A Wholesome Love Affair

Although I don’t often mention it here, I am actually an editor. That is, people send me articles and I read them and decide if I will publish them. I read differently as an editor than as a civilian, shall we say. Sometimes, I simply love an article as I would love anything I might read. I have to publish these articles, and I hope our readers will gain as much as I have from reading them.

More often, however, I try to gauge whether the article is a good fit for Author. Here, I am dabbling in the uncertain art of prognostication. I have a fair idea of what flies with our readers, but this is not a hard science. I am frequently wrong, and sometimes surprised by how right I am. But what else can I do? I have a magazine to publish every month and I do the best I can.

Such is the plight of all publishing professionals. It’s the rare agent or editor who deals only with books they adore. Mostly, we are squinting toward the future. This is in direct contrast to readers, whose attention is entirely in the present. A reader has bought your book or discovered your essay online and wants to enjoy it. A reader is seeking something not that she hopes will be successful, but which she hopes will connect her to something valuable within herself.

I’ve always felt this was a more honest relationship with an artist. There is a gambler’s pleasure as an editor when I pick right, but it hardly compares to the satisfaction of having found a book or story I love. If I love the story, I don’t care whether anyone else ever has or ever will read it. It’s a love affair in this way, I suppose, and as such a private matter. But it is a love affair in which I cheat on no one, where I am in fact guided toward that which I would share with everyone.

9781935961994-Perfect_CS.inddWrite Within Yourself: An Author’s Companion.
A book to keep nearby whenever your writer’s spirit needs feeding.” Deb Caletti.

Remember to catch Bill every Tuesday at 2:00 PM PST/5:00 EST on his live Blogtalk Radio program Author2Author!
You can find Bill at: williamkenower.com
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Look Around

I had the great fortune of being interviewed yesterday on Susan Wingate and Joshua Graham’s excellent podcast “Between The Lines.” If you did not have a chance to listen to it, you may do so at any time here: http://www.blogtalkradio.com/dialogue

Susan and Joshua were quite generous and allowed me to roam freely through many of the subjects that most interested me. This included my work editing the video interviews we post every month. I have never thought much about this part of my job. Video editing was something I simply had to learn to do in order to have an online magazine.

As Susan pointed out, her interview, as seen on Author, was but a fraction of the conversation we taped. In this way, editing is like rewriting a very wordy novel, diving into voluminous raw material to extract a coherent and focused narrative. If I have had any success as an editor it is due in large part to the instincts I honed writing fiction.

But isn’t this so with everything? Before I waited tables fulltime I acted, and the voice I trained on the stage I brought to the tables where I trained it further to be heard clearly in a more intimate surrounding, a voice I would then bring to this magazine to be used in interviews. What I write in this column I bring to the dinner table, and what I learn at the dinner table I bring to this column. I write better the more that I talk, and I talk better the more that I write.

And so on. Writing classes and conventions and magazines are great and helpful, but nothing can replace your constantly expanding web of interest. Look around at all the activities and friends and things you gathered to you, all these things you call your life. You think one is not connected to the other? Their separation is an optical illusion, a trick that allows getting about in the world easier. They are all connected to you, and you they, and the closer you look at all you do and think about and say, the harder it will be to tell one from the other.

If you like the ideas and perspectives expressed here, feel free to contact me about individual and group conferencing.

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Work In Progress

I have always had trouble watching videos of myself. Because I normally only view life one way – from inside of me looking out – it is too easy for me to become alarmed when my perspective is reversed. For this reason I was mildly dreading having to edit a taped, hour-long presentation I gave recently. If watching myself for five minutes could stir confusion and self-loathing, what would an hour do to me?

I was somewhat aided by my own self-awareness. That is, I knew going in that the editing could be a problem, so I was prepared for the worse. Yet a strange thing happened. After twenty or thirty minutes of editing, of watching and listening to nothing but me, I became so used to the sound of my voice and the look of my face and the energy of my gestures that this person called Bill Kenower on my screen no longer seemed like me.

I knew he was me, of course, because I remembered being there and saying all those things, and yet while editing the video I felt very much as I do when I am editing something I have written. What’s on the page isn’t me, after all, it’s merely ideas I had and translated into written words. But the words aren’t me. Likewise, that person speaking wasn’t me, and not merely because the lecture existed only in the past. Rather, that person speaking was like something I had written – just an idea made real through gesture, word, and also flesh, bone, and blood. Yet it was not me, not the complete me, the me through which all those ideas spring, the me that must choose the words and gestures that the rest of the world sees and hears.

I am happy to report that I was content with what I saw. “I can work with this,” I thought – and I didn’t mean the video. A novel cannot be everything; it can only be one story, headed in one direction. So too a person cannot be everything. I don’t feel like that person on the video. I feel both tall and short, fat and skinny, old and young, man and woman, but I have chosen this form for this life, and it will do. Meanwhile, I will go back inside where I belong, back where the completeness of life can be known.

If you like the ideas and perspectives expressed here, feel free to contact me about individual and group conferencing.

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The Conspiracy

For a while, I always seemed to get a lame  shopping cart at my local grocery store. It confused me. I knew there were good carts, but I just couldn’t find them. This streak culminated one afternoon when my vehicle’s right front wheel was so misshapen that the carriage slammed up and down with each rotation. I sounded like a repeating car crash rolling through the grocery store. This called for a drastic action.

