Monthly Archives: October 2010

The Anxieties of Final Edits

Remember that manuscript I was so happy to complete in early August?  It has already reached the copy-editing phase.  I honestly don’t know whether this editing cycle moved more quickly than years past or whether this is simply another indication that time moves faster as one ages.  Regardless, my little baby (named LONG GONE)  grew from barely hatched to escaping the nest in what felt like record time.

My husband would like me to view the briskness of the editing as evidence that this manuscript was my strongest draft yet.  Because I never turn down the opportunity to embrace a compliment, I’m choosing that version of the story.

I’m reading LONG GONE aloud to myself right now, word by word, with caution and scrutiny, trying to reach the highest level of polish.

So NOT how I look when I read aloud to myself. Who comes up with this stuff?

So far, my changes have been pretty minor.  Some random pages, for example: On page 32, I’ve changed “watching him” to “monitoring him,” and changed “watching his back” to “checking his back.”  (I apparently had the word “watch” bouncing around my synapses a bit too much the day I wrote that one.)  I also changed “wine” to “Chardonnay,” because I now know a very minor character well enough to say she’d drink Chardonnay. On page 229, I’ve changed “house” to “home.”  On 243, I changed “out to the country” to “up to the country.”

I’m pretty sure these aren’t the changes that will make the difference between a starred review and not, or a bestselling book or not, but they are changes I value even if no one else notices.  I also find comfort in their insignificance.  If I can read an entire novel aloud and find myself wanting only these tiny little amendments, then I can be proud knowing this is the very best book I’m capable of writing.

But… Oh, c’mon, you knew there’d be a but.

Some of the changes I’ve made aren’t that small.  Well, let me qualify that.  They are in fact small in that they aren’t big.  I haven’t suddenly decided that a character’s motives need to change or that a plot twist doesn’t actually work.  That kind of discovery would send me leaping from the nearest window.

But some of the changes I’ve made really NEEDED to be made.  I’m slightly halfway through the manuscript and have caught two — count ’em, TWO — typos.

That’s right… typos, the literary version of bedbugs.

Some might say that two typos in 250 manuscript pages ain’t bad.  But those two little errors have placed a lump solidly in the base of my stomach, because they really shouldn’t be there.  I try to write every page as well as I can the first time around.  Then at the beginning of each new writing day, I read what I wrote the previous day to make sure I’m happy with it.  When I reach the final chapter, I read the entire book on my own and make further changes.  Then my editor reads it.  Then I read it again, with her comments in mind.  Then I do another edit, which necessarily requires more reading.  And then the copy-editor gets a hold of it.

And so why are there still two typos (so far) in this fracking manuscript?

At a cold, cognitive level, I know the answer.  The human mind fills in gaps.  Read this sentence and count the number of F’s: “FINISHED FILES ARE THE RESULT OF YEARS OF SCIENTIFIC STUDY COMBINED WITH THE EXPERIENCE OF YEARS.”

How many did you count?  Three?  Four?  Nope.  Believe it or not, there are six letter F’s in that sentence.

If you counted them all on the first try, you’re a genius.  And you should be my copy-editor.  But if you counted fewer, you, like most people, glossed over the f’s in the word “of,” which is used three times in that sentence.  We read for content.  We skip over those pesky articles and prepositions.  And so we make mistakes.

At least I know it’s not me.  I find typos in books all the time.  A few years ago, a #1 bestselling thriller had a typo in the very first sentence.  (Gold star if anyone can name the book.  I won’t.)

But despite the fact that typos are understandable and common, I won’t stop trying to stomp out every last one.  Finding one typo now will save me the scores of emails I’ll surely receive down the road, informing me I’m an idiot. (See this post for my thoughts about these kinds of emails.)

And so here I sit in my office, reading each and every word aloud, with caution and scrutiny, because that — combined with the the layers of check within my writing process — is all I know how to do.  The fact that I’ve found two makes me terribly nervous.  If the layers of review missed two in the last version, how many did I miss this time?

I love to learn from others, so if you have any tried and true tips for finding those pesky typos, please share them in the comments.  Bonus points if you’re willing to share any typo gems.  Here’s a doozie. Earlier this  month a reporter for website tbd.com published the following correction based on a typo: “This blog post originally stated that one in three black men who have sex with me is HIV positive. In fact, the statistic applies to black men who have sex with men.”

(And if you find any typos in this post, which you surely will, feel free not to tell me.)

I Was Cyber-Bullied by a Naked Woman

We’ve all seen the tragic stories of teenagers driven into depression, out of schools, or even to suicide by the online taunts of peers.  The media have dubbed the phenomenon cyber-bullying and almost always describe it as harm committed by and against children.

But I’m starting to wonder whether horrible stories like this, this, and this are tragic extensions of the everyday nastiness to be found on the internet, among both children and adults who feel emboldened online to hurl criticism, taunts, and veiled threats they would never speak aloud to a person’s face.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not going Unabomber or anything.  I still the <3 the World Wide Webs.  Although I understand why Tess is thinking about pulling the plug, I get energy from the supportive relationships I’ve formed with readers online.  And yet there’s something about the Internet that encourages people to let their guard down and say impulsive things.  Is it really surprising that some people’s inner thoughts are better left unsaid?

