Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Editing Myopia

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I just finished going over the galleys for Revenge of the Cheerleaders. Reading galleys is like sending a child off to college. You just hope you did a good job somewhere along the line and put in enough time, effort, and love, because at this point it’s too late to change anything but some random punctuation. Now it’s time for my baby to go out into the cold, cruel world where people will see all of the blemishes I was blind to.

Part of the problem of reading a manuscript for, like the twelfth time, is that I don’t see mistakes. Actually I don’t even see words. This is because I know what the thing is supposed to say, and that’s what I see. If I meant to write ‘lately’ and instead I wrote ‘likely’ (which for some odd reason I did) my brain just glosses over the sentence, seeing what should be there.

I’m sure this drives my editor crazy, along with other little quirks about me, such as the fact that I think spelling should be optional. I mean, really, I refuse to take spelling seriously until it starts making sense. For example, I don’t think we should let the letters ‘P’ and ‘H’ make an ‘F’ sound. It isn’t right. The ‘P’ and ‘H’ already have jobs and shouldn’t be allowed to co-op another sound. This is the equivalent of the Maytag repairman and the landscaping guy deciding to do your dental work. I just don’t think so.

And silent letters? Bah! All they do is loaf around getting in the way and making it so third graders will never be able to spell the word knowledge. Don’t even get me started on French words. I mean, what are those people thinking? Did their dictionary makers get paid by the letter? Were they trying to hoist some cruel joke on the public? I have never in my life been able to spell the word rendezvous or hors d'oeuvres right on the first try. I just throw in some v’s, z’s and a bunch of vowels and hope spell-check can sort it out.

Yeah, this is what I become after days of editing.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Why you don't want me to critique your novel . . .

As a writer I often have aspiring authors ask me to critique their manuscripts. They shouldn't. I'm far too harsh. Hardly anyone asks me to critique their work twice.

The truth of the matter is that I don't even like a lot of the published stories I read. I guess it's the author in me--I'm constantly analyzing the books I read and putting them under the microscope for flaws. My teenage daughter once said, "Can't you just read for fun?"

Apparently not.

But on the other hand when I come across a book I like, I really appreciate it. I'll get a dreamy look in my eye, sigh, and murmur, "The author converged all the story climaxes so beautifully . . ."

Yeah, no one likes to go to the movies with me either.

Anyway, I thought I'd put in my own star rating of how I judge books:

Janette's book rating system:

Half a star means: Please tell me my editor was in no way involved with this project.

One star means: A tree died for this?

Two stars means: Gee, the publisher must have been running a special on adjectives and exclamation points.

Two and a half stars means: This book is in no imminent danger of being plagiarized by the Opal Menthe chick.

Three stars means: It was a bit slow but this is easily solved by just reading every other line.

Three and a half stars means: This was okay reading if you are trapped on a plane with only the sky mall magazine to look at.

Four stars means: The book had a few problems but kids probably won't notice them.

Four and a half stars means: This book has Newbery in its future.

Five stars means: Janette actually liked it!

Monday, February 19, 2007

The Higher Power of Lucky and the S word

Everyone in the book world seems to be weighing in on the fervor caused by the S-word in the newly crowned Newbery book: The Higher Power of Lucky, by Susan Patron. I imagine most of my compatriots in literature will come down on the anti-censorship side. As usual, I'm rebelliously prude. There are some words I just don't want to read, and the S-word--I won't write it for fear of having my blog blocked by filters everywhere, but it is part of the male anatomy--is one of those words.

Don't tell me that people say it in real life. I'm perfectly aware that people say much worse. And I don't appreciate hearing those words either. I mean sure, there is a time and a place to say just about any word, and usually that time and place is when I'm not around. As I said, I'm rebelliously prude.

I stayed up late last night (when I should have been working on putting together a class outline for an upcoming conference) to finish John Green's An Abundance of Katherines. I really liked the book. It had unique, interesting characters; humor; and all sorts of symbolism and meaning that will keep English teachers busy for years. I especially like the moral of the story: the stories we tell have meaning and change the world. What writer doesn't like that message?

But the thing I didn't like about the book was the profanity, like, every other sentence of dialogue. (And don't tell me, Green supporters, that changing the CK to G in the F-word makes it any different. It still sounds the same in your mind and you know exactly what the characters meant.)

After having such a succession of swear words run through my mind, I'm always afraid that some of them didn't leave, and they will pop out of my mouth at unexpected moments, like when I'm talking to my daughter's preschool teacher.

Also, how can I recommend that book to the many teenagers I know? Their mothers would hurt me.

So anyway, the whole point of this blog is this: If you're another author out there writing for kids and you have the choice to put in a shocking word or leave it out; please, for the sake of those of us with tender ears, just leave the word out. Nobody will miss it. Not once has anyone read a book and said, “Hey, I really liked that novel except that there wasn’t enough swear words, plus there was a shocking lack of references to the male anatomy.”

