Tag Archives: fiction editor

Commentary on “42 Dos and Don’ts from a Dick”, and a dirty little secret

First comes the original e-mail, a rejection letter sent to some 900+ applicants who didn’t get an online writing gig.  Read it within this Gawker article impaling it as “42 dos and don’ts from a dick.”  You can then read the original author’s logic and rebuttal at Salon.

When I look at the anger Shea’s long list of advice has generated, my thoughts include:

  • Wow.  No good deed does go unpunished.
  • These people are not cut out to be writers at all.  They cannot take constructive criticism.  I wouldn’t have hired them either.
  • This is a perfect manifestation of the “I’m So Awesome” generation that got a trophy just for deigning to show up.
  • What part of ‘follow the directions’ is so complicated?

I find this all very revelatory.  It’s helpful to me, because there are a couple of errors mentioned that I can easily see myself making, and would rather not make them.  (Thanks, Shea!)  What it reveals to me is that I haven’t been wrong about the Amazing Ego Based Upon Few Results mentality so common today.  Anything that sounds like negative feedback:  “That’s disrespecting me!”  Respect is earned, sorry.  Advice offered:  “How arrogant to think you know better than me!”  Uh, he does; he’s in a position to hire, and you are not.

Think on it.  They would rather have been ignored than receive help.  They would rather flounder in ignorance and mediocrity than take a bruise, suck it up and grow.  Anything less than “You’re so awesome!” is a boot in the groin.

How did we wind up raising young adults this way? Is this a young adult thing, or a writer thing, or a young adult writer thing? Feel free to educate me.  Because when I get a list of 42 things I might be doing wrong, I want to bless the sender.  That’s 42 things I should never do wrong again.

I promised you a dirty little secret, and you shall have it.  Truth:  I didn’t succeed as a ‘lancer because of busting my butt, nor by being a brilliant writer. That isn’t self-deprecation; I’m not saying I didn’t work hard, nor that I’m untalented.  I succeeded at freelancing because most of my competition took a look at its path ahead, sowed as many mines as possible in its path, concealed them carefully, went away for a while to forget where they were, then just waltzed on through the self-made minefield.  Over, and over, and over.  Most of my competition suicided on the way to the finish line.

I didn’t have to beat them.  They beat themselves.

Writing life: being the bottleneck

When books get down to crunch time with a print deadline, it all shifts.  I’m proofreading on an upcoming book, essentially the final set of eyes.  This is something I am very capable at.  If I may be permitted to preen just a bit, the author said:  “OK, let’s get it over with: your proofreading work is stunning. Best I’ve ever seen.  No qualifiers.”  That felt kind of nice.

What it meant, in this case, was that a key (penultimate) chapter was on the way, after much health-hammering and sleep-starved labor by the author and editor, and as soon as it hit my inbox, I was on the clock.  Now it’s all waiting on me.  I was actually delighted by this, because:

  • There had been an excellent chance it would happen in the middle of the night.  And if that phone call came at 4 AM, I’d have to get up, put on coffee and get to work.  Instead, it came at 4:18 PM.
  • It was a chance to show off.  On previous chapters, I’d had the luxury of multiple reads, wording suggestions, recasting, and relaxation.  It was easy.  This was not easy; I was on the clock.

In writing, as in any profession in which one takes pride, there are those moments:  the moments where one is doing something most people just cannot do.  They are what make most work worthwhile.  For a lumber grader, it might be spotting the exact cuttings of shop lumber to reach a given grade, watching the inspector lay a skeptical tape measure on the board, and find that your eye from ten feet away was as good as if you’d had ten minutes to lay out sample templates of perfect dimension.  In homemaking, it might be doing seven things at once and doing them all well.  It is when one feels uniquely capable, achievement mixed with refined talent and skill.  ‘And that’s why not everyone can do what I do’ moments are gratifying.

Got the chapter in at 7:32 PM.  Turnaround:  three hours, fourteen minutes.  Bottleneck? Not for long.

A great book you have not read: Transit Point Moscow

Some years back, I happened upon Transit Point Moscow in a used bookstore.  Synopsis:  an American, on the spur of the moment and with great impulsive idiocy, agrees to try and smuggle heroin through Soviet-era Moscow–and it doesn’t go well.  I guess that’s in the category of “young, dumbass stunts we pull that cost us ten years of our lives.”

