Archive for February, 2011



What Stace had to say on Wednesday, February 23rd, 2011
Write What You Know

You guys know I think a lot of writing advice is total crap. And really, that’s because it is. “Kill your darlings?” My ass. Yes, if you have to, you have to, and I know what the line is supposed to actually mean, but it sounds like you’re supposed to machete your way through your book chopping up anything you think is especially good. Um, why, exactly, would I want to do that? Were I to have “killed [my] darlings,” there would certainly be no Abominable Snowpimp. Although maybe that’s a bad example, because I was actually worried that it was too funny for the tone of the rest of the book. But my agent and editor and everyone else loved it so much I left it. The point still remains: You have to cut things that need to be cut, but really, if the good lines stand out with that much contrast in your work, maybe your work just isn’t good enough in general. (Sure, I have a few lines etc. I’m more proud of than any others. Every writer does. But I’d like to think they aren’t so much better than the rest of my lines that the reader stumbles over them.)

Personally I think most of those rules are crappity-crap-crap. And I’m sick of them all being passed around like Moses brought them down from the mountain. The fact is, if you write well and have a strong, stylish, commercial voice you can get away with just about anything.

But here’s one I agree with; in fact, one I believe in strongly. And I feel that it’s sadly, sadly misunderstood by many, which is why I’m going to discuss it.

See, I think there’s a belief out there, especially amongst beginning writers, that “write what you know” means that if you’re a farmer you should write about farming, or if you’re an office manager you’re not going to be able to write about the life of a wizard.

That’s not what it means.

“Write what you know” means write what you know emotionally. It means write what you understand and feel. It means write from the inside.

Great stories are important, yes. Great writing–or at least good writing–is important, yes. But what involves readers, what really makes them understand, identify with, and care about your stories–your characters–is making sure your characters are three-dimensional, fully developed people, with feelings. Your characters have to have emotional lives, because your readers have emotional lives. Your characters have to let their emotions color how they see the world, because your readers’ emotions color how they see the world. And your characters’ feelings and emotions, and their emotional desires and needs, have to be real and important to them, because your readers have emotional desires and needs that are very important to them.

I think I mentioned in an interview once that what really struck me about the responses to the Downside books was the way readers seem to either violently identify with and understand Chess, or violently dislike and not understand Chess at all. And I find the differences in those people, and the comments of the few I’ve seen who dislike her, are pretty interesting (to me, at least), in that their outlook on the world and the way they present themselves is one I often don’t understand or care for, either. That’s not to say it’s wrong or they’re a bunch of assholes; it’s also not to say that the only reason someone might not like my books or characters is because they’ve never felt that kind of alienation/loneliness/insecurity/dislike of self-satisfied people/aversion to being “normal” or whatever else. But it is something I’ve noticed.

When I started writing UNHOLY GHOSTS one of my main goals was to write a heroine I could identify with and understand, because I hadn’t seen any out there, really. I mean yeah, of course I wanted to write the most kick-ass different type of UF I could, but the reason why I cared about the book and the reason why the characters in it mean so much to me is because I worked really hard on giving them the feelings and emotions and outlooks that matter to me, that are what I understand. I know those feelings, and I know that outlook on the world, and I believe that’s why they were able to come across as clearly and strongly as they apparently did; it’s why those books are, frankly, deeply personal to me.

In other words, I wrote what I know.

I’ve been asked before what sorts of things I can’t/couldn’t write and I’ve always said I can’t really write happy people. I mean, of course I can write people who have found some happiness, or who have fun sometimes; no one wants to read a book where all the MC does is sit around moping and contemplating suicide. I’ve been unfortunate enough in the past to know a few truly negative people, the kinds of people who when I finally got away from them I was an absolute mess because just being around them was like being trapped inside a life-sucking black cloud of misery. That’s not good, and that’s something we all have to be careful with; certainly I find myself editing out some rather depressing little rambles on occasion.

Everyone has emotions and feelings. Everyone has their own unique way of looking at the world. You have to dig deep inside yourself and really feel those emotions, really think about how they affect the way you look at things. That’s what you put into your characters, and that’s what makes them real. If you’re giving your characters emotions or reactions you don’t understand or simply haven’t really thought about, the reader will know it. It will feel false, because it will be false. And false work means nothing to anyone; lies don’t resonate in the mind or the soul.

No, you might not know what it’s like to walk on the moon. But if you think about it, you probably do know how you felt when you achieved something amazing, or saw something that filled you with awe and wonder–even if it was something as simple as telling someone you love them or seeing Lord of the Rings for the first time. Those are the feelings you know. Those are the feelings you use.

“Write what you know” isn’t about the outside stuff, the plot or setting. “Write what you know” doesn’t mean your character has to do the same job as you, live the same life as you, and look like you. What it does mean is that your character has to feel–and have feelings–like an actual living person. It means those characters have to behave and react the way real living people would, and do.

