02/15/14
sword

Pausing from Emaculum …

. . . just a quick pause to tell everyone that I am still alive and still working on Emaculum, and to re-circulate an old interview I did for Melissa Olsen’s blog. Oh, and, hello!

Melissa Olsen: What’s the story behind the picture of you in a suit of armor?

Armor is actually making a comeback. It’s very popular in Venice and Paris. I expect that you’ll start seeing more and more of it in the U.S. very soon. The main problem is trying to accessorize in social situations. Do you use a full-jaw bevor for dinner with people you just met? Is a besegew appropriate for the theater? You really have to change your thinking, but I think it’s worth it. The reduction in violent crime alone is a great reason to try it.

 

Melissa Olsen: Do you read your reviews? Why or why not?

I’m fairly certain this woman has reviewed my book.

Yes. I read every one.  I think most writers are insecure. We crave positive feedback, thrive on it really. The negative stuff is awful, of course. I can stew over a negative review for days. But hopefully the really negative ones are few and far between. And I have come to realize that reviews reveal more about the people that write them than about the book itself.

I once read two reviews, back to back. One of them said that they loved that book, but that it wasn’t very fast paced. The other said that they liked it, but the pacing was too fast. Back to back. One after the other. I’ve also read reviews that say my story had too much description, and then a review that said the sparse descriptions weren’t enough. Oh, and there are the *really* weird ones. Ones where the reader writes two pages worth of hateful rants and insults me and my writing and everything about the book. When I read those, I think that surely I must have done something awful to them in real life. I mean, why else would they be so angry over a book? Luckily I don’t get many of those.

Melissa Olsen: Your novel The Scourge is about a zombie-like plague that spreads in the 14th century. How much were you influenced by the real-life Black Death?
I love the Middle Ages and I have since I was a child. When I decided to write a zombie story, I knew it had to be a medieval one. From there, it was an easy leap to the idea that any epidemic in the 14th century would have been compared to the plague. And though this new plague and the horrors it creates is a big part of the novel, the story is really about a knight who wants to find his wife, and the friends who are willing to risk their lives to help him. There is a lot of humor, a lot of emotion, and, yes, a lot of violence. But the medieval age was a violent time. The zombies (they are called ‘plaguers’ or ‘demons’ in the novel) are just another obstacle. Something that makes it more difficult for Sir Edward to find the woman he loves. There is quite a bit of religious symbolism in the book, and the zombies are also a big part of that.

Melissa Olsen: What’s your favorite place to work? What’s most likely to distract you (besides Facebook)?

My favorite place to work is on my glass desk, which faces a wall but has windows on either side. I am terribly easy to distract, so I have to make rules and goals for myself. I am not particularly good at sticking with those rules or meeting those goals, though. Which is why writing serials is a good thing for me. There are set deadlines for each episode. Deadlines I have to meet or everyone will hate me and I will have no friends (remember that thing I said about writers and insecurities?). The Internet is the greatest tool we writers have, and it is also our biggest downfall. It has boundless powers of information, and limitless ability to lure us away, like will-o-wisps. I spend a lot of time wandering the dark forest of cyberspace, chasing lights.

Melissa Olsen: What scene in your book was your favorite to write?

There have been a lot of scenes that I really enjoyed. Some of my favorites have to do with Tristan and Morgan, two characters who are complete opposites in ideology. There was a scene in The Scourge where a peddler is trying to trade holy relics for a horse. Morgan is overwhelmed by the thought of owning a relic and Tristan makes fun of him for it throughout the rest of the book. There is one relic in particular that Morgan traded for that caused great mirth in Tristan, and led to one of my favorite lines in the book. A lot of readers tell me they like that part too.

Another fun scene involves a mad king trying to force Tristan to put his hand into a vat of boiling oil. There’s a lot of tension in it, and we see Tristan’s humor fall away. You really get to see a different side to Tristan, who is usually laughing. I think those types of scenes, where the characters’ personalities really shine, are some of the most fun to write. But one of my all time favorite scenes is in episode 8 of the second book, The Scourge: Nostrum. Edward and Tristan are trying to escape from a tower cellar and their only option is a bit unsavory. Hilarity ensues.

 

Melissa Olsen: Someone recently asked me what character, from screen or page, I would most like to have dinner with. This became a surprisingly difficult question – apparently I like a lot of antiheroes. Who would you pick to share a meal?

That is a difficult question. There are a lot of historical figures I would love to have dinner with. Sir Edward Dallingridge, hero of The Scourge, would be the first. Edward, the Black Prince of England would be another. And William Marshall, a 12th century earl. Joan of Arc. Henry V, of course. And Eleanor of Aquitaine. Lots of people in history.

