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Corey J. White Posts

Editorial

I swear I’m not actively trying to talk about my upcoming book with every post, but seeing as it is my first book, this whole experience is one of many firsts. So today I want to talk about editorial, and why it might be tough, but very, very necessary.

Like I said, this is my first book, so I’m going to assume (perhaps wrongly?) that my experience is more-or-less the norm, and tell you about how it has all been unfolding for me, so if/when you find yourself in the same position, you know what to expect.

Step 1: Editorial Letter

Now, I’m not sure why it’s called an ‘Editorial Letter’, or even if that’s an industry-wide term, but it is far less formal than it sounds. It’s basically just addresses issues in your manuscript in a  loose, big-picture kind of way. This is where your editor says “Your book is great, but this, this, and that don’t quite work as well as the rest.”

Chances are, the things that your editor points out are likely things that you weren’t 100% sure on yourself, but after beating your head against the keyboard on a number of rewrites, you simply couldn’t come up with a better way to to do it. But guess what? Now you have an editor on your side, and they’ve already agreed to publish your book, so if they want it to be the best book it can be when it comes to market, they HAVE TO HELP YOU FIX IT.

This editor is likely working with you because something in your manuscript spoke to them, because they love it, because they believe in it, or some combination of those things. They also have likely edited (or at least read in slush) any number of manuscripts, so you can trust that they’re going to have a fine eye for picking out issues in your manuscript. They may also be accomplished writers themselves. Either way, trust that they know what they’re talking about.

When it comes to fixes, they might have ideas that completely resonate, and which you can immediately see and grasp, and which set your mind spinning with all the ways you’re going to incorporate these changes, or they might have ideas that don’t sit quite right with you. But, hey, this is a dialogue, so if it’s the latter, talk about it. Try and figure out why they’ve made those suggestions so you can come up with your own solutions that answer the same questions.

(Or, in other words, don’t be stubborn, don’t be a dick [obviously], don’t try and argue with them when they want to kill your darlings [they need to die for a reason], and realise that just because they want to publish your manuscript it doesn’t mean that it’s perfect.)

Anyway, after you’ve fixed those bigger-picture issues and you’re both happy with the changes, it’s time to move on to…

Step 2: Line-Edits

For some reason, this step caused my anxiety to peak. Personally, feedback from friends is easy, no matter how thoroughly it tears my work apart, because I know them, I understand their tone and exactly where they’re coming from. When it comes to people I know less-well however – like an editor I’ve only met in person a couple of times, or absolute strangers on a critiquing website – the criticisms get right under my skin for some reason.

I realise this is just down to me and my mind-spiders, so perhaps none of this is relevant for you, Miss No-Mental-Illness-For-Me, but hey, I’m talking about my experience. It’s not that my (brilliant) editor (Carl Engle-Laird) was harsh or anything like that – again, this was totally about me, not the experience – but going through the line edits was almost paralysing. I’d be able to spend two (distracted, anxious) hours at it, and then need to stop. By day three I’d convinced myself that the manuscript was so shit the only reason they decided to publish it was because it was somehow the least shit out of the submissions they received and they’d taken pity on me. Needless to say, that was a dark day. Thankfully, by day five, nearing the end of the manuscript, I’d completely turned a corner on the line-edit process. I’d come out the other side and realised all the things that would have been obvious if it weren’t for the anxiety:

  • It’s a good manuscript.
  • It’s not shit.
  • The line-edits were to make it sing, not to tell me that I’m a bad writer and I should feel bad.
  • The process had made the manuscript that much better.

Seriously, I was so happy with the manuscript at the end of that first run-through that I was slightly embarrassed that an earlier draft had gone out to other authors in the hopes of getting blurbed. The word I’ve been using to describe the effect of the edits is ‘elevated’ – it pointed inconsistencies (or things that weren’t necessarily inconsistent, but which needed clarity), and completely elevated the prose of the book by pointing out over-used verb forms and sentence styles, repeated words and phrases, and probably other things I’m forgetting.

I realise that when it comes out, Killing Gravity is still not going to be everyone’s cup of tea, but I’m not satisfied that it is a damn fine cup all the same.

You’ll go back and forth a couple of times with the colours of Track Changes scarring your manuscript until you’re done. Up next is…

Step 3: Copy-Editing

Which is the step I’m waiting on now, so I can’t actually tell you much about it. Though I’m assuming it will be someone with extremely technical knowledge of the English language telling me all the things I did wrong and telling me that all my dumb, made-up sci-fi words are entirely too-dumb to see print. But hey, we’ll see, and if the process is interesting enough, maybe I’ll write about that too.

