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Notes from an Editor

Recently, someone asked for help editing something. It was a small thing, so I gave my feedback and suggested changes and left it at that. But then the small thing returned with additional changes. Yet many of my suggestions had been rejected.

That’s fine. As an editor, I know not everyone is going to agree with my revisions. Some of it is a matter of personal taste. Sometimes the author sees the need for changes but doesn’t like my particular rewording, so they go make different changes on their own, something more in their own voice. Some authors are simply too married to their own works to truly want an editor; they want the editor to simply say, “Yes, this is perfect.” (I won’t do that, so if that’s what you really want, please hire someone else, or better yet, save your money and ask friends and family to cheerlead for you.)

Edits, after all, come in two flavors: necessary and recommended. Necessary changes are, say, problems with grammar or big flaws that can’t be ignored. Massive plot holes, for example. I’ve read drafts where some characters completely disappear halfway through the book for no clear reason. Or even appear and disappear mid-scene! Those are necessary fixes. And then some edits are recommended for things like clarity or flow. Notes might say something like, “This seems out of character for So-and-So.” At which point the author can change it, or add more motivation for the character to behave that way, or whatever. (If I have an idea for that, I’ll usually note it with my feedback.)

This small thing, though. It returned with mostly the same verbiage as the original. The author had added a couple lines is all and hadn’t seemed to take many of my suggested rewordings for the rest. So I had to wonder… Why? Why would you continue to send something to an editor if you don’t intend to take any of the advice? I’m not offended that this author didn’t make those changes; that’s up to him. But it feels like a waste of time on both sides to keep doing this. He seems to already have decided he has it written the way he wants. What good is my input then?

As an editor, I won’t keep suggesting the same changes. But I also refuse to go over the same ground multiple times if the author keeps going back to their original choice of words, or plot point, or whatever. In other words, DON’T send me the same thing over and over again. Please. If I try to help you once, and it turns out I can’t (either because I don’t have the expertise or you don’t like my style), there’s nothing to gain from continuing to go rounds with it. Find someone whose suggestions resonate more with you, someone whose experience you trust more than mine, or someone who will tell you it’s all good if that’s what you really want to hear. And if you are an author looking for an editor, be clear and honest with yourself about what you do and don’t want, what you do and don’t consider acceptable, before ever hiring someone. Because you’ll need to be clear with the editor, too, about what you’re looking for in terms of feedback. Don’t waste time and/or money on advice you’re not willing to take.

Television: Picard

Finally sat down and watched the first season of this show. Just so you know where I’m coming from, Star Trek: The Next Generation was a big deal for me when I was in middle and high school. It meant more, perhaps, because it began the year I moved and ended the year I graduated from high school and went off to college. So it neatly bookended a very specific time in my life. Also, my classmates at my private school nicknamed me “Data.” I like to think they meant it in a good way?

Data is kind of present in this show, which picks up many years later and hauls Picard out of retirement. (I’m going to write this under the assumption you know who Picard, Data, and the other old characters are, otherwise I’m not sure why you’d watch the show… I’m not sure the show would make sense to people who don’t have that fundamental knowledge?) Basically, Data died to save Picard, but it turns out he has “daughters” in the form of other synthetic beings—women who don’t know they’re not real. And there are some Romulans out to kill these women because Romulans hate “synths” (as they’re called) for… religious or superstitious or some kind of reason?

Okay, so I loved ST:TNG. I only intermittently watched Voyager or Deep Space 9. I gave up on Enterprise pretty early and haven’t watched Discovery. So I can only talk about this show in the sense of not feeling connected to much other Star Trek stuff since TNG. Like, nothing else that’s been produced has really grabbed me since then. So, relatively, I liked Picard a lot. Like, the most since TNG. But is that really saying much?

