Left Coast Voices

"I would hurl words into the darkness and wait for an echo. If an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight." Richard Wright, American Hunger

Archive for the tag “grammar”

Love Your Mum, Love Your Editor

I’ve become one of those people and I’m feeling ashamed of it. You know the type I’m talking about – the people who read your book and proactively looking for errors – grammatical, spelling, and especially plot. They get more excited discovering a mistake than at a plot twist. Okay, I have not fallen that far, but I am noticing mistakes and if there are too many, it becomes very off-putting.

Now let me make it perfectly clear: I have made all these mistakes…frequently. Thankfully my writer’s group or my awesome editor usually catches them. Here are a couple of examples:

In At The Walls Of Galbrieth – Seanchai and Ilana rode their horses into a closed desert enclave, met and fought some bad guys and walked out. Luckily, one of my writer’s group suggested they take their horses with them because they are in the wilderness!

I have had characters walk into a one-story building and climb stairs, and in Unwanted Heroes spent over a page talking about the pastry crumbs in Salvador’s beard – it was later cut to one line.

I have written and self-edited nine manuscripts, with six eventually published. It would not occur to me to publish a book without a professional eye scrutinizing every line. I am grateful for the people who email me when they find a mistake in one of my novels and I diligently write it down for a future revision. But I confess, it hurts when they find it. We want our novels to be perfect – if we didn’t, it would be a serious flaw in our motivation for publishing. 

imgresI am close to finishing reviewing my editor’s work on Ashbar. As with the previous two epic fantasy novels, she has cut over 10% of the manuscript. Given that my own rounds of revisions did something similar, I am still always surprised. But the manuscript reads, without a doubt, tighter and more fluent for her work.

I came across an article by Dick Margulis entitled The Editor–Author Relationship: Five Reasons Why Self-Publishing Authors Need An Editor. I was more interested in the relationship side, but Margulis focused on the latter part – fair game considering he is an editor.

You can check out his article for yourself if you need convincing your work needs an editor. I am always surprised when people present at our writer’s group and preempt by telling us that their work is finished and sent to their publisher. I just know the group are going to find a dozen errors and will show no mercy pointing it out.

I think the relationship between author and editor is fascinating. I have never met Monica Buntin, my editor for the Wycaan Master series. But I feel we have a close, sensitive, professional relationship, and yet we could be sitting at adjacent tables in a coffee shop and never know (oh no, the woman next to me has caught me staring – she will never believe my reason!).

imagesBut we have created an understanding whereby she feels comfortable to be critical and I am willing to hear what she says (it helps that she is 95% right). I can email short questions and she send back a succinct answer while inviting me to ask if what she wrote is not clear. 

I have no idea if she enjoys my novels, but I have no doubt she is totally invested in my novels being as perfect as possible. I hear from so many friends, writers and editors, how this relationship is riddled with tension, how the writer feels the editor is rushing through, how the editor is too burned out to mention a flaw knowing the writer will just become defensive. 

girl-hugging-words1

I believe I have the perfect relationship with my editor and that can only mean a better, more fluid final manuscript. Perhaps it is better that we never meet and never invest anything personal in the relationship. It might be better if the woman at the next table was not my editor. Still…she has a dictionary on the table next to her latte.

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Alon Shalev writes social justice-themed novels and YA epic fantasy. He swears there is a connection. His latest books include: Unwanted Heroes and the 2013 Eric Hoffer Book Award for YA – At The Walls Of Galbrieth. Alon tweets at @alonshalevsf and @elfwriter.   For more about the author, check out his website.

Reacquainting With Old Friends

Last month, Three Clover Press, sent me the galley proofs for Unwanted Heroes. I was instructed to carefully read through the manuscript and pick out any light changes: spelling, grammar, word choice, etc.

Reading a Galley Proof is like preparing your kid for college (admittedly, I haven’t done this, but I do work with university students – bear with me). It is a last chance to make sure everything is as you want it to be before you send them out into the big, wide world. You want to make sure they have everything they need, are prepared for every scenario they might face. It is the same with a book – a last chance to get everything right.

Well over a year has passed since I last read through the manuscript. The novel was written a couple of years before that and since then, I have written four other manuscripts. 

I have moved on, right? Wrong.

Over the next two weeks, I did not expect to feel the emotional rollercoaster that played out. Of course, I remembered the plot. There are sensitive scenes that I have read, edited, reread, and reedited, a dozen times … but that was back then.

So why am I getting teary-eyed as I read them again now? Why do I find myself rooting for the characters that I got so close to back then? Admittedly, my relationship with these characters continued into the sequel that I wrote last year, and into the notes I have made for the third in the series both of which are also emotional roller coasters. 

When I am writing a novel, I become very close to the characters. They accompany me on my commute, in the gym, and I often dream about them at night. I worry for them, get frustrated with them, and just between us, I often argue with them.

I would like to tell you that I have control of these characters. What I type onto the computer decides their actions, attitudes, and destiny. But they, and I, know this is only partially true. They are part of the creation, part of the process, and an integral part in how the plot plays out.

Many writers claim that the plot defines the characters. That has always puzzled me and, I suspect, leads to either shallow characters or obvious stereotypes. The reader invests in characters. Given we all crave a twist or two at the end of the book, it is for the protagonist that we root, and our commitment to him/her is what sends us scurrying to buy the next book in the series.

This is why reading a galley proof is so much more than scanning for errors or word choices. It is reacquaintance with old friends: people with whom we shared so much: people with whom we laughed, loved, and cried. My characters stepped outside their comfort zone to try and create a better world, and for whom we, the reader and author, bear witness.

It is so much more than scanning pages of words.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. His next novel, Unwanted Heroes, is due out in early 2013. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Jewish Student Center, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@alonshalevsf).

 

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