Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Editing, 3, the vision of the novel

You and I have decided to edit our own work. Bad decision. A writer is the worst editor of their own work. Ironically, this same writer may be very effective at editing the work of others.

We're still going to do it, aren't we? Then let me discuss the vision of the novel for a moment.

1) The Vision of the novel

Vision (Websters): A thought, concept, or object formed by the imagination.

I meantioned that we authors only capture about 70% of the vision we have of our novels. There is something fleeting about that first glimpse I get of my work. For a novel, this vision doesn't come in words. I get images, colors, sounds--very primal information. So, it makes sense that I lose some of it when trying to cram it into words, like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. 

But this vision drives the novel. And it doesn't always work. 

For example: I mentioned before that The Quantum of the Past is a rewrite of an older story. The problems with this earlier version could be summed up as follows: The execution was in direct conflict with the vision. I envisioned a dark story with dark themes. It didn't help that just before I wrote the draft in question, I read the entire Harry Potter series.

The result was that J.K. Rowling saturated my voice. There were other issues too, like that I was unable to make up my mind about how the magic worked. But, deciding on a rewrite was not an easy decision. I had drafted a second story that followed the first and was deep into drafting a third story. All that work is now obsolete.

Another example: Brad Listi told us during a workshop that he envisioned his novel Attention. Deficit. Disorder. to live up to the idea of someone with ADHD, or a lack of attention span. The chapters are really short. There seems to be a lack of focus; although the plot does follow the scheme in the title: Attention; deficit; and disorder. There are even non-fiction tidbits thrown in there. 

When he submitted the manuscript, the editorial comments challenged this vision. What you won't see in the published novel is what the editor told him did not work. Originally, Listi told us, he had shifted the verb tense in every chapter; some chapters were in present tense, some in past tense, etc. The editor told him this might confuse readers. He suggested he keep the novel in one verb tense.

Note: Here, Listi's editor made a comment about what readers might experience. Whether it's a valid statement or not is irrelevant. The editor noticed something that his/her experience said was problematic and made a comment about it. 

Do you see the dilemma? Readers might have been okay with this original vision--they may have even loved it. I like to think that if you give readers a chance, they can surprise you with their tastes. And Brad Listi could have argued this very point. And I also like to think that most self-published authors would have kept the original vision of the novel intact, lacking enough objectivity to see the problematic nature of the variable verb tense. 

What complicates this further is that there is no right answer. Right and Wrong don't apply; no one is correct, not really. 

Yet, these comments are essential to the development of any writer. It is crucial that someone challenge the vision of the novel to shake away that sense of glory that invades a writer after they finish a lengthy revision. Why?

You did not write the perfect novel.

You will never write the perfect novel. 

No one will ever write a perfect novel. 

The perfect novel does not exist. 

2) A quick word on "Marketability"

If you submit your novel to a big publisher or to an agen--in hopes that they will get you in the door of one of the big publishing houses, then you will likely worry about this word: Marketability. 

Publishers need to sell books. Novels are products to them. What you are writing will supply a demand

This influences the editorial comments for a manuscript. I read years ago an article published in one of the Writers of the Future anthologies about this very issue. In it, the author related how the manuscript for the Fantasy novel she had written was at first accepted by a publisher, but then, because of the market trends, was told to alter it to fit these trends. She did and her novel was accepted. How did it do? Well, the fact that I can't remember the author's name or the title of the book should say something about that...

And it isn't just lesser known authors that worry about it. PC Cast was given the idea for the House of Night series by her agent, because this agent noted that vampires became hot after Twilight

Why do you think there are so many Urban Fantasies out there? They sell right now. This is also true for Romance novels. Mass market genre novels supply a demand. 

This means looking at trends, and how the novel in front of you deviates from these trends. If you read Amanda Hocking's blog, you'll see that one of the first things she did was look at a store's bookshelf to see what was popular. 

If you are business minded and wish to self-publish, then your editorial notes need to address marketability. 

3) A slow word on "Marketability"

There is a difference between wanting to write best-selling books and wanting to write decent novels. That's a little crass, don't you think? The word 'decent' is judgmental. What I mean is that a writer will have goals and fantasies. The goal is to become an effective writer. The THAT takes many forms. 

I know of a writer who, while in the waters of a well-known river, asked the heavens to let him become a "great" writer. Others ask for the idea that will produce a best-selling book. Others want to become as prolific as Stephen King or James Patterson. Others want their work to be in par with Faulkner or Hemingway or (fill in the name of a writer that academia esteems). 

