The Importance of Proofreading

I’m sorry there wasn’t a post last week. We had a family visit, which was delightful. I chose to dive into that time instead of hang out in my writer’s head. Family is important to me. That fact shines out in every one of my books. When I have the opportunity to catch up with my tribe, I try to take it. But now they’ve gone home, and here I am again in my writer’s bed, the visit over, happy to be here.

Oftentimes when people think of writing a book, they imagine the moment when the writer triumphantly types THE END at the end of her manuscript. It’s seen as the end of the process, but there’s so many other steps before and after that (terribly important) moment. So today I wanted to write about another step near the end of this dance of creating a book, proofreading.

When I finished my first novel, Joy Returns!, I imagined I could cut costs by proofreading my manuscript myself. After all, I had a BA in English. I was trained as an editor. Certainly I could succeed at this task. But I didn’t. I published that book and then began to see errors. How many times did I have my production person take down my book, make the corrections, and publish it again? It’s all a horrifying blur now, but my guess is five. Even after that, a dear friend read the book, loved it, but said, “I found mistakes. I made a list. Would you want it?” Well, of course, I did. The idea that my beloved book was out in the world with a list of errors just felt horrible to me. I checked over what she found. The mistakes were indeed there. I sent over the list to my production person who somehow remained cheery through this whole process. That was when I had to admit that I was not capable of proofreading my own work.

I’m sure that some writers can pull that task off, but I would bet that most people would be on board my boat. We are too invested in our book. We literally can’t see it any more. It’s time to turn it over to someone we trust who has eagle eyes and a love for nitpicky detail to pore over our work.

And even then there are often mistakes. How can that be? I’ve decided that books have a sense of humor. They delight in having that imperfection, that moment where they break the mold and have their pimple, the missing preposition, the absent period, the quotation mark that goes the wrong way. “All these humans studied me, and I still got away!” I try to laugh when I spot them later. Then I ask my production person to correct it, so I can move forward towards that maddening quest of perfection.

For the rest of my books, I’ve worked with a proofreader. She is wonderful and exacting, and, yet in the end, I am still the ultimate authority. I look over all her suggestions, and I make decisions. Recently, I went over her comments for my upcoming book, The Sharpest Claw. Before that occurred, my proofreader told me that there were very few errors, that she thought the book was great. I imagined it to be a quick, easy process to approve the changes, but it wasn’t. it was painful and difficult. There were lots of things I felt I needed to fix. I despaired over everything. This is my fourth novel. I have never before considered proofreading to be a deeply dark, emotional process, but that was my experience this time. It felt like writer’s stage fright—my book is about to be out in the world. I’m scared to death. So I let myself feel that, and then I thought back on writing this book, the ups and downs, the time, the discoveries, the happiness when I figured something out, and I picked up my manuscript and went back to work. The Sharpest Claw, Book 2 of the Cats of the Afterlife series, will be out in September.

Adventures in Book Sales at the Art and Wine Fair

This weekend I shared a booth with two other local writers at the Twain Harte Summer Art and Wine Fair.

When I was asked to do it, it felt like a no-brainer. Having a table at an art fair sounded so glamorous to me, such a fun way to sell books. I couldn’t wait to do it.

But, yesterday morning, fifteen minutes into the experience, I turned to my husband and said in a low voice, “I made a mistake. I want to go home.” He replied, “The fair is not even open yet.” Which was true. It opened at 10:00 a.m. We had arrived early to set up and make sure that we could find parking. But the first people I saw walked by with their heads averted as if they were allergic to books. It was already hot. I loved the women writers who were also in this booth, but I am an introvert. I can have intense conversations with people and really enjoy it until I hit a wall. And the wall can come up really fast. All of a sudden, I will want to be off by myself, with the ceiling fan on, and a cat by my side, and say not a word to anyone for at least forty-five minutes. But for this fair, I had a commitment to be in that booth until 5:00 p.m. on both weekend days. It felt like it would be endless.

