Tuesday, January 16, 2024
Wednesday, October 25, 2023
It started with my need for change. My need to discover. To witness beauty. That meant going outside. And I knew exactly where to go.
I made a lunch and took some snacks, saddled myself in Benny (my trusted VW steed) and drove west.
It was late October and the cold winds hadn’t yet cajoled the colourful leaves off the maples, aspens, birches and oaks. I knew I would witness something remarkable. I was in the north temperate zone of Canada, after all, and this was the height of autumn magic…
Soon, I was driving along one of my favourite country roads, a gently rolling barely paved road through forest and farmland that rose and fell over drumlins and eskers with views that make you sigh. A vibrant carpet of orange-crimson forest and copper-hued fields covered the undulating hills in a patchwork of colour.
I stopped frequently and stepped out into the light rain to take photographs. The air was fresh and clean against my skin as I breathed in the scent of wet vegetation and loam. A light mist washed the distant hills in muted shades of a watercolour painting. The nearby forests were anything but muted. I drove past flaming thickets of red-purple dogwoods and sumacs. Benny took me beneath neon canopies: the brilliant orange and deep reds of sugar and red maples, the lemon yellows and bronzes of aspens, oaks and beeches.
The flaming colours signify approaching death for the leaf. The deeper the colour, the closer to the end.
With less light in fall, the green sugar-making pigment, chlorophyll, starts to break down. Other pigments, previously masked by the chlorophyll are revealed: the red-purples of anthocyaninand the oranges and yellows of carotenoidsAs chlorophyll degrades, light striking the leaf may cause injury to its biochemical machinery, particularly the parts that regulate nutrient movement. So, these other pigments help to create a physical light shield and help the leaves efficiently move their nutrients into the twigs for the tree to use later.
As the temperature plummets, the trees build a protective seal between the leaves and their branches, taking in as many nutrients as possible from the sugar-building leaves. Once the leaves are cut off from the fluid in the branches, they separate and drop to the ground, helped by the winds. Even in death, the leaves continue to contribute. On the ground, the fallen leaves decompose and restock the soil with nutrients; they also contribute to the spongy humus layer of the forest floor that absorbs and holds rainfall. Fallen leaves are also food for soil organisms, whose actions in turn keep the forest functional.
As I wove through the deep colours of autumn, I felt humbled by this naked beauty, so simply shown. So ingenuously revealed. How elegantly yet guileless nature went through its stages of individual dying to ensure renewal and growth for the whole.
I returned home, invigorated and humbled by nature’s transient show.
Within weeks, the bright leaves would fall, leaving the trees bare and gray and the ground a thick slippery carpet of brownish gray-black rot. Beauty enfolded, dissected and integrated. Insects, fungi, and bacteria would deliver what the leaves used to be and create something else, a gift to the living forest.
Is that not what death is? The end of something to ensure the beginning of something else?
Sunday, September 17, 2023
In “A Dance of Cranes” (Dundurn, 2019) author Steve Burrows erroneously describes the actions and motions associated with canoeing. In the following scene, the protagonist Jejeune is canoeing on a river in the boreal wilderness of northern Canada:
The low sun seemed to light the stand of birches from within, flickering through the trunks like a strobe light as Jejeune rowed past.
One does not row a canoe; one paddles—with a paddle.
You might think that this is a small error, hardly worth mentioning; however, the friend who pointed out this mistake to me, was thrown out of the novel by it. She is a naturalist and has often gone canoeing in the lakes and rivers of Ontario. This mistake suggested a lack of professional attentiveness from both author and editor of the publication. By compromising the authenticity of the fictional setting the error stopped the reader from participating. We were no longer paddling with Jejeune; we were looking at the book.*
Some of you may rail at me for being overly harsh. You would remind me that this is a work of fiction, after all, not fact. You’d remind me that fiction is a work of the imagination, of characters and journeys; not a dry documentary.
I would agree with you—up to a point. Certainly, in fiction we can and do take liberties with “facts” so long as the narrative keeps the reader moving in the “fictive dream.” Authors have managed to successfully bend reality considerably in the past to great effect because the reader was fully engaged in the narrative and the characters.
But ultimately, beginning-to-end factual accuracy remains important in a made-up story for various reasons. While some “fake facts” or mistakes (such as the example above) may slip by many readers unnoticed, someonewill notice. Guaranteed. And, as with my naturalist friend, it can make the difference between a seamless read and a jarring one. Writer Dorian Boxshares that, “Some readers may even post reviews criticizing your book on that basis.” Dorian adds that when they spot large factual inaccuracies in a novel, “it detracts from the reading experience. I start to question other things. Credibility is damaged.”
