Writing Tips – The Final Edit

So, I’m at the final stage of editing the third book in my YA paranormal series, The Dark Hollow Chronicles. Because I’ve been through this about seven times now (and made many mistakes), I thought I’d share what I learned from the process. And I’m also taking a break from a three-day editing marathon. Anyone out there feel my pain?

Here we go…

Set a Deadline

If you’re an indie like me, you don’t have a publisher breathing down your neck (if only), so it helps to give yourself a deadline. I use Amazon’s pre-order option to act as the ticking clock attached to the bomb. The first time I listed one of my books for pre-order, I made the classic rookie mistake of missing the deadline (48 hours before the release date), so the e-book my customers received was my shitty first draft and not the polished final copy. I was able to re-upload it eventually, but that was an embarrassing goof that I will not repeat. If you use this option, make sure you note the final upload deadline, not just the release date. Amazon does send reminders, but it’s best to post it in bold type on a hot pink sticky note somewhere at your workstation.

A writer shares his experience about missing a pre-order deadline.

The Screen Edit

Because I wrote this particular story on Wattpad first, it has already gone through at least one edit, from first draft to Wattpad draft. But errors always seep through; and I love it when my readers find them. They act as my beta readers for this book and the other ones in the series. If you’re not on Wattpad, you should check it out. It’s great for readers and writers.

Next comes the screen edit, meaning I pull up the word document on my computer screen and read through my story without stopping to fix any errors (painful). When it comes to writing, I’ve learned that clarity is rule number one. Ask yourself if the events in your story make logical sense in space and time? Ditto for the world in which it takes places. Is it easy to understand? Can a person with a middle to high school education (my audience for this book) follow it? Is the vocabulary appropriate for that age group? Is the plot engaging, or can it use a few tweaks?

I also cut and paste difficult passages into Grammarly (I have the subscription, and it’s worth it) to tease out that dreaded passive voice that continually pops up, as well as other problems. A word about Grammarly and other correction apps: it’s a tool, but it’s not infallible. It’s not the computer’s job to catch your mistakes. It’s yours (or an editor’s if you’re lucky enough to have one).

Make sure each sentence is grammatically correct, but remember that fiction prose is more flexible than nonfiction. Most fiction writers will have a sentence fragment thrown in to quicken the pace or create tension. Grammarly would read that as incorrect, but sometimes it works. For example, I just opened a Stephen King book (The Stand) to a random page and read this: “Silence from the floor.” Should King have added a verb there? No. But sentence fragments should be used sparingly and only when it serves the story.

“Must you write complete sentences each time, every time? Perish the thought.” Stephen King On Writing

Once my work passes the read-through, I go over it again on the screen, fixing errors, searching for character name misspellings, and other types of embarrassing egregiousness.

Then, I format the text for printing. Putting something in print is a bold move. I don’t publish it right away (thank God, I haven’t made that mistake yet). I order the proof through Amazon and use that as my final working copy, which leads to the….

Hard Copy Edit

Seeing one’s work in print is both exciting and terrifying. The clock is ticking for my final upload, and the pressure is on. Holding the proof copy in my hands makes it very real, but the biggest reason I recommend the hard copy edit (you can use a printer too) is that the mistakes jump off the page.

It also helps is take your hard copy to a quiet location away from your workstation. I often work in a carrel in my local library. Surrounded by all those published books, I am inspired and challenged to have my work be just as good. The isolation of the carrel forces me to focus. We live in a world of distractions folks, and if you think you can simultaneously edit your book while half-watching a YouTube video on a small window in the upper corner of your computer screen or listen to your favorite podcast, you’re dead wrong. Get away from all screens! Now! You’re studying for your final exams. This is serious business. Your life depends on it.

I prefer to do my hard copy edit a few chapters at a time. I find if I try to do too much, my mind wanders and my eyes start to cross. So after demolishing a few chapters with my pen, I return to my computer screen and fix the mistakes. Some passages will need to be rewritten, and those passages will have to be checked for errors. You’ve reached the tear out your hair stage, but it’s also when you find your work beginning to reach a level of flow finally, and that’s a great feeling.

The Final Pass

For the final stage, I pull the edited chapter up on the screen, blow up the text, and slowly read it aloud. Many writers recommend this. Again, mistakes will come out of hiding and bop you over the head. You’ll notice how that alliterative passage feels forced, how a better word choice there would improve the flow, etc.

I read my story as if I’m trying to hold the attention of my audience. If I get chills from what I’m hearing, if I’m dying to know what happens next (even if I already know), then I have done my job. I’m starting to feel good about what I’ve accomplished, that all that obsessive hard work was worth it.

