Sunday, March 22, 2009

Up to my eyes in editing!

Sorry, good friends, that I haven't been blogging for a few weeks. Until I looked at my last date I had no idea how long it had been. But the fact is, I'm up to the stage of having my most recent manuscript, "A Design of Gold" edited and I've been working on the changes I need to make.

Editing is always a very humbling experience. Since I've started writing my books I've had input from four different editors, Judy, Pat, Alison and Wendy. I could make it six if I include Suzanne, my proof-reader for the Quenarden series who was just as sharp and cluey as an editor, and Andrew, my husband, who always gives me suggestions and tips whenever he reads anything before I've sent it to the editors.

Letting a m/s go unedited would be a foolish move. Each time I've been over it myself until I've thought, "Surely they won't find much," but they always do! And very, very rarely is it anything to do with punctuation. Yet often people assume that punctuation is probably an editor's main job.

The most daunting sort of editing is the storyline editing. When I wrote my first Quenarden novel, my editor Alison explained why I needed to totally change and re-write slabs of the story. To start with, I didn't have a large enough distinction between the dialect of the Quenardians and that of the three teenaged protagonists who suddenly entered their world from a rock crack in a cliff. They all seemed to be using similar modern vernacular, which wouldn't be the case for the Quenardians, who had generally all lived isolated in that land for several generations. So I went through every page and changed the dialect of every native born Quenardian to my own sort of Celtic-cum-old Scottish/English patois. I don't know much about different dialects but I figured that as Quenarden was my country, it could be more unique than anything else people had come across. And it seemed to work. But it took awhile to change every single conversation in the book.

The second change was making my villain nastier. They told me, "Pythos is a wuss!" I had to work on making him seem far more menacing to readers from the start, and that was a challenge. For those who don't know, he's dragon-reptilian type of intelligent creature. I'd already given him semi-transparent orange skin so that horrified humans could watch his digestive system working. But apparently that was only the start. I needed to work on the menacing quality of his person.

I eventually achieved this by shifting around episodes in the book, like one of those square puzzles where you keep moving the panels around to form the picture. Beginning on page 60, Troy, Beth and Nathan had their first encounter with Pythos' evil henchmen, the Harrison brothers. A man named Joseph O'Donnell was selected randomly from the crowd to be a human sacrifice to Pythos. Originally, I'd slotted this little anecdote much later in the book. My editors figured out that bringing it in earlier would make a far greater impact before we even came to our first introduction with Pythos himself.

Without going into it, I re-wrote so much! I added more details to the first Race for Freedom (and anybody who's read them will know what I'm talking about.) I made Beth and Nathan's escape from Pythos' mountain headquarters far more suspenseful, with more breathtaking danger. And keep in mind that all this was after I'd already thought it was pretty good. Humbling, as I told you.

Another thing that editors do is to just change a few words or sentences for the better. Authors are so close to our own writing, we know exactly what we're trying to convey and assume that readers will too. Not the case.

Towards the end of the book, when the spent and battered Nathan is brought face to face with the terrified Pedor, the repentent traitor, I had Pythos bellow, "I believe you boys already know each other!" My editor suggested that I change it to "No introductions needed, I believe." The first wording, she felt, sounded too much like a "jolly old uncle."

And in another episode, Troy had a bit of a dig at Nathan, who had been teasing him. Levi asked, "Were you a hero where you came from, Troy?" to which I had him reply, "No, I wasn't. This is just Nathan's idea of sick humour." The editor suggested that I change the order of just two words so it became, "This is just Nathan's sick idea of humour!" I liked it much better.

As for my recent, "The Risky Way Home" I was advised to ruthlessly tear out several episodes, losing page after page of text. The heroine's sister Abby was having marital problems with her husband Jeff, and I'd intended for their story to be a bit of a sub-plot. My editor said, "No, slash it out! We don't care about them. We only care about Casey and Piers. This just interrupts the action we really care about." So several hours of wasted work went to the trash but I did it happily in the interests of having a nicer, tighter story.

