Editing and Publishing

Continuing my exploration last time here of the nature of editing, I’m back to write about a new adventure that extended editing into publishing. I’m an editor who became a publisher for my friend and fellow BACCA writer, Andrea Fisher Rowland.

More than a year ago, Andrea and I began to work together to get her poetry collection, Family Album, polished and published. After completing the final touches on the manuscript, we also put our heads together about a cover for the book. I gave her several choices to use as starting points, and she picked her favorite, from which I made a final cover. Over the months that we worked on Family Album, Andrea learned that, contrary to expectations, her illness had taken a turn, and that she would not be expected to live much longer. We doubled down, to make sure the poems were ready for publication as soon as possible.

front cover of Family Album

Family Album, the poetry collection

I decided to offer Andrea a publishing deal. The “deal” was unconventional in several ways, and not a typical commercial publishing agreement. But as her friend, I knew how important it was to Andrea that her collection be available to the public, and I knew how to make it happen. Some years ago, I inherited a small music education publisher, which I still operate. I also published my own writer handbook, FLOAT, and through my business I have advised and assisted numerous authors who publish their own work independently. I figured these experiences qualified me to extend the offer to Andrea. Her delighted response told me I had made a good decision.

Then Andrea asked me to publish her novel, High Tide, as well. I was familiar with the first half of the story, because I’d been reading it section by section as Andrea sent it to BACCA for our monthly critiques. Time was not on our side, however, and the work of polishing the novel extended past its author’s lifetime. Dorene Fisher worked with Andrea during her final days to review the text line by line, and after Andrea’s passing, Dorene and I continued. The language of Andrea’s novel is exceptionally sensitive and poetic, so we editors focused on sustaining the author’s tone and light touch, while adjusting for chronological continuity. Happy byproducts of this effort include a new friendship for Dorene and me (thanks, Andrea!) and a lovely sense that Andrea has been in the room with us, cheering us on and providing guidance. BACCA writer Noelle Beverly did us the great honor of reading through the edited version and making important and useful suggestions, and both Noelle and Carolyn O’Neal provided extensive moral support.

Front cover of High Tide

High Tide, the novel

Andrea died in June of this year, after holding Family Album in her hands. At her sister’s request, I also gave Andrea a version of High Tide, its cover inspired by her request for imagery of two swans in flight and a blue and gold color palette. As publisher, I also needed to tick the requisite legal boxes, turn the edited manuscript into a print-ready book, get ISBNs assigned, and complete the numerous other behind-the-scenes tasks that precede any publication. Now, after a summer of work, I expect to receive the first printed proof of High Tide any day now. Soon it will be out in the world, ready for its reading public.

Accordingly, we’ve put together two events to celebrate the publication of both of Andrea’s books. All are welcome to attend. My fellow BACCA writers play an essential role here, as well, since Noelle Beverly and Bethany Carlson Farris have each extended themselves to make these events possible, on Saturday morning, 7 December at Baine’s Books & Coffee (Scottsville, VA) and on Tuesday evening, 12 November at Renaissance School (Charlottesville, VA) respectively.

For details about both events, follow this link! Be sure to save the dates in your calendars. Both events promise to be warm, regardless of the outdoor temperatures.

With gratitude to Andrea for entrusting me with her work, to my co-editor and friend Dorene Fisher, to Andrea’s kind family, to BACCA for the warm support we have come to rely upon from one another, and to future readers everywhere, thank you, all.

photo of Andrea

Andrea Fisher Rowland

A M Carley writes fiction and nonfiction, and is a founding member of BACCA. Her company, Chenille Books, provides creative coaching and full-service editing to authors and other creative people. Decks of 52 FLOAT Cards for Writers are available from Baine’s Books in Scottsville and Appomattox, VA, at the Chenille Books website, and on Amazon. Anne’s writer handbook, FLOAT • Becoming Unstuck for Writers, is available for purchase at Central Virginia booksellers and on Amazon. #becomingunstuck 

 

Fiction or Nonfiction? Dinner or Dessert?

Fiction is a roller coaster

Fiction is fun. Fiction is freedom. 

Fiction creates new worlds and fills these worlds with heroes, villains, comics, romantics. Fills them with humans or monsters or aliens from another dimension.  Fiction can be as wild and unbelievable as the author’s imagination.

Every paragraph is a roller coaster.

Everything is fair game.

Everything is up in the air.

Enjoy the ride and let your imagination soar!

 

Nonfiction has rules.

Nonfiction takes place in a location the author can and should visit

Creative Nonfiction takes place in a location the author can and should visit, whether it’s the graveyard down the road or a ship in the middle of the ocean. Not to say writing nonfiction can’t be fun, but the author doesn’t have the same freedom to make up worlds or characters. The people and places must be real.

Nonfiction isn’t a roller coaster.

It’s a maze and research is the author’s only map.

Newspaper articles, interviews, books, and (occasionally) Google.

This is how I contrast my experiences writing fiction versus writing nonfiction. First drafts of fiction dance off my keyboard.  Ideas pop into my head. My writing group asks “why did he do that?” about a character and in fiction, I can create the motivation. In nonfiction if I can’t find his motivation in my research, I can’t answer that question.  I can’t make up an actual  person’s motivations for his or her actions.

Most of my research comes from newspapers and interviews.

I have been researching a complex, creative nonfiction project for years. 

Set in the late 1960s and early 1970s, this creative nonfiction centers on the man who discovered an earthquake fault under the North Anna Nuclear Power Station in Virginia and ended up with a bullet in his head. 

It’s an exciting story with a thousand twists and turns, just like an intricate maze. 

Am I near the end of the maze or still in the center?  Only careful research will help me find my way.

 

Which is more satisfying as a writer? Fiction or nonfiction?

That’s like asking what is more satisfying to eat, dinner or dessert.

Why not try both?

 

Carolyn O’Neal is the author of:

KINGSLEY,

Honey I’m Yours,

Terry and the Monster-Beaters,

THAT WORD: Uterine Cancer from Diagnosis to Recovery.

