Article · Creativity · Writing Craft

Importance of an Editor

Victoria Zackheim, an editor herself, said that hiring a professional editor makes your writing a better piece because editors look for flow, cadence and repetitions and learning from them will make you a better writer. She’s an editor, but she hires an editor for her works. Find reviewers who will really read! Two or three dependable, honest people will do. Perry was even more adamant. “Don’t delude yourself that your final draft is ready. An editor will tell you if your skirt is caught in your knickers.” Perry has written over 70 best selling novels and she receives an editor’s red mark on every page of her final versions. “Ask for the right to review edits before publishing and check for the correct intention of feeling to ensure their edits match your voice.” If people reviewing your work are confused delete or clarify until your point is apparent to all who read it.  If you can remove a scene, or a character, and the plot still makes sense—remove it permanently, even if you love it. You can re-purpose it in a different work. If you really balk, ask the editors why they want the change, chances are they are right, and you’ll find a fix.

The re-writing phase feels unending. After every submission for review, Perry receives notes like “It’s nearly there!” “One more!” “It’s coming!”

But that is the hard work; your words must say exactly what you mean. “Writing is not a hasty lunch, “ Perry advised, sounding like a British schoolteacher. “It should be a feast for the gods!”

Anne Perry and Victoria Zackheim were on tour in April 2014, promoting their latest books. They spent over three hours mentoring writers at the California Writers Club, Apple Valley branch. Their focus was on how to approach writing projects. Zackheim is an experienced editor and an author specializing in memoir and personal essays. Anne Perry is recognized as one of the world’s top 100 masters of crime and her series of detective novels are set in historical fiction.

Article · Creativity · Writing Craft

Writing is hard work—and taking risks

Anne Perry and Victoria Zackheim were a tour de force, radiating playful power with a mesmerizing authority. They were on book tour, promoting their latest books, yet they chose to spend over three hours mentoring writers at the California Writers Club, Apple Valley branch. Their focus was on how to approach writing projects. Zackheim is an experienced editor and an author specializing in memoir and personal essays. Anne Perry is recognized as one of the world’s top 100 masters of crime and her series of detective novels are set in historical fiction.

Both authors agreed that writing is hard work. Worth it though, said Perry, because you’ll know you’ve done something. Zackheim added, “If you are a writer, it should be fun and an overall joyful experience. You should say to yourself  “This is hard work, and I am loving it!”

Perry said the hardest work as a writer is putting in the time to outline a draft of the entire story. Zackheim concurred, adding that you have to take your work seriously and set aside time and space for it.  When they are not on tour, they write nine to five, stopping only for lunch. Now over seventy, Perry can still pull a 14 hour day. Neither has ever missed a deadline, not by one minute. If you are a writer, project that attitude by respecting your work. It will become important to others too. Learn to say, “I’m working, sorry I have no time.” No lunch meetings, and no drop-in visitors.

After the plot outline comes the editing process, the most time consuming and absorbing work. They recommend using editors and workgroups for support and urge all writers to accept editing suggestions. “Re-write, re-write, re-write until you get to the point,” said Perry.

Both women noted that their careers prospered once they took more risks when they were in their mid-forties. They tried different genres, screenplays, conferences and anthologies. The more adventurous they were, the more productive they became, and the more fun they had. Zackheim insisted that writers must follow through on every creative idea, and not let them go. “Try out your own ideas. And if people have ideas for you, say yes. If your efforts work out, great, if not, you’ll gain focus and experience. If you don’t put your ideas out there, you’ll never know. Don’t play it safe.”

Article · Stories · Writing Craft

The Universe is made of stories…

My last post was about David McCabe, author of the book, Without Sin. When he lectured at the California Writers Club he quoted a line from a poem by Muriel Rukeyser:

“The universe is made of stories, not of atoms.”

What a great line.

Mr. McCabe sees the world as a physicist would, using disparate stories to formulate a base element—his personal narrative.  As a teacher, McCabe worked with an unusual group of kids, the “dreamers.” Dreamers are high achievers, would-be college students who learn about their illegal resident status in one of two ways; often it is a family secret and everyone is raised in fear of deportation, or the kids discover they’re undocumented, illegal aliens when they are sixteen, preparing for a drivers license or employment, and in need of a birth certificate. Either way, the kids pay the price for their parent’s decisions.

When Mr. McCabe was promoted into college administration he researched the latest trends in education. One paper from San Diego State University stated that student narcissism is at an all time high. He was trying to raise awareness about educational opportunities for undocumented students. In fact, he’d like them all to become activists but in the face of student apathy how could he reach them?

