Freelance Editing vs. Freelance Writing

I am a freelance writer.

I  am also a freelance editor.

Most people have to pick one or the other, but it is possible to combine both – although usually not on the same project. There are distinct differences in the skills required, the clients you take on, and the likelihood of finding work.

Let’s take that last point first.

How do you find work?

Most magazines, ezines, publishing companies, and editorial services companies have editors on staff. They hire freelance editors only when a big project comes along and they can’t handle the volume of work in-house. Then they usually turn to a stable of proven, reliable freelance editors. So it’s important to get your resumé and sample work out there and on file with them.

It also helps to network with other freelance editors. You may think they’re your competitors, but they can be your best sources of work. I’ve gotten many jobs because an editor friend of mine has said to a client, “No, I can’t take on that project now, but I can recommend Janet. I’ve worked with her before and she has experience.”

If you don’t have a recommendation – and sometimes even if you do – you may have to take an editing test. The best question you can ask before beginning is, “Who is the audience for this piece?”

How do you get paid?

Many magazines, ezines, and other outlets use freelance writers. Some use nothing but freelance writers. Not all of them pay, however. Those that rely primarily on blog posts are the least likely to pay. You can hold out for paying jobs, but the pool of possibilities will be correspondingly smaller.

Freelance editors, on the other hand, almost always get paid for their services, at least if they are firm enough to insist on it, even among friends. It probably isn’t necessary to charge for 15 minutes of work reading over liner notes for a new CD, but for substantial work like a doctoral dissertation, friendship doesn’t stretch that far.

Pay for freelance editors is usually by the project, by the hour, or by the page. The client gets to decide which.

What skills do you need?

Of course you need strong skills in grammar, punctuation, and all the other fiddly bits you learned in English class. But those skills alone make you a freelance proofreader or copy editor. A freelance editor needs more.

A freelance editor needs to be able to see the flow of a piece of writing and to see the holes. For example, does the piece have a strong introduction and conclusion? Is an assertion backed up with evidence or reasoning? Is some material repeated? If you’re looking at a piece of academic writing, is proper footnote procedure followed? If the author uses quotations, are they properly introduced and cited?

Remember that question about who the audience for the piece is? The freelance editor should keep in mind that audience and make sure the writing is appropriate for people at that level. (There are lexile checkers that can tell you if you are writing at a ninth-grade level or a grad-school level.) Is the tone of the piece right for the publication or purpose? Is it supposed to be friendly? Informative? Persuasive? Does every part of the writing support that tone?

The secret to being a freelance editor is finding a couple of regular clients who rely on you for a certain amount of work per time period (week, month, quarter). Then look for other one-time jobs to fill in the gaps. Using this formula, you can make a pretty good living. Of course there are ups and downs, as with any freelance work – editor, writer, illustrator – but for those with the skills and desire, jobs in freelance editing can be enjoyable, stimulating, and a good use of your time and talents.

 

A Taste for Wine

Wednesday afternoons at 4:30 were special at my college. We’d gather in an auditorium and spit in buckets.

Well, that’s not all there is to the story.

It starts back when I graduated high school and was old enough to drink. I discovered wine. Really bad wine. Not quite as bad as Boone’s Farm Strawberry Hill. Not quite as bad as my mother’s Mogen David, but pretty bad. Pink champagne on New Year’s Eve bad.

Candy wine. (This was before distillers started putting marshmallow fluff in vodka, you understand.)

My tastes developed over the years. I graduated (as it were) to Yago Sangria. The only cheap wine that was too disgusting for me, besides the Mogen David, was Carlo Rossi Grenâche Rosé. So I added orange juice and seltzer water and called it a spritzer.

Then, in my junior year of college, I had an epiphany. It was called Wine Tasting 101 for Non-Majors. The class met on Wednesday afternoons in the aforementioned auditorium and sampled various wines. Good wines. Bad wines. Wines from France and Italy and California and New York. We passed bottles of wine and small plastic cups down the row like we were in church, only without the collection baskets. There was a spit bucket at the end of each row of the auditorium seating for those who didn’t drink (very few) or those who hated a particular wine.

