Editor Fear

A couple years ago my vet struck up a conversation with me while she was examining my cat. (Bean, for those of you who know my pets.) What do you do? she asked.

I always enjoy this question, for a variety of reasons. First, I love what I do and enjoy talking about it, but also because people are a little surprised. It’s not an answer they expect.

In this case, my vet said, “Oh! My husband’s been working on a novel! I should get your card.” And I said, “I’d be happy to talk to him sometime.” (I love my vet.) I gave her my card. We exchanged some email; I gave her a link to the page on my website that’s especially for writers.

I never heard from the husband, though his wife brings it up when she sees me. He’s going through it one more time, she says. And I tell her I understand.

Because I do. I call it Editor Fear.*

I don’t mean the folks who tease me on Facebook and say they’re afraid I’m editing their posts. (I understand that, too, but the fact is I don’t have time to critique Facebook posts or emails or conversations with friends, and I’ve said this many times in many public forums. And—seriously!—if you honestly think I’m mentally correcting you or anyone else, you don’t know me very well.)

No, this is what I mean: sometimes good, sincere, hardworking novelists-in-training are terrified of editors. They don’t want to let an editor see their work because they’re afraid it’s bad. Or they’re afraid the editor will think badly of them. Or of the work. They’re afraid, maybe, because they don’t know how the process works.

I understand. Don’t worry. I like working with writers who are just beginning to grasp what they can do with words and stories. If your manuscript isn’t ready for prime time, I—or another editor**—can help you identify where you need work. I can show you how to “fix” the sorts of issues that come up with beginning writers. I can coax a better manuscript from your keyboard. You have nothing to fear. I’m an encourager. I take my work seriously, and I really do understand your nervousness.

So consider this: folks who are truly called to write generally have many stories fighting to be written. If you fear the process that will allow you to move on to the next one, it’s possible you should consider another hobby.

* In addition to Editor Fear, there is its opposite, Editor Unbelief, in which the writer is so confident in his manuscript’s best-seller potential that he doesn’t think he needs an editor at all. There’s also Editor Disbelief, in which the writer thinks his manuscript is perfect as is and doesn’t believe a word his editor says. I have much less patience with these.

** This isn’t about my needing more work. Whether or not we work together, I’m good.

 

Tweet: Editor Fear: sometimes sincere, hardworking novelists-in-training are terrified of editors.
Tweet: If you fear the editing process, it’s possible you should consider giving up writing.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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Short Saturday: The Rest of the Story

A little over two years ago I wrote a blog post about a college football star who got a lot of media attention when he was invited to join a book group. It’s a lovely human interest story that I won’t repeat here because you can read it from the link.

Additionally, I want to give you the rest of the story: Malcolm Mitchell graduated from college and was a fourth-round NFL draft pick; he went to the New England Patriots. And you know what happened there. He now adds a Super Bowl championship to his credits. More importantly—and he’d be the first to tell you this—he’s become involved in the literacy movement. Just yesterday (as I write), he tweeted this message.

Did you know people who read are more likely to vote, exercise and be more cultural? #readtosucceed #readwithmalcolm #keepreading

Friends, I can think of no higher calling than the promotion of literacy to American children. You can get involved at Read With Malcolm. And this part of the story will please you authors: Mitchell even self-published a picture book, The Magician’s Hat.

So. You’ll recall I saw several important lessons in Malcolm Mitchell’s story:

1 A good story is a powerful thing.
2 A bookstore fosters community.
3 Don’t be afraid to make a new friend.
4 Discussion enhances appreciation of a book.
5 There’s always room for one more.

Mitchell’s ongoing story is such an inspiration, however, I think there’s more to say:

6 Be inspired by your interests—and pass them on!

Thanks, Malcolm Mitchell. We bookies are all rooting for you.

Tweet: There is no higher calling than promoting literacy to American children.
Tweet: This ongoing story is such an inspiration! Book lovers, unite!