And there were moments during the weekend when time crawled. It was hot, the type of heat that if you listened to the news, they told you to stay in your house. Sometimes, when no one visited our booth, I wished I could take a minute to sit back and lose myself in my phone for ten minutes, but my phone was dying. I couldn’t use it for entertainment purposes. I had to save it for when a customer had a credit card transaction, and I needed to use the Square application.

So I had to hang out. I conversed with my writer friends. We grew close quickly. When you have hours of moments where you can talk, barriers fall away fast. And we had this central thing in common. We were all there because we had a calling to write. It’s not something that a sane person would do. It’s challenging, out of control, exhilarating. It makes you vulnerable in the world. There’s a part of your soul printed out as a book, and someone may pick up what you wrote, leaf through the pages, and walk away. Or someone can stop in front of your work and say, “I have to have this.” This weekend, I had variations of both of those experiences.

I learned things. There are people who say, “I don’t read,” which to me feels like, “I don’t drink water.” It’s difficult to imagine my life without books. It would be a sad state of affairs for me. Other people said, “I have a stack of books waiting at home.” A lot of people told me they didn’t have time to read. Then I would talk to them about audiobooks, how I listened to stories on walks, on drives, when I tried to get to sleep. I would say that, I was proud to have my first talking cat fantsay, The Loudest Meow, in that form. In the near future, all of my books will also be available as audiobooks. I left the festival this weekend more convinced than ever that audiobooks will be a big part of our future.

By the end of today, I felt like I wanted to do more festivals. My husband compared it to golfing, where you spend the day hitting the ball into water traps, missing putts, and generally falling short, but you can have one good swing, and it made all the difference. All the other mistakes and disappointments faded out of memory. From this experience, I will always remember meeting the young writers I met. It felt so good to see their excitement and hear their commitment to their work and to encourage them to keep going. For that alone, i would want to be at the table at these events with my books.

The Wonder of Audiobooks

I have been a fan of audiobooks for a long time. I even have audiobook stories. One time, about twenty years ago, my husband and I went off on a road trip. We had a destination and a planned pit stop—a favorite restaurant several hours away. We turned on our audiobook and drove off. Well, we never made it to the restaurant. We became so absorbed in the story that we passed it right by and only realized our mistake hundreds of miles later. On our return trip home, we resolved that we would not miss stopping at that restaurant, and we didn’t, athough we did listen to an audiobook on our drive there. After a delicious meal, we clambered back to the car and drove away, our audiobook blaring, forgetting the one thing we had told ourselves that we had to do before returning to our route: stop at the nearby gas station. That was the time we almost ran out of gas as the result of a story.

So far this sounds like a cautionary tale against audiobooks. I would say those are stories of first love. We still listen to audiobooks in the car all the time, but we seem to remember to do things and avoid mishaps. And we don’t go on road trips that often anymore. We have three cats at home, and I miss them even when I’m at the local grocery store.

Lately I’ve increased my audiobook listening. Part of it came out of sleep problems. Often it seems that anxiety and sleeplessness hang out together. I’ve found that if I put on my headphones and listen to an audiobook, I can fall asleep without worry. Yes, I do lose my place in books. I’ve started to use the timer on my audiobook application to turn off the book after half an hour so I don’t wander off too far. The following day, I usually have to go back in the text. But who cares? I’ve had a good night’s sleep.

It’s also an incentive for me to exercise. I love to walk. Walking and listening to a story? A hot fudge sundae experience. And I have discovered that I am a more adventurous reader with audiobooks. I will listen to genres—the classics, suspense thrillers, biographies, that I would never pick up and read. Of course, there is a caveat, and that is the narrator. The narrator can make or break a book. If I don’t like the narrator’s voice, I will not listen to the book.

My dream is to have all my books in audiobook form, and I have one done, The Loudest Meow: A Talking Cat Fantasy. It is my favorite version of that book. You can listen to a sample here. I feel so lucky to work with Kae Denino, the narrator, who had to come up with a bunch of different cat voices and tell a story that can be operatic in tone.