Why it’s great:  the writing style is clear, often funny, and skillfully descriptive of the transition from arrest to imprisonment.  The book also offers a lot of cues to Russian culture.  I wouldn’t describe Amster and his cronies as sympathetic characters, but there’s a sense of honesty in that.  One does pose the question of how much of Amster’s story we believe.  I’m more inclined to believe someone who paints himself as a complete ass than as a dashing hero, and there isn’t much glory in Amster’s self-portrait.  The book is better for it.

What got me thinking about it was a more recent read, Alexander Dolgun’s Story.  I got turned on to this in a strange way, for it was on the guest room nightstand at some friends’ home.  I didn’t read it, just glanced at it, but noted the title and ordered a copy.  Dolgun was in the Gulag in the late forties and early fifties, when life was a lot harder there.  Even accounting for the temporal separation (Amster did his Gulagging over a generation later), there was enough in common between the two accounts for me to recognize terms, prison subcultures and practices.

You can learn things about a country’s mentality from its prison system.  For example, from the sheer magnitude of ours, one begins to suspect that our national mentality is that we should all be incarcerated in it. From its deep division between country club pokies for those who steal billions, and PMITA hard time for people who grow dope, one suspects that we consider having a good time (or relieving pain) without buying the drug from a corporation a horrific crime, but that if you steal a few bill, hey, that’s how we roll, shouldn’t have gotten caught.   I still haven’t figured out what the Gulag says about Russia’s mentality, honestly.

Greek phrases I wanted Berlitz to provide me

If you are familiar with the Berlitz language books, they will get you through a trip rather conveniently.  I especially like the helpful phrases.  I don’t speak Greek, except for about 25 really poorly pronounced words and phrases, but I can think of a lot of English phrases I would have liked to render in Greek:

  • I promise I am not here to start a riot, Officer.
  • I assume this is the same city street plan as the time of Pericles.
  • There is no way I can eat all that.
  • I don’t know what the spicy cheese dip is called in Greek, but it’s the only food I ever need again.
  • Right now I would commit low crimes for a toilet that allows you to flush the paper.
  • It looks like, long term, you lost the Persian War.  Look at all these barbarians on the Acropolis!
  • Never again will I refuse to believe that a tour bus can get through any space.  I bet he could drive this thing through a GI tract without messing up the paint job.
  • Please show me to the only ten square feet of Greece that are as flat as Saskatchewan.
  • What is the strike about? Oh, wait, I forgot.  It’s Monday.  My bad.
  • So when are you going to get a good Viking metal band at Epidauros?
  • Okay, I give up.  Is it ‘Patra,’ ‘Patrai,’ or ‘Patras?’ Just someone please clear this up?
  • No offense–this Corinth Canal is hella cool to look at, but that’s about all it’s good for.
  • I have no idea how even a goat can find anything to graze on out here.  I have half of the country’s non-olive vegetation caught in my socks!
  • How many pottery traps does this bus stop at?
  • With all these steps and slopes to climb, how does anyone in this country achieve fatness?
  • What do you call a Greek female banker who loses her composure? A drachma queen, ar ar.
  • Please don’t make me drink ouzo.  Do you have any Nyquil instead?

Finding faults: the fine art of proofreading

My current effort is the final proofreading of a book soon to be published.  This sort of work is no joke, because final proofreading means just that:  the last set of eyes.  If I miss it, it gets printed, and every time I read it, I will have to live with the fact that I missed it.  All I expect is perfection, and I consider full perfection a reasonable expectation of myself, attainable or not.  In writing and editing, that’s elusive and imaginary, but in proofreading, it is simple:  you either saw it and noted it for correction, or you have failed.

I haven’t been given leave to say anything about the book itself, so I cannot do so here, though when it goes gold I will trumpet it, as I am proud to be associated with it on many levels.  Its author is a social historian whose work I admire (and am honored to be asked to nitpick); it covers a topic we mostly would rather not address, but should and must; best of all, it’s in sufficiently good shape it can be proofread.

