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.
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’ve written before about the neat gifts I get from folks who read my books, and what those gifts reveal about them…and me. Just came across the item below and it made me smile. This guy also gave me a cap and a terrific pair of leather gloves.
And then there are these gifts, each given to me as a result of something I wrote in one of the books pictured: A plumb bob, a carburetor for a ’51 International Harvester pickup truck, and a box of 30-06 shells. Sometimes I can’t believe my luck.
At the book tour stop in Chicago last night I was asked about my process and I got to rambling about revision. Below are some posts with photos that reveal just how ugly the whole thing is. These are mostly from when Visiting Tom was in process.
Dan Huiting (same guy who shot the cannon video for Visiting Tom) did this mini-documentary about the making of the next Blind Boys of Alabama album. It was recorded last winter just a corn field or two over from our farm (in fact, after you watch the video, click here to see who that was getting pushed out of the snow right around the 0:50 mark). I was allowed to write the liner notes for this album, and couldn’t be more honored. Kind of thing you never dream of as a kid baling hay in Chippewa County.