All good fiction is anchored by consistent and believable world-building, whether the story is set in contemporary New York City or a made up planet in some made up solar system. The key to this believability is the use of grounding ‘facts’ or world-consistencies that immerse the reader in the story world. The reader relies on the author to realistically represent the world they are reading about. This allows the reader to experience the story as though it was real. Representing the facts accurately enables the writer to take liberties with other aspects of the story. Because the reader is nicely embedded in the world through accurate depiction, they will follow your characters through it eagerly.
The Importance and Ease of Research in Fiction Writing
To prevent what happened in the example I gave above, authors must exercise due diligence in world building, in representation of setting and place, and in other elements of the story. Writers have easy access to so much knowledge about so many topics through local libraries, local experts, the internet, social media, and more. In other words, no excuse.
In the novel I’m currently working on I needed to understand what it felt like to handle, load and shoot a particular make of shotgun. I had handled one in the past but not actually used it. The internet provided exceptional instructional videos and sites that I could use to come close to the actual experience. I paid particular attention to nuances and sensual aspects such as texture, smell, weight, as well as mechanical aspects, like recoil; anything that would more viscerally help me experience it. When I had written the scenes, I showed them to someone who had handled a shotgun for their verdict on accurate depiction.
For more examples and discussion on place and doing research, check out Chapter H and R of my first book in TheAlien Guidebook Series“The Fiction Writer: Get Published, Write Now!”and Part 2 of my third book in the series “The Ecology of Story: World as Character.”
*There is such a thing as a rowing canoe; canoes can be set up for rowing with oarlocks and sockets, oars, rowing seats and even forward rowing contraptions such as foot brace for efficient rowing. However, this was not the case in the book I gave as an example.
Wednesday, August 2, 2023
In my previous article, “Five Things Writers Should Look for in an Editor,” I focused on clarifying expectations between editors and writers from the writer’s point of view.
Part 2, this article, focuses on this same relationship from the editor’s point of view. If you are a writer, this article serves as a workable checklist of what you should expect from a good editor.
Indie authors often come to editors with unclear and, at times, unreasonable or unrealistic expectations on services. Many writers know very little about the kind of editing we do and the different levels of effort (time and associated fee) required. They do not understand the difference between “copy-editing” and “structural editing”, particularly as it pertains to their own work. In fact, many indie writers don’t even know what their MS requires. This is because of two things: 1) they can’t objectively assess their own work, particularly in relation to market needs; and 2) many authors have not sufficiently considered their “voice” or brand and matched it to a relevant target market. Both of these will influence how the writer comes into the relationship and the nature of their expectations.
It is best to be “up front” with everything, from understanding a writer’s work and market expectations to establishing your fees, your time, and the nature of your services. This is why a savvy editor will ask for a one to several page example of the author’s writing prior to offering their services and finalizing the nature of a potential relationship. Such an exchange may, in turn, include a sample of the editor’s work for the writer to assess. This exchange helps clarify the process for both parties.
A savvy editor will want to establish with the author the following things prior to taking him/her on as a client and embarking on the actual editing task:
1. The nature of the writer’s work: a writer’s work should harmonize with the editor and achieve a good fit; e.g., I edit fiction and non-fiction; however, I do not edit horror, because I simply can’t relate to it and don’t care for it. More on this below.
2. The author’s expectations and target market: this is key to establishing the kind of editing required for the author’s piece. Is it good enough to just copy-edit or will the piece require substantive edits to succeed in the identified market? This often requires open and frank communication between editor and author.
3. Nature and time of submission: on which the schedule is based.
4. Schedule and deadlines for deliverables: based on the editor’s realistic timing (including other work) and the nature of the editing job (to be established by some reliable means).
5. Nature of communication: form and frequency; partly to ensure that the writer does not abuse the communication stream with a barrage of emails, e-chats, phone calls, etc.)
6. Nature and cost of deliverables: e.g., use of track changes; inclusion of summary letter; follow up meetings, etc.
7. Mutual agreement on fees, fee structure and payment details: what, how and when.
8. Inclusion and nature of contract: this may include an NDS, if desired.
By clarifying these, you and the author create a new set of realistic agreed-upon expectations.
Fitting Writer with Editor
The right fit for editor and writer includes more than harmonizing genre, writing style, and content. The fit includes personality. A professional editor and writing colleague of mine recently shared on our list-serve about his experience as both a freelance and publishing house editor. The editor shared that a majority of writers responded to his edits with comments like, “finally, someone who just comes out and plainly tells me what’s wrong!” However, others complained: “why are you so mean?” The editor admitted to using humor liberally in his assessments and was described by one of his clients as “playfully harsh.” While the work of this editor is no doubt impeccable, the added humor may not be a good fit for some writers, particularly those who are not highly confident in their work.
