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Weekend Reading

EditorFactCheck

Just a few articles about editing for your weekend read. A couple are older, one significantly so, but all totally still applicable. First, Blake Harrison’s “Black Day for The Blue Pencil” (2005), then Alex Clark’s “The Lost Art of Editing” (2011), which refers to Harrison’s piece. Finally, Barry Harbaugh’s “Yes, Books Editor’s Edit” from this month last year. All great, all worth reading for editors and writers alike.

Enjoy your weekend. Read and write a lot.

hp-lovecraft-and-sonia-greeneThis particular topic is neither here nor there. I only bring it up because I happen to have just enjoyed a stellar performance by the impeccable David Crawford of his one-man show, Lovecraft’s Monsters, last night. I knew Lovecraft’s undeniable racism would be addressed, and rightfully so. And it was. But later in the piece, Crawford worked in something that most conversations about Lovecraft’s racism skip over.

I’m not going to get into the many ridiculous apologies/justifications for Lovecraft’s bigotry, and I’m not going to get into the arguments for replacing Lovecraft’s image on the World Fantasy Award statue. You’ve either read it all before, or if you haven’t, you can use Google as well as I can. Suffice to say, I’ve seen more talk about his racism in the last few years than I ever have before, and while on one hand that’s a good thing (because the unsavory beliefs of our most beloved icons should not go ignored, nor can they be defended). But on the other hand, that’s usually where the conversation ends in regards to that aspects of Lovecraft’s character. “Yeah, I read Lovecraft; he’s great. Too bad he was a racist.”

To that, I would add, “…and too bad he died so young, because he seemed to have been on his way to being a better person.” Because, he was.

H.P. Lovecraft was a tragic individual who spent most of his life isolated and impoverished before dying of intestinal cancer and malnutrition in 1937 at the relatively young age of forty-six. Anyone who’s done a little reading into Lovecraft’s biography and letters, as Scott Kemore points out in this piece from September of last year, would conclude that while he was a racist in his younger days, he had mellowed on the subject as he got older. You know, kind of like we all do. We all believe things passionately, strongly in our teens and twenties, maybe the wrong things, but as we age, we learn, we experience, and we change. Lovecraft was no different.

Kenmore says:

Any thorough reading of his personal correspondence (mine includes the 2,000-page Arkham House Selected Letters series) makes clear that Lovecraft’s bigotry was in full, gleeful bloom in his late teens and early 20s, but that it gradually shriveled away as he got older—as, crucially, his opinions in other areas also began to change. If Lovecraft was not exactly anti-racist by the end of his life, he was a least bored with it as a subject. ( when his correspondents try to bait him into a discussion of race, he comes across like an old dog who has tired of chasing that particular ball.)

In his final years, Lovecraft realized that many of the notions he’d found charmingly “antiquarian” in his younger days were flatly asinine. This shift is perhaps best encapsulated in a letter he wrote—just a year before he died—to Jennie K. Plaiser. A salient passage reads: “…I realised what an ass I had been. The liberals at whom I used to laugh were the ones who were right—for they were living in the present while I had been living in the past.” Lovecraft had gone from being an unintentional parody of a British Tory to a (man) who was interested in policies that would benefit everybody, not just “aristocratic” whites.

Kenmore concludes this point with:

Was Lovecraft very bigoted at some points in his life? Absolutely, yes. But it’s inaccurate to give the impression that Lovecraft held the same views throughout all of his 46 years. The truth is more complex and interesting than that.

Had he not died so young, who knows how his thinking on the matter would have continued to change, but I’d be willing to bet that he was heading in a more progressive direction. And considering his general alienation, considering his issues, considering pretty much everything about him, that he’d progressed at all by aged forty-six was a minor miracle, and one I think he should be commended for. No, I don’t think we need to go around foisting him up as an anti-bigotry hero (because there’s no argument from me that he was ever anything but, overall), but the very least we can do for someone who lived largely so miserably and yet who gave us so much in terms of his writing is to not guillotine the conversation at “too bad he was a racist.” I would hope, after I’m dead and gone and unable to grow and change, let alone defend myself, people would not be latching onto some crackpot thing I’d gotten into my head when I was twenty and defined me that way, forever and eternal, no matter how I’d grown otherwise before I kicked it.

And some folks will, I’m sure, say I’m defending his racism, sweeping it under the rug, etc. I feel pretty secure, knowing myself well enough, that that is not what I’m doing. And, in fact, to say that would be ignoring the facts as we know them. On the contrary, I think his racism should be addressed, but as it is, so should the evolution of it.

