Dreaming in Character

G.L. Jackson

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A few questions for any professional editors reading along.

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, I worked as a freelance professional copy & technical editor for a major publishing house (and before that as a proofreader). This has left me with an abiding affection for good grammar, decent sentence structure, and the Oxford comma. The Chicago Manual of Style was my bible. It’s also left me with a distinct inability to let go of grammatical errors, both in my own work and in the works I read for critique partners. Unfortunately, my critical editor’s eye extends to published works as well. I can’t help spotting the errors.

Part of me thinks I’m a better editor than I am a writer.

Here are my questions, editor friends: If you edit fiction professionally, what qualifications do you bring to the table? What kinds of editing services do you offer? If I decide to go back into editing as a profession, which must-join organizations do you recommend? How did you pick what types of editing you offer, or did you just fall into it? Does your editing work get in the way of your creative writing? Do you ever get to read for pleasure without worrying about spelling and grammar, about clunky story structure, about things that would have made the piece flow so much better?

I guess in a lot of ways — and bear with me on this — editing is a lot like massage therapy, which I did for more than a dozen years. The similarity is that we have to ground ourselves and set our own boundaries before starting a massage just like I ought to remember to do before starting a new book. Also like massage, if the experience is less than stellar, I know to avoid that sort of thing in the future. I’ve learned a lot about which editors-for-hire I would and would not like to work with based on the quality of the edited works I’ve read.

Of course, even the best editors have bad days, and I certainly have my pet peeves when it comes to grammar. The last thing I had professionally edited (at a pretty hefty price) came back to me with a repeated paragraph that went uncaught. I’m glad I did my own proofreading.

Should I start doing this again for pay?


It’s Got Good Bones

I’ve been in a lull with my writing. Part of it is that I have so much to do that I become immobilized. Breathe, breathe, if I break it down into bite-sized chunks I can make this work.

Around Christmas I got a little bit of an unwelcome gift: the anthologies I’m published in both got pulled from the shelves. I’m no longer an actively published author (although I have copies of the books! I have proof!) and that took the wind out of my sails in a way I’d never expected. Every book has its shelf life, and ours were never best-sellers. The good news is that all the rights for my stories have reverted to me, so if I want to expand on The Case of the Bloodstone Dragon and turn it into what it wanted to be–The Curse of the Bloodstone Dragon complete with mythology and a crazy past and more of a future–I can do that.

It’s at the bottom of my list. So is doing anything with skateboarding angel Gabe and his less-than-aware charge Hans (basically, it’s Bill & Ted with a heavenly slant). Both were fun stories to write, and I’ll always be grateful to Untold Press for believing in me enough to publish my work.

I’m making my writing goals public for my own reasons. Most of these have to do with self-accountability and little else, but here goes:

1. Finish revising Finding the Ground, give it a better title, and start shopping it. Anyone up for a read? YA, near-future, heavy on sports, family (born and made), and teen angst…

2. Trash Version 3 of Better Backstage (too long, too many POV characters) and rewrite with only two voices. Potentially rename that one too! Out of all the manuscripts I’ve written, this story is closest to my heart… mostly because I lived so many bits and pieces of it back in the day. I know, rock & roll romances are a dime a dozen, but I still love this story and believe in it. I met so many characters when I worked in that industry, and I do mean capital-c Characters. A lot of them made it into the book.

3. Once that’s done, I can proceed with my latest, a sort of companion novel to Better Backstage told from a fan’s POV. I wrote the first chapter, I have notes, I keep finding inspiration for it, but I need to clean up its predecessor before I can run away with the next love of my life.

4. My NaNo novel is languishing. One of my critique partners (I’m looking at you, Ellen) says it’s her favorite of the pieces I’ve written, for mood alone. If I’m going to work on a murder mystery, though, I want to make sure it’s spotless and accessible, so it will require major rewrites. The bones are good. I’m sure they won’t stay buried forever.

I think that’s enough for now. I have a few other things in the works that are really only concepts at the moment. I keep pushing them back, because I already have too much to do.

P.S. WordPress, I really dislike the “improved posting experience.”


That took long enough.

…but I started working on a new book tonight.

So far, so good. I’ve been feeling pretty blah about writing lately, so I’m glad I found something inspirational enough to make me gleeful.

Basically, I took a few months off. I wrote some fanfiction, but original writing didn’t appear to be in the cards. I never mind taking a break. I think it’s important to my own process to allow myself the freedom to write but also not to write when I need that.