There was lots to hate, as well as lots to love. We sampled the candy wines (I was actually fond of Pear Ripple, which I don’t think you can get nowadays). We sampled wines that had gone bad in various ways so that we knew what to say to snooty wine stewards: “This wine is foxy,” for example. (Or “musty” or “oxidized.” Those were ones for the spit bucket.

Every week we tackled wines from a different part of the world. We learned to tell a Bordeaux from a Beaujolais, a Sauvignon from a Sauterne, and which ones we liked better. We learned why you swirl the wine in the glass before you drink it and what information you can get from that.

But this, as I mentioned, was the course for non-majors. Cornell had, in addition to the usual schools of Arts and Sciences, Engineering, Agriculture, and the like, a Hotel School, which ran an actual hotel on campus, much beloved of alumni and visiting parents. Hotel majors had a very different wine class, the sort in which you took a sip and had to identify the country, the variety, the grape, and the name of the woman who stomped it. It was not pass/fail, the way the course for non-majors was. It was not a jolly passing of bottles. It did not enliven Wednesday afternoons.

I never took the class for majors, though I once thought about transferring to the Hotel School. But over the years, my taste in wine has changed. I now like dry red wines, and I no longer drink them chilled. I ask for Brut or Extra Brut champagne at New Year’s Eve. I can tell when a wine is oaky or has undertones of cherry. Oh, I still drink Three-Buck Chuck when I’m down on my luck. And I will indulge in the sweeter, fruitier wines like Pinot Grigio that my husband prefers, when I’d rather have a Pinot Noir.

The only gap in my education is German wines. I still can’t tell a Riesling from a Liebfraumilch. I was absent that Wednesday.

Every other Wednesday I would roll home to my sorority house, bathed in a grape-y glow, satisfied with the knowledge that I had just furthered my education – and with something that would be useful in years to come.

 

The Next Top Iron Writer Is Chopped

Two of my favorite things in the world are language and food. But they almost never come together except in recipes and restaurant reviews, both of which I find extremely boring.

What I do like are food game shows: Chopped, Iron Chef, Guy’s Grocery Games, Beat Bobby Flay, Top Chef, and so on. They provide the combination of food preparation, competition, and a reality show that demonstrates a real talent that satisfies my needs.

But where is the language element in all this? (Except for creative cursing and abuse when Gordon Ramsey goes off on a poor, put-upon contestant.)

There are language contests, which are harder to find, especially on TV. Fictionary and Scrabble are two examples. Whose Line Is It Anyway?, while a comedy improv show, had several games that relied on the performer’s quick-thinking use of language. And occasionally at science fiction conventions, you’ll see a contest in which people try to read aloud a notoriously bad, hideously written manuscript until they start laughing, when the next contestant gets a turn.

But what if we create a mash-up of the two sorts of games and design them for writers? What would we have then? I have here a few ideas.

First, get a bunch of writer contestants, of various genres. Then a few editor judges. Then the fun begins.

Genre mash-up. Have each author draw a genre at random and write a paragraph or story in that style. Possible genres: science fiction, romance, Shakespearean, soft porn, mystery. No one is allowed to write in his or her own genre.

For the bonus round, have the contestants draw two genres and write a science fiction story à la Shakespeare, for example. Or have one contestant gain an advantage and assign genres to the other contestants.

Assign an author. The host chooses a plot: jewel thief is discovered; pirate attacks ship; a child is kidnapped; talking bunny meets talking bear; worker is fired. Then have the writers draw the name of a writer and write in that author’s style: Ernest Hemingway, Lewis Carroll, Victor Hugo, Tennessee Williams, Jane Austen, etc.

Age swap. Have writers choose a famous children’s book (Alice in Wonderland, Horton Hears a Who, The Giving Tree, Bunnicula) and rewrite a passage from it for a grown-up audience. Or have contestants rewrite a passage from an adult book (Gone With the Wind, Of Mice and Men, On the Road, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas) and render it suitable for a child.

Who’s the author?/first lines. Contestants write a passage in the style of a writer of their choice and the judges have to guess who the imitated author is. Or the writers take a famous first line from a novel or story and must write something completely different to complete it.

Word list. The moderator gives the contestants a list of random words (spring, car, lonely, chart, vegetable, and tissue, for example) and they have to write a sonnet using them all.

