Subscribe to Jessica's exclusive newsletter

Subscribe to Jessica's newsletter

* indicates required

Monday, August 31, 2015

Wild About Harapan: Sumatran Rhino News

Last October, I was seized with a desire to go to Cincinnati. It's the site of the last Sumatran rhino in the Western Hemisphere, you see, so if I didn't drag my husband on an autumn road trip, neither of us would probably ever see a Sumatran rhino. I had a feeling he would be headed back to the nature reserve where all his living relatives reside. And now it appears I was right. It's the right decision for him. Such a sweet rhino shouldn't be alone. But oh, how we'll miss him. Safe travels, Harapan!

There was also bad news for Sumatran rhinos this week, the kind of news that shakes one's faith in humanity and makes on wonder what it's all about. Previously, we could say that Harapan's relatives had a small enclave in Malaysia as well as their main home in Indonesia. That spread is no more. The Sumatran rhinoceros has been declared extinct in Malaysia because of human greed. The species is utterly dependent on the population living in Indonesia now. It's hard to even say how many are left at this point.

On the brighter side, Harapan's new home hasn't had a poaching incident in years because of aggressive protections in place. He and his species have a fighting chance. It's far from time to give up.

Monday, August 24, 2015

How Not to Be a Potential Client

Now that I freelance for a living, my life depends on developing good relationships with clients. Far be it from me to complain about any potential client's behavior, but I need to share this one with the wider world because it's representative of what freelance editors encounter every day. I've changed some of the details to protect the identity of the person who sent me this message via one of the freelancing sites I belong to.
I am shopping around for an editor to go over the final draft of my [genre I work with] novel before I sent [sic] it to print. I need someone who is very detail-oriented to double check for typos, grammar mistakes, etc. Are you available to take on a project this week? My goal is to have the edits done by next Monday. Also, what do you typically charge for a project that is just under 100,000 words?

Let me dissect the flaws in this all too average message so that if you're ever in the market for an editor or proofreader, you can do better. Correspondence to potential editors is one more place you can make a good or bad impression, one more chance to put your best foot forward as a writer.

I am shopping around for an editor to go over the final draft of my [genre I work with] novel ...

The opening is off-putting because of the phrase "shopping around." Yes, freelancers are aware clients do this, but if this person had written something along the lines of "I saw that you like to edit novels in this genre," it would have been a point for them rather than against. It would have shown that the client had read my preferences and may also have done some (highly advisable) research into the books I've edited in the past. Such research benefits both of us because it makes it more likely that you'll find the right fit, which results in a good working relationship and satisfactory results.

I need someone who is very detail-oriented to double check for typos, grammar mistakes, etc. 

It's great that they give some sense of the work they'd like done, but the "double check" sentence makes me suspicious that this person doesn't really know what services they need, and the "etc" doesn't help that impression. Ideally, before you approach your researched editors, you need the following elements in place: 1. A completed book. 2. Someone (preferably many people) whose opinion you trust to read the book. 3. A list of issues your trusted readers found that you can't correct on your own. Editing the book as much as you can by yourself will save you time and money. Knowing the specifics of what you need will make for a better estimate process, saving time, money, and heartache.

Are you available to take on a project this week? My goal is to have the edits done by next Monday. 

What's the rush? Most editors have many projects going on at once and scheduling each project is a superhuman act to begin with. Much as we might like to help, we can't throw our other projects a week off schedule without serious consideration and, ideally, previous notice. It takes time to find tiny errors. This client was expecting someone to find all the needles in 100,000 bits of hay in just a little more than six days. Why the need to get the book to the printer so quickly? Please don't leave your copyediting and proofreading needs as the last hurried step in a production crunch. It stresses everyone out and creates opportunities for the mistakes we're all trying to avoid.

Also, what do you typically charge for a project that is just under 100,000 words?

The last question is inappropriate, since rates are explained on all the freelance sites I belong to. 100,000 words in a week would qualify as a rush job, which is far from typical. How can I know that I would charge typical rates for this book when I haven't seen a sample? A better approach would have been: "Please take a look at the attached sample and let me know your best quote for this last-minute rush job."

