Wednesday, March 24, 2021

An editor's (not very serious) rant

 Life has kept me busy lately, which is why my last post was well over a month ago. The conference went great and I am busy with work. Requests for manuscript evaluations and content edits are steadily pouring in, and my schedule is full through June.

And then there's the future to prepare for. We are going to be hauling our boat to Washington state in 2022 (we get to spend another year in SF Bay Area before that--Yay!) so we took a road trip up to look at boatyards and talk to boat haulers. It was lovely spring weather, with only a couple of days of rain. We hiked, explored, drove a lot, and generally stayed away from everyone but an old friend or two, who I visited with from a distance outdoors. No, I have not gotten a shot yet!

Today, though, I'm back at my desk, editing and sighing. I love my work, but I do get tired of correcting the same old punctuation errors. I usually go on a bit about missing commas, but the funny thing is that today I am finding extra commas. Lots of them. So, here's a good tip: If you can add an "and" between two adjectives, or reverse them, then you can use a comma instead of the "and" there. So you would not put a comma in "bright white Thunderbird," because you would NOT say "white and bright" unless you were writing copy for a toothpaste ad).

On another subject, there are certain words that almost every author I've ever worked with has misspelled once or twice in their manuscripts; these misused and abused words crop up in the work of the aspiring and the (nearly) expiring author. And there's a very good reason why: they are homophones—words that sound just like the word you meant to type‚ so they won't be corrected by spellchecker software, or easily caught by reading your work aloud. 

Wikipedia has a long list of these commonly misspelled homophones here. For today, I'm going to limit myself to four sets of misspelled words: Peak, peek, and pique; Poor, pore, and pour; Teem and team; reign and rein. These seem to occur in my clients' work more than any others—perhaps because they sound so darn good, whether they are spelled correctly or not!

I suggest you search for these in your manuscript and see whether you've used them correctly. Peek means to look furtively; a peak is a mountaintop or metaphorical height; and pique is a feeling. You don't pour over documents, you pore over them, poor pour yourself a drink! And there's no "i" in team, but there is an "a," though the teeming masses in the stadium might not know how to spell either one. I reign supreme here at my desk, but I'll rein myself in from further examples.
That's my rant for the day—now, back to work...
hasta pronto!

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Looking forward to SCWC online (with you)

Yes, it’s February and that means it is almost time for my favorite weekend of the year, the Southern California Writer’s Conference, on Valentine’s Day Weekend, aka President’s Day Weekend.

I’m particularly excited this year as we are doing the February SCWC virtually, which means there’s no excuse to not attend—there’s no air travel costs or headaches, no traffic hassles, and no hotel room needed (unless you are like one conferee I know who is willing to pay to have a private room with no kids in it!).

As you can see from the schedule (here) the conference is just as chock-a-block with workshops as usual, not to mention three great speakers and even a fun happy hour time set aside to kick back and visit. I will have two workshops to teach, plus two “Pitch Witches” book-pitch workshops with my favorite witchy woman, Marla Miller.


Both of the workshops I am teaching are subjects that are near and dear to me. First will be POV—what is it and how do you make it work best for your story? I always enjoy sharing insights on this important subject with new and emerging writers.

My other workshop is about Content Editing, and that’s the one I feel most strongly about. I am primarily a content and structural editor, though I do line and copy editing as well, for select clients. So, what is Content Editing and more importantly, what isn’t it?

In this workshop I’ll break down the different types of editing and give you some tips for how to ready your work to be edited. The more you prepare, the more money and time you save—not to mention how much better the process goes for both of us, if I’m not overwhelmed by issues that can be dealt with by you in advance.

One persistent problem I have talked about before is expository—every writer wants to how much is too much, and how to weed out the excess in an efficient way. In my workshop, I’ll be describing how to employ the “highlighter trick,” a process many of my author clients are already familiar with, and giving you all one more tool for preparing your manuscript to be edited.

Those are just a few of the opportunities that abound at SCWC—I hope to see you there.
I mean here. Right here. Online. Check it out.
Hasta pronto!