Perfection is impossible, but you have to aim for it. I’ll go over my manuscript with a fine-tooth comb, and still mistakes will seep through. It happens even with professionally edited books. At some point, you do need to let go. But before you hit that publish button, you want to make sure that you’re putting forth your best effort. Then you can move onto the next book. And that’s a great feeling too!

But for now, the clock is ticking. I need to get back to work on my final edit. Good luck with yours!


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Famous Literary Scandals

Last night, while scrolling through Jezebel on my phone, I came across a story hot off the digital presses that immediately sparked my interest: a young poet named Ailey O’Toole, nominated for a Pushcart award (never heard of it, but it’s apparently quite an honor in small press poetry circles), was discovered to have plagiarized a good section of her work from several other poets, including an understandably pissed-off poet named Rachel McKibbens. Not only had O’Toole lifted lines nearly word-for-word from her work, she had the audacity to have one of those lines tattooed on her arm for a cool Instagrammable moment. Whoa! This takes it to a whole new level. It’s worth reading McKibbens’ Twitter response about the entire fiasco. O’Toole’s own Twitter page, alas, went poof overnight along with her other social media. Once the scandal broke, the one-star reviews and general vitriolic “reviews” of her work on GoodReads came down hard and swift. She lost her award nomination and the small press pulled her book.

Me! Me! Me! 

This incident caused me to reflect on other great literary scandals. Let’s take a look, shall we?

 Tomi Adeyemi and Nora Roberts

UPDATE: Looks like it’s a big week for lit scandals. A few days ago Tomi Adeyemi made a impulsive tweet that I’m sure she is regretting now (since deleted). In it, she accuses veteran bestselling romance writer, Nora Roberts, of stealing her title and cover art for Children of Blood and Bone. Nora Roberts’ dignified response to the accusation is worth reading.

JT LeRoy

Triangle of deception.

JT LeRoy, was invented by a woman named Laura Albert, an artsy San Francisco housewife who couldn’t get a break. Albert was a talented writer, and a bit of a grifter. Between gigs as a sex chat phone operator, Laura wrote stories under her pseudonym and alter ego, JT LeRoy, a pretty blond teenage boy who was turned out by his truck stop prostitute mother and was now barely surviving on the streets of SF. Agents and critics were intrigued by his backstory as well as his gritty and sexually raw prose (a thing in the 90’s). LeRoy got a publishing deal and a legion of celebrity fans with whom Albert, using her sex chat skills, chatted regularly on the phone. She also recorded the conversations. To use as potential blackmail when the shit hit the fan? Albert kept the balls in the air for years by employing her sister-in-law to act as JT’s avatar, and even helped produce a film of the work, The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things. You ain’t kidding. Not even star and director of the film, Asia Argento (with whom the fake JT allegedly had an affair) knew the truth. This scandal comprises an enormous rabbit hole that rewards the deep dive.

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How wonderful to have your book included in Oprah’s book club and get featured on her show! How horrifying to have it exposed as a work of plagiarism, then having to appear along with your pissed-off publisher on the same show for a public flogging. Thus was the fate of James Frey, whose 2003 “memoir” A Thousand Little Pieces about the author’s drug addiction, criminal past, and triumphant recovery, earned Frey the Oprah seal of approval. The glory was brief, however, when it was revealed that he exaggerated some of his “real life experiences.”  He returned to the Oprah show with his publisher to offer an apology. The host and her mostly female audience fell on him like the Bacchae on Pentheus, tearing him to shreds.  The beating was so severe that Frey ended up garnering some sympathy. Eventually he bounced back into literary obscurity. He still writes and probably continues to earn a decent living. One wonders if the scars have healed.

#Cockygate

Romance novelist  Faleena Hopkins was doing so well with her Cocky guy book series that she apparently bought the copyright to the word “cocky” and tried to sue other writers who picked up on the trend because Alpha sells. The entire thing blew up in Ms. Hopkins face and she was forced to retract her lawsuits and offer a sorry not sorry apology. I would post one of her many shirtless buff guy covers, but I’m afraid she sue me. Use your imagination.

Which reminds me…

I’ve been meaning to watch Can You Ever Forgive Me starring Melissa McCarthy about a literary forger. Girls gotta make a living.


The gal in the latest poetry scandal looks pretty young (dare I say millennial?). Hopefully she’ll take some time off, draft a few groveling apologies, find a good tattoo remover, and quietly work on her craft (or find something else to do) until it all blows over. Perhaps in her recovery journal she’ll write (in quotes!) the famous words of Stanislavski: Love art in yourself, and not yourself in art.