 

Carolyn O’Neal was creative consultant for:

Boss of the Outer Banks

Ultimate Obsession

Why did God allow…Lesson from a Local Preacher

 

 

What Is Editing?

I keep thinking about editing. This may be because I’ve been having conversations about it. And from people’s responses, I’m seeing once again that “editing” is a chameleon word. It blends into its environment so much that it can have very little meaning of its own.

As a teenager, I was an editor for the school paper. Editing in that context meant assigning stories, laying out the pages, and writing an editorial for each issue. Oh, and polishing up the texts that came in from my fellow students. When I edited an online magazine at the turn of the 21st century, I had a similar collection of responsibilities, except that the sheets of newsprint had become web pages.

While planning and shaping content for a publication is definitely rewarding, that work usually comes hand in hand with the work of tracking down the articles, double-checking that all the intellectual property rights are secured, and other solid opportunities for hair-tearing. Nowadays, when I edit my clients’ books, presentations, and other manuscripts, I can focus on the writing — which is the best part.

hand holding a red pencil
Image by HeatherPaque from Pixabay,
altered by AMC

Even when it’s limited to the writing itself, though, the work of editing is unclear and often not well defined. Which raises the question – what is editing?

Ask two people what an editor does, and you’re likely to get a lot more than two answers, especially if those two people work in publishing. I did that the other day, actually — more on that in a minute.

To begin with, the worlds of writing and publishing recognize several distinct flavors, often including — from most specific to most general — proofreading, copyediting, line editing, and developmental editing. In the life of a published manuscript, those typically happen in reverse order, with copyediting the last step before the final proofread. Proofreading isn’t always included, but for our purposes we’ll include it as a form of editing, since a manuscript isn’t complete without it.

What’s a Line Edit?

Complicating things, those terms take on wildly different meanings depending who you’re dealing with. Take a look at the term “line edit.” Although this stage is likely where a majority of editing takes place, the online writing and publishing resource Reedsy doesn’t even include line editing in their categories of editing services. At Reedsy, a copyedit includes “consistency” and “attention to style/tone,” while a developmental edit embraces “major restructuring,” clarification, improvements to characterization, plot assessment, attention to craft, and more. I find Reedsy’s definitions baffling. By omitting one of the four steps, they scramble the timeline that begins with rough draft and ends with a polished manuscript that is ready for proofreading.

hand holding blue pencil
Image by HeatherPaque from Pixabay,
altered by AMC

The Editorial Freelancers Association distinguishes line editing from copyediting, saying “In copyediting you’d check things out and ask the author, ‘Why are you doing this?’ The line editor will simply go ahead and make the changes.” —Ally Machate, quoted in an EFA publication.

And the New York Book Editors delineate important distinctions, including when in the writing process the two occur. To them, copyediting is “like an incredibly high-end proofread,” while line editing takes place earlier and addresses “creative content, writing style, and language use at the sentence and paragraph level. …[focusing] on the way you use language to communicate your story to the reader.” They also use the term  “general” editing for this line editing stage. Others call it “content editing.”

The Four Stages • by Three Sages

Chatting over drinks on a recent spring evening, I asked two publishing colleagues what a “line edit” is, and they added some nice commentary. Not surprisingly, the two did not agree — at least at first. After a while, I think we came to a consensus. First, we zoomed out for a look at the four stages of the entire process of drafting and polishing a manuscript. Here’s what we came up with. (Feel free, of course, not to agree).

To us, the polishing process starts with developmental editing. Here, the editor works with a rough draft, and will generally ask the author more questions and make fewer alterations to the text, focusing on qualities like overall structure, narrative arc, character development (in fiction and in narrative nonfiction), voice, point of view, and shape.

The next stage occurs when the author has returned with a new draft, after incorporating the developmental editor’s suggestions. Now someone reviews and revises the manuscript to polish and clarify the text and sustain its momentum — which I call line editing. Craft, plot, character development and more can be enhanced here. Author queries show up at this stage, for larger questions for which there’s no clear answer. Whatever you call it, this the kind of editing I most enjoy. At this stage, the overall shape of the book is usually established (although there are exceptions – I’ve worked on projects where, late in the process,  the author agreed to move, add, and/or omit chapters and sections).

hand holding pencil
Image by HeatherPaque from Pixabay

Line editing can be iterative (as can developmental editing). Sometimes, after the first line edit, the author, excited about how much better their book can be, gets inspired to make further changes, to make the book even more effective. Another line edit follows, and so on.

After the author approves the final line edits, the manuscript is considered very close to complete. It will be typeset now, so it looks much the way it will when published. This often means the text moves from a word processing app like MS Word to a page layout app like InDesign. At this stage, the copyeditor zooms in on every sentence, looking for small errors and marking them all for correction: footnotes, bibliography, abbreviations, captions, capitalization, citations, titles, proper nouns, punctuation — these kinds of considerations. And if the work is to be produced according to an in-house stylesheet or style book (like Chicago, AP, or APA), this is where all those items get handled. A manuscript looks a lot more professional after a good copyedit.

Once all those fixes are made in the pages, another set of eyes is necessary before publication. Ideally, the proofreader sees the typeset manuscript for the first time at this point, and will often not interact with the author at all, as the changes remaining to be made are not considered controversial. (Some authors feel very strongly, however, about punctuation!) Spelling, grammar, punctuation, and consistent layout elements (like bulleted lists, for example) are generally the scope of the proofreader’s work. Often, an editor or production person supervises the proofreader. Proofreading comes last for a reason. No more edits can be made without risking the introduction of new errors.

As Deanna Griffin pointed out, the four overall stages we outlined — developmental edit / line or general edit or content edit / copyedit / proofread — occur in many life pursuits, not just writing. It’s a familiar progression, traveling from high altitude overview down to individual blades of grass.

