“My Editor” – I Love Saying That

Three Red Pencils by Horia Varlan (CC BY 2.0)

As an engineer, I learned the value of getting “a fresh set of eyes” on anything I was designing. At each stage of the design process (paper napkin, 3D computer model, dimensioned drawings, etc.), it was always a good idea to have someone else look over my work and offer suggestions or catch mistakes, because The Rule of Tens applied. That rule meant that every error that made it another step in the design process before it was caught would be ten times more costly to fix. The last thing I wanted was a call from the fab shop supervisor. By then, the cost to correct an error in my design might include surrendering body parts.

As an author, the same ideas apply to writing a novel. While working on An Irish Miracle, I was very fortunate to have Robin Martin, of Two Songbirds Press, as “my editor”. I really do love saying “my editor” because of the tremendous value Robin’s “fresh set of eyes” and talent as a freelance editor brought to my writing. I was well past the “paper napkin” step, having already written three drafts, before I contacted Robin through the Editorial Freelancers Association website. Based on her detailed Evaluation and Critique, I wrote the fourth draft, which nearly doubled in length while making my plot stronger and my characters rounder. I was also able to correct writing errors that Robin had documented, eliminating instances of filtering, narrative exposition, and shifting points of view that would have jarred my readers out of their vivid and continuous readers’ dreams. After doing a full contextual edit of the fourth draft, Robin even found yet another “fresh set of eyes” for the final proofreading of my corrected and polished manuscript. From experience, she told me she was too familiar with it to proofread it herself.

Because of the collaboration with “my editor”, An Irish Miracle is nearly ready to be sent out, and I’m confident that I won’t be receiving any unwanted telephone calls from the fab shop supervisor!

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Active Inactivity

Serenity by Alberto P. Veiga (CC BY 2.0)

A good friend of mine, Eddie Rhoades, once said to me, “Rob, there are too many things in the world that go ‘beep’.” In many of our lives today, amidst the incessant clamor of the modern world, we often forget to leave room for the quiet. I first learned about the idea of “active inactivity” in a small but powerful book, Zen and the Martial Arts by Joe Hyams.

Active inactivity isn’t as easy as it may seem at first blush. It isn’t just not doing something . . . it’s doing nothing on purpose. Nothing physical, like taking a walk or a nap. Nothing mental, like thinking about a problem at work or planning a vacation. Nothing. Well, nothing except breathing, which we normally don’t even think about. Try doing nothing but thinking about your breathing for fifteen minutes sometime tomorrow. In. Out. In. Out. In. Out . . . If you don’t make it the first time, don’t be hard on yourself. It really is harder than it sounds. Let it go and try again the next day, and the next.

Claude Debussy said, “Music is the silence between the notes.”

When I’m being well-disciplined, I try to do nothing on purpose for fifteen minutes before starting a writing session. If I succeed, my mind seems to be clearer, calmer, and it’s easier to focus on the day’s work. Active inactivity can tame wild mind-monkeys. And it’s a gift you can give to yourself, with a little practice.

In An Irish Miracle, young Dillon Connolly discovers perfect stillness for the first time in the Irish countryside. Raised on a bustling farm in northwestern Ohio, it’s a new and wonderful experience, one that evokes surprisingly powerful emotions.

Awesome Logos by Michael Mahan

Kent State University Visual Communication Design professor Michael Mahan has created these awesome logos for Rob Mahan Books and the publishing company Marietta Book Works.

    

Mike is currently working on the cover and interior design for An Irish Miracle. In addition to teaching at KSU, he owns and operates the graphic design firm, Shelf Life Creative.

New Publishing Company

I am pleased to announce that
– Rob Mahan Books –
has launched the publishing company
– Marietta Book Works –

Marietta Book Works will release An Irish Miracle, a novel by Rob Mahan, in the Spring of 2012.

Be sure to follow the website for An Irish Miracle and see posts about the novel, excerpts, and the latest news about its upcoming release.

