gargoyle grumpy

Retread #2: Editors and Credibility

Several years ago I read a lot of spirited discussions on a LinkedIn writers’ group which no longer exists. I suspect it self-immolated. Here’s a post from early 2013. Grumpiness warning!

Since joining LinkedIn’s Fiction Writers’ Guild last year, I’ve wasted — er, spent a lot of hours reading and occasionally commenting on several discussions. They are all about fiction writing and increasingly about self-published fiction. Inevitably, the topic of editing comes up. Someone opines that of course a self-published work must be substandard if the author has skipped the all-important step of having their work “professionally edited.” In the throes of one of these debates, someone said, “A writer who edits him- or herself has a fool for a client,” echoing a similar opinion about people who represent themselves in a court of law.

I found this statement quite provocative and felt a Rant coming on. Several weeks have passed and now I can offer a few temperate observations.

First of all, I will say that a writer who has contracted with a “traditional” publisher to publish their work has no choice in the matter of being edited. Since the publisher is investing their time and treasure in the work, it is entirely logical that they should shape the product in whatever way they believe is necessary. I’ll say no more about this. This screed is entirely about self-published works.

“Editing” is not a monolithic process. There is structural or developmental editing, in which the editor suggests getting rid of characters or giving specific characters more important roles. Entire scenes or chapters may be cut, or new ones written. The entire novel may be rewritten. This is huge and fundamental stuff. To me it makes sense that structural editing happen[s] early in the writing process. A writer who is having trouble making their story come to life as envisioned may well need a structural edit.

Line and copy editing happen in the final stage of a manuscript’s life, to deal with things such as typos, grammatical problems and continuity.

Freelance editors with connections in the traditional publishing industry may be worth paying for, but I suspect they are in a position to command high prices and be selective as to which writers they take on — just like agents.

So who is a “professional editor?” Anybody. There is no accrediting body or degree-granting authority for editors. Like writers, they create their reputations by pursuing their craft. Success comes in the form of recognition by readers, writers and peers. And as with writers, just because someone calls themselves an editor doesn’t mean they are any good at it. Writers who want to hire an editor to help them structure their work or provide the professional polish are advised to use a process similar to that of hiring a contractor to do renovations on their house — request references and ask to see samples of their work. Someone suggested getting test pieces edited and going with the one you like best, but given some of the opinions expressed on LinkedIn, my suspicious self wondered if the opposite approach wouldn’t be better. We writers are a self-castigating bunch.

Here I’m getting into Rant territory again. Perhaps because the current abundance of self-published fiction includes quite a lot of naive, or unpolished, or — to be quite frank — “bad” writing, some people have decided that all self-published writers are childish, self-indulgent seekers of adulation, brainlessly inflicting half-baked textual travesties on the overburdened reading public. They need to be whipped into shape by Editors.

Like all sweeping condemnations, this bugs me. Which is why I’m writing this.

Back to that “fool for a client” remark. I disagree with that 100%. I think anyone who wants to call themselves a writer should also know how to edit. It’s part of the package.

Another thing to keep in mind is that independent, self-published authors are just that — independent. Unlike editors who work for publishing houses, they are not obliged to create a marketable “product” that will show a return on investment in a limited time. The self-published writer decides how much of their time and treasure they are going to invest in their work, and what constitutes success. Options for editing include critique groups, beta readers and endless rewriting.

In the end, what is the worst consequence of publishing a flawed, unpopular or obscure piece of writing? If it’s an e-book, it will cost the reader no more than a few dollars (less than $5 in many cases) and however much time they are prepared to spend reading until they decide a book isn’t for them. That happens all the time with traditionally published books — even so-called “best-sellers” — bought for considerably more money. And at least an unwanted ebook can be disposed of with the push of a button. It won’t be cluttering up anyone’s shelf or taking up space in the landfill.

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Where the West Wind Moves

Here is a beautifully written piece from the Anima Monday blog, which is always full of thought-provoking stuff!

anima monday

 It was cloudless last night. The moon was new and sharp, shining so brightly that the rest of the world was shrouded in perfect velvet black. The wind was wild, and the trees that lined the streets were being whipped into demonic frenzy. The air was alive, and just stepping out into it made the blood come alive too; made me restless, prowling, hungry.

