Help Me Help You (The Editorial Process Part 2)

In my last post, I wrote about the editorial process and why it takes so long, and I promised that the next one would be suggestions and strategies writers can use to make that process go more smoothly and, hopefully, a little bit faster. In the interim, I have finished up edits on one big book, acquired two more manuscripts to edit, and written two difficult chapters in my own WIP. So, you know, the monster lurches on. But anyway, as promised ….

Stop Sending Me Your Ratsafrackin First Draft: And trust me, I can always tell. I’m starting with the harshest, most blame-the-writer-y directive because this is the one factor in the process that you, the writer, can absolutely control. I don’t care if you’re Stephen King, N.K. Jemisin, or Charles Dickens finishing Edwin Drood from beyond the grave, your first draft is NOT the draft you want me to see. Because it is not the draft you want the reader to see. Because the reader does not live inside your skin and will never, ever, ever understand it or engage with it or love it the way you do. You know that vitally important thing you figured out about your protagonist just as you were turning the corner on the second act? And that amazingly mind-blowing twist that came to you in the shower just when you thought you were stuck? And the way you kept going back and forth on how to spell the supernatural antagonist’s surname? All of that stuff needs to be revisited and worked through the manuscript as a whole (a hint of foreshadowing here, a corrected spelling there) before you submit it to an editor. And no, Grasshopper, running it through search and replace will NOT take care of it.

At the end of your first draft, you have the story, you have an arc. But you haven’t made it plain what’s important and what isn’t; you’re still just then at that moment figuring out which details the reader needs to notice and which details need to barely register and hang around in the back of their brain until you start setting off your bottle rockets and springing your traps. You probably have a few rockets and traps you haven’t even set up yet. And if you don’t go through your story again and refine your rhythms and shore up your foundations and fix your continuity snafus before you send the thing to me, I’m going to have to do it for you. And even if your first draft is really good and you and I have worked together really well for a really long time, I’m not ever going to be able to do it as well as you could because it’s not my story. I’m gonna screw it up. And that’s gonna piss you off. And we’re going to have to not only fix the problems, we’re going to have to get past the fact that I pissed you off and that you pissed ME off by sending me a first draft you weren’t really ready to see edited. And that’s going to slow our process down.

And btw, kittens, this goes double for anybody submitting for publication in the first place. Any time a writer tells me they’ve sent out a project to a dozen editors and gotten a dozen rejections and they’re ready to give up writing and join the circus, I ask them, “how many drafts did you write before you sent it out? How many other people read it and gave you feedback on it? How much rewriting did you do based on that feedback?” If they tell me several and lots, I sympathize and offer to help however I can. If they tell me they just finished it, got their mom to proofread it, and sent it out, I wish them luck with the elephants. Also, if you’re one of those super-artistic pantser types who writes your stories in a supernatural fever of inspiration from beginning to end, letting the muse and the characters tell you where your story needs to go until you collapse over your keyboard, spent and done with a story that’s a piece of your very soul still dripping tears and hearts’ blood, too precious to be imperfect . . . yeah, don’t send me that shit. Save us both a lot of heartache.** And on a related note . . .  

Don’t Send Me an Unfinished Draft: If you’ve still got one more piece of research to do or one more plot hole to fill or one more subplot to work out or one more name to choose or one more scene to write, you aren’t ready to show me your story, and I don’t want to see it. Nothing sends me into a rage frenzy faster than spending hours and hours editing a book, sending it to an author with my notes, and having them send me back a completely different, completely rewritten book that doesn’t so much address my concerns as render them moot. Because when that happens, I have to start all over again, and everything I did before was useless. And that makes me testy. If you’re not ready to submit, it’s okay; I’ll totally understand. Keep working until you’re ready to send me what you consider to be the finished form of your book.

But please note, this doesn’t mean I won’t make any changes or suggestions or comments. It means the changes, suggestions, and comments I do make will come only from stuff you couldn’t possibly have seen from the inside. That’s the whole point of editing. I work with so many writers who seem to take every critical note I give their story as some kind of commentary on their talent or intelligence—nothing could be further from the truth. Like I said in my last post, I already know you’re an amazing writer. If I tell you I don’t understand why Sally Jane killed the fly with her flipflop in Chapter 9, make it clear she didn’t have a fly swatter. Don’t feel like you have to rewrite the universe so flies don’t exist. You don’t have to be perfect; you can’t be perfect. I’m certainly not, and neither is any other writer. This is a process, not a test. I’m not grading you; we’re making a product together. So relax and work with me, okay?

Meet Your Deadlines: Which I know sounds like a complete contradiction to everything I’ve written so far. But here’s the deal with deadlines. We set them, usually in a collaboration between the writer, me, and the publisher, not just so we have one but so we can plan ahead for all the other steps that have to happen to make the great story you made up into an actual book for publication and for the glorious moment when that book is finally released into the world. If shit happens and for whatever reason you can’t make that deadline, we are not going to be mad at you or fuss at you; we’re going to totally understand and give you whatever time you need. But we’re not going to bring the big machine that is the publishing house to a grinding stop to wait for you to finish; we’re going to move on. Your book loses its place in line; the next finished book behind you moves up into your slot. So when you do turn your book in and ask me “so when’s this going to come out?” I’m going to tell you, “I don’t know, but probably no time soon.” Not because I’m mad you missed your deadline, not because I’m not still wildly excited about your book; I’m not and I am. But just like at the doctor’s office, I gotta work you in. So if your book was due on December 1, 2020, for a release on May 1, 2021, that doesn’t mean if you turn it in on February 1, 2021, it’s going to come out July 1, 2021. Other people’s books are already taking up that space. It means it’s going to come out just as soon as we can get it through the editorial pipeline and find a spot on the roster for it. So it might just come out May 1, 2022. (I say this with authority—the dates I used in the previous example were my own when I missed my original deadline for Stella 4. It was meant to be a ConCarolinas release, but it wasn’t ready for ConCarolinas 2021. So we held it until ConCarolinas 2022.) Again, it’s not that anybody blames you or doesn’t understand why you couldn’t make your deadline. It means your missing your deadline threw off the schedule, and we’ve gotta find a way to make it work.