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The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe

I recently read Kij Johnson’s The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe, and I cannot recommend it enough. It’s a response to a H.P. Lovecraft story, but it isn’t horror; instead it (I assume) takes some of the critters and locations of Lovecraft’s work and uses them to populate a beautifully written fantasy tale set in a world that feels familiar yet unique in the same way that Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea series does.

I’ve never read anything of Lovecraft’s, and I don’t often read fantasy, but The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe is phenomenal. It’s a novella, so it’s an easy read, and you can pick the ebook up for a song.

And because I can, here’s an excerpt from one of Kij Johnson’s short stories, Ponies. It’s a twisted, dark horror tale, with a core of sad childhood truth.

The invitation card has a Western theme. Along its margins, cartoon girls in cowboy hats chase a herd of wild Ponies. The Ponies are no taller than the girls, bright as butterflies, fat, with short round-tipped unicorn horns and small fluffy wings. At the bottom of the card, newly caught Ponies mill about in a corral. The girls have lassoed a pink-and-white Pony. Its eyes and mouth are surprised round Os. There is an exclamation mark over its head.

The little girls are cutting off its horn with curved knives. Its wings are already removed, part of a pile beside the corral.

Read the full story at Tor.com.

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The Announcement

One morning in early July, I woke up to an email from one of the editors at Tor.com Publishing. They’d recently had an open unsolicited submission window and I’d submitted the manuscript for my sci-fi novella Killing Gravity. It had received a really quick form rejection from another publisher just a few weeks earlier, so I had basically convinced myself there was no way a publisher with as much clout as Tor would want it (Lesson the first: personal preference is a strong condideration in editorial decisions. Just because one editor rejects a story, it doesn’t mean it [and by extension, you] are rubbish). The email subject read “Offer on Killing Gravity,” and I had so thoroughly convinced myself of the impending rejection that I actually thought, That’s a strange way to phrase a rejection.

Honestly, if the email subject had simply read: “RE: Submission – Killing Gravity” there’s a chance I might have deleted it unread (Lesson the second: never, and I mean NEVER, self-reject).

Needless to say, I opened the email.

I literally couldn’t believe it, I was in shock. My first response was to send my partner (the award-winning author of Welcome to Orphancorp, Marlee Jane Ward) a message reading: “Fuck. Motherfucking Tor want to buy my fucking book.” 6am eloquence is not my forte. My second response was to stumble through, knock on my housemate’s bedroom door, and repeat the news to her more-or-less word for word (she later said she thought something terrible had happened, like a death in the family, because I was white as a sheet. When I said ‘in shock’ I meant literally).

Flatiron Building
Photo credit: Marlee Jane Ward

Marlee and I had already planned a trip to the States, which meant it was perfectly timed for us to be able to meet up with my editor Carl Engle-Laird in New York, and even receive a tour of the tour offices in the historic Flatiron building. It also meant I could have an editorial meeting with Carl over beers in Kansas City while we were there for WorldCon. Sure, the internet’s an amazing tool, but there’s nothing quite like face-to-face. It’s great when everything just falls into place.

Now here we are, a few months later. The announcement has been made, including the amazing news that Tor.com Publishing are going to publish Killing Gravity’s sequel, and now I can talk publicly about it. Something I mentioned on twitter is that a big part of why this is so exciting (besides it being my first book, which is a huge deal on its own) is that Tor.com Publishing’s line of novellas is consistently of a super high quality, with multiple award-winning novellas, brilliant emerging and established authors, beautiful cover art, and an editorial desire for better representation with their authors and books. To think that Killing Gravity got chosen out of slush to be published alongside Victor LaValle’s The Ballad of Black Tom, Nnedi Okorafor’s Binti, Kij Johnson’s The Dream-Quest of Vellit Boe, as well as upcoming titles from Charles Stross, Cassandra Khaw, and Laurie Penny (not to mention all the other well-regarded authors whose work I haven’t checked out yet), is incredible. Talk about external validation… (I’d had 130 short story rejections in the 18 months before this sale, so Lesson the third: it’s all about forward motion).

So if you need me, I’ll be here, talking about Killing Gravity, offering advice, posting fiction (my own, and links to others), and trying to make the most of this opportunity to kick-start something resembling a writing career.

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How to be a Writer…

There are so many posts like this one, and so many of them are dull, repetitive, or full of shit, but I thought Rebecca Solnit’s 10 Tips on How to be a Writer hit the nail on the head.