I thought of everything; and yet I didn’t. I thought of all of us, the children of this world and – too often unknowing – this wilderness. My shadow blurred in the shade of the possessed trees, my ears awake and listening to the song of the night – the blend of the savage sea in the distance and the cars roaring, far nearer -and my own heart alive and beating with the same certainty of every footstep that led me deeper into this tryst. From…

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Pink and white tulips, variety unknown.

Surprise Tulips, Expected Epimediums, Bountiful Bergenias, and Hellebore Finale

Out in the garden after a nice spring rain, I found a mixture of small delights.

First, a group of tulips I have no memory of planting. I doubt if I would have picked this variety. The petals are white with pink edges. They look as though most of the colour has been bleached or faded away. Did they come from self-planted seeds? Tulips do produce seeds, but I don’t think I ever let mine do that. Or maybe stray bulblets? But in that case, where are the originals? Anyway, there they are, and quite picturesque too. I’m certainly not going to remove them. More about these tulips at the end of the post!

These bergenias grow really close to the trunks of those two big Norway maples I complain about all the time. For some reason, they’re blooming really well this year.

Bergenias in bloom pale pink

Epimedium x perralchicum “Frohnleiten” is one of the most dependable plants in the garden. I cut the old foliage down a few weeks ago, and now it’s in full bloom with fresh, bronze-tinted foliage emerging. The leaves will expand and grow green and leathery as the season progresses.

Yellow blooms and new foliage of Epimedium x perralchicum "Frohnleiten"

At risk of being boring, I’ll just mention that hellebore flowers are almost past their best, with seed structures expanding and colours morphing into the subfusc. (Actually, I added this bit about the hellebores just so I could use that word. While normally it’s applied to British academic dress, garden writer Ann Lovejoy uses it to describe plant colours. So I can do that too.)

Mature dark pink-purple hellebore flowers
Hellebore flowers in the subfusc stage.

Finally, another look at one of the surprise tulip flowers. Close up this time.

Pink and white tulip, variety unkown, close up with raindrops
Mystery tulip with raindrops.

The really strange thing about these tulips is how they look just one day later.

Dark pink tulips, formerly almost white
Same tulips, different colour. From white with pink edges to dark pink with white stripes!

Even after decades of gardening, plants can still surprise me.

thinking, contemplation, statue

Retread #1: The Reminiscing Voice

Here’s a post from 2011, when I frequently opined on various writing rules. This one is a bit more interesting and less grumpy than some. The text is unchanged, but I’ve bolded a few bits to zing it up visually.

In a previous post I said how partial I am to first person narrator for writing fiction. Without realizing it, I have at times been seduced by a style within that category, the reminiscing voice.

It took me a while to figure this out. I am right now in the process of editing the second novel of my Herbert West series in preparation for publication later this year. A fellow writer who has read most of the manuscript recently commented that certain sections were too slow, with too many details not relevant to the story. Years ago, a letter from a publisher rejecting this work annoyed me by using the term “plodding prose.” When I discussed this at the time with another fellow writer, we concluded that the removed, reflective quality of the narrative voice may have been what led to this opinion.

Thinking about this some more, I have identified this style of narrative as the reminiscing voice. The narrator is remembering events long after they have occurred, from a perspective of stillness and calm. Whatever the narrator’s problems, conflicts and sufferings may have been, they are over, but they were important events in the life of this character, and he or she is about to relate them to the reader.

Today I took a quick look among my books to find examples of the reminiscing voice.  As an aside, I will mention that many of the books I own — never to be dignified with the terms “collection” or “library” — were purchased in the 1970s and ’80s at used bookstores with no pretensions to the antiquarian. One of these, Ted Fraser’s Book Bin in Vancouver, B.C., actually had “bargain barrels” — big wooden barrels full of books selling at ten cents apiece. Lord only knows what was at the bottom of those barrels. The fact that many of my best-loved reads came from sources such as this should tell you something.