I have a lot of editing to do on two other books, but I’m taking advantage of the inspiration to go ahead and start this one. No one’s waiting on me (except maybe my critique group), so there’s no pressure. Also, I’m going to scrap my NaNoWriMo novel or at least shelve it for the time being. I was never once as excited about that while I was writing it as I am for the new one on Day One.

Here’s hoping all of you are doing well.


#NaNoWriMo in Retrospect

It’s the most wonderful time of the year… when I can look back at November and decide whether or not the story I worked on every day for 30 days is worth its weight at all, or if it’s a load of rubbish that I need to chuck into the nearest bin (or desk drawer, or digital filing cabinet).

When the clock struck December I had about 57,000 words and a whole lot of disgruntlement. I mean, I was glad to have accomplished what I did, but the novel feels wrong. Like it’s off balance. I shared the first chapter with my critique group (by the way, everyone should have one of those! They keep you honest and on your toes*) and had that very same feeling of the voice being off-kilter confirmed.

I had no defense. I knew it was crap. But it was also a completely unedited first draft, one I hadn’t looked back at since November 2 when I finished that chapter. I know the strength in NaNoWriMo involves turning off our inner editor and simply letting the words flow. Last year I had no trouble with that. The year before, I had no trouble with that. But this year? Wow. I fought hard for every one of those 57,000 words… and it shows.

The novel has the working title The House on the Hill and the description is as follows: A long-dead actress is destined to rest uneasily… unless she can convince a seemingly unrelated group of people to put their heads together to solve her murder. It seemed like a good idea at the time, and during the course of those 30 days I made a lot of new fictional friends I never knew existed before. The format ended up being a story within a story, taking place at two different points in time. I really loved the past part of the story, but the present seems forced. So I’m going to shelve it for now, even though I know whodunit and how they whodunit, although I haven’t written that part yet. Maybe I’ll get back to it, but I have the distinct feeling that not all books are meant to be written.

In the meantime, today I remembered an idea I had for a novel I wanted to write, and realized this is the one I should have worked on for NaNoWriMo. Tonight, I started on it. I don’t know if this will be THE ONE or more fodder for the recycle bin, but I’ll find out. Check with me in a month or two.

* Are you a writer living in the East Bay? If you are, let’s talk.

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23 #NaNoWriMo Days Later

I mentioned on Twitter that I’m missing my dad, particularly at this time of year. He took such pride in my nightly word count recaps. He was a writer, in his younger days, and always regretted not following up on a few leads he had. He used to ask what agents were looking for these days. I would tell him I’d let him know when I found out.

I haven’t found out yet, but I haven’t been actively querying. November is a time for creating something new. I’ve had mixed feelings about my work-in-progress, but it’s fun and even if it took a good two-plus weeks to start picking up steam, so be it. At first I spent a lot of time questioning having a story-within-a-story like I do, but the more I tried not to have it there, the more reluctant I got to write.

I’ve written mystery before. My first published short story was a noir detective story called The Case of the Bloodstone Dragon. It’s in Dragonthology from Untold Press. I will forever be grateful to the folks there for believing enough in my work to publish it. I almost called it The Curse of the Bloodstone Dragon, but I didn’t have enough room to go into the history of the curse itself. Maybe some day!

With this November novel, I’ve gone from horror/supernatural to mystery, which is a much better fit. Just because something features a ghost doesn’t mean it’s got to be classified under horror. Mystery it is. Right now it’s called The House on the Hill, which isn’t particularly innovative. I’ll change that up once it’s done. Today it sits at just a smidge over 45,000 words and I’m so happy to have come this far. I will definitely meet the NaNo word count, but I also know it needs to be almost twice as long as it is now.

First drafts, I always say, are for barfing out all the details. Revision passes are for deciding what stays and what goes, but all the words in this manuscript are ones I need to know. Even if nobody else ever sees them, I still need the backstory and background.

I’m having fun not censoring myself. Once November has run its course I’m sure I’ll be knee-deep in revisions, back to my regular critique group, back to the three or four novels I have that I’m still finessing…and this one.

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12 #NaNoWriMo Days Later

So far I’ve:

– written about 24000 words
– changed the genre from horror/supernatural to mystery
– met a lot of characters I had no idea existed
– discovered I was writing a story-within-a-story
– had a few “aha” moments where the connections became clear
– had an equal number of “uh-oh” moments where I decided I didn’t like a thing I was writing
– reminded myself time and again that this is just a first draft.

I don’t have to finish this book, but I want to. The thing about NaNoWriMo for me is that it’s an exercise in keeping on keeping on. Are words for the sake of words really worth the effort? I won’t know until I finish a first draft, reread, and then decide. Until the end of the month, I’ll keep on writing.


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