Tuesday, April 30, 2013

People Who Make It Possible #1: My Editor

Welcome to the first installment of "People Who Make It Possible". In this series, I want to highlight the people who've helped me make Vessel what it is today. 

When I first met Beau Prichard, I was terrified. Beau is a thirty-something transplant from New Zealand, a mystery author, and a theater director---not exactly my target audience. But in the summer of 2010, he agreed to edit a very large, very precious stack of paper for me.

I feared that it would be the dumbest thing he'd ever read.  

It wasn't. But it wasn't perfect, either. After spending a month deconstructing Advent, Beau met with me and went through every page, indicating clunky sentences, glaring plot inconsistencies, and cliches---but also pointing out the story's strengths. He knew what he was doing, and he brought into sharp focus what had been only vague issues to me. He also went about it with a wonderfully easygoing and enthusiastic manner, and that caused something important to happen. I left that meeting knowing that I was ready, that my book was ready. I left knowing that it was a book--a book that needed some edits, sure, but a book. Not a project, not a manuscript, but a book. All because this relative stranger saw potential in it. Beau didn't treat the edit like a job, ticking off grammar mistakes as he went. He got into it. He wanted to see Vessel move forward once it left his hands, and that showed in every notation he made.

After getting to know him a little better since then, I recognize that that's just his style. When Beau edits something--whether it's a novel draft or a fully realized play script--he doesn't just aim to make it correct and airtight. He wants the work to succeed. I wasn't at all terrified when I handed over Exodus, because I knew he wanted to help make it the best it could be---and that he had the skills to do so. If you're a writer, author, playwright, or general professional in need of editing, proofreading, or ghostwriting, you can email Beau at xgollum@gmail.com. And now, some words from the man himself. On to the Q&A!