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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#WhatImReadingNow : The Life and Times of Persimmon Wilson

Persimmon is the name my mama gave me, after the fruit she stole off a tree down in the woods while she was carrying me, and Wilson is the name of the man that last owned me. I don’t want to call that man master here, but for the pupose of making this easier to read than its content might allow, I will. Master Joseph Wilson owned me down in Louisiana, owned me as best he could, and I reckon I was owned as best I could be, till the Federal governement and General Butler decided I couldn’t be owned any longer. …

He died by my hand, although I really shouldn’t take all the credit. In spite of being a heathen, I do know something about etiquette, and because of that I have to admit I had some help from my friends, the band of Comanche warriors I rode and raided with. Many of them are dead now, or else corralled onto a pitiful plot of land the white folks have not decided they want yet. Me, they saved for hanging. …

You’ve probably already picked out a few words that trouble you for a black man to be using. Big old words. Thought-heavy words. Dangerous in the wrong head, and mine is the wrong head, isn’t it?

I know too much. All the more reason to put a noose around my neck. Never mind that my last request was paper and ink and to be left alone to write this. Never mind that my jailer Jack laughed at the idea of a nigger writing. It was a novelty to hand me paper and ink and see what I’d leave behind. It might be something to sell, might be worth something later on, or it might be something to burn. It shouldn’t matter to me. If I learned anything at all from living with the Comanche, it is this: words don’t mean a thing unless they’re true. So you do what you will, burn my words if you want to, set them loose into the air. Nothing would make me happier than all of you having to breathe this story, this truth of what I am about to tell you. Nothing can kill truth, not even white men.

Master Wilson did not know he was buying an educated nigger. He’d likely not have bought me had he known. He might wish now, if the dead wish at all, that he hadn’t bought me. But I didn’t kill him because I was educated. I killed him because I had the chance, and I took it, and it’s not as though educated was listed as one of my assets when I got to the slave pens in New Orleans. …

No one asked, “But can he read?”

I could read. And I could write. More than just my name, as you can see. I was taught when I was a boy. Taught by an old spinster white lady I was hired out to. Miss Clemons was her name. She hired a boy named Bessle and me from Master Surley every winter for twelve years. She worked us by daylight: bringing in firewood, hauling up water, mending up fences and digging her garden for spring. No one knew that by night, every night, she gave us lessons, teaching us first to read and write, and then in subsequent years adding on layer after layer of knowledge, until finally, that last year before I was sold, I could speak and write and read as well as or better than most any white man. Out in the field I had to keep up appearance though. I had to pretend I didn’t know anything more than the hoe and the mule, just like I had to keep on saying yassuh and nawsuh.

Slavery still has its supporters. Some might think while reading this, it was the education that ruined me and made me want to bolt. But it wasn’t the education; it was the whip, and a woman named Chloe, and the idea of a life spent taking orders from a man who didn’t deserve to own a mule, much less a human being. …

… I was born to slavery, and just when I was feeling like a man, I was sold from the Surley place, along with every other slave I knew. … My mamma and daddy were sold separately, her to a local man, my daddy to a trader. My sister, Betty, was sold upstate. I got sold to another trader and taken downriver for profit. …

I spent three days in that showroom and each day was the same. White men coming along, taking my fingers in their hands and moving them back and forth, checking for nimbleness. They ran their hands up my legs, along my arms, across my chest and abdomen, looking for tumors, hernias and wounds, anything that would bring my price down or make them decide not to buy me. They pulled my lips back and looked at my teeth. I was told to strip that they might check my back for the marks of the lash. …

… All I could do was stand there, let the white men look, and answer their questions.

“What’s your age, boy?”

“Can you drive a buggy?” …

“Where did you live before?”

“You got a wife?”

“Would you like to come home with me boy?”

We’d been told what to say. … In answer to that last question, would you come home with me, boy, the only reply a slave could give was yassuh.

Yassuh, I answered the gravelly voiced man who had prodded at me for the last hour. It was then I raised my head slightly, and got my first look at Master Wilson, the “innocent” man I would kill ten years later. He was short and round. Two days from now I will be dead, hanged for his murder, and the kidnapping and rape of his “wife.”