ABC. The host draws a letter of the alphabet, and the writers must write a 50-word paragraph using that letter as many times as possible. The winner is determined by who used the letter the most.

Of course, this would not make for very compelling television, though you could have close-ups of the writers wiping their brows; professional actors reading aloud the poems, stories, and paragraphs; time limits; and even annoying Jeopardy-style music in the background as the writers work.

And think of the prizes! Money, of course. A new computer/word processing system with all the software and other bells and whistles; for the semi-finalists, a writer’s nook including desk, bookshelves, file cabinets, printer/fax; and for the winner – publication, of course!

Losers would receive either a collection of writing reference books or a Deluxe Scrabble set.

I’d watch it.

Next, I have to invent a cable network that would carry the program.

The Basics of Editing On-Screen

Most of the writers I know do their writing on-screen. Naturally, that means they also do their editing on-screen.

Editing on-screen is, admittedly, not as much fun as editing on paper, when we got to use colored pencils and make arcane hieroglyphic marks that the uninitiated couldn’t translate.

But these days, it’s necessary. Whether you’re editing your own writing (see http://wp.me/p4e9wS-rS) or someone else’s, it needs work. It’s a mistake to take the first outpourings of your brain and slap them up on WordPress or LiveJournal. Even if you’re a fantastic writer with brilliant thoughts, there are many glitches possible between your mind and what you offer to the public.

I write mostly in WordPress and Microsoft Word and edit mostly in Word or PowerPoint. But whatever the platform, there are certain similarities. Here are some techniques that will make your on-screen editing easier and more accurate.

Editing Ergonomics. This may sound obvious, but with wide-screen monitors taking over America’s desktops, perhaps it needs to be said: Center the page you’re editing directly in your line of sight. And remember to blink so your eyes don’t dry out. You already do that, don’t you? Find a type size that’s comfortable for you (175–200% enlargement is about right for my feeble eyes).

Periods and Spaces. Forget all the arguments. The standard for anything that is to be read on-screen is one space after a period. Period. Many writers don’t know this, and even those who do may lapse into their old typewriter ways and automatically, robotically, put in two spaces.

Fortunately, there is a cure – Find and Replace. All you have to do is ask the computer to find two spaces and replace them with one. Ask it to replace all the double spaces it finds in one go. Then save (for heaven’s sake!). Voilà! Your manuscript is now up to date in the format accepted by online publications.

Use Your Tools. Word processors these days have built-in tools that check your spelling, your grammar, your word count, and sometimes even your lexile. (Why is lexile important? It’s a readability score that indicates whether you’re writing at, say, a fifth-grade reading level or a seventh-grade level or a twelfth-grade one. A ninth-grade level is usually acceptable for a general audience.) Add-on tools also exist, such as Grammarly, which checks your writing on the fly and suggests what you might have meant or how you should have punctuated it.

Don’t Trust Your Tools. For most problems, you can, but sometimes you know better than the computer what you mean to say. For example, my computer flagged “lexile” and wanted to know if I meant “exile” or “flexible.” (I didn’t.) There are thousands of autocorrect memes floating around out there that show just how funny or horrible the results can be. Nor will spelling/grammar checkers catch everything. I just typed “Thre” for “There” and the program didn’t flag it.

Remember Your Low-Tech Editing Habits. Read over your finished piece slowly, or, better still, aloud. Put it away for a few hours at least, or preferably a day, and reread it. Slowly. Concentrate on a paragraph at a time, then go back and read the whole piece straight through. Double-check the spelling of names and places, another thing spelling checkers may overlook. (Although I just wrote a piece using the name “Semelweis” and the checker suggested “Semmelweis,” which was indeed correct.)

Have Someone Else Read Your Piece. You may be writing all alone in your Fortress of Solitude, but there’s a world of people out there who may be glad to look over your work before you release it into the wild. (Also some who won’t, so you may want to set up an arrangement with a trusted friend or a writer’s group.) Shoot the piece off by email and get replies the same way, or using those handy electronic Post-It Notes or comment features.

