The Final Proof: General Advice for Writers

The last thing writers do before their work is released into the world is reviewing the proof copy for the publisher, making sure all the little details are right. Going over it with a fine-toothed comb. Comparing it with the list of items that needed to be fixed in the PDF. (I suspect proofing was easier in the time before e-copies, before transferring files from program to program caused glitches and don’t size changes and all those little annoyances.)

Proofreading: it’s both necessary, and it can be pretty tiring. I find it helps to read/review the book both as the author, knowing what to look for, and as a first-time reader. Yup — I pretend I haven’t read it before, as best I can, to approach the proof with fresh eyes. Helps if there aren’t any distractions around, too.

Plus — I am usually also fueled by nervous energy and excitement by this stage, so I have to exercise patience in the extreme.

Pardon me while I get it out . . .

SQUEEE! My book is here! The trilogy is complete! I’ve got the set! Yay!



(Ahem) Resuming dignity in 3 . . . 2 . . . 1 . . .

As I was saying, patience. It’s no good rushing out and shouting to the world that the book is ready if there are errors hiding sneakily in plain sight — I know, because I was overly enthused and didn’t look carefully enough for them in books one and two, and unfortunately, reviewers were the ones who caught them for me.

So, fellow writers (aspiring or repeat offenders), remember when you are proofing to do the following things:

  1. Take your time.
  2. Use the form and structure required by your publisher to communicate any blips that need correcting. It’s more efficient.
  3. Don’t rush.
  4. Keep all your notes on previous proof reviewing sad reference.
  5. Read your book as though it’s for the first time.
  6. Remember why you wrote it in the first place!
  7. Smile. You made a thing and it’s beautiful. Proofing ensures that it is as perfect as humanly possible.

And thank you to my editor and publisher at Melange Books for her unerring patience with me throughout this whole process. You are amazing, Nancy!

If I could harness my subconscious to do my will . . . plus problems with writing from imagination vs experience

Do you ever have one of those dreams where you’re not sure if it was real the next day? I get that once in a while. Last night I had another.

I had taken a summer job working in an office, doing some kind of bookkeeping, and several of my colleagues were there — mostly women, though, including friends of mine named Kam, Colette, Kim, Monica, and maybe Golda. I wasn’t happy about the job, but I needed the money. My daughter was hanging around and I could see that my boss disapproved, so I had to send her home. In addition to feeling badly about that, there was a big meeting and the managers announced that everyone was expected to participate in some kind of super-high-efficiency diet involving seeds, alfalfa, kale, and other nutritious but gross-tasting foods. We weren’t allowed to bring anything processed or fatty or sugary to work for lunch or snack breaks.

I was really pissed off at this point. I refused to play along, declining to accept the starter-pack that was being given out and throwing the stink-eye at the smelly tea that Kam was trying to drink down, and I knew I was in trouble. Thankfully, I was sent out on a professional call, so I determined to bring back some real food to save my friends’ tastebuds.

Right before I left, one of the other employees — a petite blonde — tried to give me a ring that kept turning to a gummy in my hand. She looked at me desperately, and I realized that if I concentrated, the ring would keep its form. Once that happened, I knew that what was really going on was some kind of trap, prison, or spell: each of my employees was really a fairy-tale heroine, locked away from their own worlds in this sterile office and forced to eat crappy raw grains and seaweed. It would be my job to help them remember who they were and break free. (At this point, I realized that I was combining Parks and Recreation with Once Upon a Time, but I wanted to help my friends, so I kept it going.)

So I left the office with its maze of partitions and cubicles and meeting rooms and drove down a block of closely-constructed townhouses. There was a railway crossing and I was having a hard time stopping the car. I hit the brakes, and I’m right on the line, so I start to reverse. A school bus (empty) pulls around me and tried to get over the tracks but got hit by the oncoming train. I was thankful that we hadn’t been smucked, but then I see in my rearview mirror that a police officer is waving me over, having video-taped the whole event.

After getting a ticket, I went back to the office and went in preparing to do battle. To my surprise, everyone was eating pizza. Real pizza! So I looked closely at the boss, and there was a glint in her eye, something that suggested manipulation . . .

