Maybe What We Need Is a New Definition of Normal

My husband and I enjoy watching selected movies and television shows in the evenings. Since we enjoy the delicious freedom of being cable-free, our viewing pleasure is not dictated by time. A movie is just as new to us six years or thirty-six years after its release as it was the day it first came out.
The Soloist
So we finally got around to seeing this incredible movie, The Soloist, last night. It was originally released in 2009.

If you saw Jamie Foxx in Ray, the biography of Ray Charles, you already know he’s an amazing, amazing actor. And while I’m not really a fan of the comic book Iron Man series, that takes nothing away from my appreciation of Robert Downey Jr. as an actor, especially in this role.

The Soloist is a true story about a friendship that develops between a columnist for the Los Angeles Times, Steve Lopez, and an extraordinary musician named Nathaniel Ayers who’s homeless and playing on the streets of the city.

Nathaniel has schizophrenia. He is a cellist who’s playing a violin with two strings when the two men meet. Through the stories that Lopez writes about him, Nathaniel is given a cello.

I won’t spoil the rest of the story. But I do want to dwell on the fact that the extras portraying homeless people in the movie ARE homeless people living on the L.A. streets. Watching them, I realized how many people are invisible to too many of us, and how restricting the definition of normal is for human beings.

I knew before the movie ended that I would be thinking and re-thinking this one for a long time. I’m not sure where that thought process is going but I’d like to invite you along.

This is a great movie. Start here.

Testing, Testing

I’m working on the final draft of Thieves of Fire and have gone back to the crow on the cover because I want both The Road Unsalted and Thieves of Fire to have the same look.

test cover with crow 04252015
One of the downsides of being able to do this kind of work yourself is that you have the tools for endless tinkering.

I’m going to send this one out for feedback and then, I think, go with it.

Crowd Editing, Part Three

I do a lot of editing as well as book and cover design. True confession here—I find editing far more difficult than writing.
TOF with Ruth's edits for web
When I’m writing the first draft of anything—this post, a book, a magazine article, doesn’t matter—I just click right along, my hand(s) and head working as fast as they can so that I don’t miss out on that great phrase that’s whipping across my neurons.

I don’t have to worry about commas, syntax or even spelling (though I do try to do those things correctly) because I know I will revise it later—and probably more than once.

Editing is far, far slower than writing, and requires intense focus because you’re testing every word and every sentence: Does it make sense? Is it in line with the movement of the whole book? How about those details such as spelling, grammar and punctuation?

Editing also takes the dexterity and balance of a tightrope walker. Do you rewrite a sentence that you know is awkward? Sure, if it’s a single sentence.

But what about a paragraph? A chapter? Heck, a whole book? (I’ve done that and it’s tedious work, take my word for it.)

Like every other skill, managing the rewrite issue (what writers like to call “changing my words”) is always a tough call because the inclination to “just fix it” is strong. For new editors, that impulse is all but irresistible.

When I hand my work off to an editor, my instructions are simple: Do not let me go out there and make a fool out of myself in public. In other words, tell me if something doesn’t work, if my plot has fallen apart, if a character doesn’t ring true. Correct my grammar, correct my spelling.

I care deeply about my readers. I know that I get only one chance to impress them with my work. If I disrespect them with a badly done book, they will never come back to visit me again.

Now I’ve been hanging out in the writers cafe for a long time now, and at this point in my career, I know that I write well. So what I need from an editor is a pointing finger—this doesn’t work, this does. I can fix it if you point it out to me. I don’t need or want someone to rewrite my paragraphs or chapters. But if you’re my editor and you’ve got a better idea how to craft a sentence, please show me.

Like I said, fine line.

From what I see on websites dedicated to this newish “crowd editing” phenomenon, that line is being crossed regularly by inexperienced (or wannabe) editors, and it is resented by inexperienced (wannabe) writers.

And the whole experience devolves into an ego clash with resentment on both sides.

So would I recommend this path to publishing?

No.

No way.

You do get what you pay for.

Crowd Editing, Part Two

In the midst of receiving lots of great feedback as well as corrections from the advance readers of Thieves of Fire readers, a writer friend and fellow editor, Kris Lewis, sent me an email with a link to a website that purported to offer free “crowd editing” assistance.
TOF with Ruth's edits for web
He was skeptical about it and I have to admit, so was I. When I checked out the website, I discovered my doubts were justified. It seems that the folks who volunteer to do the free “editing” are upset about the negative pushback they get from their victims, er, writers.