Okay, I’ve thought about it a bit. I would probably most like to have dinner with Tyrion, from George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones (Song of Ice and Fire series). He’s a little man with a huge brain and one of the funniest characters I have read. I’d also love to meet Captain Malcolm Reynolds, from Firefly (huge fan). Paul Atreides, from Dune. And, of course, Sir Tristan of Rye, from The Scourge.

Melissa Olsen: What kind of medieval weaponry are you best with?

I suppose I’m a sword guy. I have fenced for twenty five years, seven of those years quite seriously and competitively. And I spar occasionally with broadswords. I used to own a company that sold reproductions of historical weapons and armor, so I’ve done my share of stupid things with all manner of medieval steel. But the sword is the heart of the medieval tale. And there’s no weapon quite like it.

That’s the entirety of the interview. Thanks for reading, and I’ll be back soon, promise!

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04/23/13

Marcus Trower – Award-winning Copy Editor Supreme!

Award-winning copy editor, and terrific human, Marcus Trower

The difference between publishing a book and publishing a book professionally is similar to the difference between making a film with your cell phone and making a film with a crew, director, good lighting, and high-quality film. I had the fortune of being published by 47North, a company that takes professionalism very seriously. The Scourge was a team effort, with three sets of editors looking it over, an experienced artist designing the cover and a team of marketing specialists helping to put the book in front of as many eyes as possible. If you are self-publishing, you may not have the option to enlist such a crew, but you really, really, really should invest in a copy editor. It can make your book stand out in a sea of sub-standard work. My copy editor, Marcus Trower was a godsend. He applied a coat of consistency to my work, and spotted scores of problems that I and all of my beta readers had missed. I spoke with Marcus recently about copy editing recently and he provided some gems. If you are a writer, or have any interest in the writing process, you should read what he had to say.

Hi Marcus. Thanks very much for agreeing to talk to me about editing. I know the typical way to start an interview is to ask about your background, but I’d like to start by asking you about what you do. With the self-publishing craze going full steam, there are a lot of writers asking if they need a copy editor. What are your thoughts on that question?
Thanks for asking me over to your blog, Roberto. I’m going to answer your question in a roundabout way, so bear with me. Twenty years ago I worked as a film journalist for Empire magazine in London—as you know, I’m British. Anyway, we reviewed films and interviewed film makers, as you would expect. Now, whenever we wrote about movies, we gave the directors of those films all the limelight. Most of the time we neglected to talk about all the other people involved in making the films—be they scriptwriters, set designers, grips, best boys, stunt men and women, or whatever. What we were pushing was the auteur theory of film making—the idea that a film represents the pure vision of one person, namely the director. The first time I visited a film set, I was amazed by how many people were involved in the production. I realized I’d swallowed the auteur theory whole, and seeing the reality of film making firsthand really opened my eyes to the collaborative nature of making movies.

What I’m coming round to saying is getting a book published, as distinct from writing a book, is also a collaborative process, and I think some writers who self-publish don’t really understand that fully, because they’ve never seen behind the scenes at a publishing house. As an author, your name may be the one on the book cover, but a lot of people are—or, at least, should be—involved in getting your book into print in the best possible shape. Editors are there to get the best out of you and your writing. Copy editors are part of a team of editors you need to have around you. We’re there to make sure your readers aren’t distracted, or worse, by poor spelling, typos, faulty grammar, bad stylistic choices, poor formatting, inconsistencies, and so on. Some copy editors—and I’m one of them—will also give feedback on storytelling elements, such as POV, characterization, and scene setting, if there are any issues to do with those.

I understand why some self-publishing authors say, “But I can’t afford to hire a team of editors.” I get that—I’m an author too, so I can see this picture from the writer’s perspective—but if you don’t at least employ a copy editor, you really are in serious danger of putting out a piece of substandard work.

If you publish work with a lot of mistakes and distractions in it, you lose your readers’ interest in your work and their faith in you—and you will lose readers, period, or perhaps not get them in the first place, since these days the Look Inside! feature on Amazon allows readers to try before they buy.

