The Joy of Incorporating the Edits

Would you convey my compliments to the purist who reads your proofs and tell him or her that I write in a sort of broken-down patois which is something like the way a Swiss waiter talks, and that when I split an infinitive, God damn it, I split it so it will stay split, and when I interrupt the velvety smoothness of my more or less literate syntax with a few sudden words of bar-room vernacular, that is done with the eyes wide open and the mind relaxed but attentive.” ─ Raymond Chandler

Having made the great pronouncement shortly after I started this blog that I planned to blog three times a week, I have been nowhere to be found. Be assured that I have learned my lesson and will no longer promise things that I can’t deliver. While I have not been blogging, I have been busy editing. It comforts me to read this quote by Raymond Chandler who, by anyone’s definition, was a very fine writer. Editing or to be exact doing something with the feedback provided by one’s editor is a tedious, painful, and essential part of the writing process. The problem arises from the fact that at the point you turn your manuscript over to the editor you have edited it yourself several times. In my case, my writers group and my husband have edited it, too. You are paying someone to edit the book but in your heart you are shocked when then do. “What do you mean you don’t like that word? What’s wrong with it?”

I have a day job which sometimes extends into being a night job depending on the need for me to meet with my clients in China. This leaves from six o’clock to eight o’clock in the morning as my best time to work.

ABoo, the alarm cat

So after the ‘cat alarm’ wakes me up (this is a real cat batting you aggressively in the head, not a cute plastic alarm clock that looks like a cat), I drag myself into my office and begin to incorporate (or not) the edits I have printed out the night before. My schedule is one chapter per day. I don’t usually take issue with my editor’s suggestions. I am certainly not going to raise a challenge in the war with the dreaded commas. When I do come to an edit I don’t like, I leave it and go for a walk or do battle with the weeds in my garden. Most of the time, upon second and third thought, my editor is right. Every once in a while though, like Ray Chandler, I stick to my guns. There are some words or scenes that I love and have written with “eyes wide open.” They get to stay in the book.



Meeting with the Editor

 ‘A book is so much a part of oneself that in delivering it to the public one feels as if one were pushing one’s own child out into the traffic.”                         ─  Quentin Bell

I met with my editor, Lisa Jackson, yesterday at a coffee house in Nashua to go over the edits to MacCullough’s Women. I can relate to Mr. Bell’s quote because the characters: Drew, Franny, Brid, Neil, Lorie, and Sofia feel like they are my children and I love them. I brought them to life and set them in motion through the pages of the book. Sitting with an editor is in many ways like sitting across from a teacher at a Parent Conference. You only want to hear good news but you usually know your child’s strengths and weaknesses before you sit down. Unfortunately, the characters you create in books, like the children you give birth to, are rarely flawless.

I learned from Lisa that I have raised some of “my children” better than I have raised others. No matter how a writer feels about her book, it is usually in the best interest of the book to listen to the editor. There are two types of edits: content and copy. I have asked Lisa to do both and she has done an excellent job. The content edit examines the book for inconsistencies in the story, the timeline, plot and characters. The copy edit prepares the book for publication checking for mistakes in grammar, spelling, formatting and spacing. She pointed out to me that two spaces are no longer used at the end of a sentence. She paused for a minute, smiled and added, “This applies to blogs, too.” You get to see how well I listened to her as you continue to read my blog. This will be a difficult habit for me to break as it appears that I am hardwired to put two spaces in after a period or question mark. “Or three,” Lisa would probably add. Over the course of writing this book, I have learned when it comes to punctuation (especially commas) that in my mind more is better and that is not always the case.

The next few weeks I will be sending Drew and Lorie to “summer school” as I work out the best way to incorporate Lisa’s suggestions into the story. The result, we hope, will be a better book.

I have a great read for you: Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones. Silver Sparrow is the story of a bigamist and his two families. Set in Atlanta, the book follows James Witherspoon, a complicated man shaped by an adolescent mistake, as he delicately juggles two wives and two daughters living only a few miles apart. Jones has created a story where it is possible to be feel sympathy for both families, especially for the two young women, born four months apart, who are at first drawn to and then repelled by one other. Enjoy it.