Does it mean your character has to be just like you? No. But it does mean that if your character isn’t like you, you’re going to have to figure out how you differ and how you’re the same, and adjust your feelings accordingly, because they still have to be strong and real.

“Write what you know” means write from the heart. It means don’t be afraid to expose what needs to be exposed. Don’t be afraid to share something truly important, something truly meaningful, with your readers. Writing and reading should be about sharing; it should be about a universal experience the writer and reader share. It should be about feeling something, no matter what that something is. And if you aren’t feeling it, neither will your readers; if you’re lying they’ll know it, and it will at first confuse and then turn them off. They didn’t pay good money for something that rings false to them, that feels like manipulation, that feels like the writer didn’t think they were important enough to really work for. They didn’t pay good money to be fobbed off with something fake.

Writing fiction is telling a story, yes. But writing characters is telling a truth, and it’s your truth; the truth you know. You have to tell it as strongly, as deeply, and as well as you possibly can.

What Stace had to say on Wednesday, February 16th, 2011
Movie Milquetoasts

The other night the hubs and I were watching GONE WITH THE WIND. Well, we didn’t watch the whole thing, just part of it. He took me to see it in the theater, though, when they did that reissue a while back. That was when I stood in line at the concession stand behind Dan Marino. He was BIG. And then a few minutes later as I was getting on the escalator, I saw him, and pointed at him like a moron, and he looked right at me to see me standing there gaping at him. It was a proud moment. I digress.

So we’re watching GWTW, and it’s one of those scenes where Rhett Butler is being all take-charge-y, and hubs says, “You don’t see men like Clark Gable anymore in movies.”

It’s something I’ve actually thought about for a while; a few of you who’ve been with me for years might remember “Macho Week” 2007. (Those of you who go back and look at them might find the first glimmerings of inspiration for a certain character in a certain series I write there, too.)

Why don’t we see men like that anymore? Why are we constantly given these irresponsible, semi-effeminate little boy-men? Don’t get me wrong; I appreciate good-looking men, and I see the charm of a lot of these characters. But seriously. Is this what we want to teach our daughters to expect and appreciate? Men who run from any sort of responsibility, men for whom calling when he says he will is just too big a damn commitment for him? Men who use “products?”

Yeah, I know, the metrosexual thing has been done to death, and that’s not what this is about. It’s more about the fact that as our lives become more and more consumed with computers and video games and stuff like that, as we hide from the real world more and more as a society, as we cut out manual jobs and refuse to give them dignity anymore, as we become more and more fixated on money and material things, as we grow lazier and lazier…our men become more and more childish. Why should they have to take care of anyone when they grow up/get married?

I’m not saying real men don’t exist. I’m sure they do. But…where are they?

In the 60s and 70s, you could see real men in movies anytime you wanted. Lee Marvin. Steve McQueen. Paul Newman. Clint Eastwood. Charles Bronson. John Cassavetes. Gene Hackman. Sean Connery. Burt Reynolds (of course). Jack Nicholson. George C. Scott. James Garner. James Coburn. The list is endless. These were men. They drank hard and fought hard and played hard. They were commanding and decisive. They knew what had to be done, and they did it.

Where do we see men like that anymore? When is the last time you saw a man like that in a movie, seriously?

I suppose you could say Hugh Jackman is sort of manly, or at least he was in the first X-Men movie. Then he showed up doing cabaret on TV and the cloud of testosterone just disappeared. Nicholas Cage looked promising in the 80s and 90s, but now he spends all of his time doing silly B movies. You could mention Liam Neeson, but he keeps getting shoved into second-fiddle type roles; men have gotten younger, just like women. By which I mean, where a leading man might once have been in that 35-55 range (which I personally have always believed are a man’s sexiest years, when he’s all confident and authoritative but not knee-jerk-y or too set in his ways, when he’s wise but still youthful) now it seems they’re all in their early 20s. Movies aren’t about men doing manly things now, they’re about men running away from manly things so they can just hang out with each other.

I’m not saying some of those movies aren’t good, and/or funny. I like Judd Apatow movies. I thought OLD SCHOOL was hilarious. And sure, people just don’t go see westerns so much anymore, or action dramas like THE FRENCH CONNECTION. And yes, at the same time those men were on the screen, we also had the first glimmers of the child-man, the sensitive man who expected to be petted, in Woody Allen movies and Alan Alda and Dustin Hoffman.

(Incidentally, while hunting around the internet for names and examples I found this article by Tracy Quan. Quite interesting, and speaks to my point, so it’s worth a read. So is this NYT story from 2004.)

