Special Guest: Joshua Palmatier/Benjamin Tate!

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Joshua Palmatier/Benjamin TateHi all, David here.  Today I am delighted to introduce a special guest for the day’s post.  Joshua Palmatier is a good friend, a great writer, and, as I have recently learned, a terrific editor as well.  Writing under a new pseudonym, Benjamin Tate, he has a new book out this week.  The book is called Well of Sorrows, and Joshua/Benjamin will tell you all about it in the paragraphs to follow.  But he will also be telling us about his experiences as a first-time editor for the anthology AFTER HOURS:  TALES FROM THE UR-BAR, which was recently released by DAW.  Working with Patricia Bray, Joshua put together a fun, themed anthology that has already garnered some very good reviews.  I have a story in the anthology, “The Tavern Fire,” which I wrote under my new pseudonym, D.B. Jackson.  Joshua and Patricia’s comments on the story helped me improve it enormously — they may be new to editing, but they have the insights and instincts of veterans.

Please join me in welcoming Joshua Palmatier/Benjamin Tate to Magical Words.

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First of all, thank you to Magical Words for inviting me to guest blog today! Let me introduce myself: my current name is Benjamin Tate and the first book in a new epic fantasy trilogy is out in paperback this month called WELL OF SORROWS. It has a kick-ass cover:

WELL OF SORROWS, by Benjamin Tate

And I’ll say that the cover is absolutely perfect for the story within. It gets the right tone, the right feel, and the perfect atmosphere of the story. Which is just me saying that the story inside is kick-ass as well. I might be biased. *grin* It’s all about exploring the unexplored continent that has just recently been discovered and settled along the coast. So Colin, the main character, is dragged by his parents in a wagon train into the east in the hopes of settling farther inland. Of course, things don’t go as planned, since this land isn’t uninhabited and contains perils and dangers these people have never seen before.

And that’s just the first half of the book.

But that’s just the new baby. The slightly less new baby is the anthology AFTER HOURS: TALES FROM THE UR-BAR, which I’m sure you’ve heard about here from David (D.B. Jackson), since he wrote one of the stories for it, “The Tavern Fire.” Not only has Benjamin Tate written a story for it as well—the origin story actually, telling of how Gilgamesh manages to become the bartender of this magical bar that travels through time—but I also edited it (along with co-conspirator Patricia Bray) as my other persona, Joshua Palmatier.

Which is what I wanted to talk about today: the differences between writing for an anthology and editing one.

After Hours: Tales From the Ur-Bar, edited by Joshua Palmatier and Patricia BrayWhen Patricia and I wrote up the proposal for the anthology and submitted it, neither one of us had ever edited before. So when it sold, our reaction was mostly, “Whee! Let’s see what happens!” But we approached it as professionally as possible, while still retaining our sense of whimsy. After all, if the project wasn’t going to be fun, then what was the point? So we contacted a bunch of writers, told them the details of the anthology (what it was all about), the details if their story was accepted (the money, the contract, etc.), and the general schedule of deadlines (rough draft due here, final draft here, copy edits here). Once we knew who was interested, as editors, we didn’t have much to do.

Except write our own stories of course. I needed to sit down and write the origin story. Not only that, but it had to be good enough my fellow editor wouldn’t slap me with tilapia (an in-joke for my writer’s group; if you don’t hand in words at the meeting to be critiqued you get “fish slapped” and . . . never mind). So I literally turned the editor part of my brain off and focused on some research on ancient Sumeria and read Gilgamesh’s story (this was somewhat by force due to my fellow editor . . . meaning I was threatened). I then wrote. Thankfully, I’m somewhat organized in my head, well enough that I CAN just ignore the fact that I was also the editor and that this story HAD to work since it was the origin story. And it did work. Sort of. The creative juices flowed, I channeled Gilgamesh’s spirit, I set up how the gods had cursed him and Kubaba and how the two finally met. It was fun.