Every human interaction is an opportunity to prove you are a thoughtful, considerate human being as well as a professional. Remember that even when you reach out to someone online, there is a human being very similar to you, with their own issues and concerns, on the other end. 

Monday, August 17, 2015

Castles in Spain: Monzón de Campos

A couple of years ago, I found out about the peculiar history of a Spanish castle and fantasized about going there. Something I'm proud of about my last trip to Spain is that it wasn't just Honeymoon II for my husband and me—I also got to see places I thought I might only ever write about. So that counts as research.

Yes, I got to visit the castle at Monzón de Campos. I took all the pictures in this post myself.

In spite of what several websites say, this castle is no longer a hotel. It has been used recently for meetings and signage indicates it's some kind of cultural center, but overall I get that sense that Monzón de Campos isn't exploiting this resource to its maximum potential. I would be happy to take that burden from them. Hint, hint.

The town Monzón de Campos is part of the sweeping views from the castle. 
Monzón was the capital of the County of Monzón, a large, important region in the Kingdom of León. The first remarkable event on this site was what inspired me: in 1028, the three Vela brothers assassinated the Count of Castile, García Sánchez, in León on the day he met his wife-to-be. This was tantamount to regicide, and the brothers fled León and holed up in the castle at Monzón. I can imagine them keeping watch over the countryside from the castle perch—they knew someone would come for them. In the end, it was García's brother-in-law, King Sancho el Mayor of Navarre, who took revenge for the fallen count. It's said that Sancho burned the castle with the brothers inside.

The castle was rebuilt, but wasn't yet the version we have today for the next highly notable and inspiring event: here in 1109, Urraca, Queen of Castile and León, married Alfonso I el Batallador of Aragón. The ceremony was the beginning of a thrilling saga of wars and intrigue that I chronicle here. Before the couple's official divorce, the castle sheltered one of Urraca's favorites, Pedro González de Lara, who was forced out by jealous Castilian nobles and imprisoned for a time in a different castle.

In 1217, Berenguela, who was trying to claim the throne over her underaged brother Enrique I, had troops at Monzón and Enrique's soldiers attacked them. In another royal dispute in 1299, María de Molina took the castle for her son, Fernando IV, from the princes de la Cerda, who were attempting to usurp the throne. In 1304 Alfonso de la Cerda pledged homage to Fernando IV and in exchange for that loyalty, received the castle. The king took it back in 1312, when it was apparent that Alfonso de la Cerda wasn't keeping his promise.

Once it remained under royal possession, the castle's history became more peaceful, passing from hand to hand by donation and inheritance rather than siege and force. It took on its distinctive tower in the early 1400's and passed into the hands of the comuneros during 1520–1522, but was royal once again after that conflict.

It served as a prison and became a parador for a time. In 1978, Monzón de Campos received possibly its highest honor when the castle became the site of the constitution of the Autonomous Community of Castilla y León.

As you can see, my husband and I were there on a cloudy day. We were unable to go inside, which contributed to the vaguely deserted feeling. Or maybe I was being haunted by the strong spirits of the castle's past.

Thank you for joining me during this interlude. Back to Seven Noble Knights revisions now!

Monday, August 10, 2015

Birthday Facts About Jessica K, 2015

Waterfire in Providence has more pyres. 
I'm taking cues from a previous post for this one. Keep the plagiarism close to home.

1. Yesterday was my birthday!

2. Waterfire in Providence has more pyres than I had birthday candles. Thank goodness!

3. My husband and I have been mock-lamenting the fact that nothing could ever top the gift I got last year. Achieving a lifelong dream and having it be so moving... Nothing better.

4. This is the first birthday in five years that I'm living in exactly the same building as I was for my last birthday! Before that, it was a hotel in North Carolina (2013), an apartment in Atlanta (2012), an apartment in Arizona (2011), a condo in Pennsylvania (2010), and an apartment in Cambridge, MA (2009 and 2008). That skips a couple of locations we happened leave before August. And yes, our traveling feet are itching to get on the move again.