“People will point at you and laugh when you walk down the street…”

And what are the risks of putting out substandard work?
 People will point at you and laugh when you walk down the street. No, I’m only joking, though if you put out work that isn’t properly edited, it may actually feel like something like that is happening to you. A lot of the time, a copy editor deals with things that distract readers and undermine an author’s credibility—misspellings, bad grammar, incorrect formatting, overuse of italics, etc., etc. Copy editors want to facilitate the smooth, distraction-free delivery of an author’s story to his or her readers. If you publish work with a lot of mistakes and distractions in it, you lose your readers’ interest in your work and their faith in you—and you will lose readers, period, or perhaps not get them in the first place, since these days the Look Inside! feature on Amazon allows readers to try before they buy.

 

Okay, now let’s talk about your background. As you just said, you’re an ex-journalist, like me. Can you tell us about your past and about how you became a copy editor?
I started out as a journalist in 1990, and I worked on music magazines, film titles, and men’s magazines all through the early 1990s. Later, I went on to work for some of the UK’s national newspapers, such as the Times. During my years as a journalist, I was always both a writer and a copy editor—actually, subeditor is the label we use in the UK within journalism. I switched to copy-editing books relatively recently. As I said, I’m also an author. I had a nonfiction book, The Last Wrestlers: A Far-Flung Journey in Search of a Manly Art, published in 2007 by Ebury Press (Random House). I’m currently writing a crime novel set in Rio, where I used to live. The fact I’m an author helps a lot when I copy-edit. I’ve grappled with the craft, storytelling and style issues that I see other authors grappling with on the page.

What type of manuscripts do you normally edit? Where do you get the brunt of your work from?
I specialize in editing genre fiction. I edit fantasy, sci-fi, romance, crime fiction, thrillers, and the odd work of literary fiction. My specialisms are crime fiction and thrillers. I work for four CreateSpace imprints—Thomas & Mercer, Montlake Romance, AmazonCrossing, and 47North—as well as with independent authors who either find me through my website and blog or through the Editorial Freelancers Association, of which I’m a member.

 Can you talk about the differences between editing a UK book and US book? Are there particular challenges to switching from one to the other?
There are significant differences between British and American style, punctuation and usage. At this point, I find it fairly easy to switch from one language environment to the other. I actually edit more books written by American authors than I do books written by Brits, and I’ve grown to really love American English style and punctuation.

I know from seeing your editing style in action that you do quite a bit. On my manuscript, you helped fact-check, you checked spelling and grammar, you asked thoughtful questions about style, you pointed out inconsistencies, and you commented when something just didn’t seem to work. Are there other things you look for in a manuscript? What do you think are the most important facets of your job when you review a story?
Right. My attitude is that absolutely everything is important, and there is nothing I will not poke at with a stick. Of course, like any good copy editor, I want to straighten out an author’s grammar, spelling, and punctuation, and make sure style guidelines are being followed, but I personally think it wouldn’t make sense to do those things and then ignore instances where, to give a couple of examples, the writer unwittingly slips from third-person POV to omniscient mode, or dialogue floats, because there are no dialogue beats and speaker tags. A lot of passages that contain issues which need to be addressed are written in perfect English, but those issues are still issues.

If you could grab the entire, collective body of writers by the shoulders, shake them and tell them one thing that really irritates you about our manuscripts, what would it be? What are some of the most common errors you see in manuscripts? What are some of the most subtle ones?
I do sort of do that, though not quite so aggressively. When I work with an author independently, I write him or her a manuscript report that talks in detail about any recurring issues that came up in the work. Basically, every writer has his or her blind spots. When editing a manuscript, I quickly get a handle on what those issues are. Which brings us to another good reason for authors to use editors. An editor should gently bring your attention to your foibles, and you can then work that feedback back into your writing and avoid making the same mistakes or bad choices in future. Common errors? There are lots of them. Here are a few random ones: tense shifting; using “it” without an antecedent; dangling participles; comma splices; using ellipses instead of em dashes to show interruptions in dialogue; POV shifting; confusing restrictive clauses with nonrestrictive clauses and mispunctuating them accordingly; and continuity errors.

I really don’t get irritated by errors, though. Actually, what I love about copy editing is having to think about so many different things at the same time. If manuscripts came to me without certain types of errors in them, I’d probably miss them.

My attitude is that absolutely everything is important, and there is nothing I will not poke at with a stick.

Can you give us an example of using “it” without an antecedent (I could probably pull out at least a dozen that you pointed out to me in The Scourge)?
Sure. This is a common issue. There are, in fact, a few grammatically correct ways in which “it” can be used without an antecedent. For instance, when we talk about the weather, we can write “It was raining.” Though that “it” doesn’t actually stand in for anything—in other words, it doesn’t have an antecedent—it’s being used correctly, and it’s classed as a dummy pronoun. The mistake writers sometimes make is they use “it” as a referential pronoun—i.e., one that has to be standing in for something—for something it either can’t do that for, or that isn’t actually there. For example, an author might write this:

 Jake laughed. It was something he liked to do.