Knowing your own brand of editing and being up front with it is part of achieving a good fit with a writer and can avoid huge headaches down the line for both of you.
Toward Honesty & Moral Integrity
I and some of my editing colleagues have run across several cases of indie writers who have come to us with “already edited works” that they believed only needed proofing or minor edits, but in fact called for substantive editing and story coaching to fulfill market requirements. The previous editor had either done a poor job of editing or the author had done a poor job of incorporating the edits. Either way, I was now in the position to inform this author, who had already spent several thousand dollars on edits, that his work required more than a “trim job off the top” to meet the standards demanded by the market.
My colleague suggested that it is unethical to copy-edit a manuscript that obviously requires structural editing or has serious “story” problems. I’m inclined to agree. The key lies in the expectations of the author and his/her intended market. This is where the editor’s knowledge of “matching work to market” becomes a critical part of the relationship with the author, whether you take him/her on as a client or not. I talked more about this in an article on Boldface: “The Moving Target of Indie Publishing: What Every Editor (and Writer) Needs to Know.” Honesty is best. Following the path of moral integrity may not put food on the table; but it will maintain your reputation as an editor of quality, which will keep the roof over your head.
Below is a mock email of a general response to a writer’s inquiry for help on their MS:
Thank you for your interest in my editing services. I am still taking on clients and would be happy to help you.
In your initial letter, you included a brief description of your story. It sounds intriguing and interesting. Science fiction is my passion (I’ve published nine SF books so far).
Before we proceed, I need a few things from you to ensure we are a good fit and to help me do the best I can for your project. First, can you please send me a short sample of your work (2-3 pages) and a very short summary. From this I’ll be able to confirm the kind of editing that best suits your project. For the kinds of editing/coaching services and associated fees please refer to this page on my website: xxxx.
Can you also answer the following questions?
1. (If they haven’t included the genre or a short premise, I ask them for one).
2. How do you intend to publish this book (traditional, indie, self-publish)?
3. Who would you say is your intended audience and market?
4. Is this book a stand alone or part of a trilogy or series?
5. Is the book complete (first draft or more)? If not, how much is written?
Based on this, I will suggest the kind of editing (and coaching) required to best fit your needs. This may be one or a combination of the following: 1) an evaluation/assessment at $xx/page; 2) copy-editing (with some substantive editing) at $xx/page; or 3) story coaching at $xx/hour. As outlined on my webpage (xxxx), I provide digital commentary (line by line) in your manuscript (in Word through track changes) accompanied by a summary letter with recommendations. You can find examples of what I do on this page of my website: xxxx.
Once I’ve determined what services best suit your work and you are in agreement with the service and fees, I will draw up a contract for you and I to sign. The contract will stipulate a reasonable schedule that you and I can agree on for the process and deliverables.
Once the contract is signed by both of us, I would ask that you send me your material along with Paypal payment for the first half of the agreed total fee by the date marked in the contract.
I look forward to hearing from you.
Wednesday, July 5, 2023
Issue #128 of featured an interview that Rebecca E. Treasure did with me. We discussed the power of story, the use of dystopian narrative, and the blur between fiction and non-fiction to create meaningful eco-fiction. Below we talk about the writing process I use for my stories these days. For the complete interview go :
The language in your stories is richly thematic, using strong description to weave the subtext into the piece. For example, “killing two squirrels with one stone.” Is that something that comes about organically as you compose a piece, or a more intentional part of editing?
I use both processes to achieve a final narrative that is multi-layered with metaphor, symbols, and deep meaning. The first process is through intuition derived through intimacy; the second process is more deliberate and generated through objectivity. Insights from intimacy come about organically, during moments of true inspiration, when my muse connects me to the deeper truth of a character’s voice and actions. Given that the inner story runs many layers (some of which I, as writer, may not even be overtly aware) and links in a fractal relationship with the outer story, those moments of inner inspiration happen as if of their own accord. That’s what writers mean when they admit that their characters “talk” to them and instruct them on what to write. When a writer achieves that level of intimacy and understanding, they can let the muse guide them.
Much of the description that is woven into story is generated through the editing process when I read the manuscript as a reader. The process involves letting the story sit for a while so when I return to it, I am reading more objectively. During this process, I apply my knowledge in storytelling craft to showcase combustible moments in plot, and work in foreshadowing, subtext, and compelling metaphor. A writer can’t add metaphor without context related to story theme (otherwise this may result in what the industry calls “purple prose”). Metaphor—given its roots in the deeper psyche of a culture—must arise organically from a deep, sometimes intuitive, understanding—where the personal meets the universal.