A while ago I talked about TWILIGHT, and why I think the book and movie have become such phenomena. For those of you who missed it, I think–I believe pretty strongly, in fact–that a big part of the reason is because TWILIGHT is a book which tells young women that love, and being in love, is a worthy goal on its own and that it’s important, instead of being something they should just sort of have in their lives while they achieve whatever lofty ambitions they may have–and if they don’t have lofty ambitions, there’s clearly something wrong with them. TWILIGHT tells young women they have every right to expect a man to pursue them, to protect them, and to commit to them. (NOTE: This is *not* me saying I approve of the particular methods used by the character in that book, or that I don’t see the way that relationship moves beyond caring and into controlling, or anything like that. I do see it. But I believe it is–or at least it was–the only book out there that condoned teenage girls putting love first, so all of that is less important to readers than that main message, which is that it’s okay to expect a man to be responsible and it’s okay to want love and romance instead of being focused on a career.)

Where else do we see that message anymore? Where else does anyone tell young women that they have a right to expect young men to stick around and behave responsibly, and where do young men see the massage that they should behave that way? (It always makes me laugh in a sad way when I think of that Salt n Pepa song from a while back, the “What A Man,” song, remember it? And the line “He spends quality time with his kids when he can.” Because apparently the idea of finding a man who hasn’t already impregnated someone–or more than one–is impossible; we assume he has children somewhere, because all men do, I guess.) Where do we tell young women they should expect commitment, and they should expect romance and love?

Instead it seems like everyone is on a treadmill–a hamster wheel–spinning faster and faster to stay a teenager as long as they can. We don’t demand responsible behavior from our young men anymore (and lest you think I’m being sexist here, we don’t demand it from young women anymore, either, which I think is just as bad), and we don’t show them role models like that anymore, either. We don’t teach them to be men; they grow up without fathers, and when they look to the media they don’t really see men there, either. All they see are millions of variations on the emo boy who needs a cuddle. Or maybe, if they see a manly man, he’s some sort of sexist caricature or violent maniac, a cautionary tale. In our entertainment today, you can either carry all of the responsibility of the relationship so your man can stay home playing with his Wii, or you can be beaten and locked in the bedroom because you have too much eyeshadow on. There doesn’t seem to be much of a middle ground.

I know there are some movies out there, yes. But actors these days…they’re delicate. They’re almost feminine-looking, it seems. They’re not very tall. They’re not hairy. They’re not gruff. They cross their legs at the knee and drink cocktails, if they drink at all, which they probably don’t. We used to have men like Richard Burton, Peter O’Toole and Richard Harris, Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin, whose wild exploits were legendary and who’d rather curl up and die than swear off drinking because it wasn’t good for them. These days it seems you have to have floppy hair and slight features if you want to be on-screen as a man, and be in bed by eleven. You’d never see Clark Gable now; Clark was manly and sexy, but he wasn’t exactly handsome, was he, with those big sticky-out ears?

The only one I’ve seen is Jeffrey Dean Morgan, who I looooove, but who never seems to get work. Who doesn’t seem to get work despite the fact that every woman I know loves him, but whatever. He’s not pretty, I guess, and he’s not boyish, so he wouldn’t be appropriate for any of the tee-hee-let’s-stay-children movies we put men in these days (unless they’re comic book heroes, of course. Comic book movies are the only place men get to be men anymore, and even then they’re sensitive and motivated not by honor or what’s right but by their feelings).

It just bothers me, and I think it’s sad. It bothers me that we don’t encourage men to be responsible and we don’t encourage women to expect men to be responsible. And I think it’s time we started changing the message of our popular culture. Because I’m sick of paying money to see a bunch of fifteen-year-olds in men’s bodies running around on the screen.

What Stace had to say on Monday, February 14th, 2011
Title! News! Stuff like that!

This is just a quick update today; I’m knee-deep in a bunch of stuff–not least of which, of course, if the fifth Downside book, which crossed the 13k mark last night and which is (touch wood) going really well so far. Dastardly deeds already abound, and we’ve so far had injuries and creepiness and corpses and blood all over the street.

And of course I have edits for Downside 4, as well, which you may or may not have heard now has an official title!

SACRIFICIAL MAGIC

I’m excited about it; it fits the book really well, and yes, that is sort of a hint, but you’ll never guess the big thing it’s hinting at/referring to, trust me.

I’m also working on a new project, which a few people have asked me about. I’m not saying anything about it, really, because I don’t want to jinx it. It’s something I’ve actually been sort of fiddling with for a while, but have had a bunch of false starts on, so I’m hoping this is the one that will stick. Keeping my fingers crossed, anyway. It’s called DREADFUL THINGS. Only about 7k words so far, but words I’m really pleased with. Lots of worldbuilding, which is tons of fun, and hints of Dark Doings in my heroine’s past, and murders and magic and rooftops and sewers and all those things that make books worth writing. So we’ll see where it goes, anyway.