Marketability is part of the fantasy of becoming a best-selling author. The belief is that there are certain strategies you can employ to make your book appealing to the masses. But who saw Fifty Shades of Gray becoming a best seller? Just prior to that, the Twilight novels pushed genre writers to produce teen, vampire romance clones, so it was random for a book about sadomasochism to hit the top of the charts.

Look at other books in recent memory that became as popular as Fifty Shades of Gray: Twilight; The Davinci Code; Harry Potter. 

What do they have in common? Wizards and vampires and academics and BDSM. What drove each of these books to become what they became was different in each case. For Fifty Shades of Gray, it was the sordid-curiosity factor that helped it. But this type of curiosity was not what drove scores of fans to buy that last book in the Harry Potter series; J.K. Rowling cultivated readers, adults and young adults, and wisely put restrictions on the movies about her books. 

The point is that there is no formula for success. 

Therefore, marketability is not on my mind. I don't have the pressure of a publishing house trying to make money. I am not desperately trying to show the publishing industry that I can sell tons of books and therefore, they should publish my future books. 

Some writers do have these concerns. Like I said, there is no Right or Wrong here. There are only writers who work towards their diverse ends.

There is something else I'm working towards though. While editing, I isolate my brain from certain things: How readers might react to this or that; how the market will react to this or that. What's left is the work in front of you and whatever talent you have. 

Then, the editing process becomes a quest to bring out the potential in the manuscript. I think of that poor writer who had to change the genre of her Fantasy novel to satisfy the publishers. What potential did it have? Manipulating a novel to make it more marketable does not help it reach its potential, but may destroy it if altered beyond recognition.

4) What's next?

So, what are the nuts and bolts? For most editors it's easy; they do what they do "best." For a writer trying to edit their involves much contemplation.

I'll save this contemplation for the last post on editing.


Monday, November 26, 2012

Prototype 1

A cover in various steps. Here is how the title appears before placing effects:

This being the first step, ended.


Thursday, November 22, 2012

Gobble, Gobble!

Happy Thanksgiving!

I finished my edits on the first volume of The Quantum of the Past and am moving onto the copy-editing. But that has no real completion so I didn't put up a progress bar. I'll probably be copy-editing until the day I release it--it's a never-ending process.

Ah, but how different Quantum is now than when I conceived it long, long ago. Now, I must work on the appendices, and art for the cover. Yes. Well, done. Happy turkey day to me.



Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Mid November

Go look at the Urban Fantasy page on Wikipedia and you'll see that it's back to the way it was before I tried to edit it. It took them all of a few days to do this. I had heard of those obsessive volunteers, but it was a different experience dealing with one.

The main issue was this: I altered some content because it was verified by links to the personal blogs of unknown authors--people like me. This is problematic since these authors, like me, make a number of well-opinionated statements that aren't meant to verify anything. They are just our opinions and preferences; the person in question (the wiki-volunteer), not using his real name, changed it all back.

I tried to change some content again and this person changed it again. I questioned him about the validity of the links used to verify the information and he said that it was a valid verification, in line with Wikipedia's standards; in other words, Wikipedia allows their volunteer editors to use opinions found in blogs and other such websites to verify statements made in their articles. And I was told by this person that until the information was proven incorrect it would remain there.

And that was the punchline to this whole ordeal. You can't prove or disprove an opinion.

Ha! Prove this wrong: What makes coffee beautiful is its rich dark hue and potent smell.

You can't. In other words, that Wikipedia article is going to stay the way it is; it's a shame since I was planning more extensive revisions to it. The silver lining to this is that I can now focus on the projects I'm behind on. Really, that's what I should be focusing on. 


I will complete the editing for the first volume of The Quantum of the Past over the Thanksgiving holiday, which is good news because then I can finally get going with Ascension. It haunts me that so much work is on my shoulders right now and it all seems to be slipping.

I miss having time off.


Editing 2, the editor

Before I discuss "the process" of editing, let me unveil the editor. Who is this person? What are his/her qualifications? What skills allow them to make those novel-altering suggestions?

Beneath all the ambiguity about editors lies a person. This person has a certain amount of and type of experience that allows him/her to make the comments they make. In a very abstract way, the editor is like a creative writing workshop member. This person must read your work and comment on it, using logic and/or their expertise. The most basic aspect of this reading involves looking for and marking simple grammar problems, which most non-writers think is what editing is all about.