Be Flexible and Let Go: Like the deadline thing, this is not something you have to do or even that you always should do or even can do. But the more you can do it, the less time it’s going to take to get your book through the editorial pipeline and out into the world. I’m talking about stuff like editorial suggestions, copy edits, and cover art. Your book is your book; that is never in question. And it’s only natural that you should have a vision for it as a story and as an object and that you should care deeply about that vision. But if you don’t trust a publisher to know what they’re doing in polishing and packaging your book, don’t sign with that publisher. Don’t roll over and play dead; if you have an idea or a problem, speak up, that’s part of your job as a writer. The trick is realizing which details really matter and which you can give up.

As far as editing, my own process as a writer is simple. I get my edits, and I read them, and every nice thing slides through my brain so fast I barely see it and every criticism digs in like a rusty fishhook and makes me scream. And scream I do, and cuss, and disparage the ungodly entity that brought me to this pain (my editor) in every possible way for anywhere from ten minutes to two days. And then I read them again and realize not everything is quite so egregious as I thought it was. At that point, I’m able to start the process of making decisions as to what the editor is dead right about and what they might be right about and what they’re so wrong about I can’t stand it and what I can let go. And that’s the version of my response that my editor actually sees, and usually, we work it through very well and come up with a version that pleases us both.

Cover art might be trickier because I have a weird outlook on it. I got so battle-scarred with my first big publisher regarding cover art, anything that doesn’t make me cry seems glorious to me now. Other authors are very much not the same. Again, you gotta be you, but for your own sake, I’m going to say this. The people choosing and/or creating your cover art know a lot more about that process than you do, including what’s selling and what isn’t, and you couldn’t be objective enough to be smart about it even if they didn’t. This is your story; it’s been living in your  head and your heart for a long, long time before you ever start thinking about cover art. So nothing anybody else can think of, find, or create will ever match the vision in your head in a way that feels adequate to you. But the less you’re willing to compromise, the more tightly you clutch that Platonic ideal of a cover in your head, the longer it’s going to take for your book to come out. And sadly, the less likely it is that you’re going to get another contract with that publisher—again, cover artists are busy people, too, and usually quite expensive. So don’t let us make your book ugly. But don’t die on that hill.

Sorry this is so long, but I hope it helps. Bottom line, I want your book to be the best it can possibly be and to come out into the world as fast as it possibly can. You know, just like you do. So let’s do it together.

**PLEASE NOTE: I do not mean to suggest pantsers don’t write great books; of course they do. But the good ones take that first exploratory draft and craft it into something leaner and more focused that speaks to the reader as clearly as it spoke to them. No, I’m being hateful about the pantsers who feel that once they’ve typed “The End,” they’re done, that any change will mar the chaotic perfection of their art. And yeah, I got no time for that.

What Is Your Editor Doing?

… when she’s not editing your book?

Like every writer I’ve ever known or heard tell of, I’m a fretful ball of nerves every time I send in a manuscript. Back in days of yore when I was writing my first books on stone tablets and had never edited anyone else in my life, I would start bitching as soon as the trader’s mule train crested the closest hill that it was taking too damned long for my edits to come back. “It’s taking her longer to edit the thing than it took me to write it!” I would rant to my nearest and dearest. “What the hell is she doing?”

Now that I’m an editor, too, I know. Sadly, unfortunately, tragically, boy howdy, do I ever know.

1.         Her day job: I used to think that editors had offices or cubicles or at least dedicated desk space somewhere at which they planted themselves every morning with nothing to do ‘til quitting time but edit books. If you still think that, bless your heart. These days, even the Big 5 NYC publishers (five . . . four . . . three . . . two . . . ) employ very few full-time fiction editors. And the ones they do employ spend at least as much time on stuff like marketing, statistical analysis, and helping their boomer boss download their email as they do actually editing.

            In my case, I have a full-time, nine-to-five, five days a week day job as a domestic court paralegal. My dedicated desk is here to help people get divorced, not edit books. Do I cheat? Most certainly—don’t tell my boss. But that cheating time is strictly limited by the need to keep up with my paralegal tasks so I don’t get fired. Editing your book fulfills my soul, and I love it. But it doesn’t pay my light bill.

2.         Writing her own book: In the wonderful, madcap world of small press publishing, virtually every editor is also a writer. And for most of us, no matter how much we love you and your book, our own writing comes first. By the time we get to the point in our writing career that we’re qualified to edit, we’ve learned how necessary it is to make our work a priority. As a writer who probably also has a day job and almost certainly has a life outside the stories you make up, you know how hard it is to find the time, energy and inspiration to write a book. So when that opportunity arises, by scheduled design or divine intervention, you’re going to grab it, and so am I. Put another way, if I’m letting my husband walk the dogs alone and letting the dishes pile up in the sink to get this chapter finished, I’m letting your manuscript wait for me, too.

3.         Editing somebody else’s book: When I started editing, I made it a solid policy to never work on more than one book at a time. I thought that was the only way I’d be able to edit and still write my own stuff. But yeah, that went out the window a while back and doesn’t seem likely to return.

4.         Doing promotion, packaging, physical sales, and everything else that goes into fiction as a business in the year 2022: Again, at a small press, the same people who are editing the books are doing everything else, too, from creating social media content to working the sales booth at conventions. In addition to the marketing and promotion work I do for my own work (a full-time job all by its itty-bitty self, I assure you), I try to be an advocate and resource for the authors I edit. I do what I can to help them create their own marketing plans and make sure their voice is heard in the packaging and promotion of their work within the publishing house. As your editor, the person who works for your publisher and has been where you are many times before, that’s part of my job, and I’m more than happy to do it. But like everything else, it takes time.

5.         Reading, watching TV, eating tacos: The TV and tacos are pretty self-explanatory, but the reading is more than just a fun release. To be a decent editor (and writer), I have to read other books in my genre—NEW books. Books that are selling. Books that were created for and are being marketed to the audience my authors and I are trying to reach. It’s fun, and I love it. But it’s also necessary—and time-consuming.

6.         Answering your emails: I hesitate to even mention this because I never want any author to feel weird about getting in touch with me for any reason at all. And if you have a problem or a question; if you’re stuck trying to transition into your third act or you hate the first mock-up of your new cover or whatever, please, by all means, speak up; I’m keen to help. But if you’re just “touching base,” or “checking in” or “seeing where we are,” I will be very nice to you. I love talking to my authors; they are some of my favorite people in the whole wide world. But inside my head, I’ll be thinking, “I’m here; I remember I owe you an edit; I care about that a whole bunch; and I’m doing my fucking job, I promise.”