Howdy, Beau. First off, aside from editing and other professional services, you're an author, too. Tell us about some of the books you've written. 
BP: I have written (almost) three novels about Seattle Private Investigator Kevin Adams. He's an unapologetic asshole, and people love him for it, which constantly surprises me. It wasn't until after I'd been trying to sell the first book, Elegy, for years, that I realized what a disservice I'd done in terms of saleability by making him such a difficult character. The people that love him really, really do, but literary agents look at him and are immediately turned off because he's not ever going to be really widely appealing. I haven't quite finished the third one, at least partly because I still don't have a title, but it's mostly done, and it'll be out before the end of the year. The first two Kevin Adams books, Elegy and In Absentia, are about a suicide and a runaway, respectively. Both are available for Kindle and Elegy is in print. The sequel will be available in paperback before the end of the year. The books have a lot of local flavor and detail, Kevin's running commentary is snide and often funny, and the mysteries are really grounded in reality. I also get a LOT of compliments on the supporting cast. Kevin knows lots of people, and many of them are very colorful. 
My other two novels are presently only on Kindle. One is a serial killer thriller called Auburn Grave that is a fast, mean read. The other, The Author, is a slow-burn horror novel that I'm really proud of. One of the main characters is kind of a mashup of some relatively well-known writers, and periodically he pontificates about where ideas come from, what writing is for, and so on. It was really fun to write, and I think it's a really satisfying read. 
You've edited both Advent and Exodus in the Vessel series---splendidly, might I add. What draws you to editing? What is the process like for you?  
BP: I have, and I'm still very proud of my thank-you in the back of Advent and the cheerleading that I did while you were on that particular adventure! When I was thinking about it, I just realized that my first editing gig was much longer ago than I'd thought. My entire family, except me, is dyslexic, so I proofread everything before it left the house: resumes, Christmas letters, you name it. 
I love collaborating, and I've found that I'm able to help people create the best version of their work without me intruding into it. One of my biggest frustrations as a writer is when editors get contagious. "What I'd do is..." Yeah, but it's not your damn book! I've helped poets turn short works into plays, I've helped people find words they never knew they had, and I get to use bits and pieces of that when I work in theater as well. To me it's all storytelling. Editing is when I help others tell their own stories. It's incredibly satisfying to see an end result and know that it's a better, truer version of itself because I helped. 
The process varies from writer to writer. I worked on a book late last year that was a very rough first draft, so I helped the writer shape that a lot more than, say, the Vessel books, which were finished products, just not completely polished. On a script I just helped on, I recommended moving several events around, which will make the story move more dramatically, and which means I'll do another edit after the writer has tinkered some more. So I guess one answer is "it depends." By and large, however, I get a printed version of the manuscript, I go through it with red pen, tell you what I really like, highlight word choices I think are exceptional, or ones that are not as strong as they could be, and point out sentences, passages, and so on, that don't work, that need to be streamlined, and so on. Depending on what the writer wants, I'll either then sit down with him or her and go over the notes in person, as I do with Tom, or I'll input them in a digital manuscript as notes and tracked changes, so the author can go over them at leisure. I always start with what the writer wants, though. Some of them are finished enough that they won't or can't or don't want to make big changes; they just want to make sure everything's spelled right and what-have-you. 
I know you've worked on both fiction and non-fiction books. Is there a particular genre you prefer to edit, or do you like to mix it up? 
BP: I've started doing edits and script doctoring for screenplays, too! I'm going to split the difference and say I like editing "narrative" best. The non-fiction I've done is largely books on teaching and finance, so I don't like those as much because there isn't a story. I'm reading narrative non-fiction right now, The Devil in the White City, and I'd LOVE to edit a book like that. 
What are some things you'd advise aspiring authors to do to make your job easier? 
BP: I have a couple of pretty standard responses, but it's advice in general, not as it relates to me or my job so much. 
One is don't wuss out. I've done first passes on books for writers who have never followed up, and it wasn't because I crushed their spirits! They got busy, they got distracted, etc. You're a writer or you're not. If you have a story to tell, it should be a compulsion, not an option. If that's not true for you, then I hate to tell you, but you're a hobbyist. Stephen King says that you write because not to do so would be suicide. Those are the writers I like working with. That is the really polite way of saying "don't waste my time." 
The second thing I tell aspiring authors is to have some confidence. I've worked with a number of writers who tell wonderful stories, but who aren't sure of themselves. I work in theater as well, and I can tell you the rule is the same. You'll get a lot more gigs if you walk into an audition like you've already got the role. There is very little point in sitting down to write if you aren't very sure you're going to rock it. So keep reminding yourself that you're awesome. 
Finally, you need help. I don't care who you are, I don't care how good you are, you can't be creative in a vacuum. I think I'm an excellent editor, but I can't edit my own work at all. You get too close to it, at some point you have to come up for air and get a third party's feedback. It's not easy, but I meet lots of writers who are convinced they can keep at it as a one-man band and go to press without anyone doing any real editing on their manuscript. It's a really, really bad idea. I always invite people to come watch rehearsals when I'm directing a play to make sure I'm not barking up the wrong tree. It doesn't happen often, but it DOES happen, and you'll never be able to tell by yourself. 
What's the best way for writers and others to contact you for editing, proofreading, scriptwriting, and ghostwriting services?  
BP: The email address provided [xgollum@gmail.com], definitely, and it'll help if you flag it by making the subject line something about editing. 
Last question, because you've never told me! Who's your favorite Vessel, and why? 
BP: Jesse Cannon 4 eva! As to why? He has and IS the most fun. Jackson really has some incredible moments coming up in Exodus, and I probably identify with all the Vessel more than JC, but he's epic and silly and obviously having the most fun, and I think anyone can see that YOU have the most fun writing him or coming up with his shenanigans.

Indeed I do, Beau. Indeed I do.

The Author, my favorite book by Beau Prichard.

Thank you once again, Beau, for all you've done for Vessel so far. I hope we're able to work together for the coming installments---still three books to go!

Again, if you'd like to contact Beau regarding his professional services, email him at xgollum@gmail.com and include something about editing in the subject line. And if you're interested in seeing some of his directing work, check out "Two Rooms", a hostage drama by Lee Blessing. Opening Thursday, May 30th, at Eclectic Theater in Seattle. Tickets at tworooms.brownpapertickets.com.

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