“I love that you still have the flag,” Kathy told James. I looked closer at the framed memorabilia he brought. Yes, there was a small American flag. James explained that he was given that flag at a mass meeting the evening he learned that the courts declared that marchers, who had defied city laws and been jailed and then expelled from school, would be allowed to return to school. What a lovely and important story her comment elicited! (And, you might notice Dr. King in the center of the photograph–with James’s uncle.)

That afternoon, the two of us went to the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site for a moving program on the life of the man who inspired and led the events I was writing about. Then, we drove the three hours to Birmingham. Even though I was, again, nervous about how we’d pass the time, talking about Dr. King, other civil rights leaders, the other three marchers, the story we wanted to tell, even recollections of growing up all solidified our relationship.

Sixteenth Street Baptist Church Today

Washington Booker III by his sign, 2010

Over the next two days, Kathy and I spent A LOT of time together. Dinner at a French bistro I had found on my two previous research trips to Birmingham. Breakfast at the hotel the next morning. A tour of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, which was the headquarters of the movement in May of ’63. An extensive walk along the Birmingham Civil Rights Trail, where I found a placard with a quotation from one of the other marchers, with whom we had dinner that night, along with his wife. An interview with another marcher. More interviews the next day, a tour of the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, and conversations with the archivist.

After assuring each interviewee that her or his story would be respected,Kathy’s comments, questions, and observations were insightful and elicited revealing responses.

  • She asked Arnetta, who is light-skinned if she had ever thought about “passing” as a white. “No,” Arnetta answered. “You are proud of what you are. You are made by God.”

    Arnetta Streeter Gary, 2010

  • “What did you do while you were in jail?” she asked Wash. “We raised hell!” he said.
  • She asked the sister of a deceased marcher about their parents. And we learned that they had realized only recently that their parents had courageously sued the city to be able to use the public parks.

In the end, Kathy pointed out “how exhausting” it must have been for Birmingham to sustain its severe degree of segregation.

At the end of that long day: another three-hour drive back to Atlanta where I expected to thank her effusively and collapse at a friend’s house.

Except, my friends suddenly had to leave town. So, I spent the night in the guest room at Kathy’s house where I got to see her husband’s cartoon collection and their son’s zombie collection.

By that time, either we’d wonder how on earth we’d be able to spend the next 15 months working together or we couldn’t wait. You can figure out which.

Newbery-Prize-winner Rebecca Stead said in her talk at the Texas Book Festival that a relationship with an editor entails “trusting and coping.” Because I knew I could trust Kathy, I was able to cope when she pushed me on several issues, such as the potential demise of Dr. King’s leadership of the civil rights movement. Her questions led me to investigate further, to retrench a bit, and to verify. Because I hope that she learned she could trust me, I also pushed back in at least one instance–the inclusion of Wash’s Sunday school experiences in a chapter on mass meetings. We both trusted; we both coped.

Our field trip to Atlanta and Birmingham and back again was intense, revealing, and reassuring. I had made not only the right decision but also a friend, a colleague, and a mentor.

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Filed under Colleagues, Editing and Revising, Publishers and Editors, Research, Writing and Life

Zen-like Calm Still Eludes Me, but Ehh, Whatever

NO, my editor didn't use this on me - he's not a sadist, for crying out loud. I just wonder, shouldn't Jeannie Mobley own one of these, if only for the irony? Shouldn't EVERY archaelogist own one?

I am very fond of Jeannie Mobley, and not just because she’s an archaeologist and therefore can make jokes about Indiana Jones with a higher level of authority than the average bear. I also like that her blog post on Monday could (with the proper level of inattention) be mistaken for something that’s about ME instead of the challenges of responding to one’s first-ever editorial letter. I even respect her candor in saying that I’m more neurotic and uptight than she is about sending my editor a revision, because it’d just be silly to argue. I AM more neurotic and uptight than Jeannie about that, and probably in every other conceivable way. I’m possibly the most neurotic and uptight person currently taking up space on the surface of the planet Earth. Which also means that I handily beat Ruth McNally Barshaw for the title of EMLA’s Most Insecure Client, no matter what Ruth says. Victory! Continue reading

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Perspective, Vulnerability, and Action Figures (or things that aren’t just about Lynda, you know)

Wow. Here I am, two months after the launch of EMU’s Debuts, bringing up the rear. As of today, we here at EMU’s Debuts have rolled through a complete rotation, in which each of us has written a Monday post on the topic of our choice, and each of us has also written a follow-up Wednesday post in response to one of our colleague’s Monday posts. Our rotation repeats after today. So here I am, bringing up the rear.

Coming full circle. Happy Completing-The-Rotation-Day, EMU’s Debuts and fans!

image: renjith krishnan

Okay, true confession time. What I am really doing is procrastinating. How does someone follow up a post like Lynda’s from earlier this week? She talked about vulnerability. She talked about shifting perspective. She talked about brushing yourself off and getting back to your feet and making your dreams come true!  Heck, I was so inspired just from reading it, I immediately queried six or eight agents right then and there!

Memo to self: try to get those emails back before they get read—or before Erin Murphy reads this blog post.

Okay, okay, I’m kidding here. Probably because Lynda said something that resonates so deeply it’s terrifying, and I’m trying to hold it at arms length by kidding around.

She said (deep breath!)…

we have to be vulnerable.  We HAVE to be VULNERABLE.

Yeah. Okay, so anyway, a priest, a rabbi, and a minister walk into a bar—

No, Jeannie, get a grip! Don’t blink. Don’t flinch. Say it, Jeannie.  We HAVE to be VULNERABLE.