Remembering my Father

 “His life was gentle; and the elements
So mixed in him, that Nature might stand up,
And say to all the world, THIS WAS A MAN!” 
 ─ William Shakespeare

John L. Ferrari in Italy during WWII

I loved my father. “Huh? Doesn’t everyone?” You ask?  The answer is no, they don’t. Discovering this was probably the biggest shock of my college orientation week, when I heard more than once, “I hate my father.” Or, “My old man is such a jerk.”  It was a foreign concept to me and I thought less of the people who were saying it, no matter how cool they otherwise seemed.

My father was always larger than life to me. His star never dimmed in the twenty-two years that I was privileged to share the world with him. You may find this surprising when I tell you that he lived an unremarkable life, typical of his class and his time. He was a first-generation American whose Italian father and Irish mother were both dead by the time he was five.  He grew up hard, money and opportunities were in short supply as he came of age in the heart the Great Depression. He left high school to find work, as so many others did, because money was needed, not for pleasure, but to eat. His formal education ended and he began a life of self-education, and inquiry.  He excelled at critical thinking and usually taught himself what skills he needed to accomplish what he was trying to do.

He went to war in 1943 like thousands of other American men because he was asked to.  He was not a hero and he never claimed to be one seeing what he did as fulfilling an obligation to his country and nothing more. Landing in North Africa and then going on to Italy, he followed the old Roman road and fought at Monte Cassino, running communication lines up the mountain. He served with the occupation forces in Vienna returning home in 1946.  He gave three years of his life, was thankful to have made it back in one piece and rarely talked about it.

He was thirty-eight when I born, coming to fatherhood late for his generation. I don’t think he gave much thought to the kind of father he was or worried about it. Unlike parents of today, who seem to be obsessed with how lucky they are to have their children, he understood only too well how lucky my sister and I were to have him. His values were old-fashioned ones, he practiced his faith quietly but ended each night on his knees. He gave us what I have read is the greatest gift a father can give his children; he loved our mother. He was a good man.

He was a high school custodian the last ten years of his life. He ran what today would be called outreach or intervention informally from the janitor’s room. Keeping his eyes on boys he thought were going to end up in trouble, he found small jobs for them, provided a place to hangout and let them know what he thought of certain types of behavior. His impact is unknown but some years after his death when one of these boys, grown to manhood, did some house repairs for my mother, he refused payment for his work saying, “If it wasn’t for Bud, I would be in jail today.”

My father was a dreamer who loved to read, both traits he passed to me.  He believed that I would be a writer and he told me so often, saying things like “You can use this when you’re a writer.” I am glad I have lived up to his expectations.  He was the classiest man that I ever knew. He never let me down. I can’t imagine a better father and I miss him.


Practice Used as a Verb

It’s all fun and games until the flying monkeys attack. 

    Inspired by The Wizard of Oz

The word practice can be used as both a noun and a verb.  Today, we usually see it used as a noun: My Yoga Practice, My Meditation Practice and for me ─ My Writing Practice. We don’t often see it used as a verb.  I think this is largely due to the fact that we live in times of instant gratification. Everything is fast: food, instant downloading of music, books, movies and communication using email, Skype, Twitter and Facebook.  Let’s face it, we don’t wait for much.  Practice used as a verb tends to be sloooooooooooow, repetitive,  time consuming, often boring and a lot work.  I can remember practicing Palmer Method writing ─ endlessly! I had a hard time wth the letter “r”.

This is me practicing blogging as opposed to it being My Blog Practice.  I used this quote because it sums up what I have been doing here.  Setting up and announcing the blog was definitely all fun and games. It was great to be able to say, “Come read my blog.” But now the flying monkeys are attacking and I have to actually practice blogging. 

My approach has been to slink around a lot of blogs.  There are several that I was already reading regularly. I really enjoy The Hen Blog by Terry Golson .   Watching Terry’s chickens can make even the gloomiest day bearable.  Terry is a  professional chef  and food writer who sometimes posts wonderful recipes, too. She knows all about chickens.  There are lots of blogs out there and they are all different.  The key to successful blogging is discovering what makes the reader want to come back. So, of course, I return to the blogger book. In fact, now I have another book (but you probably already knew that.) Branding Yourself  by Erik Deckers and Kyle Lacy. Having already selected the platform (WordPress) which is part of the fun and games, I move onto the monkeys. I need to:

  • Figure out what to write about – this is tricky because I worry that what interests me might bore you to death. I guess I will find out. I plan to post mostly about writing, the current state of publishing and the books I am reading but I am sure that other things will show up even a recipe or two. Unfortunately, one of the known cures for writer’s block is eating.
  • Post often – My goal is to post at least three times a week.
  • Use my own voice – Writers know about voice because you have to be able to give your characters distinctive voices.  I just need to dust off my own.