There’s a lot to wonder about. The character of Picard now seems a lot more feeble than before but, well, he’s older now, too. The new characters are more in the vein of Firefly than traditional Trek. Just an odd conglomeration of personalities and backgrounds. Plus, they threw in some LotR for fun? Like, one character is just a version of Legolas, really. Meanwhile, the chief villain chews scenery like she’s starving for the attention. It comes very close to parody. And there’s one episode in which everyone more or less cosplays and it’s just silly. It’s practically their version of a Holodeck episode. Another episode feels a bit like Little House on the Prairie

Instead of being episodic, this is a 10-part arc. Instead of the Federation being the shining beacon, it’s a kind of villain in its own right. I feel like Roddenberry wouldn’t have liked that. And the final resolution to everything is… Uh… I don’t want to spoil anything, but let’s just call it “rushed.”

All that said, I still somehow enjoyed it. Despite the flaws and weirdness. I’d have done some things differently, but overall it was entertaining. And though it came close to beating viewers over the head with its messages, it was nowhere near as obvious and preachy about it as TNG used to be. Maybe because it didn’t feel like it had to make the point in just under an hour; it had 10 episodes to make itself clear.

I’ll watch another season. Might even go try Discovery.

Cult of Personality

I just took a personality quiz to match me to fictional characters. I’m apparently mostly a match for Willow in Buffy the Vampire Slayer (82% match). But here are some other characters I’m “most like” in various fictional universes:

78% Dale Cooper (Twin Peaks)
77% Abed (Community)
75% Gandalf (Lord of the Rings)
75% The Oracle (The Matrix)
74% Lisa Simpson (The Simpsons)
73% Doctor Strange (MCU)
70% Elizabeth Bennet (Pride & Prejudice)
70% Ian Malcolm (Jurassic Park)
70% Mycroft Holmes (Sherlock)
68% Sun (LOST)
66% Princess Leia (Star Wars)
66% Leslie Knope (Parks and Recreation)
65% Pam (The Office)
65% Dana Scully (The X-Files)
56% Rust Cohle (True Detective)

I’d say the through line here is a lot of people who are both analytical/practical/smart and a bit… odd? They have a streak of being fanciful or spiritual or??? Even maybe a tad romantic, though that seems to go against their better judgement? I dunno. I definitely get that I’m a Willow and an Abed and a Leslie Knope. Not sure about the rest.

ETA: I’m only Rusty when I’ve been drinking…

IWSG: April 2020

It’s time again for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group! Posts go up the first Wednesday of each month. Read more posts and/or join in here.

What’s not to be insecure about these days? As far as writing goes, I’m insecure because (a) I’m not getting any done, and (b) none of my books are getting sales or page reads either. I think, as the economy tanks, people aren’t buying books. I did run a freebie last week that got many, many downloads. So… that’s something?

Question of the Month: How are things in your world?

We’re very fortunate. My husband is able to work from home with not much trouble. I’m staying on top of all three kids’ school work as best I can, plus I’m introducing them to French and making sure they get outside each afternoon. Just in the backyard, but still: fresh air. I’d like to be able to write more, but it’s tough to focus. Even reading has been a challenge. (But if you want to see what I’ve been reading, please check out my YouTube channel, where I do post review videos!) I’ve done Zoom with writer friends once a week, just to chat and see faces other than the ones I live with. We’re getting most things delivered to limit exposure and going out. They’re almost certainly about to announce that kids will not return to school campuses this school year, but that distance learning will continue… My kids are super sad about that, especially my 8th grader, who was looking forward to all the “graduation” stuff: 8th grade dance, field trip, promotion ceremony. They didn’t even get the class picture. My heart is breaking for him, even though I know this is the safe and better choice. So I’m counting my blessings but there are still struggles, especially of the mental and emotional kind. I have the right temperament for staying home indefinitely, but my husband and kids are getting restless. We do lots of board games, karaoke, etc. Looking at another month of this at least (our shelter in place goes through May 3 right now), so…

Books: A Study in Scarlet Women by Sherry Thomas

If you know anything about me and my writing, you probably know I got my start with Sherlock Holmes. I’ve loved Holmes since childhood, but I won’t bother to enumerate my passions here. Let’s just say that this book came highly recommended to me by people who know my background.