That works this way.  A work may need heavy editing/rewriting, in which case it is frankly incomplete or incompetently written.  A number of people make good livings doing this, and honest livings, bringing to fruition the autobiography or musings of an otherwise interesting person who cannot write to professional standards.  Moderate to light editing will mean rather less of the above, and intellectual honesty compels my confession that my own ‘finished’ works could benefit from moderate editing.  You get so grooved into your habits that you fail to see where they bother the reader.  “But that’s my style” is a bad rejoinder.  If your style makes the reader unhappy, your style needs adjustment, because without the reader you are soliloquizing.

On the above two groupings, proofreading is not really feasible, as they will change too much.  You can only proofread something that is ready to go to print–before that, it’s wasted energy.  If it needs editing, it’s not ready for proofreading.  This book, with which I am helping, is fully ready for proofreading.  I’m on an Easter egg hunt for odd commas, misspelled names, very rare run-on sentences, mislaid accents on foreign names, loose spaces, italic and case issues, and anything else I encounter that I imagine the author does not want printed as is.

And goddamn it, I am going to find them all.  The layperson might imagine that the author would be shocked, appalled and dismayed that I do.  The professional understands that this is precisely what the author desires.  I change nothing; I merely call attention.  I have no investment in how the author and editors react to what I highlight, for their work is to act upon my work.  They’re capable, seasoned hands.  Once I have noted and pinpointed the issue, action is on them.  They may decide to ignore what I say.  They may tell me to not bother with a given type of issue going forward.  They may make changes.  And I don’t care.

How can I not care? That’s the easiest part, which is that I know my role.  My role is to spot and note, and occasionally to suggest, or explain my reasoning.  Nothing more.  Once one has read a manuscript enough times, and edited it enough times, it becomes the norm to one’s eyes.  Errors that have always been there are no longer seen.  You can’t proof your own stuff.  I am, with no false modesty, the best proofreader I have ever met, and I cannot proof my own stuff.  The value a final proofreader can bring is a combination of fresh eyes and zero emotional investment.  The author has worked on this book for five years, and gods only know how much time his editors have put in.  Quite a bit, to go by the state of the finished product, which has me looking for the fussiest and minutest details.  I can suggest how they might handle an issue, but they know what they meant it to say (or look like).  Once I call it to their attention, it will be handled as they see fit.  I did what was asked of me, and avoided meddling in what was not asked.

It’s not that I don’t care about the end result.  I care about it almost savagely.  I care enough about it that if you send me a chapter in which I think I didn’t find enough problems, I’ll suspect that I lost focus, and do it all over again until I am satisfied I have found all that exists.  If I find nothing, I will do it again.  If I go through it thrice and find zero, then I finally believe my work is done.  Believe you me, I care.  I just know where my job begins and ends, and trust my teammates to take the handoff and hit the hole for paydirt.

Radcon 2012, afterword: okay, enough with the sickness

I now find, as expected, that while my fairly robust constitution fought off the Plagues of Radcon for a few days, the battle is lost.  I have the congestion/throat disease, not the dysentery disease.  It’s probably the same one that turned John into a stationary snore machine for a couple of days, though he didn’t seem to have a lot of muss associated with it.

When this happens, and I identify the early signs, my first action is to pick up the telephone and order some cold medicine.  The only pizza place around here that will put both jalapeños and chopped garlic on a pepperoni pizza is Round Table, and I’m currently boycotting Pizza Hut anyway since they actually dishonored a current coupon in such a stupid way they deserve to keep hearing about it.  I will then consume as much of the pizza as possible over the next few days.  This is my primary early punch in the mouth to any cold.

What does it do?

  • Since I do it every time, it is a conditioned signal to my system that we are going to fight, not just suffer and moan and suppress symptoms.  No, we’re gearing up.  We get stronger when we feel we can do something about it.
  • Because it tastes good, it improves my morale.  Morale is important.  Morale affects your mind which affects how your body resists.  If my nose and throat cannot be happy, some part of me can be.
  • If there is any infection-fighting ability at all in garlic relevant to colds (which are viral, but resulting sinus infections are not), I’m getting a heavy dose.  If it is not relevant at all, I do myself zero harm.
  • If nothing else, it will surely clear my sinuses, especially as I put the pepper flakes on.
  • It’s a pretty nasty combination of toxic waste to dump on the invading microbes, just on general principle.  “Okay, you little varmints, this isn’t going to be your happy vacationland.  I’m about to ruin your whole trip.  Anyone thirsty? Have a drink!” as I munch and swallow another combination of peppers and garlic.  I can picture the microbes phoning their travel agents demanding refunds.

