More Editing

It’s been a long time since I posted and that was about editing. This one is too.

I follow Chris Brecheen’s Writing About Writing on Facebook, he of the “You should be writing” admonitions. He’s clever and wise and very funny, and occasionally he answers questions. He recently got a question about whether to use an editor or not. He comes down on the side of using one if you can possibly manage it. I have said before on this blog that everyone needs an editor. I am here to tell you that I am an idiot who sometimes does not follow my own good advise. However, sometimes I learn from my mistakes and therefore become slightly less idiotic.

As you know, I’ve been editing the Bloodlines vampire series for my friend Dennis Young, so of course, I got all over confident and decided to edit my dad’s World War II memoir. To do this, I typed the entire book into a format I could easily manipulate in preparation for publication. Now, I once took a typing test long ago, and we determined I could type about 5 words a minute with 25 mistakes—that is, I’m a lousy typist (world records have been well over 100 words per minute with no mistakes). But I was determined. Happy with the job I’d done correcting the typos and other issues that the vanity publisher had let pass in my dad’s book, I sent copies to some veterans I know for them to review. One kindly responded that he liked the story, though it brought up some difficult memories, and the other went radio silent.

My dad had only published the book to give as gifts to his family members and we were very grateful for them, never mind the minor issues. Because I was ready to move forward with making the book available to a wider audience, I went back to review it again. Holy cow! The manuscript I had typed was full of transcription errors, typos, and other embarrassing mistakes. I feel like a total fool and that I owe those two readers an apology. So, back to editing my own darn work, and then on the hopefully getting someone else to review and comment. EVERYONE NEEDS AN EDITOR!

Even if your editor or reviewer is not a pro, it should be someone who understands grammar, spelling (spell checker doesn’t catch homonyms or correctly spelled words that aren’t at all what your meant to say), and plotting. Find someone who is really interested and honest and won’t pull any punches. There are actually several kinds of editors, how many depends on who you ask. There is general agreement that among these are developmental editors, copy editors, and content or line editors. There are also proof readers. Each one looks for different problems with the writing. But anyone who is reading along as says, “I have no idea what the heck you mean here” should get your attention. We pretty much always know what’s in our head, but all too often that doesn’t end up on the page. And if it does, it may be misspelled. Or badly phrased.

Yes, we all need editors. Preferably one who isn’t typing the manuscript at the same time. Especially one who types 5 words a minute.

Adventures in Editing

There are certain times in your life when you go back to visit old ideas and adventures that you’ve put on hold. Currently, besides all the other stuff I’ve been doing, I’ve gotten interested once again in backpacking and editing. The backpacking is something I’ve always wanted to do, but never seemed to get around to. The editing I’ve been doing in one form or another for a long time, but never really did a deep dive until now.

I blame my friend, Dennis Young, for seducing me into editing in a focused sort of way. I’ve been putting in my two cents worth on his Blood Lines series of vampire novels for some time now. That indirectly got me connected to someone who, sadly, wasn’t really ready for writing novels. Not that he was a bad writer–he just couldn’t make his story go in an orderly fashion toward a coherent whole. I wished him luck and ran.

When I was a lab rat, I wrote, edited, messed about with grant proposals and articles. When I was a corporate weenie, I wrote, edited and messed about with SOP’s , quality manuals, audit reports, and other such stuff that makes the pharmaceutical world go round.

This summer I got down and dirty with editing my father’s World War II memoir. I hope to have it up as an e-book sometime this fall or winter. I had a really good time doing that. It was like having a sit-down conversation with my late father. I got to hear his voice in my head, laugh at his humor, live some of his doubts and fears. The thing I probably learned most clearly in reading and correcting the typos in my dad’s book was not to change his voice. He spoke a certain way. That comes through in his writing. I’ve said here before that it was his voice I used, unaware, for the voice of my young heroine in “Wasting Water”, my novella in the anthology Undeniable: Authors Respond to Climate Change.

As I always do when faced with a new adventure, I hit the library. There I found a book on editing for journalists, The Elements of Editing: A Modern Guide for Editors and Journalists, by Arthur Plotnik,  that I wish I had read before or even during the time I was editing The Rune, a small-circulation, local magazine. Editing, I am finding, is a great opportunity to see how other authors work, help them avoid some of the pitfalls I hurled myself into, and encourage good writing. And it’s an opportunity to catch the homonyms, malapropisms, misplaced modifiers, and other stuff that makes you crazy when you’re reading an article or a book. To borrow from Jeff Foxworthy, if you make corrections to nearly everything you read, you might be an editor.

So that’s what I’ve been doing for my summer vacation. Now it might be time to get back to writing.

Image: Once again, my catastrophic desk. By Marilyn Evans.

For the Love of Libraries and Books

In preparation for a long car trip, I got an audio book from the library, as I so often do. Listening in the car didn’t work out as I’d planned, but when I got home, I was so fascinated by the book that I got the print version (pictures!) The Library Book by Susan Orlean is ostensibly about the fire that consumed a great deal of the Los Angeles Public Library in 1986. In fact, it is a history of and love letter to libraries, librarians, and books. I had heard of this fire on a podcast about cookbooks–a cookbook collector who lived in a part of California subject to wildfires had donated a great many of her books to this same library where, ironically, they were consumed by an arson-set fire.