Back to the reminiscing voice. Here is the beginning of The Crystal Cave, the first book in Mary Stewart’s Merlin series:

I am an old man now, but then I was already past my prime when Arthur was crowned King. The years since then seem to me now more dim and faded than the earlier years, as if my life were a growing tree which burst to flower and leaf with him, and now has nothing more to do than yellow to the grave.

This is followed by four substantial paragraphs about memory and remembering, before the story begins. And even then, we are still in the Prologue.

Another example, this one the first paragraph of The Girl in a Swing by Richard Adams (a book that has huge flaws, but which I re-read every few years because… Well, I don’t actually know why):

All day it has been windy — strange weather for late July — the wind swirling through the hedges like an invisible flood-tide among seaweed; tugging, compelling them in its own direction, dragging them one way until the patches of elder and privet sagged outward from the tougher stretches of blackthorn on either side. It ripped the purple clematis from its trellis and whirled away twigs and green leaves from the oaks at the bottom of the shrubbery.

And on and on like this for another two long paragraphs which are word-pictures of a garden and landscape, really quite vivid, but definitely not germane to the story of how the narrator met and lost his wife, the mysterious Karin. Adams breaks another Rule of Writing here, which is never to begin with a description of weather.

For some reason, I find beginnings of this sort compelling, both to read and to write. To me, they are like slow crescendos, starting out quietly and building to a climax in which the narrator is no longer merely remembering, but reliving. But it appears that others disagree. Slow and not sufficiently relevant, they say, and it is difficult to argue with these assessments. “Yes, but I like it, ” isn’t really an argument.

I think it’s OK to use the reminiscing voice if it suits the narrator and his or her situation, but as with so many other things, moderation is the key. Use the reflective style to set the scene and indicate something about the narrator’s personality, but move fairly soon into reliving mode. This is related to the advice about “back story,” that it’s best presented in small, cunningly concealed doses, rather than as a lengthy, identifiable section — sort of like coating a cat pill in butter to make it slip down more easily.

That is if you are following the rules because you must please those who make them, be they instructors, editors or publishers. If you are writing to please only yourself or whatever spirit has inspired you to write, and the reminiscing voice is the voice that speaks, go for it. When I was only a reader and not a writer, I would begin to read a novel and continue to read it to the end, if its voice pleased, allured or fascinated me, never mind why. Much of this writing, I suspect, broke some sort of rule. It’s nearly impossible to identify the precise qualities of prose that attract or repel a particular reader, which is why it is also nearly impossible to come up with a set of definitive rules for writing.

I consider the reminiscing voice at the beginning of a novel to be a signal to the reader that the narrator has something important to say, but isn’t going to launch into the story until the reader is ready to listen. It’s sort of like the opening credits in a movie, that let you settle into your seat, position your popcorn and get set to watch. Or like fancy gift wrapping on a special present, that gives you an opportunity to whet your anticipation. Or like foreplay.

tires or tyres

Coming: Retreads… and a Serial!

Sometimes when I think of a topic for a blog post I wonder, “Haven’t I already posted about that?” Even though I post no more than once or twice a week, I’ve been at this blogging stuff for nearly nine years. There are hundreds of posts in my archives.

When I began blogging in 2010, I was talking mostly to myself. I’m sure many of my posts were never read by anyone but me. I’ve had a look at some of them lately and I plan to reblog the best of them, rather than repeat myself. Maybe they’ll attract a few more eyeballs this time.

I’ve also decided to post as a serial a story I’ve been working on way too long — once I manage to finish it. I’m saying that right here to make sure I’ll actually deliver. Look out for “The Ice Cream Truck from Hell” by the end of April. (Right now it’s broken down somewhere in the nether regions and needs a jump-start.)

It’s coming!

Images from Pixabay

Polyurethane soaker hose in perennial bed

Being Aquarius 2: The Soaker Hose Project

Watering is necessary in this garden. Most of my perennial beds are near or right under big maples that suck up a lot of water. I’ve whined about them many times on the blog. In 2011, I wrote an entire post about watering (“Being Aquarius”). From June to September, I have to supply water, because I can’t count on any significant rain in those months. Predictions are for even drier, warmer summers.