You who find this, I know what you will be thinking. You will want to take those words, “innocent” and “wife” out of quotation marks. You will think that I, a nigger, a heathen, a horse thief, a murderer, a kidnapper, a rapist, do not know the meaning of what I have just written, but you will be wrong. I know its meaning. Innocent in quotation marks means that he was not innocent, and I tell you, sir, that he was not. And wife in quotation marks means that she was not his wife, and I tell you, sir, that she was not. She was his former slave, Chloe, and she is dead now.

I write this for Chloe. It is my urgent task these last few days of my life. I write this that she may be known for who she was, and not for who you think she was. She was not Master Wilson’s wife. She was not white. She was a former house slave, and I loved her, and I love her still.

—Nancy Peacock, The Life and Times of Persimmon Wilson: A Novel (Atria Books 2017)

Some thoughts about this book:

  • Slavery was and is a horrible thing. So is racism. That we haven’t managed to put this behind us makes me ashamed.
  • I learned things about history I didn’t know, which as you know is something that delights me about good fiction. I didn’t know about the ragtag exodus of plantation owners—their supposedly already free slaves in tow—from adjacent slave states into Texas at the end of the Civil War. I also knew nothing about Comanche society, nothing about their life and customs.
  • Words are powerful. Education is powerful. You know this already but this book is an example of both.
  • I bought this book when an author friend of mine championed it because her friend (the author) had a bit of bad luck with the timing of the publication, which was 17 January 2017 (i.e., in the middle of a frantic news cycle that has left absolutely no bandwidth for folks to think about literary fiction). And there’s more bad luck: since Atria is an imprint of Simon & Schuster, which has recently signed a controversial, divisive alt-right creep (I won’t name him; I don’t want his name or the company he works for associated with my blog in any way), many buyers and big reviewers are boycotting S&S. It is, as the author notes in this private statement made to a friend, “a rotten pound of luck.” Sometimes these things happen. But readers, one at a time, can make a difference. I am recommending the book to you for that very reason.
  • Just because you think almost everything about the story is laid out in these few paragraphs from the beginning of the book, you are wrong. There is depth, humanity, and many layers of story to discover. And surprises. The writing is lovely too. Highly recommended.

Tweet: Words are powerful. Education is powerful. This novel is an example of both.
Tweet: The Life and Times of Persimmon Wilson: What a beautiful book this is!

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Posted in Books You Might Like, The Book Biz | Tagged as: ,

My Favorite Book v. 2016

Some years my favorite book is never in question. Some years there are so many I truly enjoyed that I have to make a list to narrow it down:

Geraldine Brooks / March / LF
Louise Erdrich / LaRose / LF
Alison Hodgson / The Pug List / MEM
Hope Jahren / Lab Girl / MEM
Paul Kalanithi / When Breath Becomes Air / NF
Ann Patchett / Commonwealth / LF
Marilynne Robinson / Home / LF
Richard Russo / Everybody’s Fool / LF
Helen Simonson / Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand / LF

This was my shortlist this year. Making a shortlist is good. It’s a reminder that I read some superlative books last year. I highly recommend any title you see here.

And then from among these many very good books, my favorite shouted its name: Lab Girl.

Oh, how I love-love-loved this book! I told everyone about it. I transcribed little bits of it and posted them on Facebook (and in my other blog). I gave several copies of it as gifts. I wrote Jahren a fan latter.

In case you haven’t yet heard, Lab Girl is Hope Jahren’s memoir. She is a research scientist (a geobiologist) and a college professor. I’ve always enjoyed popular science books, biographies about scientists (say, A Beautiful Mind); I have friends in the sciences. It’s fascinating stuff (and all way, way beyond my ability to perform). Jahren’s book, the Washington Post review says,

is the story of a girl who becomes a scientist. It’s also the story of a career and the endless struggles over funding, recognition and politics that get in the way. It’s the story of the plants and soil she studies. But—and this is the weirdest, coolest part about this book—it is really the story of two lab partners and their uncommon bond.

Jahren alternates chapters between her own, human story, and chapters about the science she does. She is determined, the New York Times tells us, that

we stop taking trees for granted. They are a miracle 300 million years in the making. That they are still around is testimony to their ingenious powers of survival. Or perhaps to our inability—yet—to destroy every last one, though not for lack of trying: We are on track to rid the planet of trees within 600 years.