Does this all cure the disease? Of course not.  When applied as it is just taking hold, does it affect the severity and duration? It seems to.

And if not, it does no harm, and I enjoy the pizza and thus suffer a bit less.

Radcon 2012, epilogue: Down with the sickness

When Ignition (the fire dancers) performed Saturday night at Radcon, they did one of their early routines  to Down With the Sickness by the rock band Disturbed.  In no way did I imagine it prophetic.

Turned out there was a truly nasty stomach/intestinal bug ripping through Radcon.  It’s pretty normal to get sick at any SF con; it’s as close as there is to an airplane ride or a third grade classroom in terms of random proximity to lots of careless people who might be ill.  This one is worse.  It produces power-chucks, vicious runs, and a lot of pain/fatigue.  Dozens of cases.  I had no idea it was even happening.

Life’s mercies:  neither I nor my friends caught it.  John had a nasty hanger-on cold/sore throat that caused him to sleep through most of Monday, but no stomach stuff except that he had the appetite of a hummingbird (if that).  My strong suspicion is that Deb and I had this in Anchorage; sounds quite familiar.  In any case, bullet dodged, and fortunately so.  I feel badly for the many who fell ill.

Edit:  so I post this, and Jenn PMs me to advise me:  ‘not so fast, my friend.’  Goddamnit!  Evidently they’re both under the weather.  No fun!

Radcon 2012, Sunday: A coward and an ass

By Sunday, anyone who has done Radcon right is running on fumes.  Mostly coffee fumes.  Had to be at the con by 9 AM, as John wanted to hit a panel.  I practiced the fine art of loafing around for an hour, but also hunted down the con registration wizard to pay her some homage.  Fair is fair.  She has truly stepped up and fixed the very worst thing about Radcon (and it never had many bad aspects to begin with), making it a far better con.  Registration is now a Radcon strength.

First panel for me was at 10 AM, on collaboration with other writers.  What the panel could not know was that John and I had done some intensive writing collaboration some fifteen years back.  We were both present.  It didn’t continue, but did not harm our friendship at all, nor did it rule out future collaboration.  We had simply never gotten around to discussing why it petered out, though I had my guesses.  Well, I decided to test those guesses.  So I asked:  “Suppose I once did some collaboration with a writing partner, and it faded out.  I’m pretty sure that part of the reason was that he’s a good guy, and some of my stuff was sophomoric and useless, and some of it just sucked, and he was too good-hearted to tell me.  Is that often a reason a collaboration could fail?”

John’s head swiveled like a turret and his eyes got big with that ‘why, you crazy fucker!’ look and smile, but he reacts well on the fly, and he curtailed any other response to avoid tipping the panelists off.  Panelist:  “That collaboration’s doomed.  Never work.”  I nodded thoughtfully, sagely.  They actually had a point.  We would have been better collaborators had we been more candid.  The discussion proceeded, and near the end, I asked:  “Suppose someone were actually in the panel with a past partner in a faltered collaboration, and begin to ask about reasons it went south.  Would that be a dirty trick?”

“That would be a coward’s act,” said one panelist.

“I’d say that person was a real ass,” said another.

I could see John staying on the down low, manfully suppressing his desire to bust out into laughter.  I actually don’t think the panel caught on, which is even funnier.  I’m not sure how I held back.  There was a reason I saved that for the end.

Next panel was on the best writing advice they had ever been given.  “Nothing sells in a drawer.”  “Keep writing.”  All of it was good.  I wanted to add a ton, and would have loved being on that panel, but they did well.  My own best writing advice came from the redoubtable C.J. Cherryh, a class act:  “Never follow any rule off a cliff.”  A well-focused panel.  Final panel, on scams writers should beware, was also good albeit a bit wandering and rambly, understandable at noon on Sunday of Radcon.  Afterward, I had the great fortune to run into S.A. Bolich, a fantasy author from Spokane and one of the nicest you could hope to meet.  We said our farewells in the dealer room and elsewhere.  I didn’t run into Sharon on Sunday, but it was so great to see her and meet her current pair of first-time con-goers.