This is the first in a series called… “Lady Sherlock” or something? I didn’t realize it going in. And here is where I’m going to sound like a purist snob, but it’s not my favorite thing when people decide Sherlock Holmes must actually be a brilliant woman disguised or masquerading as a man. Not because I have anything against brilliant women, or female detectives, or brilliant Victorian female detectives or any combination thereof. But because I often feel like, at that point, the author should come up with his or her own character from whole cloth rather than grafting it onto the famous name of Sherlock Holmes. Either they’re doing it for marketing power, or because they don’t have faith in their own creations, or possibly a bit of both. Whatever the reason, I’m not a fan.

So. In a nutshell: Charlotte Holmes is the youngest daughter in an upper class family in Victorian London. When she falls from grace, she must find a way to get through the world on her own. Her chief asset is her great intellect. You can guess where it goes from there.

The good: This is [mostly] very well written. I enjoyed a number of the characters and the mystery was a fairly good one.

The bad: The first few pages are somewhat garbled and confusing as they jump from viewpoint to viewpoint. Charlotte isn’t actually all that interesting a character in and of herself. It wasn’t until the second half of the book that things really took off and made me want to keep reading. And the author goes to ridiculous lengths to twist Holmes canon into this new form. We’re supposed to gasp once Moriarty is mentioned, but honestly, who didn’t see it coming? Finally, the answer to the mystery comes in a rush and via post rather than Holmes or any of her associates working it out for themselves. Sure, they did a fair amount of deducing earlier on, but the ultimate solution is laid out for them in an explanatory letter.

Part of me supposes this book is simply meant to set up the situation for subsequent titles in the series. (I know there is at least one other.) So perhaps I can forgive the laborious construction of the first half of the novel. But I think I’d honestly more enjoy a book about Lord Ingram or Inspector Treadles or even Mrs. Watson than another one about Charlotte “Sherlock” Holmes. The forced romantic angle between her and Ingram, too, did not work for me. I can believe in the chemistry—it’s well written enough to work—but *sigh*. I could simply have done without it entirely. The fact that Charlotte made such a stupid decision that caused her fall from Society, too, just makes so little sense to me, despite the attempted rationalizations. I suppose it humanizes her to have her make mistakes, but this one beggared belief. Yet the entire book is predicated on it.

So… yeah. It’s by no means a terrible book. I gave it four stars on Goodreads, would even have considered 4.5 until that flat ending. The book is entertaining despite its main character rather than because of her. And I still can’t love the borrowing of Sherlock Holmes by this author when, in this case, he’s actually a non-entity. But that’s a personal bias.

Will I read the next one? Eh. Maybe? I’m in no rush for it, but if I saw it at the library, I might at least pick it up for a look. ::shrug::

Gen X Vs. the World

I didn’t learn the term “latchkey” until I was much older and it no longer applied. As articles pop up around the Internet, all mentioning Gen X’s adaptability in the face of self-quarantining, they all also seem to think we had absent parents and more or less raised ourselves.

My parents worked, but they weren’t absent. As an only child, I spent a lot of time with my parents, especially on the weekends. Even if it was just going to the store or hitting up Burger King, we did a lot together. I never felt neglected. I was never sad to come home after school and have to let myself in (except on days when I’d forgotten my key). If anything, it was a relief to me to have the whole place to myself. After a day of social pressures at school, time without interaction was sacrosanct.

Maybe that’s just because I’m an introvert and need alone time to recharge my batteries. So, yeah, being asked to stay home now doesn’t feel like any massive hardship to me. We’ve got a house and yard and are making the most of them. (Thank goodness, though, that we moved into the bigger house last year, because if we were in the old house right now, we’d be strangling one another.)

I grew up able to entertain myself, both with and without a screen. Sure, I had Speak & Spell. But I also had books. Colorforms. I made up one-player versions of board games for myself. I had My Little Pony. I wrote stories. I went out and rode my bike or roller skated. Coloring books. I had learned to cross stitch. And if all else failed, I knew how to sit and think. I did not require constant input or attention.

