More Friday Miscellany

Welcome to another weekend edition of Today? Five random things.

Item the First – Tomorrow evening, the Christy Award ceremonies will be held in Denver. The Christy Awards are given to celebrate and promote the best of Christian fiction. A novel I edited, Safe at Home, by Richard Doster, is one of three nominees for best “First Novel.” I won’t be at the ceremony (I don’t have anything to wear and I sincerely mean that because I work out of my home and in my home I don’t maintain a dress code apart from “wear something when you go to Starbucks”), and so I won’t be able to practice my “it doesn’t matter who wins, it’s just an honor to be nominated” expression for the non-existent cameras. Richard’s a great writer, so it really doesn’t matter what happens after people have stuffed themselves with cheesecake or whatever they’re serving. You should read this novel. It’s about the 1950’s and family and minor league baseball and the cultural stirrings that swelled into the civil rights movement (which Richard explores even further in his second novel, Crossing the Lines).

Two – I’m thinking about my next contest. It’s going to be fun. It has a name. The name is “First and Last” There will be lovely prizes, including some Really Cool Stuff From a Box in My Closet. You will want to enter. Look for it in…two weeks. Meanwhile, keep stopping by so I can teach you all kinds of things about writing and editing and not taking yourself too seriously.

Third – Do you write YA or MG? (That’s “young adult” or “middle grade” for the uninitiated.) Middle grade author Adrienne Kress recently wrote a blog post about “The New YA” and if you write either (or think you do), you should read it. Click here to go directly to the blogpost, then add your comments to the thread. Be sure to say something nice to Adrienne, too. She’s not only a writer, she’s also an actress and therefore is doubly in need of the occasional kind word.

For Fore Four – So I’m watching David Letterman as I type this and that young whippersnapper Daniel Radcliffe (you know, the actor who was naked on stage in Equus and also is in movies about a wizard or some such thing) is on and he just used the following phrase while describing a method for improving your microwaved pasta experience: “bookended by condiments.” If you weren’t a fan of Radcliffe before, surely you are now. In totally unrelated news, I have discovered the spell to make myself 30 years younger and will soon be courting Emma Watson.

The Fifth Element – If you missed it earlier, now would be the time to correct your error. Kilt-wearing literary agent Chip MacGregor recently featured a series of posts answering a whole bunch of basic publishing questions. Click here for the first post, here for the second, and here for the third installment. But be warned, if you read all of these posts, you’ll have no excuse for making stupid mistakes as you work toward your goal of publication.

10 Reasons Writing Fiction Is the Best. Thing. Ever.

  1. You can explain away talking to yourself as “trying out a conversation between characters in my novel.”
  2. Your much-used acronym for “work in progress” is alarmingly similar to the acronym for “rest in peace” and this adds an air of clever mystery to your role when casually mentioning it among non-writers. (Plus, you only have to change one letter to appropriately re-categorize any book that’s going nowhere.)
  3. You can overindulge in any of the three “C”s with impunity: Coffee, Chocolate, Cocktails.
  4. You can do your job almost anywhere. While still stuck in bed, or at your desk in a chair. You can write in a car, you can write in a bar. You can write on a train or in the air on a plane. You can write on a yacht, in a full parking lot, and (though you prob’ly ought not), while sat on the pot. You can write Way Out West, or wherever works best. That’s the thing about writing that makes it so fun. (Now I just need a laptop I can read in the sun.)
  5. You can do mean (or wonderful) things to real life friends, family members and enemies simply by putting them in your novel and changing their names.
  6. You can write new friends, family members and enemies into existence when the real-life ones shun you after seeing what mean (or wonderful) things you’ve done to their alter egos in your novel.
  7. You have a ready and reasonable excuse for why you’re reading a novel when you’re supposed to be doing the dishes, cleaning the garage, or picking up your mother-in-law from the airport: “I’m working.”
  8. You can refer to Ernest Hemingway, Nick Hornby, Marilynne Robinson and Jane Austen as your “co-workers.”
  9. Eavesdropping = Research.
  10. And finally, you get to answer the question “What do you do?” with, “I’m a writer.”