All in all it was a great Radcon, even if there weren’t as many panels that really drew my interest.  They are getting new blood in the leadership and moving stuff in good directions, except for the room party situation, which I do understand is somewhat out of the hands of the leadership since it relates to liquor laws, enforcement and the hotel management.  One gratifying moment came when visiting with a coffee barista, who said that of all the conventions and such that lodge at the Pasco Red Lion, Radcon’s crop of 2000+ certified weirdos treat the hotel staff with more friendliness and courtesy than just about any other group.

Think on that a minute.  Rather than urbane executives, elegant real estate agents, streetwise police detectives, class reunion-goers and anyone else, the hotel staff is happier dealing with a bunch of people dressed up as Klingons, Victorian grandes dames, zombies, vampires, pirates, belly dancers, elves, Imperial stormtroopers, anthropomorphic furries, Spock, and gods know what else, than with completely conventional and evidently well-adjusted people.

Kind of amusing when one thinks about the socially dysfunctional geekage reputation, eh?

See you in February 2013.

Radcon 2012, Saturday

A decidedly slow awakening but for good reason:  Marcel had desired to make omelets for all for breakfast, and while they are delicious, they take time.  No matter for me, as oddly enough there was only a single panel that interested me.  Our friend Amanda had wanted to bring taco truck lunch for all of us at the con; I knew the idea was likely not going to succeed (due to the difficulty of getting six people to all not be in panels at the same time before 5 PM), but she seemed to want to do it badly, so I just let her give it a shot.  Well, they made good midnight snacks later.

The Rasputin outfit is more comfortable than the Boer costume, but requires more prep because I have to wear a wig and mousse my beard back to the brown it once was (a messy process). Jane, seamstress of my Rasputin outfit, was elated to see me in it for the first time.  I’ll probably be on her business’s Facebook site, doing the freaky eyes for the camera.

Most of my day was spent socializing, except for one abortive panel at which an author (I’ll give the name privately if someone gives me a good reason to want to know) proved to be a full-dress horse’s ass.  The subject involved gender and writing.  Three of the panelists (two women, one man) were on time and at their assigned posts, and the discussion began down some productive lines of exploration.  Perhaps fifteen minutes in, the fourth (male) panelist arrived with apologies.  He then conceded to construct Fort Conceit on the table in front of him:  a small fanned-out wall of perhaps a dozen of his titles in paperback.  It is customary for panelists to display a book or two, especially if it’s new, but to display your complete works is absurd.  It looks like you are saying:

“I have more stuff in print than these other clowns.”

“I fear that you haven’t heard of me at all, so I’d better prove I belong.”

“I have an ego the size of Idaho and it spills over into British Columbia.”

I already didn’t like him when he committed a sin of panelism:  he failed to shut up and listen to the discussion for a while.  Another:  he used his outside voice.  Thus, when he began to debate with his fellow panelists, he sounded like a double fool.  As he shattered the urbane, thoughtful ambience with what may have been thoughtful views if taken at face value, he had no way to know he was retreading ground already covered in the discussion.  I put up with it for about five minutes and left, and I am quite loath to leave a panel between the first five and last five minutes.  My bro John was forty seconds behind me, having reached similar conclusions.

All in all a fairly normal Radcon Saturday otherwise, except that the wind put a damper on the fire dancing troupe.  They performed anyway, of course, and did their very level best, but gusts were too high for some of their best stunts.  One weakness this year:  their music was lame.  Not loud enough, not fierce enough.  Their crowd fluffers had a hard time keeping the audience excited, which is normally not a problem with the fire dancers.

Later on, Jenn and Marcel pretended to be interested in the dance/rave, and I pretended that there was a a chance they’d want to stay for it, mainly because it was their first con experience and I wanted them to at least explore everything to their hearts’ content.  Mission accomplished.  My feet felt like I’d had an ‘enhanced interrogation’ by then, so anything that let me take a seat and relax was a winner for me.  We weren’t even motivated to bother seeking out room parties Saturday; by trying to create a secure area where all parties must be, with Security providing the ID checks, they have in essence destroyed room partying.  Either that or I just don’t get invited to the real ones.