Let’s see, what else. I was going to blog today about why we don’t get real men in movies/TV anymore, but I was so busy playing with the WIPs last night I forgot to write it. Or rather, by the time I got around to it, it was 4 am, and that’s my bedtime (I have started forcing myself to go to bed at 4, because otherwise I’ll never go to bed at all). Of course, since I go to bed so late, I also sleep late, which is why I try to do my blog posts the night before, which is why I didn’t do the Man one. So look for that on Wednesday, and then the long-promised Write What You Know post will be along very soon too, and I’m looking forward to that one.

Anyway. Since this is rather short and all, here’s a snippet from Downside Five, just for fun. I’m making the print white, because it does contain a very minor spoiler; it may be important to the plot or it may not, but just in case you don’t want even a hint of what sorts of things may happen in the fifth book, you can skip it.

This is from the second chapter, and Lex was waiting for Chess when she got home.

He walked the few more steps into her living room, plunked himself down on her new couch. Well, maybe not exactly new—she’d had it about two months—but it still seemed new.

Without asking she grabbed a beer from the fridge and handed it to him.

He nodded his thanks. “Coursen…now you mentioning it, could be maybe I got a favor you could do me.”

Uh-huh. She let the totally-not-fooled expression sit on her face another few seconds. “Really. Like what?”

“Thinking maybe you ain’t mind working me up a chatter with Terrible.”

If she’d had any liquid in her mouth she would have sprayed it everywhere in shock; as it was she just sort of sputtered. “What—but—why? Why would you want to talk to him?”

“Got my reasonings, I do.”

Oh, and happy Valentine’s Day and all of that if you’re into that sort of thing.

What Stace had to say on Friday, February 11th, 2011
Expert Advice

Ah, the internet. It’s such a big place, isn’t it? (Yes, I realize the internet isn’t actually a physical place. Just go with it.) So full of people from all walks of life, all levels of intelligence, all sorts of different opinions and thoughts and advice and knowledge and jobs and…well, all that stuff.

It’s funny how the internet has really become such a go-to place for information. I mean, it’s not funny ha-ha, but funny in that as little as fifteen years ago, nobody really even knew what an internet was. I remember my ex telling me about how somebody showed him this really cool site online called Ebay, where you could actually buy all sorts of stuff from all over the world, and you might get it really cheap!

Anyway. The things that make the internet so great–accessibility,* information, multiple viewpoints, etc. etc.–are the things that make it so dangerous. We all know the stories about women or young girls who’ve gone to meet an internet boyfriend and ended up murdered or raped. We all know about internet stalkers and all of that stuff.

But there’s another danger on the internet, one that’s a bit more…sly. And granted, it’s a lot less dangerous, in that you won’t be raped or murdered. You’ll be robbed, sure, but it’s kind of willingly, so there you go.

Here’s the problem. Anybody can be an expert online. Anybody. All you have to do is call yourself an expert, and people will believe that you’re an expert. This is how writers fall for PublishAmerica’s scam all the time; PA claims it’s a big publisher, look at our happy authors, we publish lots of books, we don’t want your money! So they submit their books (and PA will famously accept anything) and then discover that no, actually, PA does want their money very badly, and will do just about anything to get it (and treat the writers like shit along the way; they don’t even get a reach-around). Why do PA authors fall for it? Because PA has a big website, and pats themselves on the back, and because these writers don’t think to do the single most important thing they could do for research: Go to the bookstore and see if any of that publisher’s books are on the shelves.

This is something I see a lot. I’m sure it’s prevalent in all industries, but of course I see it in the writing community because that’s the one I’m part of and the one I pay attention to. I see all kinds of people shilling their “How to Get Published” guidebooks and classes, their conferences and workshops, their critiques and edits. All for a fee, of course. Often for a pretty high fee. Read the rest of this entry »

What Stace had to say on Wednesday, February 9th, 2011
Edits 2: Proofs Suck

You’d think I’d like proofs, since I love copyedits so much. You’d be wrong. I hate proofs.

I’m not sure why, really. They’re just…lame. And rather dull. And I don’t like ’em.

Proofs are standard sheets of paper, on which the pages of the book are laid out side-by-side, full-size (that is, mmp [mass market paperback] size, or trade size, or hardover size if you have a hardcover, or whatever). So really, when you very first see your very first proof, it’s exciting. I was all kinds of thrilled when I got my UNHOLY GHOSTS proofs and saw the awesome font Del Rey used for my chapter heads (Chapter One, etc.) and the brackets around the epigrams. It was exciting to see the book as a real book, real book pages and all.

But after that initial excitement…sigh.

This is a page proof from UNHOLY MAGIC. (Again, you have to click it, then click again to view it full-size, sorry. It’s too big for the blog.)

