Category Archives: Editing/writing life

About doing this stuff for a living.

Series hypnosis

Not sure how common this is, but it has certainly happened to me. From the way reviews go, I doubt I am alone. Here’s how it goes, using a fictitious and somewhat composite example:

Let’s imagine a writer going by the pen name of Gertruda Lynn. (Real full name Geertruida Lynn Plutz; she thought that just using her first two names would be a truly unique, edgy pen name, something never done before.) Gertruda publishes a new young adult (as in, kids) urban paranormal (as in, elfy/vampy/wolfy/dragony) series called The Trials of Countess Flatula. Inspired by Twilight, Flatula’s twist is that she has gas. This throws a gritty, original wrench into the social dynamics of subsisting on the blood of the living. Of course, when you look like a fifteen-year-old girl but are 150 years of age and have the strength of a mountain gorilla, you only somewhat have to put up with cracks about your ‘problem.’ Her saving grace is her comical self-reflection, an odd mix of drama teen and maturity: “I wish I was dead! Oh, that’s right…” In her spare time, she volunteers for the Red Cross.

Flatula is a big seller, and soon thirtysomethings are cosplaying her at cons, with healthy assistance from heavy morning meals of hummus. Flatula merchandise (including her own branded hummus and a Beano knockoff) sells. Publishers have not quite hit a Rowling gusher, but it’s a Grisham gusher. The protag finds danger, adventure, love, and embarrassment. The stories begin to push the adult part of “young adult” as Flatula begins to experiment with her inner desires. Five books in, Flatula is a commercial force that feeds upon many debit card purchases.

And then Flatula’s tropes begin to repeat. Lynn’s fetishism becomes progressively obvious and irritating. Not only do the flaws in her writing not improve, she seems to double down on them as a flipped bird to critics. Reviews drop from the 4.5* to 4* to 3.5*, and the critical reviewers wonder what happened to their beloved series. They beg the author to come back. They hint that she is acting out all of her repressed pervs. Dark hints arise about farming-out to ‘lancers. This is less fun for Gertruda Lynn.

In fact, Lynn is out of ideas and sick of Flatula, but the cash cow is still giving buckets of money and she’s chained to the oars. Plus, deep down, a part of her is even sick of writing. This is not how she envisioned it, especially the publisher stuff. She feels she has fallen down some storyline rabbit holes she cannot escape; at the time they were like quick hits of plot cocaine, but she did not think through all the story doors they would slam shut, nor those that they would wedge and weld open. Her reviewers no longer shower her with universal adoration. ‘Lancers don’t seem like such a bad idea. She would like to start a new YA series, Count Dogulus (about a vampiric elven werewolf with a miniature transgender dragon), but she’s signed on for three more Flatula novels.

And Flatula’s carrying the mail. Seven books in, the stars have settled at 3*. Forty percent of the reviews fire salvo after salvo of quippy irritation: “Can’t Flatula take some Beano?” “Someone open Lynn’s windows, and quickly.” “Gertruda, why can’t you be what you once were to me? How can such a wonderful writer put out such garbage?” They sound as if Lynn stood them up on a date. Sixty percent still gush over the newest, Prepare to be Flatulated, which definitely departs PG for an R rating. The publisher does not give two damns about the reviews, because every Flatula book is a guaranteed endcap “bestseller”–a self-fulfilling distinction, being that they buy said endcap space.

Gertruda doesn’t even have to write, and increasingly, she does not. She prepares chapter outlines and story overviews, with supporting material, and lets the publisher hire ‘lancers. It’s a good gig, and the NDA assures that the ‘lancers keep their yaps shut. Reliable ‘lancers will receive return invitations. Flakes will not. Gertruda is now mostly the editor, and this is a problem, because she’s not competent to edit. She never once in her life had to tell a single paying client what was wrong with his/her writing. No editor has ever done so for her, so she’s never seen it done. (When the publisher bought her first book, it got minimal attention. When it became a cash cow, the publisher would do nothing to interrupt the continued lactation.)

