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This will be a clearing-the-decks post. That’s what happens when things go silent for a couple of weeks. My bad. I’d say it won’t happen again, but … well, you know.
Last week brought the excellent news that 600 Hours of Edward, a book that I wrote more than two years ago and one that continues to find new fans all the time (for which I’m very thankful), has been selected for the One Book Billings program this spring. The book will be talked about at a series of community conversations the week of April 11, and I’ll be giving a presentation at Parmly Billings Library at 11 a.m. on the 16th. I’m really looking forward to this.
For more information, you can call the library at 406-657-8258.
But wait! There’s more!
The Western Writers of America recently released the results of the Spur Awards voting, and I’m proud to say that Carol Buchanan’s Gold Under Ice, the first book published by my little literary house, Missouri Breaks Press, was a finalist in the long-novel category.
This honor, of course, is Carol’s alone, as everything that’s good about her book — and that’s a whole lot — is entirely the result of her own industry and talent. I’m just glad I was able to be associated with such a fine work and such a fine person.
And finally …
The aforementioned Missouri Breaks Press will be releasing its second book-length work this summer, a collection of essays and stories by Ed Kemmick. It’s called The Big Sky, By and By, and it tells the stories of some ordinary/extraordinary folks who give this wonderful place flavor and light.
I’m thrilled to be working with Ed to bring this book to the marketplace. I think it’s going to find a lot of eager readers among Montanans and the many people who love this great land from afar.
More details coming soon …
I love getting to know other writers, particularly those who work in a literary area other than mine. (That sounds really bad, doesn’t it? This is my area. That over there is yours. Stay out of here.) I love hearing about their work habits, the way they cultivate ideas, how they sharpen their stories. In general, I find more similarities than differences, although the differences can be stark.
Take today’s guest, Jamie DeBree. Like me, she’s an author who lives in Billings, Montana. Like me, she’s holding down a day job and pursuing her novel-writing dreams in her off-hours. Like me, she doesn’t sleep (very much). Unlike me, she writes sexually charged romances. In, uh, doing research for this interview, I read her novel Tempest and was impressed with how well she developed her characters (and, yes, she certainly brought the heat, too). Romance is not my preferred area of reading, but I enjoyed Jamie’s book very much. More than that, I had to find out what led her down this particular path, as a romance writer and the proprietor of her own publishing house, Brazen Snake Books.
Here’s her story:
What lit your fuse for writing? Do you recall an a-ha moment where you thought, “OK, this is what I want to do”?
I think I’ve always “felt” like a writer — it was back in high school that I first voiced my desire to write books. To which my parents very logically responded, “You’re gonna need a real job first.” Turns out, they were right. It was only a few years ago that I really decided to get serious and try to make some money with my writing, but I don’t remember any specific moment, because writing has always just been there, a constant in my life, even during the years I wasn’t writing anything.
You came into the business as a committed independent, even though your genre is certainly well-covered by traditional publishing houses. What was behind that decision?
When I was young and dreaming of being a writer, I always thought I’d self-publish my writing. I’ve always tended toward the control-freak side of things, and I’m kind of an outsider anyways, so doing it myself fits my personality. When I finally decided to actively work at publishing my books and joined the online writing community, I was hit on all sides by the “self-publishing is bad and self-publishers suck” stigma, and bought into it for a while. But the whole process of trying to write for a specific line, the hoops (that had nothing to do with writing) required to even get a manuscript on an editor’s desk and the fact that as a new author I wouldn’t be making much money anyways was just so overwhelmingly against the idea of building a successful career that I nearly quit writing altogether. It wasn’t what I wanted from my writing experience. That’s when I hit that question I think all writers eventually have to come to terms with: “Why am I doing this?”
I decided that the reason I wanted to write was simply to entertain people. And to do that, I didn’t need a publishing contract with a house, I just needed a venue. I started posting a draft on my blog, I got some nice comments, and at the same time, self-publishing was starting to be a more acceptable option (the stigma is still there, but it’s far easier to deal with these days). Excited that finally I could do it myself, I jumped into the self-pub pool and haven’t looked back since I made my first sale.
You and I have talked a fair amount about characterization. Why is it so important to your sexually charged stories?
Characters are the heart of any story, in my opinion. My characters drive the plot, and what they’re thinking and feeling at any given time is what keeps that all-important sexual tension high, and determines what happens next both in the story and in their growing relationship. To that end, I do my best to get deep into my character’s heads and pay attention to what they would logically be thinking and feeling from moment to moment and write from that, even if it doesn’t fit the plot I originally envisioned. I think this makes the entire relationship more realistic than if I try to make it fit a certain “box,” though it does get pretty messy sometimes as far as fears, insecurities and stubbornness go. Unlike real life though, the relationships in my books always work out in the end — usually without any extra help from me.