5. Partially because we haven't moved in the interim, and partially because of the theory of the way perception of time collapses as we age, it really doesn't seem as if a whole year has passed since my last birthday. Normally I can tell the difference between years because we're in a different location; this time the changes are more subtle.

6. One change is that last year, I didn't have to ask for time off because my birthday was on a Saturday. This year, I don't have to ask for time off because I'm freelancing, so time management is all up to me, anyway. My husband, however, had to do a lot of fancy footwork to get some time off because he now has a job where he usually has to work on Sundays.

7. I thought I would have "it" all figured out by this age. I'm not sure if that was a silly thing to think or it really has become harder to get one's affairs in order in this tumultuous world.

8. Here's what I've figured out: I love my husband. I love Spain. I love rhinos. I love living in New England. I don't ask for a lot, and most of the time I get even less than I ask for. New theory: ask for more.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Writing Like a Spaniard

The Castillo de Manzanares looks like a great place to write.
It was the family home of the famous author, the Marqués de Santillana. 
My editor (yes, I have an editor now!) tells me the Seven Noble Knights revisions are going well. There are three aspects to the revisions as I see them, but today I'd like to focus on the one I have most under control, which is use of adjectives.

I went through Seven Noble Knights some time ago to extricate unnecessary adverbs, and it appears I did a good job, because those pesky words haven't been mentioned. But I have been told to go through and get rid of adjectives that don't help. They tell me I have some lovely descriptions, so I shouldn't take all the adjectives out, but I should delete the ones that can be better expressed with a stronger verb or that are already implied in the rest of the text.

This is good advice for any writer of English. English likes to present itself as vigorous and agile, without a lot of heavy ornamentation. It views minimalist writing as a moral imperative. In general, my style is so spare that the members of my critique group ask me to add, so subtracting is new for me.

At first, I thought I was using many adjectives because Seven Noble Knights is set in medieval Spain. Specifically, the history texts in which the story survives were written during the first blossoming of Castilian prose. These writers had a lot of brand new words at their disposal (and weren't afraid to make them up if needed) and they wanted to write them all down, as if they would escape into the ether if they didn't. Bless them for that! That tendency led to an ornate descriptive style that could seem bloated to a modern reader.

Those medieval writers had a lot of influence on my writing. But then I realized that I read widely in modern Spanish and in English translations from Spanish. I don't know if I happen to select all the right books to prove this, but it seems as if the style hasn't changed much from that first burst of exuberance. Take these sentences from the first chapter of The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón:

At last my father stopped in front of a large door of carved wood, blackened by time and humidity. Before us loomed what to my eyes seemed the carcass of a palace, a place of echoes and shadows. ... A smallish man with vulturine features framed by thick gray hair opened the door. His impenetrable aquiline gaze rested on mine. ... We followed our host through a palatial corridor and arrived at a sprawling round hall, a virtual basilica of shadows spiraling up under a high glass dome, its dimness pierced by shafts of light that stabbed from above. A labyrinth of passageways and crammed bookshelves rose from base to pinnacle like a beehive woven with tunnels, steps, platforms, and bridges that presaged an immense library of seemingly impossible geometry.

This is a high concentration of adjectives, to be sure. But I find that these sentences give me a crystal clear picture of exactly what the narrator is experiencing. I find that if I take any one of the many adjectives away, the effect is changed for the worse. The use of lots of adjectives feels useful here. It makes me question the Anglo-Saxon assumption that the immorality of a writing style is directly proportional to the number of words.

I might end up with just as clear a picture from a passage originally in English, but I would have to do more detective work to get there. English and Spanish may have completely different expectations of the reader. And so, as I revise a novel written in English about medieval Spain, I feel the pull from both literary traditions. Resolution: From that tension, greatness will arise. I will do the impossible and take out every other adjective while maintaining my "lovely" descriptions. Just wait and see.