It occurred to me that it’s going to be difficult to talk about building/creating the How To Write Magical Words book without putting things into a larger context. I am a free-lance writer and editor, which means I am always working, by necessity, on multiple projects at any given time. Depending on what each project’s deadline is, it will fall higher or lower on the priority list. I try my best to make sure everything moves forward at least some each week, but projects are like little children: some scream louder for attention than others, depending on the circumstances.
For me, this week was spent primarily divided between four areas: the MW book, IGMS (the SF magazine I edit, in case you didn’t already know), my own writing, and that all-encompassing category known as ‘stuff at home.’ ‘Stuff at home’ can’t be avoided when you work from home, and becomes doubly difficult to escape when your kids are out of school for summer vacation. Fortunately, today the kids have friends over to play. You’d think having twice as many kids in the house would be twice as much work, but it actually ends up the other way around. Instead of them tormenting each other and me because they’re bored, they play and read and do crafts and ride bikes and have to be reminded to eat a meal every now and then. That’s why I’m writing this today (it’s actually Thursday morning as I work on this); they’re distracted, so I won’t be. Carpe diem and all that.
So, the kids are occupied. Next comes writing. Writing takes more mental energy, so I try to do it first, while I’m still fresh. I’ll write this essay/post, then work for a while on some new scripts for the comic series I’m writing. Either that, or I’ll start on that new short story I’ve been thinking about for a while. Ideally I’d have started on the scripts or the new story, but for some reason this blog post started writing itself in my head while I was eating breakfast, and I knew it would be best to capture the words that were running through my head while they still had energy and momentum. Momentum is worth its weight in gold when you’re a writer.
Backing up a step to look at the bigger picture, over the course of the past week, I’ve had to put more time into IGMS than anything else. The next issue needs to be completed soon, so I’ve been going over some of the stories one last time, doing minor line edits to improve the clarity and flow of each story. By now most of the substantial revisions have been done, so it’s just a question of making sure each story shines to its fullest potential.
I say “most,” because in this case there’s still one story where the author is working on meatier revisions. Well, not so much ‘revisions’ as ‘additions.’ The story itself is wonderful, full of vivid imagery and intriguing situations. The problem is that the main character is a bit of a jerk, and the reader doesn’t know why. It’s fine to have unpleasant characters in your fiction; what’s not fine is if there’s no understanding as to why he or she acts the way they do. Without understanding, there’s no empathy. When it comes to unpleasant characters, the difference between empathy and no empathy is the difference between liking the character and just being annoyed by him (or her). So I told the author to add a scene or two that would explain the character’s quirks in a way that the reader could identify with. It won’t require adding a lot of words the story, but it will require a lot of thought. So I’m being patient.
In addition to these basic editing-related tasks, I’ve also been corresponding with Peter Beagle and his business manager. Peter is finishing up the story that will be my cover story, but working with Peter is not like working with most authors. I say that in only the best way; Peter is an amazing writer and I feel blessed every time I get to read a new story of his. I count it among my professional highpoints that I get to say I’ve worked with and edited Peter Beagle. His process, however, is different from most writers, but when someone consistently turns out the quality of work that Peter does, you don’t mess with their process. So I’ve only seen the first ten pages of his new story so far – ten finished and polished pages — and gotten a brief synopsis of the rest of the story from Peter’s business manager. The synopsis is necessary because we have to get an artist started on the illustration that will accompany the story, and need something to base the artwork on. I don’t mind waiting until the last minute for Peter’s story, but the artists still needs time to do their work, too. So this is our best option.
And of course, I’m still reading the stories that my assistant editors have passed along. I’m blessed to have four assistant editors, but even with their help, there’s never any shortage of reading for me to do.
Speaking of reading, that’s also what I’m doing this week in my efforts to keep the Magical Words ball rolling along. The How-To book was originally envisioned as being made up of essays/blogposts from the primary members: Faith, David, Misty, A.J., and Stuart. But because Catie Murphy was an integral part of MW for such a long time, we decided to include her posts, too (assuming she wanted to be involved). So step one was contacting Catie. Faith made the initial contact, and Catie and I have traded a few emails since then. I’m immensely pleased to say that Catie does, in fact, want to be included in this project, and her work will be featured in the book along with that of the current members.
So now the line-up is completed, the project is announced, and suggestions have started coming in from MW readers who will help shape the book. A good beginning. The next step is one that will take a good long time to complete – namely the reading of the posts. The new guys (AJ and Stuart) don’t have as much material as the original members, so I’m combing through their entire body of posts for their best, most relevant material. But Faith, David, and Misty are going though their own posts and sending me a list of links to what they consider their top 25 or so. David has already sent me his list, but the deadline for the list is July 1, so Faith and Misty are still within their timeframe (I won’t pick on them until at least next week. ;-)). Once I have a better idea of what the overall collection of the material looks like, I can then start to shape the book. That will be a pleasure; I enjoy taking high-quality raw material and molding it into something to be shared with the world. It’s as close as you can get to being creative during the editing process.
So that’s this week, from the editing side of things. Pretty typical in many respects (for me, anyway).
Just so you know, one reason I wrote this post ahead of time is because I found myself with a good opportunity to do so, but another reason is that I had long-standing plans to be out of town this weekend (in a place where there’s no internet access for many, many miles). So if you comment, please know that I won’t be back to reply to your comments until Monday afternoon. I’ll answer your questions as soon as I’m home, but it’s good to get unplugged once and a while.