Tag Archives: heidi ennis

Passing knowledge on, Baja Canada, and eating a bag of Dick’s

Now and then I take an authentic business trip, defined as travel that can without question be construed as related to my work. I am allowed to enjoy them, though, and I did this one. On Friday I headed north from Portland toward the forests south and east of Tacoma to visit a couple of my favorite clients: Shawn Inmon and Heidi Ennis.

Heidi recently released her first book, a nuanced and well-researched Native American historical fiction tale set just before 1800. I liked everything about working with her. She is a homeschool mom with a background in education, and her daughter and son are outstanding young people. Walking past the Latin declensions on the whiteboard headed toward her kitchen, I can see why. I love history, and any time children are interested in history and reading, I become a teacher on the spot. We had lunch, then spent several pleasant hours in questions and answers. Had it been feasible, I’d gladly have stayed longer.

I spent most of the weekend with Shawn, who owes his success to a combination of work ethic and willingness to market. Marketing is a problem for authors (and not a few editors, ahem). To market well, you have to be ham enough to enjoy taking the stage, and you must not be embarrassed to stand up and announce an event or a giveaway or a new release. I would have a hard time doing that because I would find it mortifying to put myself out there that way in the assumption that anyone should care. Good marketers do it without the slightest embarrassment, and if Shawn thought that the best way to market his work was to base jump naked off Columbia Tower, he’d probably do it. (I may regret giving him that idea. Well, actually, he kind of prompted it himself, though not in quite that form.)

After a very pleasant dinner out with Shawn and Dawn, we spent the rest of the evening chez Inmon talking about his current projects and some issues we must overcome. In short, there are a couple of situations in the story that we can agree need to occur, but we cannot determine how to make them flow naturally. I’m a big opponent of ‘showing the strings;’ I consider contrivance to be a bad odor, and it emanates from so much self-published fiction. We are still working this through.

The next day, Dawn had a prior commitment, but Shawn had planned for he and I to attend a Mariners game at ‘The Safe.’ That’s a good name for a stadium with a big sliding roof that can close over the top of it, which I consider an engineering marvel. The Blue Jays were in town, so I knew to expect a veritable Hoserama. Yes, the Canadians outnumbered the USians, as they had the last time I’d seen a Jays@Mariners game. (It had been a while. I had watched it in the Kingdome, which was imploded quite some years back.) I hate the company who sponsors the Ms’ field, so I will not use their name, but The Safe is a very nice place to watch a game and I’d never been there. It felt a bit like a hockey game, with the playing of both national anthems (everyone stands up for both).

Our section of Baja Canada was just in the trajectory of sharp foul balls or bat fragments from a right-handed hitter, close enough to the first base line to discern facial expressions. Most of those in royal blue were drunk but not on their lips, and behaved very well. Props to the eh-team. As we were choking away the bottom of the ninth, I got some laughs by asking if we could pull our goalie.

Afterward, Shawn wanted to take me to lunch/early dinner. We’d originally planned to visit an old Cap Hill favorite, but to our general shock it was closed up tight. As an alternative, Shawn suggested we stop at Dick’s Drive-In. Dick’s is a Seattle staple of many years, well loved by many and with a reputation as a good place to work. Shawn told me about a homeless person whom he had once seen sitting on the sidewalk near the restaurant. “He had a sign that said HELP ME FILL MY MOUTH WITH DICK’S.”

“That’s great. Did you give him any money?”

“Definitely, I gave him a buck.”

“Good man. That deserves a buck at least.”

I hadn’t been to Dick’s in some time, and it was better than I’d remembered. After inspecting the bags to find out whose Dick’s belonged to whom, we sat down to eat in companionable festivity. A lot of people hang around Dick’s, some of whom are even there to have dinner. We spent the drive back southward working on plot issues. We have not yet solved them, but it was a good brainstorming session.