Got any more to add? Leave ’em in the comments.

A Little Editing

Remember that writing contest I had a few weeks ago? Well, as part of that fun, I asked if I could use some of your entries as editing examples right here in front of everybody. With Jana’s permission, I’m going to show you a couple of ways I might approach the editing of her creative entry.

First, I’ll show you the original work.

The fire cast mirthless shadows over the face of a stranger. He was encircled by four armed men. A fifth man curiously appraised the unusual items that had been confiscated. One object was like a ring of red light reflecting the flames. Fascinated, the man reached out to nudge the object, half expecting it to be hot. He smiled as he held it in his hand, caressing its smooth cool surface, captivated by each intricate detail. He stepped closer to the fire when he noticed unfamiliar markings on the circular centerpiece. As he scrutinized it, he noticed movement within. He tapped it sharply to determine if it was alive. Then he held it up to his ear, quickly dropping it, startled. When it fell, it began emitting a green light. Trying to regain his dignity, he carefully retrieved the object. He ran his finger over a small bump on its side. The stranger jumped to his feet shouting unintelligibly, but was quickly stopped by four sharp spears held inches from his throat. Unfazed, the man continued his study, pushing on the strange protrusion. A flash of light suddenly enveloped him, blinding the observers. When it subsided, he had vanished.

Intriguing, don’t you think? Okay, here’s a quick line edit, keeping the contest’s word count limitations in mind.

The fire cast mirthless shadows over the face of a stranger. Four armed men encircled him while a fifth appraised the confiscated items. He reached for a ring of red that reflected the firelight, expecting it to be hot, then held it in his hand and smiled, caressing the smooth, cool surface. He stepped closer to the fire to study the ring’s intricate markings. Had they moved? Was it alive? He tapped the ring sharply, held it to his ear, then dropped it, startled by a foreign sound. When it fell, the ring began emitting a green light. The man looked over at the others who stood as still as statues, then retrieved the object. He ran his finger over a small bump on its side. At this, the stranger jumped to his feet and began shouting, but he was quickly silenced by four sharp spears held inches from his throat. Unfazed, the fifth man continued his study, pushing the strange protrusion. A flash of light suddenly enveloped him, blinding the observers. When it subsided, he had vanished.

Can you identify the changes in this version? I replaced some of the passive voice with a slightly more active voice here and there and attempted to clarify the action a bit. By defining the object as a ring, I made it something the reader could easily picture. That doesn’t mean Jana has to use a ring if she prefers some other device, but whatever the object, it needs to be described in such a way that the reader sees it immediately and can participate in the action along with the fifth man. And about that fifth man – as it is written, this is his POV, his story (or about to become his story).

Just for fun, I decided to play even more with the content. Now this is slightly more involved than a standard line edit, but I wanted to push a few of the ideas a bit farther, just to see what this could become. This isn’t necessarily a better version, just a different version. When I work with authors on the early stages of a book, I often offer suggestions like these to show the author alternative ways to color a scene. (Usually these suggestions are noted in margin comments, though, not in the midst of the narrative itself.)

The fire cast mirthless shadows over the face of the stranger. Four armed men encircled him. A fifth appraised the confiscated treasure, each item a curious enigma. His eyes were drawn to a ring of red reflecting the flames. He reached for the ring, expecting it to be hot, then smiled as he held it in his hand. He caressed the smooth, cool surface, captivated by the intricate detail.

He stepped closer to the fire to study the unfamiliar markings. They seemed to be moving. Was it alive? He tapped the ring sharply, but it did not scream. He held it to his ear, listened, then threw it down, frightened by the foreign language of click and whir.

When the ring came to rest on the stony ground, it began emitting a green light. The fifth man stood tall, turned to look at the others, grunted a false confidence, then bent down to retrieve the object. He ran his finger over a small bump on its side. The stranger jumped to his feet and began shouting unfamiliar words, but was quickly silenced by four sharp spears thrust within inches of his throat. Unfazed, the fifth man pushed the protrusion. Suddenly a flash of light enveloped him, blinding the other men.