            And I know that sounds harsh and pissy. I mean, all you’re asking for is a three-line email, right? Five minutes of my attention, tops—hardly too much to ask. Except you need five minutes. And she needs five minutes. And he needs five minutes. And they need five minutes. It adds up fast, particularly when you consider everything else on this list. An editor with a much longer list of clients than mine (and a much more successful sales record with their own work) recently told me, “I could fill my entire week doing nothing but reassuring authors I haven’t forgotten about them.”

And that makes sense. Being a writer is hard; waiting to hear your editor’s reaction to the story you’ve worked on so hard for so long is torture; I know that. Waiting with your hands folded for your book to be published is like dying; you wrote it to be read. The process of getting it from your pen to the bookstore shelf (or your keyboard to Amazon) does take fucking forever; I know that, too, and I’m so, soooo very sorry.

But here are three things your editor is absolutely NOT doing while she’s not sending you your edits:

1.         Kicking back in some dark, seedy basement club for editors, swilling gin and laughing as I read your latest email aloud to my equally vicious colleagues so we can mock your pain together: Honest. I swear.  

2.         Ignoring, forgetting, or ghosting you: I keep a list of my pending editing projects on my computer and physically written down on a piece of paper stuck inside the notebook where I’m writing my own stuff. I see it a hundred times a day. I feel guilty every time I see it. I hate that it takes me so long to get your edits back to you, and all this other stuff notwithstanding, I do carve out hours and hours every week to edit. It’s an important priority for me, not a sideline. And when I’m working on your book, you have my undivided and entirely enraptured attention, I promise. Because here’s the thing; you write great books. Which leads me directly to …

3.         Avoiding the discomfort of telling you your writing sucks: This is the one I hear most often from writers and the one that’s the most ridiculous. First of all, if your writing really did suck, I would want to tell you as quickly as possible to get you out of my editing life, and I probably wouldn’t feel all that uncomfortable doing it. There’s too much good writing in the world to waste time polishing turds. Secondly, if your writing sucked, you wouldn’t be working with me in the first place. My publisher wouldn’t have acquired your book. We wouldn’t be looking forward to making money off your gift—because ultimately that’s what publishing is. My boss buys the books he thinks will sell. He assigns them to me for editing not because he wants me to fix them but because he wants me to help you make them even better. So they will sell more. And make even more money.

Okay, this is already way too long, so I’ll stop. But next week, I’ll be back with some suggestions for writers to make this hideously drawn-out process go a little more smoothly and maybe even a little faster.

North, South, East, West, and the Romance Writers of America

In 1985 when the miniseries North and South first aired on TV, my mother worked for a lady named Miss Rose Cauthen. North and South, for those previously spared by youth or ignorance, was based on a series of historical novels by John Jakes about two wealthy and heroic white guys who meet at West Point about a decade before the Civil War and become friends for life. And of course the big hook is, one is from the North and one is from the South—South Carolina, to be specific. It’s the vehicle that unleashed the raw sexual power of Patrick Swayze in a pair of tight britches on an unsuspecting world. Mama, my sisters, and I watched it avidly. All the ladies in Mama’s office watched and discussed it daily with breathless enthusiasm. Miss Rose herself declared it to be the best thing she’d seen on TV in an age.

Then came the Great Unpleasantness. The North guy’s abolitionist sister (played by Kirstie Alley) not only helped one of Swayze’s slaves escape the plantation, she had sex with him in the barn on his way out. A Black man and a white woman engaged in consensual sexual relations (or at least 10 full seconds of foreplay on the way to sexual relations) right there on the TV screen. I can only imagine the noises that came out of Miss Rose and her sister, Miss Louise, as this horror unfolded before them. But the next day, Miss Rose declared that she had turned off her television set. She informed her staff that North and South was filth of the worst possible kind, and she would not allow it to be discussed in her office. She even attempted to forbid the rest of them to watch. And when Mama told her she declined to be so censored in her own home, both Miss Rose and Miss Louise made it plain that henceforth they would think less of her as a lady. Bear in mind, please, that these genteel flowers had already absorbed the shock of several extended sequences of half-nekkid Swayze making soft focus whoopie with another man’s half-nekkid wife in scenes hot enough that Mama made Alexandra Christian cover her eyes. But a brief interlude between a single consenting white woman and a single consenting Black man who subsequently married was more than they could bear. And the idea that any other “nice” woman could bear it just fine was more than they could imagine.

I’ve found myself remembering Miss Rose a lot lately as I’ve been watching the RWA implode. It’s a long, complicated, very much on-going kerfuffle, but for the purposes of my point, here are the highlights. (For a more detailed analysis, start here.) In recent years, as romance as a literary genre expands beyond the f*ck fantasies of white ladies of a certain age both in fact and in perception, the Romance Writers of America keeps getting itself in trouble. The actual membership is becoming more diverse, but the ruling spirit of the organization keeps proving over and over again that it just kind of is not. One of the most vocal and effective critics of institutional racism in the RWA and romance as a genre is bestselling romance author Courtney Milan, who is Chinese-American. Back in August 2019, no doubt in response to yet another version of “honestly, Courtney, I don’t see the problem,” Milan called out another writer, Kathryn Lynn Davis, for her portrayal of Asian characters in a book from her backlist. On Twitter, she called the book a “racist mess” and quoted passages to prove her point.

Davis and the RWA attempted to turn off Milan and forbid the rest of us to watch her any more.

Specifically, Davis made a formal complaint to the RWA, saying Milan had cyber-bullied her and cost her a contract. RWA formed a secret squirrel special ethics committee to investigate because, inconveniently, the regular ethics committee at RWA that everybody knew about was chaired by Milan herself. The secret squirrels investigated and voted in secret to suspend Milan’s RWA membership for a year and ban her from holding any office within the organization for life.

And bless their sweet hearts, I swear I think they thought that would be the end of it. When one of Milan’s friends went public with the news, the RWA seemed to be shocked—shocked, I tell you!—to discover that not only would Milan not just go away and hush because they told her to, a big, loud swath of their membership was just as horrified by their attempt to silence her as she was and just as willing to say so.