And then I woke up. I really wanted to go back in and continue the story, see if I could free Snow White, etc. from the web of lies and deception, but I’ll never find out how it ended. See, I can’t just pick up a dream the next night from where it left off. I can think about it as I’m relaxing into sleep, but then my subconscious will just take over and do whatever it wants. Most annoying are the times when I’m walking along endless highways, or the thing where I realize I’m driving a car from the passenger seat or backseat and I have to try to slide into the proper part of the vehicle.

Tomorrow night, the 24 Hour Playwriting Challenge starts. I have some registrations but I have the feeling that a few students might join up at the last minute. I’ve never done something like this before, so it’s going to be a learning experience, hopefully with a steep curve. And lots of coffee. We’re not staying up all night, but still, I’m going to need it, I think. Then Saturday will be the all-day part, with rehearsal and whatnot — definitely going to be a coffee day. I feel like I should be more stressed about it than I am presently, but it’s going to hit me tomorrow with full force anyway.

I’ve also promised some struggling students in my grade 11 english class that I’ll write them a story involving snowmobiles, because that’s what their main interest is and it may help them connect to reading. The only trouble is that I don’t do snowmobiling: my experience is limited to three incidents:

— I was around 9 or 10 and taken for a brief ride on the back of a parental friend’s snow machine. It was loud and stinky.

— My brother tried to take our dad’s new-to-him snowmobile for a quick run around the yard (without permission) and got it stuck in the deep snow where the yard sloped. My friend Karen and I had to help him get it out before Dad came home. I think we did it — I have no recollection of any yelling or other upset from that night.

— I went ice fishing two or three years ago, as part of a staff social event, and got to ride in a sledge pulled by a snowmobile. It was, again, loud and stinky.

So I’ve told my students that they’re going to have to help me with the story. I mentioned this idea to my vice-principal, that I’d write a story and have the students decide where it will go or what the details are, and he didn’t seem overly thrilled with the concept. His thought was that we need to give the students “more agency” and encourage them to do these things on their own. That’s all fine and dandy, I agree with that very much, but when you’re working with kids who get antsy after being surrounded by four walls for half an hour, who aren’t into writing or reading beyond the absolute necessity, why not work together on something creative so they can get the feel of it? It’s still part of that “gradual release of responsibility” concept. And one student in particular, B, is excited that I’m going to write something for him, that he will get a say in but not have to tackle on his own.

I need to get going on this project. I’ve set the goal, a high-interest, medium-vocabulary read about snowmobiling, with a word count of 20,000 – 30,000, at least. The problem now for me is the plot. I talked it up with some of my lunchtime crew yesterday, gathering some ideas. I could do a story about a poker run — never done that — or getting lost or stuck on the trails, or breaking through the ice (have heard a firsthand experience from a friend). I have a vague idea about having to win the poker run in order to gain the cash prize that will allow the protagonist to achieve something important, like money for a sibling’s class trip to Toronto or something else that kids up here would recognize as having value. But beyond that . . . I’m at a complete loss. My head is blank. I can have these freaky dreams about crap from TV shows and stuff, yet I can’t put together a simple plot about a kid with a snowmobile?

I keep coming up with concepts, and that’s as far as I get. And they all feel so cheesy:

  • A kid who has built his own snow machine from scrap parts and discarded pieces in a junkyard races against kids with brand-new, top-of-the-line Skidoos, with the prize being a next-year model. Your typical underdog story, in which he learns the value of hard work, appreciating what he has, blah blah blah . . . (not feeling it, can you tell?)
  • A teenager who has witnessed a crime and escapes into the woods on his snowmobile, only to realize he’s being followed by the criminals. His only recourse to get away is to use the maze of the trails, but night is falling / blizzard comes up / warm weather has weakened the ice on the lake, so his dilemma worsens . . . (maybe this one, I could get excited with this)
  • When a girl takes her boyfriend (who’s just moved up from a southern town/city and has little experience with the snow/cold) for a run and their machine goes through the ice, she has to give him a crash course in winter survival as they trek back to the closest house / store for help . . . (after all, it’s not just for boys, right?)

