CAVEAT EMPTOR

I’ve been knitting like a maniac the last few days.

 I knit when I’m trying to make sense of something and my encounter with a freelance editor last week qualifies – big time.  While I’m a big believer in learning, and keep myself open to it, sometimes an experience drops in to remind yourself that your heart is your best counsel.

Here’s the jist: Met her via Facebook. Shared my query and first chapter. She liked my chapter and thought I had a unique idea and knew what I was doing even though my chapter was a bit “squishy”.

Squishy?  Wanting to know more, I hired her for an hour’s edit, to ID the squishyness – to understand her perspective.

What’s Latin for Buyer Beware? Caveat Emptor?  It applies here.  

Her “edit” went well beyond anything I expected and blew my mind for  few days – but ultimately, I was reminded that just because someone has an opinion –  doesnt’ make them the expert for you.

While she switched out a few words and added a few bits of action, what I objected to most were the following assertions:   

  • She asserted I had a POV problem, “(Reporting from inside the head of both characters)” seemingly ignorant of third person unlimited omniscience, and asserting I should investigate “DEEP POV” because I wouldn’t want to give an “editor ANY reason to think you are squishy on basic writing rules.”  -(!!)-  Later on she directed me to a website that asserted there are three POV’s: first, second and third.  If anyone reading this thinks there is a second person POV, please contact me.  There is not. Never was.  Never will be.  As soon as the word YOU is written or spoken, there is an I behind it. 
  • The above point galled me.  POINT OF VIEW is a very specific term about the narrator, not the characters.  She also sent me a link for “DEEP POV” and I couldn’t believe what I was reading! I guess some people think they can just make it up. Professor Wynne would shudder. 
  • She added some background on my characters that was incorrect, including a really cheesy action of my little girl putting her finger under her chin and looking up as she wondered.   YEEESSH! 
  •  And the coup was her deletion of an entire scene and rewriting the last pages, changing my voice and characters.  My husband nicely summed it up: “Oh, I see what she did, she changed it into “Little House on the Prarie.”  
ORIGINAL VERSION “EDITORS” REVISION
Sitting together, they silently admired the hat and each other as the sky’s pink faded to soft gray. Looking up, Gamma tapped Celeste’s legs.“Come now, put on shoes. Time to wear your hat home proud.”

~

Vigilantly watching from her kitchen window as the sun set, Myrtle let out a big sigh when she saw Gamma and Celeste finally appear on the crest of the hill. Squinting in the waning light, she scrutinized their ambling figures and asked aloud: “What in heaven’s name is on her head?”

Martin rose from the kitchen table and peered beyond his wife, seeing his mother and daughter heading toward the house. He knew instantly. “A bark hat. Made one as a boy.”

Myrtle scoffed. “Where could you find bark on the docks of New York?”

Pulling his ear, Martin shook his head. “Every now and again Mother would take me to the country. When I was around Celeste’s age, we found a creek and made a bark hat together. Took all day.” Martin reached for a glass off the window sill and drew water from the kitchen tap. “She showed me how to curl the bark as we stood in the creek.” He gently inhaled, sucking air through his teeth, still able to smell the mix of grass, mud and bark from that day. “I loved that hat, but it got crushed on the trolley ride home. Never made another.” Keeping time with the jaunty step of his daughter as she crossed the grass toward the house, he recited: “Truth, Courage, Openness, Curiosity, Creativity, Love.” Sighing deeply, he returned to the kitchen table and his opened newspaper.

~

“So did they live there forever?”  Celeste swung her grandmother’s arm.

“Who”

“Our ancestors, the Bohemians.”

“For long, long time there, until one day some strangers – warriors – attack them.”

“Meanies!” Celeste cried, thinking of the boy in kindergarten who smushed her painting.

“Big meanies! Many of our ancestors run far away, to other countries. But some stay, hiding in mountain until warriors leave and is safe again. That is our family story, which I tell another day.”

Holding on to her hat, Celeste carefully climbed the porch steps and ran into the kitchen, beaming. “Mama, Papa, look what we made today! A birch bark hat!”

Pushing aside his paper, Martin held out his arms, lifting his daughter to his lap. “Ah, you lucky girl. A Bohemian birch bark hat!” Closely examining her work, he named each treasure she’d used. “What a fine, fine job you’ve done, my dearest Celeste. Quite a talent you’ve got,” and he kissed her cheek with a loud smack.

Giggling, Celeste slid off his lap and crossed to her mother at the stove. “And Gamma said she’ll tell me all her story pillows and take me to Bohemia, when I’m older.”

