Friday, February 27, 2015

The Benefits of Moving

We’re moving. As I contemplate the demands and logistics of organizing, packing, and notifying friends, family, agencies of our new address, I wonder if there is an up-side to moving. The answer is, yes.

I haven’t moved often as an adult, but throughout my teaching career, I did change schools and that isn’t a lot different than a house move. Packing up the classroom – files, books, teaching materials necessitates much the same organizing and sorting.

Classroom contents such as textbooks belong to the school, but every teacher has a truck load of their own materials. My own books, posters, manipulatives, pictures, etc. go into boxes. Then, with each move, I face the filing cabinet, go through each file carefully—something I often haven’t had the time to do in years. Many things can be discarded as obsolete. Files I’ve used often and know I’ll use again get packed along with the rest. And often I stumble across gems that elicit an “Oh my, goodness, I’d forgotten all about this.” Ideas for teaching that I’d used with success in the past and somehow let fall by the wayside. They’ll be put to good use again in the new school.

Our last move was from a house to a condo and the process not much different from that described above. Decisions were made regarding which pieces of furniture to take and which to sell. The accumulation of “stuff” in the basement sorted, some of the items to be sold, others to be donated or junked. Cupboards and closets opened and emptied.

“I didn’t know we had this,” I said (more than once) as I sifted through boxes from the bottom of the closet.

“If we didn’t know we had it, do you think we can live without it?” my husband asked.

Settled in our new home, everything unpacked, pictures hung, I’m determined to keep our belongings minimal, to avoid the “acquiring” mode of my younger self.

Now as I prepare for this move, I see that I’ve partially succeeded. We still have too much stuff and much of it will have to go as we sort and pack. Some of the decisions will be harder than others. Do we really need those glass plates that were wedding presents, but never used? Do we really need two sets of dinnerware? We haven’t used the fancy ones more than once a year. What to do with those afghans Nana knit for us? Ah, we’ll give them to the grandchildren.

Where, in all this work, is the up-side of moving? Is it in the flood of memories that come with the finding and handling of items we’ve had for so many years? Is it in the freedom of parting with items we’ve had for so many years?

For me, the process of moving has invariably been positive—a cleansing of sorts. It’s rejuvenating to leave the old behind and move to the new. It’s liberating to divest oneself of material acquisitions. Of course I’ll keep the things I hold dear—family antiques, books, special souvenirs of Mali—but the rest will be downsized once again and I won’t miss any of the things I leave behind. Perhaps this is a piece of the freedom we all aspire to.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Picture Taking - Virtue or Vice?

Picture taking is an invasion.

Writers create worlds with their words.  And if the writer is a master at his or her craft the words allow the reader to “see” a vivid picture of the scene, understand the characters, and thrill with the action. For many readers, creating their own images and impressions from word pictures is what makes reading superior to visual media.  

Yet, as I type this, the saying, “a picture is worth a thousand words” reverberates in my head.

How do I feel about picture taking?

Very guilty:

Many years ago, I sat on the upper deck of the General Soumare plying its way up the Niger River to Tombouctou. We docked at Goundam and watched, fascinated by the desert life on shore. Without moving from my chair, I reached down into my purse for my little camera. I had it partially out of my purse when someone in the circle of Touraug women spotted it. They began to rise and depart. I dropped my camera back into my purse and they settled into their circle again.

Guilty and angry:

I time traveled to the Dogon area of Mali. I use the words “time travel” deliberately as we were among people surviving in Stone Age conditions. What they lived on was hard to fathom. Of course I wanted pictures. I raised my camera to capture a mother and her child. The moment she saw my camera, she picked up her child and posed, then held her hand out for money. I put my camera away. It wasn’t surprising that she would want money—any little bit would help the villagers to survive, but I was angry too, furious that careless camera toting tourists had created this situation. There are many better ways to support the poor.

Angry and insulted:

At one time we lived in a unique river-side community in our city. Cyclists on the trails careened to a stop to talk about our houses. Cars drove by slowly, passengers gawking out their windows. Invariably, cameras appeared—the tourists ready to take pictures of the quaint locals infuriated me. Is that how others felt when I wielded my camera?

Guilty again:

I take pictures for my blog—many of them in Mexico. They’re not very good photos, because I feel that I’m intrusive of people’s lives and homes so I snap quickly and hide the camera. I don’t believe I have a right to invade their lives in this way.


Of course I come home with regrets for the photos not taken.  I would dearly love that picture of the man on the horse waiting at the red light alongside my car or the man walking his cow across the main street of town.

Pictures are important, providing glimpses into the past, evidence of crimes, sights to marvel at, an opportunity to travel from your armchair, but at what cost to the subjects of those pictures?

Friday, February 13, 2015

Editors Are Essential

“You must have an editor.”

“Every author needs a second set of eyes.”

“Correct grammar and punctuation are essential to all writing.”

“Self-published authors are negligent if they put out a novel with errors.”

“Those who publish unedited, error filled work give self-published authors a bad name.”

True. True. True.

But self-published authors aren’t the only guilty ones.

