Toto, We Are Not in the Urban Northeast Anymore

I am sitting in a cafe in a picturesque small town. I’ve got a pretty view, a table to myself, decent coffee, a few staples, and my trusty laptop. They’re playing country music on the radio. The good stuff, not the modern Nashville prepackaged bullshit.

I said something about loving the song to the woman behind the counter.

“Yeah, we get a lot of older men in around ten, and they are amazed they are actually hearing Willie Nelson.”

“I love Willie Nelson,” I enthused.

“Me too. I grew up with the stuff.” And smiling, humming under my breath, I sat down to get some work done. (Which is why I’m writing a blog post.)

I grew up in the South, where people talk to each other. I spent my twenties as a bookseller, so I’m used to talking to people even in the urban northeast. Unlike many people I know, I actually talk to strangers who talk to me when I’m not getting a weird vibe. And sometimes even then.

“It’s quite a picture,” the guy at the next table says to me.

“What do you mean?” I ask.

“You’re sitting there with a tub of salad, bread, coffee, and…a laptop?” I’m dressed inĀ  jeans and a black hoodie. As usual, I am wearing sturdy shoes and no makeup. I think I brushed my hair before I left the house?

I think he meant I was an anachronism, with my laptop and the classic bread and salad (to be). However, I feel much less of an anachronism here than I did back in the urban northeast with my sturdy shoes and my love of country music. Lots of people here talk to each other and work at home. Or at their local cafe.

I guess it’s been a while since I have been comfortable in a place. Life is weird.

Are you comfortable where you live?



What Makes a Real Writer?

A person I know wrote me an email talking about how he had hoped to have finished his novel by June, but gave himself an extension until the end of the year. He is still not done and questions whether it is worth it. He ended up his email with, “I don’t know how you Real Writers do it.”

Oh, Dear Person. A Real Writer is someone who works on his novel for over a year without any idea if it is good. She writes every day or once a month, but she sticks with it. She works and despairs and works and despairs. A Real Writer writes something he likes and then worries he’ll never write anything he likes again. A Real Writer writes. And when it is time, a Real Writer edits. Or hires professional editors he knows to help him edit and he implements the changes and continues writing.

[Did I really just insert a professional plug in my inspirational paragraph? Damn. Real Writers have no soul. They steal other people’s letters for content on their blogs. They make fun of themselves in the third person. They get irritating and self-referential.]

Anyway, the question reminds me of the time my then-eighteen-year-old niece wrote me, “How do you know when you are an adult?” And I choked. And proceeded to ask everyone I knew how they knew they were an adult. Almost everyone choked too. How did you know you were a writer?

How to set letters in text

Welcome to another fun-filled glimpse into the fabulous life of the copyeditor. Today’s anecdote is brought to you by procrastination, Chicago, and a blatant disregard for deadlines.

I’m editing a book about calligraphy. And my Jewish New Years resolutions (do Jews do that? [Ed. Note: Indy Clause is a Bad Jew.]) is to always check the Chicago Manual of Style rather than pretending that I know what I’m talking about. So when I come across the phrase, “the letter j is the prettiest letter in the alphabet” [not the actual quote], I have to figure out what the hell to do.

Well, Chicago says that I should italicize that shit. “The letter j is the prettiest letter in the alphabet.” But in a rare moment of independent thinking, I disagreed. The actual sentence in question said something about the shape of the letter. And if I italicized the letter the shape would be different, which would be misleading for the reader.

The copyeditor’s mandate is not to confuse the reader anymore than necessary. So in the spirit of not confusing our dear reader, who will buy our books and thus keep me in business, I left the letters in roman.

Any burning copyeditorial questions? Leave them in the comments below.

Friends, Romans, Managing Editors

I called my manager editor (hereafter, ManEd) about a sticky copyediting problem. ManEd cheerfully offered to help me talk my problems through. He is a good ManEd.

“So I decided to set ‘roman’ lowercase when talking about typography, like you would brussels sprouts or french fries,” I started.

“That sounds good,” he said in the kind of encouraging tone he probably uses on his kids.

“Right. But here’s my problem.” And then I read him the following sentence: “Modern roman font is based on ancient Roman capitals.”

“Oh.” ManEd sounded like someone much larger and meaner than he had just stolen his lunch money.