Smiling, Myrtle cooed in return. “Very nice, I’m sure, but you’d best go wash for supper. Martin, would you help her, please?”

Sitting together, they silently admired the hat and each other as the sky’s pink faded to soft gray. Gamma tapped Celeste’s legs.“Come now, put on shoes. Time to wear your hat home proud.”

~

As they crested the hill, Gamma caught sight of Myrtle, vigilantly keeping watch from her kitchen window. She sighed.

“So did they live there forever?” Celeste asked, swinging her grandmother’s arm.

“Who?”

“The Boy Kelps.”

“For long, long time there, until one day some strangers attack them.”

“And what did they do?”

“Many of them run far away, to other countries.”

“I would run away, too,” Celeste said, and she dropped Gamma’s hand and began running toward the house. Gamma watched as Celeste flew up the porch steps, carefully holding on to her hat, and then ran through the door into the kitchen, calling out, “Mama, Papa, look what we made today! A birch bark hat!”

Gamma slowed her pace, considering what might happen next . As she climbed the steps, she heard Myrtle say, “What on earth is that?”

               “A birch bark hat, Mama! It means things like, truth, and courage and—”

Gamma stepped through the door in time to see Martin, sitting at his usual newspaper-reading spot at the kitchen table, hold out his arms then lift his daughter to his lap. “And openness and curiosity and—” he said, trailing off and cocking his head as if recalling a long-buried memory. “And creativity and love,” he finished, with a touch of triumph. “You lucky girl. A Bohemian birch bark hat!” Closely examining it, he named each treasure she’d used. “What a fine, fine job you’ve done, my dearest Celeste. Quite a talent you’ve got,” he said, and kissed her cheek with a loud smack.

“Do you have one too, Papa?”

“Not anymore. But I made one as a boy.”

Myrtle glanced at Gamma before removing the hat from Celeste’s head. “How lovely. It’s time to get cleaned up for dinner. Off you go.”

“You too, Papa. You need cleaned-up,” Celeste said, pointing at his newspaper-print stained fingers.

¤

 

 

  •   In several follow-up emails she made further suggestions, including giving my girl three different nicknames – which had something to do with her own mother’s experience. 
  • She also dissed my current editor as a “business journalist” who doesn’t understand literary form or current marketplace styles.(without knowing anything about him and his background)
  • She also mentioned that she knew a publisher who might be interested but it would have to be edited in the same way she edited my first chapter, as she would be the editor.

That’s when my lightbulb went off. 

Just because a house wants to publish you doesn’t mean they believe what you believe. 

 Just because an editor takes you on, doesn’t mean he/she will guide you to the manuscript you wanted to present. 

Everyone has an opinion.  Everyone has an agenda.  It’s a fine line between learning and being bowled over. 

One of my friends, who had a brilliant singing career, explained it like this: “Oh, you came across a PLUSER.  They were all over the music industry.  All they can do is  add-on something to someone elses work – plus this and plus that – and if you listen to them, your work becomes unrecognizable.” Then she added: “It takes about 4 albums before you get that hit – the one that really reflects you and that’s when the plusers don’t stand a chance of getting in your way.”

ALL of this led me to knitting like a fiend until I finally came back to the realization that just because someone calls themself an editor, doesn’t make them the editor for you. 

And just because someone wants to publish your book, doesn’t mean they are going to publish YOUR book. 

And just because someone has a website and makes pronouncements about POV, doesn’t make them correct.  (Do they not teach DRAMATIC ANALYSIS anymore?)

Buyer Beware!   

This lesson only cost me twenty bucks but in terms of getting very clear on who I am and how I write and where I want to be = priceless.  

What experiences have you had in this arena? 

   xo, Laura

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WHAT RAINBOW IS YOUR COLOR?

PROTAGONIST – VONNEGUT – FAIRY TALES And NOVELS

AS I prepare my novel for publication, the question of novel “TYPE” comes up again and again.  Where do I fit in, in the multiplicity of niches (upon which there is no agreement).  What follows is part one of this conversation.

Many years ago, my husband and I had the pleasure of witnessing Kurt Vonnegut explain the structure of drama. Though an old man by then (and since deceased), he was as lively as a 20 year-old as he sketched a grid on a white board with ECSTASY at the top of the vertical line, MISERY at the vertical bottom and TIME running along the horizontal line.

Halfway between Misery and Ecstasy, he drew another horizontal line, running the width of the grid. 