And here’s a close-up of some proof edits from that same set of proofs:

The photocopy sent to me for UM was cut off just a bit at the top, so here’s the upper left corner of the CITY OF GHOSTS proofs:

So. Copyedits were originally done on the printed manuscript. I go through them, and two editors–the CE and my own–go through them.

Then the ms is laid out as a book–I believe those Keebler-elf-type folks in the Production Dept. handle that, presumably sneaking out of their hidey-holes under cover of darkness, dancing and waving around little elf-sized flagons of mead, singing happy little work songs as they sprinkle Magic Book Dust on the ms, and leaving the finished product there on a spotlessly clean table for the other employees to discover in the morning. I believe two copies are printed, and one goes to me and another to another copyeditor. But it may be that the proof goes to another CE, his or her changes are implemented, and another proof is made which comes to me. But I’m pretty sure we get proofs at the same time.

Now. Many of you probably already know this, but just in case you don’t, I’ll mention it. Major changes are not supposed to be made in proofs. The deletion of a sentence here and there, removing or adding punctuation, fixing typos or other errors, fine. Deciding you want to add a new section of dialogue? Not so fine.

It’s not happened to me, but it’s my understanding that if an author makes over a certain amount of changes to their page proofs–major changes–they have to pay for the additional typesetting/conversion/whatever it is (those elves require a LOT of mead to keep them happy and productive). I don’t believe that’s a canard along the lines of “If you don’t earn out your advance you have to give part of it back,” which people who have no idea what they’re talking about like to trot out and parade in front of aspiring writers, usually in order to sell them on a vanity press. I believe that making major changes at this stage is actually something we have to pay for.

So we need to be damn sure everything is the way we want it before we mail those copyedits back.

Changes are made much like in CEs, though:

or:

and here’s one where the editor who went over the proofs or the data entry/whatever made an error (or we all missed it in CEs, which does happen. It’s harder than you think to catch every single mistake, because you tend to see what it’s supposed to say rather than what it does):

So. I make my changes, and send the proofs back. I have now “signed off” on the book, which means no further text changes should be made at all.

There is at least one additional proof, however, which is done in-house. I believe another CE goes over it, and I know my editor goes over it, but I don’t see it. That’s the proof during which they make sure that all of the necessary changes have been implemented, that the book is ready to be printed, because that final proof is exactly how it will be printed.

Why do I hate page proofs so much? I don’t really know, honestly. After that initial excitement fades, really, they’re just…tedious. Which sounds bad, because it is after all my own book(s), which I love and worked hard on and believe in and am so proud of. But actually physically reading them in book form enthralls me (at least once; I don’t read them repeatedly, no, but going through and reading them as actual books is pretty exciting), so I don’t believe that’s the problem.

I think the issue is what I said above: you have to make sure you see what’s there, now what you think should be there. So you’re not just reading for pleasure, enjoying the story and the sense of accomplishment and all of that. You’re inspecting every word and every line. You’re paying very close attention. You’re seeing a bit here and there you should have worded differently, now that it’s too late to change it (this is always a problem in reading my own finished books). And you’re–at least I am–afraid you’re going to miss something, and your book will have–gasp!–a typo.

Seriously. I mock, but I loathe typos. I hate them. Just like I make it a point of pride to turn in my mss as typo/error-free as possible, so I am with the finished product; even more so, for obvious reasons. I seriously live in fear of getting one of those “There’s a mistake in your book” emails a certain type of person apparently likes to send out. I get annoyed when I see them in other books, and would have a fit to find one in mine.

Because the book is it, you know? It’s all people have to judge me by. And I hate the idea that it’s going out into the world as one of those “But I see typos in books from the Big 5 all the time” type of novels that some people seem to think justifies their own lack of care and attention to spelling/grammar etc.

A typo in my finished book is a big piece of literary spinach between my front teeth. It’s embarrassing.

So I really go over those proofs; I mean, I read them slowly and focus hard on every word to make sure it really is spelled right and punctuated correctly and reads correctly and all of that. This is the last chance I’ll have to correct any errors, at least unless and until the book goes into a second printing. Errors can be fixed for the new print run, but generally only if they’re deemed important enough (which a single typo is not) or, I guess, if the error was with an editor or data person or whatever who made changes after I signed off on the book. And the books with the mistake are still out there, of course; they can’t be recalled or something. (Books do get pulled and pulped, but generally only if a significant error was made, it’s plagiarized, or somebody sues/someone important threatens to sue.) So my typo is obviously not cause to do such a thing.

So I find proofs tedious, and unnerving, because I’m always worried that I might have missed something, I probably did miss something, damn it what if I miss something? It’s just me, some paper, and a pencil; I could very well miss something. And then the typos or other errors would be my fault.