One well known author had a main character sick in his hotel room, but after informing his travel companions that he was staying in bed, he miraculously appeared with the group on the tour bus.

In another Random House novel, two women find a naked corpse. He’s naked …, but a note is pinned to his shirt.

Or take the case of the child hiding in a hole. A truck pulls up and parks over the hole. All the child can see is the underbelly of the vehicle and the boots of the driver when he gets out. The child can also see the mother’s sandals. “The man looked straight at my mother.” Sorry, but the child can’t possibly know that.

I’ve read books where the names of the characters were spelled differently throughout, or where the names were mixed up. I’ve read books with grammar errors, spelling errors, punctuation errors. While these are perhaps minor in comparison with the examples above, they diminish the power of the story and in some instances are so distracting that the reader gives up.

Perhaps, even with the most diligent of proof reading, errors will still be found, but we must always aim for perfection.

How then do we produce an error free book?

1.     Read your manuscript on the computer watching for details.
2.     Send it to your ereader and read again. You’ll be surprised at the things that show up in a different format.
3.     Print it out and read it again.
4.     Read it aloud. You’ll find that what you say and what is on the page won’t always be the same. Go with the version that came out of your mouth.
5.     Get someone else to read it, but not just anyone. Friends and family will be too kind and say what they think you want to hear. Your “reader” should be an author too. They’ll know what to look for and will tell you what needs correcting.
6.     Join a critiquing group. Free editing from multiple readers with the same goals as you—all want to write well.
7.     Get a writing partner and send chapters back and forth. Not only will your partner edit, he or she will make suggestions for the story line, a valuable addition to your thought processes.
8.     If you can afford it, hire a substantive editor, a copy-editor, or a proofreader. Doing so will be money well spent.

Substantive Editing Services – contact Darlene Jones                                                                        

Friday, February 6, 2015

Substantive Editing Service

I wrote a novel. With no experience, no creative writing classes, and no collaboration, I wrote a novel. With an astounding amount of naiveté, I pitched to literary agents and received a resounding round of rejections.

Something was clearly wrong. I looked for help and found it with a substantive editor who read my prized four hundred page manuscript and sent me back several pages of notes outlining the numerous things I needed to do to make my novel “work.” Here are some examples of the feedback.

Too much emotion in the first chapter—you have a whole novel. Spread it out.
Much of it comes across as preachy. Here are examples of what I mean.
People don’t speak in full sentences.
You’re trying to fit too many themes into one novel.
There are scenes in your novel that do not advance the story.
Your characters are too perfect. Real people have flaws, even the best of them.
Substantive editing is the first step in the editing or revising process.

As a substantive editor, I:
• am your collaborator and biggest fan,
• share your desire to succeed in crafting the best possible story,
• help to ensure that your opening chapter hooks the reader and makes them know they “have” to read the book,
• help you to write a novel that will then hold the reader’s attention to the end,
• work with you on plot, tone, character, and setting,
• ensure that your story is well organized and flows,
• coach you on sentence structure and word choice,
• identify passages that the reader would be inclined to skip and therefore should be deleted,
• help to ensure dialogue is “real” and that dialogue tags are used correctly,
• suggest changes to heighten tension,
• help ensure that point of view is consistent in each scene,
• provide you with a free sample edit of the first chapter.

Here's an example from my own work. How many characters are mentioned? How many things discussed?

I screwed up. Big time. I’ll be banished. Or executed.
Why am I telling you this? I need to tell someone. Mentor, the ice-berg, wouldn’t listen. The members of the Grand Council have heard all they want to hear. I answered their questions, for far too short a time, in my opinion. How could they possibly understand with such a cursory interview?
The Guardians? They don’t deign to converse with anyone. Sent cryptic messages to the Council Chair. How many are there? Three. I think. The general belief is that they operate like a tribunal. But who knows?
Never mind that now. It’s me you need to be concerned with, me you need to listen to. I could be dead soon and I have so much to say. You’ll understand of course. The catch in the throat, the tingle in the abdomen, the trembling of the knees, the tightening of the abdomen… But why am I telling you all this? You know emotion. You were born with it, enveloped in it, experienced it all
Your life—the love, hate, fear, the excitement, anticipation, worry—so many
New words to learn for so many new feelings. I learned them all because of her.
Who? you ask. Why, my little soldier of course. It’s a long story. Make yourself

Confused? With seven characters and at least fourteen different topics in a few short paragraphs, you must be. So am I and I wrote it. After working with my substantive editor this whole approach was lost in the dust.

I also dropped whole chapters. Two in particular still haunt me. A main character was being interviewed which resulted in a whole lot of talk. Imagine reading a televised interview instead of watching it; two men talking about the action. Exciting, eh? In the new version, I wrote the fight scenes, the love scenes, etc. Telling became showing—much more interesting for the reader. And, I might add, for the author to write.

I’ve spent a lot of time working on my novels; from the first draft to the final is a test of endurance. My father used to say, if something is worth doing, it’s worth doing right.

I say, if something is worth publishing, it’s worth writing well.

I can help you achieve that goal. Please contact me with any questions or for a free sample of my editing.