Friday, February 25, 2011

Salute to Editors, Part 1

This week, I present part one of an interview I did with Kat Thompson, former senior editor at Echelon Press. Although since she first sent me the email leting me know Echelon had accepted two of my novels for publication, and since she graciously agreed to an interview, she has stepped back from major editing duties. However, as a guide and advisor, she possesses skills and talents from which all writers may benefit.

1. Who is Kat Thompson? Tell me a little about yourself. What one thing about you would surprise most people?

I am a retired computer systems security geek. Have been married to my best friend for over 30 years. I am a voracious reader, like to garden, do needlework and bake. I occasionally write extremely bad poetry - something few have seen. I started proof-reading when I was 10 years old - for a newsletter my mother published. Since then I've proofed, been a reviewer, I do cold reads, advise on cover art, and edit both fiction and non-fiction. I've been known to write the occasional non-fiction article, but for the most part I do not write...and have no desire to do so.

2. What brought you to Echelon Press? How long have you been with the company? What's your title and duties?

I started with Karen about 2004, as an editor. I'd heard she was looking for editors and had just survived the implosion of NBI. After working for Karen for a few months, she offered me the Executive Editor position. Talked if over with my husband, agonized about it for a few days and, with great trepidation, accepted her offer. At that point, my life got a bit interesting (sort of like a Chinese curse).

I am the Executive Editor, responsible for herding cats (our editors) and making sure manuscripts receive quality edits we and our authors can be proud of. I am the final decision maker when there are issues concerning editing, and I act as a sounding board for the other editors when they have questions specific to manuscripts.

3. What's the lure of being an editor? What do you find satisfying about the job?

I have always loved the English language, and editing seems to come from that. I enjoy reading new stories and helping the author make the story the best if can be. I've had a lot of satisfaction in being involved in helping authors polish their stories.

4. Okay, I have what I think is a great story and I write it. I've gone over and over it. I've gotten critiques from other writers and I've rewritten until I can't improve it any further. My part is done, correct? Why not?

Nope. You still need to work with your editor. There is no such animal as a perfect story - someone will always find an error in it (even Eats Shoots and Leaves has at least one!). With a good editor, one who can look not only at the language, grammar, and punctuation, but the content, you can take your story from a really good one, to a truly great story. Your editor cannot do that without your assistance, because it is YOUR story after all. How important is the editor - think about this: how many books have acknowledgments or dedications to an editor? That gives you an idea how important that relationship is.

5. Do you ever run into writers who have the following attitudes: A. "Well, I've paid a professional editor, why do I need a publisher's editor? B. Well, you editors are all a bunch of sharks. You're just wanting to mark up my manuscript." C. "It's my story, leave it alone." How do you handle these?

A. Oh yes, and way too often. The thing is, a professional editor can do a good job, no question, but a publisher will soon lose the business if he or she depends on editors who know nothing about the publishing house and the needs and wants of the publisher. The publisher's editor knows what the publisher likes, what buttons (grammatical) he/she has, and the styles the publisher needs. Each publishing house has a personality and style that comes from the publisher through the editors. It gives the books published there a sort of flavor that is unique to each publishing house - subtle, but there.

B. True - for some editors. Too often authors are hijacked by editors who take ownership of the author's story. It takes a truly talented editor to work closely with the author, yet not force his/her own style, feeling, impressions into the author's story. An editor must keep in mind that the story belongs to the author and it is the editor's goal to help make that story the best it can be without losing the author's voice. And yes, we DO want to mark up your manuscript - but only to improve it.

C. Sometimes you can convince the author in these situations that you're there to help make the story the best it can be. Sometimes, all too often, unfortunately, you have the publisher hand back the rights and tell the author good luck. Thankfully, this attitude does not seem to survive too many rejections - or else they simply go off and self-publish. The sad thing is, someone will read the story - whether it's good or bad.

6. So, what rules should all writers be expected to know and what guidelines should all writers follow?

Writers, first and foremost, need to understand the general rules of English. A good guide for writing is Strunk & White Elements of Style. Other than that, a writer just needs to keep writing, pay attention to what your editor says and learn from it.

7. If a writer knows the rules, has repeatedly re-read the manuscript, why do they miss obvious errors an editor later catches?

Because he or she has re-read the story so often he/she no longer sees every word. One way to help this is to read it out loud, but even that can miss things. It normally takes at least 2 people to catch most of the errors. Even then, we'll find an error just as a book is about to be released, or a couple weeks after release. It happens.

Check in next week for Part 2.