So, why do I think we should give Lovecraft a break? Is it only because he’s done so much for the genre and genre writing, as a lot of people seem to think? Actually, it’s not even a little bit that. I don’t think any amount of prestige or talent gives anyone a pass in terms of their abhorrent views. You believe something disgusting, you’re going to get raked over the coals no matter who you are and what you’ve done. But, that said, I also believe in credit where credit is due.

Lovecraft didn’t die in 1937 the bigot he was in 1912. And here’s the thing: Isn’t that what we want? Isn’t this the kind of transformation, no matter how slow (and in this case, incomplete due to death), for which we’d like to give credit? Or is the whole point of racial dialog to simply nail the racists? True, some people will never change their beliefs. Some people were born and raised in the Klan, grew up to be Klansmen, and they’ll be buried in their cowardly robes. Lovecraft, though…a little knowledge of his life shows his circumstances and resulting disposition were fairly unique, and frankly, to be pitied. And more importantly, he was moving in the right direction when he died. He was moving toward a potential state of non-bigotry, willing to admit where he had been wrong, which is more than many of us can do, over the course of many more years than he’d had, and for much less. I feel like that’s worth keeping in mind…

…and it was something I’d been thinking of when I went to see Crawford’s performance last night, and yes, it was gratifying to see that Crawford had, indeed, addressed it. Throughout the piece, Crawford goes through Lovecraft’s various stages of life, and within each he addresses Lovecraft’s bigotry in regards to the “Irish, the Italians, and the Slavs.” But as Lovecraft is older, and clearly wasting a way, painfully, he says (and I’m paraphrasing, as I didn’t think I’d need to memorize it): “My best friend is Jewish (Samuel Loveman). I married a Jew (Sonia Greene). I’ve experienced these people and I know them. They are good people.” Crawford went exactly where these conversations should go. If you’re racist and you die still a racist, the conversation ends at, “He was racist.” If you’re racist and you demonstrated signs of more progressive thinking when you died, that’s where that conversation ends, not a few steps back at, “He was racist.” So, kudos to David Crawford, because while it may not have been particularly PC, it was intellectually honest.

10 Punctuation Tips

run-onHere are a few punctuation tips. Read it. See which mistakes you’re guilty of, so you can stop making them. And, for the record, before writers start losing their minds about the punctuation police coming to ruin their genius and that we editors are all a bunch of dogmatic fundamentalists, I’ll say now that…I disagree with #9. Yes, I disagree. I will read a run-on sentence all day long (if that how long it is) so long as it’s punctuated correctly, reads wells (is not awkward and clunky), and is not confusing. And no, you can’t just keep adding “ands” and “buts.” And yes, it’s good to recognize when it’s more appropriate within the context of the piece to go ahead and split it up into two of more sentences. Just be aware.

GSS Banner Final FinalMy quest to find out about more black folks in horror for my unofficial, impromptu Big Black Horror Month led me to this website that I’m actually embarrassed I did not know existed: Graveyard Shift Sisters. I was around when Pretty Scary started to give women in general a louder voice in the genre, but I bowed out when it became clear that men were dominating the conversation on the message boards (you know, where women were supposed to feel comfortable) and if anyone complained, we ladies were being “sexist.” Yeah, that old yarn. And, of course, there’s the “official” Women in Horror Month. But I can only assume that what exists out there for women in horror isn’t sufficient to also embrace fully women of color in horror. Or else, I suppose, there wouldn’t be a need to Graveyard Shift Sisters.
While I regret that this site is apparently necessary (the same way I regret that women need a special month to get recognition for their work in horror), I’m certainly glad it exists.
Here’s an article interviewing Nicole Renee Simmons:
…my first years giving this whole film thing a go, I had no idea. I wasn’t clueless; I just hadn’t experienced anything that necessarily pointed out me being different. The horror community is not just all guys first off. So I didn’t really feel the difference of gender until I started actually shooting. My crew was mostly men except for cast; the other directors of the genre were men. And then as I continued my education on to business entertainment, reality sunk in that I was extremely different. And not just in my specific genre, but my industry alone. There are a few black writers and directors in the film industry and even less in the horror film genre.

Where The Hell Am I?

Question-mark-on-book-1kda8osI have, for some time now, been nurturing a growing concern about my writing. And by nurture, I suppose I mean that it started as a question, became a nagging one, and didn’t seem to be going away, so I thought it best, I suppose, if I gave it its own room and made it comfortable. The answer wasn’t–and doesn’t seem to be–forthcoming, but I’m not entirely sure how to kick it out now. Though I do recognize that we shouldn’t allow these unanswerable concerns to live with us. I suppose I thought, at the time, it could be answered, so there wasn’t much harm in letting it stick around.

