Wednesday, October 29, 2014

I Want to Edit Your Work

My Autobiographical Love Affair...with Writing and Editing

I might have been the first fan-fiction writer in the world. I took my first characters from a book I read in fourth grade and then wrote a continuing story.  I loved writing, even as an eleven-year-old boy in a country school, with only thirteen children in fourth grade. We shared a classroom with third grade. As you can imagine, while the teacher was busy with the third graders, she had us reading, writing, or otherwise staying quiet while she gave instructions and lectured to the third graders. So, I loved the book, The Four Story Mistake, and I didn't want it to end, so while our teacher was busy with the other grade, I filled a spiral notebook with the continuing story. That was fifty-five years ago, so you could say I've been a writer since grade school.

I remember visiting relatives (an aunt and uncle on my father's side) one Christmas, and while everyone was sitting around the living room visiting, I had a yellow legal pad and wrote a "scary" story, which later I left on the arm of a sofa, and my heart skipped a beat when I saw one of my adult cousins pick it up and read it from start to finish. Later on, I worked up the courage to ask him what he thought, and he said it was "real interesting." I'm sure I was a little older than I was in fourth grade by then. My cousin was already an adult. My father was the youngest of nine children, so by the time he was old enough to have children of his own (there were six of us), we were all younger than most of our cousins or about the same age as a few of them who were born to Dad's sisters or brothers close to his age.

One of my cousins (near my age) and I wrote another story, which we both remember to this day (they say long-term memory doesn't fail when you're getting older nearly as much as short-term memory), even though we're dangerously close to being senior citizens. The story was called "The Three-Toed Killer," about an animal of some scary sort that we made up. Her father was impressed with our effort. We were impressed with our story, too. We actually finished it, and we didn't get into cousinly fights or spats during the whole day we spent on it.

In fact, I can recall many instances throughout my life where I set words to paper, trying to capture a real-life adventure, describe a certain feeling, to bring a place I loved to life. It was usually in an attempt to capture how it felt and what things were like as my family traveled and visited relatives. We could go all the way from Oregon to Louisiana and never have to spend the night in a hotel. We had relatives on both sides of our family spaced perfectly apart, so that Dad could plan our road trip and end up at a relative's house each night. Free room and board, free entertainment. We never took a vacation to places where there weren't relatives. My parents were children of the Great Depression.

Besides, when your relatives lived on farms and ranches, or ran laundromats in dying Texas towns, where Christmases were spent in old-fashioned towns and we bundled up to go to the town square to see Santa Clause, or rode horses and played among pine trees, or told ghost stories in isolated houses on a ranch, down the hill from the main house, what good were prefabbed vacations in places where everyone else went? I learned setting and character and plot development as a child. It was a natural kind of process as I wrote stories.

It was natural for me to major in English in school, as well; and it was natural for me to pursue jobs that allowed me to write and edit. So, despite (or because of) having now been a writer/editor for almost forty years, I still have a love affair with words. Although I'm retired from the university as a technical writer/editor, I've been working for companies that provide editorial services for an additional ten years. During that time, I've specialized in fiction of a wide range of genres, autobiography, and history.  I've written almost a dozen novels, and in 2008, I was given an award from a peer group of writers as "Outstanding Mid-Career Novelist." Yes, it came with a good cash award, but more importantly it was recognition from fellow writers. Of course, such an award does not make me a better writer or a good editor. This comes from helping other writers untangle mangled plot lines, develop characters that you can hear breathing, characters that sweat and give off body heat, settings that drip with rainwater, sear the lungs with desert heat, places that cause you to gasp in fear or wonder, well developed stories that cause the hair to stand up on the back of your head or cause you to sneak away to cry, cause you to laugh aloud and then look around the waiting room hoping no one is coming to take you away for such an outburst.

So, I want to edit your book. I'm working independently these days, no longer part of an "editing factory." Your work can be very well edited in a technical sense from one of those places, but it will never achieve how it feels to arrive late at night at a relative's house during Christmas and step out of the car to be greeted shyly by cousins you haven't seen for a couple of years, taken upstairs to their strange rooms, or play Hide and Seek on a balmy summer night when the adults have gone indoors to visit and have coffee. The editor and the writer need to work together, closely, rather than be separated by a corporate factory wall. The editor and writer need to develop a working relationship like my cousin and I had that day long ago, until we are both impressed with the story.