As time passes, fewer and fewer people will have those old typewriter and pen-and-paper habits. Even those born writing on-screen can use a few reminders, though. But on-screen or off, remember that there is still no substitute for a pair of human eyes and a human brain. Blaming errors on the technology is a cop-out – you’re the writer; you are responsible for the finished product.

Spelunking Through My Life

I hear that nowadays Girl Scouts go in for computer programming and rooftop gardening. I’m not knocking that, but back in the day it was hiking, camping – and caving.

(Exploring caves is also known as “spelunking,” which is a wonderful word. It sounds like a quarter dropped into a toilet.)

You might think that spelunking is a young person’s game, but that’s simply not true. I didn’t stop caving when I got too old for Girl Scouts. There are plenty of caves that adults – even seniors – can enjoy.

Here’s a look at a few of my caving exploits through the ages.

Young and stupid. One of the caving trips my troop took was to Carter Caves, in Olive Hill, KY. The site featured a number of caves, including “wild” caves (those not improved for tours). X-Cave and Saltpetre Cave were fun, especially after we took the tours a few times and could chime in at appropriate points in the guide’s spiel.

But Bat Cave was my favorite. Just like it sounds, Bat Cave was a nesting site for the little mammals, though the tours were carefully scheduled to give the bats priority use of the location during their favorite times. It was one of those wild caves, so the tour included rough terrain, tight squeezes (invariably named “Fat Man’s Misery” in this and every other cave), and crawling on our bellies through guano.

Which is why I say we were young and stupid. Guano is bat shit, and inhaling the dust from it can lead to respiratory problems including histoplasmosis. And there was a lot of bat shit. (Today’s rooftop gardeners may be interested to know that guano is an excellent organic fertilizer. Just don’t inhale it.)

Grown-up and adventurous. During our many back-and-forth trips to Philadelphia, my husband and I kept seeing a sign for Laurel Caverns, which is south of Pittsburgh, and just off the Turnpike. After years of saying, “We’ve got to stop there sometime,” we finally did.

Laurel Caverns featured a developed sandstone cave and miles of wild limestone caves. At the time it was possible to go into the undeveloped caves without a guide, if you had the proper gear. (I understand this is no longer so.) So Dan and I donned hard hats with lamps, clasping our rudimentary maps, and squeezed through the small hole that led to subterranean wonders.

Limestone caves feature stalactites (hanging down), stalagmites (reaching up), and flowstone formations. This one also featured boulders. Huge boulders. Boulders the size of houses, in some cases. As we clambered over those, my foot slipped between two rocks and I heard a crack. “Uh-oh,” I said (or words to that effect) as I waited for the pain to hit. It never did. Rather than breaking my leg, I had merely dislodged a couple of stones that clanked together while rolling downslope.

And that was a Very Good Thing, since such injuries required hauling a person out in a basket through that little squeeze hole I mentioned. Also, you could stay down there a long time, since it wasn’t till the end of the day that the owners matched up the list of spelunkers with the cars in the parking lot and went looking for anyone missing.

Older and slower. One of my favorite caves ever was Kartchner Caverns, in Benson, AZ, not far from Tucson. Discovered in 1974, the cave was developed with an eye to preserving it, while still allowing access to young, old, and handicapped alike. After entering through an adit (being a cruciverbalist as well as a spelunker, I was thrilled), you follow level paths, ramps, and switchbacks into the depths, culminating in a gigantic feature that looked like (and was named after) a pipe organ.

There the guides, after giving proper warning, turned off all the lights so the cavers could experience total darkness. (Actually, most caves do this, but they warn you first. Although if darkness and claustrophobia bother you, spelunking is probably not for you.)

All in all, it was the best preserved and most accessible cave I’ve ever seen. While wild caves are amazing and awesome and self-guided tours are adventurous and exciting, there’s something to be said for caves that invite anyone to enjoy.

And when we came to the surface and reentered the visitor center, there waiting to take their turns in the netherworld were one group of bikers and one of – you guessed it – Girl Scouts.

Why I Write About Myself

Lately I’ve been taken to task for writing about “me, me, me.” So I felt compelled to introspect, and I’ve decided to write more about me. Here’s why.

I’ve tried to live an interesting life. I’ve always admired and enjoyed people who have tried many different things and talk about them. Once I realized that, I set out to try new experiences – travel, hobbies, friends, music, education.