Friday, December 11, 2020

My Top 5 Books of 2020

I’m up a river (specifically, the Sacramento), without a paddle—of course I don’t have a paddle, we live on a sailboat. Anyway, I realize I have been a bit out of touch the last couple of months (haven’t we all?) but now it is time for my Top Five Books of 2020 list.

As always, I am not writing about books I edited, so I won’t be including Murder Bytes, the newest smart, lively thriller by Gayle Carline or the oh-so-readable Angel Flight by R.D. Kardon. And I don’t promote those titles you already know, I try to focus on books from smaller presses—you might never have heard of these five, if not for this post, and I don’t want you to miss them. Not all of these were published in 2020, but close enough (I didn’t include The Vanishing Woman from 2012, though it should be required reading).
In no particular order, here they are:

The Last Blue by Isla Morley (2020) This book absolutely transported me. Not always to somewhere comfortable, but the world she created felt so true and was so visually compelling that I felt I was watching the story play out all around me. Set in a tiny town in the Appalachian Mountains in the 1970s, with long flashbacks to the 1930s, Morley’s novel is about prejudice and skin color, but not at all in the way you might think.

Murderabilia (2019) by Carl Vonderau. Think dark. Think creepy. Think chilling. Even after all that, you won’t be anywhere near this work of fiction with all too many real-life resonances. The protagonist is a wealthy banker who’s also the son of a renowned serial killer; now he himself is wanted for a grisly murder. The only way for him to escape prison (maybe even death) is to find out whodunnit, with the help of guess who? It'll be hard to find, but you may see a used copy.

Crux: A Cross-Border Memoir (2018) by Jean Guerrero. An award-winning reporter with years of experience covering Latin America, Guerrero is a true child of the cross-border experience. Born in San Diego, she’s the product of a tumultuous marriage between her Puerto Rican mother and Mexican father. Somehow, she managed to draw me in and make her life and her crazy family feel just like my own.

First Second Coming (2020) by Jeff Pollak. First off, God (or NTG as he likes to be called, short for New Testament God) is retiring. The replacement deity was hired by Milky Way Galaxy, Inc, because he’s a pro at bringing planets back from the brink. He threatens to eliminate Earth’s biggest problem, humanity, if they can’t rise to the challenge he poses to them on a popular news broadcast. There’s a love story, too, between two of the news anchors, and plenty of thoughtful laughs. Oh, and there's gonna be a sequel.

Past This Point (2019) by Nicole Mabry. Oddly enough, this book is the one that feels the most like 2020, and it was published last year—in August of 2019, before the world changed forever. The tale of a young woman desperate to avoid catching a killer new strain of flu who ends up trapped in her NYC apartment as the dead pile up and the government cracks down, was gripping and ultimately quite moving; the writing wasn’t fast paced, but its honesty kept me turning pages.

(Another wonderfully prescient novel for 2020 is the dystopian Midnight in New California by Lisa Renee Julien, though it’s is not as well written or edited as Past This Point.)

Hope you can find one of these you love, and want to share with others. And I hope you have a quiet, calm, restful holiday. Next year will be here soon, with more books...

hasta pronto!

Monday, September 21, 2020

Reality versus Dreams; Sympathy versus Empathy


The good news: Yes, I'm really in San Francisco. After years of dreaming of sailing under the Golden Gate, and two months of (slow & fun) sailing north from San Diego, we finally did it. Yay for us!

The bad news: As I jumped down to tie us up in our new slip on day one in SF, my foot caught slightly and I landed on the cement dock wrong. Very wrong. As in, I broke a bone in my knee (I have a non displaced fracture of my tibial plateau, to be exact).

So, dreams versus reality. Reality is me on crutches, hobbling the 300 yards to stand in the shadow of The Ballpark formerly known as AT&T Park, only to hobble home to the boat, exhausted. Wearing my masks of course. One for Covid, one for combating the poor air quality. Did I mention the air quality here has been among the worst in the country for the last two weeks due to wildfires nearby? Oh, and the Giants may not even make it into the playoffs. Reality. 