Cracking yourself open--it doesn't get much more vulnerable than that!

Vulnerability—cracking yourself open, as Lynda so aptly put it—is at the heart of what we do if we write.

Is there a career path out there with a more cruel paradox than this?  First, take a person who lives mostly in her head because she’s always been a bit introverted—heck, she might even have been, just hypothetically, say, the fat kid with glasses in grade school which is why she fell in love with books in the first place—convince her to lay her heart open on paper, then have her send it out into the world of normal people, where it will be judged for its professional and economic value by people who aren’t particularly focused on sparing her feelings. Oh, and while you’re at it, why don’t we throw in the BONUS feature of extreme competition–only one in ten heart-spillings-on-paper (aka manuscripts) is going to meet with success!

Anyone puking in the toilet yet? Let’s face it. Vulnerability sucks.

And yet, Lynda is right, we HAVE to be vulnerable. So why would anybody do this—especially anybody who, as the fat kid with glasses, acquired enough humiliation in fifth grade alone to shred a life-time’s worth of self esteem?

That’s the question I’ve been contemplating since reading Lynda’s post on Monday. For me, I think the same experiences that drove me into my head as a kid, drove me back out as an adult, and as a writer. To me, being vulnerable is hard and scary, but it is also so, so, SO affirming.  Putting my heart and soul on the page and having a reader say, “wow, that’s just how I feel too!” makes me realize that even in the years I was in my head, I wasn’t alone. That the me that had to hide was a person of value, a person who has something to say, a person who (and here’s the biggie) can change the world, at least for one other fat kid with glasses out there who can find friends and solace and joy on the page.

I remember very well the moment when I had to decide what I was doing with my writing—was I going to just write as an outlet for myself, or was I going to reach for publication? My biggest fear in that moment was that the business of publishing would ruin the joy of writing. I wrote because it gave me joy, did I need more than that?

Weighing against that was the complete invisibility of my art if I didn’t put it out there.  I realized that if I was a painter, or a sculptor, or a potter, my art could hang on the wall or sit on the table and people would walk by and see it. I could sell it at a local craft fair and someone would enjoy it. But a manuscript? How else is anyone going to see that?

That was the moment of my perspective shift. And I don’t mean I wanted fame. I wanted to be heard—be understood, be ALIVE, and have the joy of my living reaffirmed in the world—that was what writing became about after that moment.

That was the shift in perspective that made the risk of vulnerability worth it.

Was it easy? Did it come with humiliations and stinging rejections? Were there times I wanted to be puking in the toilet?  I think we all know the answer to those questions. But if you have been following along here at EMU’s Debuts for the last few months, you also know about the sweet spot, the tears of joy, the relief, and the sheer joy that are part of the process too. Perspective is all about keeping the highs in mind when you meet the lows. Writing comes with both, if you keep at it.

And so, as we wrap up our first rotation here at EMU’s Debuts, Lynda made this brilliant observation:  “Maybe I need my own action figure.” I think everyone does who dares to put their vulnerability out there to create something beautiful.

EMU's Debuts ACTION FIGURES! Enlarged to show detail. Operators are standing by.

So here they are, coming soon to a retailer near you: The all new EMU’S DEBUTS ACTION FIGURES (you know you want them!):

The Lynda Mullaly Hunt, that comes with red knee-high boots, and a sports car (perfect for long drives to meet dream agents!)

The Cynthia Levinson, that comes with a tidy writing desk and fights for truth, justice, and civil rights. Comes with amazing civil rights marcher dolls that want their story told!

The Mike Jung, funny, happy, and (of course!) comes with a specially hinged jaw and a selection of shoes that fit within it!

The Michele Ray, that comes with a LOT of hats to wear, and cries when you squeeze it!

The Natalie Lorenzi, that comes with twenty-five admiring letters, and one very sweet spot!

The L.B. Schulman, that comes with so much empathy she only whispers her good news politely when you pull the cord!

The J. Anderson Coats, that comes with a flooded basement and a lot of common sense about what to say in public!

And the Jeannie Mobley, that comes with deeply buried insecurities, and a pretty bad joke about a priest, a rabbi, and a minister!

But all of them are writers, so they come with fear, determination, a variety of scars and bruises…

And best of all, a soon-to-be-published book. Because they dared to be vulnerable.

So go on. I dare you. And while you’re at it, give yourself a pat on the back and an action figure of your own. You deserve it.

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Filed under Celebrations, rejection and success, Writing, Writing and Life

Revision: Diving Deep Into a Different World

Reading Natalie’s post, Finding My Audience, made me think about revision in a new way. I’ve also done what you’ve mentioned…revising for my critique group, my mother-in-law (great editor, that woman) and soon, my editor. Your post made me think about the need to revise for our readers. It’s definitely important that writers don’t lose sight of building the world of their characters in an authentic way to the readers’ experiences. I believe this happens organically when a writer climbs inside the scene that they are writing, experiencing the conflicts that their characters face, feeling their ever-changing emotions, touching what they touch, smelling the smells of their world. I think this is a higher level of writing, and one that is often achieved only through revision.

I just finished reading an amazing YA, THE RUBY NOTEBOOK, by fellow EMLA writer, Laura Resau. Her book jumped off the page for me, transporting me to France by taking me, as a reader, on a journey of the senses. Laura was in the moment as she wrote this book, and it shows. As I revise, my number one goal isn’t so much to think about my specific audience, but rather to bring the world alive to all of us, to touch the universal pains, joys, and desires that are a part of our experience as humans, regardless of age.

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Filed under Editing and Revising, Editor, Publishers and Editors, Writing