I’ve traveled to the Caribbean, England, Ireland, Croatia, Montenegro, Rio de Janeiro, and other destinations (“Travels With Mom” http://wp.me/p4e9wS-dM). I’ve studied French, Spanish, and Russian, and taken a college course on beekeeping (“How I Faced My Fear – And Failed” http://wp.me/p4e9wS-7H). I’ve taken up archery (“I Arched Before Arching Was Cool” http://wp.me/p4e9wS-6E), ninjitsu (“I Was a Teenage Ninja” http://wp.me/p4e9wS-49), spelunking, and geocaching, and tried horseback riding, cross country skiing (“Whoa!” http://wp.me/s4e9wS-whoa), writing a novel, guitar and banjo, and reloading bullets (“The Day I Brought Bullets to School” http://wp.me/p4e9wS-50). I’ve written for I Love Cats, Black Belt, Today’s Catholic Teacher, and Technology and Learning. I’ve drunk with Tom Paxton, met the Archbishop of Jamaica, taken Carl Sagan’s class, and interviewed Captain Kangaroo. I’ve eaten snails, octopus, goat, and sashimi. That’s plenty of material for blog posts.

I have a blog called Bipolar Me (bipolarjan.wordpress.com). Inevitably, that involves talking about myself. While I try to include posts about news and events regarding bipolar disorder, the person whose case I know best is my own. I can’t generalize my experience to encompass everyone, or even most, people with bipolar disorder, but I hope my readers can see some of themselves in my writing.

My personal writing is what most people seem to be interested in. When I write about politics (“Political Noise” http://wp.me/p4e9wS-ol) or books (“Zombie Novels That Aren’t About Zombies” http://wp.me/p4e9wS-ry) or social issues (“Whitewashing: Where’s the Line?” http://wp.me/p4e9wS-5a) or music (“Owed to Songwriters” http://wp.me/p4e9wS-mr), the response is underwhelming. (I write about them anyway, because sometimes I need to. I’m not doing this for the numbers.)

But when I write about things I’ve seen and done, especially humorous pieces (“Seven Reasons I Hate the Bloggess” http://wp.me/p4e9wS-56, “Butt Check” http://wp.me/p4e9wS-2U)), I get more reactions and comments.

I don’t know a lot about any particular subject. (Except bipolar disorder, I mean.) Some people know all there is to know about medieval Scottish armor or the works of Tolstoy or Hungarian cooking. I’m more of a generalist. My education has been broad, rather than deep. If that means I’m full of useless trivia, so be it. I can write about what I know about Shakespeare or astronomy or getting rid of possums (“How to Get Rid of a Possum” http://wp.me/p4e9wS-46), but if you want detailed, expert knowledge, you’ll have to go somewhere else.

I write a lot about cats, too. My cats, in particular, so in a way that’s still about me. (“Stupid Cat Tricks” http://wp.me/p4e9wS-8I, “Sir Boinks-a-Lot” http://wp.me/p4e9wS-8A, “I Blame the Cats. Always.” http://wp.me/p4e9wS-1B)

So, although I’ll try to keep the posts about other topics coming, I have a feeling I’ll continue to mine my own life for material. After all, it’s the subject I know best.

 

How My Husband Got Me Hooked on Buffy

Twenty years ago, Buffy the Vampire Slayer was a TV show with a target audience of teen girls. My husband, despite not being a teen girl,  turned me (also not a teen girl) on to the show and got me hooked.

I had seen the movie and wasn’t that impressed. It was silly fun, with a classic over-the-top death scene acted by Paul Reubens (aka Pee-wee Herman). There was also an appearance by a very young Hilary Swank, and Donald Sutherland played the Slayer’s mentor. But not anything I’d ever want to see again.

So when a television series appeared, I ignored it.

But my husband didn’t. He became a fan.

He wasn’t one of those fans who sits people down in front of a TV and says, “Here! You have to watch 15 episodes of this amazing show!” (This would be appropriate for Firefly, another show that, like Buffy, was the brainchild of Joss Whedon, except that it never made it to 15 episodes.)