2) Remember that writing is not typing. Thinking, researching, contemplating, outlining, composing in your head and in sketches, maybe some typing, with revisions as you go, and then more revisions, deletions, emendations, additions, reflections, setting aside and returning afresh, because a good writer is always a good editor of his or her own work. Typing is this little transaction in the middle of two vast thoughtful processes. There is such thing as too much revision—I’ve seen things that were amazing in the 17th version get flattened out in the 23rd—but nothing is born perfect. Well, some things almost are, but they’re freaks. And you might get those magical perfect passages if you write a lot, including all the stuff that isn’t magic that has to be cut, rethought, revised, fact-checked, and cleaned up.

Thank you to Jane Rawson for the heads-up.

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The Business of Writing

I’ve recently had cause (which is equal parts *squee* and frightening) to start paying attention to the business aspects of writing, and coincidentally I came across this post here, which details much of the business/financial side of things, from someone who either knows, or has at least done plenty of research.

But whilst that post deals with the end result of having written and sold a book, Peter M. Ball has been posting about treating your writing practise as a business. Peter M. Ball’s blog often has some interesting and insightful bits of writing advice (of particular interest is this series of posts about Die Hard), but as well as that, he’ll sometimes have advice geared more to the business side of writing (something I plan on talking about more here… eventually).

His recent post – Dear Writers: What’s Your Business Model? – is full of insight. Maybe your writing practice is a magical, soulful, unpredictable beast, but… you want to make money from it right? Ideally you’d like to make a living from your writing? Then, like it or not, you need to think about it like a business.

When I started putting together a business plan, I had to think beyond that: who was a writing for? What was I giving them? Who were my competitors and how would I do better than them? Most important: what was my business model? Where did the money come from?

And because small business book after small business book stressed the importance of that, I set aside my eager enthusiasm for 48 hours or so and did some research. By the time I was done I had rough answers for all those things – enough to make me confident about the potential income – and for the next eighteen months my estimations were pretty accurate.

That 48 hours gave me a niche to fill, an identity that set me apart from the other people working in that space, and reasonable idea of what I needed to do to start generating cash-flow. It told me the most valuable places to focus my energy – what to do, and what not to do, when time was limited.

My plan and research served me well enough that I was surprised other weren’t doing it, given that it was largely put together with 48 hours of research and some scrap paper. I had a clear business model – this type of product, released this often, with this kind of focus – that gave me a clear measure of success or failure.

I had never had that, with anything I’d written before. It was remarkably focusing.

Check out his full post here.

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An Illustrated Guide to Writing Scenes and Stories

If you haven’t already read Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach Trilogy, I cannot recommend those books enough. The series is part Lovecraft, part Stalker, part X-Files, part climate-change polemic, yet completely original. I finished Annihilation in a single night, and read the other two within the week. One day I hope to be able to write a series (or even a book) that is as masterfully-written, intriguing, and harrowing as the Area X books.

But shilling for Mr VanderMeer isn’t why I’m posting today – I’m here to share this post of his, which went up a few days ago at Electric Lit: An Illustrated Guide to Writing Scenes and Stories.

I thought it would be useful to take some very dramatic job that a character has — in this case, a dragon slayer– and demonstrate how it is that the average day of a dragon slayer is no different than the average day of an insurance salesman, in terms of not necessarily being of any interest to a reader.

When you’re first thinking about story and scenes, you have to choose what to dramatize, and what you won’t.

Lots of great advice and helpful diagrams at the link.

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The Savannah Liar’s Tour

I’d been meaning to post this for a while, but time does what it does, and here we are… I recently read Will McIntosh’s The Savannah Liar’s Tour at Lightspeed Magazine. It’s interesting, surprising and touching – SF with the feel of contemporary fantasy.

Excerpt:

On the trolley, Delilah pointed out Chippewa Square, a cozy park shaded by huge Live Oaks.

“At last count there were seventeen hundred such squares in Savannah.” She was speaking to everyone, all of the tourists on her trolley, but she was looking right at me. Her gaze sent a thrill through me like nothing I’d ever experienced. “Under no circumstances should you go near any of them. They look friendly, but they bite, and many carry disease—”

According to Delilah, a creature lived in the Savannah River that could swallow the Loch Ness monster whole. The Buddha was buried in a local graveyard.

Today was the day. I was going to speak to her.

