All posts by jkkblog

I'm a freelance editor and writer with a background in history and foreign languages.

What is an Unreliable Narrator? — Jerry Jenkins | Proven Writing Tips

[J here. These are the sorts of questions that arise in the kitchen where the sausage is made. Want my opinion, most fiction authors start out writing exactly the way they want to write, without considering the constraints and impacts of that choice. I don’t have a problem with them writing the way they want to write, but I do have an issue when they don’t realize they aren’t making it work well.]

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You can use a variety of literary devices to add conflict and tension to narrative fiction. But few make readers work harder than the unreliable narrator, a device that, true to its name, allows the storyteller to take readers on a wild goose chase as they determine what’s true, what’s not, and why they feel…

What is an Unreliable Narrator? — Jerry Jenkins | Proven Writing Tips

The investing fast takes I wish I had absorbed when I was much younger

When not editing people’s manuscripts, one of my interests/occupations is investing. In thirty years, I’ve paid lots of investing tuition, which means I made stupid mistakes that cost me money. This has taught me some things, ones I can distill into the modern attention span, so here they are.

  • Stock and index raw numbers do not matter. Only percentage change matters. If you see a headline like DOW JUMPS 100, and you care, you are incorrect.
  • The Dow sucks (and not just because it’s the market’s FUD dispenser). When it’s done, it sucks some more.
  • The money media spend long hours trying to scare you into reading their media. None ever get fired for being wrong. So we keep reading them…why?
  • All fees and taxes matter. Never ignore any fee or tax; that’s the path to self-delusion.
  • Any investment setup that looks like a cutesy little dance, such as little gimmicky stuff that gives you free money to invest, is probably an e-monte game designed to tap into your “omg i could get rich yes plz” wishes. Read the terms, especially those about how you get out when you want to. Bears repeating: Watch the fees. Yes, even those little ones. Yes, those too. And yes, that one. Do you sense a trend? Are they targeting those at younger and less experienced investors? Well, what do you think? Do you suppose that it’s aimed at people who know much about what they are doing? If it’s that great, wouldn’t affluent older people be doing it?
  • Wall Street gets to cheat; you don’t. Love that or hate it, but it is what you will live with, and no one with the power to change it will ever do so.
  • Anyone who uses the word “bagger,” without “grocery” or “vance,” start ignoring. Just put an R after the B and all will be clear.
  • When you are young, time is your friend. Most young people will reject this friendship. I get it; so did I. I was a young idiot. If it were easier to accept that friendship, more young people would do it.
  • Even your brokerage will give Big Money better deals than it will to you. They will only be surprised if you act surprised (or outraged) by it, as if all people were created equal or something. In investing, you would be a hopeless naïf to believe this, and they would treat you with the gentle restraint and pity typically shown toward volatile persons missing a few marbles.
  • The three main ways to make money investing are to: sell it for a profit, get it to pay you, and/or save on your taxes. Growth, income, tax advantages. That’s them.
  • You really can’t know how you’ll react to big gains and big losses until you experience them. What you say about them now is irrelevant. What you do when the crowd’s going wild, or the building is on fire, is your investing identity.
  • Most non-index mutual funds do not beat their target indices, raising the question of why pay them more in order to do worse.
  • Conventional open-end mutual funds have some inherent flaws that harm performance.
  • Understand every investment you buy. It is very stupid to buy something and then go find out what you just got.
  • The biggest enemy of your success is your own emotions, both greed and fear.
  • If you just read the above and though, “Aha! I’m a man, and the women are more emotional, so I have the advantage!”, your furry ass is showing. A book called Warren Buffett Invests Like a Girl makes a convincing case that women are likely to be better investors, more prone to do their research homework. I wouldn’t take any generalization too far, but read that book before you start patting your XY chromosomes on the back.
  • If that doesn’t convince you, consider this. With the exception of Berkshire, the only separate issue stocks that have ever succeeded for me were the ones my wife picked. She knows very little about investing. She rarely misses. I don’t even buy them any more, except those she directs me to buy. If you want to know her secret, it’s not very complicated; she buys stock of companies she likes and uses.
  • If you want to punish an evil company, don’t boycott their stock.  That’s mindless, and doesn’t hurt them. Want to mess them up? Buy a bunch, and then vote against management every time in shareholder elections, especially for the loopy proposals management recommends you vote down. Donate the dividends to anti-company causes if you like. But don’t confuse activism with investing, because they do not have the same goals.
  • If your job has a 401k, and you aren’t putting in at least up to the employer’s match, you are financially self-harming. They’re offering you free money and you are refusing it.
  • As you change jobs, roll your old 401ks into a rollover IRA, then manage them yourself. You will have better and more options.
  • Read good books about investing. Ask successful investors which are good books, and why. Don’t read stupid books.
  • If you’re tempted by an investment newsletter, start by rejecting any that arrive as junk mail.
  • If you just want the market return and can be happy with it, buy and hold index ETFs. If you did that consistently, you’d probably end up with a pile without having to do any work.
  • Every minute you spend watching Jim Cramer, you’ll get a little dumber. About 160 hours might be a functional financial lobotomy.
  • “It’s different this time” are investing’s famous last words.

