For all you writers out there, this is an opportunity to examine your book
from an editor's eye, discovering and taking into account the guidance of a
skilled reader, editor, critiquer, and cookie-baker (believe me. I KNOW). But
first, I want to talk about the importance of choosing your editor. It's a much
more serious decision than tossing around your manuscript to various beta
readers, which is also very important but not nearly as crucial. The first rule
of critique is to be open to all of it -- get any and all suggestions you can.
Let people read the darn thing! I know how big a deal that is. For me, it took
amost half a year of writing before I showed Breakers to my first editor, Mrs.
Caren Williams (who we'll also get to :)). But if you're a writer, you need to want a reader, or else there will be a snowball effect occuring. Simple as that.
Now then. Laura has edited all six of my novels and I've had the blessing
of sharing the enthusiasm, fanatic love, and sheer fun of living these stories
and characters together. Remember, the best editor is the one who randomly drops references to your books through text messages and who draws out maps, insignias, and other cameos from your novels, sends them to you by mail, and you paste them to your wall to look at every day.
In other words, the best editor is your first fan.
My first editor was such an amazing choice, I'm proud to throw her under the bus and drop a name. My first editor was my sixth grade teacher, with whom I
share a cherished, beautiful friendship with ever since I sent one fateful email
to her in sixth grade, hysteric with a problem. Forever since, she's been like
another mother to me.
Which made it difficult when we clashed heads on editing disputes.
But if anything, it brought us closer together. She not only taught me how
to take criticism and work with suggestions, building up a hard armor, but also
worked through an entire 300 page novel, chapter by chapter, and has stuck with me to this day, keeping well involved on the latest publishing-attempt
endeavors. So good choice.
"You write to communicate to the hearts and minds of others what's burning inside you. And we edit to let the fire show through the smoke." -- Arthur Plotnik
Now let's move on to our guest of honor.
Laura is a straight-A student, especially in English. She is adept at sentence structure, vocabulary corrections, and VCD treatment (Verb Confusion Disorder. There's only one known case in th entire world, it's that rare) in my books. But mostly, she is an incredibly insightful and informed sounding board. We hash out, debate, and analyse almost every plot turn and character decisions in the books to the point where I fear I may very well be dependent on her judgment. Laura and I met online...and never in person. And yet I can confidently say we've become closer than maybe even a few real-life friends. I'm constantly alarmed still by how much I love her (and how my sleep is rather reliant on our exchanging of goodnights, allowing a brilliant excuse for swatting Father or Mother away in the morning). That's the amazing gift technology has given us today.
Laura, thank you for agreeing to do this. Be inspiring to all the editors
and writers out there. Teach them much. And give them Something to talk
Lets do this thing! Let me just push this lovely armchair out of the way (that's right, some of us bring our own chairs)
And keep in mind that I edit my own work too, as well as that of my peers at school, so not everything I say here will be based strictly off of Shea. On to the questions...
1) What's your biggest pet peeve when you're editing? What common mistake, in your opinion, does the writer make?
This is a tough question to answer in many ways, as it varies quite a bit by both author and subject matter. I'll see different mistakes between series with Shea, and whole other classes of error at school (I'll induct you into the horrors of high school English another day). Generally speaking, I'd say it's when the author gets a somewhat skewed (in my opinion) idea into their head on the proper use and connotations of a word or phrase. That in itself is not a bad thing, and often they're close enough to being right that I won't even bother to correct them. What seems to happen next, though, is that they'll fall in love with this turn of phrase. It'll start cropping up everywhere, just irritating enough to the editor's mind that it can't be ignored, but not blatantly wrong enough to correct. Eventually, though, I'll face it, leaving my poor confused author wondering why the issue didn't come up several conversations ago. Apologies, authors.
A common and completely understandable mistake of authors is the failure to communicate. The author typically has a very clear view of their characters' personalities and motivations, of the intricacies of plot, setting, and history. While in general the author does an excellent job of sharing their vision with the reader, on occasion something will slip through. It is then the editor's job to catch the discrepancy and ask clarifying questions- a tip to the authors here, if your editor is asking questions, it isn't enough just to answer them privately. Your editor should be more intimately familiar with the manuscript than any other audience, and so when THEY are in the dark about something, more often than not your readers will be too. Take your editor's questions to the book and answer them there.