It’s possible not everyone gets this many proofs, and a lot of people get digital proofs, which I hate. My PERSONAL DEMONS proofs were digital. PDFs, actually, which meant I had to make a separate list of errors (I did that for DEMON INSIDE, too, but that’s because the paper proofs came during RT and I didn’t have time to get them back, so just emailed the document).

So. Those are page proofs, and they’re the last I see of my book until I get ARCs in the mail–if I get them–and my author copies, which come around release time.

Once again, any questions? And does anyone have something else about the editing process they’d like to know?

What Stace had to say on Monday, February 7th, 2011
Edits: Working With Trolls

Since I didn’t do a lot of planning for this particular little series, I’m not actually sure what I’m going to cover. Should I talk more about the working-with-my-editor process, or…?

So what I’m going to do today, anyway, is discuss copyedits. (This is a long, image-heavy post, FYI.)

After edits are complete–often several rounds, including line edits–the ms is printed, and the printout heads to a mysterious, homicidal, troll-like basement-dweller* known as a copyeditor. I always picture them chained to a floor, wearing rags and snarling over desks held together by Duct tape and rage. The copyeditor’s job is to inspect each and every word with a magnifying glass, using at least one grammar reference book, nitpick the hell out of your ms. with the Pencil of Doom, and examine everything with “What if I were a totally stupid person?” and ask questions thusly.*** (For more on this, check out my series from August about the publishing process: How Babies are Made parts one and two.) People often think copyeditors use a red pen; nope. They use a pencil, not always red, and you have to respond in pencil, too. But not a #2 pencil. A colored pencil. As a result, I have colored pencils and artgum erasers all over the place. I digress.

The copyeditor focuses their nasty little eyes on the pages, and starts marking it up with odd and obscure lines and squiggles–some of which I suspect are made up just to fuck with writers–while giggling maniacally.**** They’d rub their hands together if they weren’t so busy drawing bizarre alchemical symbols on the ms.**** Once they’ve sufficiently scribbled all over the book, they send it to the editor, who sends it to the writer.

So. Here are some of my actual copyedited pages. These are from UNHOLY MAGIC (which, as you’ll see on the first page, was originally titled DOWNSIDE GHOSTS. Then we decided to find a new title, and they started calling the series that, but there you go). This is the ms that was sent to me, that I went through page-by-page, printed from my original file–the one I emailed my editor and she approved (I write my books in 12-pt. Dark Courier, so that’s what you’ll see; they don’t even change my font). The copyeditor fixes any minor grammar issues I may have, clarifies things, suggests minor changes,points out factual errors or mistakes, stuff like that.

I had the hubs scan these and send them to me as jpegs, so if you click them twice they’ll go full-size and be very easy to read. You’ll be better able to see them that way, and I’ve added comments to each one to explain what everything is. Sorry, but there are so many images I really need to keep them smaller. I hope it’s not too much of an inconvenience.

Title page (my explanatory comments are in blue, and any explanations of my responses are in red): Read the rest of this entry »

What Stace had to say on Thursday, February 3rd, 2011
Edits are up to you

I hadn’t actually planned to start my little series on editing today, but this topic came up last night in email with a good friend of mine, and it annoyed me, so here we go, and we’ll do more next week (including copyedits, which will be fun, I think, and of course I’m going to use pages from the original mss of UNHOLY MAGIC and CITY OF GHOSTS to illustrate, which, again, will hopefully be fun).

Anyway. My friend and I were discussing edits, and the fact that someone she knew got a set of edits where the editor actually wrote in new dialogue.

Editors are not supposed to do this.

It is not their job.

They can tell you that conversation/line doesn’t work for them. They can maybe suggest new lines, by saying “Maybe you could try having Character A say he hates that, and Character B can say he knows, and that might make the joke clearer?” But anything beyond that is them trying to write your book for you, and you shouldn’t let them do it.

It seems to me that, especially when you get into the micropress/epress area, the favorite excuse of lame publishers for why an author might be upset with them is “S/he refused to accept editing.” “Oh, Author A is only saying we’re a total high-school clique house because she refused to accept editing so we dropped her.” “All those authors are mad because they’re prima donnas who refused to accept editing.” That sort of thing.

And I think that atmosphere, that sort of Red Pen of Damocles hanging over every writers’ head, permeates the world of writers’ forums etc., and leads many to the belief that they have to accept all suggested edits, no questions asked. If the editor says “Change this,” it better be changed.

Sadly, I also have no doubt that at some little crappy places, that is indeed the case. I know I was required to fight tooth and nail about factual accuracy, against an editor who believed people in the medieval period used hieroglyphs to communicate in writing. I’ve heard similar horror stories from small- and micro-press friends; maybe not quite as bad as that, but lots of tales about style and voice being removed and replaced with plodding paint-by-numbers writing.