Happy Halloween

October 31st is horror fans’ official holiday. This year I’m celebrating by dressing up as my favorite screen character, Baby Jane Hudson. I guess I’ve entered my Grande Dame Guignol years. I embrace it. I look forward to scaring the children on my doorstep this year.

Below are a few of my favorite Grand Dame’s, proving that they still got it past their prime (youth).

Bette Davis as Baby Jane Hudson

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According to B.D. Hyman’s exposé My Mother’s Keeper, Davis showed up at the set of Whatever Happened to Baby Jane still wearing her make-up from the previous day’s shoot and just added more. Davis’ willingness to take her performances to the extreme without any regard for her vanity is impressive. But her famous counterpart held onto her glamour with her manicured nails for dear life. For that reason and others, she’s my personal favorite.

Joan Crawford in Strait Jacket & Berserk

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Wearing a fright wig reminiscent of her Oscar winning role in Mildred Pierce, Crawford’s post Baby Jane turn as a hatchet wielding harridan in Strait Jacket is a grande dame guignol classic. Unfortunately it’s not a very good film. Still, it’s fun to watch at least once, and I have to admire Joan’s dedication to maintaining her girlish figure at 60. Even more impressive is how glamorous she looks in the 1967 British camp classic Berserk. With her perfect make-up and hairstyles, Joan plays a sixty-something carnival barker who not only still looks good in fishnet tights she sets the carnival hunks’ hearts (and other anatomy) ablaze.

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Still setting hearts ablaze.

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Nice gams!

 

Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard

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Billy Wilder’s 1950 classic may be the start of of Grande Dame Guignol cinema. These were the days when the mere thought of a fifty-year-old woman (and Swanson looks incredibly good) making it with a handsome young guy in his thirties was enough to generate horror. For the record, I’ve always found Norma Desmond much more desirable than the young and perky Betty Schaefe, and fortunately my husband agrees. I think there are plenty of men today who would “take the Vicuna.”

And finally, we can thank the ABC Movies of the Week from the 1970’s for some other great examples of Grande Dame Guignol, where older movie stars found work in television. Below are some fine examples. If you appreciate camp (and some damn good stories), you’ll find much to enjoy here. Many of these are available in low res on YouTube.

Enjoy your Halloween!

Barbara Stanwyck in A Taste of Evil (1971)

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Olivia De Havilland in The Screaming Woman (1972)

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Shelley Winters in Revenge (1971)

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Eleanor Parker in Home for the Holidays (1972)

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Autumn Reads

The other night my heart thrilled at the sight of an enormous harvest moon making wavy gold streaks on the river’s surface. I smelled the crisp scent of burning leaves in the suddenly chilly air and knew my favorite season had returned at last. In Pennsylvania we get the weather extremes, and as much as I love the hot summer nights, fall is my favorite and it’s here at last. To celebrate the season of the witch, I’ve put together a reading list to hit the sweet spots of Halloween haunts, #Victober (a cool BookTube trend of reading Victorian era books during the October month), some true crime thrown in to keep me up at night, Gothic romance because I’ll find any excuse to read those, and a crusty 80’s era horror paperback from a recent thrift shop haul.

October TBR

The Witching Hour by Anne Rice. I have about 200 pages to go. This is a re-read. Halfway through this nearly 1000 page tome while I was reading all about the Mayfair Witches history in the Talamasca file that goes on forever and ever, I kept thinking why? Why did I do this to myself? This book is such a commitment, but yet I couldn’t abandon it. It slowly seduces as much as Lasher and the city of New Orleans does. Yes, I will reread the subsequent books in the series, Lasher and Taltos. And yes, I’ll ask myself why the entire time. Can someone please make a TV series of this already so I don’t have to read it again when I feel the itch?

Small Sacrifices by Anne Rule. Again, why do I do this to myself? I must have read this book three times since it came out in the late 80’s. Some video about Diane Downs came up in my YouTube feed the other day and the next thing I knew I was loading up the book in my kindle and for the past few days I could barely pull myself away. There is something about the way Anne Rule writes that elevates hers from other true crime books. She not only reports the facts, she finds the drama and digs in deep.

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte. This Gothic romantic classic was written in the Victorian era so I suppose it counts for a #Victober read. This is another reread, but it’s been a while. Also, I just got myself a beautiful Easton Press leather-bound copy: perfect for cozy reading by the fire (or space heater) with a cup of tea.

For a less literary Gothic romance choice, I plan to read Volume Two in the Dark Shadows book series. They’re super short and I can knock one out in a day.