Maybe I’ll just throw these suggestions at my students and see which one they like the most. Take it from there.

And I should probably get someone to take me snowmobiling at some point, so I have that experience for the writing.

(shudder)

June 25 — 9 Days to the release of Wind and Shadow!

LogoColorNoText(Yes, I know I’ve had the countdown before. I am, at times, an unrelenting optimist.)

I’ve been feeling a bit nostalgic, lately. Listening to my (admittedly overly-long) playlist. Starting to look at Book Two again, which will pick up two weeks after the events of Book One. I’ve also been searching my boxes of notebooks madly for the original writing I did, seven years ago last month, while sitting with my five-month-old in an uninsulated counsellors’ cabin at a children’s camp, waiting for our house to be ready to move into . . .

Where did this book come from? Why was I crazy enough to pursue it?

Because it demanded to be told. And it wasn’t easy, though so many times I wished it was.

It came out of a memory of a road collapsing in Cobalt, Ontario, sometime after 1989. As far as I can tell, there aren’t any pictures of this event online, though I’m sure someone somewhere has a photo tucked away in an album.

And then, it was fed by my love of romance novels and vampires. The very first romance I ever remember reading was an historical fantasy by Robin Mckinley, called The Blue Sword (still one of my favourites — my first and only copy recently fell apart!), although the Anne of Green Gables and Little House on the Prairie series certainly qualify as bursting with the elements. While I enjoyed the flowery imagery of books about love, I was also drawn to the macabre and the gruesome, the weird and bizarre. I was a big fan of MAD magazine from the age of 10. And the first horrors I read — Salem’s Lot, Dracula, and Tales of the Cryptkeeper — had me hooked on ghost stories and other stories of the paranormal. Films followed, of course: The Watcher in the Woods, Friday the 13th, The Lost Boys, Interview with a Vampire, Dracula (again!), Army of Darkness, The Monster Squad, John Carpenter’s Vampires, and more recently, 30 Days of Night, Twilight, Blade, Underworld, Dawn of the Dead . . .

So when I started working on Wind and Shadow, I was thinking of all of these influences. It reflects and blends some of the qualities of these works, but is also my answer to certain ideas created by best-selling authors. I’m hoping it has the creepiness and sense of doom created by Stephen King in Salem’s Lot, but that the romance carries the reader into loving the protagonists as much as I do. I am a huge fan of the Twilight Saga, even though I don’t agree with some of the choices made by the characters, and so I worked on an opposite scenario. My vampires aren’t, by and large, sexy and stylish at all times. But the allure of vampirism for those whose lives are not ideal is there. What wouldn’t some of us do for eternal youth, rejuvenation, and strength?

A third element of my life and experiences also demanded to bring itself into this vision. I’m Wiccan, and a witch. I enjoy my craft, feel entirely at home in my spirituality, and I wanted a book that embraced it as much as the film Practical Magic. There are an increasing number of fictional books that incorporate Wicca and/or positive witchcraft, as opposed to the wicked witch trope, and I wanted to add to that body with my own work. I’m hoping that fellow Wiccans and witches, and the Pagan community in general, will enjoy seeing some of their beliefs reflected in the trilogy, but also that non-Pagans will enjoy it as well.

Finally, I realized a fourth influence was at work when I was going through the editing process. As a Canadian, I’m well aware that we aren’t always represented in modern romance or paranormal fiction. There are fantastic Canadian authors out there, but I haven’t read many that produce work in these genres. So I found myself guarding my Canadianisms fiercely. After all, the book takes place in Northeastern Ontario, deep in one of the cultural hearts of the nation. It’s almost tempting to make a count of the shout-outs to Canucks near and far!

I’m still in the planning stages for the release party, but I have goodies ready for giving away: a mug, a t-shirt, pens, notebooks, bookmarks, plus some vampire fang necklaces. My heart is starting to pound again with anticipation . . . Keep your fingers crossed that all goes well on June 25th!

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