Again, I don’t know if that’s a Gen X thing, or just a personal thing, or some blend of the two. I knew some kids who went home to empty houses and just as many that didn’t. I knew kids who seemed to need stimulation and an audience and just as many who were content to be overlooked. (I was somewhere in the middle, and still am—I like recognition, loved being acknowledged by my teachers, for instance, and now love the same from readers and peers, but I don’t need an unwavering spotlight.) We are, like any generation, or any large group of people, a mishmash of personalities. The things we experienced broadly were like the outer planets in an astrology chart—everyone shares those aspects because those planets move slowly. But our individual experiences were varied. For example, a favorite statistic for the Gen X kids is how many kids’ parents were divorced. And I knew a few people with divorced parents. But mine weren’t, and neither were many of my friends’. So… I was aware of single-parent households but had no real experience with them outside visiting friends who lived with only one parent. I don’t recall thinking it was weird or anything. It just was.

And maybe that’s Gen X in a nutshell. Things just are, and we accept those things and get on with life. “You do what you gotta do” is probably our motto. If I had to come home to an empty house, do my chores and homework, and get dinner started, that’s what I did. It never occurred to me to not do those things if they needed to be done. Rebel I was not, at least on that front. I picked my battles for the things that mattered most to me. Getting out of housework didn’t rank all that high, and I never minded contributing my time and effort to the family. I might not love chores, but they weren’t difficult, and I could entertain myself while doing them. I could think or sing or write stories in my head. No big deal.

Still, when it came time to choose whether my kids would come home to an empty house or not, I gave up working in publishing and stayed home. In part because publishing didn’t pay enough to cover child care costs, so I might as well stay home anyway. And in part because staying home gave me the chance not only to be there for my kids as they grow but to pursue my writing. So there are practical reasons and selfish reasons for the decision, as well as the desire to be the one to raise my kids and not miss out on those years. I like the idea I’m making memories for and with them.

Because, while I do have good memories of times with my parents, they are all a bit foggy and vague, too. Gen X tended to make memories with their peers more than parents or family. And sure, I want my kids to have fun with their friends. And I want them to be able to go to their rooms and entertain themselves (without the computer, iPad, or phone). I’m raising them with slightly less benign neglect as I was used to, but only slightly. Because I do want them to be independent and self-sufficient. I want them to figure things out on their own. But I also want them to know that coming to me in an emergency is an option. Which is maybe what Gen X couldn’t count on in our youth. Not necessarily because our parents didn’t care (I know some would say they didn’t, but I believe my parents did), but because I couldn’t just text them if something happened, and what could they do from across town anyway? Still, I lived in a neighborhood where I knew who was home and who I could count on if it came to that. That’s not so much a given anymore. And I always counted on myself first and foremost. Not out of pride. More out of an aversion to causing trouble for others. Out of the idea that figuring it out myself was a better option than going next door and bothering Mr. Kirkpatrick. I think I would have had to be close to dying before I’d have done that.

Where was I going with all this? I don’t know. After reading articles about how this is Gen X’s big moment, I just think: eh. Quarantine is maybe easier for us because we are so adaptable, and so many of us self-isolate anyway. But maybe that’s just true of introverts in general. Then again, being self-sufficient and figuring out how to do things when the usual ways don’t work seems to be in our nature. We’re problem solvers and innovators. And we know how to keep ourselves entertained, with or without technology. Damn, I wish I still had my roller skates…

Movies: Onward

This wasn’t one I’d planned on going to see at the cinema, but since Disney/Pixar went ahead and released it, we sat down with the kids to watch it. And, uh…

Let me be honest and say I have only sorta liked most of Pixar’s movies. I’m no big fan, particularly of their brand of sentimentality, which seems to be the driving force behind everything they do. I find that kind of thing annoying rather than endearing. So it was a 50/50 I’d get much out of this movie either.