It’s quite the circus. Since the initial blowup, a lot of complicated issues going back decades have come out. There’s even dispute now as to whose idea it was to spank Milan in the first place. Davis now says she only filed her complaint because the leadership at RWA told her she had to, that she never intended them to punish Milan. Meanwhile, the RWA leadership insists that once Davis filed her complaint, they had no choice but to act.

I call bullshit on both sides of that argument, but whatever. Y’all know me well enough by now to know I #standwithCourtney. I recently recorded a video statement as acquiring editor for Falstaff Crush calling out RWA and supporting diversity in romance in the strongest possible terms—love is love, y’all. That should be up on the Falstaff Books YouTube channel soon if it isn’t already.

But the actions of Davis and the RWA leadership are not mysterious to me. I know those people. As we say here in the Beautiful South, I’ve been knowing them all my life. They’re Miss Rose. Behind all the boilerplate and pearl clutching, all their assertion and defense comes down to this. “I am a nice lady. All my friends (all of whom think like me or don’t dare or care enough to tell me otherwise) tell me all the time what a nice lady I am. Nice ladies are not racists. Therefore, I cannot be a racist. My views on and portrayals of people not like me cannot be racist but are in fact the truth—or at least a perfectly acceptable fantasy that doesn’t hurt a soul. Because I don’t hurt people. I’m nice.”

Sorry, Miss Rose, but you’re not.

The people who think this way are so dependent on this view of themselves they see anything that threatens it as an unforgiveable attack. Out of fear or laziness or some combination of the two, they adamantly refuse to consider for even one moment that their critics might have a point. To question their own attitudes.

To check their privilege.

And until RWA can do that, it’s not going to get any better.

Romance as a genre is so much more than it’s perceived to be. And lord knows, with book stuffers and click farms and copyright crazies, we need a professional organization to defend us now more than we ever have before. But a Miss Rose RWA will never be qualified to do it.

Taming Plot Bunnies and Getting It Done

plot bunnyOne of my New Year’s resolutions for 2019 was to be more productive and disciplined in my fiction writing. I’d spent the last three months of 2018 finishing a project that I’d been working on sporadically for years and ignoring everything else, and that had taught me that I actually produce more and better story if I stick to one at a time.  But going into the new year, I knew I had at least three novel-length projects in my pipeline that needed to get written for Falstaff Crush. All three were in sketchy outline, ready to roll, but I felt like I had fallen behind and needed to catch up. Under my old protocol, I would have worked on one until I got tired of it (or got bogged down in a plothole), then switched to another, rotating my way through until I finished something and adding in something new in its place. But again, I had figured out that this methodology was just making me feel tired and stressed all the time—I was constantly juggling, constantly working, but I never felt like I was making any headway.

So I resolved to line them up and work on them one at a time—a paranormal medieval romance with a dragon in it that was my heart’s desire at the moment first, then the second Stella Hart mystery, then a super-smutty gothic horror romance I’d been talking about since ConCarolinas 2018. I would give myself three months for each and try to write in chunks of 1000 words as many days of the week as possible.

And lo and behold, y’all, it’s working. I finished the submission draft of The Wizard’s Daughter around March 15 and Stella 2 by mid-July, and I’m well underway on the gothic. The first two books are about 50,000 words each, and the gothic will be at least that long, maybe a little longer. For me, this is HUGELY productive—I have NEVER been able to finish more than 1.5 full-length novels in a year. That alone would be enough to make me call this method a success. But I’ve noticed a few other benefits, too.

I’m a lot more relaxed when I’m writing. Writing fiction is my major stress-buster in and of itself; when I don’t write, my anxiety explodes through the top of my head like turning off the power grid at Ghostbusters Central. But knowing that I only have to produce actual word count on one story at a time focuses that energy and helps me shut out the static of all the other stories I’m not writing yet. When plot bunnies hop up, I can think about them, even jot down some notes, but then I pat them on the head and send them away because sorry, kid, I’m busy. And I have no guilt about that—I am cloaked in the righteousness of productivity.

I’m a lot more relaxed when I’m not writing. This is a benefit that only really came into play as I finished The Wizard’s Daughter. I have a day job; I have a husband; I’m an editor of other people’s stuff; I have to market the stuff that’s already published; I read other people’s fiction; I have research to do which may or may not ever be a part of my word count; I have episodes of Lucifer and The Great British Baking Show to watch. All best intentions and soul-deep commitment aside, I know there’s no way in the world I’m going to actually write 1000 words a day every single day. It’s just not going to happen. But I still finished a book in a little more than three months. I proved that even with my schedule, when I focus on one story and live in it until it’s done, I can do the work; I can finish. Finishing Stella 2 by the end of June just reinforced that. So going forward, when I miss a day, I don’t freak out or beat myself up or—and this one is the killer—use that momentary setback as proof of inevitable failure and let myself completely off the hook. I know now if I stick with it, I can take a day or a weekend or a week with the flu away from my story and still finish it in a timely fashion.

I don’t get stuck as often, and when I do get stuck, I wriggle out of it a lot faster. When I’m working on the first draft of a story, I’m never NOT working on it. That plotline is running like a background task in my head continuously, day and night, even when I’m sleeping. This is why it takes me an hour to take a bath and can take as long as twenty minutes to put my sneakers on. As soon as I’m holding still and not talking, I get lost in my story. And every fiction writer I know is the same to greater or lesser degree, and don’t let them tell you any different. (I don’t drive, but I suspect a lot of novelists find themselves miles out of their way on the way to the Wal-Marts because that story brain took over.) When I was working on multiple projects simultaneously, that part of my brain was working out all those plots all the time, attacking multiple knots at once. And every time I sat down to actually write, I had to somehow silence everything else to put myself completely into the manuscript in front of me. I wasn’t just tuning out the bills I had to pay and the itch on the back of my knee and the barking of the neighbor’s dog, I was also tuning out those other stories. By keeping that part of my brain focused almost completely on the one story all the time, the knots unravel on their own, and I don’t get paralyzed. I’m not trashing and rewriting nearly as much or nearly as often as I was before. I’m more confident when I put pen to paper, and when something isn’t working, I recognize it a lot faster. So while I still have a bazillion distractions from outside my writing process, the time I do spend physically writing is more efficient and productive.