Normally, of course, the client would not be taking the vendor out to such an involved event, but this will tell you a lot about Shawn’s ethical standards. He has written some stories that went into charity anthologies. I edited them, but resisted his efforts to press payment upon me (duh). This arose out of him contacting me to notify me that he was planning to include those stories in some for-profit work, and that he therefore needed to pay me. I wasn’t interested in money, though I respected his punctilious honesty about the situation. He had already invited me to come up and visit, and attend a Mariners game with him, so he proposed to pay for my ticket. That worked out to a lot more than I’d have charged for the editing, but one can hardly say no to such a kind offer, and all senses of right action were thus satisfied all around.

I came home this morning very happy to see my wife again, but with the afterglow of a fine weekend’s business travel. Thanks to all my hosts for their warm welcomes. The best part of my work is the client relationships, and this weekend was a good example of why.

Newly published: Awacha Nay–For My People, by Heidi Ennis

This Native American historical fiction novel is now available, paperback and e-version. I was substantive/developmental editor.

Heidi originally came my way thanks to Shawn Inmon, author of a number of successful fiction and non-fiction tales, who gave me the kind of buildup I’m not sure I could ever live up to. She had a novel long in the works, begun two decades prior, about pre-contact Native Americans in Washington and Oregon, and was I interested in editing it?

I’m not sure she would consider this a stroke of luck, but it so happened that I had lived a good portion of my life in the regions her story covers. I went to junior high and high school with the descendants of the people she portrayed, had read some of their history, and so on. I also knew the ground, its flora and fauna and climate. This made me rather more exacting in my critique than another editor might have been. Or as she said more than once: “You kicked my ass.”

Yeah, kinda. I suppose most editing involves some form of compassionate ass-punting.

After the sample edit, which satisfied her that I could help her, I did the initial read and commentary. With some mss, I can begin editing; in other cases, I prefer to give the author a shot at fixing the issues using her own creativity. That was the case here. I was blunt: I likened the portrayals of emotion to an ongoing Lifetime movie, and suggested that she dig deeper into the terrain and its Native languages and cultures–especially Sahaptin, the Yakama language, and Chinook Jargon, which was a Columbia Basin trade patois incorporating English and French into a mix of Native languages. “You also need to develop the economics and geopolitics of the region. Oh, and please draw a map and provide some family tree and language glossary stuff, if you add in significant amounts of actual native culture. And one last thing: how about dumping your last thirty pages, and ending the book with a bang at this specified spot?”

There was the possibility she might not like that answer, and might instead tell me: “You know what? My posterior is sore. I think I’ll find an editor who doesn’t kick it, thanks.”

Not Heidi. She expletive did it. Everything I said. Conscientiously.

Months passed. I next received a ms version of similar length, but peppered with well-chosen Sahaptin and Chinook Jargon words that explained the complex relationships that characterized Native trade and culture. The economic flow of goods and exchange, along with the importance of political relations, now helped drive the story. Cultures were richer, based in better research, and more complex. There was emotional balance now, yet without eradicating the ability to inspire a reader to feel. Villains were more nuanced and flexible, as were heroes and sidekicks. It felt much more textured and balanced. All that remained to fix were a couple of plot points I considered to stretch credibility a little far.

That part was hard. She had to kill her darlings, as Faulkner advised us. She didn’t want to draw that blade. I prevailed upon her that she was at the risk of contrivance, which is what happens when the author wants a certain thing to happen so badly she lets the strings show in setting it up. By that time, I think she considered me a darling–in the sense that if she threw a grenade rather than using a sniper rifle, she might have the joy of getting both me and the plot darlings in the blast radius. But again, she did it.

My pace on the edit was glacial. Part of it was the need to keep many characters and locations straight in a 500-page book, but part was of my own doing. Every time I needed a Native American word, I had to refer to a glossary. If it was a name, to a character listing. Most of that extra detail was stuff I had advised Heidi to add. What was I going to do now, start complaining? However, it did slow things down. There was no point beginning a work session unless I was prepared to open up four documents, and when I came to a decision point, often I needed to step back and consider with eyes off for a while. But in time, I did finish my work.

A writer this coachable is one for readers to watch, and editors to treasure.

I think her characters are a bit better than those in the O’Gear books, on a par with Shuler’s. That’s the league I see Heidi playing in. And she has it set up masterfully for a sequel.