This is the sort of thing that makes arguments about climate change silly. It’s real, the scientists know it, and they are trying to do something about it. (Plant a tree, Jaren asks. Plant one every year.)

We learn, also, about how scientists work:

The type of science that I do is sometimes known as “curiosity-driven science”—this means that my work will never result in a marketable product, a useful machine, a prescribable pill, a formidable weapon, or any direct material gain—or if it does indirectly lead to one of those things, this would be figured out at some much later date by someone who is not me. As such, my research is a rather low priority for our national budget. There is just one significant source of monetary support for the kind of research that I do: the National Science Foundation, or NSF.

The NSF is a US government agency, and the money that it provides for scientific research comes from tax dollars. In 2013, the budget of the NSF was $7.3 billion. … Remember that this figure must support all curiosity-driven science—not just biology, but also geology, chemistry, mathematics, physics, psychology, sociology, and the more esoteric forms of engineering and computer science as well.*

This is the sort of thing scientists struggle with every day—continuing their work in the face of competition for shrinking budgets. I was touched when, early in the book, Jahren announces that she’d be crazy not to say—and she does, point blank—if you have a spare twenty-five bucks to donate to science, send it to her in care of the university where she works.

What’s most astonishing about this book, though, is the spectacular writing. It’s as practiced and beautifully crafted as any book in any category you might name. I couldn’t put it down. It inspires and it fills with despair; it is frightening and sad, and also hilarious; it is touching, poignant, and angry too. It is absolutely the best book I read last year.

#MyReadingYear

* Transcribed by me from pages 122 and 123 of my hardback copy of Lab Girl, published by Alfred A. Knopf, 2016.

 

Tweet: My Favorite Book v. 2016.
Tweet: Oh, how I love-love-loved this book! I told everyone about it.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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Short Saturday: Comments Authors Like to Hear

Do you love to go to book fests and fairs and meet your favorite authors? I know I do. Now that I’ve been editing for some years, I’ve actually been fortunate enough to hang out with authors whose work I admire.

One of those is Sarah Loudin Thomas, the author of about the sort of things authors like to hear. “As an author,” she writes, “I hear lots of comments and questions over and over again.” So if you meet Sarah—or any author whose work you admire—here are some (ahem) conversation starters:

1 I love books!
2 I love your books.
3 Do you have a card or flyer?

There are many more suggestions here, all of them good.

(I should add that Sarah and I had a little email conversation about a project she was working on years ago. Just a little … but we kept in touch. Later her I met her at a writers’ conference and we had a great chat over breakfast. She’s friendly and personable—no conversation starters were needed.)

Have a great weekend!

Tweet: Do you love to go to book fests and fairs and meet your favorite authors?
Tweet: The ten comments authors like to hear most.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Posted in Authors & Other Writers | Tagged as: ,

#WhatImReadingNow : Angels and Ages

There is no greater divide in life than the one between kids for whom the experience of learning to read is a painful or tedious one, whose rewards are remote if real, and those for whom the experiences of reading and writing are addictive, entrancing, overwhelming, and so intense as to offer a new life of their own—those for whom the moment of learning to read begins a second life of letters as rich as the primary life of experience. [Abraham] Lincoln was as clear a case of that kind of child, and man, as anyone who has ever lived. His hand and pen were the axis of his existence even as he made his living, and his reputation, first from his body and later with his mouth. He lived to read.

—Adam Gopnik, Angels and Ages: A Short Book about Darwin, Lincoln, and Modern Life (Vintage Books, 2009)

Three thoughts about this book:

  • I was one of those kids. My second life (Gopnik calls it the “life of letters”; I’ve always called it the life of the mind) began when I was three. I feel sorry for people who don’t, won’t, can’t read books. I live most of my life in my head.
  • I’m a Gopnik fan, having read Paris to the Moon after I visited Paris in 2006 and was devouring, that summer, every Paris memoir I could find, and The Table Comes First, because I love cooking and eating and, well, Gopnik’s writing. I’ll read more.
  • I choose books for a variety of reasons, though often because I am on a quest to learn about a particular topic. So it is with Angels and Ages—the quest being to understand persuasive writing. It’s a fabulous book.

