Are You Your Own Best Editor?

Are You Your Own Best Editor?

A writer friend asked me whether it was really a good idea to pay a professional editor to read her manuscript.  My immediate response was yes, but the question made me pause and reflect on my personal experiences.

I have had all six of my novels edited by pros.  Here are my thoughts.

There is huge value to editors who “copy” edit, that is, they read for spelling, grammar, syntax, etc.  You always miss something: a comma where it doesn’t belong, the incorrect use of a semicolon.  In terms of the broader picture: the plot, characters, structure, tension, conflict, on and on, the pro can be very helpful. . . or not.

In my Triangle Murders book, the professional editor I hired was so intrigued with the historic story that her suggestions would have made me totally change the book.  It would have become a historic mystery rather than a historic mystery that is solved today with modern technology.  She had her own vision for the book.  But who was writing this?

The editor I hired for my Civil War book, however, was extremely helpful.  He gave me an idea for a dynamite ending that I hadn’t even considered.  It totally changed the story for the better.

Before you consider hiring a pro, however, do your own self-editing.  Believe it or not, there is a lot you can do to improve your writing before it gets the going-over by someone else.  Some suggestions:

Edit in small sections at a time.  If possible, reread the section before and then edit the current 5 to 10 pages.

Also, read aloud (or to your dog or cat.)  I can’t emphasize enough how important this is.  You’d be surprised what you hear that you didn’t think you wrote.  Dialogue may sound stilted, tension weak, setting inappropriate.  Often I will come away from my reading out loud thinking, ugh, did I write that?

Some things to look for when you’re self-editing:

  1. Do you want to turn the page?
  2. Did you stumble over awkward phrases or clunky words when you read aloud?
  3. Were you confused by your own plot twists?
  4. Did punctuation mess up your reading?
  5. Were your characters boring, too flawed (yes, that’s possible) or totally unbelievable (unless you write Bourne thrillers)?
  6. Were thAere plot inconsistencies ie: a character appeared after she was murdered?
  7. Were there setting inconsistencies? It was hot as Hades one day, snowing the next?
  8. Did you get your facts right? Very important if you want authenticity.

You can be your own best editor.  But, just to be sure — reread, rewrite, read aloud.  And again x 3.

Now hire a professional for the final read.

Your thoughts welcome.

 

 

 

 

 

History Keeps Unfolding

History Keeps Unfolding

This is a re-post of a blog from earlier days.  There never seems to be a wane in the interest of missing WWII art and even today, art and artifacts are being returned to their rightful owners. The blog:

The most amazing thing just happened.  My latest book, Deadly Provenance, recently went online.  It’s a fictional story of the Nazi looting of art during WWII, set against the backdrop of an authentic historical drama that is still unfolding today.  That’s not the amazing part.

Alfred Rosenberg in Berlin

A central “character” in the book is the ERR or Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg, the Third Reich’s bureau, if you will, tasked with confiscating the precious art of Europe from “undesirables.” It was led by Alfred Rosenberg, fanatical henchman and confidante of Hitler, who also played a major role in the extermination of millions of Jews.  So why is this amazing?

The long lost diary of Rosenberg has just been recovered.  400 pages that are now at United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.  The diary is hand-written (that in itself is amazing!) and spans events from spring 1936 to winter 1944.  It could offer insight into many occurrences that remain unclear today.  For instance, there might be details about the Nazi occupation of the Soviet Union, or such incidences as the flight of Rudolf Hess to Britain in 1941.

My personal hope is that the pages shed light on the missing art pieces.  Is it possible that in addition to formal ERR records of confiscated works, that perhaps Rosenberg mentioned some of these in the diary?

Still Life: Vase with Oleanders by Vincent van Gogh is one of those missing paintings and the one I focus on in my book.  Did Rosenberg happen to make note of it in his diary?  When he tried to steal it from a gallery in Paris but it had already been removed for safekeeping by the owners – the Bernheim Jeune family.  Did he mention that it was found again, or not, when the place of safekeeping, the Château de Rastignac near Bordeaux, was burned to the ground?

Where is the missing van Gogh?

According to Haaretz, a Jewish world newspaper, Rosenberg “. . . elicits a rare consensus among many World War II historians: the man, they say, was a pretentious fool.”  Besides being a monster of the highest order.  But now his diary may shed light on history, assuming words of a pretentious fool are to be believed, and that he said anything worthwhile, and did not blather on about inconsequential personal events in his life.