As with the usual Radcon Saturday, by then I just didn’t give a damn, I was so tired and footsore.

Radcon 2012, Friday

Rolling with my crew:  my bro John (flew in from Bahamas) and good friends Jenn and Marcel from B.C.  For those who do not know, Radcon is the Tri-Cities’ own science fiction convention.  To some it’s essentially the geekfest (and they have a point), but to a lot of us, it’s something not to miss.

Registration at past Radcons has been a disaster.  How disastrous? How about a three hour wait in line for those who failed to pre-register, half and hour to an hour for those who paid in advance? I was certain Radcon would never, ever fix this.  I was wrong.  John, whose pre-registration failed to reach the destination, was in line maybe ten minutes.  He actually got in quicker than did Jenn, Marcel and I, in the nearly non-existent pre-registered line, because the person handling it was on break.  We were badged and ready to rock in fifteen.  I’m still processing the amazement.

I wore my Boer veldkornet outfit:  farmy clothes, bandoliers, sjambok (an African whip), bush hat with purple plume–steampunk without the goggles.  Jenn went Victorian and looked like a figure from a different time in corset, frilly blouse and long dress with knee boots.  Smashing.  Marcel, who is a big dude, went pirate with a big longsword, eyepatch and period shirt.  As strongly as one would never want to aggravate Marcel even under normal conditions, one would really not wish to in that case.

None of the Friday panels were must-go events for me, though everyone else was in panel heaven.  For me it was more a day of exploring and shopping.  Many friends from past cons, howdies and updates swapped, many hugs and smiles:  a feeling of being by now something of a fixture and familiar sight oneself, comforting.  Jenn and Marcel found what John found, and what I found before:  people at Radcon are in the main embracing and open, easy to talk to, with no tendency to try making new people feel like outsiders.

Dinner with Sharon and her friends from Spokane (all delightful ladies; Sharon fairly lights up a room), Jeff and Nyssa (probably the most competent and successful vendors who attend Radcon, year after year), and of course our crew.  Nyssa is a riotous deadpan storyteller and entertained us greatly, as she always does.

We were going to go to the Spocon room party, but it was completely packed.  We were going to head down to Irish Heather’s for a nightcap, but no one was around,  and by universal agreement we were all footsore and zonked from staying up too late the previous night.  We thus made it an early night and came home.

Shortly thereafter, I did one of the more boneheaded things I’ve done in some time.  It speaks well to my comfort with my guests.  I was getting out of my Boer accoutrements in the dining room (where, to Deb’s annoyance, everything I need for Radcon is piled on the dining table).  Without really thinking, I shucked my trousers, leaving me in a short-sleeved shirt and my underwear.  I then remembered the gift necklace I had gotten Deb, and mushed over to show it to her.

That was fine, except that Jenn was still upstairs.  Oops.

In such a circumstance there is nothing to do (after making a hasty retreat to repair one’s insufficient attire) but accept that there will be much hilarity at one’s expense from the women.  And the men, too, when they learn about it, which will occur within seconds of their next meeting with the women.  Guess it’s a good thing I didn’t also ditch the underwear too.

As we relaxed to tell Deb of our day, and hear her comments on our utter geekery, Jen whipped out a bottle of Buckley’s.  This is a Canadian cold remedy not sold in the U.S., and while she had brought it to combat lingering cold effects, it was also a chance for me to sample its legendary nastiness of taste.  If you search on Youtube, you’ll find videos of people suffering through their doses of Buckley’s.  First, of course, I smelled it and got a shock:  imagine Vicks mixed with ammonia.  Seriously!  Now, I’ve had a faceful of ammonia in life, and I didn’t like it much.  Since I didn’t have a cold, I just put a little in a teaspoon and…down the hatch.  No sweetener, no alcohol; it looked and tasted something like an acrid liquid Vicks.  Pretty unpleasant, but nothing as repulsive as Nyquil.

What, you mean you all don’t accidentally drop trou in front of your guests, then taste-test a new Fear Factor cold medicine on your first day of a science fiction convention?

Then You’re Doing It Wrong.