Sunday, August 8, 2021

A New(ish) Book, by an Author You May Not Know

 One of my favorite things about reading for a living is discovering authors. Sometimes, I discover an aspiring author while working on their first or second manuscript, and then I get the pleasure of watching others discover them, with some not-so-gentle prodding from me. 

Often, I don't "discover" a "new" author until they have written a dozen books, and already have plenty of fans. Such a case is Michael J Vaughn. Those of you with great memories may recall me gushing over MJV's book "Popcorn Girl" a few years ago, and he hasn't stopped writing or publishing his quirky, all-too-human novels.

I recently found some of his books on Kindle and was lucky enough to snag two of them for a bargain price. I loved the cosmic romance and gritty beach world of "Frosted Glass" and was intrigued as hell by "Figment" (I can't begin to explain this book so I won't try, but art is central to the plot and its incredible cover is pictured below; I wouldn't recommend starting with this book, as the many references to past works will just confuse you. Save it for an odd, tangy, flavorful dessert after a dozen other MJV titles.)

I am a huge Tom Robbins fan, and if you are, too, you may just fall for MJV. For me, seeing the ways in which a talented author can bend, fold, and even gently mutilate the parameters of novel writing and play with (and within and without) the rules of literature is a joy. 

His latest work is East of the Cookie Tree and it sets off with yet another of his beloved road trips. California is a favorite setting for his books, but so is southern Washington—you may find yourself in many lovely coastal spots in Oregon or in a dozen other locales. Having recently done some road trips to Washington and Oregon, I was charmed by the echoes of actual locations, as well as the feel of the places he captures. MJV loves people (at least his characters, maybe not humanity) and he enjoys having them enjoy each other physically, spiritually, emotionally, and more.

Art is another theme that runs through all this author's books, along with music in many forms, including popular and classical and opera. Did I mention there's singing? Even some karaoke—pick a song and jump in, it will be fun!

If you've already discovered MJV, which book of his was your favorite? I'd love to hear about it in the comments below. If you haven't discovered him yet, start with the new book, or if you have a romantic bent, try "Popcorn Girl" or "Frosted Glass."

Take care, stay safe and hasta pronto!

Monday, July 5, 2021

The City By the Bay, and an Editing Tip

I'm busy editing, but finding time to enjoy being back in San Francisco. Karl the Fog rolled in last night just in time to obscure the fireworks, but we still enjoyed sitting out in the cool night air seeing the "fogworks" and the lights of the city all around us. Oracle Park was lit up for the holiday too, though the Giants were in AZ. They are back home today, and I'm excited to finally be able to witness a 2021 home game later today. No need to get a ticket—I can see right into the ballpark from my boat; we have a great view of the city, too.

One of the joys of my work is reading manuscripts by first-time authors. And one of the most appalling parts of my work is reading manuscripts by first-time authors. I have posted quite a bit about the craft of writing, and given you all a few pointers here and there, but there's nothing quite so helpful as a workable, hands-on technique, and I have one for you in this post.

One of the difficult parts about writing a novel is knowing how much of your expository can be left for later—or left out, if it has already been said or implied. But as writers, we tend to forget, by the time we are working on Chapter 5, what we have already said, in Chapter 2.

If your friends or Beta readers tell you your book is "slow" at the beginning or that the opening chapters didn't "hook" them, what they are probably saying is that it is front-loaded with expository, meaning that there's too much information about the character(s) or the setting before the character(s) or the story itself has intrigued them. 

Authors tend to be excited, and rightly so, about their main character(s). That leads to a sort of transferred narcissism, the kind of non-stop "me show" that would turn you right off in person, from a live human being, but that we can be blind to when writing about our protagonist. This can be true about describing our setting as well—we're so excited to show the reader how much homework we've done about Bangor or Seattle or the Okefenokee Swamp, that we go on and on about it, ad nauseam. In craft circles, this is known as an "info dump" and it translates to boredom.

So, at the beginning of your next rewrite, try this tip: Print out the first two or three chapters. Then go through each of the chapters, armed with a yellow highlighter pen, and mark all the facts that readers need to know, anything that is integral to the story. Then look at the pages and highlight in pink (go over the yellow) anything that the reader doesn't have to know at that point; see how much of the page is pink—you need to move a majority of that later. Highlight all repetitions in blue so you can decide where to leave it for the most impact. 

Usually the answer to where to give a reader key info is...later. Remember, in Chapter 1, the reader only needs enough information to be able to understand what is revealed in Chapter 2, and so on. If the character's first job is crucial to a key plot point that doesn't come until Chapter 25, then we don't need to learn that fact in Chapter 1 or 2. (Obviously, don't do an "info dump" with that knowledge at the tail end of Chapter 24 either; find a spot for it to come out organically, when your protagonist is talking to someone about her work history or her past).

Look over the color map of those chapters. You will not only have a very clear idea what needs to be revealed when, you will have a clear visual diagram—all the non-highlighted paragraphs and pages—of how much of your writing is inconsequential details that don't always further the story. A lot of that can be eliminated, or trimmed way down, so it adds life and color to your characters and setting, without becoming a drag to the book's opening chapters.

Hope that helps a bit. Keep up the good work. Hasta pronto!

Thursday, June 3, 2021

Off the Grid, But Not Out of Provisions

We have been "off the grid" a few times in the last couple of months, so I have not been in touch as much as usual. We are in wi-fi range today, anchored in an unnamed anchorage on a slough in the Sacramento River Delta. Here's a photo from the other day, when one of our neighbor boats got an unusual visitor!


The trick with being "anchored out" instead of at a marina is to make sure you don't run out of provisions, so I stocked the boat with fresh veggies and fruits, along with heads of cabbage and a big bag of potatoes . Don't worry, we also have lots of dry goods like beans and rice for when all the green stuff runs out (luckily I have a Wonderbag for slow cooking). Our recent Delta record is three weeks between trips to the grocery store...we may break that record this month!

In May, I celebrated my 60th birthday with a road trip and a couple of great get-togethers with friends and family. Like most of you, I am also celebrating being vaxxed and able to hug and chat with those people I have missed seeing! 

The road trip was out east of here, first to Auburn to see a dear old friend, then to historic Sonora and out across Stanislaus National Forest (with a stop to see friends and hunt for fungi) to the "Hot Springs Highway" aka Highway 395; We stayed at the Virginia Creek Settlement (which I highly recommend—we loved the food at their restaurant!) just outside charming Bridgeport, and drove out to see Bodie ghost town, and south to the wild and incredible Mono Lake.

We drove through amazing landscapes, stopped to view breathtaking vistas, and yes, we soaked in natural hot tubs. Most were in very secluded settings, so I could even wear my birthday suit! 

My work continues apace, with some fine authors joining my family of writer clients. I was so excited about one new dystopian work that I sent it off to a NYC agent friend with the plea that she read it ASAP! I love finding great new voices and sharing them with the world.

Russel has the summer off for the first time in years, so he is working on his book project (turning one of his screenplays into a novel) and I am hard at work on my thirty-years-in-the-making memoir of our first year sailing in Baja while on our honeymoon.

We plan to be off the grid again much of the month of June, so if I don't reply to your comment here, know that I appreciate hearing from you, and that I will reply when I get back into wifi land. July will find us in San Francisco Bay once more, where internet connectivity abounds. Meanwhile, we will keep on writing and creating and enjoying the joys of our peripatetic life.

Hasta pronto!

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!