Do you listen to audiobooks? Do you have favorites? I’ll throw some of mine out here: I’ve been impressed with all the Sophie Kinsella books I’ve heard, with Wedding Night my favorite so far. We are currently listening to the Lord of the Rings trilogy, where the narrator, Rob Inglis, occasionally breaks into song. Yes! We listened to all twenty-one books of the Travis McGee series narrated by Robert Petfkoff, and we wished there had been more. We really enjoyed Tracy Sallows’s work on Lisa Brackmann’s series set in China. I recently listened to The Girl Before, and although it wasn’t necessarily my type of book, I loved the multiple narrators and the structure of the story. If you’re an audiobook listener, let me know what you have liked in the comments below.

The Power of Pinterest

So I was in a definite funk. We had to move. My manuscript, The Sharpest Claw: A Talking Cat Fantasy, was off in New York, probably munching on a bagel while waiting to be proofread. I was here with day job demands, boxes all around me, and a hole in my heart where my writing usually is.

That’s when I remembered. The answer was a single word, starting with “P,” three syllables. You might think it would be potatoes, and I certainly love them, particularly baked, loaded up with sour cream and chives, and I do eat the skin, but, no, in this instance, it was Pinterest.

I have an account on Pinterest, but I hadn’t been there for about a year. I have seven boards, five devoted to my books (three essentially done and two in the ether); one for dinosaurs simply titled “I Love Dinosaurs,” because I do; one for my favorite middle grade books, and one of images I loved as a child because when I was a child, I vowed that I would write books, and I try to still listen and honor what that kid is saying to me now.

Anyway, the last time I had been on the site, I had brainstormed images for The Sharpest Claw. Now, looking at that board, I could see the challenges I had writing this book. Some of the pictures actually belonged to the next book, The Deepest Growl, which I plan to start working on in August. And I hadn’t met some of the characters who eventually showed for The Sharpest Claw. Where was Cranky Squirrel? The ravens? The celebrity cat reporter? The pitbull who loved to tease? Etc.? They all needed representation.

So I returned to Pinterest. It was something that I would do for only fifteen minutes or so each day, but it made me feel connected. I started thinking like a writer again. I felt happy. I thought that I would like this now to be part of my regular routine while writing books—brainstorming before writing linearly, returning to it in the final stage, while my beloved book is undergoing final corrections. It’s a way to pay tribute, to see if anything is missing, to celebrate, and to start moving ahead, dreaming up the next board, the next book.

On Writing Regularly

It’s one of those bits of advice tossed out to writers: Write every day. Stephen King said that you needed to write on Christmas and birthdays, too. Don’t skip a day!

Well, I’ve been skipping days. There’s two reasons behind it. We’ve moved. (I feel like I should have a T-shirt with that saying on it. It would be black. Maybe there would be a skull and crossbones under those words. The shirt would be torn. There might be some paint on it, and it would smell faintly of sweat.)

Since we moved, everything has changed. I have a new office. I have a new writing bed. My glass duck Ludwig now stares at me while I type. He is thrilled. And, honestly, Ludwig, so am I. But this is the first time I’ve actually sat up here. It’s the first time the room has been somewhat put together. And I have piles of day job work that I need to complete because, along with its pleasant surprises, moving has prompted unexpected costs.

And then there’s my seasonal philosophy, as in every day is not a day of linear writing. For me it often boils down to this: August is brainstorming and writing. September through December is writing the draft, often many times. In January, I let go of the draft to my beta readers. Then I process their feedback and revise. The draft then goes to the developmental editor. If she says it’s okay, that’s a huge hurdle jumped, accompanied with more revision, then the proofreader, then me reading it over again, and then on to production. And this schedule has pretty much followed that course escept it feels I have had lots of waiting time this year, and even though I say to myself that I could start on new books. I could research others, I don’t. I seemed tied to this book until this process is over.

Today was the first time that I felt afraid about it. Had I abandoned my muse? Will I be able to write again once it’s August again? Do I even feel like a writer any more? It tells me that I need to dream up new tricks to keep me feeling connected. It reminds me of the importance of going deep, even if it’s only for five or fifteen minutes to spend time with myself and with my story. When there are deadlines and boxes all over, it’s often the last thing I want to do, but I need to remember and honor that need to touch base.