Writers Looking Good

happydogThe other day a friend told me about the number of indie books she’s been reading lately (mainly via Goodreads giveaways—love that site), and how appalling (and really, really sad) the oh-so-apparent lack of copyediting is in some of these books. 

And yesterday I had lunch with a reviewer who told me she’d been given an indie non-fiction book to look at, and that she filled two pages of notes about what needed fixing, and that was the first chapter only!      

I’ve also been doing my fair share of indie fiction reading—and so before I get into ripping into those writers who are NOT securing copyediting for their “babies,” thinking they don’t need it (really? and now define “arrogance,” please), I have read three really great indie novels this year, and recently started another that is so excellent it’s keeping me awake nights.       

Now, for the (gentle) ripping:

I have been in your shoes, thinking I know it all, because I DO know the rules; I can punctuate and spell like nobody’s business, till the cows come home—BUT it oftentimes takes a pair of professional eyes to point out that I just stacked a cliché on top of five others—and the reason I didn’t already know this? Because I get so close to my projects and the elements therein—plot threads, characterization, dialogue—I oftentimes can’t see a cliché for the life of me (and, okay, before you consider banging your heads against your ipads here, enough already with the clichés—though that WAS kind of fun).

When I finished the first draft of The Angry Woman Suite, and polished it and then polished it some more, I took a section to my writers group, heart pounding, fearful of all the things they could say, like maybe go home and set your laptop on fire. 

But that didn’t happen; my story had them. Something else happened instead. I had typos! I had misspellings! (And, yes, I do know where spellcheck is, too—and it’s NOT to be 100% trusted); I sometimes had too many spaces between words, inconsistent formatting —and, ugh, way too many adverbs. How could any of this have happened, after all the hours I’d put into my baby, checking and rechecking?

Well, get this: After my writers group finished poring over the entire book, and after I polished some more, I gave my manuscript to a copyeditor who found even more boo-boos—and then another copyeditor after that, and she found stuff, too!  

Moral of this story:

If you’re a writer and you want your projects to play in the big leagues, indie OR traditional, you absolutely CANNOT get there without a professional copyeditor—trust me on this. Not just a proofreader, but a professional copyeditor who will do everything a proofreader does PLUS inspect for style and consistency and formatting and a million other things that can get by anybody—but not necessarily by your audience!

As for who I trust, and know to be the absolute best, I know a few. Here’s a resource I can personally vouch for: http://www.hjseditingservices.com/#

You might also message your favorite indie authors via Goodreads and ask who they recommend—and successful indie authors WILL thank you for asking, because the better you are, the better the whole here-to-stay indie movement will be. And then we’ll all look good.





Different Drummers (one writer’s take on memorials and healing)

On May 21st, Darrel Drew Fullbright died.

For the three years before May 21st, his world consisted of me and a 12×12 bedroom on the ground floor of a Cape Cod-styled cottage on the San Diego peninsula. 

But before his 12×12 “confinement,” Darrel Drew (or DDF as he is called) was an artist, optometrist, and athlete. An energetic, slender, gifted athlete. Tennis, golf, skiing, you name it; he could do any sport well, except maybe quarterback for the Chargers. But then DDF became ill with cerebral microvascular disease, a nasty bugger that slowly and tortuously kills off micro sections of its victims’ hard drives—their brains—eventually robbing them of speech, balance, coordination, the abilities to read and write and reason; to chew, swallow, and, ultimately, breathe.

It doesn’t get much nastier. 

His 12×12 bedroom wasn’t a cell. As he became more and more fearful of a spill that might fracture a hip, it became a haven, a room of windows and light overlooking a lawn and rose garden; furnished with a bed, sofa and chair, and TV. Its walls were lined with his art; abstract sketches and pastels depicting whatever thoughts his once-brilliant mind had latched onto.  

He died in that room, alone with me. Mercifully. Horrible disease, but a peaceful death cloaked in morphine; the world is full of such ironies. 

He was my husband, and before DDF lost his mind, he’d made it clear he didn’t want a funeral or memorial service. He considered such things “wastes of money.”

But DDF’s much-loved sister really, really needed a “send off” to mark DDF’s life, even if just a “memorial” afternoon and meal with family. It seemed many people needed an event for “closure.”         

So one month after DDF’s passing, I hosted a memorial luncheon for 35. And my sister-in-law was happy (as she could be under the circumstance), and that part was great. The problem was me—the power of the word “memorial” didn’t give me that other label—“closure”—that everyone talks so much about; not like it did for my sister-in-law. Instead, I felt depleted after; any teensy, tentative steps already taken toward balance and wellness effectively erased by new waves of sadness.     

I visited DDF’s old room. I’d begun emptying it out. After he’d died, I’d considered making it my office, or an exercise room. And then it had hit me, the perfect idea for me: I’d make it my room. My perfect, sunny “someday room,” to be used some day, when I might not be able to climb the stairs to the second floor bedrooms, either.   

The idea seemed the perfect melding of DDF and me. It felt right.   

But now the memorial luncheon had made everything feel pointless again. Where was the peace and acceptance my sister-in-law got from chatting with others? There was no peace in the valley for me. There were just dirty dishes in my sink. DDF was dead, and everything was over. I’d never hear his voice again, or smell his smell.

The hospice chaplain (also a writer) stopped by the house two days later to see how I was doing. I told him about the memorial luncheon; how weird and pointless rituals and labels sometimes feel to me, and how horrible I felt, so much so that even giving DDF’s old room new life now seemed stupid.  