My usual way to water has been with sprinklers — either an oscillating fan of water or a stationary circular spray. Each one is deployed for a two hour session in each area at least every two weeks. In especially hot periods, I increase the frequency to weekly. This routine has to take into account the local watering restrictions in force from May through September. I actually keep track of watering sessions in writing.

oscillating garden sprinkler fan shaped spray watering
Spray from oscillating sprinkler. Refreshing but wasteful. (Image from Pixabay)

The water dispensed through my sprinklers is potable municipal water. It’s piped miles from a reservoir, treated, and metered. It’s quite expensive — and so it should be, since it’s intended for human consumption. Even worse, a significant amount of it is lost to evaporation, especially on windy days.

There has to be a better way.

If I had another option, such as watering with stored winter rainwater from a cistern or giant tank, I would use that, but installing such features on my patch of paradise isn’t practical (or legal, come to that). There’s also “grey water,” but utilizing that involves plumbing-type installations I’m not keen on. So my water source for much of the gardening season is the giant storage facility known as the Sooke Lake Reservoir.

Many gardeners here have installed some form of drip or spot irrigation, with a network of plastic water lines, flow regulators, emitters, and mini-sprinklers. Over the winter, I actually thought about setting up one of these, but the idea of assembling all those bits and pieces doesn’t appeal to me. Neither does the prospect of puncturing, crushing, or cracking a water line while digging a hole for a new plant or digging up an existing one to move or divide it. Digging is sort of unavoidable in gardens, so it seems dumb to install a bunch of stuff that could be damaged thereby.

Enter the soaker hose. Again.

Old black rubber soaker hose coiled up
One of my old soaker hoses, not yet tested since returning from exile in the shed. This one might leak more than it should; note the tape on the right side.

Soaker hoses are made to ooze water from tiny holes along their entire length. The water drips onto the soil and soaks into it, becoming available to the roots of the plants in the bed. Altogether, this seems to be my best option for responsible, efficient watering.

Water oozing through holes in polyurethane soaker hose close up
The soaker hose gently weeps…

Confession time: I used soaker hoses years ago, but grew disenchanted with them and stashed them in the shed. Why did I abandon them and resort to sprinklers? Trust, or rather, lack of trust. Maybe because I didn’t see water spouting into the air, I didn’t believe the soakers were delivering enough of it to the plants. Soakers are subtle. They don’t produce fountains. They don’t leave the puddles or dripping foliage that follow a sprinkler watering. I could see that the soil near the soakers became visibly wet, but I couldn’t be sure the water was penetrating far enough or spreading widely enough to meet the needs of all the plants. So I started supplementing the soakers with water from cans or even sprinklers, which eventually made me wonder why I was bothering with the soakers at all. To the shed with them!

pink watering can
A seriously cute supplementary watering tool.

After doing a bit of research on soakers, I’m ready to try them again. Last week, I hauled them out, flushed them out, and laid out two of them in a couple of perennial beds. I also bought two new soakers, fairly expensive ones made of polyurethane, said to be superior in many ways to the old ones, which are made from used tires, and thus not recommended for use near plants intended to be eaten.

Black rubber soaker hose
Old black soaker hose among newly sprouted hardy geraniums.

Ideally, I would have prepped the beds and laid out the soaker hoses back in February, before plants sprouted. Even light, manageable hoses can’t be squiggled among tender new shoots without inflicting some damage. (Not to mention the feet of the gardener tromping around.) But we got a blast of winter in February, including snow. Spring was postponed, along with the Soaker Hose Project.

March swept in with sun and warmth. While I was getting organized, making lists, and going shopping for soaker hoses and magic dust (organic fertilizer), plants leapt out of the ground. At least one iris was snapped off and some tulip shoots roughed up while I was wrestling the hoses into place. Advice says soakers should be no farther than 18 inches apart on sandy soil. Mine are about two feet apart. (Hey — perfection is elusive.)