Friday, February 18, 2011

The Name's the Game

One of the many common questions people ask authors is, “Where do you get your ideas from?” Actually, the correct question should be, “From where do you get your ideas?”

Anyway, many authors will answer, “From everyday life.” Just walking around looking at things and people and listening to news stories. At the Killer Nashville writers' conference last August, guest Jeffrey Deaver told how he came up with the idea for The Burning Wire. He had an electrician over one day who did some wiring. During a delicate operation, the electrician told Deaver he had to be careful because a minor slip in either direction could kill him (the electrician, not Deaver). Well, of course being a devilish, murder plot-minded guy, Deaver said, “Cool, tell me more.”

I conceived the idea for Night Shadows after listening to a radio show about supposedly real encounters with shadow creatures and thought, “What if the shadows came from another dimension and killed people?”

When a writer develops his or her plot, one of the most important parts is names for the characters. As any good wizard knows, names have power. Names mean recognition. For instance when you hear the name Sherlock Holmes, you know the character being discussed. Same with Hercule Poirot. Sam Spade. Hamlet. Mike Hammer. After many novels fans begin to recognize names like Stone Barrington, Stephanie Plum, Joe Gunther, Jack Ryan, Ellery Queen, Elvis Cole.

But how do authors choose character names? Some have some good stories behind them but I think it's as interesting to know how authors come up with character names as how musical groups come up with theirs. Level 42, The Platters, Spandau Ballet, The Byrds, The Dead Kennedys (yes, that's a real name of a musical group), Ratt, Genesis. I could go on and on, but you get the point.

Mike Manno, fellow author and friend of mine, picks his characters' names from the list of past Iowa lieutenant governors. It's a list, I'm fairly certain, of which only Mike and the actual LG's themselves are familiar. I mean, can you name five past LG's? Do you care if you can? Anyway, I thought Mike's list for choosing names is interesting.

When I started writing, the name Sam Petersen just popped into my head for my detective. He lived in the Quad Cities and solved mysteries. As the years went by, I changed Sam to Mallory and moved her to Des Moines. In Beta (coming July 15th to fine Internet stores near you), I had originally named Mallory's assistant Jamie and her cop friend Laurel. Then I had a couple of friends tell me those names were a little, uh, well, effeminate for the characters portrayed and they wondered about their, uh, well, sexual inclinations. After thinking about their comments, I changed the names to Darren and Lawrence, respectively. (More manly sounding? Well, Biff and Duke just didn't fit.) Originally, I had most of the Beta's character's surnames begin with the letter C. After re-reading the story, I thought that idea pretty dumb.

I used to scan the phone book for names, but more often than not, settled for one I didn't think quite correct. Then I stumbled onto another source for names that has worked magnificently and, so far, hasn’t failed me yet. When I wrote Night Shadows, Harry Reznik, like the long ago Sam Petersen, just popped into my head and just worked for me. When choosing his partner's moniker, I knew her first name, but chose the surname from my other source. Most of the rest Night Shadows’ characters' surnames (as well as some of the first names) are taken from this source.

So, here's the contest. Tell me where I get the majority of the Night Shadows character names from. Or more accurately (so my editor and former English teacher don't take turns smacking me upside the head), from what list do I get my Night Shadows character names? A little homework and a couple Internet clicks should tell you the answer in pretty quick fashion. The trick is to be the first one to give me the correct answer. There are many ways of doing this. Email, telephone, snail mail, knocking on my door and letting me know in person (after three in the afternoon please since I work most nights), carrier pigeon, sky writing, smoke signals, or even Morse code. (You might have a little trouble with the latter two since I don't understand either. I'd probably call the fire department on the first and wonder how you managed to get a telegraph system in my apartment on the second.)

Of course, all good contests have a prize. The winner will receive a free copy of Beta when it is released in July. (Where you'll find more names from the same source.)

So, happy reading and good luck!

Friday, February 11, 2011


The waiting is the hardest part. Every day you see one more card. You take it on faith, you take it to the heart. The waiting is the hardest part. - Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers

Anticipation, anticipation is making me late, is keeping me waiting. - Carly Simon

Yes, the above two references speak of intimate times with a lover yet to arrive, but I haven't been able to get those two songs out of my head for the last couple of weeks. Because finally, finally, after years of writing story after story, after years of critique groups hammering my novel to death and forcing me to think and re-think my characters and plots, after years of searching for a publisher, after months of waiting for edits, after long arduous hours of editing, editing, finally, more editing, after all the hype and promotion and marketing, and despite a glitch, I get to fulfill a dream. After February 15th, just five days from now, I can add the title 'Published Author' to my name.