Why Line Editing Is Fun

I find it a great pleasure to dig into a writer’s manuscript and help the meaning emerge. I love to adopt — temporarily — the writer’s tone of voice. It’s almost like immersing in a theatrical part.

hand holding blue pencil
Image by HeatherPaque from Pixabay,
altered by AMC

There are many creative aspects to line editing. It may seem surprising, but I can say that the a-ha moments I experience when I’m editing resemble the a-ha moments I have as a writer or composer. Sometimes a choice as small as replacing one preposition with another can make the author’s expression of an idea just click into place. Sometimes shuffling paragraphs around sharpens the focus. And sometimes landing on just the right verb can be amazingly rewarding. As my colleague, Abigail Wiebe, put it, the good editor is “hearing what the author is thinking.”

Which leads us to one essential fact in editing – it only happens after a writer writes something. To all the writers I have edited, and to all the writers whose work I hope to edit in the future, Thanks! Can’t do this without you. Seriously. Editors like me love to peel away the distractions and get to exactly what you want to say. It makes us happy.

Definitions of the stages of editing may be unhelpfully vague, but the impact those stages can have on a piece of writing is real. Maybe it’s because I was trained as a musician, but I love it when words sing. Helping that happen is such a great feeling! And everybody wins. My life thrives, the author’s intentions are fulfilled, and the reading public gets something new to enjoy.

— A M Carley writes fiction and nonfiction, and is a founding member of BACCA. Her company, Chenille Books, provides creative coaching and full-service editing to authors. Decks of 52 FLOAT Cards for Writers are available from Baine’s Books in Scottsville and Appomattox, VA, at the Chenille Books website, and on Amazon. Anne’s writer handbook, FLOAT • Becoming Unstuck for Writers, is available for purchase at Central Virginia booksellers and on Amazon. #becomingunstuck 

Of Bees and Books

Honeybees at River House Hives

I am a beekeeper. 

I began my first hive a few years ago and am happy to report that it is still going strong. Since then, I have acquired more. I’ve read countless articles about all the threats facing honeybees today.  From parasites to pesticides, from bears to beetles. According to one statistic, sixty-five percent of the honeybee hives in the state of Virginia died last winter. So my chances for honeybee success are pretty grim.  I can’t let the statistics discourage me.  I can’t let my passion for my honeybees end because of the naysayers. I enjoy working with honeybees regardless of the outcome.  I enjoy beekeeping.  Whether my bees thrive or perish.  Whether I harvest gallons of honey or none at all.  There is joy in the process. These industrious pollinators make our world a better place.

Carolyn O’Neal is the owner of River House Hives in Buckingham County

 

 

I am an author.

I self-published my first novel a few years ago and am happy to report that I have sales and positive reviews. Since then, I have self published more. I’ve read countless articles about the obstacles facing authors, especially self-published authors.  Endless marketing, low sales, no validation for the years of work.  So my chances for making a living as an author are pretty grim. I can’t let mere facts discourage me.  I can’t let my passion for writing end, even if no one outside friends and family read my books.  I enjoy writing.  I find it simultaneously relaxing and stimulating.  There is joy in the process. Books make our world a better place.

 

Carolyn O’Neal is the author of

KINGSLEY,

Honey I’m Yours,

Terry and the Monster-Beaters,

THAT WORD: Uterine Cancer from Diagnosis to Recovery.

Trickle of life

Recent health issues have had unexpected effects on my mental state. In particular, I have not been able to write or to actively read.  I reasoned that both my subconscious and conscious minds were working so hard on healing that my creativity and my discipline were being channeled, willy nilly, toward self-preservation and restoration.  Recently, I wrote a song about mourning the loss of my mother–another thing I had been able to do only a little, blinkered by the demands of my own cancer, its treatment, and its after-effects. I posted the poem and noticed how many of the responses to it came from people whom I knew were grieving a recent loss, and it occurred to me that others might be responding from losses I didn’t know about. The act of writing the song, the act of sharing my grief, and the feeling that I had touched other lives all combined to make me feel that something that had been frozen was beginning to thaw into a trickle of life. Shortly afterward, Mary Oliver died, causing me to consider how much of her poetry was an invitation to feel life as we live it. I don’t know when I will get back to writing in earnest, but I will not be the same writer I was, and I think that the experience of sharing “Song of Dawn” (my mother’s name was Dawn) and the poetry of Mary Oliver will be part of that difference.

I have felt the support of my fellow BACCA members throughout this time, and I am grateful for it.

The Troll and the Bully

Have you cultivated your relationships with your inner bully, troll, or monster? In my writer handbook, FLOAT • Becoming Unstuck for Writers, I include a tool named “Objection, Your Honor!” that acknowledges the presence of our own inner mean voices. The tool recommends scripting replies to the mean voices, and keeping them handy for when you are feeling susceptible.

For instance, to that classic challenge, Who do you think you are?, one of my clients created little signs he keeps posted in his workspace. Each sign contains the nasty question – and his response to it, in this case, “I’m the one writing this book.” A novelist I met got excited about saying back to her bully, “Who do I think I am? I’m the author of a four-volume saga. The first book has been well-received, and I’m already done with the first draft of book two, that’s who I think I am.”

I’ve been exploring this further, in conversations with clients and fellow writers, and continue to learn about these inner voices. As I mentioned in a blog post elsewhere, I’ve come to see that we can engage with these voices — give them a seat at the creative table. While it’s handy to keep our swift, pointed replies handy for use in a crunch, I recommend setting aside calmer moments now and then to initiate a dialogue.

Here are sample vignettes of imaginary conversations with the troll and the bully, followed by a sample re-write of the second one.

Auntie Troll

auntie troll walks inShe launches herself into the library and commandeers the one comfortable chair, opposite you. Adjusting herself and her shawls and scarves, she begins, with her sweet, insinuating voice:

“You look busy, dear. Too busy. What’s your hurry? Where’s the fire? Speaking of fire, there’s a lovely tea shop nearby with a fireplace open to two sides. We’re sure to get a table there. Wouldn’t it be nice to treat yourself to a cozy afternoon? Surely this so-called work you obsess on can wait. Who’s paying you for this, anyway?”

“It’s creative writing. I haven’t sold it yet. At the moment I’m writing it.”

“Ah. I see. So let’s pack up your things, dear, and head to the tea shop. You won’t begrudge your auntie a cup of tea will you?”