I can work smarter with my publisher. The question I’ve dreaded the most from publishers since I first started getting paid to make up stuff is, “So when will the book be finished?” Like authors, publishers want to be responsive to the market; they want to release stuff that’s new and fresh and of the moment. But they’re also having to plan their release calendar years in advance. So yeah, they want your newest genius idea, but only if they can have it now—or at least know when they can expect it. (This is why most publishers won’t accept proposals and sample chapters any more from new authors; they want the product in hand before they agree to buy it.) And I’ve always been crap at accommodating that; I think that’s been one of the major things holding me back as a professional fiction writer. Now I know, all things being equal, if I have a reasonable plan mapped out (my outlining process is another whole post) and can stick to a reasonable schedule, I can expect to finish my product and have it ready for editing in three months. The books I’m writing in 2019 will hopefully show up on the Falstaff Crush calendar in 2020—and my publisher can make that determination with confidence because he has the books in hand.

This protocol won’t work for everybody. I know a lot of talented writers whose best defense against writer’s block is working on multiple projects simultaneously. I don’t even know how long it will continue to work for me. Once I run out of outlines, the whole system might fall apart. But for right now, this is how I’m doing it, and I have to say, I’m pleased.

ConCarolinas 2019!

ConCarolinas 2019It’s that time of year again – ConCarolinas is back, and I’ll be there! I only consistently show up for one fandom and writing convention a year, and ConCarolinas in Charlotte, North Carolina, is it. And this year’s slate of guests and events is particularly excellent. The people in charge have worked their collective cabooses off making this the best ConCarolinas/Deep South Con ever.

And I can prove it. They invited me. I’ll be there all weekend, Friday, May 31 through Sunday, June 2. I’m officially launching not one but two new books, and I’ll be appearing at the following panels:

bury me notOn Friday, May 31:

3:00 – Whose Story Is This? (in Walden): We’ll be talking about fan fiction; loving it, hating it, what it means, how to do it, what it can lead to. And I’ll actually be the moderator on this one, so batten down the hatches.

7:00 – ConCarolinas Short Takes (in a 3rd floor room, follow the noise): I’ll be one of a whole slate of author guests reading bits from their latest works. It’s a choice crowd, and we’ll all still be giddy with first-night-at-the-con glee. So a good time is pretty well assured at this one.

On Saturday, June 1:

11:00 – Tired Tropes of Women (Keynes): Parsing, bemoaning, and offering alternatives to the timeworn cliches of chicks in space and fantasy and horror, from the sexually voracious pixies who get confused tying their shoes to all those dead-but-loyal superhero girlfriends inspiring their men to greatness. If you’re a woman writing speculative fiction or a guy writing speculative fiction who wants to write better women, hit this one up.

12:00 – Historical Fantasy (Keynes): Ways to write the fantastical while keeping it real–and why it matters.

1:00 – Choosing an Editor (Keynes): You know you need an editor, but what kind of editor do you need? All the basic species will be on display and ready for your questions.

6:00 – There Is No Finish Line: Maintaining Energy and Momentum (Walden): Whether you’re just starting out as a writer or writing Book 27 of your bestselling series, you’re gonna have days when you think you might just quit. A panel of authors who’ve been at this for a while will offer war stories and advice on how to beat those urges and keep going (and why you must). I’ll be the moderator, and I can’t wait to hear what everybody else will have to say.

eat the peachOn Sunday, June 2:

SF/F: Are We Ready to Lighten Up Yet? (Lakeshore 2): A discussion of “Hopepunk”–what it is and why we might really, really need it. Or why we don’t.

I’m Not Bad, I’m Just Written That Way (Walden): Let’s talk about antiheroes, baby. (Why yes, I probably WILL mention that new season of Lucifer on Netflix; why do you ask?)

When I’m not on panels, I’m sharing a table with Alexandra Christian in Authors Alley, and I’ll probably stop in to annoy John Hartness and the rest of the crew at the big Falstaff Books booth. Get all the scoop about ConCarolinas 2019/Deep South Con 57 at their website here: https://concarolinas2019.sched.com/ Can’t wait to see you there!

 

The Excellence You Swear You Cannot See

nicole's bookThe Romance Writers of America has released the names of the nominees for their yearly RITA Awards, and, you guessed it, they’re about as diverse as a glass of milk beside a plate of sugar cookies with white chocolate chips. So all of us writing and publishing types have taken to the Facebooks and beyond one more time to discuss the diversity problem. Even among those of us nice white cis straight folks who have stopped twitching every time we admit it exists, there’s a lot of panic, anger, and confusion when we start trying to decide what to do about it.

Like most of the RITA nominees, I’m a middle-aged straight cis white woman who writes books. In my current romance WIP, the heroine is Persian. In the Southern gothic I finished earlier this year, the protagonist is a Black woman. In the next book I’m scheduled to write, one of the main background characters is gay, and I’ve written multiple gay characters into books in the past, from medieval romances to urban fantasy. Having even this much diversity in my work does great stuff for me as an artist, assuming I do it right. It makes me step out of my comfort zone and enriches my narrative voice in everything I write; it broadens my market for the finished product.

For the cause of diversity in publishing, it does dickory do.

michael's bookEven if I do my research, get every detail as right as it’s possible to get it, my non-white, non-straight, non-cis characters are never going to be drawn with the same authority a writer who shares that identity could give them. And at the end of the day, my success with these books, artistic and otherwise, is success for yet another white straight cis writer. And don’t get me wrong; I am all about succeeding. Nobody is asking me or expecting me or wanting me or any other white straight cis writer to be otherwise, and I wouldn’t oblige them if they were. But if I honestly give a shit about creating a level playing field for all writers, I have to work beyond that, outside it. I have to get past my own fear of failure and focus that part of my energy on people who aren’t me and work that isn’t mine. I have to stop thinking like a writer and think like a reader instead. And as a reader, I have to actively seek out diverse voices. And when I find good reads from those voices, I have to make sure other readers know about them, too.

