The Red Pen Diaries

As you can see, finally started AUT edits in earnest last night. The comments in pen are D’s, the printed comments (of which there are none on this page, sorry) are J’s, and the red pen marks are mine. Last night I watched the last half of the last episode of FNL that I had, then switched over to Music and Lyrics, which was sort of cute and pretty funny despite my rather low expectations (or maybe because of them!). I had originally planned on editing all night (all aboard the Whoops! Express), so I had my MS and the email from J I’d printed out with D’s big picture comments, The Artful Edit by Susan Bell, and my favorite red felt pen arranged neatly on the kitchen table. My roommate E came home and eyed the pile warily. “Is that a red pen I see?” she asked. “Are you sure that’s a good idea?”

I understand immediately what she meant, but honestly I’m not afraid of the red pen. Just like E, I had teachers in high school and even in college that attempted to spare sensitive students from seeing their essays and short stories in bloody tatters by using green or purple ink, but I like how official the red looks. If I didn’t hate non-mechanical pencils so much, I’d mark up my manuscripts with red pencil, because it’s traditional, old-fashioned copy editor-looking. But I do hate non-mechanical pencils, so I prefer to use the fine red felt pen. And, to be truthful, I don’t spare anybody else the ignominy of the red pen, either. I think it’s good for a person–it startles you into recognizing that you are now in a different mode. When I was a TA in college and I marked up student essays, I used red pen. When I was an editor at my undergraduate literary magazine, I used red pen. When I read the work of friends now, I use red pen. I like the red pen; the red pen is my friend.

Here’s another thing I realized last night–like most things, editing is so much scarier before you start. The possibilities of how much someone could hate your work are much more terrifying than the actually problems they have with it. When I first took a look at the marked up MS J sent me last week, I started flipping through looking expressly for J and D’s comments, not actually reading. With each page I turned, it was like, “Oh, God, what are they going to hate now?” This is very stupid. That is really not the point of revision. So last night (and I know I crapped out pretty quickly, but that was more the result of extreme fatigue in general than a desire to stop editing) I started back at the beginning, with my red pen in hand, and read through AUT line by line. Which is why I only got to page 30 before abandoning the effort and going to bed. But whatever, the point is that because I was looking for flaws outside of J and D’s comments, and finding them in abundance, it was much less scarier to come across one of their issues.

Also, funny story. The last page I worked on last night had a comment from J about a line describing a character, something to the tune of “this is clunky, we need to find a way to say this exact same thing but in a totally different way”. At first I misunderstood and thought it was a comment about the line before, but when I realized what line it was I didn’t even recognize it. The longer you work on an MS, the more you memorize and I was like, “This looks unfamiliar to me–I think it used to say the same thing in a different way.” I guess I must’ve changed it in the last revision, although I can’t remember if it was because J didn’t like the way it was phrased back then, or because I didn’t think it was right. And she’s right, it is clunky–I don’t know why I ever thought that it sounded better than what I remember the line being in the first place. Maybe I’ll just go back to the original. I bring this up because I think it’s highly likely that I read that line and went, “Somebody’s going to take issue with how this is phrased, I think people might say it’s too lofty, I’d better change it.”

Which sort of brings up the question: How often you should anticipate other people’s criticism when you’re editing something? I don’t know the answer, by the way. I feel like it was probably a bad call on my part to change this particular line, mostly because I liked it the way it was, AND I was reading a marked-up copy of the MS in which my agent didn’t even mention that the line needed changing (unless I’m remembering wrong and she did say that, in which case ignore this entire paragraph). So now I have to go spelunking through one of the myriad versions of AUT (thankfully I save every revision in a different document with the dates in the name, which I WOULD TOTALLY RECOMMEND, by the way) to find the line. Le sigh. Whatever! This post was really just to put up that picture and to direct your attention to the left sidebar, which tells you that I have actually started AUT revisions. Apparently it took me five paragraphs to say that.

(Oh, yeah, and also even though I actually edited 30 pages last night, I’m only marking it as 15 because I feel like half of the work is in the red pen stage and half of the work is in making the changes in Word. Just FYI–actually, F my I, because I might forget later and confuse myself. I’m really good at that!)

Attn Publishers Marketplace members!