To my surprise, he agreed that funerals and memorials don’t meet everyone’s needs (they don’t meet his either, he confessed). It’s not a one-size-fits-all thing, what we reach for when we lose someone. Sometimes a beer and a walk on the beach can be the better choice. Then he asked to see the torn apart, work-in-progress ground floor room that had been DDF’s.  

Beadboard is in the process of going up, and what furniture there is, is in the center of the room—our voices echoed off the exposed walls. I showed him my plans.  

“Now this is your memorial,” Chaplain said, looking around. Then he looked at me as if waiting for something.  

I stared at him, incredulous. He really did understand.    

When something slides into place, into a smooth, tight fit, like gears meshing perfectly, that’s the right thing for us. It might not be the pervasive mindset of the masses, but why should it be?   

Writers, Chaplain said, function best when writing (go figure). Going inward, toward ideas. About feelings. Listing things, sequencing events. Making sense. Making plans. Constructing things. Moving forward.

He’s right. Try writing any sort of book otherwise. If writing things down isn’t a person’s natural inclination for making sense of the insensible, a book will never happen for a “maybe-I’ll-be-a-writer.” A novel, for instance, is many things. Dialogue, narrative, tension, but it’s just a haphazard mess of pages if it doesn’t have sequencing and order.   

But if making life coherent via writing is a natural bent, a born writer will never view the world like those who find comfort in the familiar and the expected. Instead, an artist’s comfort will likely fly in on the wings of ideas.   

An idea like making a room a testament to something that was and always will be, something made up of me and DDF, because maybe, sometimes, closure isn’t the desired, or even healthiest, goal. I prefer the word healing to closure (in this case), as in recovering from the trauma of dealing with a terminal disease; I’ve no intention of closing any doors on my life with DDF.       

I found a book the other day that DDF gave me in 1982. I hadn’t seen it in ages. He’d written on the inside cover, “Page 105 has special meaning for us.” I smiled reading Thoreau’s words:

“If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music he hears, however measured or far away.”

Hear, hear.

Image credit: ginosphotos / 123RF Stock Photo

Because you matter . . .

Books I've Read: The Immortal Life of Henriett...

Image by Myles! via Flickr

The other day I visited a friend—I’ll call her Amy—whose mother had just passed. A close friend of Amy’s had also recently died, and her dog had passed as well. All within weeks of one another, although only Amy’s beloved dog’s passing had been unexpected.

Still, even when a death is expected, it’s often a punch to the gut when it happens—a pretty amazing thing, really, when we’ve already projected and think we’re ready, only to stand in the midst of pent-up emotions flying free when it occurs, facing down a new paradigm of knowing zip about the enormity of loss—of knowing zip about anything, actually.    

Amy told me about packing up her mother’s clothes and books—and then we talked of the photo albums—in this case, dozens of photo albums that her mom had so carefully put together; every photo captioned and arranged just so. Catalogs of life—all intended for her progeny. 

My mother died young and I inherited her albums and my grandfather’s as well, so I know about this photo album conundrum. As a little girl, I’d loved sitting beside my mother, listening to stories about the people and events documented on her and my grandfather’s album pages—it was one of our sacred pastimes.  

But I have not looked at my mom’s albums since she died, except to find a photo that a relative requested.

But can I just toss those albums out?

Can I just stick a rusty fork in my eye?      

So I said to Amy, “It’s sad about these books, that someday when we’re gone, our mother’s books will be gone, too, and all their stories lost.”

But Amy said, “Does it matter? Are any of us really that important?”

I didn’t dismiss Amy’s words. I examined them instead, turning them over and over in my head—which wasn’t at all pleasant. But I kept thinking, Even if I don’t want it to be true, what if it is? What if our stories don’t count for anything?

Then what’s it all about?   

Open for Business

Now, I have this perception of the universe as analogous to a big invisible computer hard drive holding all the answers (and even the questions) about, well . . . everything. But in order to see or hear the answers, revelations, affirmations, what-have-you’s, we have to be open for business, all senses attuned.   

So that same night, still pondering Amy’s words, I sat down to dinner with a newspaper, and wouldn’t you know it, on the front page of the local section was a piece about Rebecca Skloot, author of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.  

Here’s the story: When Rebecca Skloot was a biology major, she was constantly running into references about “HeLa cells.” (HeLa is code for Henrietta Lacks.) When she asked her teachers who Henrietta Lacks was specifically, no one seemed to know.

Well, Skloot found out. She spent ten years finding out, and when she published her biography of Henrietta Lacks, a poor tobacco farmer and mother of five, it became a mega bestseller. Huge.   

Long story made shorter (because you must read the book), Henrietta Lacks had a diagnosis of cancer and wound up at Johns Hopkins Hospital, where doctors removed two pieces of her cervix for research. Henrietta died at 31, several months after this.

Turns out, Henrietta had some remarkable cells. Strong, sturdy cells—and those amazing cells of Henrietta’s became the first human ones successfully grown in a lab. And since then, billions of those cell lines have been grown in labs, and the medical treatments they’ve given birth to changed the world. For example, by 1954, Dr. Jonas Salk was using HeLa to develop a vaccine for polio.

I went up to bed that night with Baby Rae and a smile, not only because the universe had delivered the goods, but because I’d liked its answer:

Henrietta Lacks had mattered. Amy’s mother had mattered—and Amy’s friend mattered, and her dog mattered, too.

My mother mattered.

Every story matters.

It just took a writer to dig up Henrietta’s (another big smile here), so we could all know just how very much Henrietta mattered.               

I post on Thursdays and Mondays, and sometimes more, but sometimes less—and thanks for coming by, because you matter.