Monday, February 12, 2007

Another Call From My Editor

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My editor just called to talk to me about self promotion and book publicity--specifically how I need to be doing both. (I remember fondly the good old days when I thought my job was to write books.) Anyway, with that in mind I'd like to announce that I am the father of Anna Nicole Smith's baby . . . or if that doesn't work, I'm the mother . . . or the long lost twin. At any rate, I'm something very interesting. The paparazzi ought to come hang out in front of my house and snap pictures of me looking like I'm in a hurry and avoiding eye contact. And while they're parked out in front of my house, they should make themselves useful and pull a few weeds. All in all, I think this would make my life easier.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Then again, maybe anonymity isn’t so bad.

I know in my New Year's resolutions blog I resolved to become wildly famous because, unlike some people, I could live a life free of embarrassing myself by stepping out of limos while only half dressed. But I didn’t take into account that there are so many other ways to embarrass myself. Like for example, having children.

I was in the post office with my four year old daughter. I had about twenty review copies of It’s A Mall World After All that I was mailing out to various school librarians in the state, you know, doing that self promotion my editors are always asking about.
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Taking my four year old anywhere that is not strictly child proof--complete with ball pit--is always a risky venture. If the place doesn’t have a jungle gym, my darling daughter (hereafter referred to as DD) will find a way to create one. Clothes racks, tables, shopping carts—they all work.

But I’d been trying to get to the post office for days, so I had a little talk with DD about the behavior I expected from her and off we went to wait in a line behind two dozen other people.

I don’t know why the line is always so long at the post office. Any time of the day it’s like that. I don’t know why they don’t just hire another worker. They probably would earn more money in the long run because people like me wouldn’t do everything in their power to avoid the place. But there we were. For the first fifteen minutes DD was good. Oh sure, I had to tell her not to swing on the door sensor that beeps if you try to do something evil, like steal stamps, but that’s manageable behavior. Then she took the stack of Change-Address-Requests and began drawing on them. I didn’t stop her. I figure hey, if the post office is going to make small children wait for long periods they can forfeit some paper.

When I was the second person in line, DD informed me that she had to go to the bathroom. I informed her that there wasn’t a bathroom around, and besides, I was almost to the front of the line. This conversation went on for a few minutes and then I smelled a bad smell. And yes, it was what you think it was. Apparently surprised herself, DD put her hand down there to check out what it was.

I spent the rest of the time in line looking for Kleenex in my purse and telling her DON’T TOUCH ANYTHING. NO, STOP TOUCHING THINGS. GET OFF THE FLOOR. DON’T TOUCH ME EITHER.

And we were in line for a good ten minutes after this happened because the three people at the counter (who were all getting passports done) were reading the fine print, or waiting for foreign governments to change heads of state, or I don’t know, maybe just being really slow because that’s how the post office is run. One of them was complaining about something (although I didn’t feel sorry for him because hey, he didn’t have to keep a poopy child occupied). He kept saying things like, “Well, if I went into the passport office in San Francisco would they have the same policies? Can I get an appointment there?”

By this time I was about to have a nervous break down, and DD was on the floor making poop sculptures.

Finally it was my turn. I went to the counter telling DD to come with me but not to touch anything, including herself.

I told the lady at the counter that I needed to mail these books but I wasn’t sure if it was best to mail them first class or media mail. She went into her, Is-there-anything-flamable-hazardous-or-that-could-be-used-to-make-explosives-speaches.

In one of my books? I wish. Maybe I’d get some attention in the literary world if my books could be used to hijack a mail truck, but no.

“They’re books,” I told her.

“I’m still required to ask the questions,” she told me.

And I wondered why things took so long in the post office.

So I told her no, my packages were perfectly safe and then we went through all the rates until I decided that first class was better than media mail after all. I also told her that I was sorry, but she was going to have to disinfect the entire post office after we left, because my daughter had an accident and kept touching things. (I’m sure none of the patrons behind us wanted to lay a hand on the counters, the pen, and especially the Change-Address-Request sheets.)

It took the post office lady a long time to print out the postage stickers for my packages, and I was constantly checking to see where DD was and what she was touching. It was then that the post office lady noticed the addresses on the packages. “Are these children’s books?” she asked.

“Young adult books,” I said.

“Are you a teacher or librarian or something?” she asked.

“I’m a writer,” I said. “They’re review copies.”

And then she asked what kind of books I wrote and all of those kinds of questions. I admit I didn’t appear to be very jolly for someone who writes comedies, or you know sophisticated, competent--any of those things writers would like their personas to be. In fact, I’m really hoping she and everyone in line behind me has completely forgotten my name.

Sometimes it pays to be an unknown.