In the meantime, Gertruda cannot forbear glancing at the increasingly nasty tone of reviews. At one point, she launches an angry blog post that becomes a trope. When she gets depressed, she reflects that at least she doesn’t have to work part-time at Michael’s any more. Flatula is still giving the money milk, even though the protag has become a tragic, ethically imprisoned figure whose dimensions have deteriorated rather than expanded.

Why do people keep buying this junk? Every day, dozens of new competing novels hit print. About one in ten should have been published, but we live in the era of self-publishing, where you can define yourself as a writer and make that definition appear true. The market does not, however, solemnize that perception; what it does is ratify the value of marketing. Good, bad, or atrocious, the writers who market will sell books. The self-published writers who do not market will sell few or none.

The publisher keeps endcapping Flatula, and she is a lock for X number of copies that will gross $Y and net $Z. The reviews change nothing. Lynn can keep writing (farming out/editing) Flatula forever if she wants, because that hard core will keep buying them and writing favorable reviews. And here is what’s crazy: Some of those reviewers sound educated, discerning, even bright. Why on earth? Shouldn’t the literary ourangoutangs be the last remaining members of the fan club?

 

Indeed, why? I call this phenomenon “series hypnosis.” Back in the olden days, schools had driver’s education classes. (Children, this is when schools actually made efforts to prepare you for life, rather than for stupid-ass standardized tests; if you don’t believe me, ask your grandparents.) Among other subjects such as the value of the turn signal, they taught us to watch for highway hypnosis. This was the dangerous tendency to just keep staring ahead over the miles, no longer alert to potential issues: speed trap setups, brake lights, people wanting to pass, deer, semis’ blind spots, and potholes. It happens when one cruises at a consistent speed for long periods of the time, which is dull. I still watch for it, because my instructor was right about it.

In series hypnosis, we get attached to something or somethings: specific characters, plotlines, authentic writing talent, whatever. We keep reading as this develops. New characters add some interest and twistiness. The edginess factor grows as the author steps up the shock value. This lulls us into a sort of multi-book hypnosis in which we are no longer judging the series by objective standards. “If this were the first Gertruda Lynn book I read, it would also be the last,” say some of the reviewers as they begin to awaken, as 4* subside 3*ward.

It’s not that the remaining discerning readers have somehow become morons. It’s that the series has become a habit, like chew or porn. The loyal readership has suspended its critical thinking. Those hypnotized by the series will just keep buying and approving. They have series hypnosis. It’s a form of literary nose-blindness.

I’m interested. How many series have you kept reading out of habit, well past their sell-by dates, until one day the accumulated dose of awful finally drove you away?

In my case, the answer is: more than I care to admit.

Getting past insufferable

Writers and authors can be some of the coolest people you’d ever want to meet.

They can also be insufferable. And most of those who are, either don’t know it or don’t care.

I believe that it’s a phase some go through. I believe this because I remember going through it, and probably remained in that phase longer than most writers. If it’s a phase, it can be overcome.

What’s insufferable?

  • Nagging everyone in one’s orbit to read one’s work.
  • The above, while making clear that everyone without the will to refuse is expected to be Very Supportive (i.e. say nice things).
  • Beginning to view everyone in one’s world in terms of promotion of one’s work: there are those who embrace The True Faith, and those who hesitate (or refuse: basest heresy!) to read/buy/share/review/promote it. The latter are bypassed as of little consequence.
  • Posting protracted laments on writers’ groups about unsupportive friends/family, essentially asking to be given a bottle and caressed with encouragement.
  • Approaching prospective editors with a defensive and defiant stance, practically daring them to do their jobs.
  • Plunging into profound grief upon receipt of even constructive critical feedback.
  • Ignoring said feedback as unsupportive.

All right. Does any of that describe you?

If you are still reading, you might like to escape this spiral of insufferability and sorrow. That which stems from life traumas is beyond my power to amend. For those I recommend a qualified therapist with the training to deconstruct trauma and help you to cope. It has helped me.

