The Many Layers of Editing: Part Two

I’ve already submitted a post about the level of editing I’ve been enjoying for my novel Curva Peligrosa, to be published in 2017. I don’t think I would have received such intense feedback if the novel had been published by a large press. While I’m extremely grateful for my publisher/editor’s attentiveness, at times I also feel overwhelmed by the number of comments she’s made that often go beyond suggestions and feel as if she’s taking over my manuscript. It’s a delicate balancing act on her part and on mine.

editrBut her observations also are forcing me to reconsider or question aspects of the work that I have felt were finalized. That is the most painful part: as someone who has knitted in a past life, this process reminds me of what happens if you slip a stitch. The knitter can’t just keep going. She has to return to the place where the error occurred and start over from that point. It’s not a happy move. Yet ultimately, it will give a finished garment that looks professional, not something marred by many snags and snarls.

I’ve had to put my own role as writer aside and let the work itself have prominence. Otherwise, my ego gets too involved in the outcome and I won’t heed valuable criticisms that will improve the overall product.

Fine-tuning a novel takes not only an enormous amount of time but it also requires tremendous patience. Passages that had made perfect sense to me originally take on an opacity when viewed through an attentive reader’s periscope. Novel writers need to be prepared for this kind of scrutiny. We may feel we’ve hit all of the notes in our many drafts, but we also need to recognize our limitations.

It requires a skilled reader to help us see what we’ve missed. And humiliating as that may be, it’s an essential part of the writing craft. Being able to take good criticism and make it part of the final product.

The Many Layers of Editing

Small presses don’t have the reputation that larger presses do of having high editorial standards. But my experience with these presses, especially the one that is publishing Curva Peligrosa, my second novel, has been revelatory.

Before submitting the manuscript to the press for its consideration. I had been through it numerous times on my own, seeking to strengthen it. I also had hired two different “professional” editors to read and review it. They made valuable suggestions, many of which I used as a basis for additional rewrites.

editrBut I’m discovering a whole new level of revising in my interaction with my publisher/editor. She has done one read through where she looked at overarching problems that should be addressed. Now I’m going through her second review that consists largely of line editing. She has found many inconsistencies that are unavoidable in a 350-page work. She also has made numerous suggestions that have helped me to add important detail or to deepen/streamline the narrative. It’s an invaluable experience to have this kind of attentive and intelligent questioning of passages that I thought were complete.

Of course, I resist some of her comments, and I don’t act on all of her recommendations—maybe two thirds. Though she is deeply involved in the characters and action, it is my creation, and she doesn’t know the book in the same way that I do. But, then, that’s my role as the author. Even so, the work is much stronger because of her involvement in it.

From this experience, I’ve discovered how valuable this kind of intensive editing can be. While I gave birth to the world I’ve created, it helps enormously to have a sensitive eye that can assist in the midwifery. I feel I’m receiving an even higher caliber of help in this process than I might have if a large publishing house had purchased the book. Not only is there more clarity, but seeing the characters/situations/settings through a sensitive reader’s eyes gives deeper insight into the work in general.

This won’t be the final edit (a copyeditor will look closely at grammatical/typographical errors next after I go through it again on my own), but it has been more than illuminating. My publisher/editor’s reading has raised the novel to another level, something not all published authors achieve.


Where Do Characters Come From?

Where do characters come from? I’ve been asking myself that question for as long as I’ve been writing, but the complete answer still evades me. The process is as mysterious as the origins of life itself, maybe even more so. At least we know that life on earth evolved from some primordial soup. But what concoction serves as the foundation for those who inhabit our stories?

Seeds come to mind. Seeds give birth to plants and other living things. Humans start as a kind of seed. And so do our creations. As writers, we have experienced multiple settings and experiences. We’ve connected with many different types of people. All of those contacts can provide us with matercharacters copyial that we sift through, plant in our fictions, and watch grow.

For me, often what helps me find my characters is their name, an essential way for me to discover who these individuals are. In my novels Fling! and Bone Songs, I couldn’t have uncovered the protagonists if I hadn’t first found the words to set them free. In Fling! 90-year-old Bubbles and her daughter 57-year old Feather come alive because these designations depict so accurately these women’s personalities. Bubbles actually lives in a kind of bubble, but she also has a feisty nature and an enduring curiosity that allows her to take adventures, even as an elderly woman. And Feather is a former hippie as well as an artist whose interest in the Goddess religion leads her to some intriguing adventures in Mexico, the place they visit together. Once I found their names, it was easy for me to follow them on their quest.

When I was writing Curva Peligrosa, the name I first chose for the heroine, a larger-than-life woman (she’s over six foot tall and full-bodied) from Southern Mexico, was Lupita. I knew that the novel started with a tornado that hit the small Canadian town of Weed, Alberta. But I couldn’t get inside this female. She evaded me.

Around that time, my husband and I visited Mexico City. When we landed, a driver was waiting to take us to a resort we had booked into in Cuernavaca, a small town a two-hour drive away. At each curve we approached, I noticed the words “Curva Peligrosa” and recognized the Spanish for dangerous curve. That’s when it hit me that this was my character’s name. Once I found it, her personality blossomed immediately. I could hear the sound of her voice, her laugh. I knew what she looked like (she resembles Katy Jurado, the once-famous Mexican actress that appeared in High Noon) and the book took off.

That’s my story of how my invented worlds become populated. Have others had a similar experience?






Does your character have dangerous curves?


My novel Curva Peligrosa will be published in 2017. That is months away, but before the manuscript is ready for final production, it has several stages to go through.

For the past month, I’ve been revising the content, based on recommendations and/or suggestions made by my publisher, Jaynie at Regal House. Her reading of the book was intensive, close, and detailed. She has given me many valuable ideas about characters, the plot, and so much more. I haven’t acted on all of her suggestions, but I have incorporated a good deal. I’m almost ready to move onto the next stage, which will include more content revisions, I’m sure, but also will focus on proofreading corrections.

The main character in this work is Curva Peligrosa, but that isn’t the name I started with. Lupita was her name originally, yet after the opening scene, when a tornado hits this small Southern Alberta town called Weed, throwing the place into turmoil, and the storm drops the main character’s outhouse into the center of town, I felt stuck. Her personality eluded me, a disappointment after my first rush of excitement in starting the narrative.

This character was born in southern Mexico, and it wasn’t until my husband and I visited Mexico City that Curva came into focus. We had booked into Las Mananitas in Cuernavaca for five nights, a town two hours by car from Mexico City. A driver picked us up from the airport and took us to our lovely destination. It was during this ride that I kept seeing the words curva peligrosa pop up on signs each time we took a curve.dangerous curves]

I asked the driver what the word meant, and he said dangerous curves. I knew then that my character’s name would be: yes, you guessed it: Curva Peligrosa.

She immediately came into view. I could visualize her. I also could hear her voice and imagine her personality. She turns out to be a charismatic larger than life (over six-foot-tall and voluptuous) woman who not only is a sharp shooter but also traveled the Old North Trail for 20 years with her horses, dog, two parrots, and a goat—a wilderness route running from Mexico to Canada that she manages to infiltrate and transcend. She also throws dangerous curves at residents of Weed, Alberta. But you’ll have to read the novel to find out more!