Same Beach – Different Book

 ebach

And different role!  Those that follow the blog, know I have developed an eccentric pattern in my writing routine. It’s a rather odd thing, but I like to edit my manuscripts on the beach in Puerto Rico. You’ve heard of “beach reads”, I call this a “beach-edit.”  Each of my four novels have gone through this sun, sand and red pen ritual.  It kinda’ goes like this:

Read, turn page, read, ooops, red pen, read, Bikini,

read, turn page, read, Bikini, ooops, red pen, Bikini,

read, read, turn page, Bikini

You get the rhythm and the two-piece picture.

Last week however, I sat on the beach in beautiful Isla Verde and edited a manuscript “not of my own making!”  I did a beach-edit on my cousin George Cannastraro’s brilliant new book, Constantine’s Dagger.  This was my first experience in “story editing” or “content editing” a book.  My cousin allowed me to make him the guinea pig in my editorial experiment. 

Followers know I am not a master of grammar and sentence structure.  I couldn’t last 2 seconds in a Spelling F not to mention a Spelling B! But I, and anybody else who has done this for a while, can spot story opportunities, contradictions and potential character and plot enhancements when doing a fresh, critical read of work – not of your own brain.

No two writers write the same, even when they are cousins, but if you really put on the Editor’s cap and go with the flow of the author, it’s a pretty happy outcome. In our case, and I guess in all cases when you get down to it, story editing is about choices, conscious or otherwise, made in the telling of the tale. Sometimes when we write we have a single trajectory, one way in and one way out of a scene or subplot.  But when it ain’t yours, you are free to see the “story-scape” from a different perspective and make recommendations to give more involvement, drama, comedy, risk and reward to the reader. 

We had some wonderful moments opening up the story with added beats, which increased the tension, drama, and comedy or emphasize a character’s trait. This was easy because the action and dialogue were written so well and with a flair for word-craft. We took the opportunity to increase the texture, widen the scope and to more clearly focus the reader into the story through experiencing emotions, rather than reading about them. We had fun “cutting in” to use film terms, “close ups,” and reaction shots or just playing with rhythms like leaving the next shoe to fall, not now… but, …wait for it, …wait for it, … Now!

That part became more like conducting an orchestra than editing. But only because George wrote great characters, and musically wove them together. 

I am about to mangle an old Native American saying, but it went something like, “You can’t paddle your friend’s canoe across the river, without you, yourself, getting across.”

My first shot at editing, has gotten me across a divide I have experienced in my own writing. Now, I see more globally at the same time I am writing locally within my story.  I am quicker to recognize patterns and old stand by’s in my own work. In fact, right now, I am in the first pass of my 5th novel, Give Us This Day, I am more attuned to pacing and making conscious choices. Like whether to play the note a little longer, or make it a quick flourish in order to make an impact.

I recommend story editing to anyone who wants to get across the river that we sometimes encounter when we are traveling along the path to our own novel.

imageA BLESSED EVENT…

Weighing in at 375 pages, 108,000 words and, thanks to double sided printing, 3 lbs. I named it The God Particle. And it is kind of a kick for me to be at this final touch point with my third novel. My family planning is now complete with the addition of this third installment in my Bill Hiccock “Thrillogy.” Allow me to reflect on how I arrived at this blessed moment, (Hey, it’s an author’s blog, what did you expect?).

Ahhh, that cute, little first draft, a year and a half of gestation, then its out, smelling like toner powder. Now standing on the spindly unsteady legs of plot lines and character arcs. You marvel at it and know it has more growing to do and you dream about the possibilities.

Oh, oh… someone needs changing! So you unwrap it, the 2nd draft! Flesh out characters, fatten plots, bring in a subplot, make new connections, Hey, I didn’t know I already set up the way these two might meet! I must be a genius.

Not so much. I left out a major hunk of story in the second act! But that’s what why they invented the second pass.

I send it to my word pediatrician, Sue Rasmussen. She makes my perfect bundle of joy even more ‘perfecter’, by pointing out made up words like that one.