The other part is in my department. I believe in the power of affirmation and repetition to change our outlooks. It doesn’t happen overnight, but neither does a book. Neither does much of anything on which we look back with pride in achievement. Tell yourself:

  1. No one is obligated to read my work.
  2. Refusal to read my work is not a judgment on me, much less a personal rejection.
  3. If I seek feedback, I will presume it constructive until proven otherwise.
  4. I will not seek feedback from anyone without committing to giving it careful consideration.
  5. If I seek feedback in a critique group, I will remember my own obligations and give at least as much good as I receive.
  6. No matter how invested I am in my book, no one else can be expected or required to feel the same. Anyone who does so anyway gives me a great gift.
  7. An editor’s solemn duty is to tell me the honest truth, even if painful. I have no right to demand that s/he violate that trust to spare my feelings.
  8. Some people will be cruel to me. I will distinguish gratuitous cruelty from that which contains useful guidance, even if given with the bark on. From the latter I will take the good and leave the bad. I will leave the former’s authors to own their pathologies.
  9. I will not reflect the painful sides of my writing experience onto anyone who doesn’t deserve it.
  10. If the problem stems in part from my sensitivity over horrible life experiences which I reflect in my writing, critique of their presentation is not meant to invalidate my experiences.

Ten commandments? No, because I’m not commanding anyone, nor have I the power to do so. Ten guidelines for becoming the kind of writer that editors love and friends don’t avoid?

I can live with that.

Thrift vs. miserliness

What’s your craziest cheapskateness?

Lots of us are cheap, or thrifty, or abhor waste, or in some other way do our best to avoid discarding anything we or someone else could use. Some of us were raised by Depression kids, with a portion of that translating to us. Some people live in very frugal circumstances and can’t afford to waste any single solitary thing of value.

Some do this out of need; some out of fear; some because it’s fun. Few apply this to everything. Take time, for example. Time is a resource, arguably our most precious one. It could be used to accomplish something, even if that might be rest or play. How many people, having options, waste time on a regular basis? Of course, that depends on the definition of waste. In some circles, any energy or time not spent to further ultimate corporate profit is automatically considered wasteful, just as any education that does not directly lead to employability is considered useless. Some people think a server tip is wasted money because it is not technically obligatory.

And sometimes we have a savings instinct and we know it’s stupid. Maybe we just give in to it; maybe we fight it because we realize that’s going too far, even for ourselves.

What I’m going to ask you is two questions:

  1. What is a form of useful thrift you practice that you think few would resort to?
  2. What is a form of foolish or pointless thrift you either practice, or realize you should not and resist the tendency?

I’ll go first.

In order to avoid purchasing my own for things I sell online, I save a good percentage of the packing I receive. Not all, but a fair variety to accommodate varied needs.

Every time I find myself backspacing over single characters to retype a missing letter, rather than arrowing to the spot and just inserting it, I have this little wastefulness warning that goes off. It’s idiotic. Not only has a typed character zero intrinsic value, I backspace and retype because it’s faster and doesn’t require me to shift to the mouse or arrow pad. Even then my brain nags me that I am just throwing things away like a wasteful dunce.

Yet it doesn’t when I am editing, or when I am throwing away a whole sentence or paragraph I deem pointless. I can, without conscience, delete a whole article from this blog if I consider it past its prime. For heaven’s sake, I deleted or hid my entire personal Faceplant timeline. I deleted ten years of life story. It took over a year. I felt no sense of waste.

Please feel free to share yours. No judgment from me.

The state of the proofreading

Just when I thought it was at a nadir, it goes lower.

Much of what most people think of as editing is in fact proofreading. Proofreading checks for errors. It does not take very much extra effort for proofreading to become copy editing, but the latter has a greater purview.