He then illustrated the dramatic structure of a Cinderella story and a Disaster story, tracing each story’s arc up and down, between misery and ecstasy along the continuum of time. Finally he drew his version of real life’s arc: a line that squiggled around the middle horizontal line – never nearing ecstasy or misery. He explained that while most of us live a non-dramatic life, we are drawn to the fairy tale or disaster drama with sweeping highs and lows, which is why so many books and movies follow that formula. Derek Siver has Vonnegut’s lecture nicely illustrated on his site.  

I mention this because my husband recently pointed out I have not written a typical novel with a single protagonist facing an agony, experiencing dramatic ups and downs and leading to a happy conclusion. He said: “You’ve outlined a new paradigm of a novel with many protagonists and no singular dramatic issue” (such as a wicked stepmother or an earthquake). 

I agree with some of his statement. I agree that my novel has several protagonists, depending on your point of view. Younger readers often identify with young Celeste while older ones gravitate to Gamma. Some spark to Jack, a seasoned man, re-awakened by Gamma’s message. Other’s to Celeste’s best friend,Ede, with her clarity of heart and get-go. Some even identify with the brothers: Ron and James, representing reverse images of a young man making his way in life. Last but not least, there are the mothers: Estelle and Myrtle, who work with what they have, to do what they think is right. A case could be made that not one of them is “the” protagonist because the story hinges on the interaction among the whole group. Each one participates and contributes (both pro and con) to the ensuing outcome.

Consider the block buster book THE HORSE WHISPERER. Who was the protagonist in that novel? The Girl? The Mother? The Horse? The Whisperer?  I suggest it is an ensemble story that requires all participants, on equal footing. I consider THE HEART CODE an ensemble of protagonists – each championing their own cause while interacting and impacting each other. Isn’t that very much the way our own lives work as well?

Don’t we all have an ensemble of people who impact what happens to us? These include family, friends, teachers, the lady neighbor who was extra nice (or mean), the boy or girl friends who contributed to your understanding of love (or not), the professional mentor or someone you talked to on the train/plane/bus who really rocked your world but you never saw again. Some run with us through life and some pop in for a brief stay. But no matter the circumstance, the people of our ensemble help, hinder or challenge our progression toward whatever we seek. In real life, there is not one Fairy Godmother or Evil Witch – there can be many, at different times. If we actually charted out our lives as we do a story arc, I think we could identify those influences that led to significant events or random left hand turns.

Before I wrote the final version of THE HEART CODE, I actually graphed out the story arc of each character. I was inspired by Author/Screenwriting teacher Robert McKee in his book STORY.  That’s where I realized how others become the catalyst for our own changes or ‘stuckedness’. Being unaware of these connections in our own lives can be a liability, I think. Thus, my interest in creating a novel that illuminates those realities: the who, what, when where, how and why that makes a difference in a character’s pursuit of whatever he/she is seeking.

I also agree with my husband’s statement that my book has “no singular dramatic issue” (such as a wicked stepmother or an earthquake).  

He’s correct. I did not follow the strict formula because I find it boring. Boring to read and boring to write. I like exploring the subtleness of life and living. Who among us lives in a constant fairy tale or disaster movie? No one I know, yet our lives are not empty of drama. Drama is simply the tension between where you are and where you want to be – and it is where most of us live, day-to-day, be it in the form of finding one’s calling or building a family or tackling a (new) career or selecting a college or planning a garden or coalescing a  community. While my novel’s plot follows the “who will she marry” storyline, the real “story” is how a person comes to understand and trust their own internal voice. That’s what I find most fascinating and seek it out in many different avenues. Like Vonnegut’s diagram of real life, my novel reflects the “stuff in the middle,” with much smaller dramatic arcs as each protagonist grapples on the hows of hearing their heart code.

Finally, I disagree with my husband’s comment about it being a new paradigm.

 My favorite authors also write about issues and ideas with multiple protagonists and without a single, defining plotline – which is why they are my favorite authors. INCLUDING:

Tracy Chavelier’s REMARKABLE CREATURES about two 18th century women who were fossil hunters.

Susan Vreeland’s PASSION OF ARTEMISIA, about a woman painter in the 14th century

Kathryn Stockett’s THE HELP about the secret life of black maids in the 60’s.

Edith Pargeter’s HEAVEN TREE TRILOGY about 12th century love and stone masonry (with the best ending ever)

Anne Tyler’s ACCIDENTIAL TOURIST documenting the steps behind a man making a significant change in his life (with an inspiring ending tableau)

Frances De Pontes Peebles THE SEAMSTRESS about two sisters who take very different paths from poverty in Brazil.

Paulo Coelho THE ALCHEMIST about a young man’s search.

Nancy Horan’s LOVING FRANK about the first mistress of Frank Lloyd Wright.