I left a cart full of groceries standing by the cheese aisle, got another cart, brought it back, and began the very public spectacle of transferring my food from one to the other. In the middle of this, a gentle and sympathetic employee stopped by and asked if there was a problem. I told him to take the cart out back and shoot it.

“Oh, I know,” he said. “I always push mine around in the foyer for a minute or so just to make sure.”

This seemed fussy to me, but after getting burned a few more times, I decided enough was enough. I arrived for my Friday shopping determined to select the perfect cart, no matter how ridiculous I looked running it around the foyer, no matter how long it took, I would be careful and selective and I would get the BMW of carts.

How many times, after all, in my own work had I rushed things and paid the price? How many dead characters had I dragged through a story, listening to them crash and clatter, too stubborn to cut them loose? No, more. This man was going to pay attention, was going to measure twice and cut once.

I marched into the foyer, my editor’s eye scanning the carts. I’d pick a new-looking one. I examined their wheels, their baskets, found what seemed like the cleanest model. I pushed it around the foyer once, twice. Yes. This was it. I had learned my lesson and paid attention and now let the quiet shopping begin.

But something magical happened. As soon as I left the carpeted foyer, as soon as my lovely cart and I arrived at the produce to begin our shopping, she began to rattle and thump. At first, I simply denied what was happening. I’d paid close attention. It had passed the foyer test. But another circuit though the lettuce and broccoli confirmed the impossible. Feeling betrayed, I stopped where I was, stopped and looked down at the this devil that had somehow disguised itself to complete the conspiracy against my shopping, and there, taped across the handlebar I’d been gripping since I first dislodged her from the other carts, was a long white piece of paper on which was written, in large block letters, this one word: BROKEN.

Oddly, that was the last lame cart I ever got.

If you like the ideas and perspectives expressed here, feel free to contact me about individual and group conferencing.

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Be Kind

I wanted to bring a website to your attention. If you’re a regular reader of the magazine you are probably familiar with James Thayer, who has contributed dozens of articles to Author over the past two years. Recently, Jim started Novel Pro, a blog dedicated to the nuts and bolts of novel writing.

Jim is a novelist, writing teacher, and book doctor, and is a firm believer that writing can be taught. His advice is always clear, sound, and easy to grasp. Even though I tend to eschew this kind of practical writing advice, as the editor publishing his work I nonetheless found myself checking my own work to see if I had avoided all the traps over which he’d seen so many beginning writers stumble. Needless to say, I found I still fell into a few.

Though we must remain kind. Every book on writing should begin with this way: Be kind. No book was ever finished in punishment. Jim does not offer his do’s and don’ts as whips with which you can beat yourself; he offers them with love, because he knows that when you’re in the thick of a book, when you’ve got all your attention on The Big Stuff—the narrative arc and the timing of the climax—he knows you can miss those little things like giving too many stage directions or forgetting the power of contrast.

As a writer, or merely a breathing human being, I don’t believe it is possible to be too kind to yourself. If, however, you think it might be possible, I advise you seek this supposed acceptable limit. Once you have reached it, be kinder, just to see what happens. Just when you believe you’ve gone long enough without being scolded, try another five minutes and see if you crumble into dust or lose all desire to write again.

If calamity ensues, let me say in advance I am sorry. But I feel confident you’ll survive. True kindness is not about escape; it is not a hole to hide in while the vandals ride past. True kindness reveals that there was never anything to escape from in the first place.

If you like the ideas and perspectives expressed here, feel free to contact me about individual and group conferencing.

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I recently interviewed Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl, whose debut YA Fantasy Beautiful Creatures has already been published in 30 countries. Not bad for two women who wrote the book on a dare and never intended to submit it for publication—but more on that next month when their interview airs.

Kami and Margaret, as you have probably guessed, are a writing team. Every chapter is passed back and forth between them and edited with such ruthless disregard for the other’s attachment to a scene or a phrase (they call it a “very bloody process”) that by the end they often don’t know who wrote what.

I can’t imagine writing a novel with anyone else, but I have to say I admire these two women. Currently, my wife is the only one to whom I show my work before it goes off to my agent, and I think she has come to dread the delivery of my latest draft. This is entirely my fault. I was not always that gracious when it came to receiving criticism, constructive or otherwise. By the time she was done telling me what she thought of what she had read I was often wondering why she had bothered marrying me.

But I have mellowed over the years, and the protectiveness I once felt for every sentence has fallen away. The beauty of Kami and Margaret’s process is that if a line or scene doesn’t serve the story, it’s gone, no questions asked. After all, that’s the only reason a line or scene was written in the first place. The trouble comes when a line isn’t written to serve the story but the writer. Not surprising in this case that a writer might snarl or crumble when someone criticizes what he or she has written.

As I have said before, our work is not us, and the editing process is where we must be most clear about that. And if you have suffered the confusion of mistaking your work for you—trust me when I tell you it is a great relief to end that perception.  Not only does the work flourish, free as it is now to shed its precious but unwanted trappings, but you may rest a little easier as well knowing there isn’t some second you bouncing around New York, vulnerable to all the knives of other people’s taste.

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