My advice to clients is always to engage a proofreader, and that it cannot be me, even though proofreading is a special talent of mine. Then why won’t I do it? Because, in order to proofread to my own standards, I have to be seeing the ms for the first and only time. I refuse to take money to work to anything less than my best standards. Also, it’s much better for them to have a second set of eyes. Different eyes see different things.

If you want to see someone really, seriously, heavily piss me off, have them inveigle me into voluntarily proofreading their work for free “as a friend,” after which they make a blithe jaunt through the ms giving it a full rewrite and thus destroying all the value I gave away for free.

Anyone who has read a lot of self-published work has noticed that most writers don’t hire proofreaders. (Many don’t hire editors, either. Or they do, but ignore most of the guidance. Or they hire inept editors and accept the misguidance. But all that is another story.) The result is a poisoning of the self-pub well in the eyes of those who aren’t patient with errors that should have been caught before publication.

Happily for many self-pub authors, most readers don’t know that those are errors, thus they don’t care. The authors lose only the very literate minority, and if someone pays $5.99 for your Kindle edition, you don’t see whether that $5.99 came from a Ph.D in Comparative Literature or a Harlequin romance fanatic. Those two $5.99s have the same purchasing power.

So; proofreading either doesn’t get done, or gets done by their sister-in-law. She reads a lot of John Grisham, you know, so surely she can handle it.

Yeah.

What I never thought I’d see: a self-advertising, paid “proofreader” who simply ran grammar check and spellcheck. #congratsuproofed Now I have.

I’ll bet you have never stopped to wonder what would happen if people just proofread by running grammar check and spellcheck. Have you? What, you don’t spend your fun time ruminating on literary outcomes?

Oh. Okay. Point taken. But since you haven’t, let me explain what this would do. It would:

  • Introduce a number of mindless corrections to situations where the author knew the rule and chose that special moment to break it for valid reasons of flow, dramatic effect, whatever.
  • Destroy dialogue for characters that did not use perfect speech. Rules for dialogue and internal monologue differ from rules for narrative.
  • Enforce slavish obedience to conventions that might make no sense in context. The Comma Formerly Known As Oxford? Introduced or eradicated with mindless efficiency, depending on one’s conventions, without heed to the meaning it could inflect.
  • Miss a great many of the most pernicious typos, such as ‘thought’ for ‘though.’ So hard to catch, so common, so irritating. So expected to be caught in proofreading. So unpardonable a miss that a proofreader who misses them is not a proofreader.

Not only would it trash the ms, it would be a creative trashing job. While missing much of what one wishes a proofreader to catch, it would damage what one expects her not to damage.

Now I’ve seen it happen.

I got so pissed off that I volunteered to proofread the whole thing, free of charge–with the natural caveat that it would not be to my normal standards, and on a best-efforts basis. My client’s trust had been abused, infuriating me. I hate this, and it’s not the first time. I had one client who needed help with formatting and cover art. I sent her to someone who came fabulously recommended. That provider accepted the job, more or less blew my client off for months, then farmed it out to someone else who proved horribly inept. Infuriating, and more so in this case because it meant I led my client to a bad outcome. I will never regain respect for the provider who did that, but I know part of the problem was that I gave a secondhand referral to someone who had nothing to lose by alienating me. I’m embarrassed, still (years later), because I know that I screwed up. And since I’m hopeless at formatting and cover art, it was not in my power to take that bullet for my client.

Unlike some past cases, this client didn’t then launch into a full rewrite of the proofread ms. It was published with the corrections, a product we could be proud of. So at least we had that.

Nowadays I pass along names, but no recommendations, unless I know that the provider values my respect so highly that s/he wouldn’t dare blow things up. Definitely no more recommendations based on “another client used him/her and was happy.” Yeah, been there, and the trip sucked.

If you’re hiring a proofreader, insist on some evidence that s/he knows what s/he is doing. A bunch of glowing reviews on some editor/proofer search site does not constitute “evidence that s/he knows what s/he is doing.” I suggest asking for a sample proofing of a random few pages.

Anyone who refuses to do that, I think one may safely dismiss.

