Discussing ‘Baby Grand’ on The Writer’s Dream

As is the tradition of this blog, on Tuesdays I usually feature first-time authors as part of my Debut Author Q&A series. This week, I thought perhaps I’d share my own interview on The Writer’s Dream, a public access television show taped on Long Island on which authors discuss the writing, publishing and marketing of their books. Some of you may know that I am the original moderator of this program — and still appear as such from time to time — but for this episode, which was taped in late July, I hand over the moderator seat to executive producer Linda Frank who interviews me about the road to publication for Baby Grand.

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Writing Tip #91

Details, details. I have been overwhelmed by the five-star ratings and glowing reviews for Baby Grand. (For a gal who spent most of last year hearing what was WRONG with her novel from traditional publishing editors, it certainly is a welcome change!) Many readers are saying they like the detailing, which helps them visualize the scenes as they are reading and makes them feel as if they are right there with the characters, in their world. Today, a reader posted the following comment (it’s actually two partial comments that I rolled into one) on the Making ‘Baby Grand’ Facebook page:

“…downloaded your book to my kindle, read your novel in 2 days…could not put it down….I want part 2!!!…My guy is an avid reader ….I gave him your novel to read…again….he could not put it down! You have got it! He said it captured him immediately and you just couldn’t wait to see what happens at each turn. I asked him one morning…”where are you in the story?”…he said “they are at the coffee shop”…and we both said….”oh, cherry pie”..lol…I mean it is the attention to detail and your ability to keep one captivated….again…best of luck…full speed ahead….will be looking forward to the next read!”

It’s important to note that many of those kinds of details were added during the revision stage of the writing process. For the most part, with the exception of those early chapters that I wrote when I was in graduate school and wanted to make as complete as possible, the first draft of Baby Grand was very skeleton-like. The bare bones of the novel. Get the plot down. Boom. And then it is in the editing that I like to say “the magic happens.” The details. Trying to describe something just the way I see it in my mind’s eye. The sights. The smells. The sounds. I try not to overwhelm the reader’s senses, but focus on what I think are the most important descriptive elements of each scene.

Do it right and it’s like a little movie is playing in the minds of your readers. And who knows? Do it really right and maybe one day that little movie will be playing at the local multiplex.

Writing Tip #83

Just when you think you have nothing left — PUSH. Some of my strongest memories of writing Baby Grand involved intense bouts of self-doubt. In graduate school, where I wrote the first third of the manuscript, there was one point where I had completed Chapters 1, 2, 4, 5 and 6.

My professor asked, “Well, what about Chapter 3?”

Truth be told, Chapter 3 was scaring the hell out of me. I had planned it to be the first chapter involving the police investigation where the reader meets the detective assigned to the case. And after YEARS of watching Law & Order, I felt like I knew nothing about police investigations, and there was absolutely no way I could write a convincing scene (in fact, if there had been a way to avoid doing a police investigation at all in this novel, I would have found it).

I remember my professor’s confusion, like she didn’t know what I was talking about. “Just write it,” she said, dismissively, and went on to the next student.

That night, I went home and stared at a blank page. Just write it? I thought. I just can’t. I can’t. I can’t. And then I started typing, writing anything that came to me to get some random ideas on paper, and then going over and over that writing (which is the way I write — constant editing) until I sat there and looked at it with amazement. Gosh, it’s not terrible, after all, I thought.

More than a year later, during the revision stage of Baby Grand, it was my agent who would give me that gentle push, who questioned and probed and would say, “This doesn’t ring true” or “I think you should delve more here.” Delve more? I’d pace the living room floor in frustration, confident that there was nothing more to say on the matter. I just can’t, can’t, can’t. And then I’d sit down and try, and not only did I find out that I could, but that her instincts were right and made Baby Grand a better novel.

There are probably hundreds of additional instances during the writing and rewriting of Baby Grand when there was nobody to push me but myself. Nights spent in a dark, quiet house alone with my laptop, staring out the window at the rising sun, battling those self-doubt demons who said I couldn’t hack it, that what Baby Grand needed I couldn’t give it. During those times, I didn’t give up. I cried, of course, and said things like “I can’t do this” and “I have no talent,” but deep down I knew that I could and that I did. I found the strength and determination to push myself when I thought I had nothing left. Just when I thought, I have absolutely NO idea what to write here, I would find it somehow.

Those are probably some of the sweetest moments of writing, when you sit back and stare at the screen and think, Wow, I really COULD do this, after all. And as much as the temptation is always there to throw in the towel, I wouldn’t miss those moments for the world.

Writing Tip #80

Hire a professional copy editor. Some people are surprised when I tell them that I had the manuscript for Baby Grand professionally copy edited.

“But aren’t you an editor?” they ask.

“Yep,” I say. “And as an editor I know the importance of a good copy edit.”

Copy editing, or line editing, is going through a proof or manuscript, line by line, in order to find errors (grammatical, continuity, etc.). Baby Grand just went through copy editing and, as it turns out, was relatively clean (as it should be, since I am, indeed, an editor), but the copy editor did catch quite a few formatting and grammatical (e.g., en dash vs. em dash) issues and asked astute questions with regard to plot and characterization. As I clicked through the manuscript, I kept thinking how happy I was to have had this critical eye go through the copy one last time.

