Facing the Sky book review, part 1

Last night, I met with an author and her husband (who also happens to be a writer, as well as an artist) to discuss her self-published book, Facing the Sky. She had wondered about trying to find a traditional publisher to reprint the book and gain a wider audience, but after reading her unconventionally-formatted but powerful true story, I realized she needs to retain control.

The book is her life story, centering on a specific time in her teens but drawing in her childhood and adulthood in a sometimes linear, sometimes flashback/flash-forward style that works well for the material. She is a Christian, so her faith is very much part of the story, but traditional Christian publishing houses would probably gut the book, redacting the harshest elements, weakening its power.

In fact, a local bookstore refuses to stock the book because of a particularly raw scene describing the author’s rape by her boyfriend in her early teens.

This disturbs me. Rape isn’t pretty. It happens, even to children. It damages the psyche and the spirit. But Rainee Grason’s story shows that redemption is possible — not only possible, but triumphant. Remove that ugly scene, and the power of the truth is lost.

I’ll be posting more about this book in the next few days, and will include ordering and contact information, for those who want to buy the book or request the author as a special speaker for an event.

Turning Down a Job

The contents of this post derive from a recent e-mail exchange with (at the time) a potential editing client. The premise of her novel is at direct odds with my beliefs. This is not the first time I’ve been approached to edit work opposed to my faith, politics, etc., and such a position is not a problem for editors who may have not strong stance on a particular topic. After all, a job’s a job, a check’s a check.

I’ve edited her comments to avoid giving away plot points, and I’ll provide no further commentary, but will let our messages do the talking.

Author:

My book is the redemption story of the first angel… . I’ve woven together many spiritual concepts from religions around the world and throughout history…In many cases, it seems the bad deity [Satan] is suffering from “first child syndrome”, thinking himself the most impressive and without equal. When the good deity [God] begins to care for or create humanity, the bad deity seems to throw a temper tantrum over not being quite so special anymore. It seems sad to me, as I believe if the deity would only look at himself a little differently, he would see that it is ok to share the parental attention.
…I do not know if this belongs in the premise, but the villain of the story is the archangel Gabriel.
…It really is a triumphant story. It’s about heartbreak, jealousy, and self-love, as well as forgiveness. I feel like this character–this sort of character–deserves a chance at forgiveness. Just about every single culture hates him!

Me:

When I was very young, preschool or kindergarten or thereabouts, I had a notion similar to yours: Satan’s bad, yes, but can’t he ever be redeemed? Took me a while to sort it out.

From your description of the book, you are not yourself an adherent of any particular religion, and so perhaps may not understand how or why people of faith will not welcome such a lenient perspective of Satan, or such a lowering perspective of God.

As a person of faith myself, my first thought on reading your description was a verse from the Bible: “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter,” (Isaiah 5:20, NIV).

Therefore, I cannot in good conscience help — in any way — produce a book that is the antithesis of that for which I stand.

I hope you understand, and I wish you well in other writing endeavors.

 

Trust in the Editing Process

The time to begin an article is when you have finished it to your satisfaction By that time you begin to clearly and logically perceive what it is you really want to say. ~ Mark Twain

Editing can be one of the most creative times in the writing process. It’s then that I solidify the story, learn what it’s about, see patterns and themes, become truly acquainted with the characters. Editing is exciting.

Editing for others, though? Let’s be honest. Without trust and a good manuscript, editing can be an exercise in frustration.

Recently, I sent some edits back to another editor to pass along to the author, and encountered distrust — not from the author herself, but from her liaison (which is why it’s best to establish a direct relationship between editor and author).

He warned me that she is young, and that this is her first novel. Whenever someone mentions the author’s age or inexperience, they’re telling me to soft-peddle the feedback, keep the editing more “Rah-rah, you’re great!” and less “This doesn’t work, and must be fixed.”

I taught writing to children of all ages for fourteen years, and the young writers often won poetry and essay contests. They learned how to tell stories and construct research papers. Their schoolwork improved. If honesty mixed with encouragement works for 6-18 year olds, it’ll work for a rookie author. (Hey, it works for me, too!)

The same liaison added that this young writer already has endorsements from bestselling authors, and is being mentored by another. That’s fantastic, but why do I — the manuscript editor — need to know that? Do her endorsements and mentor change the words on the page?

Something I learned as a slush reader for magazines: I don’t need to know an author’s credentials, resume of published works, movie rights sold, guild memberships, list of endorsements. None of that is important when their words are in front of me. It’s my job to read those words and determine whether or not the work is a fit for the magazine, not be influenced by the author’s appearance of prestige. That’s irrelevant to the story.

The same applies to editing.

To be honest, it is nettlesome that anyone feels the need to reveal those credentials, because doing so comes across as an attempt to temper my work, to adjust what and how I edit, in order to accommodate the author’s ego. In other words, I am to flatter rather than correct.

I’m not interested in lashing anyone’s ego. After all, I need encouragement as much as any writer does. However, being cautioned about a writer’s age, being given a writer’s credentials — this implies distrust of me as a person, a writer, and an editor.

This discourages me more than encountering a cliche-riddled fiction manuscript nowhere near publish-ready.

It’s not my job to just pat writers on the back. It’s my job to challenge them to be better writers.

Below is a Facebook exchange I had with Johne Cook, a friend and fellow writer:

EE: I’m weary of the notion that editors are mean, uncreative types who exist to trouble writers and steal the soul from their work.

JC: As a guy, I am more interested in facts, the truth. Yes, I prefer constructive criticism – nobody likes a bruised ego – but I’d rather hear the hard truth than a gentle untruth.

EE: That’s the thing: I don’t want my ego battered around, either, nor do I intend to abuse others. It’s as if writers think the truth is anathema to self-esteem. I see it differently: Someone thinks enough of me to tell me the truth. By doing so, they imply I am strong enough to handle it, intelligent enough to assimilate it, and talented enough to pursue better work.

JC: Exactly. Truth without love is brutality. Love without truth is a lie.

Enough said.