Every time an award-nominating body or a publisher or a whatever gets accused of lack of diversity in their choices, their first excuse is always, “We would have been diverse; we wanted to, really, really, but we just couldn’t find anything to read at the level we were looking for that wasn’t written by a white straight cis person!” That’s bullshit so blatant, it’s laughable on its face, but still, my purpose here is to be helpful. So in addition to the amazing work of already-famous people like N.K. Jemison, Michael Cunningham, and Colson Whitehead, let me recommend a kind of Whitman’s sampler of fiction from various genres written by amazing writers whose work I happen to know. As a reader, I would recommend any and all of them without reservation—this, my kittens, is the good stuff. If you want your own reading and publishing in general to be more diverse, this is a great way to start. Click on the links to buy. Read them, review them, tell your friends. Be part of the solution.

Sisters of the Wild Sage, a collection of weird western short stories by Nicole Kurtz, a Black woman. Nicole also writes horror, science fiction, and urban fantasy, and it’s all well worth your attention.

A Fall In Autumn, an amazing new science fiction novel by Michael Williams, a gay man. Futuristic noir, first in an on-going series.

Black Magic Women: Terrifying Tales by Scary Sisters, an anthology of horror short stories written by Black women. I have already gnawed the ears off everybody who will listen about how great these stories are, but if you haven’t read them yet, DO IT NOW.

Girl In the Gears: A truly fun steampunk adventure by E. Chris Garrison, a transgender woman. First in an on-going series.

And finally, dear ladies of the RWA RITA-nominating committee …

Passion and Ink: The latest bestselling contemporary romance by Naima Simone, a Black woman with multiple series on-going and a voracious readership of romance lovers of every ethnicity.

And so many others I could happily mention if I had the space. If you can’t find the best work in your favorite genre being written by writers who break the white, straight, cis mold, then I’m sorry; you’re just not trying. And if anybody has other recommendations for me, by all means, add them to the comments!

Falstaff Crush – Romance for All

huntressHeya Kittens – Long time no type!

Regular visitors to the blog-ness know how discouraged I’ve been for a while now about the state of romance publishing. While I wish every writer nothing but the best, the wild west atmosphere created by self-publishing and fan fiction has resulted in a market flooded to glut with the same old crap repeated ad nauseam with plots no self-respecting teen-age drama queen would scribble in her diary and action that is nothing short of porn. There’s still plenty of good stuff, but it’s continually getting drowned in all this other, and publishers, desperate to maintain any kind of profit whatsoever, are demanding writers write to an ever-more-stringent and ever-less-interesting template made of tropes created more to serve a keyword search than any kind of story.

For a long time, I’ve thought there has to be a better way to keep romance as a genre alive; I KNOW there’s a better way. And now, thanks to Falstaff Books, I’m getting the chance to prove it. I’m going to be an author and submissions editor for a brand new romance line with a brand new approach to the genre. Welcome to Falstaff Crush, romance for people who think they don’t like romance. Our tagline is “Love is the greatest adventure,” and that’s what our stories are all about. We do science fiction, fantasy, horror, mystery, adventure–all the genres we love as readers, all built around a strong romantic relationship between people who may or may not be what mainstream romance would call a couple. The setting and genre are more than just a costume, more than just an apparatus to get two or more people in the sack. We don’t do tropes; we do story.

Our first release, Huntress, is a high fantasy dragonslayer tale, and over the next month or so, we’ll have a weird western, contemporary gothic horror, and even a sexy Sherlock Holmes, with more in the pipeline to come. (We’re also open to submissions, so please feel free to check out our guidelines.)  Watch this space for updates, and as always, let me know what you think!

xoxo

Lucy

Lucy Blue Edits!

librarianLooking through my bills for last month, it suddenly occurred to me that I really, really missed freelance fiction editing. For anyone who’s interested, here’s what I charge and how I do it and why I think I’m qualified:

Proofreading: $0.005/word ($250 for a 50,000-word novel; $50 for a 10,000-word short story)

I’ll read for typographical errors, spelling mistakes, punctuation errors, and minor formatting problems. I won’t correct grammar, word choice, passive voice, continuity errors, or make any suggestions as to content. If I think your manuscript needs more than a proofread, I’ll let you know after the initial read (see below), and you can decide if you want me to go forward and how.

Copy Editing: $0.01/word ($500 for a 50,000-word novel; $100 for a 10,000-word short story)

In addition to proofreading (see above), I will also read for problems with grammar, word choice, and continuity and mark corrections. I won’t make any suggestions as to content such as plot, characterization, pacing, etc. If I think your manuscript needs more than a copy edit, I’ll let you know after the initial read (see below) and tell you why, and you can decide if you want me to go forward and how.

Substantive Editing: $0.02/word ($1000 for a 50,000-word novel; $200 for a 10,000-word short story)

In addition to copy editing your manuscript (see above), I will point out any problems I see with plot, characterization, pacing, etc., and make specific suggestions for rewrites. As part of the substantive edit, I might also engage you in a developmental dialogue to help you refocus or sharpen aspects of your story that don’t grab the reader. I will also read at least one rewrite if you choose to do one at my suggestion at no additional charge. All substantive edits will also come with a full evaluation of the manuscript—what I loved, what I didn’t love, and any thoughts I have about potential markets and your work going forward.

Initial Read: First 10 pages only; no charge

Regardless of what level of editing you want, I will do an initial read of the first ten pages (2500 words) of your manuscript and let you know: 1)if I think I can help you; and 2)what level of editing I think your manuscript needs.  I reserve the right to refuse any job that I think is beyond me, for whatever reason. Manuscript evaluation is subjective; if I don’t think I can help you make your book or story better, I won’t take your money. But if I tell you I think you need a substantive edit and you tell me, um, no thanks, I’m just looking for a proofread, I will absolutely do a proofread.

So what do I know anyway? Credentials:

I’ve been a paid, professional fiction writer since 1998. I’ve published novels with two major publishers (Berkley/Penguin and Pocket Books/Simon & Schuster) and novels and anthologized short stories with three independent publishers (Purple Sword Publications, Mocha Memoirs Press, and Falstaff Books) in addition to running a micro-press, Little Red Hen Romance, with my sister, author Alexandra Christian. In doing so, I have gone through the editorial process as a writer with many different editors with many different styles, and I know just how painful a bad edit can be—and how much a good one can help bring a story to life.