The excitement has been growing. I'm ready. My family is ready. My friends and supporters are ready. I hopefully have sparked a readiness in the media. The time to hit the ground running and kick for the uprights has now arrived. (Yeah, sorry about the badly mixed metaphors, but who cares?)

When you read the book, you'll find an acknowledgment page thanking all the folks who've helped me to be published. I was allowed only a certain number of words so I'd like to take the space here to give more thanks to more people.

Of course my parents and family. You've supported me throughout the years and kept pushing me to continue writing. To Karen, Kat, Sean, Mary, and Jennifer at Echelon Press for staying tough and supportive. For giving me advice and a couple of smacks upside the head when I needed them. To Angi, Mike, Virginia, Sara, Susan, and everybody else in the writers' critique groups I've attended throughout the years. I never would have gotten this far without you all pointing out the stupid parts of my story and opening more doors when it came to pitches and publishing. To David who calmed my fears when it came to marketing. To Sunny who opened more doors in networking. To all of the folks I interviewed for research, from the lighting industry, to the police, to the insurance company representatives who provided me with a key scene in my story. A special thanks to Kim who has been a good friend throughout the years, who has traveled the long miles with me, who laughs at my jokes, who has provided enough fodder for a score of stories, who kept pushing and has sacrificed so much for me and the writing craft. You are so close to experiencing the dream and I want you so much to feel the high.

And of course, thanks to all of my friends, associates, Facebook buddies, and the taekwondo crowd who cheer me on and congratulated me beforehand.

I hope you all will enjoy the book as well as the one being released in July. If you don't like them, please tell me. I can take it and I'll try harder on the next one. If you like them, tell me (my ego also anticipates praise. Lol), but most importantly, tell your friends.

The waiting is the hardest part.

The waiting is almost over.

Thank you!

PS. Don't forget about the contest. Details to come next week.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Around the Globe with KERUL KASSEL

So as another snowy week comes to an end, I jump in my transporter, pick this week's author, Kerul Kassel and we're off to a great meeting spot she picked out. Welcome to the Canopy Tower in Panama, outside Panama city, where we're sipping tropical fruit juice and observing the birds and wildlife buzzing outside the open windows at tree canopy level at 6:30a.m. Check out where we're at-

1. Who is Kerul Kassel and what makes you the most fascinating person in your city?
Kerul is a procrastivity expert who knows the difference between good and bad procrastination. She's fascinating because she combines incisive intelligence, mild attractiveness, moderate ambition, and a fierce drive to learn and understand why people do the things they do.

2. Without revealing a deep dark secret (unless you want to), what one thing would people be surprised to learn about you?
I have a (rather private) tattoo and smoke the occasional cigarette.

3. What interested you to be become a writer rather than something else such as becoming Shakespearean actor?
Like so much in my life, I'm an accidental writer (similar to how I became an accidental horse owner, an accidental publicly elected official, and an accidental owner of homes in three states). Maybe incidental would be a better word. Anyway, I wrote to help people understand why they do the things they do, and to create visibility and credibility for my business coaching niche.

4. Writers are readers. With which author(s) would you enjoy sharing dinner? Why?
The first person to come to mind would be, Carl Hiaasen, because he's so funny, writes a great story, and he shares my green sentiments. I'd also love to have shared repast with Kurt Vonnegut (so creative and critically minded), Shakespeare (do you know how much of the English language that man coined?), and Ann Rice (just for curiosity).

5. If I were stranded on a deserted island (or suffering a four hour layover at the airport), why would your book(s) be great company?
They have some humor, some seriousness, a generous helping of grounded practicality, and a large dollop of compassion.

6. Share the Kassel process of writing in regards to: idea and character development, story outline, research (do you Google, visit places/people or make it up on the spot?), writing schedule, editing, and number of rewrites.
I don't write fiction - I'm too linear and literal for that, at least at this point in my life. Generally, I edit as I write - when I get stuck I go back and edit and then proceed again when I get to the spot where I'd been stuck. I don't re-write a lot, but then I'm not writing fiction. When writing, I set a schedule and then stick to it (mostly :-))

7. “I think I have a good idea for a story, but I don’t know where or how to begin. Your process may not work for me. Any advice?”
Join a writing club and get lots of good ideas from other writers.

8. I saw an amusing T-shirt the other day which read ‘Every great idea I have gets me in trouble.” What is your philosophy of life?
"Visualize whirled peas."

9. Please tell me you’re not going to stop writing? What’s next for you?
I'm currently working on a doctoral dissertation (yes, really). After that's done, all bets are off.

10. Where can people find more information on you and your projects?