The Library Book tells about the history of libraries, the tragedies that have befallen some of them, and their resilience in rising from the ashes. She introduces us to librarians, ancient and modern. Ms. Orlean describes her magical childhood trips to her hometown library and the continuing magic that is the modern-day library, source of so much more than books. Today’s library contains books, periodicals, assorted historical documents, photographs and art works, computer terminals, voting registration information, support services for homeless people, and much more.

My own love affair with libraries started when I rebelled against the books foisted off on children such as myself where the animal so often died or the little girl was subjected to all manner of horrors until the end when all was forgiven. I was disgusted. Where, I asked myself, was the justice? That’s when I discovered the shelves and shelves of mysteries. If someone dies, it’s in the beginning and by the end of the book, justice is served. I worked my way through every mystery in the county library in my hometown.

I was fortunate to grow up in a house with books. I discovered Edgar Allan Poe and the beauty of his poetry at an early age. My brothers and I were known to act out bits of Shakespeare–we were mad for the ghost scenes in Hamlet. Owning books came naturally to me. Perhaps it has come a little too easily. My house groans under the weight of all the books it contains.

This summer I’ve helped my friend, Dennis Young, sell his books at a couple of conventions. Other people were selling books, too, so, yes, I came home with books. While at the horror convention, Crypticon, I discovered a new genre: splatter westerns. Imagine a slasher horror movie in the old west with elements of the paranormal. Not what I expected I’d be reading, but given my childhood reading material and my on-going passion for classic horror films, maybe not so surprising. Of course, I also came home with some mysteries, still among my first loves.

Audio and paper books from the library, old books on line from Project Gutenberg, new books from indie authors, I love them all. And librarians! There is a current internet meme about an Old English word for library that means “book hoard”. What a lovely word! It easily conjures images of librarians as dragons in their library lairs, protecting their books. But unlike dragons, librarians are eager to share their treasures. I salute all the library dragons and bless them for doing their best to keep the book hoards safe for us all.

Image: Partial book hoard.

The Well-Edited Garden

I’ve lived in the same house for about thirty-two years. During that time, the park across the street has lost a lot of trees to old age, storm damage, and other causes. Also during that time, none of those trees have been replaced. I took it upon myself to write a letter to the parks department suggesting they might want to plant a few trees, you know, for shade and beauty and the environment. I didn’t expect anything to happen, so imagine my surprise when this spring, people and equipment appeared and planted forty new trees. I know because I walked around and counted them. Best of all, they seem to be entirely native species. Mind you, I might have made slightly different choices, including some chokecherries and hickories, but in all, I’d say they did a pretty good job. I look forward to watching that edited version of the park over the next several years as those trees grow.

I would like to have a native forest garden on my property with Missouri fruit and nut trees and shrubs and a few things introduced from other parts of the U.S. like ramps and wild ginger. But a certain amount of tending and editing is required to stay ahead of the conquering hoards of plants brought by accident or design from other continents.

I have personally declared war on the invasive species in my yard. Fortunately, I can eat the garlic mustard, so it’s not wasted, but when it’s gone, I won’t shed a tear. The problem with invasives is they squeeze out  native species and in some cases are a poor substitute for the native plants. Number one on my hit list is Chinese honeysuckle. It’s everywhere, hard to kill, quick to spread, and some people actually plant it on purpose. There was a time I was willing to let it live because it is a shrub that allows cover and nesting for birds and has little red berries that they will eat. Then I found out the berries are relatively nutritionally poor. Add to the that, the plants are a bit thin and therefore not as good cover as other plants are. On top of that, it starts growing up in other shrubs and, out competing them, kills them off and is the only plant standing. End of my compassion. You die, honeysuckle.

Even the desert needs help. You may have heard of the threat buffelgrass presents to the saguaro cactus and the desert habitat. Without an army of volunteers, habitats could vanish in a blaze of wildfires that benefit the invasive buffelgrass and not much else in the Arizona landscape.

I’m not saying all introduced species are bad. Apple trees didn’t come from North America, but who doesn’t love an apple?  And it goes both ways. The fruits and vegetables from the Americas have become essential to the cuisines of many countries around the world. But when I can, I’m trying to keep it local. And that requires constant editing out of things that would overwhelm my garden.

Let me bring this back around to writing, if I may. I’ve been doing a bit of editing for a friend who is in the process of finishing up yet another novel (Dennis seems prolific to me, but it usually takes me years to write a novel). One of the things I notice about writers, I am a perfect example, is that in some early drafts, certain phrases or words pop up again and again, pushing out other, possibly better words. I know this because my writing is full of these, and I have to weed them out when I’m reviewing my own work. It took a good editor to point this out to me, and I’ve been trying to share the wisdom when I can. That said, some writers are better at self editing than others, and Dennis is one of them. He leaves me little to do.

So, my friends, whether it’s writing or gardening, tend to your editing. Keep the weeds to a limit, but know that sometimes a weed is just a plant–or a word–that isn’t in the right place.

Happy gardening. Happy writing. Happy May Day.

Image: Chinese honeysuckle rising from the dead to kill my shrubs. By Marilyn Evans