Friday, March 29, 2013

Editing Kelpie: a study in nuance

I'm breaking into several different types of posts these days, and today we're breaking into one for a happy occasion: the first book for which I did full co-editing passes is edging closer to release. Today, I hope to give you a view of what it's like to work with a manuscript from the editing end of things, particularly with my learning curve.

My work with Kelpie is mostly done, the author and I have had great conversations, and-- best of all-- I've finally seen the great cover art! Here's a teaser image of Heather, the main character. Trish's take (and maybe the prize you're seeking) are down below the cut.

I'd done deep editing passes before, starting with Whisper Falls for Elizabeth Langston, but this was a new challenge for several reasons. Firstly, I'd be going with it from a middle draft to completion, not just working over the whole thing once in detail. Second, Trisha Woolridge is one of my fellow editors at Spencer Hill Press. She's been doing this for much longer than I have, and there's always a certain nervousness in telling someone more experienced in your field that hey, something seems wrong there. Third, we'd be negotiating about revisions. Up to now, I'd written my suggestions and made changes on a draft, sent those back to an author or senior editor, and not been sure what worked for them and what didn't. I'm still looking forward to reading the published versions of books I worked on in their infancy: after a manuscript has been through several layers of editors and tweaking details to set up the sequels, it's bound to surprise me.
Line editing can be great, because it allows you to sink your fingers into it and point out every single little wobble or rough spot, but it's also exhausting to watch the book that closely, and pet peeves are amplified. Early on, one character was talking with words run together out of excitement in a way I found difficult to read, a little Valley-Girl, and my conclusion was "wow, she's a ditz who's....unexpectedly competent later." I got a little cranky in pointing that out, but Trish was much nicer than I deserved in asking what led me to that conclusion. Having had a break from the manuscript and pulled my blood sugar up, it was easier to pull back and point out how the dialogue sounded on the inner ear, working out the mechanics of the word instead of just hurling things around at the character. I'd say that this person is one of my favorites, but really, I like almost everyone in this book; middle-grade fiction is really not this good at writing flawed-but-loveable characters most of the time. 

Anyway, my second pass through the book was interesting because the magic of the Track Changes function in Word let me see everything Trish had added or taken out. Quite a lot of the time, a problem or question I'd had the first time around that seemed thorny and messy was straightened out with a sentence of two of clarification. You could call it the interior decorating question of the writing world. I'd been concerned that we'd need to repaint the room or even rip out one of the walls, but Trish added a few throw pillows or maybe a lamp and that scene was a whole different room. The more I edit, the more I realize that the writing clich├ęs are true: you can fix anything once you know that it's a problem. My second read-through was a good time punctuated by interludes of awe at the impact of these minor changes and little chair-dances at the longer insertions-- seeing a minor suggestion spawn new material that the author enjoyed writing is, I cannot tell a lie, a bit of a power trip tinged with glee.

Kelpie also served as a reminder that all knowledge is worth having, even if you don't think it'll come in handy. On one end, I had some assumptions to chat about. I'd say "no one I know does X," and Trish would be puzzled because everyone she knows does that-- whenever we meet in person, we're probably going to wind up having a fun talk about cultural differences across the US. I felt on more comfortable ground when I was talking about martial arts. I've been taking self-defense classes in my spare time for a few years now, so when someone hit or threw another character, I had fun acting out of the movements in the air and talking about some of the less-probable ones. I was afraid at first that correcting one of Heather's moves would derail the stream of action, but Trish busted out an absolutely gorgeous emotional scene that ended up being one of my favorite parts of the new draft. It had shifted from straight action to a broader range of character dynamics: melancholy regret, tense negotiation, and above all this flavor of wary respect that has me anxious to start editing the next book in the series (as soon as Trish is done, which can't be soon enough for me). 

The takeaway is this: editing can be difficult, and nailing the little details takes forever, but this is the most rewarding job I've ever had. If you enjoy Scotland, middle-grade fantasy, sassy protagonists, trick riding, ghosts, English royalty, magic, or characters having to pull themselves out of a tangled web of lies, this might well be the thing for you. I hope you have even half the fun reading it that I did in editing it-- to that end, I'll keep the blog updated when I know more about the release date.

Here's the perspective from Trish herself: we'll start with an excerpt from the book and then move into her look at it.

Heather Marie MacArthur

"I pulled over an arm chair and knelt in front of the window as I brushed my hair.  My hair was my favorite part of me.  With it this long, I avoided people calling me a boy or a wanna-be boy some of the time. Though, when I looked at half my classmates and my sister, I knew being called a "boy" really didn't have much to do with hair. Whatever.
            And, yes, I liked sports and knew all the football teams and who was playing who. I played lots of sports and took martial arts. I also liked ruffles and dresses and sparkles."

Perhaps I'm a masochistic writer (who am I kidding, aren't all writers masochistic?), but when I got to meet Laura through her eight or nine pages (depending on the font size) of overall edits to The Kelpie (we're not even talking line edits or comments!), I knew I'd like her. :)  I had several *headdesk* moments of "how did I miss that?" and a few really good "[expletive]-[expletive]-[expletive], she's right!" bouts on top of that. You know, the trademarks of a good editor!

Because she, like my other editor, Vikki Ciaffone, have done so much to make The Kelpie so much stronger and such a better story than what I originally handed them, I had to save our heroine for her!

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