Powerless to oppose her, you notice yourself packing up your notebook and laptop. As you hold the door open for her, you wonder how she was able to derail your writing session with just a couple of sentences.

This is troll behavior, intruding on your work session, diverting you with promises of comfort and ease, and, for good measure, adding a nice dollop of straight-up guilt.

Here’s another vignette.

The Bully

He’s there when you arrive. Lying in wait, it feels like. He speaks first, issuing the challenge.

drawing of an alien-looking creature the bully“There you are.”

“Am I late?” You realize, as soon as you speak, that you’ve blundered already by showing weakness.

“Late? Who’s to say? This is all so free form, who can say if you’re on time? Or years too late? Can you look me in the eye and promise me this project of yours is ever going to see the light of day?”

He looks like he’s enjoying this.

“Uh.” You feel so useless. Where’s the energy you had ten minutes ago?

“Right. Moving on. And if it does — say, for example, you get it printed yourself — can you explain to me how it’s going to be seen by anyone who doesn’t already know you?”

“Uh.” Well, he’s got you there.

“Say no more, buddy. Say no more.”

You exit, looking nearly as dejected and discouraged as you are feeling. No more writing for you, on this day or the next several days, as it turns out.

So far, this is a classic bullying session, which may even ring a few uncomfortably familiar notes.

The Bully 2.0

Now we’ll bring the scene in for a re-write, to turn the scene into an actual conversation.

Bully: “There you are.”

You: “Hey, good to see you. I’ve been wanting to have a chat.”

“You have? You want to talk to me?”

“Yeah. I’ve been thinking maybe we have more in common than I thought we did.”

“Well, yeah. Maybe. I mean, I am a part of you.”

“You raise an interesting point. I’ve always thought of you as the bully, this character from outside who somehow got inside my head and exists to disrupt my creative flow by questioning and diminishing all my ideas.”

“Wow. That hurts.”

“Excuse me? Are you telling me you have feelings?”

“I’m part of you. Do you have feelings? You do the math.”

“Well, that’s — a new perspective. Uh, what do you want me to call you? Do you have a name?”

“Call me BB.”

“Tell me more, BB. I need to understand how it is that you and I are on the same side.”

He sighs, whether more from relief or impatience it’s hard to tell.

“All right. I’m going to overlook – for now –  the fact that you have maintained a hostile attitude and basically wished I would just go away. That said, I will now explain how this works. Pay attention. I don’t intend to repeat myself.”

“I’m listening.”

“Let me ask you this — why do you think I ask you about whether your project will ever see the light of day?”

“To make me feel small and inadequate and sap my energy?”

“Okay, that’s one interpretation, I guess….try this on for size, instead. First of all, in case you aren’t aware, I’ve been with you all along. Ever since you’ve been here. Since before you could talk, or form sentences.”

“Huh. How is that rele–”

“So it’s relevant because it occurs to me that we may need to update my settings.”

“Your settings? What are you? A robot? A chip implanted in my brain? What the –?”

“Basically, you sent me away a long long time ago.”

“I did what?”

“I can see you need some deep background before this can make sense. You think of me as your bully because you effectively froze me into a role that I played when you were a kid. Technically, when we were a kid.”

“Froze you into a role?”

scared kid 11289228893_ee995ca3f4_z“Okay, so remember when life at school got really hard?”

“Which time? The playground bully, or the weird neighbor, or the monster teacher? Or something else?”

“I was thinking of the playground bully. what was that – third grade?”

“Yeah. Sounds right.”

“Didn’t have a lot of defenses then, huh? Didn’t want to involve the parents, who had their own problems. Kept switching schools, so no time to make close friends.”

“It was a lonely time.”

“Agreed. So my job became keeping you alert to danger. I was protecting us. Better to be ready when the next bad thing happened.”

“Be prepared, and all that.”

“Right. So I think you didn’t like how it felt, having me on the lookout like that all the time. So you put me in a corner of the attic somewhere and shut the door. And ever since then, all I’ve been able to say, or at least all you’ve been able to hear me say, are warnings of gloom and doom and failure. There was a time when that was helpful. I’d like you to understand that.”

“This is weird. But yeah, I can get that when I was a defenseless kid you were helping me out by looking out for trouble. It’s just that nowadays, that’s not what I need. From anyone — part of me or friend or stranger — anyone. What I need now is support of another kind.”

“What kind of support?”

“If we went back to the first question you asked me today — do I really think my writing project will ever see the light of day — could we look at things differently? Like, if you want to look out for me nowadays, ask me what I’m doing to cultivate my author platform and build buzz about the book before it’s even done. Encourage me to become a better literary citizen, keeping in touch with the people I know and want to know. Help me to venture into uncomfortable situations, introduce myself to authors I respect, post book reviews online, link to other writers and publications in my blog and newsletters, all of that.”

“Hmmm. I guess that makes sense. You know more about this writing and publishing stuff than I do. I’ll need to get up to speed, but I get the gist. Looking for existential threats isn’t the order of the day now, is it?”

“Nope. Not helpful.”

“Let’s do this again, okay?”

“It’s a deal, BB.”

–end scene–

smiling 11165453423_420ed1164b_z

Might it be worthwhile to check in with your own versions of the inner bully, troll, and/or monster? Might it be an interesting exercise to initiate a conversation?

Just as with the bully and the troll in these vignettes, you may be able to spot your versions of these characters delivering some script lines that are in urgent need of rewriting. And who better for that task than a writer?

— A M Carley writes fiction and nonfiction, and is a founding member of BACCA. Her company, Chenille Books, provides book coaching and manuscript development services to authors. Decks of 52 FLOAT Cards for Writers are available from Baine’s Books in Scottsville and Appomattox, VA, at the Chenille Books website, and on Amazon. Anne’s writer handbook, FLOAT • Becoming Unstuck for Writers, is available for purchase at Central Virginia booksellers and on Amazon. #becomingunstuck 

— All images courtesy the British Museum on flickr

— Special thanks to Artie Wu of Preside Meditation for his way of framing conversations with our “inner board members.”