No, he was more subtle than that. He’d be watching the show and invite me to join him. “I don’t think so,” I would reply. Still, I would see a few minutes of the show as I passed through the living room.

And then one day I caught a scene from an episode in which Buffy was working at a fast-food establishment where employees had been disappearing and the food had a “secret ingredient.”

“Hah!” I thought. “This is so predictable!”

Then the top of a little old lady’s head came off, a monster emerged, and tried to eat Buffy. The secret ingredient in the meat turned out to be meat flavoring, which was being added to non-meat patties.

That sharp left turn caught me. Maybe this show did have some wit and style.

I still didn’t pay a lot of attention until the show went off the air. When it went into reruns, I could watch one episode a day and follow the story arcs (yes, it had them) and found out that Buffy was more than just teen-girl-kills-monster-of-the-week pop fluff.

It had bite. (Sorry.)

Joss Whedon has said that the show was about female empowerment. Instead of being a stereotypical victim-of-a-vampire, Buffy is the strong, capable hero who defeats evil, aided by her “Scooby Gang” of mostly female sidekicks.

Except those sidekicks have story arcs of their own. For example, Willow is a witch who dabbles in black magic in addition to the good kind. But magic, it seems, can become an addiction. Multiple episodes follow Willow as she goes from magic tweaking, to heavy involvement, to jonesing, to a destructive habit that wrecks her relationships with those around her (and almost destroys the earth).

Buffy used the basic vampire/monster plot to comment on common events in a young person’s life – high school, dating, freshman roommates, binge drinking (which turned students into cave people) – as well as topics like the aforementioned addiction, teen suicide, performance-enhancing drugs, and various shades of morality.

And the dialogue! I’m a language junkie. I don’t deny it. And in addition to the then-current teen slang, the show had its own idiom, known as “Buffy Speak.”

TV Tropes describes it thus:

[It] can give the sense of a teenaged group’s special jargon or argot without necessarily imitating anything actually found in the real world. Slang language, especially for the younger set, tends to change at warp speed. Buffy Speak allows a level of timelessness…. http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/BuffySpeak

And here’s a scholarly article about it: http://blog.oxforddictionaries.com/2012/08/buffy-the-vampire-slayer/

(Speaking of dialogue, Buffy also featured some break-the-mold episodes, including one in which no one can speak and one in which everyone sings their lines, musical-style, with dancing.)

Was it the feminist subtext? The busting of stereotypes and tired plots? The playful language? The hunky vampires? Perhaps the secret to my eventually becoming a fan of Buffy is the fact that, despite my chronological age, I’ve got a 14-year-old living inside my head (http://wp.me/p4e9Hv-g1). And maybe my husband knew that.

Although I don’t want to speculate who’s living inside his head.

Adventures in the Not-So-Deep Woods

The bird stopped chirping.

That was not a good sign.

All day my husband and I had been playing a game of “Where’s the damn bird?” and the cats had been playing “I wanna bite the birdie!”

Dushenka scored a point when she managed to get a tooth on it, leaving for us a lone feather and a spot of blood.

On our bed. It was an indoor game. And when the bird stopped chirping, the game was over.

How did the bird get into the house in the first place? It was a mystery. It could have taken advantage of a torn window screen or come down the chimney of the wood stove. It might even have squeezed in when the deck door was open a few inches for ventilation.

Various critters, some more welcome than others, visit us fairly regularly. We live in a house on an acre-and-a-half wooded lot with a tiny creek and a plethora of flora and fauna. (My husband believes it’s over three acres, but you know men and measuring.)

Our house is not really what you’d call rural. The property backs up to an off-ramp and is a mile and a half from a shopping mall. But tucked in our little corner of the plat is an isolated patch of green with few neighbors, except for the non-human kind. We’ve seen deer, squirrels, chipmunks, spiders, snakes, assorted insects, cats, dogs, frogs, and fish. The most problematic ones are those that make it inside the house.

Most of those critters are mice and moles, which the cats love to play with, eat, and leave half for us as a gift. (One cat was even so kind as to dispatch his prey in the bathtub, where at least the crime scene was easier to clean up.) A snake that made it indoors also proved a fun toy for flipping in the air, until we deprived the cat of it.

