Sunday, November 16, 2008

Welcome Guest Blogger - Kelly McCrady Part I

Welcome Kelly McCrady to the blog. She has the unique perspective that comes with being an author and professional editor.
She is familiar with the pain and sorrow of watching her creation being offered up to the furious red pen AND with being the one who much apply same said pen to the tender work of other writers. In her two part contribution to Fiction Matters, Kelly speaks first from her heart - as an author, and then from her head - as an editor.

Let's meet Kelly: Kelly McCrady’s newest short story “Martial Hearts” is available October 15 from The Wild Rose Press . Author website is

Kelly holds a BS in Zoology, and worked as a zookeeper for five years. A student of Kenpo Karate, she’s learning how to use nunchucks, sticks and staves as well as her hands and feet to cause pain…lots of fun. She and her family live in Oregon on a hill, under trees.

Hello, Fiction Matters readers. Like every Gemini, I have two tales to tell. As an author, I’ve dealt with requested changes from editors. I am also a professional editor—and have had to deal out requested changes to my authors.

Part I. “Taking it.”
The act of creation is aligned with light—as authors, we shine our light into the dark corners of readers’ imaginations. No one thinks of those words in that combination until we put it before them—we fill the void. Our words are magic.

Some of us are blessed with critique partners or groups who helped us polish the first few drafts of our work—until they, too, think it is the best we can make it.

Last February, I sent my baby to The Wild Rose Press, and (after waiting about a month—very short turn-around) I received that magic e-mail—the editor wanted to contract “Martial Hearts.” Oh, happy day!

There were just a few teensy changes she’d like me to make.

My baby was BLEEDING. Red marks all over the page. “You use “that” way too much—cut. Try not to begin sentences with ‘it’ or ‘there.’ Kill prepositional phrases at the end of sentences. Look for cause and effect order—‘as’ and ‘when’ often give these away—fix them.” And she’d marked many other things as well.

(Sigh) What exactly did she like?

I looked through my editor’s notes and used the highlight function to find the offenders, fixed the ones I found and was at a loss for how to root out certain changes she wanted. My editor had made notes on the first five pages only and expected me to carry out the same changes throughout the document. But how?

See, when I’d sent it to her, I thought it was perfect. She expected me to find defects I didn’t understand were defects. I could not see the things she said were wrong—and she had not flagged them for me beyond the first few pages.

On my first read through her notes, I yelled at the computer screen. I rebutted each of her comments with snide replies she’d never see. She didn’t get it. She didn’t see the artistry at work. I was a better author than she knew. Harumph.

I closed the file and moped. A day or so later, I reopened the file, knowing that I was both under contract and on a deadline of 30 days to make revisions. I had to look at it again and make an attempt at changing my work. Some of her comments were easy changers, and correct. Fine. I fixed the easy ones first.

I muddled through this for a week on my own, and then turned to my critique group for help. Here’s the note I attached for them:


What you’re looking for is (after her comments stop on p.5) dangling modifiers, Omniscient POV, and here are her words:

“In several areas the transitions need to be mentioned or strengthened…Also I spotted a couple paragraphs that seem scattered with actions and dialogue from more than one character.”

If you all could flag these things for me to change if you spot them, I’d be much appreciative.

Some examples of the commentary from my crit group and how I fixed the ms:

“You seemed to be getting the worst end of that Super Soaker,” Mari said, mopping up poppy seed salad dressing with a roll, diamond flashing on her left hand.

Editor: Be aware that phrases like this pull power from the verb. Could say ‘you were sure getting….

My whine: Mari is being ironic. Yes, obviously Austin shot April with the super-soaker more than he did the kids. I’d agree with you if this were narration, but not in dialogue. Mari is aware of something April does not fathom—that Austin likes April. She’s pointing that out indirectly.

Crit partner 1: That doesn’t come across. She’s just eating and chatting, to me. Maybe a sly grin that April wonders at or something along those lines?

Crit partner 2: I’m not sure this pulls power from the verb – but it is wordy. Your eyes have to dance over a bunch of words to get the point. “You got the worst end of that Super Soaker.” Does that say the same thing?

My crit partners also questioned the need to mention the diamond ring—it played no significant part in the story and sat as a distracting detail.

Final version:
“You got the worst end of that Super Soaker,” Mari said with a wink, mopping up poppy seed salad dressing with a roll.

Editors are inside your head—an editor can only get the information you’ve given in your text. Sometimes, their opinion of a change needed is wrong—or needs clarification elsewhere in the narrative. Don’t be afraid to differ with the editor on changes he or she asks for. Here is one I fought for:

“I plateaued pretty bad at blue belt,” Mari had once told her, “I hung there for like, three years.”

Editor: changed sentence to “I plateaued pretty badly at blue belt,” Mari had once told her, “I hung there for like, three years.”

My comment: Mari has a specific way of speaking. She said “pretty bad.”

My version stayed in—after I added earlier in the text that Mari was 19 years old. That fact had been missing from the original version, and explained a lot about her grammar.

My editor and I negotiated on a few changes. Overall, she enjoyed the layers and texture my first edit back to her added—the additions my wonderful critique group pushed me to make. This book went through two revisions with my editor before the manuscript went to galleys. Some books will need three or four rounds of revisions. (Be the two-revision type of author—your editor will thank you).

The author’s job is to consider each change the editor asks for. Your editor wants your writing to shine, to be the most polished piece of prose it can be. She wouldn’t tell you to make changes that would weaken your book. Selling books is a business, and bad reviews mean low sales, which leads to less profit for everyone. Highly polished good prose leads to good reviews, which can bring in more sales. Royalties are good.

Remember the most important thing: the editor who acquired the book liked it enough to contract you.

I clinging to the comfort of that last sentence, Kelly! I think we all are!

It's a good reminder to writers: editors are our FRIENDS. Often they are our fans - they want us, and our books to succeed. Still, there's pain in the offering sometimes.

I bid you good writing.


The Koala Bear Writer said...

Neat to hear some comments from an author who's worked with an editor. The examples really helped. I think it comes again to the fact that others can see things in our writing that we can't... weaknesses that we need help with. Crit groups are good, but editors probably have more experience or a better eye. :)

lynnrush said...

Thanks for this. To see a little bit of the process of what the writer sees from an editor is interesting!

kathleenpopa said...

Great interview!

Avily Jerome said...

Oh, how I fear the eventual editor review!

But an acceptance with a lot of editing is better than a rejection, so I persevere...

Thanks for guesting, Kelly!