Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Son of a Gun: Editor's Notes

Excerpt from
Son of a Gun
Marty Ann Halverson

After Ruby and the babies were sleeping in the wagon under a
mountain of quilts, Leo found Turk hunkered down before the fire smoking a
cigar. The light made plain the long, half-bitter lines of the man’s face, the
thin pressure around the lips.

Turk was near sixty, small, tough and wiry, showing the knocks of life.
He had ash-white hair and the steadiest brown eyes Leo had ever noticed in a
man. His language was colorful, with a southern twang, and, because Ruby
did, Leo trusted him instantly without reservation.

“Night-owling,” Turk said. “Nothing like a prairie sky on a winter

By day the cloudless skies had been gun-metal blue. By dark the
blazing stars were low, growing in size and whiteness until Leo could hardly
believe they were real. The frosty stillness carried a coyote’s bark so clear and
sharp that it made the short hairs on the back of Leo’s neck rise up and shiver
him in a grand, fearful way.

Cigar finished, Turk asked, “When did you arrive in this wondrous
country, Mr. Barlow?”

“Back in 1850. People were flooding into Texas like a spring river then.
We got swept along.”

Leo harrowed the hard earth with his heel, sniffed a handful of dirt
and sifted it through his fingers. “My folks loved this land. Bet their muscle
and grit on it—dug mesquite sprouts for heat, watered the crops with sweat.
Started ranching soon after, gathering the wild cows and branding them for
our own. Texas longhorns—tough to eat and tough to handle.”

My first critique:

"The section is the best information dump I've seen in a while! You gave us the info we needed, through a smokescreen! I wanted roast a marshmallow! Congratulations!"

(Yay! I've got a nice editor!)

I got my first edit back from my publisher and I'm thrilled! He was extremely kind, and there were more colorful lines telling me what I'd done right than what I'd done wrong. He made positive comments on my choice of details:

"Personally, I think July 1st is the best day to be born!"

he wrote off to the side when he saw JJ's birthday.

"I want this horse!"

when I described Big Red. He followed up with "Let's choose one name and be consistent! You've got Red, Autumn Red, Big Red, they're all fine. Pick just one—it's up to you—and stick with it." I didn't feel defensive at all! He's right.

I've worried this month, knowing my novel was getting such a thorough check up. What if I'd been a bad author, used her to inflict pain and boredom on unsuspecting wannabe fans. What if she needed surgical cutting to remove all the bland words I'd stuffed her with? I've heard of editors circling the most precious parts of a book and ordering the author to "Murder your darlings."

I've been dreading the day I got the manuscript back, bleeding red from every comma. But it was a total ego-boost to receive it! It was topped with a letter that said,

"As someone who is a big fan of westerns, I'd say you've done a great job with this book. Your story is engaging and exciting. Your readers will certainly be hooked!"

The pages were decorated with green highlighted questions and turquoise highlighted suggestions, brightening up a few gray strike-out sections. It was really fun to read through all his comments. I agreed with most of them immediately. Since I finished the novel in September, I feel like I've learned a lot about writing, and there's some tightening up of adverbs and gerunds that will improve the pace.

Other than a few repetitious statements, redundant words, etc. he didn't cut anything at all. He restructured a few sentences in minor ways, but I could see immediately that it read better. I'm delighted and excited to have a trained, experienced editor be complimentary about Son of a Gun pretty much the way she came out of my computer. (I trust my test readers, but I know you were too conscious of my feelings to be too critical.)

I'm feeling more confident about being a legitimate published novelist. It's mind-blowing!! I also feel better about being an editor. I do my job pretty much the way he does his. (Reading, studying and taking on-line courses pays off!)

I'll keep you posted on the publishing process. So far it's consisted of an email, two phone calls all in one week. Then a contract came in the mail and I sent it back signed. And since then I get a couple of emails a month that I respond to with little piddly things like "who do you want the book dedicated to?" "send your bio photo" "We'll have to edit your bio down twenty words." The manuscript came back this time by email, with very helpful and carefully worded instructions on how to make the changes and send it back without deleting it entirely.

Tate Publishing has been totally nice, supportive, true to the dates they promised. They all seem interested in me as a person and they act like they genuinely like the book!!! I'm happy and surprised at how fun the process is playing out.

It's your turn: TRY IT!
That book that's haunting you? It's not scary! Get started!


kenju said...

Like every English major, I once thought I"d write the "great American novel". I have come to my senses.

I really enjoyed your excerpt. Please let us know when the book comes out.

Raejean said...

Thanks for sharing the process with us. I'm glad editing isn't painful!

Christie said...

That is so awesome. You totally deserve it. Your book IS good and I can't wait for it to come out. I'm going to promote the crap out of it on my blog. I'm excited.

Heather P said...

I am so proud of you and inspired by you! I wanted you to know that I just sent off my applications to Creative Writing MFA programs. I had to write a 25 page piece of writing, which was the longest thing I've ever done... but I reminded myself that you wrote an entire novel. It helped!

Congrats again on getting to go through this amazing process. Thanks for keeping us in the loop about each step, too.

Diane said...

I'm thrilled for you. I can't imagine the anticipation of wondering what the editor will say - then the relief when it's so positive.

~Kristina said...

What a fantastic realm of emotions! Congratulations on the success of editorial survival. You are inspirational.

marta said...

mom, that is such great news. so glad it was bleeding with REAFFIRMATIONS!! way to be bold and follow your dreams.

Katie Roundy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Katie Roundy said...

Thanks for the push, I've been wanting to get started on my book for a while now. What was the title of the book you were using to help you write your book? Something about a night owl? Or writing in your spare time?

Michelle said...

Thanks for sharing this. You are fantastic!

Grandma Cebe said...

Put me down as one who wants a signed copy of your book when it's published. Love what I've read so far.