TWYHAE (That’s why you have an editor)

Stop me if you’ve heard this before.

Aspiring writer transforms into actual writer by authoring partial ms. This happens in fits and starts, with numerous backtracks to rethink, proofread, self-edit, and self-doubt. Eventually:

  • loses motivation
  • ascribes loss of motivation to mythical ailment called “writer’s block”
  • joins writers’ group in order to overcome mythical ailment
  • finds that entire group has also elected to blame loss of motivation on mythical ailment
  • realizes that no one in group has any solution for this
  • gets sick of attempting to critique screenplays, so-called “young adult” (kid) lit, and elfy/dwarfy/vampy/wolfy urban paranormal without collapsing in apathy
  • realizes also that writers’ group is mainly an emotional support group
  • fades away from writers’ group
  • lets ms sit for months or years
  • realizes one should one day return to ms
  • dreads returning to ms
  • castigates oneself for not completing ms
  • sits down and reads existing ms
  • overwhelmed with despair and futility, bawls
  • tries to think how to fix all the problems
  • bawls some more
  • says screw this and bakes cookies, or pounds nails, whatever s/he finds cathartic

Is this a hobby or avocation, or is this autoneurosis?

If one does not have an editor–and I mean a true advisor, sounding board, guide, and helper, rather than the glorified fascist proofreader that many writers imagine all editors to be–I can understand this. If you’re in it alone, you wander alone in the wilderness. If you find a way out, great; many do not.

If one does have an editor, the real deal, one has a solution to nearly ever failure point on that list: TWIHAE. One says to oneself: “That’s why I have an editor.” One either continues to create, confident that any problems will be resolved later with assistance, or one contacts said editor for help getting past the sticking point.

I’ve written a ms of my own; I’ve had my writing published. I understand compulsive self-editing that leaves the first third of the book rather refined and the last two-thirds fairly raw. I understand halting halfway through and saying to myself: “This is such crap. No way would anyone pay for this.” I understand trying writers’ groups. The only part I don’t understand, except from an academic standpoint, is writer’s block. I truly don’t understand lying to oneself. Sometimes one doesn’t want to write, or life means one can’t. There’s no such thing as writer’s block.

There is no such thing as writer’s block.

Everyone who has the time and physical means to write, does so. Everyone else doesn’t want to write that badly, or they would be doing it, even if it was to write a lament on how painful it is to have this writer’s block thing, and how convenient it is to have an imaginary condition to help avoid facing facts.

But that’s one reason why you have an editor: to give you another take on facts. The main reason is to allow you to create. To create, rather than backtrack over and over; get hung up on plot points; feel overwhelmed; rush back to rethink Chapter 1; have other crises that mean you don’t write.

If you have an editor, when you notice your first craterous plot hole, you give it some thought for the afternoon. If you still don’t solve it, you either contact your editor, or you drop a reminder comment in the margin and move on. That’s why you have an editor. If you have an editor, when you find yourself tempted to go back and smooth all your prose, you realize that someone else will help you with that and there is no point messing with it now; you say TWIHAE, and you move on. You return to creating. Your back is had.

And if you feel temptation to smoke the opium of blaming lack of motivation on a mythical ailment, seeking to take comfort in the community of futility, you have an editor to cut through all that self-defeating baloney.

Not that having an editor can help everyone past everything. Some people’s emotional and life issues overwhelm them. That isn’t writer’s block (because that’s non-existent), that’s life happening. All one needs to do is admit that one is overwhelmed by issues that impair one’s ability to focus and create. There are some people who can’t write because the potential trauma of feedback has them in paralysis, and who may have past issues to process. (An editor is not a suitable stand-in for a qualified professional therapist, for example.) And there are writers who grow so proud of their flaws, or who are so emotionally needy, that an editor will recognize them as setups to failure.

