editing

THE UNDERSIDE OF BEING A PUBLISHED AUTHOR

I have a long morning ahead. It’s either wash and fold the laundry or sit here in front of my computer waiting for my publisher to send me her decision about the title of my next book. I looked up Blood Sisters and discovered that not one but two other Blood Sisters have been published in the last year or so. Mine would be the third, triplets, too many for folks to page through looking for a family saga rather than a murder mystery. I complained, but to late. That day I got the proof copy of MY Blood Sisters in the mail, great cover and 181 pages, to read and correct.

Which I did immediately. I stuck a little tab on a page whenever I found an error, sometimes mine, most often in the typesetting. My book bristled with tabs when I finished. The next morning, I sent an email with the page numbers and the errors to my publisher. That’s why I’m sitting here twitching. I’m waiting for the next step in this process, if not a new title, at least the receipt of the ARCs for the finished book.

ARCs are the e-version of the review copy, just about as perfect as it can be, to be once more looked at, and then, in the next breath, sent to book reviewers who will read the book and maybe write a critique to their blogs, to Amazon, to B&N, etc. When this gets rolling, my book will be available on line and in paperback so that I can carry copies to local bookstores and ask that they place them on their shelves. And offer me a chance to sign, read, and …

I’m getting a headache thinking about all this. Instead of dwelling on the underside of being an author, I’m going to send you a bit of Blood Sisters, or whatever it will be called. Enjoy.

CHAPTER ONE
I close my eyes, my lips. Only my nostrils move as they take in what air is left. Soon, I think. Plastic film stretches taut against my cheeks. Now, I think.

A scream slices through soothing fog, forces my eyes to open.

“Mom! Mom!”

I am rolled over. Cool air floods across my face. Not now. You were supposed to come home at dinner time.

I watch my son’s face crunch into its usual confusion. “We got finished early. Why are you laying down on the grass?” I feel his arm slip under my neck as I struggle to sit up. “Why did you put on that grocery bag?”

My head on his shoulder, I smell the sweat his anxiety has stirred up. I find the strength to lie. “It was just an accident.” Shreds of plastic dangle from my neck like a tired lei, red duct tape cuts into my chin. No sense trying to tear off the tape. “Go inside and get the kitchen scissors. Be careful.”

Jimmy releases me. I hear his heavy feet on the porch steps. In a moment he’s back, the tool’s sharp ends point at my throat.

“Slowly, Jimmy. Keep the scissors away from me and make little cuts in the tape until we can tear this off.”

I watch as he fumbles with the wrinkled plastic, brings the blades inches away from my skin. “Careful, Jimmy.” I choke back a gurgle of unexpected laughter. I might want to die, but I don’t want to be murdered.

I hear a click. Then another. “I’m doing it, Mom!” I push the scissors away, grip at the tape on each side of his snips and rip it in two. I am released from its chokehold. “You did good, Jimmy.” I sit up, pick up the remnants of my failed plan, and hand the torn plastic, the tape, the note to my son. “Put these in the garbage can, please, while I fold up the blanket and then we’ll go inside and you can tell me about work today.”

Nothing has changed. I am still a mother of a damaged son, the wife of a damaged man, living a life empty of hope.

What A Difference a Word Makes

Well, I’ve just frozen my credit accounts, directed a check to the Red Cross, called a person whom I don’t know to ask why she sent a letter that indicated my mother, age 102, has an insurance policy. (Turns out she does, protecting her cremation plan from Medicaid) and then I delivered to a bank the monthly Mom/Nana checks from her children and grandchildren to cover the fees in her adult foster home. After that I sat for an hour waiting for Medicare or Medicaid or anyone to answer the phone and tell me if she is eligible for funds to help her family pay her bills. I finally gave up. I electronically deposited a small check from my publisher before I was tempted to say What the hell and get a pedicure with it.  All that this morning.  Business.  No writing, only a little reading during the long phone wait. No walk around the park to get my legs moving in a normal, not alarming, way.
 At noon I called a friend, a very good friend who is not feeling good these days, and wished her well. Talking to her was the best part of my To Do list. The second-best part, an hour later, was a self-reward glass of wine on the terrace and the realization that this was the first time I’ve seen blue sky in two weeks. The wind has sifted; the smoke from Eagle Creek is headed in another direction.
The business part of this day had accumulated during the previous week as I plowed through the hundreds of red lines on the manuscript to my editor sent back, not with accolades but with notes: “This character’s name was different on page 30;” “Did you really mean to skip what happened after he hit her?” “The little I know about gonorhea doesn’t include bed care, and it’s spelled differently,” and so on. I finished, depressed and exhausted by the eradication of red lines, and spent this morning trying to distract my depression by frantic busy-ness.
 After giving silent thanks for the return of the blue sky and my glass of wine, I went to my computer. My publisher had emailed: “Jo, we love your writing; send the next one and we’ll be glad to look at it.”
No promises, of course, but the words, We love your writing, wiped out of any remnants of my despair. I celebrated with another glass of wine and understood how words can change a day if not a life. I hope I am able say something that powerful to someone else tomorrow. I’ll start with, I love how you. . .”

ALL IN A DAY’S, WEEK’S, MONTH’S WORK

I’ve just cut to pieces, reassembled, re-read and edited my next novel which still doesn’t have a title and if things go as they have been, perhaps not even a life.
What happened to this story that I had created at my computer and in bed at my usual wake-up hour of 3:00 a.m. is that I couldn’t decide at first from which viewpoint I’d tell the story: the fifteen-year-old girl who was in the middle of escaping an abusive relationship at a homeless camp under a local viaduct or that of the seventy-year-old childless woman at whose door the girl appears one night saying, “Hello, Grandma.”
An early morning inspiration decreed that I’d tell this story from both viewpoints, alternate the chapters, and one would be told in present tense, the other in past tense. A kind of challenge to me, the writer.  All went pretty well. I had to keep track of what was happening two chapters before the one I was writing and somehow keep the timeline the same for each viewpoint version. When the girl opens the door and sees her abuser sitting on the porch (her POV), the old lady will hear the conversation and call the police (her POV), one chapter later. 
I somehow did this for two hundred pages. Then I read what I had written. The opening chapter had no hook, the story had an arc but it arced weakly in two places and the tension I had hoped for dissipated into ho- hum. The story might have been interesting, but the telling wasn’t.
So I did what I’ve done before with at least one other first draft. I cut it into pieces and laid them out on our bed. I pushed the pieces around, moving the third chapter (one that caught even my attention) to the opening chapter of the book, and combined the two arcs into one big arc involving both my characters. Then I gathered up the results of the efforts on the bed, stapled the piles all together, and realized when I looked them  over that I’d lost what I wanted to establish when I started, POV and tenses. Plus, the story read as if I’d put it together in a Sunbeam Mix Master
I have bandaged this sad wounded story with edits and re-writes for more than two weeks now. It’s not healed yet. I’m almost sure its condition is terminal.
Sometime this early morning I remembered a book written by William Styron, I believe, describing his bout with depression during the writing of a novel that just wasn’t going anywhere, no matter what he tried.  He, or a writer like him, sat one evening, silent, at a table as guests talked and laughed around him. Suddenly, the writer got up from the table, went into his study, picked up his manuscript, grabbed a shovel in the back hall, went outside, dug a hole, and buried the sucker in the vegetable garden.
I guess my novel is lucky I live in a condo with four small pots of geraniums on the terrace and no shovel.


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