Wrong.

The concern is that…I actually have no idea what the hell it is I’m writing. I have no workshop, no readers; I work largely in a void. I feel reasonably certain it is literary. I spend time and thought and effort on character, setting, subtext, and language. But no literary magazine or press would touch this stuff, because they would not consider it literary. Because there is often a supernatural element, either dominating or at the bottom of it. And they can’t have that sort of thing.

So, it’s horror, right? Supernatural horror? Speculative fiction? Gothic? My writing has been called Gothic before (I’m looking at you, Mary Rickert) and it was good to hear because it made me feel better. I had an outside source describing what it is that I write, because I have no idea. And, on one hand, I can see it being described as Gothic. It’s kind of low-key, I think. Pretty subtle. I like atmosphere. I’d rather work my way to a big scare scene rather than throw it at the reader, over and over, without warning, with machine-gun speed and quantity. That kind of thing, to me, loses it’s appeal after a while (and not even a long while). But I also think that the term “Gothic”–for folks who don’t really know much about Gothic lit–produces certain images in the heads of readers, or even editors and agents, of castles, hidden passes, dungeons, harassed young women and brooding antagonistic men, and a general sense of the moon momentarily obscured by a passing cloud, punctuated by a Scooby-Doo wolf howl. And that’s not what I do. So, I’m leery of describing my writing in that way. (Full disclosure: I love Gothic Literature. Just sayin’.)

But “Horror” makes me think of chainsaws and machetes, and, again, rapid fire violence and gore, which is, again, not what I do. And “Speculative”…? Honestly, I’m not even sure I know what that means. Oh, and the other one, designed to trick literary folks into reading your MS…”Magical Surrealism.” I actually dislike that term simply because it feels like a cop-out. And to compound my problem, in addition to “Gothic,” my work has been described as “classic” and “traditional,” which in my head translates to, “Outdated–no one reads this shit anymore. No one but you.”

What I have are ghosts and monsters, mostly. Strange occurrences. And yes, violence and gore, but it’s…how can I describe it? It’s baked into the bread, not ladled over everything like a gravy. Again, there’s attention paid to character, setting, subtext, and language (which, I suppose, is why my stories tend to fall into that unpublishable length of too long for a short story and too short for a novella…and no one wants novellas or novelettes).

I think everyone would say, “It’s literary horror!” I used to think so as well. It’s a term I feel like I’ve been hearing increasingly over the last handful of years, and yet, I don’t see it in practice all that often. But then, I think the problem there lies with me. Here’s a fact: I have no idea what small-to-medium-sized presses publish this stuff. Actual “literary horror.” Because so far, what seems to pass as “literary horror” are stories with that same rapid fire violence/gore, though with a pinch of character development thrown in. Usually something deep, troubling, but generally still not particularly well developed. And, understand, I’m not bagging on this stuff. It is what it is and people like it. It seems to sell. But I still don’t see too much attention to language, except to just write a reasonably grammatical sentence (which, admittedly, is lacking in some other “subgenres” I’ve seen). And, again, this is my weakness. My failure. I don’t know where to look to find something truly “literary” and yet still scary, creepy, spooky, what-have-you. And it’s difficult to ask, because if I’ve learned anything, my idea of “literary” seems to be very different compared to what most genre folks define as “literary.” Often, when I do get a suggestion, it is of the “literary horror” type that, again, simply strives to write a readable sentence as opposed to one intended to be  both readable and beautiful.

This makes it really hard to submit stories…anywhere. I look at my publication list and I disappoint myself. But, I suppose it’s not terrible for someone who maybe submits two or three stories a year, if that. And I do have that length issue. I hardly want to submit my stories that fall within a generally accepted short story length because…I don’t really like them. They seem thin and underdeveloped to me. And the ones I really like…too fucking long.

So, this is the concern that pops it’s head into my bunker now and then. I don’t dwell on it. But after a few rejections, I think, well, they’re not bad stories. I don’t actually suck at writing.* It was the wrong market. That’s what I suck at. Hard. How the hell do I find the right market?

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

*I don’t think there’s anything wrong with not bashing your work constantly–I do alright and I’m not ashamed of that.

poetcomic

Break out the bongos…

…but I decided to take it down.

I haven’t really written any poetry since an undergrad class, so…I don’t know. I’m not sure how I feel about it. On one hand I feel good about it, because I spent most of the day yesterday writing poetry, of all things, when I haven’t been writing much of anything at all lately. Which is good.