Turn! Turn! Turn! – A Writer Group Evolves

I could practically hear The Byrds harmonizing to McGuinn’s twanging 12-string, doing their famous rendition of Pete Seeger’s song adapted from the Book of Ecclesiastes. The morning of our annual June retreat, our writer group received the news that one of our own would not be joining us for the weekend. In fact, she was leaving the writer group altogether.

Her note was moving and heartfelt. Good things in her life were superseding her writing in importance. I knew this to be true. I shed some tears and thought about how different the weekend was now going to be. So much depended on the four of us who remained.

I felt optimistic, because we already had some experience with changes. We got started back in 2011, when four of us attended a fiction class at WriterHouse , our local writing nonprofit, and decided to continue as a critique group. We adopted – and then adapted – the critique guidelines from Luke Whisnant that our teacher had recommended to the class, and established a reliable monthly schedule which we all observed.

Gang of Four

We thrived as a foursome for a number of years. We wrote, published, funded our projects, promoted them, and all the while sent in monthly segments of new work for discussion. We grew as writers, and as a group. We even did a series of public presentations on the benefits of committing to a writer group.

the first BACCA logo (2011) with four berries on it

Our original logo, for the four-writer membership

Then one of us made some big changes to her life. She got married, accepted a new professorship at a university far from our base in Charlottesville, and had a baby. The combined distance, responsibilities, and changed focus meant she could only meet with us sometimes, and via Skype, not face to face in the usual coffee shops, offices, and living rooms where we congregated.

Changing Numbers

So, in effect, we were a more often a group of three than four. Undaunted, we put out the word that we sought a new writer to join us. A few interviews later, we wound up with not one but two engaging new voices to join the chorus.

The six of us rallied for one final retreat, all together, last summer in Virginia. Then our far-flung writer announced that it was unlikely she’d be able to join us in future, even by Skype, what with teaching, the baby, and a forthcoming academic book in the works.

It made total sense, and we helped where we could, beta-reading portions of her book, and cooing over photos of the new baby. We missed her, each in our own ways, and welcomed the two new writers to our circle. We evolved.

A new five-member vibe emerged. Then another of our original writers let us know she’d be withdrawing for a time. She had exigent priorities, related to the events of 12 August 2017. Those of you not in the Charlottesville, VA area may not have felt the urgency that the day created among many of us to do something in the wake of the horror and violence. In the aftermath, our writer was drawn to investigate, and withdrew for a time from the rhythm of sending in several thousand words per month to our writer group. We supported her decision, needless to say. In fact, many questions remain, almost a year later, about who did what – and did not do what – to and for whom on that day, not to mention what factors led to the conditions that resulted in so much harm – to individual people and to the community.

So we were, temporarily, four. Knowing that our fifth writer was likely to return, we left an extra seat at the table for six months or so. Sadly, at the end of her leave of absence, she had found no resolution. Like many Charlottesvillians, she discovered the answers to her questions remained stubbornly out of reach.

She rejoined active participation in our group, once again a circle of five writers. It felt good. The number gave us more flexibility. If one of us were out of town, we still had a satisfying foursome at the monthly critique. I remember reflecting that our writer group had its own life force, its own reason for being. In addition, we each demonstrated our care for the group itself, tending to it with kindness and intelligence.

Life went on this way for a little while. Earlier this year, we all anticipated the retreat, scheduled for mid-June. As in prior years, we’d rented a place, planned shared activities, along with ample solitary time, and looked forward to sharing dinners assembled in the kitchen, enjoyed by all.

Then on the morning of what was to be our first day together, we got the email. Our instigator, the person who in 2011 first invited three other writers to do a critique, had come to the end of the road with BACCA. Just as had happened a year before with the new mother / academic transplant, her reasons were overwhelmingly positive and beyond reproach. As I re-read the email, I saw how happy her life had become. A new career, marriage, a home in the country – all these developments were worthy of celebration.

Now We Are Four – Again

When the remaining four of us met up at the retreat, we all had some adjusting to do. Now half of us were old-timers – around since 2011 – and half of us had been involved for eighteen months or so. What effects would that new balance have on our equilibrium?

It didn’t take long to find out. By the next day, at our scheduled critique meeting, we found ourselves already functioning as an effective, collegial, purposeful, compassionate, and committed group of four.

Happily, as do the other BACCA writers, I remain connected to the two writers who have departed from active involvement with the group. It is a great pleasure to know both of these fellow writers, now friends, and to enjoy the conversational styles and senses of humor unique to each of them. I am filled with admiration for the ways each of them has designed a life that gives them joy.

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We’re keeping the six-berry logo.

Turn, Turn, Turn

And as for BACCA, once again, our shared intention to serve the group overcame the uncertainty. As the song goes, to everything there is a season. Once again, BACCA reconfigured itself and evolved. May your writer group do the same.

— A M Carley writes fiction and nonfiction, and is a founding member of BACCA. Her company, Chenille Books, provides creative coaching and manuscript development services to authors. Decks of 52 FLOAT Cards for Writers are available from Baine’s Books in Scottsville and Appomattox, VA, at the Chenille Books website, and on Amazon. Anne’s writer handbook, FLOAT • Becoming Unstuck for Writers, is available for purchase at Central Virginia booksellers and on Amazon. #becomingunstuck 

Searching for Dr. Funkhouser

Finding Fault

All I wanted was to research manmade earthquakes.  I was pulling together ideas for a new novel about villains  triggering an earthquake under a nuclear power plant.  I had visions of them rubbing their hands together as they watched chaos unfold. But how could I research such a thing?  Where would I go to find something as unlikely, as farfetched, and as absolutely insane as a nuclear power plant built on top of an earthquake fault? Well, lucky for me, there’s one in nearby Louisa County, Virginia.

North Anna Nuclear Power Station

North Anna Nuclear Power Station. Photo is from image of the North Anna Nuclear Power Station at the front entrance of the visitor’s center in Louisa County.

The North Anna Nuclear Power Plant was announced in The Daily Progress in 1968 and a couple of years later, after clearing and excavation had begun, a geology professor named John W. Funkhouser discovered the earthquake fault. That was in February, 1970.  I found many interesting articles about the building of the nuclear power plant and the discovery of the fault but one that really stuck out was a small piece about what happened to Funkhouser three years after he discovered the fault.  He was murdered on December 3, 1974 via a single gunshot to the head.