Needless to say, "A Design of Gold" has been up for lots of reworking too. (My editor, Wendy's blog is in my tool bar, "Scribe of Spirit") She sent me an email saying, "Your standard is slipping, Paula. You need to re-write several sections before I can edit them." And she also suggested that I either turn one of my male characters into a female or re-write some of the action sequences so that a female has more involvement. "Don't forget you're writing for the women's market." Now, that made my stomach lurch to just think about it! I was aghast. I'd got fond of my boy and coudn't contemplate turning him into a girl! They are real friends and family to me. It'd be like turning one of my two sons into a second daughter! To cut a long story short, I suggested an alternative which meant I wouldn't have to make the sacrifices. She was happy with it, as long as I filled it with plenty of drama. So re-writing is what I've been doing all last week. I'll say no more, as I don't want to say too much about the plot of my as yet un-published book. (Wendy, if you read this, hi! I hope it the story's OK)

Whew, that's my excuse for neglecting the blog. If it's a little on the long side, just consider that I'm making up for not doing it for some time. And I think all this proves that there's no way a writer who gets thoroughly edited can possibly get a swelled head.

Monday, March 9, 2009

A Wonderful Mistake

I've sometimes been afraid to step out and make a move in any direction for fear that I'd be doing the wrong thing. I know the saying that God can only direct a moving car and not a parked one, yet I've still chosen to remain firmly parked, jotting down possible pros and cons, trying to figure things out. What usually happens is that my head just spins and I'm even more frustrated and confused, having known all along that the pros and cons for both sides are what makes a decision difficult in the first place. I've felt envious of friends and acquaintances who state, "After prayer I just knew deep in my bones that the right thing to do would be...." So with big or medium sized decisions, and sometimes even small ones, I've been a procrastinator.

It's embarrassing to make mistakes. Just a few moments ago in fact, one of Logan's friends phoned to ask if he could come and have a play on the computer. Thinking that school holidays must be earlier than I'd expected, I told him that although we're pretty busy today (Monday), he's welcome to come on Thursday. He sounded a bit dubious about that, and then when I hung up, it struck me that school holidays won't even begin until after Easter. Today is simply a public holiday long weekend for the Adelaide Cup horse race. So I phoned back, explained my confusion and asked him if he'd like to come on Saturday. Even that sort of little thing makes me feel like a muddle-headed, dizzy homeschooling mum who's out of touch with the rest of the world. It's not pleasant to imagine how I must appear to other people. No wonder I hesitate to step out on the big stuff.

Not long ago, I found a statement in a book I was reading that we shouldn't be afraid to step out because God can even use our mistakes! It was a nice thought and I wanted to think it's true. Well, over the weekend I read a true story that confirms it absolutely.

It was about Mr Alfred Nobel, the Swedish instigator of the Nobel Peace Prize. He'd become a multi-millionaire from his work producing dynamite. Over breakfast one day, he opened the morning paper and was shocked to see his own obituary in the classifieds. The editor of the paper had mistakenly thought he'd died. When Nobel got over his initial shock, he was upset to find that his obituary was not very flattering. In spite of his success, he'd been labelled as a rude and selfish man who had no time for others. That became the catalyst for him to change his life around before it became too late. Establishing the Nobel Peace Prize, thereby giving huge chunks of his wealth away in aid of great humanitarian causes changed his personal legacy completely. When we think of the name Nobel, what do we immediately think of? How ironic to learn that the man whose name is most associated with worldwide peace earned his fortune in something as un-peaceful as dynamite!

I guess when the newspaper editor discovered his mistake, he would've thought, "Oh yikes!" and wanted to sink into a hole in the ground and never come out again. As far as mistakes go, that was a pretty big one. But look at the good that came out of it. Perhaps it's a good thing to just make the best prayerful, informed decisions we can and then step out without looking back, trusting them to come alright.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

A serendipitous discovery

For a few months now, my husband has been wanting a good eyecatching visual header for our website. Last Saturday he was playing saxophone at a small local art gallery and a photographer friend of ours named Betty showed up while they band were taking a break. It occurred to Andrew to ask her on the spot whether or not she'd be able to put her thinking cap on and come up with a good photo image for Apple Leaf Books some time in the future. Betty immediately told him that she already had some! She'd been out just the previous week with a friend to take photos of grapevines. On their drive home they passed some apple orchards and thought they'd stop and take a few photos just for fun. The apples were bright, the leaves were healthy and they thought they'd make good photos. So she was delighted to come across some old friends who needed just what she had, and we, of course, were thrilled with the face lift to our website and blog. Because of course when we had the new header on the website I wanted to spruce up my blog too.

I love serendipitous moments and divine appointments. This is just a little one but still a sign that we're doing a good thing, moving in the right direction and being guided.