My fellow editor slashed it to pieces. By this time, though, I was also slashing stories to pieces. And that’s the main difference I see between writing and editing. As a writer, you need to sit back and have fun. If you aren’t having fun, it’s going to show in the writing. And you need to allow yourself a complete sense of freedom. You want to let the story do what it wants to do, let the characters live the story for you, let them speak and see what they have to say.

As an editor, you have to be ruthless. When the story hits the editing phase, you’re no longer thinking into terms of being creative. You’re thinking nuts and bolts, structure, how does the story fit together, how do the characters mesh, is this scene balanced when juxtaposed next to this scene, is this scene even necessary. While writing, I didn’t think about any of that, and it showed in the story. One of the main edits Patricia pointed out to me was that the front half of the story was too “heavy,” meaning it was too long and unbalanced to support the second half of the story. I had a ton of fun writing that front half. I had a hard time accepting Patricia’s comments. But in the end, as an editor, I agreed with her: that front half needed to be cut down by half at least, if not more. It was set-up for the second half of the story, and that much set-up wasn’t necessary.

I did the same thing as an editor for the other stories submitted, even the stories I really liked. I turned my creative eye off, and got down to the foundations of the story. All of the critiques were made in an attempt to make the stories better, of course. That’s what the editors are for. My story was a prime example: if you’ve written it, you can’t see where the flaws are because you have too much emotionally invested in the story in the first place. I did a revision of my story before I gave it to Patricia, and I totally missed the unbalanced structure. But thankfully, my editor didn’t.

That’s the editor’s key job: find those flaws the writer just can’t see because they’re too close. After that, the story goes back to the writer for revisions and once the final stories are in, the editor’s job is fairly basic. We do copy edits, looking for typos and inconsistencies and such, especially things that may have cropped up during the revisions process. We decide what order the stories should appear in the anthology. Etc., etc., etc. Minor things. The main job (besides choosing the stories that will be in it of course), is catching things the writer might miss.

I think Patricia and I did a great job, considering we were editor virgins. It was good enough that we’ve managed to sell another anthology, called THE MODERN FAE’S GUIDE TO SURVIVING HUMANITY, coming out sometime next year. I think the authors in the anthology had a great time working with us, and don’t hate us TOO much. *grin* Overall, it was a blast, and a learning experience. And this was only short stories! I have sudden and great respect for my own editor at DAW, who combed through the entire novel WELL OF SORROWS looking for problems (not to mention combing through the two sequels at some point in the future).

Once again, thanks to Magical Words for having me! If you’d like to learn more about Joshua Palmatier’s books and short stories, or Benjamin Tate’s, check out www.joshuapalmatier.com or www.benjamintate.com.

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13 comments to Special Guest: Joshua Palmatier/Benjamin Tate!

  • Having read all of Joshua’s “Throne” novels and Ben’s Well of Sorrows, plus most of his short fiction, I can say that the stories are detailed and engaging. The descriptive passages are beautiful, and the magic systems unique. I ripped through WELL OF SORROWS and can’t wait for the next book in that series to be released. As for AFTER HOURS, it has been a fun read thus far. I’m only about a quarter of the way through the tales, but they’ve been extremely entertaining.

    -NGD

  • Welcome, Joshua, to both Magical Words and to the Dark Side. 😉 Seriously though, I’ve learned so much from editing from that I think I can say the experience will make you a better writer (for so many reasons). And the fact that the antho went well enough to get another one is a testament to your (and Patricia’s) attention to detail. I think that’s a lot of what good editing is about: paying attention to every single one of the seemingly endless little details. Congrats!

  • Welcome, Joshua, and thanks for the insight into switching hats!

  • Joshua / Benjamin, great to have you here at MW. Most of my editors over the years have been brutal — which, in writer terms means wonderful! It isn’t a job I would want, because I think I would stink at it. But I admire (and envy) writers who can step back and see the structure, form, and shape of plot, narrative, and character building and tell the writer what a story needs. Like writing, it’s a gift as well a skill. Thanks for sharing here with us today!

  • Thanks for a great post, Joshua, and again, publicly, thanks for all the work you and Patricia did to make “The Tavern Fire” as good as it could be. I look forward to working with you both again on future anthos.