It is not just students that are intractable. People have three reactions to difficult social topics. If it is too uncomfortable, or seemingly unimportant, the topic is avoided. Alternatively, there’s a mindset that some problems are so endemic they need better law enforcement and there is nothing to be done except to let lawbreakers get what they deserve. Finally, if a story is compelling, or an individual face is identified in connection to a social problem, it encourages discussion and proposals to change parameters.

For example, think about amnesty for illegal immigrants. It is a polarizing topic. McCabe’s own mother was not in favor of offering children of illegal immigrants a path to citizenship. She changed her mind when she befriended a vivacious, American sounding student who did odd jobs and volunteer work but who could not legally work or go to college because she was a “dreamer.”

If amnesty, a widely debated topic, is so hard to broach, how could McCabe inform society, especially the younger generation, about the dangers of exploitation, sometimes as serious as entrapment that leads to human trafficking?

Mr. McCabe created a personal narrative out of these seemingly random stories. His sensitivity towards migrants and students, his discovery of an article about human trafficking,  professional research and his curiosity, coalesced into a trajectory that powers his actions. He wrote “Without Sin” hoping to elicit common interest.

That, dear writer, is how the universe expands, by launching a story informed by a personal narrative. David McCabe used artistic license to move people into a new conversation. After McCabe’s lecture, I sought other opinions and shared the story on my blog. My small contribution to a community narrative. But who knows? McCabe argues that if a story changes the universe then it’s possible to change our academics, our legal institutions and the attitude of whole nations.

Article · Stories · Uncategorized · Writing Craft

Human trafficking: One writer’s narrative

During Lent I was trying to be mindful of the word “compassion,” tracking how many times it appeared in a month. At first I was disappointed because the word showed up only once or twice a week. Then I realized that I am surrounded by something greater–acts of compassion. An instance of this is David S McCabe who lectured at my writing club about his novelWithout Sin.”

In 2007, David McCabe read an article about sex traffickers setting up “shop” in rural San Diego County. Curious, he decided to research the location where the police raid happened “the Reeds” six years earlier in 2001. One clear morning he set off on a hike through an estuary. He saw birds. He met a homeless person. Then he found a circle of empty huts made out of reeds. At first he thought homeless people built them, until he noticed plastic bags outside each hut. They were full of used condoms. The sex slave camp was still operational.

How could that be?

Human trafficking is a flourishing business. Even President Jimmy Carter has a book about it and is discussing the problem on NPR and the Colbert report. There are more slaves today than ever before. In the United States, 80% of the slaves are used for sex  (of which half are American citizens), 19% percent for forced labor and 1% for organ theft. Trafficking humans is a lucrative business. Drugs have a one-time use, but a sex slave can be re-sold several times in one day and make $200,000 a year—for their managers, not themselves.  This predatory activity is happening in a Southern California neighborhood near you, between the local strawberry fields and planned McMansion estates. After police raids, the operations shift to alternative outlets and advertise on Facebook and Craigslist. Customers are not fussy about accommodation; they go to motels, deserted riverbeds and secluded lots.

Relocation is what happened after the Oceanside raid of 2007. Six ringleaders were arrested but all were released because the girls were too terrified to testify. American Border Patrol drove girls without legal documentation across the border to Mexico. The van doors opened, the girls stepped out and they were left to their own devices. They had the clothes on their backs, but no identification, no food, no money, and no assistance contacting relatives. The youngest girl was twelve.

Men recruit girls from Mexican families in desperate situations. They propose marriage, or employment and an enticing life in the States. The Oceanside camp was re-established only a mile away from its previous location with newly recruited “employees.” The story became a media sensation when it came to Oprah Winfrey’s attention. She dubbed Oceanside “a Hub of Human Trafficking.”  To avoid negative publicity, the Mayor of Oceanside bulldozed the estuary. No more birds, and no places for humans to hide.

But why is David McCabe, who started his career as an elementary teacher, so interested in sex slaves?

McCabe has taught children of migrant, undocumented parents. Cautioning these vulnerable students about “get rich” schemes and directing them through education has become his personal narrative. He originally envisioned writing a piece of creative non-fiction but decided that a novel would reach a larger audience.

McCabe researched the article and interviewed Border Patrol agents to braid two compelling perspectives together. American Border Patrol Agent, Garrett, falls in love with a prostitute from Mexico, Angelina, and struggles to release his girlfriend from many layers of exploitation. The book does its job. It will increase awareness about the realities of human trafficking.  A disturbing topic, but beautifully written, the novel was a 2011 semi-finalist in the William Faulkner Creative Writing Competition.  The book took two years to finish and by writing this story McCabe hopes to generate discussion, change opinions, laws and lives.