Then there’s the matter of “house style,” which in a lot of cases can be downright lousy, and sometimes doesn’t make sense at all. “House style,” though, is unfortunately the one thing you’re probably not going to be able to fight with. You may be able to keep a comma here or a semicolon there if you can make a good enough case for it, but beyond that you’re going to need to let it go.

“House style,” though, isn’t generally messing about with your actual writing. It may be ridiculous things, sure, like completely interrupting the flow of a sex scene by inserting a hard break to indicate a POV switch (because we’re all so paranoid about “head-hopping” that we refuse to accept that readers are not in fact stupid, and are perfectly capable of dealing with one POV switch), or being forced to change every “start” in your book to “begin,” or whatever, because someone thinks “start” sounds “common.” But usually it’s just a few little bits here and there.

Editing is different, and editing is up to you.

It’s your book. You wrote it, and it belongs to you, and your name is on it. Yes, there is a line. An editor can refuse to accept the book, thereby requiring you to give back your advance and lose the contract, if you won’t make any changes at all. I’ve never heard of it happening, but then, most writers I know believe–as I do–that editors are generally awesome, and that it’s fun to work with them, and that they’re right most of the time with their suggestions.

That doesn’t mean there isn’t a line, and it’s a line you do NOT have to cross. It certainly doesn’t mean they’re right all the time. You do NOT have to accept every edit, every suggestion, every wording change. You certainly do NOT have to allow anyone to re-write part of your book for you, absolutely not.

Working with an editor is just that–working with an editor. It’s the two of you–and maybe your agent, or maybe the editor’s assistant might have an idea, or a friend of yours who’s read the mss might come up with something you like–working together to make the book as good as it can be. It’s not you handing your work over to someone else to change it and turn it into something that isn’t yours.

There’s a difference between edits, as in your editorial letter, and edits, as in line edits, too. When I get edits from my editor at Del Rey, it’s in the form of an email or Word doc with all of her thoughts, good and bad (I firmly believe a good editor tells you what they love about the book, too; they don’t simply assume that you know they like it since they bought it. A good editor wants to talk to you about your book and the things they love about it).

I go through and implement her suggestions, basically. I may disagree with one, and discuss it with her, but so far I can think of only one editorial suggestion I dug my heels in over, and that ended up working out just fine–a quick change of something else, and it became a moot point. Really? There shouldn’t even be many issues if any, because you should agree with most of your editor’s thoughts. If s/he’s a good editor, and you’re not a Speshul Golden-Words Snowflake, most if not all of the suggestions should fall into the “Oh, riiiiight!” category.

Then come line edits. (My last few books, my ms has been sent back to me with an editorial letter and some notes made on the ms, so it’s like a combination of the two.) Line edits are “This line makes no sense,” basically. I often get “What the hell is Bump saying here, because I can’t understand him at all,” but of course, that’s me. Line edits might also be “This paragraph is overkill,” or whatever. This is where “kill your darlings”–advice with which I disagree, frankly–comes in. Lots of those overkill lines? Yeah…those are probably the “Stacia knows this is probably too much but look how good that sentence is!” lines. So those have to go. (I often stick them into a special Word doc in case I have the chance to use them later. Of course, then I never open it and re-use them, but whatever. I still have them, my poor deleted darlings, and I can go frolic in the midst of them whenever I choose.)

There may be some typos tossed in throughout there, too. There usually are. No matter how hard I try to make the ms perfect, there’s always going to be something I miss before I send it to my editor, mainly because I’ve read the damn thing so many times I see what should be there, not what is.

There will also probably be some story inconsistencies or whatever to clean up, from my own edits. If I decide to switch from having two ghosts to one, for example, I need to make sure I’ve done what is called “Following through on the cut,” and removed every reference to “they/them,” “the two ghosts,” whatever. I often miss this stuff too, again, because I’ve been going through it so much/so many times.

My editor also catches the occasional repeated word, as in “Slowly the ghost moved toward her. It raised its arm slowly, the knife in its spectral hand catching the moonlight and sending it right into her eyes, blinding her.” I don’t always notice these when I’m actually writing, and while I catch most of them when I’m editing before I turn the book in, again, I can’t find everything. I hate repeated words, actually. They bug me almost as much as sentences that begin with participial phrases (dangling or not), which I loathe with a fiery and all-devouring passion, and will never, ever use, because they’re so awful I can’t even find a way to describe how awful they are. (Let me just say, though, that ninety-nine times out of a hundred, you find them in the mss of newbie writers, because they think that sentence construction is “writery” or professional, thus making them look very smooth and clever. It’s not, and it doesn’t.)

