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June 2011

Babies and Books

Images-1 "When you say the author of the study followed boys from 6th to 8th grades, do you mean he studied the same boys as they moved through the grades, or did he just follow boys who were in those grades?"

Oops - sorry. Was I whining about copy editing again? My bad. Anyway that question has been resolved, thanks to a brief email exchange with the professor who conducted the research.

Yesterday I got to babysit my great niece, little Amelia. We had some important talks about life. She also had to endure my singing. Taking care of an infant - she's just over 3 weeks old - came right back to me, but there was one thing I had forgotten: the impossible softness of a newborn's feet. I mean these little puppies have not really touched the ground yet. They are as smooth as the rest of her sweet little body. And the smell of a new baby...if they could bottle that particular scent, I know we would have world peace.

In the quest of personal peace, though, I must get back to the manuscript....

The Art of The "To Do" List

Unknown For those of us who live by "to do" lists, there is an art to what kind of tasks you include on it. Mine is fairly daunting this morning and it got me thinking.

For instance, one item is "food pantry minutes." A classic "to do"  - I am the recording secretary, and I must write up the last board meeting, edit the minutes and send them off to the board. No brainer for a "to do list" - a discreet project that can be completed. Ditto with the food pantry summer newsletter. (When you are a writer you get every possible writing job in volunteer organizations.) 

Then you've got the kind of mundane chores like "return books to library," "deposit check," "call pet sitter," which are more or less part of everyday life, but nonetheless must get accomplished in a timely fashion. But in my mind stuff like "do laundry" or "go to grocery store,"  have no place on the list, because these are such ongoing routines that you might as well put "brush teeth" or "keep breathing" on there.

Which brings me to "correct endnotes." Yes, they are back. The editorial assistant even apologized when she returned the manuscript to me yesterday, saying she was sorry to give me yet more work, but that the copy editor was having trouble with some of my inserts. GRRRRRrrrrrr. I do not include "work," "book" or even "endnotes" on my "to do" list. But dear Lord, when is this going to be come a discreet task which I can check off as finished?!


Images Good news - I am not going to talk about my book. I am, however, going to mention a book that I am kind of obsessed with - Room. Have you read it? I can't get my book group interested, because they are put off by the premise: the narrator, a 5-year-old boy named Jack, has lived his entire life in one room, with his "Ma." Eventually it becomes clear that he and his mother are being held captive.

I'll tell you no more, because I don't want to spoil it. But I found the book amazing on multiple levels - the imagination of the author to use this perspective to reveal her story, the gripping drama, the insights into what the world might look like to such a boy, and more. I read it once quickly, because I couldn't put it down, and then had to re-read it slowly so I could get every nuance. I am still thinking about it. 

Check this book out. Oh no. I just realized it is a mother-son story. But much more than that. 

And I'd Like To Thank.....

Images Well, it does feel a little as if I am giving an acceptance speech as I finally get around to writing the acknowledgment page for the book. (The acknowledgments and dedication pages are due tomorrow.)

There were many people who helped me along the way, and I am trying to find the balance between including all those folks, but not being ridiculous. ("And thanks to the conductor who took my ticket that time I took the train to Manhattan to meet my editor....") 

Heaven knows that there is no "stylist," "personal assistant," let alone, "fellow cast and crew"! But there are my agents, and my editor, and my writing group and....Well, you get the drift. It is actually a pleasure to thank these people, but I certainly hope I haven't left anyone out. And I am having a little fun teasing my family by telling them that I am dedicating the book either to the pet turtle or the cats...

How Many Times Can You Finish A Book?

There have been so many stages at which I thought I was done with the book. Obviously there was the momentous day I completed the manuscript and that exhilarating, terrifying moment I hit the "send" button. Then there was the day I completed the revisions which the editor requested and sent that version in. There was of course, the marathon of finishing up the endnotes, at which point I figured I was really, really done. But now I am in my final two days before the copy edited version is due back. 