That line sort of reads okay, but since “it” is a pronoun, it usually has to stand in for a noun (it can also stand in for a phrase). In this case, “it” doesn’t have an antecedent. It can’t stand in for “laughed,” since that’s a verb form. The example I’ve given here is quite a mild case of the problem, and some people might find these two lines acceptable. I regularly see far worse cases than this one, though, and even in an instance like this, the writing loses cohesion.

The publishing landscape has changed quite a bit in the last few years. How has that affected you and copy editing as a whole?
The self-publishing boom is bringing copy editors into direct contact with authors much more. I really like the direct contact, and I’m used to it, since that’s the way things operate within journalism. On magazines and newspapers, editors sit across the desk from writers. I think that’s healthy.

Not exactly a rough place to call home..

You have a unique lifestyle. You’ve mentioned throwing buckets of water on dogs at the crack of dawn and hens walking into your home. Can you tell us a little about where you have lived and how you got to where you are now?
Right. I’ve lived abroad quite a lot—in Sydney, Rio De Janeiro, Barcelona, and Granada. Currently, I live on a windswept and ruggedly beautiful island in the Mediterranean between Sicily and Tunisia. It’s called Gozo, and strictly speaking it’s part of Malta, though Gozitans treat the Maltese like foreigners. It’s a small island with a small population, and the people here are incredibly friendly. For instance, my neighbor is always coming round to give us lemons, oranges, pomegranates, cauliflowers, and beans—whatever fruit and veg she’s harvested from her land, basically—or to give us a pot with dinner in it.

I may be exaggerating the extent of Marcus’s problems here.

I better explain my dog-drenching activities. We look after some feral cats, and they’ve become part of our family. There’s this nice guy living nearby who has rescued a lot of abandoned dogs. Unfortunately, he doesn’t train them or keep them on leashes. We know the dogs have killed at least one cat. He takes the dogs out every morning at five thirty, and they used to come marauding down our alley, looking for our cats. So, to protect our cats, I got up every morning at five fifteen, went to the roof and dropped a bucket of water on the leaders of the pack as they ran down the alley. Actually, most of the time the water fell in front of them, and they then spun on their heels and ran away. The tactic has worked, because the dogs don’t come down our alley anymore—and I can sleep in.

It’s a very rustic island, and there’s a small farm on the corner of our alley. Every now and then a hen escapes and seeks asylum in our house—we leave the front door open most of the time. I’m afraid we don’t grant them asylum, though. We would miss the hens’ eggs. The hens scare the cats, too.

What advice would you give to aspiring editors out there? How can someone become an editor?
Obviously you need to study the art of copy editing, and you need to develop a great understanding of grammar, punctuation, and style. Beyond those things, if you want to copy-edit fiction, I suggest you take classes in writing fiction, too. The knowledge you develop will help you no end and should set you apart from copy editors who haven’t studied fiction writing. The more you understand the craft of fiction, the more sophisticated your edits and comments on manuscripts will be, and the more you’ll be able to establish a good rapport with fiction writers.

If an author wanted to contact you or find out about your rates and services, what is the best way to do that?
My website, which is at marcustrowereditor.com, has all that information. If a writer is serious about hiring a copy editor, I’m also happy to give a free demo by working on a few pages of their novel, without any obligation. Writers should shop around for an editor. It’s important to find someone you have real rapport with. You can only discover whether a particular copy editor is right for you by seeing his or her work in action, which is one reason that I, like many copy editors, offer a free demo. A lot of first-time authors don’t really know what working with a copy editor entails, so having a few pages copy-edited is also a good way for them to get an introduction to how the process works.

Even if authors aren’t looking for a copy editor, by the way, they may want to drop by my website to read my blog, Be Your Own Copy Editor, in which I give self-editing advice tackling issues I frequently see in manuscripts. I talk exclusively about topics that relate specifically to genre fiction, and I like to zero in on subjects that don’t get much—if any—attention elsewhere.

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About Marcus, in his own words:
I’m a copy editor, author and ex-journalist. I specialize in editing genre fiction, particularly crime fiction and thrillers, for both UK and US publishers and authors. I live on Gozo, a rugged island in the Med near Sicily. My village is the kind of place where old geezers get around on lawnmowers, and every now and then a hen walks through the front door.

 

Please have a look at Marcus’s blog. It is not only interesting, but a must read for all writers and editors.