Now that we’re about to take this show on the road (if I, you know, finish my revisions), I’m obsessed with Publishers Marketplace‘s deals listings. I think PM is sort of expensive ($20 a month, which on my salary is a lot), especially since you can get Lunch for free, and I often think about canceling my subscription, but damn if I don’t love Who Represents and Deals. Well, Deals has an RSS feed, which is something I didn’t know, so now I can add it to my Google Reader. I just was excited and thought I’d share.

State of the blog

Someday, I’m going to have a website. My brilliant web designer friend, Eric, has already decided this, and I have some design ideas floating around in my head, but since I don’t have much to put on a website right now, I’m just sticking with the blog. However, I recently purchased the domain name, so now when you type that in to your web browser it takes you here! Slowly but surely, people. Is a blog redesign next? Only time and Eric’s schedule will tell.

First lines

Because I’m nothing if not servicey, I thought I’d point out the obvious fact that lots of people have been talking about classic first lines as of late on the internets. The LA Times litblog Jacket Copy pointed me to a list compiled a few years ago by the American Book Review of the 100 Best First Lines from novels, which includes most of your standards, including:

  • “Call me Ishmael.” (Herman Melville, Moby-Dick)
  • “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” (Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice)
  • “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” (Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina)
  • “riverrun, past Eve and Adam’s, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by a commodius vicus of recirculation back to Howth Castle and Environs.” (James Joyce, Finnegan’s Wake)
  • “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.” (Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities)
  • “It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn’t know what I was doing in New York.” (Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar)

Etc. I have very few coherent thoughts on the subject of the first line, mostly because I think that trying to come up with a killer first line is like trying to bottle lightening–nearly impossible, and when it happens, it’s mostly by accident. I mean, certainly the first line of Finnegan’s Wake is deliberately fascinating, but that’s because it’s nearly unintelligible. I guess I could say that if it’s going to be long it had better be good (see A Tale of Two Cities), because a short, simple, yet descriptive line is probably more likely to hook a reader than a long, meandering retrospective on the meaning of life, ALTHOUGH aphorisms work well (see Anna Karenina, Pride and Prejudice), but only if they’re actually true.

In the spirit of disclosure, I’ll share the first line of AUT here, and say that though I don’t think it’s particularly “classic” (I don’t believe that anything I could write could ever be so), I don’t think it’s half-bad, either.

“It was the end of summer, when the hills were bone-dry and brown; the sun beating down and shimmering up off the pavement was enough to give you heat stroke.”

What do you think? (FYI: Not to be a paranoid loser, but that line is copyright me. Any attempt to steal it will result in a lot of screaming. I promise you.)

Friday Night Look-alikes

I know this has nothing to do with writing or books or publishing or what-have-you, but I’ve watched eight episodes of the first season of Friday Night Lights now and, much as I love it, what sort of bugs me is how much like other actors or celebrities the actors in the show look. In fact, for the first few episodes we watched, my roommate and I played the, “Who does he/she remind me of?” game. I think I’ve got it all nailed down now, with pictures to better illustrate!

First we’ve got the most egregious offender, Minka Kelly, who plays cheerleader Lyla Garrity. She looks exactly like Gossip Girl‘s Leighton Meester (Blair Waldorf), does she not? (The one on the left is Kelly; the one on the right is Meester.) Leighton Meester’s got a fuller face and is a much, much better actress, but otherwise these two ladies are virtually identical.

Here’s another one that I can’t get over. Adrianne Palecki (left), who plays town bicycle with a heart of gold Tyra Collette, looks so much like Mandy Moore! Especially around the mouth; I notice it every single time she speaks.

Apparently I’m doing all the girls first! Next there’s Aimee Teegarden (left), who plays the fifteen-year-old daughter of Dillon Panthers Coach Eric Taylor (Kyle Chandler). I’m sorry, Aimee, I love you but you look like Miley Cyrus sometimes, except that you are much cuter and your hair doesn’t look fake and you are a good actress. And you don’t wear pink pleather jackets.