2) What's more important: Pace or prose?
Neither. Moving on...
Kidding. I'll elaborate. Allow me to refer to the film adaptation of Norton Juster's The Phantom Tollbooth for this one- within the Tollbooth's nonsensical realm are two warring kingdoms, ruled without Rhyme or Reason. The protagonist, a young boy, meets with the kings of both Mathematics and Language. Each enumerates to him (through matched musical numbers, no less) the same statements, with opposite and utterly biased interpretations (i.e. "You can't have three blind mice without the mice!" and then "You can't have three blind mice without the three!"). As we see clearly here, both are necessary to an effectively presented idea. Even in attempts to simplify (the blind
mouse) we find that the number one is still present, though hidden behind the moniker of "the."
The same concepts can be applied to pace and prose. Which matters more? If you cannot balance the two, your story is going to be incomplete. Pace is clearly vital. Too slow and you loose reader interest, too quick and your story is over before it's begun. You must move the plot along steadily, engaging your reader but giving them time to savour, drawing them in. And what draws them in?
Prose. That is what will fill your story out, give it color, flavor and style. Who honestly wants to read a story, no matter how gripping the tale is, when it is told without feeling? "Pat ran to the house. Somebody stabbed him. He died."
Prose cannot succeed without a well paced plot to grip onto, but neither can the story breathe without it. Excellence in word choice will suck the reader in, evoking emotions within that will have their eyes dashing along the page, desperately thirsting for more. Prose is where YOU come through. YOU wrote this. Anyone can write a story, but only you can tell it in your own voice. That is what the reader will become enthralled with. You. And your editor? They're
always happy to help with both. They should have a good eye for pacing, and a willingness to discuss improvements in prose with you. If they aren't, I should be done with this homework in 2015, give me a call then...
3) Describe, in your professional opinion, what makes quality writing (not factoring in story, characters, setting etc., but the writing itself)?
Certainty. Confidence. Self assurance. Not thinking you're perfect, but acknowledging that no other mortal is either. And if they aren't perfect, why on earth should you copy them? I said it before and I will say it again. Your style is your own and no one else's. Maya Angelou wisely noted that one who attempts to steal another's style "will appear as ridiculous as a robin with peacock feathers stuck on." So the key to good writing is not to find a perfect way of
doing something and do it just that way, for the one you are copying has already done it that way- the key is to find your way of doing things, your style of writing, and making it the best it can be through long, hard efforts. Next question!
4) Have you ever spent more than five minutes trying to edit or decide on a single sentence?
Yes. Absolutely. Some edits are quite simple to make (for example, Shea misspelled privilege in her opening paragraph, a mistake I'll ask her to leave in for the sake of this interview). Others require significantly more. One thing you do NOT want to do as an editor is to cramp or in any way impose upon your author's style. Style matters, as we discussed in Question 2- Pace versus Prose.
At the same time, though, clarity is a necessity. It won't matter how
beautifully the words have flowed from the fountain pen (or keyboard, if we're going to be real about this) if they don't make sense. And so as an editor, I have sat and stared at a line or jumbled paragraph, turning it over and over in my mind, wrestling the same poignant words into new positions where possible and
inserting new, similarly styled ones where not possible. In these situations, after giving a great deal of thought to the ailing lines, I try to offer a variety of suggestions for the author to pick through, mesh together, alter, or throw out and start over as they see fit. If the situation is a particularly difficult or significant one to change, Shea and I have been known to have long conversations in which we bat ideas around until we're both satisfied. I highly recommend becoming comfortable enough with your editor/author to do this sort of thing, it's been immensely helpful in my experiences, and I'm sure Shea can agree.
5) How do you approach the conflict of when an author disagrees with your suggestion? When do you push and when do you not?
I usually push. I'm just a pushy sort of person. Well, that's not entirely true, but I will push every time I feel strongly that I'm right, which feeling is not always the case. I'm generally most persistent about making grammar changes I feel are necessary, as well as places where I have suggested either more or less clarity and explanation. When it gets down to individual word choice, I'm willing to accept the author's mandate. And when I'm pushing and the author (Hi, Shea) is pushing back hard, I'll simply say "Your book" and leave the poor author to fret about whether they made the right choice or not. Because in the end, it's their book and their decision. No one will have the book's best interests at heart more than they.