It’s up to you. Good hunting.

Deconstructing Deadly Illusions—What Not to Do With Your Manuscript — Fiction University

[J here: this is a very useful little list of common mistakes that separate bits of untethered plot thrown in from a considered story. Very good advice for writers.]

By Bonnie RandallPart of The How They Do It Series JH: The smart writer learns from the mistakes of others. Bonnie Randall shares what went wrong with a story that made plenty of them, and how we can avoid those same mistakes.Friends, because I’m a little salty these days, and because Netflix is a quadra-gajillion-earning empire…

Deconstructing Deadly Illusions—What Not to Do With Your Manuscript — Fiction University

 

The Young Farmer dogmatism

A couple of years back, I did developmental and line editing on a great fantasy novel. One of the book’s great strengths was the author’s enormous esoteric medievalist vocabulary. Put it this way: I might stand justly accused of many failings, but among them is not a small vocabulary. I respect any writer who can send me fumbling for a dictionary. This author did, perhaps a dozen times.

One of these terms was “gong farmer.” When I first saw it, I thought: Pretty sure one can’t grow gongs in a crop field, or a rice paddy, or orchard. I’d better look this up. This is what competent editors and proofreaders do; we look up that which we do not comprehend. I discovered that a gong farmer was someone who cleaned out latrine pits, hauling the goodness in a shit wagon, most probably to some form of soil enrichment purpose. I laughed, said “stet,” made another nod to my client’s vocabulary, and kept working.

Came time for proofreading, and my client hired a proofer who had plenty of good ratings. That would teach him not to trust the ratings. The proofreader was an abject moron (now you see why I am not naming names). I’m convinced she just ran grammar check and spell check, ‘congrats 2 me I proofed pls heres my pay pal.’ To my our shock, she had simply changed any esoteric terms or usages she didn’t understand. “Gong farmer” had become “young farmer,” from stem to stern.

Ya.

For me, this event memed the term. It came to define mindless editing and proofreading, that dogmatic attitude that finds itself unmoored from context. As I look far back into my own history in this regard, I have probably myself gone through such a phase and made similarly dogmatic, stupid edits. Maybe I owe some empathy for that, and maybe I feel some. But not much, because context always does matter.

The goal is to do all the things that lead to the best possible ms. And now, any time I find myself having a reflex reaction to a usage, I remind myself not to have a Young Farmer moment.

Women’s History Month: Sergeant Joan Mortimer, MM

When I was in college, attempting to be my own editor on my own college papers and not notably succeeding, my country was in the pioneering days of women expanding their roles in the military outside the nursing field. Many went through very difficult times cutting and widening that path, including some I know well and respect. One thing they had going for them was that the path was at least trodden and visible, thanks to true stories of predecessors like Sergeant Joan Mortimer of the WAAF.

A political organizer from London, Joan Mortimer was twenty-seven when she joined the relatively new Women’s Auxiliary Air Force in early 1939. The war clouds were plain on the horizon, and war indeed broke out for Britain in September 1939. After the Nazi forces mauled the Benelux countries and France, it was the turn of the United Kingdom. The goal was to break the island’s resistance through a sustained air campaign, periodically inviting the British and their allies to just give up. They rejected this offer, of course, answering by force of arms–and thus developed the Battle of Britain.

RAF Biggin Hill was a frontline outpost of the air war over the UK. Located in what are now London’s southern outskirts, the base was an early responder to any incursion into UK airspace. That made it imperative for the Luftwaffe to pound it at every opportunity. Assignment there was hazardous duty, and on 1 September 1940 Sergeant Mortimer was among three WAAF enlisted women on communications duty when a major airbase strike came in. Along with Corporal Elspeth Henderson and Sergeant Helen Turner in the HQ, she maintained vital communications from her post at the switchboard (in the armory, surrounded by high explosives one might well hope avoided a direct hit). But that was not all.