Once the soakers were in position I connected each one to the supply hose and turned the tap a modest one-sixth turn. A satisfying dribble of water appeared along the length of each hose. Right now, supplementary water isn’t needed. The real test will come in late May or early June. At that point, I’ll turn on the tap for a couple of hours and observe what happens. With luck, the hoses will weep and the gardener will rejoice.

primula white with yellow centres
By the time the soaker hoses are in use, these primulas will be finished blooming, but they look great right now.
Hellebore "Ruby Wine" flowers with "Ivory Prince" in the background

Hellebores: Neither Hellish nor Boring

On a recent trip to Salt Spring Island, I acquired three hellebore plants at Fraser’s Thimble Farm, a nursery that specializes in the unusual and intriguing. Soon after, I read this post about hellebores by Paul Andruss on Sally Cronin’s blog. That inspired me to feature my three new plants in a post of their own.

These plants aren’t your run-of-the-mill hellebores, like most of the ones I already have. They are hybrids specially developed by breeders looking for striking effects and unique colours.

First, Helleborus  x ericsmithii “Pirouette”, a lovely soft pink with lime green nectaries and cream-coloured stamens that look like stars.

Hellebore "Pirouette" pink flowers
“Pirouette”
Hellebore "Pirouette" pink flowers
“Pirouette” again.

Next, Helleborus  x hybridus “Winter Jewel Black Diamond”. This is about as close as you can get to a black flower. It’s really a dark purple-red with a greyish bloom on the petals that gives them that nearly black look.

Hellebore "Black Diamond" flower close up
“Black Diamond.” You can see the underlying red in the petals on the right.
Hellebore "Black Diamond" flower petal reverse blue
“Black Diamond.” The reverse sides of the flowers look almost blue!

Finally, Helleborus x hybridus “Winter Jewel Ruby Wine”. This one looks gorgeous with the flowers and leaves backlit by sunlight.

Hellebore "Ruby Wine" backlit
“Ruby Wine” living up to its name.
Hellebore "Ruby Wine" flower close up
“Ruby Wine” flower up close.

The featured image at the top of the post shows “Ruby Wine” with “Ivory Prince” in the background. “Ivory Prince” has lived in a big blue pot near my front door for years. Now it has “Ruby Wine” for company.

Oriental Hellebore "Ivory Prince"
Hellebore “Ivory Prince”

While I was taking pictures of the new plants, I noticed this youngish plant of the Corsican hellebore, Helleborus argutifolius, self-seeded in just the right place.

Corsican hellebore green flowers
Corsican hellebore’s lime green flowers.

Lastly, not a hellebore at all, but a photo of the Japanese quince, Chaenomeles japonica, that grows against a weathered cedar fence at the back of the garden. Years ago, I saw a photo similar to this in a calendar and determined to reproduce the effect in my own garden. Unlike many horticultural intentions, this one has actually succeeded.

Japanese quince Chaenomeles japonica March 2019 against weathered cedar fence
Japanese quince flowers with weathered fence behind.
View looking north east from Mt Erskine area, Salt Spring Island, March 5, 2019 near hydro transmission line

Finding “Mossy Mountain”

“This is the place of my song-dream, the place the music played to me,” whispered the Rat, as if in a trance. “Here, in this holy place, here if anywhere, surely we shall find Him!”
Kenneth Grahame The Wind in the Willows

A while ago, I wrote a post about a special place that made a big impression on me when I was a kid. My name for this place at the time was “Mossy Mountain,” because of the (you guessed it) mosses that grew all over the rocks and added a kind of magic to the area. I still love moss.

On a cold and sunny day early in March, the Spouse, the Dog, and I took a delightful day trip to Salt Spring Island. Right after getting off the ferry, we drove the island’s narrow, winding roads to a nursery that sells rare and unusual plants, where I bought three hellebores and two blue poppies. Then we turned southward, toward the quasi-urban central part of the island, where I lived in the late 1960s. In many ways, the place hasn’t changed that much. The school I attended is still there, and the layout of the streets was familiar.

We followed roads I had noted on my virtual visit via Google Maps and Street Views, aiming for a major electrical transmission line I remembered. (It’s visible in the image at the top of the post, a view looking northeast across the north half of Salt Spring Island toward the distant Coast Mountains on the B.C. mainland.) There was only one problem — the snow that fell in mid-February hadn’t left this area. In fact, there was still close to a foot of it hanging around — hard, icy, crystalline snow. It certainly made the place look different from my memories, which were of sunny May or June weekends.