But the editor is not one of your community workshop members. Workshop comments and critiques are far different than editorial comments. When you submit your work to a workshop or a critique, you only supply some of your work, a piece of your novel or a short story. You supply the entire work, the novel, to the editor so they can appraise it.

Where does this expertise come from?

Here are the qualifications for a job posting for an editor on

·         Bachelor’s degree in Journalism, English, Technical Writing or equivalent required
·         Minimum 1 year of experience in Business Editing/Writing or Journalism in related field
·         Must be proficient in the use of AP Stylebook guidelines
·         Must be self-motivated, and have a passion for journalistic and investigative endeavors, fact finding, and creating well-written, accurate and detailed reports
·         Must have an interest in today’s Business Climate, both regionally and globally
·         Extensive knowledge of and experience using MS Excel, Word, Power Point, Outlook, and Access
·         Experience in accounting or financial services a plus

This is obviously for a job a special form of editing, but those first few requirements are nearly identical on all postings for editors; also, it would not surprise me if there were not other special qualifications for an editor seeking employment in one of the Big 5 publishing houses.

An editor for a book publisher will likely be an English or Journalism major, one of those kids who took the time to write for their high school or  college newspapers and then moved on to edit their university paper or get an internship working along the staff of the literary journal sponsored by their university--if their institution has one. Some universities have their MFA students run their literary journals, including that editing position.

What this experience is meant to give is perspective and an appreciation for reading and working under the oppressive nature of "the deadline." Reading the unpublished work of others gives the editor perspective--it becomes very clear that the work of some authors is weaker than others in various areas; it also exposes which types of stories appear frequently; and it creates reading endurance, a way to consume vast amounts of work. This experience is invaluable when having to read manuscripts that are at times hundreds of pages long.

But here, some of you might say that, hey, you've been doing that all along while reading your favorite novels! You're halfway there. I'm sorry to say that it isn't the same. What the editor reads is a possible version of a novel; what the reader gets is the finished novel.

How does an English degree help? Remember all those novels they made you read in your high school English classes? In college we had to read a ton more and then analyze them; sometimes you enjoy them, sometimes not. The undergrad and graduate English student writes extensively about these novels so that their literary tastes are diverse, their knowledge vast.

The editor of today also has to work with other editors to decide what to acquire. So, all those team building activities in their college years helped. All of this is done while simultaneously consuming other types of novels, genre works--the kinds of things we read for pleasure.  

The ideal editor is a database of all this reading, of published and unpublished work. When they turn their eyes onto your pages, there is an extensive history behind them. Maybe your work will remind them of Hemingway or Faulkner or if you write genre of O. Card or maybe George R. R. Martin or Raymond Chandler.

And so, there is your editor.


Sunday, November 4, 2012

Wikipedia Fun

Yesterday I received an email telling me that my story didn't qualify for the third quarter of the Writers of the Future Contest. This upset me so I took it out on several wikipedia pages. Do you remember when I said I would edit those damned pages? I actually kept my word!

If you notice, the urban fantasy wikipedia page now bears some of my work. In particular, I added the section on Etymology, Hardboiled Urban Fantasy, and edited the Characteristics section; I plan on lengthening the History section and refining the other sections. It isn't perfect, but it is a start towards something more substantial. Hell, I might even start my own wikipedia page!



That cheered me up. But what does that mean for my work?

I don't know. I'm still upset, but maybe the type of stories I write aren't meant for that contest. In particular, what the previous judge said is that the stories sent should be PG-13 or for a high school audience--since one of their biggest customers is the highschool creative writing classroom. If you've read any of my work, you know this is not what I write.

I'll admit it now. Writing a story in a matter of two weeks was probably not very wise either. If I send in stories in the future (no pun), I will give them an extra month after completion before sending them to whatever quarter is open.

I need to meditate on this further.


I just have two more chapters to add to The Sprite before I can revise it and then turn my attention to Ascension. I decided this because I hate leaving that story the way I did.

As for The Quantum of the Past, I feel I can finish what needs to be done for the first volume by the end of this month. It's just very difficult to do with school work and my job. But I will manage.


Thursday, November 1, 2012

Moby Dick, a review

I was very curious about this novel, which is why I decided to take a semester on Melville. But I have to admit that what I envisioned before I read it was completely different than the actual work, in a pleasant way.  Melville, it turns out, is very relevant to today's literary market.