Henderson and Turner remained at their posts doing their duties when a bomb struck and set ablaze the headquarters building. Only when the fire reached their room, and under direct orders, did they leave their work. The bombs sometimes didn’t explode upon landing, but that didn’t make them safe. As for Mortimer, she realized that no one had yet red-flagged the unexploded bombs on the runway, and that the base’s fighter complement would be at greater risk as it attempted to land and re-equip. Pilots could usually spot craters, but dud ordnance sometimes not so much. With the Luftwaffe still making runs on the airfield, Sergeant Mortimer ran out to mark the danger spots in disregard for her own life and safety.

No one can tell me that’s not a warrior.

The three women each received the Military Medal, which only six British women earned throughout the war. Sergeant Joan Mortimer’s citation described her actions thus: “This airwoman displayed exceptional courage and coolness which had a great moral effect on all those with whom she came in contact.” Boy howdy it must have. His Majesty the King himself had the privilege of decorating her.

Let her country, and its then and later wartime allies such as my own country, take a moment to remember Sergeant Joan Mortimer, MM, and her fellow airwomen whose valor earned the respect of those who served with them.

For Rent to Publishers: One Pistol with Bullet to Shoot Yourself in the Foot (or Why Good Editing Matters) — An American Editor

Jk here: I’m glad it’s not just my imagination that even the big and supposedly reputable houses are hiring people who end up not doing a decent job. Does evidence of lack of competent editorial impact harm a book’s prospects? I guess some of them think not.

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Richard H. Adin I never thought I would say “Gosh, I am glad I am retired,” but I am. Being retired has done many things for me, not least of which (aside from having the time to play with my granddaughters before their school and other diversions make me uninteresting and obsolete before my time) […]

For Rent to Publishers: One Pistol with Bullet to Shoot Yourself in the Foot (or Why Good Editing Matters) — An American Editor

Sucking at tech support, and the Sea of Red Ink

Not long ago, I asked an editorial community how it felt about clients’ requests to be taught and guided in the use of computers, email, and especially software such as MS Word.

Results were all over the board, from “Sure, I’m an expert” to “Not only no but hell no” to “If they want to pay me for it, I’m their huckleberry.” I asked because I don’t like it and am not good at it, and was wondering if this was rare. The reasons are complex, but are based on this: when I left that field behind, it was like a weight off my shoulders, and I don’t like re-shouldering it. Few seem to understand this reluctance, but we all have different paths and experiences. There are former police officers who never again touch a firearm once they retire. You couldn’t get my football widow mother to sit down and watch a game if I were playing in it, not even if you stapled her to the chair and propped her eyelids open à la A Clockwork Orange. She would look away and sing to drown out the audio for all three and a half hours. I think she’d rather have a bucket of horse turds dropped in her lap than a football.

So I was reading what the other editors said about tech support, and then one of the responses hit me with a flash of the road to Damascus (and no, it wasn’t a Syrian Arab Air Force strike aircraft firing rockets). There are Youtubes on everything. I can’t possibly know what the client is seeing, and I’m not willing to set up some form of screen-sharing remote access software. If I can find out the feature they need help with, and the version they are using, I can find them a YT that will discuss how the feature works. Their screen will look like what the video shows, and menu selections will have the same names as they will see on the video.

It feels like liberation.

Here is a helpful hint for all those of you who work with Word and an editor: Go to YT and search for ” track changes ” plus the version (e.g. ” Word 2013 “). Watch them. Live them. Groove them.

Because I’m still using Word 2007, I have zero interest in downgrading to a more current version, and what I see on my screen simply is not what you see. All I can do is confuse you.

I can’t charge you for confusing you. Not nice. I already do enough free work (emails, phone discussions) and have to establish a boundary, stay within my comfort and happiness zone. Doing tech support makes me not want to do my work at all, and I can’t afford that.

That still leaves the Track Changes learning curve, which brings into play the Sea of Red Ink. This is where their first view of the finished product, by default, shows it looking like a e-splatter film. I had one client just accept all the changes without review, so traumatized were they.

There’s a solution and it involves a better way to send the client his or her results. Send two versions: one with all changes accepted (no Sea of Red Ink), one with the changes awaiting acceptance (e-splatter film). I don’t like it, but I have to accept that the Sea of Red Ink is scary when it’s the first thing clients see. It isn’t the version I want them to begin with. What I normally want them to do first is read the edited version (which is not the default view in Track Changes, and which can’t be saved to be the default view) all the way through, with just comments, and see how it feels; see how they like the way they sound, just read and react.