Taking Feedback (Gracefully)

Photo Credit: Soggydan on Flickr

I didn’t do a very good job taking feedback from my “alpha” beta reader* on the first draft of my first novel, An Irish Miracle. One could say my initial responses were a bit defensive, as most of them started with “Well, I did that because . . .” It soon became obvious taking that approach would eliminate the possibility of future feedback from any beta reader, and I desperately needed all the feedback I could get. I was setting out on the path from engineer to author quite alone.

It took me several tries, but with some very helpful coaching, I started to catch on. My responses to feedback began sounding more like “That’s really interesting. Would you please tell me more about what you mean . . .” For the second draft, my circle of beta readers expanded to two. From that feedback, I learned the term “in media res” and rearranged the timeline of the entire story, which was a big improvement.

For the third and fourth drafts, my circle of beta readers continued to expand and I worked at my new skill of taking feedback gracefully. I got volumes of excellent critical feedback that helped me to polish my novel. I also made some observations about taking feedback on my writing:

  • The most critical feedback, often the most difficult to hear or to read, was absolutely the most helpful. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, I guess.
  • The feedback varied considerably, depending on how beta readers experienced the story through their own filters and life experiences, giving some insight into how a broader audience might react to the story and to the characters.
  • It was ultimately up to me, as the author, to decide how to treat each item of feedback I received. Whatever the decision, always gracefully and with sincere appreciation for the gifts of time, thought and effort the feedback represented.
  • It paid dividends to seek out beta readers who were a lot smarter than me.

*A beta reader reads a written work with an eye to improving story, characters, and general style before the work is published. Of course, my “alpha” beta reader is my lovely wife Linda, who is an avid reader in her own right and who is a lot smarter than me!

Set the Mood and “Write First”

Write First

Write First

Many athletes have pre-game rituals so why can’t authors have pre-writing session rituals, too? I certainly do.

My first ritual (technically, it’s third if you count the first as coffee and the second as settling my four-legged writing companions into their beds . . . more on them in a future post) is to set the mood in my lonely writer’s garret with music. Not just any music, though. During the hundreds of writing sessions it took to create An Irish Miracle, I have listened to the same track . . . over and over again. I don’t want get distracted by catchy lyrics while I’m writing. I want the music to help me slip quietly and efficiently into the “writer’s dream” state of mind (more on the writer’s dream in a future post, too). Now my brain will forever associate “Insight & Intuition” from the Brainwave Suite with the stories in An Irish Miracle. (You can listen to a short sample of “Insight & Intuition” here.)

My second official ritual is to “Write First”. It may not be true for everyone, but writing in the morning is definitely the most productive creative time for me. I’ve heard it said that no good writing has ever been done on a computer connected to the Internet. Having vast resources of background research material literally at my fingertips while I’m writing is invaluable, but if I don’t “Write First”, it’s too easy for one e-mail reply to lead to an interesting news article that leads to paying bills or an idea for a new blog post and my productive, creative morning has slipped by.

So identify the rituals that work for you and stick to them . . . even if you have to resort to writing them down on a sticky note. You can always tape it to your monitor after the sticky wears off!

(I’m planning a science fiction novel as a future project. I think I might listen to “A Storm is Coming” from “LOTR: The Return of the King” while I’m writing it.)

Simpler Times, Simpler Places

Ohio Farm Horses

My upcoming novel, An Irish Miracle, spans over a half a century and two countries. With all the strife in the real world today, the stories in it offer a respite, a brief glimpse of simpler times and simpler places.

Born in 1945, life for twin boys on an Ohio family farm is filled with hard work. The growing seasons mean plowing, planting and worrying about the rain. Only after the day’s work is there time for pick-up games, pony rides, and swimming. When the harvest season begins, daylight is reserved for bringing in the crops and baling the neighbor’s hay for spending money. The first day of a new school year means the ground will soon be frozen solid.

Their close-knit family is happy and secure, but with one ill-fated decision by their father, an old-school farmer and a war veteran, life for the boys begins to change. When the first Irish-Catholic president is assassinated, life for the whole family changes. After the arrival of two draft notices, the twin brothers set out on separate paths for the first time in their lives, one to the jungles of Vietnam and one to the quiet countryside of western Ireland.

Were they really simpler times and simpler places? I think so, but perhaps you should decide for yourself.