We can’t help everyone. And that’s okay, because one of the pervasive parrotings of our time is “everyone deserves…” followed by some benefit or fundamental. It’s one of those Bullshits One Is Not Supposed To Call Out As Bullshits. Not everyone deserves help with writing, and it makes no sense to think so. Not everyone is cut out for any given activity. I’m not cut out for parenting, acting, basketball, veganism, teaching special ed, renovating crawl spaces, or any number of other things at which I am or would be incompetent. Writing is no different. Heretical truth: some people shouldn’t. It’s worth trying, we try and fail at some things. Some we try, fail at, and return to later on in light of new wisdom. Writing isn’t an exception to the list of Stuff Not Everyone Can Do.

But if you can, and you find yourself continually sidetracked by self-doubt and self-editing and self-questioning, an editor can be your guide out of the wilderness.

That’s why people have us.

In memoriam: Jim Bouton, 1939-2019

Word comes to me of the passing of one of my life’s most inspirational figures: James Alan Bouton.

Jim was a professional baseball pitcher, inventor, author, and motivational speaker. He enjoyed brief but eye-opening success with the Yankees in the mid-sixties–won two games in a World Series, for example–until his arm began to give out. Reinventing himself as a knuckleball pitcher in his first comeback, he caught on with the inaugural Seattle Pilots in 1969. The Pilots traded him to Houston during the second half of the season. He was mostly effective in relief for both teams, but not enough to guarantee staying.

Few of his teammates realized that, during 1969, Jim was writing a book. Unlike most baseball books, this one would tell the whole truth. Ball Four, perhaps the most important baseball memoir ever authored, would forever polarize Jim Bouton’s world. His detractors would accuse him of revealing material shared in private, embarrassing baseball, ingratitude toward the game, and other unwelcome deeds. His supporters, including me since my teen years, would laud him for writing a very interesting book; telling the honest truth about the lives of professional ballplayers; refusing to conform to the establishment (and baseball’s establishment has long been full of Stuffy McStuffshirts); and countering the dumb jock stereotype.

Neither side is entirely right or wrong, but there can be no doubt of my position. I’ve never imagined Jim Bouton as a perfect man, nor does he present himself as such in Ball Four or his subsequent books. For me, a bullied intellectual trapped in a horrible situation with nearly no person or institution to take my side, Jim’s book gave me heart. It may be one of the reasons I didn’t go all the way around the bend.

In 1990, while unemployed, I took the time to find a mailing address for Jim Bouton. I felt he needed to know how much I appreciated his work, and I told him what it had meant to me. I didn’t expect a response. Three months later, a UPS driver delivered me a small parcel: a copy of the 1990 re-release of Ball Four. I opened it to see the inscription: “For Jonathan. Smoke ’em inside. Jim Bouton 8/90.”

You may imagine what that meant. Later, with the rise of e-mail, I would have a couple of exchanges with him. I would learn that my letter had made it into a special file where he kept those that meant most to him, letters he would take out and read again on bad days or for inspiration. I learned that as much as Jim Bouton mattered to me, it turned out that in a small way, I also mattered to him.

Jim made a second baseball comeback in the mid-1970s, ultimately reaching the Atlanta Braves. He didn’t stay, but he did reach his goal, and in the process had a number of adventures including a turn with the Portland Mavericks. Let’s give you a sample of Jim’s writing style, and let him tell it:

“The Mavericks were the dirty dozen of baseball, a collection of players nobody else wanted, owned by actor Bing Russell. The team motto could have been “Give me your tired, your poor, your wretched pitchers yearning to breathe free.” In a league stocked with high-priced bonus babies, Maverick players made only $300 per month and had to double as the ground crew. Revenge being a strong motivator, the Mavs had the best team in the league.”

I so wish the Mavs still existed.