Images This is an important step because it it the last one where I can really alter the book substantially - add and subtract paragraphs, introduce a new study I found, etc. Once the book is put in galley form, changes become far more problematic, not to mention expensive. 

The deadline to return the copy edited manuscript is Tuesday, and then I have a few more days to write the acknowledgments and dedication. 

In the words of every kid who has ever been on a long car trip, "Are we there yet?"

Mother-Son Quote of The Week

Images-3 "Dear Madam,

    I have been shown in the files of the War Department that you are the mother of five sons who have died gloriously on the field of battle. I feel how weak and fruitless must be any words of mine which should attempt to beguile you from the grief of a loss so overwhelming. But I cannot refrain from tendering to you the consolation that may be found in the thanks of the Republic they died to save. I pray that our heavenly Father may assuage the anguish of your bereavement, and leave you only the cherished memory of your loved and lost, and the solemn pride that must be yours ot have laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of freedom.

    Yours very sincerely and respectfully,

    Abraham Lincoln

Copy Edited Version Arrives

Images-2 My manuscript is back and it looks more and more like a real book! It's not in galleys yet, but the copy edited version is in a new type face, has a page listing contents, space for the dedication and acknowledgments - and oh yes, the eight chapters of the book itself, marked up by the copy editor.

On initial inspection, this editing looks fairly light - mostly punctuation and style changes. For instance, I had underlined the name of books; they put them in italics. But this is how closely the book is read: I made reference to "Arlo Guthrie's song, 'City of New Orleans.'" The copy editor checked and then noted that the song was actually written by  Steve Goodman. She corrected what I wrote, changing it to, "Arlo Guthrie's recording of "City of New Orleans."

That's what I call careful editing.

All Authors Fret

Images-1 "I don't mind if Duckworth crosses out a hundred shady pages of Sons & Lovers. It's got to sell, I've got to live."

So wrote D.H. Lawrence, in a letter written in 1915 to Edward Garnett, an English critic and literary editor. "Duckworth" was Lawrence's publisher and the author wasn't too sanguine about his book's possibilities. "I'm a damned curse unto myself," Lawrence goes on. "I've written more than half of a most fascinating (to me) novel. But nobody will ever dare to publish it. I feel I could knock my head against the wall. Yet I love and adore this new book."

If only I could reach back in time and tell Lawrence  not to worry - that they will still be reading his novel almost a century later, and that it would be considered a classic of modern literature. Lawrence believed it was great - "so new, really a stratum deeper than I think anybody has ever gone in a novel." He is disheartened - to say the least - but committed to carrying on. "I wish I had never been born. But I'm going to stick at it, get it done, and then write another, shorter, absolutely impeccable - as far as morals go - novel."

Ah, the writing life. Why does anyone think it's romantic?



A Very Special Reunion

Images Over the weekend I accompanied my Dad to his 65th college reunion. I can't tell you how special this was. First, there was the one-on-one time with my Dad. I'm one of four kids, so it is a particular treat when I get him to myself. We had loads of time to talk on the drive up and back through Massachusetts, and plenty of fun roaming the campus as well. (My Dad has extraordinary energy!) On top of that, my Dad and I share an alma mater, and a love for our college, so going back has particular resonance for both of us.

But what was deeply poignant was spending time with the Class of '46. Most of these gentlemen are my Dad's age - 87. Many, like my Dad, had their educations interrupted by the war. My father arrived on campus in 1942, but enlisted in the army after his freshman year. He was soon fighting in Germany. (In fact, on our drive home yesterday, he reminded me to keep two hands on the wheel, and was soon off on a story about an army jeep he was in that overturned on a bridge while he was taking part in an invasion.)

Anyway, by the time my father returned to campus, he was a no longer a sheltered teenager, but a grown man who had seen combat, liberated concentration camps, and he - and many of his veteran classmates - had little patience for fraternity life or strict campus rules. But they still loved their college, valued their education, and retained their "Class of '46" identity, even though those that returned from the war graduated years later.