“Exactly.” A good copyeditor is like a good stage hand. If we do our job right, you won’t even know we’ve been there, but the show goes smoothly.

Roman/roman in the same sentence might make the reader question the publisher’s editorial team. This is the kind of horror that keeps a copyeditor up at night. Oh, the dishonor.

We threw around a few ideas that were icky, like leaving roman uppercase, which was a bad style decision, because it crosses Chicago, and because it is inconsistent. Oh, the dishonor.

Finally we decided that we could rephrase the sentence and the horrible pain and fear of dishonor immediately ceased. The reader won’t notice my sleight of hand. ManEd and I won’t die of horror. We live to publish books another day.

What lives have you saved today?

Haters Have More Fun

People, people, people! Arise from your food comas! Get over your (righteous) disdain of the rampant commercialism of Black Friday! Step away from your friends and family!

The 2017 Bad Sex Writing nominations are out. And they are just as terrible as you can imagine. This ranks only slightly below The Hater’s Guide to Williams-Sonoma in my hater’s guide to a schadenfreude-filled year. (Is there a planner for that?)

Read and enjoy. What are you hating on today?

The Chart

Many years ago I was at a residency with a not-yet famous author. Residencies are awesome things because small talk is often about writing (or food). Writing and food are two of my favorite subjects, so I fit right in. The novelists were hanging out talking about plot. As a plotless wonder (aka poet) I perked my ears up.

“I draw charts!” my friend said.

“Charts?” The other novelists nodded knowingly, but I was fascinated.

“Sure, you want to see one?”

“Yes please!” And my friend brought out her thick three-subject notebook with her neat round handwriting.

“It’s nothing fancy,” she said laughing.

“I don’t care.” Her x axis was each chapter, and she explained that she had three plot lines going in her young adult novel: the supernatural mystery, a budding romance, and tension with the family. Each plot line had a color.

“I try to advance one of the plot lines in each chapter,” she explained.

I just got 22 single-spaced pages of professional feedback on the memoir. It took me a good week just to process the feedback. And then I talked to the editor and it might take me another week to process that. This brings me to Thanksgiving.

Probably the week before two out of three of my sisters come to visit for Thanksgiving is not a good time to work on my manuscript. And that’s okay because I’m struggling to understand how to even begin the revision. But I think it’s going to involve a chart.

I too have a few plot lines, or lines of tension. I can plot those plots on a draft and color code them. (A convenient excuse to buy new pens or maybe color pencils and sticky notes? Perhaps break open a field note notebook??) Then I can color code the manuscript and impose order on chaos. That is the dream anyway.

First I have to establish the lines of tension. Some of them are old and worn and some of them are new, teased out by the editor. I’d best have a publishable work by the time this is all over. Whenever it’s over.

Not Working at Home

Ed. Note: The author of this post apologizes for the breathtaking privilege it displays.

There I was in my Dr. Who pajama pants and (fortunately) a thick sweatshirt when I noticed there was a truck in my driveway that was not mine. Wha? My last remaining dog (RIP my best little man) barked her fool head off and then wagged at the electrician, hoping for head scratches. Which she received. (Turns out there had been a miscommunication about which day the electrician was coming. I blame The Spouse.)

Drilling ensued. Our copyeditor skeddaddled. Nobody should have to edit a book about creating faux floral arrangements from backyard weeds (not its real subject) while listening to someone drill holes into her walls.

The coffeeshop was great, but I got restless. The library was loud. I briefly parked in a scenic location and tried to work in my car. But I felt like a creeper and moved on. (I did watch a woman sell some tires to strangers, so I wasn’t the only person who used the scenic location’s generous parking lot for things other than seeing the scenery.)

What I really wanted was a couch, my couch, in a quiet house. But the couch is in storage until people finish drilling holes in the walls. I was on the verge of apologizing to the electrician for the complete chaos that was my house when he intercepted me. He said his brother was both living in and renovating his own house but with a toddler and an infant. Good lord.

So I like my new digs, but I’m tired of only half living in the house. I miss my little dog man. And it’s raining and snowing pretty much at the same time. Fortunately my locale is pretty even in the rain/snow. My office is somewhat assembled. And no one is drilling holes in my walls. Today.

How are you folks doing?