Jim Bouton meant more to me than a distant inspirational figure in another way, in that I also made two baseball comebacks. The first occurred when I was 29, having not played since my high school catching and outfielding days ended at 17. Six years later, including five with the Seattle Giants (PSMSBL; just to be clear, I always had to pay to play; I was never paid to play), my achilles tendon parted as I took a step toward the dugout at the end of an inning. We moved from Seattle to eastern Washington. The walking cast came off. I followed the instructions. And then I learned of a local MABL league that was offering tryouts. Even lousy catchers always get drafted, and I turned out. An expansion team picked me up, but the next year that group would morph into the Tri-City Rattlers. I would play there until I was 44, when a brief juke to avoid a fastball to the knee tore my cartilage and induced me to hang ’em up.

For that second comeback, I switched from my old number standby of 9 to 56, Jim’s number all through his big league days. It always made me proud when anyone would ask about it. I even worked hard enough on my own knuckleball to get two pitching tries, one a start. I’m pretty sure our manager knew we were going to get clobbered and felt that our usual pitchers were in serious need of rest, but I still went five innings. I’d watched people try to bunt the knuckleball from behind the plate, but never from the mound. Most amusing.

One may well see reasons I always felt close to Jim Bouton. Later in his life, he added to his authorial body of work with a fictional story about a bribed umpire, then the non-fictional story of his efforts to save an aging historic ballpark. His website advertised his services as a motivational speaker, and he was in demand at Old-Timers’ and commemorative events. I fell in with the Facebook group Ball Four Freaks, a hilarious place where it is always customary to respond with lines from the book. A new member shows up? That’s part of the heckling. “Hiya, blondie, how’s your old tomato?” “That sure is an ugly baby you got there.” “Okay, all you guys, act horny.” Everyone who loves the book gets it immediately. We don’t get many phonies. One fun aspect is that Jim’s son, Michael, will stop by now and then and can answer a question or two.

Jim Bouton did much in life, most of it after his best playing days. He kept playing semi-pro, then amateur baseball until his seventies, when he helped start up an old-time flannel league. To the end, he was as accessible as he could be to those of us whose lives he had affected. He wrote a number of great books, all themed around baseball. He has now stepped off the mound for the last time.

He will be remembered after many of his contemporary athletes have faded from the public mind.

As for me, my eyes very rarely even begin to water in grief. They water easily when I am moved by action or achievement of valor, but rarely in grief. It is not that I do not mourn; it’s that I mourn in introspective silence. This time, they watered.

Books by Jim Bouton:

Ball Four: The Final Pitch

Foul Ball: My Life and Hard Times Trying to Save an Old Ballpark

Strike Zone (with Eliot Asinof)

I’m Glad You Didn’t Take It Personally

I Managed Good, But Boy Did They Play Bad (edited/anthology)

New release: Out of Their Depth, by M.R. Cook

This new fantasy novel is now available in print and e-book. I was developmental and substantive editor.

I had known Mike very long ago, but we had not been in touch for most of our adult lives. We reconnected through a mutual friend from those old days who had also sought writing guidance. They had been part of a long-running fantasy role-playing game (akin to D&D) and were both writing stories based upon their gaming adventures.

Before you judge, know this: the unfolding of any RPG campaign is in essence a story writing itself. It always begins with characters in conflict; always with external forces, and sometimes with each other. Some of it is slapstick, for it is a proven impossibility to form any RPG gaming group without at least including one total gonzo. I was in one group where a player played a necromancer (magician who communicates with and animates the dead). His day job? Funeral director.

There are, of course, IP issues with using mutually generated creative content in a for-profit book. Mike has handled it the way I would do were I to write one: by sharing royalties through written agreements. Just in case you were also thinking of writing stories about your RPG campaign, yes, that is a valid method. Not only is it the right thing to do, it is essential legal protection. Don’t accept “Oh, I don’t mind, just go ahead.” Explain to them that fair is fair and you appreciate their contribution. One can also explain that this will give them a reason to promote the book, if one desires.

Out of Their Depth began life as a novella and evolved into a ms about double the basic novel length. That’s not to say that it is too long; my assessment is that the original story was too much to contain within novella or basic novel length constraints. Its evolution involved great strides in character development, for a typical RPG adventure story can have several protagonists depending on how the author chooses to emphasize and POV them. Mike has gone with a method in which I’d estimate 40% of the book is from the main character’s perspective, but his four comrades divided up the remainder of the time. He has done so very effectively.