Tweet: “The moment of learning to read begins a second life …” I couldn’t live without it.
Tweet: Angels and Ages: #WhatImReadingNow #myreadingyear

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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My Reading Year 2016

It’s that time again. Man, where did that year go?

Ayaan Hirsi Ali / Infidel / NF
Jo Ann Beard / In Zanesville / YA
Martyn Bedford / Never Ending / YA
Geraldine Brooks / March / LF
Sheila Connolly / Buried in a Bog / GF (don’t waste your time)
Pat Conroy / My Reading Life / NF
Frank Delaney / Venetia Kelly’s Traveling Show / LF
Frank Delaney / The Matchmaker of Kenmare / LF
Louise Erdrich / LaRose / LF
Keith Gessen / Vanity Fair’s How a Book Is Born / NF
William Golding / The Spire / LF
Lauren Groff / Fates and Furies / LF
Matt Haig / The Humans / LF
Joshua Hammer / The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu / NF
Patti Callahan Henry / Friend Request / NF
Georgette Heyer / Bath Tangle / RO
Georgette Heyer / Charity Girl / RO
Georgette Heyer / The Convenient Marriage / RO
Georgette Heyer / Powder and Patch / RO
Georgette Heyer / The Quiet Gentleman / RO
Elin Hilderbrand / The Castaways / WF
Arlie Russell Hochschild / Strangers in Their Own Land / NF
Alison Hodgson / The Pug List / MEM
Nancy Isenberg / White Trash / NF
Joshilyn Jackson / The Opposite of Everyone / LF
Hope Jahren / Lab Girl / MEM
Paul Kalanithi / When Breath Becomes Air / NF
William Landay / Defending Jacob / LF
E. Lockhart / The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks / YA
Bret Lott / Before We Get Started / MEM
Anne McCaffrey / Dragonflight / FA
Milkwood Editions (press) / Literary Publishing in the 21st Century / ESS
Maajid Nawaz / Radical: My Journey Out of Islamist Extremism / NF
Ann Patchett / Commonwealth / LF
Louise Penny / The Nature of the Beast / GF
Louise Penny / The Great Reckoning / GF
Anna Quindlen / Miller’s Valley / LF
Marilynne Robinson / Home / LF
Katie Roiphe / The Violet Hour: Great Writers at the End / NF
Jon Ronson / So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed / NF
Richard Russo / Everybody’s Fool / LF
Richard Russo / Nobody’s Fool / LF
Richard Russo / Straight Man / LF
Donal Ryan / All We Shall Know / LF
Donal Ryan / A Slanting of the Sun / SS
George Saunders / Tenth of December / SS
B. A. Shapiro / The Muralist / LF
Alexie Sherman / The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian / YA
Helen Simonson / Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand / LF
Helen Simonson / The Summer Before the War / LF
Dominic Smith / The Last Painting of Sara de Vos / LF
Bruce Springsteen / Born to Run / MEM
Jim Sterba / Frankie’s Place / MEM
J. Ryan Stradal / Kitchens of the Great Midwest / LF
Sarah Thomas / Appalachian Serenade / GF
Rufi Thorpe / The Girls from Corona del Mar / LF
Rufi Thorpe / Dear Fang, With Love / LF
Barbara Trapido / Brother of the More Famous Jack / LF
Jennifer Weiner / Fly Away Home / LF
Chuck Wendig / Blackbirds / GF
Sara Zarr / Story of a Girl / YA
#MyReadingYear

Total = 62
NF = 17
F = 44
Wasted Time = 1
Pace = 5.88

GAVE UP
Amy Bloom / Lucky Us / LF
Natalia Fenollera / The Awakening of Miss Prim / Parable
Nathan Hill / The Nix / LF
Siri Hustvedt / The Blazing World / LF
Eimear McBride / A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing / LF
Susan Elizabeth Phillips / Dream a Little Dream / RO

The Category Key:
FA = fantasy
GF = genre fiction
GN = graphic novel (or graphic nonfiction GNF)
LF = literary fiction [very loosely defined]
MEM = memoir
NF = nonfiction
RO = romance
WF = women’s fiction
YA = young adult fiction
YF = youth fiction
ESS = essays
HUM = humor
SS = short stories

Questions?