In other news, I am learning just how hard it is to get around in the world with one leg. Getting in and out of cars is a challenge (getting in an out of a v-berth isn't easy either!), but even trickier is opening doors and gates while on crutches. Yes, I can swing along on crutches (for the first 200 yards or so), but, in general, moving around in the modern world with a physical disability is a bitch. 

You'd think I would know this already, having taken care of my mom off and on since her stroke in 2011 until she died last year. One of her physical symptoms (she had dementia, so some of her problems were invisible) was a left leg that never quite "behaved" following her stroke. She had pain and neuropathy in that foot and leg for the rest of her life. So, yeah, I knew. I was there—I saw it, experienced it, was inconvenienced by it, and very much sympathized with her frustration. I sympathized.

As much as I tried, it was hard to empathize with her, though I certainly tried to put myself in her shoes. I felt bad for her, but I didn't feel her pain. I was full of life and energy, I could walk so much faster without waiting for her to push along in her walker. I wanted to help, and was happy to assist, and to push her wheelchair once she got one, but I don't think I truly empathized. Boy, do I now.

It is so hard to know you could almost do something, something so simple, but have to ask someone for help. Help with walking, help with tying your shoe, help with getting in a door, putting on a backpack, getting onto your own boat...the list goes on. And it's so great to sit in a shower on the "handicapped" bench and feel the hot water pounding you clean, to have someone bring you fresh fruit from the farmer's market, to lie down after an exhausting bout of doing dishes on one leg,

Oh, yes, Mom, I get it now. Thanks for your patience with my often-poorly-hidden impatience, and I hope my own frustration didn't show itself too often. Hopefully, I will remember how to feel empathy once I am back to being truly bi-pedal. I can see the world is short of empathy right now, both in private and public venues.

What does this have to do with writing? Not much, but some. Words matter. When we write that someone empathized or sympathized, it is important to know the difference. And empathy is the first job of a writer, and an important step to becoming truly human, long before the words fill the pages. Putting yourself in someone else's skin lets you see the world anew. Sometimes that is painful, but it is always revealing.

Speaking of writing, I have read a couple of very fine manuscripts recently, which gives me hope in these dark times. I have also read some amazing published works. Two I highly recommend: The Beekeeper of Aleppo and The Girl with the Louding Voice. Thank you, writers.

Hasta pronto!

Sunday, July 26, 2020

Visual Metaphors and Working on the Details

Hola! We've settled down for a while at a mooring in lovely Morro Bay, so you get to see a couple of pretty pics this month. We'll be leaving soon, but for now, it is very nice to be in a calm bay (and it has been a perfect place to get a lot of work done!).

This month I was published in the Brevity Nonfiction blog, and here's where you can find that post —on description and details and expository in general—along with my previous blog post for them on "hooking" readers.

They say "God is in the details" and also that "The Devil is in the details" and naturally, both are true. I'm an atheist, but I still see the GOD (Good Orderly Direction) in the finely crafted details that make up most great art. And I think that the "Devil" in writing is in the details that are vague or non-existant.

This month I was treated to a visual metaphor for this, by visiting Bruce Munro's Field of Light at Sensorio, near Paso Robles.  Each individual light was small and insignificant—even once they began to glow at twilight—yet when the sun had set, and the entirety of the field was lit and the whole creation harmonized together, the result was breathtaking.

Writing is a lot like pick a word, type it, pick another, place it after the first. Go back and erase one. Add two or three more. After months or years, you have a whole field of lights working together (or not working together in which case you hire an editor of course, to help you achieve harmony). 

Speaking of harmony, I love working in a harmonious community, and as many of you know, I belong to two wonderful writing communities. One is my Southern California Writers Conference (SCWC) family—and I'll be posting more about upcoming virtual get-togethers with SCWC in a future post—and the other is San Diego Writers, Ink (SDWI). 

Right now, SDWI is doing their annual fundraiser, Blazing Laptops, and I am helping to raise money for this fine nonprofit and the good work they do in our community of writers—new, emerging and those giving back. Click here to donate. Thanks for your consideration.

Now...get out and enjoy the sunshine (or the gray or the rain) wearing your mask, of course. You'll come back to your computer renewed and refreshed.
hasta pronto!