  • Welcome to MW, Joshua! We’re glad to have you. And, as often happens here, this post has proved very timely. I’m going to be dipping my toes in the editor arts over the course of the coming year, so it was especially interesting to see how you handled both being a writer and an editor. I’m not sure if I’m more or less freaked out, but at least I have my eyes open wider now. Thanks!

  • @NewGuyDave: Thanks for all the kind words! I’ll be sure to mail out that check tomorrow. *grin* (Glad you’re enjoying AFTER HOURS though.)

    @Edmund Schubert: Editing is all about the details. You start off with big things, but by the end you’re looking at every detail.

    @A.J. Hartley: Thanks for the welcome!

    @Faith Hunter: Thanks for having me. And we try to sugarcoat the brutality with kind words. *grin*

    @DavidBCoe: It was great working with you, and you’ll definitely hear from us if we sell anything in the future.

    @Stuart Jaffe: Well good luck with wrangling the cats this year! I suggest lots of beer and chocolate. And lots of red pens.

  • One of the best things a writer ever told me was “you can write and you can edit. But you cannot do them both at the same time.” Really practicing that attitude has done amazing things for my tendency to get terrible writer’s block, all of it fear based. Thank you for reminding us of this central truth about writing.

    Can I ask about the pseudonyms? Why use them? A mystery writer I just met told me she regretted taking her agent’s advice to use a pseudonym when she switched from writing cozies to hard police procedurals because she had to build up a fan base all over again. Do any of you have that problem? Have pseudonyms helped with marketing? Do they help with the writing itself? (Maybe this would be a topic for a post.)

  • Sarah, I’ll take a stab at this one, and maybe Joshua will chime in, too. For me, it was in large part a branding issue. David B. Coe writes big epic fantasies — alternate world, multi-volume extended story arcs, with lots of POV characters, a quasi-medieval setting and castle intrigue. D.B. Jackson doesn’t write that at all. The Thieftaker books are historical urban fantasy: real world setting, single POV character, stand-alone mystery in each book. Marketing these as David B. Coe books would create confusion among the readership (or at least this is what publishers tend to think) and could lead to disgruntled readership. Personally, I think readers can handle it, but that confusion/unhappiness is something that publishers seek to avoid.

  • Oops. Did that come across as a paid advertisement? Sorry. I’ll try again.

    Yeah, that Palmatier guy is all right. I prefer Ben Tate’s book.

    Better? *grin*

    -NGD

  • Julia

    I’m also very interested in the question of pseudonyms. I’ve heard many authors and agents give a reason similar to what David mentioned, as well as discuss cases where a pseudonym was used because a previous book or sets of books didn’t sell as well as hoped.

    But, personally, I wish there was more room for authors to write in more than one style. I’ve often found myself tracking down the “alternate” names of favorite authors — and delighting in the different feels of their books.

    The trend toward pseudonyms seems like it often costs authors readers — readers who would happily cross over to a different series but don’t realize that their favorite author had books available under another name. A friend of mine who loves Michelle West’s books, for example, had no idea she also wrote as Michelle Sagara.

  • I just got my copy of “After Hours”, and I can’t wait to read it!

  • I chose to write fantasy under a pseudonym because my other work was all non-fiction. In that situation, the choice seems like a no-brainer. If I were writing different types of fiction, however, the choice would be more difficult.

    My viewpoint on the matter is that your name is a brand. When you release books under a particular name, your readers learn what to expect from you. If they like your stories, they actively seek out more of your works. The reason they seek out more work by you is because they want something similar, not something different.

    So, if you switch genres, do you switch names too? I would say yes. The complaint that you have to “start all over building a fan base” is true whether or not you write under a new name. It’s a new market with new customers. Will some of your current fans make the transition to the new material? Maybe. If they really like your writing regardless of genre then they are true fans, and they’ll figure out that you have more material under a different name.

    In the meantime, using a different pseudonym for different kinds of writing prevents “brand confusion.”

    For a practical example, I know I like reading J.A. Konrath, but won’t touch anything Joe’s written under his Jack Kilborn pseudonym (I’m not a horror fan).