My father's cremains were laid to rest yesterday at the Dayton National Cemetery. The military ceremony was brief and moving, every movement scripted and solemn as befits such an occasion. My mother gave me the presentation flag and three bullet casings from the 21-gun salute to hold in trust for my younger son, who is an Airman with the U.S. Air Force. Dad was a Vietnam veteran and served 28 years in the Air Force and Ohio Air Guard. With this closure and other distractions over the past seven days, I did not write a blog for today. My usual Monday blog for LinkedIn was posted this morning. That will have to do for today.
Here's the link: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/basking-borrowed-glory-karen-m-smith.
Or scroll down to read the article.
A client whose manuscript I edited notified me that his book had been included in a list of best mystery thrillers of 2019. That made my heart go pitter-patter.
I'm happy for him.
In the course of my work, I come across many books that I would not otherwise read. The genres or topics are not to my taste. That, however, has no bearing upon the quality or merit of the content.
In these days of relativism when one's own standards and preferences are the measures by which everything else is compared, seeing the achievement or recognition of a client reminds me that my preferences are arbitrary. What best suits one's tastes does not determine the standards of excellence for anyone else.
Standards of excellence, therefore, must have a more objective and collective gauge for determination. The metrics distinguishing between poor, mediocre, adequate, and excellent require a broader spectrum of consensus. That spectrum shifts as popular trends change. What was once distasteful becomes acceptable or even desirable. What was once considered acceptable becomes verboten.
That's how banned books lists are built: something about a published bit of literature offends someone else.
Remember Laura Ingalls Wilder? Her autobiographical series, immortalized in television in the 1970s, has been added to those books that now offend today's delicate sensibilities. The list of banned books ranges from classics such as Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn to modern literature such as J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter series. Reasons for censorship trend toward the general themes of profanity, sex, religion, and politics. According to the World Economic Forum, 49 percent of censorship action affects public libraries, with public schools and school libraries combined making another 50 percent of book challenges.
The American Library Association and Amnesty International celebrate the existence of censorship by sponsoring Banned Books Week. The ALA lists the top 10 most challenged books by year. The lists themselves make for interesting reading. This year, Banned Books Week will be held September 20 - 26. Sure, it's a long way off, but that list is long. Use that time to read some of those books.
Questionable material does not equate to standards of quality. Excellent writing cannot be confined to "safe" and innocuous topics. Great literature provokes thought and makes us uncomfortable by nudging readers beyond their self-imposed havens. Great literature, however, also does not necessarily comply with shifting standards of quality. In other words, great literature does not go hand in hand with excellent writing. Anyone reading James Fenimore Cooper's The Last of the Mohicans knows there's a wonderful story lurking amid the excess verbiage. The same goes for anything written by Charles Dickens.
As an author, I don't aspire to great literature. Most popular literature doesn't rise to those rarefied echelons of controversy and near adoration. I aspire to excellent writing which engages and holds the reader's interest by virtue of telling a good story in such a way that the narrative draws the reader through the pages. Sometimes a good book is just a good book, and one needs nothing more.
So, my client received a wonderful accolade regarding his book. I helped him with that. I didn't come up with the concept. I certainly didn't write the story. As an editor, I did help him improve the quality of the writing so that his story could be recognized for its creative merit.
I take pleasure and pride in that.
Every word counts.
"I LOVE this story arc for all its twists and turns. As always, the characters are well-drawn, compelling, and either very likable or they evoke dislike or even hate (e.g., Lowball and his gang of Satan’s Dogs).
Romance lovers will go crazy over this one!" Review by Cindy L. Draughon
Excerpt (ARC - Currently in Editing)
The biker returned that evening, accompanied by half a dozen of his brothers. The rumble of their vehicles caught the attention of animals and humans alike. Melanie’s father ventured outside, shotgun leveled and ready. Melanie and Julie peeked at their unwanted visitors from the barn where they were finishing up evening chores. Melanie’s eyes flickered over the bloodstained spot where Buster had been killed. Not one to tolerate waste, Daddy had hauled the carcass to the local butcher for processing.
“What do you want?” the old man shouted.
The big, handsome biker who’d escorted Melanie from the rally dismounted his steel steed and approached, hands raised, palms open.
“I just want to talk to you and the girl.” He paused, then said her name, “Melanie.”
The muzzle of the shotgun swept across the line of bikers.
“And them? What’re they here for?”
“We don’t need your help.”
Stubborn old man. Hammer sighed and explained again, “Look, mister, Satan’s Dogs is a big club, bigger than Black Ice Revolution, and not known for their easygoing, forgiving nature. Your daughter humiliated one of their own. It doesn’t matter to them or their allies that Lowball was in the wrong: he was shown up by a girl. They’ve lost respect and they’ll do what they think necessary to get it back. You’re risking yourself and both girls if you don’t accept our protection.”
The old man’s eyes narrowed with angry suspicion. “You folks only protect what’s yours.”
Hammer squared his shoulders. “I claimed Melanie in front of the entire rally to make sure she got out of there safely. I put my reputation on the line, so she’d better be mine.”
“No!” Melanie screeched. Dropping an empty bucket, she marched toward them. “No! I don’t belong to anyone!”
Even though I'm a freelancer, writing and editing is my job. I enjoy doing both, which makes it great job. Like many jobs, however, it comes with ups and downs, things I like and things I dislike. After all, ain't nothin' perfect.
Part of my job concerns networking and marketing myself as open for business and as an author. Some of that is accomplished on Facebook where hordes of other authors attempt to convince people to buy their books. (I'm no different.) Many post excerpts of their work. A well-written, intriguing excerpt piques curiosity and interest. A poorly written excerpt backfires.
Once in a great while, I contact the author with a private message to alert him or her as to the easily fixed errors in the content posted. After all, if you want to sell your book, then posting an excerpt riddled with mistakes gives a poor impression. Only once have I received a response from an author thanking me. Once, the author made the corrections, but didn't acknowledge the error. Frankly, I'd hope that someone noticing errors in my posted excerpts--there will be errors because I'm not perfect--will alert me to them so they can be fixed.
Since editing is how I make my living, I'm particularly sensitive to the use of language. Frankly, I prefer editing fiction to nonfiction, because who doesn't like a story? Not everything must be straightforward and blunt. Brevity and passive voice have their places and uses, as do allusion, allegory, and alliteration. Hah! I appreciate the poetic and lyrical as much as the staccato syllables of succinct and direct prose. My heart goes pitter-patter when an author makes language sing.
However, we don't always get to do what we want, when we want, how we want, where we want, or with whom we want. To wit, I'm working on editing a manual. It's over 90,000 words of a topic that doesn't interest me in the least. The tone is dry, and I cannot figure out how to convert the pervasive passive voice to active voice without changing the point of view from didactic, third person POV to a more concise, conversational, second person POV style. That would require rewriting most of the manual, which they're not paying me to do.
At the other end of the narrative spectrum is an excerpt that appeared in my Facebook feed. It's ... florid. I cannot read that single paragraph, a neon-bright example of purple prose, without taking a break. The excerpt's grammar is excellent, the punctuation spot-on, the language ... that made me shudder. Knowing how that author writes, I would not offer to edit for him, if only because I cannot appreciate his style of prose. To put it simply: we'd clash.
We all have preferences. As editor and writer, I don't work with horror. Yep, my preference. I know what horror does to my impressionable mind, how it takes root and affects my imagination. It ain't pretty or pleasant.
Perhaps that's the best part of freelancing. I do get to indulge in my preferences to some extent. What a luxury!