With the tourists chanting her name, Delilah stepped off the trolley, took a bow, waved to or shook hands with each person as they exited her magic trolley, onto the cobbled street, back in the real world.

I lingered so I’d be the last off. My heart tripped as I climbed down the steps. As I paused in front of her, I could find nothing to do with my hands. They felt wrong on my hips, wrong in my pockets, wrong dangling like dead fish at my sides.

“Your show is really something,” I stammered. “I’m spreading the word, telling all my friends.”

“I was wondering when you were finally going to talk to me,” Delilah said.

Read the whole thing here.

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The Killing Jar

While my original plan was to point anyone reading to one of Laurie Penny’s short stories, first off I’m going to share one of her articles: Life-Hacks of the Poor and Aimless. If you’re not familiar with Laurie Penny’s non-fiction, she’s been writing about social and political issues, feminism, and various ways these areas intersect for a few years now. If you’ve read anything of hers before, it was probably some of her excellent coverage of the Occupy movement.

It only makes sense that a writer so cognizant of socio-political issues would write science-fiction that is layered, unique and equal parts scathing and accurate in its portrayal of the absurdities embedded in modern society. The Killing Jar is one of those stories that when I read it I wished I’d written it – serial killings as government subsidised art, in a Britain that feels not-too-far from today’s. It reads like one of the better episodes of Black Mirror, but without needing to rely on a tech angle. It also represents a future that could be the logical conclusion to society’s obsession with true crime.

Excerpt:

I feel a bit sorry for Tony. It’s not that he’s not a good serial killer, it’s just that for various reasons things haven’t worked out for him, and he hasn’t achieved the sort of notoriety that someone with his skill set really deserves.

For instance: The last troubled, hard-drinking detective with unorthodox methods who Tony managed to hook into a daring cat-and-mouse game ended up in rehab for alcohol abuse, thus wasting months of painstaking antagonism. He’s alright now, but part of his recovery program apparently involves no longer doing active police work, which pisses Tony off no end after the amount of time he put into the creepy post-crime scene flirtation they had going on.

The new inspector on the case just doesn’t have the same sparkle. Sure, he breaks the rules now and then, but his colleagues generally like him and he’s Tony says he doesn’t have enough personality disorders to be interesting.

Personally, I think that’s a bit rich coming from Tony.

It’s not that Tony is boring, precisely. And it’s not that he doesn’t have any other interests, or things that he cares about with the sort of sick fervor you’d expect from people in his line of work. It’s just that he cares about being a famous serial killer slightly more than anything else.

Read the whole story at Terraform.

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The Science of Happiness

Here’s an interesting article I came across courtesy of Julian Simpson’s always excellent INFODUMP email newsletter – The Science of Happiness.

Here’s the kicker: Every time this electrical charge is triggered, the synapses grow closer together to decrease the distance the electrical charge has to cross. This is a microcosmic example of evolution, of adaptation. The brain is rewiring its own circuitry, physically changing itself, to make it easier and more likely that the proper synapses will share the chemical link and thus spark together–in essence, making it easier for the thought to trigger. Therefore, your first mystical scientific evidence: your thoughts reshape your brain, and thus are changing a physical construct of reality. Let that sink in for a moment before you continue, because that’s a seriously profound logic-bomb right there.

Your thoughts reshape your brain, and thus are changing a physical construct of reality.

Read the rest here.

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Don’t be afraid of the future…

Warren Ellis posted a talk he gave last year in Dublin to his ORBITAL OPERATIONS newsletter – which you should sign up for. If you’re interested in the modern science fictional condition, it’s required reading.

We just need to keep telling the folklore.  Using the language.  Tell the stories.  There’s no such thing as future shock.  It turns out that we’re all much stronger than we ever gave ourselves credit for.   We dealt with gods and monsters, so by god we can deal with the space eels.  We adapt.  Everything tells us that we should be overwhelmed by our accelerating future that’s happening faster than we can prepare for.  But Stewart Brand said “we are as gods and might as well get good at it,” and he said that forty-seven years ago, the year I was born.  And we are monsters, and might as well admit it: we’re pursuit predators who can heal almost any wound, show up just when you think we’ve gone away, and we’ll attempt to have sex with pretty much anything in the universe.  Don’t be afraid of the future.  We will never die, we can do everything we ever want, and we love stories more than anything.  Stories are magic, magic is science, and science is what makes us human.   Don’t be bored, and don’t be afraid.  Have a drink.  Sit around the pool in the clearing.  The future is coming, and we’re going to win.

The whole things is here.

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