And the truly odd thing is that the subject matter is something I’ve been trying to figure out for years. Should this be prose? Should I fictionalize it? A series of essays? Etc. Poetry never occurred to me, because, like I said, it’s just not what I really do. But I’ll be damned if it didn’t feel exactly right. And I guess this is how these big decisions are made.

But to finish my previous thought, on the other hand, I’m really unsure about it. For a number of reasons, some personal, but some perfectly practical, like, “You don’t write poetry, how would you know if this is even any good?” I do read some poetry, but not very often. I don’t know…in any case, I’ve realized that I’m not perfectly comfortable letting other folks read it for right now. That said, though, I still feel good about it. Although my expertise is lacking, I think I’ve got a handful of pieces here that I can work with. And I feel better. It’s kind of a relief. And it’ll be interesting seeing how I can fit them together. Hmm. Yes. This is a good thing.

woman-changing-baby-diaper-photo-420x420-ts-200390461-001Every now and then I need to take a break from social media—well, Facebook. Let’s face it, it’s mostly Facebook that this sort of thing occurs with enough frequency and depth that it becomes intolerable. See, someone, a writer, posted this article about people who still double space following a period, along with a comment that anyone who gets bent out of shape about this should get a life (to paraphrase). Of course, a couple of other writers chimed in to agree.

This conflict isn’t new. What I find most irritating about it is the number of writers who insist, hey, that’s how they learned to type and they’re not going to change just because it annoys some people. Here’s the thing: who is it going to annoy but editors and publishers? Perhaps some readers if, by chance, editors and publishers don’t correct it?

When I see/hear writers going on like this, what I really see/hear is someone telling me, an editor and publisher, that they don’t care what I think, nor do they care about my time. Which is interesting because, presumably, these writers are submitting their work to editors and publishers like me, hoping to get published (as a writer, that’s what I do). So, what kind of message is that to send to people from whom you want something?

So, like an idiot, I posted that. I also pointed out that this annoying, outdated “habit” (I’m not sure how habitual something is that you’re deliberately refusing to change) is one of a thousand things editors have to deal with, and those things add up. Which is what makes them so irritating. By themselves, they’re nothing. But many little things ball up into a larger, more unwieldy things. And when you’re a small press and you haven’t got six copy editors in the wings ready to run their eyeballs over every MS four times each, these things are a distraction from the bigger, important things.

And then here she comes—Ms. Relatively Well-Known, Well-Published Writer—to say that it’s not a big deal to fix, so whatever. And, again, like an idiot, I reiterate that little things add up. And really, easy fixes don’t change this shitty attitude from writers. She then proceeded to roll out her publication CV—twelve novels, three hundred other bits and pieces—in order to illustrate that not a single editor ever complained about her double spaces. And, no pro editor would.

No pro editor would.

Now, that’s pretty insulting. So, I say, so much for conversation and let her know that she could just reholster that ego of hers. Note: I honestly could not possibly care less how much you’ve published, where you’ve published. I don’t care about your awards and your nominations. (And none of these things make you an expert on being an editor.) I don’t care to begin with, but I am especially not apt to care when you’re parading them around for the sole purpose of trying to belittle someone who don’t even know for expressing an opinion. Not to mention…I didn’t say I complain to my writers, nor that I contact every sender of a sloppy MS just to let them know how irritating their double spaces are. I simply said that this kind of attitude—the attitude that writers would rather die, apparently, than attempt to change their typing habits, not just to make editors happy, but just to enter this Brave New World of publishing where, alas and alack, we actually require only a single space—doesn’t send a good message.

She then insisted that it was I who had the ego, because I interpret this backward typing behavior as a personal slight.

I couldn’t be bothered to point this out in the thread, because who has the time or the patience to interact with someone who 1) waves her pub credentials around as if they’re relevant, and 2) may be a writer, but isn’t much of a reader (I assume if she was, she’d have gotten the point of my original comment). But I’d like to lay it out here because I think it might be helpful.

I don’t interpret sloppy MSs as a personal slight. I’m perfectly aware that writers aren’t fucking up their own MSs just so they can piss off Kriscinda Lee Everitt. But here’s how I do interpret them: When I see a sloppy manuscript (including those with double spaces following a period, because this is so common and so standard at this point, you really have to wonder about the people who still do it), I see a writer who can’t be bothered to learn and implement some pretty elementary stuff. I’ve seen (many) MSs that look as if they were crapped out quickly, skimmed (if that), and actually sent as a submission, with the expectation, I can only assume, that the editor’s job is to wipe their ass now that they’ve “finished.”

So, let me clear that up right here. An editor’s job is not to wipe your ass.