What’s your personal aesthetic for a sex scene?
Hot, but not crass, if that makes any sense. A sex scene without emotion is porn, and that’s not what I write. I like frank language and I want to feel what each character is feeling throughout. I think a lot can be learned about characters in the heat of a very sexually charged moment. I try to invoke a physical response in the reader, to bring them right into the story with the characters so they’re just as invested in the relationship. Emotions are often invoked or magnified by the senses — touch, taste, sight, smell, sound. I try to use all of those to make the scene very real, and show the reader the emotions that my characters are going through at that point in time. If it makes things more complicated when it’s over, all the better.
You and Carol Buchanan — two writers who are working entirely different parts of the literary universe — have teamed up to write a series of blog posts on sex scenes. How in the world did that partnership come about?
Actually, it was Carol’s idea. She e-mailed me last fall, having read one of the draft sex scenes on my blog, and asked if I’d like to collaborate with her on a comparison in styles for writing sex scenes. Naturally I couldn’t turn down an offer like that. It’s been a lot of fun to study the angle from our very different genres and perspectives. I think we’re both learning a lot from each other, and clarifying our own processes as we explore the subject in blog articles.
You’re a transparent writer, in that you post weekly your progress on a story. Why do that, as opposed to rolling it out when you’re done?
Motivation, mostly. I’m a writer who needs an audience — while many writers claim to write for themselves first, I write predominantly to entertain others. While I do occasionally work on drafts that aren’t serialized, I’m happiest when I know someone’s waiting for the next installment.
There are a lot of other benefits I get from it — my drafts, while still rough, have improved immensely because I’m very conscious that people read them as I go. I tend to plot on the fly (i.e., I don’t really outline), and serializing forces me to maintain a linear plot and pay very close attention to continuity while I’m drafting — which means less work for me on the revision side. I also have to re-orient readers quickly at the beginning of each scene, and entice them to come back for the next one at the end, so it’s helped me learn how to keep readers turning the page (or so I’ve been told, anyways). It’s basically my practice arena, and I invite readers to watch just exactly how a story is “born” in my world. I see no reason for it to be some mystical, secret thing we writers hide away. Nearly all creative endeavors are messy in the beginning, and I don’t think we should be afraid or ashamed of that.
Like many (most?) other writers, you have a day job. How do you balance your time among that, the writing, your husband and home life, etc.?
I like quiet when I’m writing, which means my normal writing hours are between around 11 pm and 1 am (2 am if the scene of the day is particularly frustrating), after the dogs and my husband are settled for the night. I can’t edit that late (the analytical portion of my brain tends to fade out earlier), so a lot of revisions/editing take place while I’m watching TV in the evenings and on the weekends. I’ve been known to load my draft on my Kindle and head to the break room at 10 am and 3 pm for 15-minute editing sessions at the day job too. Writing is basically a second job for me — in the evenings after dinner I’m writing blog posts, updating my web sites, socializing on various online platforms (ie, marketing), and watching TV with my husband. Luckily, I’m a very good multitasker and also very disciplined (I love routines and keep fairly strict schedules), so somehow it all gets done. Although I’ve been trying to remember to order more business cards for three weeks now … and please don’t stop by without calling, so I have time to vacuum and pick up the dog toys.
What do you read for pleasure?
Whatever I can get my hands on, really — I generally have 2-3 books going at any given time. My parents always encouraged reading widely across genres for a well-rounded experience when I was young and I’ve kept that habit. So while romance (all sub-genres), erotica and thrillers are the genres I read in most, I also read mysteries, sci-fi, fantasy, urban fantasy, westerns and literary novels as they come my way. The only genre I really don’t read much of is young adult — I have nothing against the genre, it just doesn’t hold my interest (and didn’t really even when I was young).
What’s next from you?
I’m nearly finished with the serial draft of The Biker’s Wench, the first book in my Fantasy Ranch series scheduled for release this coming July. Monica Burns is running from a forced marriage and ends up at a ranch outside Reno, Nevada, that specializes in making adult fantasies come true. Her father finds her there, but before she can run again she gets an unexpected offer of help from Harley Majors, the owner of the ranch. She reluctantly accepts, but her father turns the tables on them and dangerous chaos ensues as they work to outwit her father and win her freedom once and for all.
I’m also working on revisions to Her Private Chef, a novel I wrote a couple years ago about a split-personality food critic and a popular TV chef with the power to ruin her career. I plan to finish that up and release it sometime next fall. It’s a fun story, and I’m excited to finally be working on it again.
Jamie DeBree’s website: http://jamiedebree.com
Purchase links for Jamie’s books: http://brazensnakebooks.com
Jamie’s blog: http://varietypages.jamiedebree.com
Jamie’s page on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/NovelistJamieDeBree
Jamie’s Twitter feed: http://www.twitter.com/JamieDeBree
Where in the hell did a year go?