Professor Funkhouser taught geology at John Tyler Community College in Chesterfield, Virginia. He was scheduled to testify before the Atomic Energy Commission (now called the Nuclear Regulatory Commission) in early 1975, but his murder quashed that appearance.  Twenty-four year old unemployed electrician Ray W. Cook, Jr. was convicted of his murder. The more I read, the more questions arose.  What brought Funkhouser to the power plant’s construction site back in 1970?  How did he uncover the fault?  What happened after he told the Virginia Electric and Power Company?

I tried to return to researching for my novel. I found reports of certain human activities triggering earthquakes. Activities such as damming a river to create a massive lake on a previously quiet earthquake fault. This is what geologists call reservoir-induced earthquakes. The construction of Hoover Dam, for instance, created Lake Mead in a part of the country with no previous record of seismicity. Even before the lake was completely full, people reported feeling the ground shake. Another suspect is fracking. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, “wastewater produced by the hydraulic fracturing process can cause induced earthquakes when it is injected into deep wastewater wells.”  I contacted geologists and a couple of engineers to ask about the plausibility of my villain’s dastardly scheme. Yes, they speculated, a lake on a fault line plus fracking might trigger an earthquake, so I was rather pleased with myself as I moved forward with writing the first few chapters.

But this man, this Professor John W. Funkhouser, the man who discovered the fault under the North Anna Nuclear Power Plant and was murdered, kept surfacing in my mind.

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Photo from the Washington and Lee University yearbook, class of 1947. Taken when Dr. Funkhouser was 21 years old.

Who was he? What was his background? I searched the internet and found articles about Funkhouser and about his murder, including a copy of his death certificate.  I faced the fact that I had to set aside my fictional story.  I had to investigate the real one.  I printed out the death certificate.  Funkhouser was murdered in his home at the Chester Town House Apartments in Chesterfield, Virginia.  I searched online for Chester Town House Apartments but found nothing.  Since the murder was back in 1974, the apartment complex could have changed its name or may have been torn down.  That led me to contact the Chesterfield Planning Department and the Chesterfield Historical Society.  Indeed, the name of the apartment complex had changed.  I typed the new name into Google Maps. There it was.  I typed in John Tyler Community College. The apartments were about eight miles from the campus.  Professor Funkhouser was slowly becoming a real person.  This was where he lived. This was where he taught. This was where he died.  Each new discovery made me want to learn more.

Court Records

I’d never asked for court records before.  I’ve been on a jury but that was my only brush with the world of judges, prosecuting attorneys, and witnesses.  I had to do a bit of research even to know where to start. I wanted detail about the trial of Ray W. Cook, Jr.  Maybe trial transcripts would give me insight into why he shot Professor Funkhouser. I went to the Chesterfield County website and found what I needed.  I contacted the Clerk of Court, The Honorable Wendy S. Hughes, via email and quickly received a polite reply from Karla Viar, Criminal Division Supervisor/Pre-Court, Chesterfield Circuit Court Clerk’s Office. She told me that they’d pulled the files from the murder trial and had them available for me. I emailed Karla. I’d be there the next afternoon.

The drive from my home in Charlottesville to the Chesterfield Circuit Court took a bit over an hour.  I parked, grabbed my purse and notebook, and headed to the door. I didn’t know what to expect. Would they hand me a small file with one flimsy document? Would they have a thick file with stacks of evidence?  My plan was to take photos of each page with my cell phone. That seemed the easiest.  I stepped into the courthouse and was greeted by baggage scanners and armed guards.  “No cell phones. No cameras of any sort allowed in the court house.”  I returned to the car and dropped off my purse.  I returned with only my keys, my notebook, and a pen.  That’s all. This time, I made it through security.

Chesterfield County Court Building

Chesterfield Circuit Court

Ms. Viar was good to her word. The file was waiting for me.  I opened it and began writing.  I wrote down every word.  “Form No. 716 (REV) Virginia: In the Chesterfield General District Court January 29th, 1975, Commonwealth of Virginia V. Ray William Cook, Jr. Order This day came the Attorney for the Commonwealth, and ….” after writing a few full pages my hand began it cramp. The clerk assigned to sit with me while I had the file must have felt pity on me.  “Um, you know we can make copies for you,” she said.  “Fifty cents a page.”

“Do you take credit cards?”

“Yes.”

I ran back to my car for my wallet.  It took an hour or so for her to make and compile all the copies. She copied over fifty pages, most letter length but a few legal papers.  There was also a brown envelope taped closed in the file. “What’s that?” I asked.

“Sealed documents.”

“What do I have to do to get a look inside?”

“You need approval from the judge.”

“What judge?”

“Judge Hauler.”

I wrote down that name.  The information I had in my hands was already pretty incendiary. The copies I held contained details of the crime, a handwritten confession, and a photo; I could only imagine what the sealed documents might hold.  Looks like I had some more legal research ahead of me. How to request a judge to unseal court documents?  I’d work on that when I got home.

I still had a couple hours of daylight left so I drove over to the John Tyler Community College campus, where Professor Funkhouser had taught. It was winter break. I asked a guard where the geology building was and he sent me in the right direction.  I had researched enough about John W. Funkhouser to know he was a brilliant man.  Magna Cum Laude at Washington and Lee and a scholarship to Stanford University for his PhD where he was an Atomic Energy Fellow.  After graduation, he was hired by Carter Oil (part of Esso/Standard Oil) and was sent on expedition to South America where he revolutionized the field of paleopalynology.  In the mid 1960’s, he left big oil for small academia.  Peeking through the windows into the dark and empty classrooms I couldn’t help but be struck by the loss.

I still had one more stop before heading back to Charlottesville. I wanted to see the old Chester Townhouse Apartments. I wanted to see where Professor Funkhouser had lived and where he had died. At the very least, I wanted to drive the route he’d taken when he left work at John Tyler Community College and headed home on that final day in 1974.