6) What's the hardest part about being an editor?
Time management. Editing is a demanding job- it takes time to go over every word in a book with a fine tooth comb. This concern is probably fairly specific to myself, as I am a full time student with an intense school schedule. Shea is very understanding of this, to the point where I can hardly even call it a hardship. That aside, there are times when you have to tell your author no to a scene or idea you don't think is good for the book, and it's difficult.
Especially if they're in love with it.
7) Tell us something about editing we didn't know. It can be anything - about the process, the hardship, the perspective on the author, anything.
Editing is fascinating. It has a near magnetic draw to me, simply for the unique opportunities it offers. By consistently reading an author's works and discussing them in depth with the author, you come to know them in a way few ever will. Every book is an extension of its author's soul.
8) Shea has mentioned before that you know and love her characters almost as much as she. Who is your favorite and why? Additionally, which character(s) do you see the author most reflected in and why?
First off, I love how Shea is suddenly referring to herself in the third person, like she had her secretary write these questions or something. Beautifully done. My favorite character would have to be a certain benign old man, Mr. Robut-- okay, kidding. I was only putting that to annoy Shea. To be honest, I have many favorite characters, but for this I'll have to discuss either Cazimir or Sandra. Which one, which one... I'm going with Sandra. Fondly
referred to as Sandy by those who know her. If you aren't on that list, make it a priority to GET on that List. If you don't know who Cazimir is either, you're seriously missing out. That's all I can say. Back to Sandy! Sandra is a smart, sweet, spunky blonde from Shea's Emporium series who basically carries a highly amusing running commentary inside her head of the world and people around her. The commentary itself is so true to Shea that I can't help but laugh when I read it. Sandra finds herself thrown into a rather twisted set of circumstances on the African safari when she makes a desperate move to protect her younger brother, and she dealt with them quite stunningly, I thought. Again, her wit and one track mind are an astonishingly good representation of Shea's own. Every character Shea writes is a piece of her, in one way or another, but I would say that Peter, of Breakers, is very close to her in personality. He reacts to situations the same way Shea would in many circumstances, in both word and deed. They also seem to share a passion for rebellion and breaking the chains that the
world would wrap around them.
9) 30 seconds of truth. Editor to author, heart to heart. What's one thing us writers need to know?
30 seconds? I'd better write fast. Or you'd better read fast. The big thing I'd say is that us editors need feedback too! Authors love to have their work read and discussed. It's like their reward for hours of toil. Same thing with editors. We need to know when you want less emphasis on the specific wording and more on character development. We also need to hear when you particularly loved a certain change we suggested, and why. That's what lets
us do a better job for you personally in the future. I've been writing for way longer than thirty seconds, so let's move on...
10) Do you like your job? Why or why not?
No. I despise the work. It's repulsive.
ARE YOU KIDDING ME? What kind of a question is this, Shea? To everyone who couldn't tell from the rest of this interview, I love it. I love it I love it I love it. In a world and school that sometimes seem to want cookie cutter academics, this is a real chance to use my brain. I have learned so much alongside Shea as we have written and rewritten together that it astounds me. I would not trade this job away for the world.
However, besides saying to my fellow writers love and work with our treasured editors, who are only trying to make your manuscript a better book, I would like to add in my closing statement that 1) I've heard "Your book." Many times.
And 2) I appreciate her strategic choice of elaborating upon Sandra. Since our manly Darvic Cazimir elaborations (read that slowly, Laura. Caz-im-ir.) might become a bit too complex for this site. A lot of details to cover, you see. Even Laura might jumble that black-hilted sword.
But most of all, I'm endeared and touched to see my Peter mentioned and connected to me with Laura's words. To share in a morsel of his humanity and goodness is an honor.
After all, that is what writing is all about.
Discovering who you are.
P.S. I think, for Laura's defense, I have to state now that she does not edit my blog posts, which are occasionally strewn with mistakes, unless something REALLY annoys her. Anything else is my artistic license to look like an idiot all on my own!! <3