This is so not surprising, so not surprising at all. If there’s one thing I can tell you about newbie writers, it’s this: They are TERRIFIED of being edited. They take every comment and correction personally, very personally, so the pushback  on this free “editorial service” is to be expected.

If you are going to be a professional writer, you either grow a thick skin or die as a one-book wonder. I know that from personal experience because I’ve lived that arc.

I was determined not to be a one-book wonder but I still curled up in a fetal position when I was first edited. It took time but I eventually learned to differentiate between good editing and bad. (More on that at another time.)

I also learned to cherish those editors who, just by the way they cared about language, took the time to teach me how to be a better writer.

Nowadays, I welcome good editing with open arms because I know that it makes my work stronger. It is the most glorious kind of collaboration.

My point here is this, it takes a writer time and persistence to understand that editing is an essential part of publishing, perhaps THE essential part of the publishing process.

You have to force yourself to move beyond your sensitivities, and to understand that when you are done writing a book or article or play or poem, the writing no longer belongs to you. It belongs to your readers, the second half of the writing equation.

Your editor is your first reader, the one human being who will end up knowing your work as intimately as you do. In my opinion, that’s a powerful relationship.

When Kris sent me his email about crowd editing, he asked what I thought. My reaction was twofold—that the efficacy of “crowd editing” was entirely dependent on the maturity and experience of the writer as well as the quality of the author’s work. And given the value of “free,” I doubted that it would work very well.

But there’s editing and then there’s editing. More on that tomorrow.

Crowd Editing, Part One

I’ve recently had an interesting publishing experience that I want to explore over the next couple of days. It involves the difference between editing and proofreading as well as, believe it or not, marketing.
TOF with Ruth's edits for web
Last month, I printed 100 copies of Thieves of Fire for marketing purposes. This was a “private” print run done before releasing the book to the public.

My first task was to share copies of Thieves with folks willing to review it on Amazon. Some of these folks I know but many of them are readers who contacted me about my first Carding novel, The Road Unsalted, because they liked it. My hope was that they would like Thieves of Fire as well or tell me honestly if they didn’t.

Either way, their opinions matter to future readers. (A side note here: No matter how much folks want to believe that the internet has changed marketing “forever,” word of mouth is still the most important marketing asset anyone can have.)

I knew there were still some typos in the review copies and probably a couple of stray words left behind as I made my final edits so I invited everyone who accepted my invitation to let me know about any mistakes they found.
TOF book wrap for web
Much to my surprise, people loved having the opportunity to interact with my book in this way. It has been such fun to read their feedback, to hear what they think about the cover, what characters they liked, how the book kept them up at night reading (oh yes, I love hearing that), and oh-by-the-way, here’s a list of the typos that I found.

I need to interject here to tell you that Thieves was edited before I sent it to the printer to make review copies so I was confident it didn’t have any structural problems that would call for large amounts of rewriting. To me, publishing an unedited book is a sign of disrespect to readers.

But we all find typos in books. We all find extra words or punctuation errors. Correcting these is a process called proofreading, and readers are very, very good at it because errors interrupt their reading experience. Finding a typo is a lot like stubbing your toe when you’re out for a walk in the woods on a beautiful day.

Unpleasant.

So I was not surprised when folks contacted me with corrections. What did surprise me is how much they enjoyed being an intrinsic part of publishing Thieves of Fire.

Whomp!

Whomp! That’s how I feel today. In fact, I think it’s safe to say that that’s how just about everyone in my quilt guild feels today. Show hangovers all around.
Goldie on her new bed 1-3-2012 for web
There’s 120 members (give or take) in the Northern Lights Quilt Guild and just about every hand was on deck for two full days of strutting our stuff to the public.

It is exhausting though energizing because we work so well together and you really get to know folks that you don’t get a chance to hang out with ordinarily. That’s the best part, in my opinion.

There were 200 quilts on display, all sizes, all sorts of techniques, artsy, traditional, quiet, BRIGHT, enchanting and everything in between.

Many hands made a gorgeous raffle quilt. Many hands made mini-quilts that were auctioned off silently. Many hands sewed bags and then filled them with gifts for another type of auction. There was great food (all homemade) and we also plundered our book shelves and magazine racks to donate to the book sale table.

It is a very good thing that we do this every other year. It gives us enough time to forget some of how tough it is, get some sleep, make improvements in the way we do things, and then get revved up again.

I think my dog has the right idea about how to spend today.