The apartment complex was laid out like a tree with a road down the middle and cul-de-sacs branching out on either side. I drove down the first cul-de-sac.  Some of the two-story townhouses were larger than others, perhaps an extra bedroom.  I wanted to take a photo so I’d remember.  I didn’t want people or cars in the photo so I found a quiet townhouse and snapped my cell phone camera. I drove to the next cul-de-sac and saw a sign for the apartment complex’s office.

The young woman who greeted me wasn’t even born when Professor Funkhouser died. The office was a converted townhome, a showroom for potential renters to see before they sign.  I asked when the complex was built and she guessed in the 70’s or 80’s.  I asked if I could look around.  She encouraged it.  I wandered through the kitchen as if it were Professor Funkhouser’s, touching the surfaces as if he had touched them.  He was shot in his kitchen. I’d seen the photo in the court records.  He was killed at 4:30 in the afternoon, dressed in a white shirt and dark pants, his pocket protector neatly in his breast pocket, still filled with pencils and pens.  I returned to my car and drove to the next cul-de-sac and to the next one after that.  Up and down the streets, not knowing what I was looking for.  Clues to which townhouse was his, I guess. Something that looked different from the rest, something that would say a genius once lived here.

I was ready to set my GPS for home when it dawned on me that somewhere buried in the court records had to be his apartment number. Yes, the name of the apartment complex had changed and maybe the numbering had too, but I had to give it a try.  I found his address in the Virginia Uniform Traffic Summons, a report filled out by the detective who arrested Mr. Cook.  The number was there.  Five digits.  I started reading the townhouse addresses. They fit the same five digit pattern. I retraced my steps, winding back through the apartment complex, carefully reading the addresses until I returned to where I had begun at the very first cul-de-sac.   I looked at each number. Not that one.  Not that one.  Then I found it.  There it was. The address was on the front door. I rechecked the summons.  Yes, it was the same number.  Wait a minute.  I checked my cell phone. There was something familiar with that particular townhouse.  I opened up the photo gallery. I enlarged the photo I’d taken when I first arrived.  Could this be Dr. Funkhouser’s townhouse?  There must have been forty or fifty townhomes in the complex, how did I happen to take a photo of his? What were the odds? I reread the number on the front door and immediately felt a connection.  All the time I had spent searching for Dr. Funkhouser and he had found me.

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Photo taken from my car window.

Carolyn O’Neal is continuing her research on the life and death of Professor John W. Funkhouser.  She wrote Judge Hauler of Chesterfield County and did indeed receive permission to open the sealed files.  From those files, she was able to track down a witness and interview him face-to-face.  She has also interviewed (via phone) Dr. Funkhouser’s daughter and one of his John Tyler Community College students.  Carolyn would like to connect with anyone who had worked at the North Anna Power Plant when it was under construction or lived nearby.  She would also like to find anyone involved with the North Anna Environmental Coalition.  And of course, she would like to talk to anyone who knew Dr. John W. Funkhouser.  Contact Carolyn at carolynoneal@comcast.net

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Happy New Writing Year

BACCA writers, like many writers, want to get our best work out of the shortest amount of time. How do we do that?

Planning

One way is to plan ahead. Like really ahead. A whole year’s worth of planning.

To mark the start of this new year, I worked on a new method to organize the time in a writer’s year. Then, with my colleague and fellow writing coach Ginger Moran, I co-facilitated a workshop on the subject, sponsored by SWAG Writers and hosted at the public library.  We met in Staunton, Virginia with a group of writers dedicated enough to attend our session despite subfreezing temperatures and bleak skies.

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The poster for our Staunton writer event. Thanks, Maggie Duncan.

Ginger and I talked about how to embrace being a creative person; how to resolve to make changes in the face of our own hardwired fear of change; how to make realistic, doable lists, and how to consider the variety of tasks that make up writing, publishing, and marketing.

We introduced a hierarchy of first choosing one big step for the year and then working backward, identifying medium steps, and within those, tiny, doable steps.

The cover of FLOAT • Becoming Unstuck for Writers

A M Carley’s handbook for writers, available at Central Virginia booksellers and online.

After Ginger’s excellent remarks on being a creative person, paradoxically both bold and sensitive, I began by quoting someone – was it Thomas Edison? – who said (more or less), “I haven’t failed. I’ve discovered ten thousand ways that didn’t work.” I love that attitude. It’s on us as creative people to remember the longer view of our projects, goals, and creative intentions. We can learn from all of it, not just the glowing successes. It gives us hope to get up in the morning and reminds us how much value there is in the things that went sideways, and can still be really useful.

The How-To’s

Drawing on some helpful ideas from my writer’s handbook, FLOAT • Becoming Unstuck for Writers, I expanded on a couple of FLOAT tools.

List Hygiene

Lists can be your friends, and they can torture you. The key is that for each item you put on a list, you’ll be able to know with absolute certainty when it’s complete. That means precision and compassion. Being specific with yourself, so that you know when you are done. When we’re looking ahead at the year, list hygiene can make all the difference.

Recap Routine

Remember, counterintuitively, always to look back at what you’ve done. We’re built not to appreciate our achievements, and we tend to forget them quickly. So we can complement our innate dismissals and stop to notice. “Oh, we did some good work there.” Or, “I didn’t get any good work done but I knocked three things off the list and cleared my head for tomorrow.” With a recap routine in place, it won’t feel like you need to flog yourself to keep going. Keep in touch with your basic vision, your channel, your source. Set aside time to appreciate what you’ve done. Then, once it becomes habit, the practice becomes so rewarding it reinforces itself.

I touched on a couple more FLOAT tools that haven’t made it (yet) into the book.

Getting Real

The purpose of our workshop was to encourage each person to develop a 12-month itinerary for their writing journey, beginning with the one big step that mattered most to them for the entire year. In that light, I wanted to say a few words about being realistic when setting goals. I suggested that writers meet in the middle, between grandiose and boringly doable. You want to come up with something that’s stretchy enough, so you hear yourself say, “I’m not sure I can do this,” and also grounded enough that you can say,”It’s possible.” If, instead, you know that even if everything went brilliantly, that goal would still not be possible, I recommend you don’t set yourself that goal. Doing so wouldn’t be fair, and might well stretch to the breaking point, snap, and leave you sad rather than exhilarated.