Another indoor visitor was a bat, which I discovered in the middle of the night in the downstairs hallway. I screamed for Dan, not because I was frightened of the bat (except for the knowledge that bats can carry rabies and few (well, none really) are vaccinated). But I knew I couldn’t capture it on my own, even if it was wounded. Dan threw a shirt over it, nabbed it, and escorted it outside.

Dan escorts most of our visitors outside (if they make it past the cats), except for stink bugs, which we catch in pill or water bottles and forget about. But spiders, bees, wasps, mice (the ones that survive, that is), and snakes all get a second chance at life on the outside.

When Dan’s away, I’m a little less Buddha-like. Bees and wasps terrify me (see “How I Faced My Fear…And Failed” http://wp.me/p4e9wS-7H) and if I must deal with them, they get mashed or stomped or hit with a wet towel and then mashed or stomped. Possums can also be a problem (see “How to Get Rid of a Possum” http://wp.me/p4e9wS-46), but fortunately rarely come calling.

But, at any rate, the only remaining question about our invasive, game-playing bird: Did it exit the way it came in? Or did one of the cats dispatch it to the great beyond? And if so, did it leave the whole carcass or part of the carcass or even an eaten-and-spit-up carcass for us to find? (One of our cats would kill mice and save them “for later” in his little pantry, also known as the springs of the sofa bed. I suppose I need not tell you how we discovered his secret stash.)

Living in the almost-woods is nice. We don’t get many trick-or-treaters and Dan doesn’t have to mow or plant grass. He plants wildflowers and I sit on the deck and look at them and the animals that are polite enough to stay where they belong. We can’t see the off-ramp and pretend the sound is a rushing stream.

I’m just thinking we should invest in a heavy-duty butterfly net for the next time an avian visitor comes to call.

Field of Female Dreams: Reimagining Films

There has been a flurry of “gender-swapping” in movies lately. In particular, women are now playing superheroes and more active roles in action films – roles that would formerly have been taken by men.

The most obvious example is the recent Ghostbusters movie, in which the heroes played in the original 1984 film by Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis, and Ernie Hudson were in 2016 reenvisioned and played by Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, and Leslie Jones.

(It’s beside the point whether the film should have been remade, when the original film is now a classic and was nearly perfect just the way it was. I hate movies that are treated like that: See Bedazzled, Psycho, Ben-Hur, The Pink Panther.… but I digress.)

Action and comedy films seem to be the usual targets of this treatment, and there’s a reason for that. Action and broad comedy are at heart fantasy movies, about things that could never happen in the real world. When you’ve got things that can’t happen anyway, the gender of the person they can’t happen to is largely irrelevant.

But let’s take a look at a more “serious” fantasy movie – Field of Dreams. To recap briefly, the story involves an Iowa farmer who is suddenly compelled to build a full-size baseball field on his property so that the ghosts of a baseball team can play out their redemption. There is a small part for a female, who gets one incidental subplot as an activist at a school board meeting. But her main role is to be supportive and say things like, “I don’t know, honey,” but quickly come around to enabling his ridiculous dream, even though it means nearly losing their home and land.

It was a wildly popular movie, especially with men and baseball fans.

And it could never be gender-swapped.

Imagine a film in which a wife has a crazy fantasy dream that requires giving up everything the couple has been working for all their lives, with no guarantee of ever getting it back. Now imagine that the husband stands steadfastly by, encourages her, signs the mortgage papers, and supports not simply her decisions, but her fantastic delusions.

You can’t do it. The movie couldn’t be made. No one could write it and make it believable (even within the parameters of a basically unbelievable plot).

A man with a crazy dream is an underdog hero who deserves a stand-by-your-man woman. A woman with a crazy dream is – just crazy. She wouldn’t get past turning under the first crop before being carted off for psychiatric help. At some point in the movie, divorce would ensue.

Of course there are women in real life who accomplish great things and men who support and encourage them – take Amelia Earhart, for example. But these are different situations from Field of Dreams. Wealthy magnate bankrolls wife’s brave struggle is a different trope altogether, especially when it happened in real life.