I take it on its first vacation, to the beach. We spend seven glorious days in the sand and surf of Puerto Rico. At wheels down of Jet Blue Flight 504 arriving JFK from SJU, I finish the last story edit on the last page. (I love it when the timing works out so well) and shake all the sand out of the book before closing it.

There’s a mid-wife at Kinko’s, Gary. He prints up 10 bound copies with slick little covers with art work in the general direction of the final cover.

Then it’s off to be held by 6 friends and/or strangers to get honest comments.  Most come back good, my cousin George Cannistraro, a talented author in his own right, as always catches a plot point I missed and from that usually the book jumps to 50% better.

Then a deep breath as I click send to let (Grandpa) publisher, Lou Aronica at the Story Plant, give it a read.

Tick tock, tick tock… Ding.

A return email! He likes it! He sees the same beauty in it that I do. Only he takes exception to the very end. The edit I did of the very last words in the book that I made at wheels down. Chauvinistic and demeaning were words he didn’t use, but were apt. So I reworked it made it better (as everything he compels me to rework gets) Now it’s good and I am a caring sensitive male once more. Good. He’s going to publish it, Yaaaaaaaaay!

I Go back to editing book four, “The Devil’s Quota.”  While writing book five, “Give Us This Day.”

Ding! Mail’s in. The edited manuscript is sent back to me. Three years after the first draft was nothing more than a blank screen radiating my chromosomes.

Lots of edits, comments and Tsk, Tsk, Tsk’s.  But also an opportunity for one more polish, one more fine tuning, one last chance to bend, shape, smooth out or hone to a fine point the plot, sub plots, characters, locations, interactions, set ups and payoffs. Oh and I get to detangle the dreaded Head Hopping POV shifts (Ugh, I hate those)

Back it goes into the maw of the Publishers system. Through the editorial intestines, purified by the editor’s liver… wait… okay, really bad analogy… Through the editorial process and then suddenly, one blessed day, Ding! The “pages” arrive. This is how my book will look when it’s ‘all growed up’! In fact, it will look like this forever. The font choice, the leading, the kerning, the style elements.  But along with it comes the big admonishment: Not For Editing!  Meaning hands off anything story or content (I had my chance) but identify in red pen only the errant period, wandering comma, perplexed parentheses, and the ever popular spell check replacement that could ‘rune’ your day!

openbook

So here it sits. All ready for it’s coming out date on June 17th 2014.

Beautiful isn’t it (Doesn’t every author believe their new book is beautiful?)

Ahhh, the joys of author-hood. 

From Beach to Book

If you read my previous blog about editing my book on the golden sands of Puerto Rico then you’re probably wondering, “Hey, did you take any pictures?” (see below)


Here is what the experience is like: I mostly sit alone writing at home or at work or at a reserved table at the restaurant that always keeps a table open for me near the wall and a plug so I can write, and then, suddenly I’m on a sun-washed beach – still alone – while other vacationers are bouncing around in the waves of the Caribbean. My head, however, is somewhere in Pakistan or Canada or New York or New York State.

I was in the book. I edit on the beach by day and at night punch in the changes onto my laptop. Real hot time so far, right?

Well I get to do other things, but always with the umbilical cord stretched tight between the manuscript and myself. Somewhere close to day 4 I am finished. What a feeling. Then it’s a metamorphosis into a vacationer on the beach. Then comes the day when I leave, shed the bathing suit for totally climate inappropriate NYC street clothes as I head to the plane.

Within 24 hours of JetBlue flight 704 touching down at JFK, I had ‘published’ my uncorrected manuscript at Kinkos, as kind of an advance copy, meant for my close inner circle of friends to read and comment on. I do this with trepidation.

Now the book is on my desk (see below)

I sit here, with a feeling of completion–not quite postpartum depression, but a kind of hope mixed with anxiety that the squiggly lines on the page are going to filter through to a human being who will decode them into an emotion…or for the tech savvy; the text will be an emoticon 😉

Within the pages these emotions connect to the plot and characters, settings and pacing. And I hope that I haven’t violated too many rules of literary infrastructure – despite my dashes of precocious flirting with generally accepted norms. An intentional flirtation calculated to hopefully lead someone to gauge my work as a fresh, interesting approach – or just a downright good read. I don’t care which one, as long as it isn’t “I couldn’t stay with it”.