I have an M.A. in English from Winthrop University, and I’ve taught English composition at Winthrop and at York Technical College. I was the fiction editor of Winthrop’s literary magazine my senior year as an undergraduate, and I have been doing freelance editing off and on for the past three years for small presses and self-published authors.

Nuts and Bolts:

Once we decide I can help and what kind of help you want from me, I’ll send you an invoice for the full amount of my fee based on your word count. I’ll need at least half of the fee paid to me through PayPal at lucybluecastle@gmail.com before I start work.

All manuscripts will need to be submitted in Microsoft Word. I hate Microsoft, too, and I’m sure all those other software suites are charming beyond all measure, but I want to spend my time as your editor editing your art, not wrestling with your software. Any manuscripts submitted in anything but Word will be returned unread.

To get started, email me your manuscript as a Word attachment to lucybluecastle@gmail.com. In your cover email, give me your name and your snail mail address and tell me a little bit about your manuscript—genre, etc. This isn’t a query for a publisher; I just want to know what to expect when I read your first 10 pages. I only plan to do a handful of manuscripts every month, so if I’m swamped, I’ll let you know.

Final thought:

I can’t promise that if you hire me, you’ll get published, no matter how much I might love your book. But I do promise to do everything I can to make it the best book it can possibly be.

Cowboys & Krampus – A Christmas Romance

cowboys-and-krampusSo in honor of the season, I’ve written a sequel to my insane zombie western, Dead-sperado, called Cowboys & Krampus. It’s available here right now from Amazon, and it starts off something like this:

Two days before Christmas, we had been on the run from a bank job for a week and a half. I had expected us to head south toward old Mexico, but Cade had led us straight north. The rest of the gang seemed to know what he was doing and trust him, and I had only been riding with them since Halloween, so I kept my mouth shut. But looking up at the sky, I was pretty sure we were headed straight into a blizzard.

Just as it started to snow, we rode up to a two-story hotel in the literal middle of nowhere. The hotel and its stable were the only buildings in sight in the middle of a flat, open plain surrounded by mountains.

The little round innkeeper came out from behind his desk as soon as we walked in the door. “Mr. Cade,” he said as we huffed and stomped and peeled out of the frozen layers of our coats. “Danke Gott! When we received your telegram, I was afraid you’d be lost on the road.”

“Telegram?” I said, raising an eyebrow. As far as I knew, we’d been riding for our lives. When had he stopped and sent a telegram?

“Of course. We couldn’t just show up without a reservation, Daisy.” The smile on his face made him look like a man I’d never met. Elbert Cade was not a smiler. “That would be rude.”

“But who is this?” the innkeeper said as I unbuttoned my duster. “Daisy? You have brought your young lady?”

“Mr. Bhaer, meet Mrs. Cade,” he said. “Daisy, honey, meet our host, Mr. Bhaer.”

To my credit, I didn’t faint from shock. “Pleased to meet you,” I said, giving Cade a slant-eyed look that should have shaved off one of his sideburns. Rule number one of the gang was never dispute our fearless leader in front of decent folks, so I wouldn’t. But I wasn’t no more Mrs. Cade than I was the queen of Sweden.

Mein Gott!” Bhaer said. “Mother, come quickly! Cade has taken a wife!”

“Uh-oh,” Thomas, Cade’s second-in-command, said with a grin. “Now you’ve done it.”

The swinging doors behind the front desk opened, and people came pouring out, a stout little woman with blonde braids wrapped around her head and half a dozen little tow-headed kids. “You don’t mean it!” the woman exclaimed in the same thick German accent as her husband. “Congratulations!” She kissed Cade on both cheeks, leaving flour in his whiskers. “Papa, look!” She took my hands and beamed at me. “Ain’t she lovely?”

“Daisy,” Bhaer said. “Her name is Daisy.”

“Mr. Cade, are you crazy?” one of the kids asked, a freckle-faced little bruiser with mischief dancing off of him like sparks off an anvil. “Whatcha want to get some stupid girl for?”

“Klaus!” his mother cried, scandalized.

“Well, Klaus, to tell you the truth, I didn’t have much of a choice,” Cade said with a bit of mischief in his own eyes. “I fed her one time, and she followed me home.”

“Klaus, you are a very naughty boy,” Mrs. Bhaer said. “I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if Krampus carried you away tomorrow night.” She smacked Cade on the arm. “And you, too.”

“I don’t think Krampus will be traveling tomorrow night,” Mr. Bhaer said. “Not in this storm.”

“But Papa, what about Saint Nicholas?” one of the other kids said, this one a girl barely as tall as her papa’s boots. “Ain’t he coming either?”

“Not to worry, poppy seed,” Thomas said, swinging the little girl up in his arms. “Saint Nick can always make it through.”

“Something surely smells good in the kitchen, Mrs. Bhaer,” said Luis, Cade’s other lieutenant. He’d been all but hopping on one foot since we came in.

“I am baking gingerbread, Mr. Gonzales,” she said. “Or did you mean Clara?” Her husband and all the other men but Luis laughed at her joke. Me, I thought I must have fallen off my horse and hit my head at some point without noticing. This had to be a crazy dream. “She’s been waiting for you all day,” Mrs. Bhaer went on. “You’d better come see her. Papa, get everyone else settled into their rooms. I’m sure Mrs. Cade is exhausted.”

“So how long have you two been married?” Bhaer asked.

“Not long at all,” Cade said.

“No kidding,” I muttered.

“We’re still on our honeymoon,” Cade said, stepping on my foot. I bit back a shriek of pain.

Wunderbar,” Mrs. Bhaer said. “The bridal suite it is. Come, children, help me fetch Mrs. Cade a hot bath.”

“Aw, nuts,” Klaus grumbled, making me laugh. That child was a caution and cute as he could be.

“That’s quite enough from you, young Klaus,” his father said. “Go now and help your mother.”

When we got to the top of the stairs, Cade went so far as to carry me over the threshold. But as soon as Bhaer left us alone, he set me down, and the honeymoon was over.

“What in hell has gotten into you?” I said.

“Mr. and Mrs. Bhaer are good Christian folks,” he said. “They’d be mightily offended if they thought I’d brought some…” He let his thought trail off.

“Some what, Elbert Cade?” I said. “And remember, I have a gun.”