Then I want them to review it with the tracked changes. The Sea of Red Ink will now show, but by now, the client will realize that every single teensy correction (loose space, case error, changed comma, fixed typo) leaves a trail of red pixels out to the margin. This will show, should show, that the Sea of Red Ink is not nearly as fearful as once believed. The simple act of a global S&R for “two spaces, replace with one,” will coat in e-splatter any page in most mss even though it led to no substantive alterations. It looks bloody, but it’s a minor scratch.

Sounds so reasonable, right?

Hardly any of them have ever paid attention to these directions. They dove straight into the Sea of Red Ink (default view), had whatever crisis they were going to have, and either recovered or did not. Their lips said “yes, yes” but their eyes said “FOAD FOAD FOAD,” as one long-ago RA colleague used to say about residents and activities. For me to expect them to follow my suggestions is naïve. I have to make that easier for them.

I’m tired of the crises and worrying about them, and I’m ten times tired of being asked for tech support. So now I’m going to send two versions as described earlier, so that I don’t have to do tech support to help them face the Sea of Red Ink. They never have to see it if they prefer not to; they can, if they wish, just use the fully accepted copy and put comments/edits there. It will still have changes tracked. This should make an enormous difference in outcomes, without ever removing acceptance or rejection of changes from their own hands, where that process belongs.

Not paying attention to that particular group any more due to excessive thought/speech policing, but I have to credit it for this one valuable thing. At least, in return for the many dozens of people I helped, I did get one help back. Could be worse.

Tips on Writing “The Boring Stuff” Readers Tend to Skip — Fiction University

[J here: I spend a good deal of time trying to guide writers to remember what I like to call the readercam, another term for point of view. There is a tendency to head-hop, which means to shift the perspective from one person to another. Managed well, this is workable. Managed badly, it is not. And when writers choose first person, many do not realize that they are setting limiters on what they may do for the rest of the tale. This article touched on structural matters of that sort, the kind I often encounter in the editing process.]

By Jenna HartePart of The How They Do It SeriesJH: Readers skim when they read, especially if nothing is really going on in the story. Jenna Harte shares tips on keeping readers engaged in your novel.Jenna Harte is a die-hard romantic writing about characters who are passionate about and committed to each other, and frequently…

Tips on Writing “The Boring Stuff” Readers Tend to Skip — Fiction University

Current read: Traveling with People I Want to Punch in the Throat, by Jen Mann

Travel is one of my favorite genres. That said, travel writers don’t often get me so amped that I start describing the book to the ‘Lancer’s faithful before I even finish it.

Jen Mann has aggregated a life of travel mishaps, awkwardnesses, and random events into a fantastic, well-written volume. Because part of my work is to help people improve and repair their English usage, I’m Selfy McSelfishton when it comes to my leisure reading time and material. I have rejected quite a few books covering content I was otherwise eager to read, simply because the Amazon ‘Look Inside’ demonstrated to me that the author’s writing was not bearable. Jen can write.

What’s more, she has the gift of letting the humor in the situation speak for herself. That holds true even when, as often is the case, the joke’s on her. Here’s one good example, from a para about trying to fit into a too-small robe. Jen is in Singapore, and has a Western woman’s body but has been issued an Asian women’s robe:

I took the robe and ducked into the stall. i shucked my clothes and grabbed the robe off the hanger, but as soon as I put my arms in, I knew there was going to be a problem. I managed to get my shoulders wedged into the robe, but I couldn’t close it completely over my ample bosom. It was like putting twenty pounds of dog food into a ten-pound bag.

Who has the guts to say that in a book? Jen Mann.

I want more, and I’ll have it. She has about half a dozen other books out, and I suspect I will end up with them all.

How to Write Rich Characterization: A Cheat-Sheet — Fiction University

[J here: I found this a nice list of quick character development suggestions. Quite a few writers struggle with character development in fiction, but non-fiction writers often flat neglect it because you can’t just make stuff up in non-fiction. No, you can’t, but you can use some of the same principles to identify what makes a character intriguing.]

By Bonnie RandallPart of The How They Do It Series JH: Wonderfully rich characters typically leads to a wonderfully rich novel. Bonnie Randall shares tips on how to reveal the depth and richness of your characters. A character is infinitely more than just who the author says they are. Like their living, breathing counterparts, fictional characters often…

How to Write Rich Characterization: A Cheat-Sheet — Fiction University