More relevant still--to me anyway--is the many lessons to be learned from his career. Melville started off a vast success with his first novel, Typee, and by the time he died was forgotten. His best known work, and the subject of this review, Moby Dick, helped to sink his career.

Here is a titanic work, whose power made authors like Faulkner wish they had written it, and it was poorly received. What happened 19th century folk? Were you blinded by your love of sensational urban fictions, your gothic and sentimental romances, those dime novels that sold well? The romantic in me wants to believe that in your era there were more pertinent issues, like trying to abolish slavery, to care about the experimental work of a once popular author--I mean Uncle Tom's Cabin did sell well in that same period. 

Needless to say, Melville did not take the book's failure well.

This man knew that there are constraints on the creative powers of writers. He was free of the Elizabethan constraints that festered Shakespeare; the Declaration of Independence helped American authors escape political censorship. But he had to contend with a different form of constraint: Supply and Demand.

Here, I won't be simple minded and say that Capitalism is the prime culprit; my belief is that human greed is at the heart of all of our social ailments and not a theory of economics. Supply and demand is the lifeblood of our society.

There was a demand in Melville's time for fiction that could be digested pleasurably, at one's leisure; so the romantic, the gothic, what we would call genre today, sold well. Melville had to bend his creative power to meet this demand. With a family to feed, it was inescapable. But Melville was too much an artist to do this right--in letters he showed frustration over wanting to write popular fiction, but being unable to. 

This constraint, of supply and demand, defeated him. He denounced most of his work as the type of labor one must do to earn money, just jobs to fill his belly and pipe.

And here I wonder what he might have written had he been financially stable--if his family's old wealth had been available to him. What Moby Dick might we be reading today? 

But these are the wistful thoughts of fools, those of us who long to know what was lost in the library at Alexandria. 



A sailor known only as Ishmael and a harpooner named Quequeg unknowingly join the mad quest of Captain Ahab to bring bloody vengeance to the white Sperm Whale known as Moby Dick.

Genre: Literary

Edition: Kindle app for ipad

What didn't work for me:

What worked for me:


I intentionally left the other two portions blank. It is silly to try to review this. Not since reading Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian, has an author removed the floor from under me like this. 

Notice in the overview how the plot of seems simple, generic even. And it is. The novel moves this plot of revenge in a linear fashion. But there are other directions this story moves in and this is why Moby Dick is an ambitious gem. 

If I suppose that the vengeance plot moves in a linear direction, then I can also suppose that the other elements in the novel move in a non-linear direction, in different planes. The text of this book reaches out in multiple directions from the beginning, so that the end result is a three dimensional shape. 

A perfect novel of this sort would have all branches of its text reaching outwards in identical distances and the end result would be the ideal sphere. Moby Dick is not perfect, in part because of those constraints mentioned above (Melville did try to make this into a sea-faring adventure). It isn't quite that sphere.

But those odd elements, those moments of Shakespearean delight, the non-fiction information on whales, those portions of theater--all that seems to not belong in that linear plot of vengeance--they are the life of this enduring work. It is bold too. Not only does it dwell into homoerotic relationships long before the word homosexual came into popular usage, but its modes of storytelling helped define an American Literary identity. Who else experimented with form like Melville in the 19th Century? 

And the characters are memorable in their own way. Ishmael works as a character during those linear moments where a set of eyes is needed, and as a pair of meta-eyes when the story reaches out of the page with its beautiful observations--my favorite was the chapter on the Whiteness of the Whale and a close second was where he discusses the few laws that whalers have, the fast-fish and loose-fish laws. 

Captain Ahab, the tragic hero, draws you in as he does his crew. We are all Ahabs in a way, trying to control our destinies, unaware of the cruel truth: We're on rails and no matter how much we shout and wave our hands, there is no deviating from the course and its ultimate end, Death. 

There are many more characters to enjoy, the weakness of Starbuck, the practical simplicity of Stubb, Quequeg and his idol, Moby many and so unlike the stock characters of lesser fiction. They all have their trivial pursuits matched against the titanic nature of what Ahab wishes to accomplish, which is no less than to pummel the gods.

Here I can go on and on, but I'll stop with these last thoughts. Long after those best-selling, popular works of fiction have lost their many gray shades of splendor and been replaced by new faddish novels, Moby Dick will still hold its strength. 

And I predict that in the future, many decades from now, the works of some unknown Melville of OUR era will be discovered. Again, those who care about literature will wonder how his/her masterpiece could have gone ignored.