What is that you like to see in the blogs that you follow regularly? What turns you off?


Writers Are Always Writing


If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.  – Stephen King

 You have all seen writers squinting at their laptops in the café at Barnes and Noble and scribbling away in the little notebooks that everyone knows a good writer carries with them. What you don’t know, unless you are a writer, is that writers don’t need anything in their hands or in front of them to write.  While I have a little red notebook tucked in my purse for those moments when a table and chair in a café or a park bench presents itself, I do some of my best writing in my head walking my English Cocker Spaniel on our daily strolls through the neighborhood.  Yes, I am that lady in the straw hat with the bouncy black dog who looks right through you as you pass her and call out a cheerful hello.  You think that I am very snooty and in reality I don’t even know you are there because I am in the middle of scene from my novel. 

 Scarier still is when you approach me and realize that I’m talking to someone you can’t see. “Must be the dog,” you say, but in your heart you don’t believe it, because the dog is not paying any attention. What I’m really doing is speaking dialogue aloud to see how it sounds. I try not to do this but sometimes I get so caught up in the writing going on in my head that I can’t help myself.  Writers take note of everything no matter where they are: the doctor’s office, the hairdresser, the beach, the ladies room.  About eight years ago, I was in the lobby of the Wang Center in Boston during intermission for the ballet Swan Lake.  A lovely blonde in a classic little black dress walked by me with a tattoo of a long, thick black snake crawling up her arm.  That girl and her snake walked right into the first chapter of MacCullough’s Women.

 Summer is here and lots of you will be entertaining little ones.  I want to recommend a super book to you: Toad Cottages & Shooting Stars by Sharon Lovejoy.  It says it is “Grandma’s bag of Tricks” but it will work for anyone! It contains lots of inexpensive and creative things to do with kids. Enjoy.


Why Blog?

If wishes were horses, beggars would ride   English Proverb

 “You have to blog, if you want to market your writing.”   I have been told this repeatedly.  I didn’t actually put my fingers in my ears and say “I can’t hear you, I can’t hear you.” the way my daughter used to do when she was eight but I sure was thinking it and I was NOT blogging,  Then I did what I always do when I’m stumped, I read a book. Actually, I read several books. My favorite was Blogging All-In-One for Dummies by Susan Gunelius. 

Blogging it turns out is just talking on steroids.  I am nothing if not a good talker. Some people will tell you that I have been talking non-stop since I was a toddler. My grandfather once paid me a dime to stop talking! Considered from that angle, blogging was no longer intimidating and became, well, as natural as talking.

 There are of course, rules and best practices to follow.  I went back and reread the March chapter of The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. This is a great book that I have read three times and given as a gift.  Gretchen tells you how she started her wildly successful blog.

My blog will be about my efforts to become what I have wanted to be since I was a girl─ a writer.  I am sure that I will also include my observations of what I see along the way. I hope you find it worth reading.

 What appeals to you about the blogs that you follow?


How much to tell

If you produce one book, you will have done something wonderful in your life.  —  Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis

 And so now we come to the second book in the Lynton Series. Starting Francesca’s Foundlings is proving to be more challenging than I thought it would.  I have the characters: Franny, Brid, Sofia, Neil and Brendan but what to do with them?

“Don’t you work from an outline?” I hear you asking in a somewhat shocked tone.  What you get in response is a hedged answer, “I want to, I should.” If I am really cornered, “Sister told me to.”  Writers fall into two categories, structured and intuitive, according to Walter Mosley in This Year You Write Your Novel.  A structured writer knows the whole story before she begins to write it. The intuitive writer puts the characters in motion and follows them through the pages, scribbling madly in their wake.  The downside of this is that you have days when you just stare at the computer monitor without a clue as to what you should write. (If you had the outline you would at least know what you should be writing.)  But the upside is, your characters can and will surprise you and drag you places that you never intended them to go.

The questions plaguing me this morning is how much about MacCullough’s Women (also known as backstory) does the reader need to know and how quickly should I reveal it to them?