So I threw a fancy cover on it, in the hopes that it warms my readers up to the idea of, “Oh, this looks finished.”

Then I sit back, empty nest syndrome sweeping over me as my baby is out there. I wait and wait, twiddling my thumbs and… I don’t know, maybe find something to do, like write this blog?

Don’t cry for me, Puerto Rico

Tom Avitabile | Don't Cry For Me, Puerto RicoI know that what I’m about to say is going to draw no sympathy, no empathy, no amount of concern from anybody, and that’s the way it should be. I’m at a wonderful, magical moment in the process of The Devil’s Quota, my fourth book. If you’ve been following the blog, you know that from time to time I’ve been trying to bring you, the reader of the blog (if I’m the blogger, are you the blogee?), into my wacky, arcane, never-been-done-before process of writing.

 Here’s another one: The good news about finally getting the first pass of The Devil’s Quota back from my editor is that it coincides with a holiday, and holidays usually coincide with me taking a trip which ultimately winds up with me under an umbrella on a Caribbean beach with a thick, four-inch spiral bound notebook of three-hole punched, 385 page manuscript. Oh, and a red pen.

 In the prima facie case of the ultimate beach read, while bikini clad Bunnies and really buffed Brads wave at some Steves and Bobs who are bobbing in the water, I sit in the shade under an umbrella, looseleaf across my lap, red pen at the ready, attempting to be an unbiased, unemotional, disconnected reader/arbitrator of that which I wrote.

 It’s an interesting process: That progress from the writing phase to the editorial stage acts as a kind of mental sorbet, cleansing the mental palate. This allows attacking the book fresh, and energizes me with very insightful and illuminating powers. The biggest advantage is the modality switch from the extreme high-definition quality of a retina display laptop to reading toner on paper. That, in and of itself, it is a transformational step.

 For someone born before the computer, who learned how to read on paper, there is actually a discernible difference. The skill, the comprehension and the “Oh geez, I didn’t notice that on the screen!” moments overtake you when you are actually holding the book. Somewhere in between, my “workday” on Isla Verde also has a Piña Colada (virgin of course, I’m working) and various friends and curiosity seekers stopping by, wondering why I’m sitting under an umbrella doing my homework when everybody else is playing.

Tom Avitabile | Don't Cry For Me, Puerto RicoI will come home from the Caribbean with not only sand in my bathing suit, but hopefully sand-sprinkled pages of a manuscript. I’ll shake it out—the sand, all those crazy knotted sentences, all those overused pronouns, all those not-defined-well set up scenarios and characters, all shaking loose with them—leaving only a pristine, perfect first draft which will then go back to my editor. As the shampoo bottle taught us: repeat, rinse, repeat.

 *Editor’s note: To that end, there will an Ethan Cross guest blog filling this space- enjoy.

Avitabile
Tom Avitabile
http://tomavitabile.com/
tom@spadvertising.com

Metaphysical Universal Story Enlightenment or M.U.S.E.

So, you are deep in a scene, and the place you’re writing in disappears. A narrow tunnel into your screen draws you into the world you’ve created – a world where your characters are engaging each other and revealing plot and personality traits that enrich your story. As happens to many writers who are ensconced in that ‘Zone’, the characters start talking to you. Or more accurately, start making up their own dialogue and taking their actions in directions you didn’t intend when you sat down to write.

Some people would say that this is a mild form of insanity, the kind which afflicts all writers, but I’ve come to believe that it’s really the M.U.S.E at work. M.U.S.E, in the non-classical sense, standing for Metaphysical Universal Story Enlightenment. I’ll explain. I’m writing a scene that takes place in a restaurant. Before I know it, my character is in the men’s room. Before I know why, someone is intentionally in the men’s room to have a conversation with him. My hero demurs – doesn’t want to have a conversation in the men’s room, and tells him to come to the office. That whole bit of dialogue winds up with the intruder giving him a dining tip of, “Try the halibut.” At the time I remember thinking, “strange thing for me to write, Halibut?”, but I wrote it.

Two weeks later, on a beach in Puerto Rico Continue reading