When I’m looking for stories, I’m looking for great writing, great storylines, and often that is hard to see when you have to look past all this…mess. Now, imagine this—we’re trained to see the things that many people will gloss over. We spend hours and hours, page after page, searching character to character, looking for mistakes. So, when we’re presented with a MS that is a mess from beginning to end, it’s like an overload of all those tiny things, all at once. That’s what we see. We’re not being picky when we insist on reasonably clean MSs. When you give us your amazing story and the MS is a mess, it’s like asking us to look out upon some majestic vista and then flashing a blinding red light in our eyes every thirty seconds. It doesn’t matter how lovely the view is, we can barely see it. We’re trying, but it’s really hard.

Frankly, it’s hard even to try when it’s perfectly clear that the writer didn’t. It’s hard to care about someone’s work when it’s obvious that the writer doesn’t care about yours. And it’s downright impossible to feel enthusiastic about someone’s writing when you can see them on Facebook basically telling you to eat their shit sandwich and like it.

It’s not about ego. It’s about a mutual respect. And I don’t have a problem tossing someone’s story after the first page if that person didn’t have enough respect for me or my publication to not send me a MS that looked like a monkey typed it and expected to be taken seriously. It’s not personal. But writers, when you do this, you are sending a message.

And to be totally straight with you—I’m not entirely sure how writers can write and really call themselves writers when they don’t know the basic rules of grammar, can’t spell common words, don’t know how to use an apostrophe, and yes, can’t even re-train themselves on something so mechanical and simple as typing one single fucking space following a period.* We don’t say this because we prefer it. Because we like it better. Because, damn it, we’re demanding some arbitrary sacrifice on your end of it because we’re a bunch of assholes. It’s because it needs to be a single space. If it’s a double space, it will have to be changed. Why on earth would you put it there when you know it will have to be changed? Is it some collective writerly spite against editors and publishers? And for what? Because of our unforgivable desire to publish your writing? Is it our disgusting yearning to focus our energy on your prose, your story, your characters, etc. rather than go blind correcting every little mistake you either put in accidentally (totally fine) or insist on deliberately inserting for no apparent good reason?

We’re terrible people. I know.

So, that’s the bad. Here’s the good. Here’s what I can extrapolate from a reasonably clean MS. When I see a nice, clean MS, I am confident that the writer is taking his/her craft seriously and respects themselves, me, and my job enough to show it. It’s the difference between showing up to the job interview clean and presentable, or unshowered, unshaven, and wearing stretch pants. As I was determined to acquire the skills I needed as an editor, to become a good editor, they, too, have been willing to put in the time and effort to present themselves and their work in a professional, wonderfully readable manner. They’re not screwing around—they are serious and serious about working with you. They’re not likely to be a pain in the ass come actual editing time following the acceptance of their piece. They’re probably pretty good with deadlines, too. Those MSs, I can simply…read. I can clearly see their story, their characters, their subtext isn’t lost underneath a pile of superficial crap. It’s magical.

Let me repeat: An editor’s job is not to wipe your ass. I’m an adult. Presumably you are also an adult. And we’re both supposed to be professionals. I am one when I read. Are you one when you send your work to be read?

We’re there to work with you. We’re there because we want your amazing fucking stories. We’re taking this seriously (I certainly am), and yes, we do expect you to take it seriously as well. Because if you don’t, it doesn’t really make much sense that we’d take you seriously. Nor your work. And no, this isn’t personal. It’s strictly professional.

But what do I know? I’m clearly not a “pro.” See, pro editors, I’ve just learned, never complain. No…wait. That’s simply not true. Even pro editors complain. Quietly, maybe to other editors. But they’re not going to complain to you. They’re either going to bite the bullet and clean up your mess (before they can even get to work on your piece), or they will just toss it in the can and send you your rejection. We will also make fairly innocuous comments suggesting that perhaps going on in a public space about your basic contempt for people who give a shit about writing, doesn’t send the very best message if you want to publish with a press. This isn’t a fucking war, people. It’s not Writers vs Editors. And even if it was, I’m struggling on both sides. So, give me a break.

And again, this isn’t ego. Mutual respect. Try it sometime.

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*Storytime: I learned to type in a typing class, like many of you. I, too, was docked points for not double spacing after a period. It became habitual and remained so for many years. Until I learned that it was no longer standard and it was actually extra work, both for me and editors. The moment I figured that out, I retrained myself to single space. You know why? Because I want to do things right and I have no desire to hang onto outdated things simply because…why? What possible reason is there to hang onto this? Because it’s “too hard to change?” Save it. I’ve quit smoking, I’ve taken up exercise, I’ve done far, far more difficult things than change my double space following a period to a single space. Seriously, quit being such babies about it and get with the program.

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