Tweet: Yes, I track what I read—how much, how often. This is 2016.
Tweet: I read some wonderful books this year!

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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Short Saturday: Do You Need an Editor?

I love the way this article—from an indie author—on Jane Friedman’s blog begins:

Do you need an editor?
The answer is yes.

The word is getting out, y’all.

The article asks three key questions—

1 Do you need an editor?
2 When should you hand over your manuscript?
3 How do you find an editor?

—but it’s jam-packed with useful information,* including the answer to the second question, which is:

You need to hand over your manuscript at the point where there’s no improvement left for you to make on your own.

I couldn’t have said it better myself!

* I disagree, however, with the idea of a sample edit. This works, perhaps, with a copyedit—and the author is careful to distinguish between content editing and copyediting—but there is simply no way to “sample edit” content. If you’re curious about all the things a content editor might look for, read my series of seven posts called “How Did This Book Get Published?” Here’s 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7.

 

Tweet: Do you need an editor? Of course you do.
Tweet: When you can’t do another thing to improve it, give your manuscript to an editor.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Posted in Your Editor Says … | Tagged as:

Study This: Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand

I’ve already written about The Summer Before the War—which I read first (and which is, in fact, the more accomplished novel)—but I really enjoyed Helen Simonson’s novel-writing skills in Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand (the New York Times calls it “funny, barbed, delightfully winsome storytelling”) and I think there’s a lot to learn from reading her. Indeed, the Times points out the “narrative, which is enjoyable even when it tootles along with mechanical efficiency, follows a three-act structure” and that the author “leaves these manipulations proudly visible.”

I could go on and on, but let’s look at what Simonson does particularly well:

  • Characterization
  • Subplot
  • Foreshadowing
  • Humor!
  • Dichotomies in theme

I’m one of those readers who believe that a novel rises or falls on its characters, and this novel has them in spades. Chief among them is the titular character, Major Pettigrew, an old-fashioned English gentleman forced to confront a world less genteel than he is. The beauty is in watching him encounter situations that push him further and further outside his comfort zone while remaining perfectly in character. He is surrounded, too, by a host of richly drawn personalities of various ages and cultural backgrounds.

Regarding the plot and subplot, make no mistake: this book is a wonderfully satisfying love story. But while we watch and wait for the romance to come to fruition—both characters being conservative types, after all—it is the intricately planned subplots that keep us turning the pages. In one, the Major having been promised a valuable hunting rifle upon the death of his brother, schemes to get it back when his widowed sister-in-law refuses to part with it. In another, Pettigrew befriends and then must offer advice to a young Muslim man (the nephew of the woman he loves), even though he is, culturally speaking, the least likely man on the planet to handle it. Every development in both the plot and subplots is beautifully foreshadowed; a student of the craft will relish them all.

Simonson’s comic timing is impeccable. (Even though she opens the story with news of a death, she leavens the scene with the Major dressed in the bright pink robe of his deceased wife.) And she finds the humor in even the most uncomfortable circumstances. When his son does business with a racist, Pettigrew objects, but the son demurs: “It’s called the real world. If we refused to do business with the morally questionable, the deal volume would drop in half and the good guys like us would end up poor. Then where would we all be?” But the Major shuts him down: “On a nice dry spit of land known as the moral high ground?” Honestly, I giggled all the way through this book.

Finally, what I liked the best were the unexpected thematic dichotomies: a white, Old World protagonist paired with a woman of color with an immigrant background, for example: race and class diametrically opposed. There are themes of fathers and sons; the old ways and new; old-fashioned and progressive; youth and age; friends and family; grief and laughter; change and refusal to change; a clashing of cultural mores—all set in an English village novel.

And it works.

The writing is delightful. The love story is very satisfying. You’ll sigh with pleasure. Study this!