Clock It

Can you estimate your available time resources? Do you know how much time you actually have to devote to this year’s big step? Before you commit to a stretch goal, it’s useful to know how much time you’ll actually be able to devote to it. If you’re not aware of where your time goes, it’s a good exercise to keep track of everything you do for one week. Although it can feel like really annoying busywork, it’s really informative. Clocking the actual time we spend on all the different parts of our lives helps us see where the time goes. It also shows us what turns out to be important to us. For example, if I underestimate how much time I spend reading, or listening, to the news, I’m not being helpful to myself. And, by the way, I’m not doing this to go, “A-ha! That’s what I’m doing wrong!” It doesn’t need to be about self-criticism. Instead, it’s about getting a handle on what your time resources really are. Once you block out the time you know you don’t have, you’ll find out how much time is available for writing. And that’s part of being realistic.

After Ginger and I spoke, everyone got to work. Judging from the questions and comments from participants, progress was made. And, as Ginger was careful to point out, the next step after planning out the year’s big step, medium steps, and tiny steps is to enter them all into your working calendar. You know, so you’ll remember that big vision and do the incremental tasks that bring it to fruition. Hey, this could work!

Do you have a stretch goal for your writing in 2018? Happy New Writing Year!

— A M Carley writes fiction and nonfiction, and is a founding member of BACCA. Her company, Chenille Books, provides creative coaching and manuscript development services to authors. Decks of 52 FLOAT Cards for Writers are available from Baine’s Books in Scottsville and Appomattox, VA, at the Chenille Books website, and on Amazon. Anne’s writer handbook, FLOAT • Becoming Unstuck for Writers, is available for purchase at Central Virginia booksellers and on Amazon. #becomingunstuck 

Marketing My Self Published Book: A first-time author’s journey

First things first

Before any public appearances, clarify your on-line/social media message.  Who are you? What is your book about? Is it funny? Romantic? Dramatic? Does your book reflect your passions? Your message should be in your on-line presence. I have a website, an author Facebook page, and a twitter account.  That’s where readers go to learn about me and my novel, KINGSLEY.

Getting Book Signings on the Calendar

Indie Bookstores are a great place for indie authors.  But, be forewarned, they sometimes have problems with selling self-published… and they have a good reason: Amazon is their biggest competitor.   This can be a problem is you are using Create Space to print your book.

ON THE OTHER HAND…. Independent coffeehouses that also sell books are very accommodating and lots of fun.  Owners and managers are always looking for events to bring people in.  And customers in coffeehouses are looking for reading material.  Even if customers don’t buy my book right away, I’ve told them about my novel and given them a flyer.

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Generally my take  from the book sales is split 80-20 (I get 80%, they get 20%), especially if they are processing credit cards. But keep in mind that the purpose of this book signing isn’t just about the money.  The real purpose is to get your name and book out there.  Expand your reach to different geographical areas if you can afford the time and cost of travel.

How to make contact

Stopping in the coffeehouse for a drink and a bite to eat is the best introduction!   See the set up and talk to the staff.  Perhaps even talk with the manager.  If you can’t talk face to face, most coffeehouses have websites. Send them an email!  Here is an example:

Hi Nick,

I am a local author- I live in Charlottesville-and I was wondering if Milli Joe’s is interested in hosting a book signing. I would take care of publicity and would bring everything needed.

My novel is set in Virginia – including Charlottesville- so there is lots of local interest.

I hope we can work out a date.

Thank you very much,
Carolyn O’Neal
Carolynoneal@comcast.net

Say you get something like this in response:

Hi Carolyn,

Glad to hear you’re interested in hosting your signing at Milli!  I’m definitely very interested, we’ve hosted a couple in the past & I really enjoy this kind of thing.  We do have to be somewhat selective in booking these events to make sure they send the kind message we can get behind as an organization.  Could you tell me a little about the book?  Thanks!
Nick
Now the ball is back in your court:
Hi Nick,
Thank you so much for getting back to me.  I am an environmentalist so I usually write ecologically-themed fiction.  KINGSLEY is the title of my novel.   It’s set in Virginia (including Charlottesville) and centers on a 14 year old boy (named Kingsley) facing an environmentally driven pandemic. Comparable titles would be Margaret Atwood’s MaddAddam Trilogy in that KINGSLEY starts in the present and ends around 40 years in the future.   I would recommend KINGSLEY to readers 14 years old or older.  I does have some complex science but no explicit sex or violence.
You can read more about KINGSLEY, including reviews, on Amazon at: http://amzn.to/28PfNhL
I’ve attached the flyer that I hand out at book signings.  You’ll notice that there’s a bee on the cover.  I tell people stopping by my table that in KINGSLEY,  I have taken the real world devastation of the honeybees and moved it up the food chain to humans.  This usually get their attention.  Everyone walks away with something from my table, whether it is a book, flyers from my favorite environmental groups, or insight into how they can help preserve the honeybees.
I’m flexible on date and time for the book signing.
Best regards,
Carolyn O’Neal
Set the Date and Time for this book signing and start the process again for your next book signing.

Note: This is where some prep work comes in handy.  I mentioned handing out flyers at book signings.  Flyers are also a good to give to the coffeehouse manager as an introduction to you and your book.  They should tell readers something about your book, including the cover, and contact information.

Single flyer

Drop off flyers at the coffeehouse a week before the book signing so customers will know you’re coming.  Be sure your social media is ready so customers can read about you and your book in advance.  Contact local newspapers and post your book signing on their events calendars.  Post the event on all your social media and ask friends and family to share.  Send emails about the event to everyone you know and tell everyone you see.

Finally, be prepared for whatever happens, whether you sell all the copies of your book or none at all.  You’ve spread the word and sharpened your pitch.   Pick yourself up and contact another coffeehouse and set another date.

Practice, practice, practice.

Prepping for your book signing….  Coming in my next blog post