Anyway, enough of that rant. The point is, edits are something you do with your editor, not for or in spite of. You get to make the choice, and there is nothing wrong with doing so. I’d say when it comes to “regular” edits–as in editorial letter/line edits–I probably accept pretty much all of my editor’s suggestions, because I trust her, and because in most cases I agree with her. With copyedits it’s probably more like 50-75%, depending on how good the CE is, of course.

An editor is there to help you, and to help make the book as good as it can be. They are not there to rewrite your book themselves, and they are not there to remove your voice and turn it into something a third-grader would have written.

I can’t remember who said it, but I read an awesome quote a little while back. It basically said, “The only rule of grammar a writer needs to follow is to make himself understood. Everything else is style.”

It may not be true all of the time–well, it isn’t, not ALL of the time–but it is most of the time. You don’t have to let yourself be treated badly, you don’t have to let control of your work be taken from you, and you don’t have to agree to every edit.

What Stace had to say on Wednesday, February 2nd, 2011
Some Quick Notes

This is just a quick one, everyone, a few little tidbits of tidbittiness.

1. I turned in my story for the MAMMOTH BOOK OF GHOST ROMANCE. I’m fairly pleased with it, although writing romance really isn’t my forte, necessarily, and you all know sorts definitely aren’t. Plus, it’s a Downside story–or more accurately, a Chess/Terrible Triumph City story–so writing a happy ending was a bit weird, ha. But I think it’s a fairly sweet little tale, and I think there’s enough this-love-thing-kinda-sucks in there to make it work. Plus, kinky hippies.

2. Working on edits for Book 4, and plan to start Book 5 tonight. At some point these books need titles, although I admit the idea of simply titling them “4” and “5” has its own ascetic appeal.

3. Working on New Project too. Still pleased with it 3,000 words in, which is nice, since usually the “This sucks” sets in after the first few pages.

4. I will be doing the “Write What You Know” post soon.

5. Also…it occurred to me last week, I think, that I never did get around to doing my Editing posts, and the editor interviews. So look for those in the next month or so, I think, because I totally don’t have enough on my plate and need to pile more work onto myself.

6. My good friend Yasmine Galenorn had a book release yesterday! BLOOD WYNE, the latest in her Otherworld series.

7. Oh, shit! I forgot to mention, I got my Dragon*con Guest Agreement letter the other night, so failing a major problem, I will once again be a guest this year.

Valentine’s Day is coming up; I went to the grocery store a few minutes ago (I know! Can you believe I left the house? Crazy!) and they have all of their heart-shaped boxes of chocolate and pink-wrapped Hershey’s Kisses and stuff out. Which is all very cute, but I hate Valentine’s Day. I always tell the hubs to ignore it, and he always says he will then feels guilty at the last minute and gets me something, and it’s usually something I get annoyed by because if he was going to spend the money why couldn’t it be on something I actually wanted (I’m a big proponent of “Stick to the list!”) and we end up, if not fighting, then at least grumpy.

Oh, and one year he got us these Valentine’s Day crackers, like Christmas crackers? Where you pull the ends and there’s a little paper hat etc. inside? Anyway. These had little shiny red hearts inside them. I swear we found hearts in the couch/on the floor for the next year and a half. It’s like glitter, where one person uses glitter in the house and for the next ten years odd bits of glitter keep sticking themselves to you for no reason at all. It’s like it gets in the air shafts.

Anyway. Valentine’s Day sucks, so let me be the first to go one record with my “It Sucks” post. (Although some of you might be very interested to know that the rooftop scene in UNHOLY MAGIC took place on that day. No, it’s never mentioned outright–and the holiday no longer exists in that world, of course–but in my head, given the timeline, I realized early on that it was the early-middle of February in dramatic time, so it fit very well.)

I can’t remember the last time I had a really good Valentine’s Day, actually. I think it was in early elementary school? For a long time, like all through high school, I was sick on Valentine’s Day. I used to get respiratory infections every year in October and February.

Oh, and the really fun one? In junior high our school did a fundraiser where you could send your friends flowers–carnations–in their classrooms. Because that’s a really good idea when you’re dealing with junior-high-age kids: give them another chance to openly measure and compare at a glance how many friends everyone has, and a perfect excuse for them to be even nastier to one another.

Anyway. In seventh grade I was sick the whole week before, and so no one sent me any flowers (of course, they might not have had I been there, either; I didn’t have a lot of friends, and the few I had didn’t have a lot of money, and neither did I). So I got to walk around the whole day with bitchy little soc girls asking me where my flowers were, and hadn’t anyone sent me any? with extremely pleased grins on their faces. I was twelve. That shit matters when you’re twelve. It was pretty awful.

Ah, glorious childhood memories. So anyway, yeah. I’m happy to buy the candy, because I love candy (I’ve managed to cut back on my peanut-butter cup dependency, btw. I’m down to four a night), but the rest of it? Meh.

Got any bad Valentine’s Day memories to share?