From an upcoming interview I just completed:
INTERVIEWER: How do you feel the Midwest has shaped your writing?
MIKE: There is a residual stoicism coupled with a wry observational humor. For instance, nothing was funnier to the folks who raised me than nonfatal injury. If your buddy gets hit in the head with a monkey wrench and can still talk, well, that’s just hilarious. Also there is a certain tendency to hunch your back and get the work done without fancy clothes or drama. That said, any Midwestern memoir writer who invokes stoicism must then explain how he came to write page after page about his feelings.
This pen and notebook were a gift given to me in San Francisco at the end of my paperback tour for Visiting Tom. Immediately upon returning home I found myself deep in deadlines and frankly flummoxed. Typed for days, went for walks, made copious notes, and got it worked out. I know it looks like scribbling, but really it’s wrassling. Thanks for the mat, Author Guy.
I’ve written previously here and here of my appreciation for good copyeditors. For the last two days I’ve been reviewing the copyedits for my next book (a middle-grade novel due out from HarperCollins next year) and once again I’m fascinated with the ways the copyeditor saves me from myself. Two examples:
My submitted text: “And what better place?” he said, nodding his head toward the ravine and switching quickly back to a smile.
Copyeditor’s comment: Delete “his head”? Unnecessary with “nodding.”
My reaction: Indeed. It’s not as if he would nod with his patella.
My submitted text: Here and there you’ll see a steam engine vehicle, or an old car powered by a contraption called a gasifier, which can turn wood into fuel.
Copyeditor’s comment: Wood is a type of fuel. Maybe “which uses wood for fuel”?
My reaction: Hey, words are my life and livelihood, so don’t you tell me how…how…well, now that you put it that way…
It’s a privilege to have one’s work scrutinized, pruned and furbished with such care.
Well, quite a week. Spoke to high school students, librarians, firefighters and fire inspectors, islanders, a tow truck driver, an auto mechanic, and a rental car agency. Still in the hotel hitting a magazine deadline. Then a three hour drive home, I hope in time to see tired and happy Halloween kids. Thanks for all the friendly faces, good turns, and firm handshakes. And if you do rent a car, don’t forget to fill up that gas…
Oh sure, a Pulitzer would be nice. Or a Nobel, or a National Book Award, or a MacArthur Genius Grant. But I got this:
The liner in question: ”If you love snow ’cause it makes your yard look just as nice as the neighbors…yer one of us.”
I tend to write like I talk, which is closer to my boots than my brain. As such (and despite the loving care of any number of despairing editors), I tend to run afoul of grammarians now and again (sometimes two or three weeks in a row). As I am on a lifelong quest for self-improvement (an area in which I have acres of room in which to work) and also truly do want to get things right (unless I’m feeling colloquial, at which point all bets are off), I appreciate anyone who takes the time to point out errors (including those in this post).
However: tone is everything. A thoughtful word is appreciated and taken to heart–although it is no guarantee against future returns (I play by ear, and am regularly afflicted with literary tinnitus). On the other hand, exultation, hectoring, neener-neenering or the sort of correspondence highlighted below will have exactly the opposite effect and may even trigger active recalcitrance:
[YOUR] article which started—-’[BLANK] asked my wife and I’ for help “etc. Asked “I”? I read your column every week and couldn’t believe you wrote “asked my wife and I”. You surely know better than that being an ‘author”. If in doubt, take the sentence apart and ask did someone ask’ I’, or did someone ask ‘me’. Not too swift, buster…………….
The above quote also serves to remind us that anytime one fires off grammarial correctives, one does well to review one’s own prose for assorted typographical whoopsies. Neener-neener, as it were.
Oh, and beyond grammar, I’m also happy to hear about flat-out errors of fact or consistency: details here.
I just hit send on a project that was two years overdue. Or three. Maybe four? I don’t remember. I just remember being on the phone with my agent when I got the deal, and it was winter and I was in an apartment in Hayward, Wisconsin, and the band and I were getting ready for soundcheck and I thought, well this will be fun, and some of it has been. Let’s just say somewhere in New York an editor just flopped over in disbelief. Final product scheduled for Fall 2014. Now back at it. Three more deadlines this week, and no wiggle room. It’s just like logging only…OK, it’s really not like logging.