Salt Spring Island near Mt Erskine, March 5, 2019
No walking up this hill!

Nelly Salt Spring Island snow March 2019
Nelly the Newf thought the snow was just fine.

But the topography and vegetation were much the same. So was the conglomerate bedrock, which I had forgotten all about, until I recognized it underfoot in spots where the snow had melted. The mosses were still there too, as well as the arbutus and fir trees, the ocean spray shrubs, and the leathery leaves of salal. I heard hummingbirds making their sizzling sounds and other birds singing. In an encounter with a fellow who lives nearby (now that’s new — in the ’60s, there were no houses up there), we heard a cougar had recently killed a deer, a chicken, and a duck. I actually thought this was encouraging. Even though development has crept up the mountain, at least there is enough natural environment left to support a cougar, deer, and wild birds.

Mossy bluffs and arbutus near Mt Erskine, Salt Spring Island, March 5, 2019
Moss-covered rocks and arbutus trees.
Salt Spring Island near Mt Erskine March 5, 2019, Holodiscus, Salal, Arbutus
Typical vegetation: salal (evergreens in foreground) and ocean spray (Holodiscus) bushes, with arbutus and firs in the background.
Conglomerate rock and mosses near Mt Erskine, Salt Spring Island, March 5, 2019
Conglomerate bedrock and mosses.
Arbutus trunk peeling bark, Salt Spring Island March 2019
Arbutus (A. menziesii) trunk showing typical peeling bark.

Because of the snow, it wasn’t possible to explore beyond the road, but a return visit is in order, most likely in May or June.

Photo-prompt Flash Fiction: Answering the Call

The seas had crept higher each year and hurricanes got stronger. Month by month, the Moon’s leering face grew larger as the highest tides of the millennium invaded the land. Rumors spoke of stirrings in the deep, of some new power that made it perilous to live near the sea.

Then came the earthquake, convulsing the entire eastern seaboard. Cities foundered, towns drowned. The oceans climbed the hills and entered every door. Streets once said to be paved with gold vanished under wave-laid ridges of sand. The deep waters touched the things of humans, left their marks and placed their claims.

People abandoned the coastlines and fled inland. Ruins remained ruins. Towers thrust empty into silent skies. Crabs frolicked in the sandy streets by day and seabirds soared above; rats hunted there at night.

The boy had journeyed far. In the turmoil of the time, watchfulness failed in the asylum he had been sent to when his gills emerged. Slipping through an unwatched door, he fled and hid. Travelling by night, he wandered eastward, tugged by an ancient impulse toward the sea. The nights flung vast arrays of stars across the sky. Before she went away, his grandmother had told him their patterns had changed since she was small. She told him he would follow her some day. He knew he had to hasten now, to reach land’s end when the time was right.

Sometimes, the lights glowing from house windows reminded him of sweet, lost things. But always the sea-longing in his blood pulled him away. And there were his gills, of course. They had grown and developed. He was able to swim a long way underwater now and had changed in other ways too. When he raised a hand to the sun, the webs between his fingers filtered the light. The few people who came close enough to get a good look at his face ran away screaming.

The metropolis was a vast labyrinth inhabited by animals grown bold and curious. The boy avoided them, exploring the empty streets by day, finding safe places to hide in at night. He knew this wasn’t where he needed to be. This wasn’t the great undersea city of his grandmother’s stories, or the brooding, ancient town where she was born.

On the night the moon ate the sun, the boy heard voices calling to him. He ran down a long street to the harbour, jumping over the ridges of sand between rows of hollow, blank-windowed buildings. The Deep Ones had arrived. “Iä! Iä!” they cried. “He sleeps no more, he dreams no more. He lives! Come to us, little one!” As the boy approached the desolate, weed-grown wharves, shapes emerged from the sea. His people. They would guide him to the portal in the deeps, where the elders would welcome him home.

Written in response to Diana’s March Speculative Fiction Prompt.

Inspired by H.P. Lovecraft. Image by Natan Vance from Pixabay.