For my 80’s horror paperback pick, I’m reading Soul-Eater by Dana Brookins. I have no idea if this is any good, but the cover is fantastic. Let’s hope the story lives up to it.

And finally. I plan to finally finish Mr. Clive Barker’s Books of Blood that have been withering in my kindle for months. I just completed volume five and the stories contained within were my favorite so far. Now onto volume six. I can do this.

So, here are my best laid reading plans that will probably so awry, but what fun are plans if you can’t break them? Happy reading.

 

 

My Favorite Virgos Part II

Sexy Earthy Women

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It took me a long time to accept my Virgo birth sign. I remember wishing if only my mother had scheduled that C-section a few days earlier and I could have an outgoing Leo personality instead of this shy, bookish Virgo one. But then I happened upon this photo of Sophia Loren and I felt instantly better about being an earth woman.

Let’s take a look at some truly sexy women, who just so happen to be Virgos. Continue reading “My Favorite Virgos Part II”

A Year of Writing Dangerously

As another birthday roles around this August (Virgo,not Leo) and I do my habitual yearly self-assessment, I observe the following: I got healthier (sobriety, meditation, diet & exercise do work), learned to filter out (some) lingering negativity in my life (about time, eh?), grew out my natural hair color for the third time, read 78 books, started a BookTube channel, helped to organize a local arts festival, and wrote like the dickens (not Charles, unfortunately).

My production for the year included: three novels in a YA series, one novella, a good rough draft of one novel and the start of another, a bunch of poems, five short stories, and nearly weekly blog posts. I also quit Facebook, got back on recently then promptly quit again, and spent a lot of time alone in nature. Through all of the ups and downs, self-recriminations, broken sobriety dates, and moments of quiet (at times despairing) contemplation, I wrote. I may have skipped my exercise date, but never my morning writing session.

I owe a lot of my prolificacy to Wattpad. I joined the site just a year ago and the interaction and feedback I encountered there really spurred on my productivity.

Continue reading “A Year of Writing Dangerously”

Anatomy of a Sequence

The Exorcist

The Exorcist’s opening Iraq sequence is a masterclass in visual metaphors. By using only images and sound (the brief dialogue is in Arabic), a portending evil is introduced.

The scenes taking place in an ancient arid land (you can feel the heat) slowly lull the viewer into a hypnotic trance with its stark imagery. These symbols remain in the viewer’s subconscious and are called back in later scenes: the black cloaked women in the Iraq street scene and the white cloaked nuns in the Georgetown street scene, the demon face of the women in the carriage and “old altar boy” bum in the subway, animal images and sounds, all adding layers of complexity that the viewer absorbs and feels, but perhaps doesn’t consciously understand.

Many films today would forgo this prequel setup as being ‘too slow,’ but by taking its time and showing the ancient roots of the Pazuzu, demon of the wind, and the sense that Father Merrin has dealt with its evil before, the film gains more gravity and deep symbolic meaning that lingers in the viewer’s subconscious long after the shock values of the spinning head and silly spider-walk wear off.

Often this sequence is forgotten about by the viewer when they recall the film; but the symbols are planted, priming the mind to receive the rich and layered storytelling of a film that has stood the test of time for a reason.

A blood red sky shines down on the archeological site of an ancient spiritual temple ruins.

Screen Shot 2018-08-05 at 8.28.08 AM Continue reading “Anatomy of a Sequence”

Great Villains Part Three

Psycho Bitches – The Borderline

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I won’t be ignored, Dan!

The best depiction of a borderline personality disordered individual ever committed to screen is Glenn Close’s Alex in Fatal Attraction. This Cluster B disorder (of which women are most afflicted) is marked by poor boundaries, impulsivity, and a violent reaction to any real or perceived rejection. At first these seductive femme fatales appeal to a man’s fantasy of the no-strings attached hot affair. The borderline’s lack of boundaries and amorality are a turn-on in the bedroom, but when the man tries to return, sated, to his wife or move on to a more appropriate girl (as in the case of Mormon boy, Travis Alexander), the borderline psycho bitch just won’t let go. She may, as in the case of Jodi Arias, at first subject herself to her lover’s diminishing returns and lack of respect (he famously referred to her as his three-hole wonder), but a girl can only take so much abuse. Her already dangerously damaged ego lies coiled like a cobra ready to strike. She shows up at his house looking cute and breezy—I drove from California to Arizona, but I just happen to be in town. He lets her in—hey, what’s one more lay? I can get her out of here in time for my trip with my new “virginal” girlfriend. Sorry lover. While you were showering off her stank, petite Jodi struck, and struck hard.

Continue reading “Great Villains Part Three”

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