Sunday, 31 July 2011

Seat of Pants to Chair for Long Periods of Time

The question circulated amongst us here of how we keep ourselves motivated to write during the summer. As a Canadian, now living in the mountains in Central California, the end of winter lifts the heart. It's cold and it snows here. That surprises people.

When summer comes, doors and windows fly open. We move laptops out to the deck and shed clothes until we're down to only one layer.

Much of the last few months as summer settled in with one nice day after another, I've been working with Jodie Renner, an editor specializing in mystery and thriller fiction, whom I met at the Left Coast Crime Conference in Santa Fe this March.

We engaged to work with one another over my second murder mystery, Rip-Off, featuring Detective Dave Mason of the Santa Monica Police Department.

I've worked as a free lance editor over my years of wordsmithing. When anyone hands you their precious manuscript, there is the hope that you will hand it back, gushing, "Oh, it's perfect. I've alerted the awards committee. I wouldn't change a single word. You genius, you."

I admit it. Me too. And, of course, it wasn't perfect, and she suggested many changes. I bristled at some, sulked for half a day, and then did what she suggested.

I've kept at it while my friends went swimming, picked cherries, had picnics and parties, organized expeditions driving into Los Angeles to concerts at the Hollywood Bowl and the Santa Monica Pier.

I kept at it even when it felt like picking over the bones of road kill because, first of all, I was paying her. She asked questions that made me think. She was encouraging just enough to drive me through a second and third revision of a chapter. Occasional compliments made me preen with self-satisfaction, until the next page when she wanted to delete a section. I thought of offering her a knife to chisel the words from my breast instead.

It became a collaboration. So much time is spent alone, seat of pants pressed to chair for long periods of time. I've had a partner, someone who knew my story as well as I did.

Now our partnership has come to an end, and my manuscript is immeasurably improved. As you all know, it's only the beginning of the next phase.

And it's still August.


  1. Wow! As your copy editor, Mar, this has been a real eye-opener for me to hear exactly how one of my clients views the whole process from her end. Your blog post here has given me pause. I always get so involved in my client's stories, even more so when they're as powerful as yours, with a great plot and setting, endearing characters that jump off the page, and dialogue that's spot-on and totally natural-sounding. I end up pointing out perceived discrepancies in the characters' actions and motivations, as if they're real people we're discussing. I guess there are advantages and disadvantages to having an editor who gets as involved with the story and characters as I do! In future, I'll have to remember to be more sensitive to how every piece of my advice is likely to be received -- and increase the amount of praise!

    Anyway, it was a great pleasure working with you on your excellent story, Mar, and I'm so glad to read that despite all my pickiness, you feel that your manuscript is "immeasurably improved." I'm really looking forward to seeing this great police story in print!

    (Having trouble posting this, for some reason.)

    Jodie Renner,

  2. ...and I forgot to mention your great voice (reminds me of Janet Evanovich), sense of humor and fantastic right-on turn of phrase to capture the essence of the mood or moment! A real pleasure to read, Mar!

  3. You can't fault that kind of praise... even if it comes after many slashes.

    Can't wait to read the results.