A couple of weeks ago on my Facebook page, I finally got around to posting some photos from book tour, including one from my joint event with Harlan Coben at Barbara Peters’ Poisoned Pen.

Within a few minutes, the reader comments numbered into the double digits.  Love him!  Two of my favorite writers!  Waiting for you to come back to Scottsdale!

Pretty loving stuff, right?  Well, almost all of it.  Whoa.  Who gained all that weight?  Too much touring. Needless to say, I wasn’t feeling the love from that one.  I tried to convince myself the woman was talking about Harlan (yeah right).  My response: Harsh.  Guess I won’t be wearing that outfit anymore.

I sort of expected the woman to delete her post, or perhaps back pedal, or at least say nothing.  But a minute later: Alafair, maybe you should start riding your bicycle when you go to East Hampton.  But you’re still my favorite chubb* writer.  Love you.  LOL.

Love you?  LOL.  No, I don’t think so.  Block User.

But blocking her wasn’t enough.  A few minutes later, I had this nagging loose thread tickling my brain.  Something about the woman’s name had sounded familiar.  She’d come to my attention before.  I googled her name with mine.  I got some hits on Facebook.  She had posted other comments to my page, and they were also odd: One asked whether I employed some of the cyber-sleuthing technology referenced in one of my books; another made strange mention of the race of a character.

And here’s what’s even stranger: Googling her name with mine pulled up that old My Space profile I’d forgotten about, and hers as well, because she had friended me there.  Her profile was very…public.  And personal.  And naked.

My inner mean-girl was seconds away from unblocking her on Facebook, slapping up a link to her naked pictures, and saying, “If I looked like this, I wouldn’t be calling anyone chubb.”

And, you see, that’s how it starts.  With the press of a button, I could have sent thousands of people to gawk at the naked photographs this woman had posted, but only her handful of friends had actually seen.  At least some of them would have taken a cue from me and piled on their own insults.  They would have forwarded the link to their friends.  And who knows how this obviously unhealthy woman might have responded.

Needless to say, I suppressed my inner mean-girl.  At forty years of age, it’s no longer hard to do.  At least, not for me.

But obviously some adults are still hitting that send key.  Although a naked lady’s comments about my weight fall into a category of their own, I am amazed at the number of people who contact writers online to tell them how hard they suck.  Granted, the positive, supportive comments outweigh the meanies by 999 to 1, but, man, that .1 percent can irritate.  Just a few of my favorites:

Why did the book have to be so long?

Why do you set your books in New York and Oregon?  I prefer reading about New Iberia.

The sun does not rise in Portland that time of year until seven a.m.

I’m enjoying your books but feel they are too similar to each other.  Not sure I’ll stick with them.

This week I received a nasty-gram based on a blurb I had written.  Apparently I wouldn’t know “credible writing if it hit me in the face.”  I’m not sure I want writing to hit me in the face.

At least I know I’m not alone.  One writer swears to me that someone used his book as toilet paper and mailed the soiled pages to his publisher.  (Okay, that one’s got nothing to do with the Internet, but it’s frickin’ creepy.)

A certain two-time Edgar winner and Grandmaster I know receives emails all the time telling him his words are too big, his sentences too long, and his characters too old.  A recent gem: “I just finished [name of novel].  It was a tedious reading, I do not know why it was written. I have read all your previous books with relish.”

What a fan!  Give that man some relish.

And it’s not just in my writing life that I open myself up to online criticism.  Thanks to RateMyProfessors.com, students can post anonymous, unmoderated comments online about their professors.  Professor Burke generally fares well in the forum, and I even have a chili pepper (signifying my “hotness”) despite the obvious chubb factor, but it’s not fun when someone calls you “boring as hell.”  (Is hell …boring?)

Some of my colleagues have been less fortunate.  Comments about weight, body odor, flatulence, attire, supposed senility, and their marriages and other personal details abound.  And these are comments by adults, about adults.

To be clear, the jibes I’m complaining about aren’t nearly as bad as the psychological torment that has made headlines, or the growing phenomenon of nasty online comments about obituaries. Obviously most healthy adults (and I’ll include myself in that group) can handle this stuff.  You ignore it.  Or, if you’re me, you let it hurt your feelings for half a minute, then laugh about it, then ignore it.  This stuff’s minor, and it’s rare.

But this morning I felt like exposing the bullies to sunlight.  No retaliation.  No mean-girl revenge.  Just an acknowledgment that as much as I love comments from readers, I could do without the rare nasty aside.

(*Chubb?  I have no idea if this is slang for fat, because lord knows we don’t have enough words for obese, or if she just omitted the y, but for reasons I can’t explain, being someone’s favorite chubb writer seems much worse than being someone’s favorite chubby writer.  Either way, I am not aware of an award in either category.  If there is one, please do not send it to me.)