Now for the boys. This one isn’t exact, but about halfway through the third episode I turned to Eesha and was like, “WHY IS HE SO FAMILIAR TO ME? Is it just because he kind of reminds me of my brother?” To which she responded, “No, he looks like that guy in that dancing movie.” I am embarrassed (except I’m not really embarrassed by this) to acknowledge that I knew immediately she meant Channing Tatum (who, incidentally, reminds me of my brother, at least in She’s the Man). Anyway, Zach Gilford (left) plays the Dillon Panthers’ backup quarterback, Matt Saracen, who has to step up when All-Leaguer Jason Street is paralyzed in a game.

Then there’s Scott Porter (left). He plays Jason Street, the once all-star quarterback of the Dillon Panthers who hits a guy wrong during the first game of the season and paralyzes himself from the waist down. This one isn’t exact, either, but at least twice an episode I’m like, “This is what it would be like if Teddy Dunn could act.”

And last but not least there’s hottie-hot-hot Taylor Kitsch (left). He plays lovable screw up Tim Riggins, a boy with a big heart and a decent talent for football who, despite his best intentions, always makes the wrong choices. I took a long time deciding who he reminded me of, and finally I got close–Reality Bites-era Ethan Hawke. But prettier.

I love you but I’ve chosen darkness

As I had planned, I went to see the new X-Files movie this weekend.

Last night I ended up discussing the movie with Kim, who had just seen it that day, and after a little bit of whining about the things that weren’t quite right or druthers that were left unrequited (aliens! I never thought I’d say that, but an X-Files movie without aliens doesn’t seem quite right to me), I was compelled to say, “My God, what a fantastic narrative arc!” I wasn’t just talking about the movie, although that was certainly part of it–I was talking about the whole universe of the show. Because the show’s main objective–the thing that it was always grappling with–is the question of how long a sane person can look into the darkness and not lose themselves to it. And what the show ends up giving us are two beautifully articulated characters who can actually muster up the courage to look in the first place, when so many of us are turning our heads and plugging our ears and humming to ourselves, waiting for something better to surface, or at least a lie that we can reasonably believe.

This is what I am trying to do with AUT, what I’ve been trying, with varying degrees of success, from the very beginning. My characters, although I did not realize this until Friday, are influenced by my admiration for the Mulder and Scully characters, in that they, too, refuse to accept the answers they’ve been given because they can be “programmed, categorized and easily referenced.” They’re going on, at first, almost nothing but gut instinct, the very intense feeling that something is wrong, that the people they know, the very geography of the town that they live in with the foothills that separate it and the hill/valley dichotomy that divides it, are conspiring, however consciously or unconsciously, to rein them in and make them behave when there are truths out there too big to ignore. I wanted–needed–to write this book because I think that our lives, even or possibly especially as adolescents, are much darker than we allow ourselves to imagine. But the truth is not the only, or even the essential, point. What I also wanted to do was to present a problem, then go back and isolate the moment or moments that catalyzed the problem and chart the escalation of the situation. I think that there’s a lot we can learn from that sort of retrospection in narrative, the idea that something cannot be solved unless it can be unwoven and examined from the very beginning.

This is how The X-Files has always operated, and of course it’s not at all different from plain old detective work, both in fiction and in real life. The overlaying of the supernatural is symbolic, in that it magnifies what we already know to be true of real life, what caused the ancients to invent their gods of war and thunder and destruction, that here be monsters, and that the world is full of mystery. Just because we now know what makes the tides rise and fall does not make it any easier to make sense of more personal horrors, like pedophilia or rape or murder. Mulder’s watchword throughout the series was always “possibility”, and his defining characteristic was that he saw it where others did not. “When convention and science offer us no answers, might we not finally turn to the fantastic as a plausibility?” he asks Scully in the pilot episode. Her rejoinder, “What I find fantastic is any notion that there are answers beyond the realm of science. The answers are there. You just have to know where to look”, is less powerful because it is so closed-minded, and in any case it gets no disagreement from Mulder–he believes exactly two thirds of what she said. People in the show mistake his methods all the time–they think because he’s willing to entertain any possibility that he wants the answer to be supernatural, or extraterrestrial. He does not. What makes Mulder unique is that he is willing to jump first into the abyss, to say “If this is where the answers are, this is where I will seek them.”

