Tag Archives: shannon d. jackson

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.

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New release: It’s Not Rocket Science, It’s Parenthood, by Shannon D. Jackson

Here’s proof that knowledge of the subject is not necessary for editing: me editing a book on parenting. Today, It’s Not Rocket Science, It’s Parenthood comes out in print on Amazon. (Obviously, this is not a review, as you can’t review a book you worked on.)

If memory serves, I first contacted Shannon via a Craigslist ad for an editor. I guess she liked what I had to say, which is saying something because I was fairly critical of her sample material. However, I found her a coachable writer willing to accept guidance supported by evidence and ability to explain. When an author pitches herself as a no-bullshit kind of gal, that will ring true only if she appreciates a similar approach from her collaborators. Her fundamental frankness and value of same seemed to me her strongest qualities, so I strove to smooth down the jagged edges without causing the metal to lose its sharpness.

Shannon has a wickedly creative approach to raising children. She strikes me as the sort of mother who understood early on that she needed to foster and build up the notion that rebellion, while expected, was ultimately futile and would always cost the child more than was gained. I believe that this basic characterization is at the heart of the book’s value, along with the brassy, immune-to-shame-or-fatigue methods she has come up with. If I had to characterize her parenting style in one sentence, I’d say this: she is immune to all parental peer pressure (and basically fearless), but if she failed to do her devilishly clever best to love and teach her kids, that and only that would cause her shame. Based on the book, I doubt she feels that way often. She cares too much about the role.

As I read it, I wished my own mother had been as forceful and confident. I’d have matured a lot sooner, and more thoroughly. I do not fault my own mom. She was in an abusive marriage and had numerous psychological disorders, and probably did the best she could in a rotten situation. However, I grew to see her as a pathetic, weak figure who did not mean most of what she said, and who therefore did not need to be obeyed very much. I’m quite certain Shannon’s kids see her as the sort of maternal force of nature that will have them describing her in reverent tones when they themselves are grandparents.

I believe that any parent can profit from a look at Shannon’s ideas, whether he or she adopts them or not. And if you have little Satana, or young Lucasifer, a hateful little spawn who is a) winning the power struggle with you, b) making you feel like giving up the kid for adoption, and c) has you deciding to get spayed or neutered so this never happens again, Shannon was there and won the battle. She may well help you do the same.

Editing a book on child-raising…me, of all people

My current project is to edit a book on child-raising. This is funny.

Some of you may not know this, but I’m not real good with children. I never wanted to produce any; the day my ex-fiancée told me very seriously that she was pregnant, shortly thereafter revealing that it was a joke, ha ha, something broke inside me and I never trusted her again. I have recently learned that I can enjoy being around good children for about three or four hours. I can endure them for three or four more, after which I need a couple days in a bar. If they are relatives it’s easier, but only to a point. If they are not exceptionally well-behaved, it’s excruciating. In short, perfect kids about whom I authentically care are difficult enough for me. The other billion are rather harder.

I did not ask to be this way, and it’s not something I’m glad for or proud of. It’s very inconvenient to be missing the gene that says kids are inherently cute and funny no matter whether they are attempting to start fires, defecating in their pants, doing something that they have discovered will frustrate adults, or making a crayon drawing of your pet. My life would be much easier if I liked being around them all, and I have tried to like it. It’s like trying to like a food you must force down. It is like telling yourself that discomfort is joy, edginess is relaxation, cardboard is food. I wish them great educations, lots of adventures, good friends, drug avoidance, full safety and very happy lives, with which I’m increasingly willing to intersect as they age toward maturity. If I had to work at a school, I would rather be the night janitor than a teacher. Night janitors perform a key job to help education happen, and by then the kids would be gone, rather than in my classroom torturing me, knowing that I couldn’t actually discipline them and they could get away with making my job hell. People know when they hit a vulnerable spot, and kids learn it early, long before most of them learn that gratuitous cruelty is not a character strength.

When my wife wants to mess with me, she talks about starting a daycare in our house. She thinks it’s funny. Yuk yuk, what a card. Everyone slap your knees.

As for me, I think it’s pretty funny that I am now editing a book on parenting.

The authors made a good choice in the sense that I’m completely unequipped to debate their parenting concepts. Life has taught me that ‘bad mommy’ is this enormous bugaboo for mothers. They’ll come to blows with the one who even implies Bad Mommy. They’ll yowl that they are Good Mommies, even if their junior Satans are out-of-control unbearable (not just to me, but to normal people). They’ll follow obsessive, fearful childcare regimes in order to avoid even a hint of Bad Mommy. Not that they don’t also do much out of pure maternal love, of course; surely so. I’m not saying that Bad Mommy drives all their decisions. I am saying that in many cases, I smell fear as an additional motivator.

Bad Mommy is even a pack behavior. I used to write for a product review site called Epinions. At Epinions, there was a clique I called the Mommy Platoon. The Mommy Platoon could give you 1000 words on a diaper pail without giggling. Sippy cups were serious business. They kept offsite message boards dedicated to gang-rating reviews they deemed to take parenting insufficiently seriously. They said appalling things to people in comments. Singly, they were cravens, but with the company of a cult of mutual reassurance, they found a form of gangster courage. One of their most devastating bullying weapons was Bad Mommy, used without remorse to bring other women to tears, simply for seeing parenting differently. A number of us, with goodwill and empathy, wrote reviews that made light of parenting and its issues and products, honestly hoping to bring the readership (including the Mommy Platoon) a few good laughs. Laugh about parenting? That was as popular with the Mommy Platoon as bomb jokes are with airport security. I think a majority of the mothers at the site despised the Mommy Platoon.  In the end, a key factor driving many of us away from Epinions was this Mommy Platoon, which evidently never learned the lesson mentioned above about gratuitous cruelty. One lesson I took away from that experience was just how dramatically Bad Mommy will influence a mother’s actions and outlook. I feel for them. I’d hate to have that hanging over me.

Bad Mommy is probably a positive thing in at least one sense. Motherhood is exhausting and endless, and it doesn’t have very many breaks. Perhaps when parenting needs doing in spite of how she feels, at times, Bad Mommy is the lash that drives her onward to do what is needed in spite of her being her own person with her own pains, emotions, desires, and so on. I’m glad I don’t know for sure. I wouldn’t want her job. I could in no way do it, and I marvel that she can.

So I’m editing a parenting book. Here’s the thing: my complete ignorance of the subject is an asset to the authors. I can play my position, which is to fix anything that is flawed about the way they have presented their ideas (as opposed to the ideas themselves). Their parenting advice sounds pretty smart to me, and I think it’ll be a great book; my job is to do my all to help that be so. They must find it a blessed relief that I have zero temptation to debate parenting with them, in much the same way as I have zero temptation to debate Sanskrit translation with lifelong Sanskrit scholars or fly-fishing techniques with a lifelong fisherman. They tell me their previous editor (who sounds very Mommy Platoon to me) fired them and said she would pray for them. I’m impressed that this did not dissuade them. When they sent me the sample chapter to see how I’d handle it, they deliberately picked the most controversial one, just to see how I’d react. When I learned that they had done this, they impressed me more.

I like the project. The authors have a very good sense of humor. I can’t imagine them in the Epinions Mommy Platoon. Along the way, I’ll teach them some stuff. You can divide aspiring writers into two categories: those who want to improve, and those who want to be Frosted Flakes with the reader/reviewer/editor as Tony the Tiger. These ladies are serious about it, which means they have a very real chance to get somewhere with the written word.

Here’s to all moms. They have a hard job.