The story is about an elf named Ian Lightfoot (voiced by Tom Holland, the go-to for nerdy, self-conscious characters). It’s his sixteenth birthday. He never knew his dad, who “got sick” (that’s the only way we ever hear it described throughout the movie) before he was born. Ian’s older brother Barley (Chris Pratt) has a few memories of their dad. He also has a raging interest in the “old ways” meaning the days of magic.

See, while the modern world in this movie is more or less like ours, filled with smartphones and electricity, the past had been way more Lord of the Rings. But magic isn’t really practiced anymore because science is easier.

Still, when Ian’s dad got sick, he apparently also dabbled in a bit of wizardry and left behind a spell to allow the boys to bring him back for just one day.

Cue magical quest and bonding, all layered in a thick paste of sentiment.

The truth is, this is a concept in search of a plot. Everything that happens in the movie (and I won’t elaborate, so as to avoid spoilers) feels disjointed, or at best loosely linked. They are all incidents that… happen, and… It really did feel like people sat down and said, “What can we have them do, or what problems can we give them, that might be funny and also sweet?” And they came up with a list, and had those things happen, and there’s not much more to it than that. The stakes never felt high, and the end results were as expected.

Also, the funny parts weren’t actually very funny. At all. I don’t think I laughed once.

The kids got restless during this movie, and when asked afterward, they all resoundingly preferred Spies in Disguise (more Tom Holland, lots more funny, and all the sweet moments in that one feel earned). I did too. Times a million.

Sorry, but this one fell flat for me. A lot of wasted potential.

Movies: Emma (2020)

I’m a fan of Jane Austen’s novels. And I enjoy a good period/costume drama. So I was probably already primed to like this most recent adaptation of Austen’s story.

If you are unfamiliar with it, Emma is about the titular character, a 21-year-old busybody who fancies herself a matchmaker. But by meddling in others’ love affairs, she actually goes about nearly ruining lives. Emma is often portrayed as having the best of intentions—a sweet but misguided nature. That is certainly the take they had in the Gwyneth Paltrow version, which is probably the best known. But in this one, Emma is really kind of terrible, almost even a bit unlikable. And it works. Because, in truth, to get the full character arc, Emma must start out as someone who needs to change, and she needs to come to that realization.

This take is beautiful to behold as well. The costumes, the sets—all lovely. I did find myself distracted by the fact Emma wore makeup and pretty much no other [female] character did. It was very obvious. But other than that, a mostly gorgeous sight.

In short, I do really recommend this version to fans of Austen or this genre of film in particular. I’m not sure the average viewer would love it, but it’s definitely worthy of attention from those predisposed to it. So glad that Universal chose to release it on demand early to those of us stuck at home.

Movies: A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

This was… It’s a movie based on a magazine article, for starters. I didn’t know that going in. I didn’t know much of anything about this film except: Tom Hanks as Mr. Rogers. What else is there to know?

Well, I had wondered why Hanks had been put into the supporting actor category during awards season. The movie makes that decision clear. Rogers isn’t the real focus here. Instead, the central figure is the magazine article writer, here named Lloyd (actual article written by a guy named Tom). Lloyd has a difficult relationship with his father. Lloyd is given an assignment to interview Fred Rogers. What develops is a kind of friendship? I guess? But this movie is about Lloyd working things out with Rogers as a kind of gentle guide.

Did I like it? Not really. Did I find it moving? Yes, at moments. There’s no rule that says you have to find a movie that pulls at heartstrings to be wonderful. I didn’t really enjoy Lloyd’s story. The movie failed to make me care all that much about him, maybe because I mostly disliked him. The parts that touched me were the ones that brought back childhood memories of watching Mr. Rogers rather than anything about Lloyd and his personal problems.

A few years back we had that documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor? That was wonderful. If you have an interest in Fred Rogers, that would be the film to watch. I’m not saying this one doesn’t have value… to certain viewers, looking for something oddly specific, maybe… It’s artistic? I don’t know. But overall it didn’t work for me.

Author M Pepper Langlinais