Which brings me back to the original premise.  Does history ever stop unfolding or are there always new discoveries and uncoveries that deny or confirm the facts as we know them?  Think about how your writing can reflect all the many possibilities.  Alternative histories or histories true to the last detail . . . until we find out otherwise.

For now, I’m hoping to read the text of Rosenberg’s diary when it becomes public.  Maybe there are clues within it to help me hunt down that van Gogh.  (See link: http://lynnekennedymysteries.com/the-hunt-for-the-missing-van-gogh/)

Oh.  Did I mention I was going to do that?

Social Media: Friend or Foe?

Social Media: Friend or Foe?

As writers, we are all marketeers (without mouse ears.) Social media is an important venue for us and Facebook is perhaps the most significant of these venues. I’ve been watching closely to the posts that have come across FB in recent months. Many have been sketchy, others clearly false, and some downright scary.

Note: We’ve all received emails to take advantage of an offer from, as an example, Amazon@Susie.com, right?

FB recently posted the following tips on how to determine which posts are, indeed, false news. I thought this was a small step in the right direction. For my blog, I decided to list these in case you’ve missed them.  So here, in Facebook’s own words are tips to spot false news:

  1. Be skeptical of headlines. False news stories often have catchy headlines in all caps with exclamation points. If shocking claims in the headline sound unbelievable, they probably are.
  2. Look closely at the URL. A phony or look-alike URL may be a warning sign of false news. Many false news sites mimic authentic news sources by making small changes to the URL. You can go to the site to compare the URL to established sources.
  3. Investigate the source. Ensure that the story is written by a source that you trust with a reputation for accuracy. If the story comes from an unfamiliar organization, check their “About” section to learn more.
  4. Watch for unusual formatting. Many false news sites have misspellings or awkward layouts. Read carefully if you see these signs.
  5. Consider the photos. False news stories often contain manipulated images or videos. Sometimes the photo may be authentic, but taken out of context. You can search for the photo or image to verify where it came from.
  6. Inspect the dates. False news stories may contain timelines that make no sense, or event dates that have been altered.
  7. Check the evidence. Check the author’s sources to confirm that they are accurate. Lack of evidence or reliance on unnamed experts may indicate a false news story.
  8. Look at other reports. If no other news source is reporting the same story, it may indicate that the story is false. If the story is reported by multiple sources you trust, it’s more likely to be true.
  9. Is the story a joke? Sometimes false news stories can be hard to distinguish from humor or satire. Check whether the source is known for parody, and whether the story’s details and tone suggest it may be just for fun.
  10. Some stories are intentionally false.Think critically about the stories you read, and only share news that you know to be credible.

Since this blog was written, a Netflix Documentary called The Great Hack premiered.  Facebook plays a large part and comes off looking like a villain.  Well, I suggest you watch it and make up your own mind.

 

The Misunderstood Acronym

The Misunderstood Acronym

On the “lighter” side of writing, I thought I’d share this humorous story about how words (and letters) can lead us astray.

“The Wayside Chapel”

An English lady, while living in Switzerland was looking for a room and asked The Schoolmaster if he could recommend any.  He took her to several rooms and, when everything was arranged, the lady returned to her home to prepare for the move. When she arrived home, the thought suddenly dawned that she had seen no WC (water closet or toilet) around the place, so she immediately wrote to The Schoolmaster asking him where the WC was.

The Schoolmaster was a very poor master of English so he asked the Parish Priest if he could help in the matter.  Together they attempted to discover what the letters WC meant.  The only solution they could find was the local “Wayside Chapel.”  The Schoolmaster then wrote the following note to the lady seeking a WC with her room.

Dear Madam,

I take great comfort in informing you that WC is located nine miles from the house, in the center of a beautiful grove of trees surrounded by lovely grounds.  It is capable of holding 200 people and is open on Sundays and Thursdays only. As there are a great many people expected in the summer months, I would suggest that you come early, although there is usually plenty of standing room. This is an unfortunate situation, particularly if you are in the habit of going regularly.  You will no doubt be glad to hear that a good number bring their lunch and make a day of it, while others who can afford it go on Thursday when there is organ accompaniment.  The acoustics are excellent and the most delicate sound can be heard anywhere.  It may interest you to know that my daughter was married in the WC, for it was there she first met her husband.  I can remember the rush for seats.  And there were 10 people to a seat usually occupied by one. It was a wonderful sight to behold.  The newest attraction is a bell donated by a wealthy resident of the district.  It rings every time a person enters.  A bazaar is to be held to provide plush seats for all, since the people feel it is too long a wait.