When it subsided, he was gone.

As you can see, I added a few lines here and there. Maybe it works, maybe not. But these are the sorts of editorial changes and suggestions that lead to a spirited dialogue with the author. Sometimes the scenes look completely different at the end of the process than either the original or my first editing attempt. Sometimes they look very much like the author’s draft. And, of course, sometimes the scenes are cut entirely.

picture-3Now, the way this looks in practice is different than the above. In addition to the “comments” feature, I always use the “track changes” feature in Microsoft Word so the author can see everything I touched and I can see every change he or she makes throughout the back-and-forth process. Just for fun, I took a screen capture of my second edit with track changes turned on. This is the “red pen of death and life” at its finest – scary to look at, but upon closer inspection, it’s not so bad, really. The story is the same. And hopefully, the author’s voice is intact or better defined.

Okay, I’ve already missed my posting deadline, so I’m going to wrap this up for now. Thanks to Jana for allowing me to play with the fun scene she entered in the contest. If you want to play the part of the author, feel free to ask why I made a particular editing change or suggestion in either of the above examples. I’ll share my rationale and then you can nod and agree or tell me why I’m wrong. (Because I sometimes am, you know?)

Have a great Wednesday. See you here again tomorrow? Bring a friend. We’ll make s’mores.

Revealing the Hidden Secrets to Publishing Success

Tired of having to jump through all those silly hoops agents and editors keep placing between you and your dream of becoming a published author? After literally minutes of research, I have uncovered 10 secrets that practically guarantee success. Sure, I could keep them to myself, but I’m feeling generous today so I thought I’d share them with you.

Study these secrets. Use them wisely. Become hugely successful.

Then buy multiple copies of my soon-to-be-released fiction bestseller, The Last Days of the Literary Agent*. It makes a great Festivus gift.

  1. Legally change your name to Stephen King. Then write under a pseudonym like Harold Johnson. Once you get your book into the marketplace (self-publish if necessary), leak to the press that Harold Johnson is really Stephen King. Watch your Amazon rank soar.
  2. Earn your pilot’s license. Get a job flying for a major airline. Have a friend release a flock of geese over the Hudson…
  3. Create a compelling new genre and write the first book in that genre so people will refer to you as “the father (or mother) of [clever genre title here].” Here’s my genre suggestion: querypunk.
  4. Threaten to release a deadly virus in unspecified major metropolitan areas if you don’t get a seven-figure deal for your memoir-in-progress, When Anti-Depressants Fail.
  5. Go to writers’ conferences and…skip the sessions. They’re only helpful if you want to take the long, labor-intensive route to success. Instead, track agents to nearby bars and ply them with drinks until they agree to represent you. This could take quite a few drinks, so plan your budget accordingly. And make sure you have an iPhone 3GS. (The earlier generation iPhones won’t be much help.) You’ll need the video function in case of Karaoke.
  6. Self-publish your first novel as cheaply as possible, then ask your millionaire uncle to buy 100,000 copies so you can include this little detail in the “previous sales” section of your proposal for the next one.
  7. Flying monkeys. Any book about flying monkeys is a guaranteed bestseller.
  8. Pen a quasi-sequel to a seminal novel like To Kill a Mockingbird or Catcher in the Rye. Then…um…never mind.
  9. Find Osama bin Laden. Write about it. (Michael Bay wants to direct the movie adaptation.)
  10. Spend all your reading time between the covers of great novels, all your studying time scouring intelligent publishing-related books and blogs, and all your vacationing time at writers’ conferences soaking up the wisdom of agents and editors and published writers. Then use what you learn to write a book that is smart, entertaining and defined by a compelling voice that is yours and yours alone.

Had you going there, didn’t I? Just kidding on that last one.

*I’m not really writing that novel. Because I love and respect literary agents. I really do. But it is a compelling title, don’t you think? Maybe you should write it.