Keep in mind that copy editing is a professional service. It’s not really something you can ask your friends to do for you. On the other hand, anyone can be a “beta reader,” who is also someone who reads your manuscript for errors, but that person will probably not be as meticulous or familiar with style guides as a professional. Both have their place and can be very helpful in making your manuscript the very best it can be.

Professional copy editing or proofreading rates vary per project, and copy editors may charge you by the hour or by the page. For a 300-page manuscript, you may pay something like $600 to $1,000, but, again, pricing depends on the person or company you use and the services needed. It’s probably a good idea to ask around, too, and see if any of your writer-friends can recommend a copy editor whom they found to be affordable, yet thorough. After seeing the kinds of things my copy editor found that escaped my eyes, my advice is not to skimp on the copy-editing. It’s worth every penny.

‘Just Cut the Whole Damn Thing’

On Wednesday, I finished editing my manuscript for Baby Grand. The third edit. And hopefully the last — at least for the time being.

The book is now 330 pages and just over 93,000 words (my original draft was 277 pages).

If you would have told me on Monday that I would be finished by Wednesday, I wouldn’t have believed you. That’s because throughout this entire process, I had planned on adding a chapter at the very end of my book — a chapter that would help clear up some ambiguity. On Monday, it was time to write that chapter, and I was clueless. For the past few months, I’d written a bunch of notes, and lines, for it, things I wanted to include. But things weren’t clicking. I was writing and writing and feeling like I was going nowhere. Not a good sign for a thriller. But I thought that perhaps if I kept writing, something would come to me, and then I’d be able to zero in on it, and cut out all the rest.

I was in bed Tuesday morning, unable to sleep, and it hit me: Why not just cut the whole damn thing?

Not the content of the ending, but trim the way I was telling it. Stop blabbering on and on. Shortening it might make it more impactful.

Hmmm… I wondered if I was suggesting this, because I was being lazy. Or perhaps I’d had enough and needed a break. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that my ending could be more powerful if I took elements that I really liked from my last chapter, the one that I had, and shoved them into my second to last chapter, and made that my ending.

Would it work? I gave it a try, and I think it does. For the past couple of days, I’ve been opening up the manuscript to take a peek at the ending, hoping that I would still be happy with it. And each time I read it, I am.

One of my earlier writing tips (Writing Tip #9) is to “omit unnecessary words.” That’s certainly what I did with my ending, although it took me a while, over a year, to realize I had to.

I joked on my Facebook page that all the recent Facebook changes reminded me of the editing of my novel: Things keep changing, but I’m not sure anything is getting better. But the truth is I think my novel is far better having gone through three revisions. Even though I groaned my way through all of them.

Done! Let the Panic Begin!

Done! Again! Yay!

Made my deadline for second-round revisions. I breezed through most of the manuscript, which, as I’ve mentioned several times in this blog, is a far cry from the first time around when I struggled on page 1 wondering why I didn’t become a mathematician.

Final stats:

Number of pages: 315
Number of words: 88,432

So now what do I do? Panic, of course. Develop insomnia and some horrible tic as I wait. And wait. I wonder how many of you will be so fed up with my angst in the coming months that you will lobby WordPress to discontinue my username and ban my ass from blogging.

Or maybe someone will take pity on me and offer me a publishing contract. :)

 

Doubt

I had to laugh the other day (which, judging from previous posts, I seem to do a lot on Twitter) when I read this tweet from @SGibbsFiction:

anyone ever felt totally inadequate? sucks.

My answer to that was: But, of course! I’m a writer.

Even though 2nd-round revisions are going very smoothly for Baby Grand, and somehow I’m back on schedule after missing two days of revising, I’m continually astounded by how often doubt creeps into the picture as I work. I could write or rewrite blissfully for hours and then hit a momentary snag, and my first thought is: Who am I kidding? I can’t do this. Even though I know I can.

Perhaps, like procrastination, it’s just part of my process, but I know I’m not alone. Besides @SGibbsFiction, virtually all writers tell me they have moments of doubt — sometimes, looong moments of doubt — and often think they’re “not good enough.” Back in April, I told you about my former college professor Martha McPhee who referred to that doubt as the “shitbird” that sits on your shoulder and pecks at you all day long and whispers negativity into your ear. The key is pushing through, ignoring that damn bird or pushing him off your shoulder altogether.

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of meeting a young man by the name of Brian Gottlieb who, at the age of 17, is a crazy talented financial whiz. In chatting with him and his mom over lunch, I said to Brian, “You seem like a very confident young man.”

“Oh, yes,” Brian answered, without a hint of doubt. “I am.”

I liked Brian immediately. He was self-assured without being cocky, and when I asked him financial questions, he rattled off like a seasoned analyst. But sometimes I would ask him something non-stock-market-related for which the answer didn’t come readily, and, perplexed, he would turn to his mother for assistance, more like the 17-year-old that he was.

“See that,” I thought to myself. “Even confident people don’t always have the answers.”