As a writer, Mike’s greatest natural talent is descriptive verbiage. Where I didn’t persuade him to dial it back–thus, where I felt it paid its way–this talent goes on full display in the novel. His wartime experiences add a grittiness and realism to scenes and discussion of combat. One talent–or more correctly, one acquired knowledge set that adds great flavor–is Mike’s plentiful vocabulary of now-obsolete medieval terms. I am not, shall we say, accustomed to having to look up many English words unless I’m reading something very technical. (One of my sidelines is technical editing. That doesn’t appear on my credit list for multiple reasons, beginning with NDAs.) By the time the novella morphed into a novel, I’d headed for the dictionary a dozen times. I now can define terms like ‘culet,’ ‘oculus,’ ‘assart,’ and many more.

Since a temple is very prominent in the novel, I wonder how Mike managed to avoid the term ‘narthex.’ He may take that as a challenge. It’s the front sort of reception area of a Lutheran church, as I should know, having been marched to Lutheran churches at parental insistence until I finally realized that I was an exhibit rather than a youngster, and if I exhibited embarrassing behavior, I would no longer be subjected to attendance.

Another aspect Mike has handled well is gender. Most novice writers do not portray the opposite gender well. Though many try, it’s not an easy thing. I hammer on it especially with male clients, because in case they do not know this, they had better learn it: women tend to do more reading than men, and most will readily notice non-credible or derogatory female portrayals. They’re perfectly fine with a variety of female roles, attitudes, and ethical levels, but they will groan and tire when faced with characters and reactions that ring false. On the upside, when women like what they see, they vote for it with loyal pocketbooks. If a male fiction writer wants to succeed, he needs to learn to see and paint the world through her eyes. The story contains several strong yet diverse women, all with important roles to play; in fact, the toughest fighter in the protagonist’s party is a scarred, well-armored (no chainmail bikinis here), blocky ex-sergeant who provides most of their combat leadership. I feel confident that readers will conclude that Mike gets it on gender.

In fact, Mike Cook might be one of the most coachable writers with whom I’ve had the pleasure to work. Ever want to know how I size up a client’s potential? About half of it is by coachability. The other half is by the quality of questions asked. Mike was always a bright, articulate guy, and he hasn’t wasted the past three decades. A good client challenges me with great questions. Mike wanted to understand the logic behind my guidance, and where I did not volunteer it (I normally try), he sought it point blank.

This is very healthy, because I ought to have reasons for everything I advise, and it’s well within a client’s rights to want to understand the reasoning. An editor who cannot stand to be challenged in this way does not plan to teach. An editor who does not plan to teach is more or less hoarding knowledge. I do not believe knowledge workers benefit from hoarding knowledge. If your work is to share your knowledge, then its generous sharing will not only give good value but also signals that you aren’t in danger of running short on knowledges.

(Side note: early in my editing days, I had a client named Shannon D. Jackson who asked the best questions. Even better than Mike’s, because any time questions came up, she would ask me: “What questions should I be asking?” When asked that, it opens the floodgates for me to volunteer everything useful I can think of. She ended up with an outstanding parenting book.)

Mike placed quality and reader experience above all. He engaged artists. He hired a proofreader whose results proved very disappointing; so disappointing that I took the unprecedented step of doing it myself. I can’t ever take money to proofread my own edited work, but I can volunteer to do it simply to assure that justice is done. If there are still any typos, this time I am to blame. Even at the end, he was addressing potential loose ends in the storyline. The overall result of the process is a satisfying story by an author with great writing ability, a refreshing sense for physics and realism, and who progressed as much during the project as anyone I’ve known.

Writing as M.R. Cook, Mike has applied himself with as much diligence as any author with whom I have worked.

So, after a great deal of effort and time invested, it is with pleasure I announce his first novel.