I shall be delighted to save the best seat for you, if you wish, where you will be seen by all.

Hoping to have been of service, I remain,

Sincerely,

The Schoolmaster

Animals Are Human Too

Animals Are Human Too

I admit it. I’m an animal person. I love them all but am partial to dogs and have had many and still do. I’ve read many “animal” books and find them endearing. Today’s blog, though, is not about writing animal stories, but about integrating animals into your novels to give your humans depth, compassion and vulnerability.Comic relief is one reason writers insert animals into their stories.

I recently watched (again) the old series Lonesome Dove and laughed (again) at the scenes of the two pigs following the wagon out of Lonesome Dove to embark on a journey north. The journey would be fraught with drama and trauma, and the pigs added a light aspect to ease the tension. But they actually did more than that. These two sweet little pink creatures gave us insight into one of the main characters of Lonesome Dove, Augustus McCrae. Sure, he hollered at them, kicked dirt at them, spit at them, but he also smiled at them, enjoyed their antics and encouraged them to join the entourage to Montana. What did that say about Gus, a former Texas Ranger who would hang an old friend for breaking the law? He had a definite soft side.

Characters that have a seriously dark job, like a cop or detective, need to have a way to show their human side. Relationships with the opposite sex, kids and family, even friends and colleagues can work. But so can animals. Take my NYC homicide detective, Frank Mead, in The Triangle Murders. In a dialogue, with his sergeant, Mead explains how he came to own a blue and gold, extremely noisy killer macaw named Dexter.

“What’s with the bird?” Jefferies said.

“Dumb move.” Frank sighed.

“I’m listening.”

“Brought my car into a garage out in Canarsie. The bird was in the back of the shop squawking up a storm. Real nasty place, they didn’t give a shit about him. He was covered in grease. So I took him. Fifty bucks. They sold him just like that. I figured I’d clean him up and give him away, to some good home or something.” His face reddened.

“So?”

“Kinda got used to the company. He’s incredibly smart, talks and, well, never mind. Stupid ass bird.”

Mead, a hard-boiled homicide cop, has a gruesome murder to solve, a dead wife always on his mind, an estranged daughter he feels guilty about. And yet he saves this kooky parrot. Would you have expected that of him? Or are you surprised?

Animals have played similar roles in mysteries for decades. Think Dashiell Hammett’s The Thin Man. I can never forget the first movie and my introduction to Myrna Loy as the character, Nora Charles. Picture the scene: Nick Charles is in a nightclub bar being asked by a young woman to take a case, when Nora bursts in carrying Christmas packages and trying to hold onto Asta, her mischievous terrier, by the lead. Asta barrels into the room and Nora winds up face down on the floor, packages strewn everywhere. Unfazed, she gets up, brushes herself off and carries on.

Her dog was the perfect device to show us Nora’s personality. And it was dead-on. Nora is generally unfazed by embarrassing moments like these. But how would you know that without tedious narrative? By using Asta.

Other well-known authors use animals in similar ways. In Robert Parker’s Spenser books, you meet his dog, Pearl, and can picture her lying on the floor on her back with four feet in the air. How many of us are familiar with that pose? She’s entirely comfortable, not fearful or concerned in this position about any danger. What does that say about Spenser and his relationship with Pearl and the environment he provides for her? Safe, sheltered and most probably well-loved.

Elizabeth George, another dog person, has inserted a Longhaired Dachshund, Peach, into her stories. How does she integrate Peach with her characters to give them depth and breadth of human qualities. Yes, this is a quiz.

I know I will personally continue to use animals in my books. I encourage you to consider doing the same. They can add a sympathetic, sensitive and loving element to your humans . . . in ways other humans simply can’t.

 

 

Beauty, History, and Misery in One Small Town

Beauty, History, and Misery in One Small Town

As part of the research for my next mystery, The Final Note, I visited Regensberg, Germany, a medieval town in the heart of Bavaria. Like my book, Deadly Provenance, about a Nazi-confiscated Van Gogh painting, the backdrop of this book is once again Nazi Germany, but instead of art theft, the theme is music. To set the stage, the following excerpt from The Valley of the Communities at Yad Vashem, “Here Their Stories Will be Told . . .” gives you an overview of the Jewish situation beginning in 1933 in Regensberg.  What is significant is the reference to The Cultural Federation of German Jews, musicians, in this case, who feature prominently in The Final Note.