I find myself fascinated by people like that. I am certainly not one of them. I am not brave, or willing to go to the ends of the earth for answers. I would rather suffer in ignorance than face devastating truths, but my characters are not like that. I admire them as I would real people, and I hope to someday be more like them, and I think I must have something like that in me or else where would they come from? But what I’ve learned writing AUT, what The X-Files clearly shows is that answers come with a price. At least, it means the possibility of learning that your fears are real, at the very worst it means losing almost everything to the darkness. No wonder Scully resisted the pull of an X-file where Mulder could not–it was his life’s work, he thinks he has nothing left to lose, but she is a doctor. Where he always sought to tear things down, to destroy conspiracies, rip apart veils obfuscating facts and truths, she sought to bring things back together, to piece together the puzzle, to sew up that which separates, to heal the wounded. It is why she was drawn to him in the first place, but also why she understood that her life, however bleak, could exist without him–she could still do good without the X-files. But what the movie really boils down to is what Mulder tells Scully at the end, that two people so fixated on the truth (both Mulder’s supernatural truth and Scully’s scientific and religious truth) will never escape the darkness that serves to conceal it.

Weekend updates

Three posts in one week, I’m on fire! I hope you’re making a note of this, Internet. Anyway, I thought I’d give a little status report, since about two milliseconds after I wrote Wednesday’s post I heard from J. D finished her read and loved the MS, but had some notes, so I’m expecting a marked up manuscript to arrive in the mail today with feedback from the both of them (apparently I’m a big fan of dashes–who knew! Oh, there I go again) and also J sent me a list of big picture questions from D. So I have some work to do! I revise pretty fast, all things considered, once I sit down and just do it already, but I don’t really have time this weekend, which bugs me since I like to get these things done as soon as possible but also because I…sort of miss AUT? Is that weird? I haven’t actually looked at it seriously since May, when I finished the last round of revisions. It’s not that I miss the characters, exactly, because in my downtime from MB I’m working on a “sequel” to AUT (not a sequel, really, but a follow-up? I don’t know what to call it, and I don’t know if I’ll ever finish it, but it’s about the same characters and stuff), so I spend a significant time with them, but still.

But you know when you look at a manuscript you haven’t looked at in a long time and you’re like, “What IS THIS?” I opened AUT the other day just to make sure it was the right version before sending it to my friends Abby and Paul and I read the first page–just the first page!–and found about five things I wanted to change. So this round of revisions will be just as much about what I want to change as what J and D think needs revising. It’ll probably take me longer than I originally supposed, if that’s the case. Sigh. Oh well. I’ve got a bit of time. This might delay my completion of MB, though, but that’s all right. As long as this is all done by my vacation (AUT revisions and MB rough draft), it should be gravy.

What will keep me busy this weekend, you ask? Well, I’m glad you did! Tonight, The X-Files: I Want to Believe. If you follow my Tumblr, you know that I’m a huge fan, and a huge M/S ‘shipper, and that I’m super excited to see this new film. I’ve been preparing for the release by doing daily season retrospectives on Tumblr and posting clips and pictures and watching a bunch of episodes at home after work.

Tomorrow, I don’t know what I’m doing during the day (maybe AUT revisions? If the MS J sent comes today), but around seven I’m going to Abby’s apartment in Hoboken for a James McAmarathon (or a James McAthon, I can’t decide which is a better portmanteau), featuring Becoming Jane and Penelope and Chinese food. Speaking of the love of my life, have you seen the cover of Details magazine this month? Oh, you haven’t? Well, allow me:

You’re welcome! Also on Saturday night, my parents and seventeen-year-old sister, Alicia (incidentally, one of my first AUT readers), are getting into town! But too late at night for me to see them, I think, but I’ll see them on Sunday morning bright and early when we drop Fish off at this camp she’s going to in the city. She’s never been to New York, so this should be really fun and scary for her, and I’m so happy she’ll be here! And I’ll get to see my dad for the first time since Christmas. I figure I’ll spend the rest of Sunday with my folks, and then they’re leaving on Monday, driving up through New England to visit friends and celebrate their twenty-seventh anniversary (congrats, parentales! Not that you’re reading this). So that’s my weekend. Pretty jam-packed, but I’m not complaining. Next week, though, REVISIONS. I’m determined.

How are y’all spending your weekends?