Nor can female “Cinderella” movies be gender-swapped. Just try to envision Pretty Man instead of Pretty Woman. You can’t argue that American Gigolo is the opposite-sex version, either. Richard Gere’s motivation in that one is clearly not to find an ideal wife (or to find a woman and make her into a perfect wife). It’s a gritty murder mystery with lots of sex, not a lighter-than-popcorn whore-makes-good success story. Richard Gere is the fantasy “prize” in Pretty Woman, not an accused murderer.

Note: This is not true of all rom-coms. You could make a case for Working Girl/Working Boy, in which the mailroom clod gets a makeover and lands a top job and the luscious female reward. In fact, it’s been done.

But do this exercise: Take any of your favorite movies and see if they could even remotely be envisioned gender-swapped. Lord of the Rings? Chicago? Beauty and the Beast? It tells you something about the movie.

Of course, there are plenty of movies that could be gender-swapped: It’s a Wonderful Life has been. Avatar, possibly could be. Beverly Hills Cop, hell yeah!

Not that I’m saying all these films should be gender-swapped. I’m just asking you to think, “What if they were?”

 

What I’ve Learned About Publishing From Lack of Success

I have been an editor. I have rejected lots of manuscripts.

I have been a writer. I have been rejected by lots of editors and agents and magazines and ezines.

Right now I have two books in the works: a memoir based on my other blog (bipolarjan.wordpress.com) and a mystery novel hovering around 40,000 pages (60-75,000 would be a reasonable length).

Here’s what I’ve learned.

BOOKS

I’ve learned one queries nonfiction with a proposal and fiction with a completed manuscript. However, I spent so long contacting agents and publishers about the memoir that I actually finished it while I was waiting to hear back.

At some point, you will reach the “This book is crap” stage. Do not give up. This is natural and to be expected at least once or twice. The thing to do is pause. Go read a book about how to plot or write description or whatever it is that made you say “This is crap.” Or work on another project for a while. You do have at least two going, don’t you? Or at least a great idea for another one? Or you could join a writers’ group and see if any of them can figure out the reason for the crapitude.

Note: The first draft is not a manuscript and should not be submitted. That’s why it’s called a first draft. You will need at least another draft or three before it’s ready to release into the wild.

Yes, you need an agent. Probably. Only a few publishing companies look at proposals and manuscripts that don’t come from an agent. There used to be editorial assistants who had to read those submissions, but budgets are tighter than tight in the publishing industry. You don’t need an agent to submit smaller pieces of work like short stories and articles.

Which brings us to:

EZINES and MAGAZINES.

I write blog posts of 600-1000 words and, if appropriate, submit them to online magazines. (Most of this applies to print magazines too, if you can still find one.) A large part of the time, it’s like dropping my writing down a proverbial well. But again, I’ve learned a few things.

First, a heresy: You will have to write for no money. At first, anyway. People who say not to write for free are coming from a position of privilege. They are at a stage in their careers when they can get actual money (at least a little). If you’re just starting out, you’re not. There are reasons for this.

Some editors will want to see work that you’ve had published, just so they can tell you can write, meet deadlines, and be professional. The other reason is exposure. Yes, I know starving artists die of exposure. Yes, I know that exposure doesn’t pay the rent. But it does help in other ways.

An agent or an editor will look at a query more seriously if it says, “I am a regular contributor to X website and have been published on Y and Z.” Or “I have had short stories printed in Publication A and B.” Even if you only got six copies of the magazine as pay, or a byline and a bio, these are credits. They indicate that you’re more than just a wannabe. After you’ve got a few credits to your name, you can start pitching to sites that pay.

Do you really need to pitch? Or can you just send a story or article? Publications differ. The website will have a page helpfully called “How to Submit” or “Submission Guidelines.” Follow these instructions exactly. If they say query first, do that. If they say send completed story, do that. If they say paste it in the body of an email, do that. If they say attach your file as a Word doc, do that. Whatever they want, give it to them. It takes longer than blasting out a flurry of identical query letters or submissions, but it increases your chances of getting favorable attention.

I have either made all of the above mistakes or seen them made by people who submitted work to my publications. I can’t guarantee that any of this advice will get you published. This business doesn’t come with guarantees. But you can piggyback on my failures and those of others on your way to becoming a success. Good luck. Even if you’re a terrific writer, you’ll still need it!