The images I included were taken by me in Regensberg just last week.  They depict the first new synagogue in 80 years, which just opened, a plaque placed in a wall stolen from the Jewish cemetery, and “stumbling” stones embedded in cobblestones – a memorial to the murdered Jews of Europe.  Here is the grim history.

“In 1933, there were 427 Jews in Regensburg, out of a total population of 81,106. Branches of many Jewish organizations were active in the community:  the Central Association of German Citizens of Jewish Faith (Central Verein), Jewish Assistance (Jüdischen Hilfsverein), the Reich Federation of Jewish Front Soldiers (Reichsbund Jüdischer Frontsoldaten), the Jewish History and Literature Association and many Zionist organizations. The Cultural Federation of German Jews (Jüdischer Kulturbund), which had some 200 members, organized performances and concerts featuring Jewish artists invited to the city. The Jewish youth had the choice of the Ultra-orthodox Ezra movement, the Association of Jewish Youth (Jüdischer Jugendverein) and the Maccabi Zionist sports association.

The community maintained a synagogue, several other religious institutions, a school that was operative until 1937 and a public library. A number of charitable, welfare and cultural organizations were active in the community, including an organization supporting the school, an organization for the development of social and cultural life in the community and a loan fund that also maintained activity until 1937. There was a hevra kaddisha (burial society) – the first for the general public, the second for women only, the later was also responsible for arranging the hospitalization of poor children and assistance for impoverished Jews recovering from illness.  A charitable fund helped provide heating for poor families, and another fund helped new brides. Some of the children were taught religious studies by the community rabbi Magnus Weinberg. He retired in 1935 and was succeeded by Rabbi Dr. Felix Salomon.

Antisemitic incitement against the city’s Jews began when the Nazis rose to power in 1933. In 1934 a Jewish trader was arrested on suspicion of murdering a Christian boy; the Nazi press in Regensburg accused the Jews of murder, but the trader was released when the perpetrators were discovered to be Christian. An economic boycott was also imposed on the Jews. Jews in the marketplace – traders and suppliers – were attacked and their wares were destroyed. In 1934, the Jewish pupils were evicted from the city high schools. After the publication of the Nuremberg Laws, the Jews’ financial situation declined. The Nazis ordered hotel and restaurant owners not to serve Jews.In response to this antisemitic pressure, many Jews joined the local Zionist movement, and the community began to help traders who had been affected by the economic boycott as well as who wished to emigrate. This assistance included loans, foreign language courses and professional training courses. The local branch of the Histadrut Hatzionit ran Hebrew language classes. In 1936, with the consent of the Gestapo, a Beit Halutz (pioneer club) was opened in Regensburg to prepare the youth for immigration to Eretz Israel, but in December 1938, the Gestapo shut it down.

By 1938, 268 Jews had left Regensburg, more than half of them fleeing Germany entirely. As a result of this emigration, many senior citizens were left without support; the community initiated a “Winter Assistance” campaign (Winterhilfe) with the help of the Association of Jewish Women in Bavaria, and in the same year a senior citizens’ home was opened. In 1938, before Kristallnacht, a Jew was imprisoned on the charge of “racial desecration,” and the glass storefronts of Jewish shops were smashed. Thirteen Jews from Regensburg were deported in the Zbaszyn deportation of October 1938, but in January 1939 an agreement was reached between Poland and Germany, and the deportees from Regensburg were permitted to return home.

During the Kristallnacht pogrom in November 1938, local Nazis destroyed the property in the Synagogue and the community center and burned them down. Jewish homes and stores were destroyed, as well as their belongings and wares.  Some 220 Jews, including women and children, were arrested and held at the local police station. Dozens were publicly humiliated and some were sent to the Dachau concentration camp. Members of the Nazi party broke into and looted their apartments. Rabbi Salomon and his wife were forced out of their apartment and ordered to stand outside in their nightwear while their home was being demolished by Nazi thugs. A 66-year-old Jewish trader was beaten to death on arrest.

The Jews being held were released after agreeing to leave Germany. Rabbi Salomon immigrated to England in July 1939 but was killed about a year later in the Blitz.By 1939, all the traders’ and businessmen’s property had been transferred to Christians as part of the “Aryanization” process. Persecution and imprisonment of Jews continued after Kristallnacht.”

Sadly, you know the rest.