Twenty-two guys from their class made it back, and I couldn't help noticing that they were all checking out the Class of '41; which boasted 8 returning members. Very bittersweet weekend. 

Legal Vetting

Unknown The endnotes are not the end of it. The book also needed to go through legal vetting. Who knew? The publisher has in-house lawyers who review all the content, presumably to make sure that everything is well-documented and that nothing is slanderous.

Actually, the lawyer I worked with couldn't have been nicer, though I may be biased, because she really liked the book and we had a good time talking about it. It turns out she has two sons, so the book resonated with her. But I did spend the last two days making sure the documentation was there to back up certain claims, double checking with the authors of a study to make sure I had accurately characterized their work, and making a few subtle but important edits. (For instance, changing "scientists have repeatedly criticized his work" to "some scientists have criticized his work.")

What a learning curve this continues to be! I have been crunching so hard that a few things have fallen by the wayside, including the Food Pantry newsletter, which I write most of the stories for and edit. Do you think if it comes out at the end of June, I can still accurately call it the "Spring/Summer" edition? Maybe I can run it by the publisher's lawyer.

Time Goes On

Harrison-ford-1 How is it that Harrison Ford is on the cover of the AARP Magazine? My man. Time marches on.

And in other changes that rock my world, I noticed this morning that on the little blue bag in which my morning New York Times is delivered, it reads, "All The News That's Fit To Go." "Fit to Go"? Go where? I get it that they are trying to move away from the paper's identity as solely a print operation, but that tag line just doesn't do it. I just checked my paper (the one that is made from trees) and it still reads "All the News That's Fit to Print." What's next, though? "All the News That's Fit for Digital Content" on the website?

In other news, I told myself I would not blog one more time about the endnotes, lest I lose every reader I have left. But I will just say this: in the end there were 258 of them. 258. I'd rather look at a nice picture of Harrison than think about them for another minute. 

Endnotes Are The End of Me

Images-1 As of 6:00 a.m. today, I have completed 189 endnotes, which brings me to the end of Chapter 5. Two more chapters to go. They are all due today. The ones that are done aren't perfect - some are missing page numbers, but only one is a complete blank. Hopefully will get a second crack at them when I get the whole manuscript back from copy editing. Publisher wants these today.

In other - and much more interesting news - my niece had her baby on Friday! Baby Amelia is healthy and absolute heaven. I can't wait to get to know her. I have so much wisdom to impart. Such as never, never, never handle endnotes like Aunt Katy.


I'm Being Punished Enough

Images You know how when someone has a computer meltdown and loses everything - people are always tempted to say, "Oh my God, didn't you back up your work?" It is not a nice thing to say. Well, there is a corollary when one -such as I - is in foot note hell. Please, do not say to the author, "WHAT? You didn't keep notes all along? You weren't doing citations as you wrote?"

No. OK? No, I didn't. This is my first book. I have been learning as I go along. When I blithely referred to a study, I evidently found it online, or printed it out and stuck it in a folder, God knows where, or researched it at a library and just took notes, or whatever.

Yesterday, I got a note from the editor's assistant, and they want all the notes by Monday. Monday. Let me just say there is a great deal of work to do in the next few days. And please don't tell me that I should have been doing this all along. I'm being punished enough.  


EndNotes AUGH! I was warned. I really was. Keep track of all the material you cite in the book. Do the endnotes or footnotes as you go along. Sure, sure, I thought at the time. The important thing is the narrative - I don't need to be disrupting the writing process by laboriously noting the authors of some study I reference. It will be easy to put all this together at the end.

My friends, crime doesn't pay. I spend five straight hours yesterday documenting the material in Chapter Two. And I'm not near done. With even half of Ch. 2. I'll say this - my book, while not academic, certainly does have scholarly work to back it up. Let's not even discuss the difference between a footnote and an endnote, let alone the different styles in which source material can be cited. Writing - not always the world's most romantic pursuit.