And many other thoughtful, intelligent authors – not only female – who write books about everyday people, trying to make their way home, wherever home is in their heart. Some have labeled this type of fiction as WOMEN’S FICTION – but naming the GENRE CATEGORY is a whole ‘nother post.

 Thanks for checking in. xo Laura  email: lauramatsonhahn@gmail.com

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Editing: Chapter 2 Gets More Complicated.

Sorry for the delay — I’ve been a little distracted – I promise once a week post, minimum. 

So back to it: OK – Gerry, my new editor, was fabulous on Chapter One, which I featured in the previous post.  So I have to report what happened with Chapter Two.

ASSUMPTION: There will be a learning curve between editor and editee – right?

When Gerry sent me edits on Chapter Two, he rightly assumed my blood pressure might zoom. There were ALOT more edits. I should not have been surprised. I went over Chapter One 9 times before I sent it but reviewed Chapter Two only a few times. 

OUTCOME: Gerry’s edits for Chapter Two were good – even though I did not agree with all of them. While he caught some solid technical stuff (in that arena, he rules); there were several, very important disagreements with his proposed edits (remember the word proposed).

Our bumps in the road centered on the way I write

  1. The musicality I work into my phrasing.
  2. The cadence and pattern of a characters speech  
  3. The way I phrased some action scenes

Number One:  Gerry changed a word or two which messed up the rhythm, (IMHO). But when I looked again, I found his word choices were better, more accurate, and the flow still worked. I just had to see it to believe it and for Gerry, he saw it wasn’t necessary to be a journalist stickler in all cases. 

Number Two: This got a little complicated between Gerry and myself and then I invited my sister-in-law to look at the edits and she added a different opinion altogether.

  • My main character is a wise, older woman born in Bohemia (now Czechoslovakia) who immigrated and never lost her patterns of speaking, as many don’t. Phrasing is important to reflect one’s culture. Sometimes it’s as simple as where the adjective get placed in a mother tongue’s sentence. While people make adjustments when they learn a new language, they often hold onto the grammar patterns from their original tongue.  So Gamma puts words in an order that do not follow American English patterns and she drops a THE or an S on a plural – but her message gets across just fine. 
  • My concern was that I occasionally made her speech too smooth so I asked Gerry to keep an eye out for that and rough it up. 
  • Well, Gerry did so but a bit too much — changing Gamma’s cadence so she sounded like an indian from the wild west movies.  Way too stilted and choppy.  Gamma’s not unschooled but has her own style.
  • Then my Sister in Law looked at it and thought Gamma should be much more smooth, even added a few lines explaining how she improved over the 10 years by studying with Celeste.  Her proposed sentences made Gamma sound perfectly normal and that’s when it all came together for me. 
  • Between the two suggestions, I became very clear on how Gamma sounds. She is not an indian and she is not american. So the bump in the road was very clarifying and I don’t doubt my choice any more.

Number Three: Gerry also questioned how I phrased some action sentences.  

  • IE: “Martin’s head lowered and tilted to the left.”  Gerry gave me a note that it was somewhat disconcerting how I wrote it as the body moving itself instead of the character doing the moving. 
  • I responded by saying that in some instances, a character is unaware of their own body movement, but it is observable to the viewer/reader as a “camera obscura,” . It is a subconscious movement and I write it as such to signal the reader’s attention. After reading my explanation, he totally agreed.
  • To be fair: until Gerry ID’d it – I hadn’t consciously declared I was writing in “camera obscura”.  I saw it that way in my head but never had to explain it until his edit suggestion.  So this process is illuminating a lot more than just the text.

So here’s how my days are rolling now:

I prepare chapters for Gerry Edits by reviewing them several times before sending

When Gerry sends me an edited chapter, I review his suggestions, adjust and accept and check the format again.

Then I send it back to Gerry for final review

The final step will be to send a completed chapter to the Book Designer.  Haven’t gotten there yet.  But she is expecting the chapters one by one so that’s a good thing. Much easier than trying to prepare the whole manuscript for one big send.  

In between — I am in conversation with the book jacket designer and the book interior designer to keep tabs on their progress.

That’s it for today – I have to get back to work — paid work, unpaid work, house work, relationship work — you get the idea!

Thanks for checking in! 

  • What is your editing process?
  •  – tips?
  •  – suggestions?
  • – discoveries?

 xo Laura

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EDITING: Basic to the Sublime

HEART CODE NOVEL GETS FINAL POLISHING.

It is astonishing to me how I can still find things to edit in my manuscript after 2 years of what I call the “final draft” and multiple editors. Through this process I’ve learned there are different editors for different things.  