“They ain’t like us, Daisy, he said. “They’re good and kind and peaceful, and they don’t understand that the rest of the world ain’t like that.”

The rest of the world like him and me. “Which makes me wonder how they know you,” I said.

“I got shot up real bad a couple of years ago about twenty miles from here,” he said. “The rest of the gang thought I was going to die, and most of them skinned out and left me. But Thomas and Luis loaded me up on a half-busted wagon and tried to get me to help. Just when they figured it was hopeless, they found this hotel.”

“And these folks took you in?” I said. I was shaking just thinking about him getting hurt so bad, but I’d have sooner died than let him know it. “A wanted outlaw?”

“Thomas told them we were scouts,” he said. “He said we’d been set upon by bandits when we were leading a wagon train west, and that I had fought off half a dozen men single-handed to save the rest of the party.”

“Lord God Almighty.”

“Hey, I had—they just happened to have been a lawful posse.” If I hadn’t been so mad, I might have thought his little grin was charming. “Anyhow,” he said, seeing my frown. “The Bhaers got me a doctor, and when I woke up, I was a hero. And we’ve been coming back here every Christmas since. Luis and the cook even have an understanding to wed.”

“And they don’t know you’re outlaws?” I said.

He at least had the decency to look embarrassed. “Like I said, they’re good people.”

“Stupid people, maybe.” When I had taken up with him, I had known I was giving up any hope of eve being respectable, that I wasn’t ever going to be the nice married lady I had always dreamed I’d be. But I had wanted him so much, I had told myself it didn’t matter, that there were things more important than being respectable. But now here we were, and he expected me to pretend.

“Now don’t be like that,” he said. “I didn’t tell you we were coming here because I wanted it to be a surprise. I thought you’d like it.” He took my hand and tugged me closer, and I let him. “Just think, darling. A clean bed.” He kissed me on the forehead, sweet and soft. “A hot bath.” I couldn’t help but smile, slumping against him. “When was the last time you had a hot bath?”

“It has been a while.” The last time had been in Carson City, and a fine time it had been.

“We can stay here and ride the storm out safe and sound, eating Clara and Mrs. Bhaer’s fine cooking.” I twined an arm around his neck, and he kissed my mouth. “Sleeping as late as we like.”

“That does sound nice.” Getting up before the sun was the thing I hated most about being an outlaw.

“No posse breathing down our necks.” He nibbled the back of my neck. “No Thomas or Luis snoring one bedroll away.” He kissed behind my ear. “No biting my shoulder to the bone, trying to keep quiet.” I giggled, and he kissed me on the mouth. I melted against him, and he walked me backward toward the bed. “And I was thinking,” he said, nuzzling my throat.

“Thinking what?” I untied the bandana at his throat.

“When the storm does break and we do ride out…” He kissed me again, cuddling my head in his hand the way he knew I liked. “…you could stay on here a while.”

I broke the kiss. “Beg pardon?”

“Just for a little while.” He put up his hands like I might have been a sheriff with a shotgun. “Just until the weather warms up and things calm down a bit.”

“You want to just dump me?” I said.

“Of course not.”

“Have I ever once whined or told you I was tired?” I demanded. “Did I ever cry when I got shot at or fail to shoot when I had to?”

“No, honey. I just thought–”

“I ride as good as Thomas and better than Luis.” I had never been so mad at anybody in my life. “If you’re sick of me, Cade, all you’ve got to do is say so. If you’re ready for another piece of–”

“Stop right there!” He didn’t holler at me often, but when he did, it was impressive. “I don’t want no other women, damn it! That’s the gawddamn point! I want you to be safe!”

“Then you ought not to have let me come with you in the first place!”

“You think I don’t know that?”

I caught my breath like he had hit me. Truth be told, I wished he had.

Somebody knocked on the door. “Mrs. Cade?” It was Mrs. Bhaer. “We have your bath.”

Cade reached out a hand to me. “Daisy…”

“Get out.” I couldn’t stand for him to see me cry. “Just get out.” I opened the door. “Thank you kindly, Mrs. Bhaer,” I said, putting on a smile. “Elbert was just leaving.”

Check out Cowboys & Krampus and the rest of our holiday stuff at our website, http://lucybluecastle.wixsite.com/littleredhenromance. Merry Christmas! 

 

We Are Not This: Carolina Writers for Equality – Press Release

small-we-are-not-thisI’m lucky enough to have a story in this–“The Dark Lady” about a transgender actress in the days of Shakespeare. But even if I didn’t, I’d promote the living juice out of it. Much, much great stuff to read, all profits benefiting a magnificent cause. It’s available as an ebook right now from Amazon here, and print copies are on the way. Get a copy, boost the signal, spread the word. HB2 and the hate it represents are NOT North Carolina. 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

CHARLOTTE SMALL PRESS RELEASES CHARITY ANTHOLOGY PROTESTING HB2

For Details, contact John G. Hartness
john@falstaffbooks.com

10/25/16

In an “October Surprise” for Governor Pat McCrory and members of the NC General Assembly, Charlotte-based micro-press Falstaff Books today released We Are Not This – Carolina Writers for Equality. The anthology, a collection of 31 short stories, poems, and essays by North Carolina writers or writers who feel a strong tie to the Carolinas, was created as a response to HB2, the divisive “bathroom bill” passed by the NC General Assembly earlier this year.

We Are Not This includes stories from NY Times bestselling author A. J. Hartley, noted singer-songwriter David Childers, Bram Stoker Award nominee Jake Bible, Charlotte Observer columnist and longtime educator Kay McSpadden, Hugo-award nominated editor Edmund Schubert, and a host of other writers. The anthology is currently available as an ebook, and will be available in print within the month.

In his introduction, publisher John G. Hartness writes “We understand that people are people, and all people deserve to be protected from discrimination. We understand that insuring equal rights for one group does not take away rights from another group. We understand that laws restricting freedom and taking away someone’s chance for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness is the opposite of the values that this country was founded upon. We understand that we are stronger together, and that love is love.”

Proceeds from the sale of the anthology will be divided among NC-centric LGBTQ charities, non-profits, and lobbying organizations. The first group of organizations to receive funding will be Time Out Youth, Queen City Theatre Company, and EqualityNC.