Tweet: The writing is delightful, the romance satisfying. You’ll sigh with pleasure. Study this!
Tweet: I believe a novel rises or falls on its characters, and this novel has them in spades.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Posted in Books You Might Like, The Writing Craft | Tagged as: , , , , , , , ,

#WordUse Series: Dear Kroger
(Why You Need an Editor #5,278)

Sent in early December …

Dear Kroger,

Y’all spend a lot of money on these lovely multipage mailers with recipes and beautiful photography and coupons. (I have an idea about how much these things cost, what with the photo shoots and the graphic designers, the postage, and, oh, the copywriters. You have 2,400 stores in 31 states so I’m guessing $250,000.) So don’t you think you could spare a crust for an editor in that big budget?

I ask this because on page 7, the brochure reads, “… then display the candle as a centerpiece or a mantle decoration.” However, your young copywriter has made an error. A MANTLE is a cloak or a robe. A MANTEL is the ornamental shelf over a fireplace—which is what your photograph indicates. How many people saw this flyer? I based my cost guesstimate on four million. Dude.

Your friend,
An editor and Kroger shopper

There’s no misspelling here. It’s a common problem, and I don’t just mean the mantle/mantel conundrum. (Which is, by the way, a homophone: one of two or more words pronounced alike but different in meaning, derivation, or spelling—such as all and awl or ritewriteright, and wright. Or mantle and mantel.*)

I see this sort of thing all the time on websites, in correspondence, advertisements (usually local; but we should call Kroger’s ad a regional one), and so on. Surely I’m not the only one who notices?

Sometimes it is a misspelling. Or a pronunciation issue. Or confusion over the meaning. Sometimes the writer has heard the word or phrase but never seen it written. But guessing is never the way to go on this, friends. Not in a world in which the Internet exists. So in case you didn’t know some of these, you’ve come to the right place. I’m here to help.

It’s definitely, not defiantly. Two adverbs, both alike in dignity … but I’m pretty sure you meant definitely (positively, unmistakably). In fact, I’m definitely sure that’s what you meant.

It’s intact (one word), not in tact (two words). The latter isn’t … well, it isn’t intact. And while we’re at it … it’s tack, not tact. If you’re changing direction, you’re taking a new tack. Tact is what you employ when your best friend says, “Do these jeans make me look fat?”

It’s a moot point, not a mute point. This issue is not moot: there is only one way to spell this word and only one way to pronounce it. What does the cow say? Mooot.

He’s a world-renowned artist, not a world-renown artist. Renown, a noun = fame; renowned, an adjective = famous.

It’s shudder, not shutter. If it has to do with shaking or shivering, it’s shudder. A shutter, among many other things, is a cover for a window. Is it alludeelude, or illude? I alluded (mentioned indirectly) to a famous play above. That reference may have eluded (escaped) you. But I wasn’t trying to illude (deceive) you.

It’s all right, not alright. Seriously, it’s never all right to use alright. Not in elegant writing, or even good writing, which is what we’re aiming for, right? Hear, hear. And you’ll notice, it’s hear, hear! Not here, here. You can read about it (ahem) here.

It’s unique, never very unique. Because the latter is redundant. And good golly, kids, it’s take it for granted, not take it for granite. Unless you’re replacing those Formica countertops with stone.

It’s speak your piece, not speak your peace. You hold your peace (that is, remain silent); if you’re going to audibilize, you’re speaking your piece. Two different idioms altogether.

We could go on and on: affect/effect, that/who, anxious/eager, farther/further, more than/over … and don’t get me started on lie/lay and all the possible permutations of error in that. As I’ve said before, I’m here to help, without judgment. But I won’t always be looking over your shoulder, so what should you do? Hint: Don’t assume you know, as Kroger’s copywriter did. Look it up!

*Not to be confused with a homonym: one of two or more words spelled and pronounced alike but different in meaning—such as a pool of water and pool, the game (billiards).

Tweet: Y’all spend a lot of money on these mailers; can’t you hire an editor in that big budget?
Tweet: Guessing isn’t the way to go on this, friends. Not in a world in which the Internet exists.
Tweet: It’s definitely, not defiantly. Two adverbs, both alike in dignity …

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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