Ten years ago, I hired an editor who lived in California.  We corresponded via email and telephone. Beth Leiberman was very helpful pointing out the flaws in the story and encouraging my writing.  Then my sister-in-law, Jeanne Bertke, was enormously helpful in shaping and tightening the story. I felt in good hands with her as she had a long career as a successful magazine editor and did wonders for the manuscript. When I decided to self-publish, my dog-walking friend Liz suggested her mother as an editor.  Frances had been a school teacher and was a stickler for details, as was my own (now deceased) mother. Frances scoured the book for grammar and accuracy, checking all my facts and challenging me on a few. That was great and, according to a published friend, very hard to find someone who will fact check.   

Right now, as I give the chapters a final polish before sending them onto the book designer,  I wanted a proof editor to double-check my finished work, as it’s so easy to miss the most obvious of things when re-reading it again and again. So I asked my published friend, Diana, if she would read it through.  She’s English and I know she’d be very thorough. But she couldn’t because she was leaving for a trip.  However, she suggested our mutual dog-walking friend, Gerry, who had been a newspaper copy editor for a long time, at the WSJ I believe.  So I asked Gerry and he said he’d take a look at the first chapter (which I’d combed through 9 times in preparation for the final final version.)  

Honestly, I didn’t see how he’d find anything to change (cheeky girl that I can be) but he returned the first chapter with red marks right from the git go.

Red marks can be frightening.  The stomach plunges, the heart cringes, the mind protests. Despite those feelings, I scrolled down and saw, on the whole, the edits were minor. But when I looked closer I saw how major they were!  Gerry had made really fine edits in word choice, removal of a dash, addition of an exclamation point, pointing out confusing and conflicting bits and pieces – which all brought crispness to the copy.  I was very, very pleased and felt I’d struck pay dirt.

I tried to copy and paste a sample of his sublime edits but the color didn’t translate. But here are a few of his word edits:

Mine: the crescent shaped rock–          Gerry’s: the crescent of rock —

Mine: Gamma’s jaw opened.                    Gerry’s: Gamma’s jaw dropped.

Mine: “I’ll not have it mar her chance -” Gerry’s “I’ll not have it rob her chance -”

Simple changes with big impact and I’m excited to have Gerry on my side, with his finesse.

How to pay him?  Well, I’ve not a lot of money so I offered $10 per chapter or wine.  He chose wine.  I think that’s a fair swap.  Here’s what he had to say about the barter:

Hi Laura.
 
I’m glad and relieved that you liked my edits. I was afraid you’d see the red marks (in the first sentence, no less!) and balk. It really was very minor stuff; your writing is so strong and engaging. Still, I think such little edits are the difference between a very good product an an excellent one.
 
I want to do this project. For several reasons. First and foremost the aforementioned: Your writing is very, very good, and I have just enough ego to think I could add that infinitesimal nudge that tips it over into excellence. Second, I’ve always believed my editing skills, honed in the quotidian world of newspapers, are really best suited for “literature,” where finesse is as important as precision, yet I’ve never edited a book. So when yours becomes a huge hit, I can claim it on my editing resume, and who knows where that might lead? Third, I’m hoping to learn a thing or three from you about the process of e-publishing, as I have a half-finished book of my own and a book I’m editing (more like rewriting than copy editing, actually), for an old friend who is a newspaper photographer, and I think digital is the way to go for us both.   
That said, let’s get it on!

And on we are getting. Looks like a wine-win for all and I’m mighty happy about that!

How about you?

  • Have you had a lot of editors look at your project?
  • Are you hungry for a good editor?
  • Have you had difficulty finding a perfect editor for your work?
  • Where have you looked for an editor and what did you find?

xo Laura

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Hello world!

Hello, Hello.

This begins the documentation of transforming my manuscript into a physical book.  I pledge to convey all aspects in this process – the good, bad, frustrating and ugly.  It’s called MAKING BOOK as a tip of the hat to a gambler winning a bet: you do your best to pick the right odds and put your money down.  Not terribly unlike the process of making a book.

I began this journey late last year (2010) but only really got going in January.  I’ll soon post the beginning process of finding a cover designer along with initial steps for interior design.

I will also be posting about how discouraging it is to review so much advice from many internet sources as to what one should be doing and how.  AND HOW is it discouraging.  But then I go to bed and wake up in the morning with renewed and continuing interest in completing this project. 

Any comment – advice – counsel – commiserating you have to share is most welcome.

Welcome to my attempt to MAKE BOOK. Please wish me luck.

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