If you enjoyed this post, please follow me on Facebook and/or Twitter, but please don’t talk smack about me, all right?

The Generosity of Friends

Earlier this month I attended a memorial celebrating the life of a wonderful friend, David Thompson, manager of Houston’s Murder by the Book and Publisher of Busted Flush Press.  Since his death, plenty of his friends (including me) have posted tearful tributes, so this won’t be another one of those.

But the last few weeks have had me thinking about generosity.  David was as generous a soul as this world has to offer.  As a bookseller, he welcomed his customers with an infectious smile as if greeting them in his living room.  He’d knock himself out to build to-be-read piles filled with books his customers would never find on their own.  By handselling books that would be sold no other way, he helped energize the careers of young and independently published writers otherwise forgotten in a world of Wal-Marts and CostCos.

As a Publisher, he not only published but tirelessly promoted the works of his authors.  The last time I saw David in person was at this year’s Edgar Awards, where David continued his tradition of making sure his nominated authors were there, supported by their publisher – something even major New York publishers don’t always do anymore.

David Thompson and wife, McKenna Jordan, at Edgars 2010

And as a friend?  As a friend, David was so generous in every way — with his his time, money, humor, and love — that I can’t even begin to offer specifics without risking another one of those tearful tributes.

But David wasn’t the only generous person in the world of crime fiction.  Instead, he seemed to exemplify a supportive spirit that permeates the writing community.

Take a look at any of your favorite crime writers’ websites, and you’ll most likely find evidence of generosity.  Blurbs.  Photographs from joint events.  Blog posts describing the emotional support and sounding boards that other writers provide for us when our thoughts go dark or blank.

Who are some of the people who have been generous to me in this writing world?  I’ve been blessed to have almost all of my favorite writers read and endorse my work: Michael Connelly, Laura Lippman, Lee Child, Harlan Coben, Sue Grafton, Linda Fairstein, Jan Burke, Tess Gerritsen, Tami Hoag, Sandra Brown, Faye Kellerman, Kathy Reichs, and Lisa Gardner.  I know these recommendation don’t come solely from generosity.  They have to be earned.  But these writers are all busy people who could sit back and worry only about themselves, but they’re the types who send the ladder back down for others to climb up, waiting at the top to offer a hand.

And it’s not just the blurbs.  Harlan Coben agreed to do a joint event with me when he was booked for The Poisoned Pen in Phoenix on the only day I could fit in a stop over spring break.

Michael Connelly gave me a shout-out in the Wall Street Journal when asked about his summer reading list.  Laura Lippman traveled up to New York City on her own dime to address the local chapter of Mystery Writers of America, and all I had to do was ask.

Lee Child’s support could fill its own blog post: giving me a ride from JFK to my parked car at LGA when he knew nothing about me other than the fact that I stupidly managed to fly home from Bouchercon into the wrong airport; helping me fill a Manhattan Barnes & Noble by agreeing to play a much hotter James Lipton by interviewing me for the launch of Angel’s Tip; and let’s not forget about that two-night-stand Jack Reacher had with my Samantha Kincaid at the beginning of Bad Luck and Trouble.

The gang at Murderati has been generous, welcoming me into their group blog even though they really didn’t need another blogger, especially one who sometimes goes missing from her computer for a few days at a time when the day-job transforms her into a 24/7 law professor.

Independent booksellers and librarians have been generous, helping introduce my work every day to new readers.

The readers who are on this website are ridiculously generous, talking up my books to friends and neighbors, sometimes driving hundreds of miles to greet me on tour, and serving as my virtual kitchen cabinet on Facebook.  (I think more of my readers voted this month on my new author photo than in the midterm primaries!)

And where would I be without my people who see me through the dark times?  I’ve never been a writing-group kind of writer.  No critique exchanges for me, please.  As far as actual content goes, I sit in the sandbox by myself until the castle is done.

But having friends who face the same unique struggles of this enterprise — self-doubt, fighting to find writing time and energy, the frustrating publishing industry quirks — saves me a hell of a lot of money on therapy.  Some of these people probably don’t even know how much they’ve shouldered me, either day to day or in a singular moment forever etched in memory: Lisa Unger, Maggie Griffin (Partners and Crime books), Teresa Schwegel, Jonathan Hayes, Dan Judson, Karin Slaughter, Reed Farrel Coleman, James Born, Michael Koryta, Ben Rehder, David Corbett, Val McDermid, Chris Grabenstein, Jane Cleland, Margery Flax (Mystery Writers of America), and, once again, Michael Connelly, Laura Lippman, and Lee Child.

In the last few weeks, I’ve seen this little crime-fiction world turn on its generosity full force to support Murder by the Book, Busted Flush Press, and David’s widow, McKenna, but it’s a generosity that is always there, benefitting all of us, including me.  I don’t think it’s an overstatement to say that many of us, like David, have found a second family in this world.  I wanted to spend today writing about the gratitude that I always feel but am usually too snarky to express.

To my generous friends and readers: Thank you!