Tonight, for the first time since Nov. 17, 2009, I made fresh progress on a new novel. Eight hundred and fifty-nine words’ worth, if you must know, and that’s a pretty good single-session output for me. I’d be lying if I said I had planned to let it sit so long, and I’d also be lying if I said I feel like I wasted the time in between. Twenty-ten was spent pushing hard on 600 Hours of Edward, rounding The Summer Son into shape (and finding a publisher for it), essays, short stories and the like. I did not want for work, though I probably could have gotten by on a little less rest.
Just the same, after writing and selling two novels in twenty months, to have let twelve more slip by me with no measurable progress on a third seems … unlikely. And yet, that’s just what happened. Now that the thing is moving again, I’ll hope to stay atop it until I see it through. As to its working title or storyline, I’d like to hold that close for a little while longer yet. Ideas are like newborn puppies; the fewer hands that touch them, the better.
New to the blogroll today (and only because I was lazy about 10 days ago, when it launched):
Reading Kitsap, by my good friend Jim Thomsen.
While the blog does play to a Kitsap County, Wash., core audience, Jim has some ambitious plans for it. As he said in the introductory post: “It’s my hope that this becomes the one stop for all news about our writing, publishing, bookselling and book-sharing communities.”
So far, he’s been true to his words. He’s had items on writers (including the awesome Jonathan Evison, who has come in for some praise here), provocative posts about how technology is changing our reading habits, riffs on book design and all kinds of other fabulous stuff. One of the best parts of my day is when a new post hits my e-mail box.
And if you think I might be trying to figure out some way to connect myself to Kitsap County so I can wedge my way into this blog … you’re right!
Some online destinations for your consideration:
- I’m part of the lineup of editors at The Blood-Red Pencil. If you’re a writer or an editor (or both!), I highly recommend that you bookmark this site. Tips cover all the bases: grammar, plotting, dialogue, marketing and promotion, etc. Check out my latest post, on pet peeves.
- Today, I dropped in at another of my favorite sites, 1st Turning Point, and offered up an essay on self-promotion. The reality for most writers is that it’s promote or perish. Gone are the days of dropping a book out there and washing your hands of it — if, in fact, such days ever existed. 1st Turning Point consistently offers sound advice on thumping your work without being a raging pain in the ass. Unless, you know, that’s your niche.
- Are you a Goodreads denizen? If you love books, you should be. Think of it as a Facebook for readers. I’d also invite you to add my upcoming novel, The Summer Son, as a to-read item. (I can safely assume you’ve already added 600 Hours of Edward, right? Right?)
- Finally, thanks to the fabulous Christopher Meeks, I just discovered Janet Fitch’s blog. The White Oleander author has some superb stuff there, including this essay on creating dialogue. She writes: “It’s like a racehorse, it can’t just carry any old thing, the pots and pans and old tires. You can’t heap all your expository business on it, the meet and greet, all that yack. It’s just for the conflict between one character and another. That’s it.”
I think I just swooned.
Though my first instinct is to tell her to cut it by 10 percent, this essay by former New York magazine copy editor Lori Fradkin really is spot-on in its portrayal of what it’s like to be a steward of grammar, usage and style. Though I’d much rather chat about my writing under the auspices of this blog, the truth is that I spend 40 hours of my week, and sometimes more, as a professional copy editor. While not thankless, it’s also not glamorous (Drew Barrymore movies notwithstanding), and if nothing else, Fradkin has done a service by letting prospective copy editors know what it’s like on the inside. You can’t say you weren’t warned.
I’m a bit envious that Fradkin has actually had style debates about whether douche bag is one word or two; I’d find that a refreshing change from the ones that tend to engulf newspaper copy desks (hyphens and Associated Press style, mostly — with the former increasingly eschewed, to sometimes comical results, and the latter woefully lacking in logic and unevenly applied by, of all outfits, the Associated Press).
I’ve been at this gig nearly 20 years, and I can tell you that something happens to a copy editor as he ages. I spent my 20s willing to prepare the battlements over minutiae (the aforementioned hyphens), my 30s fixated much more on line editing than on the finer points and now, at the dawn of my 40s, I’m willing to give a lot of leeway to style but can turn absolutely murderous over slack, hackneyed writing (and good golly is there more of it than ever).
Since launching my side career as a novelist, I’ve found that exercising both sets of muscles — the ones that create and the ones that refine — has made me much better at both jobs. I know what it’s like to shape every word, sentence and paragraph, and how devastating it can be when someone rips that structure apart, even if it’s for the better. I also know how to be ruthless on matters of quality control, in my own writing and in others’. We owe it to the people who read our work to give them the best we have. Half-assing it just won’t do.
(The hyphen was a must.)