Showing posts with label Barb Goffman. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Barb Goffman. Show all posts

14 June 2022

When Ignorance is Bliss


We've all heard the advice that authors should write what they know. (And before you roll your eyes, it doesn't mean write only about things you already know about. It means do your research before you write about something so you get the details right and your story is believable.) Along the same lines, editing what you know makes sense too. If I were to edit a police procedural novel, it sure would help if I knew about police procedure. Ditto for a legal thriller. Knowing what a summary judgment motion is and how it works would be important if I were to edit a novel with one of them in it.

But sometimes when I'm editing, I find that ignorance can truly be bliss. It can result in my asking questions an expert in a particular subject might not. Take, for instance, the topic of farming. I'm not a farmer. I've never lived on a farm. I don't even like to go outside. Twenty years ago, a woman in my writing group was writing a novel set on a farm. Each week we'd go over another chapter and I would ask questions that made her realize she'd incorrectly assumed certain things were common knowledge. When that book came out, she gave me a copy and inscribed, "Barb, your ignorance of farming was invaluable." It still makes me laugh.

It's not the only time my ignorance came in handy. Several years ago, a client used an acronym that I'd never heard of before, and I noted it when editing her manuscript. She was surprised. It was a common word in the military, she said. After polling a bunch of people she knew, she realized she either needed to explain the acronym or change it because enough non-military people didn't know the term, and its meaning wasn't obvious from her story's context. If I'd had a military background, it might not have occurred to me that many readers might not know that acronym. 

Ignorance can be bliss. So can pizza.

So, where does the line lie between when an author wants an editor who's a subject-matter expert or one who isn't? I'm no expert on answering this question (ha ha), but I think it depends on how much of an expert the author is on the subject at hand--or how much research the author is willing to do. 

If you're a homicide detective writing about a homicide detective, working with an editor who's never been a police officer might be useful. The editor could bring a helpful outsider's perspective, enabling you to see when you're making assumptions about what most readers will know. But if you've never been a police officer and you don't love doing research, then you'd be well served by working with an editor who knows enough about how police investigations work to tell you if you got something wrong or if you might've gotten something wrong so you should check. 

That said, sometimes you won't be able to find the exact expert you need. If I wanted to write a story about a gravedigger, I might be able to find a gravedigger who could answer my questions. It might be more difficult to find a gravedigger or former gravedigger who also edits mysteries.

So, if you can't find an expert to edit your manuscript, look for one who isn't afraid to question things, asking if you checked if certain things are correct. (It also wouldn't be a bad idea to find a subject-matter expert who will read your manuscript, not to edit it, but to tell you if you got the details right.)

Even as I type this, I can imagine someone reading this column and thinking, even a homicide detective could benefit from the expertise of another insider, someone who might have suggestions a lay editor wouldn't think of. And that is true too. It's why it's a good idea to know your strengths and weaknesses and know exactly what you want--and need--from an editor before hiring one. Sometimes someone with certain expertise is exactly what's right for you. But other times, the person who's right for you is an editor who's ignorant about your field--and who isn't afraid to show it.

24 May 2022

What Fired Me Up to Write a Fireworks Story


Shortly before July 4th last year, I posted this on my Facebook page:

One day I am going to write a story in which someone who sets off fireworks in a suburban neighborhood, not giving a crap about the animals he's scaring, gets what's coming. And I won't feel bad at all. 
 
Sincerely,
 
The mom of a freaked-out dog
 
Boy, did the responses pour in. I got 145 likes, 29 loves, 47 hugs, and a smattering of other emojis. The comments were just as enthusiastic. Here's just a handful:
  • PLEASE please write that story!
  • Also endorsed by moms of small children, fire marshals, ER staff, those with PTSD. Please do something to those who sell the fireworks also . . . 
  • I'm happy to consult on this one! People here are also very concerned about their horses being frightened by them. Apparently several were injured last year
  • And I would read that book and recommend it to everyone I know. My poor boy Paddy has not left my side for hours now. 
  • You’d get lots of support from those of us in California who are sniffing for wild-fire smoke after every very illegal bang.
  • This has always been my least favorite holiday simply because of the loud noise and the fear and confusion it causes to animals, pets and wildlife both. Then there are the accidents to humans and fire potential.
Buoyed by the 100+ comments, I decided to write a story addressing the impact of fireworks. Then I saw a call for stories for an upcoming anthology to be titled Low Down Dirty Vote Volume 3: The Color of My Vote. Authors were asked to submit stories involving voting and color. We were giving wide latitude in how we interpreted the theme. As you may imagine, I thought of fireworks. They come in all kinds of colors. People who shoot them off frequently say they're being patriotic (red, white, and blue). People who don't like their impact see red. People who sell them want green. There were many more color associations I could make. Yes, I thought, a story involving fireworks could be a good fit.
 
Then I had to work in a voting aspect. Maybe, I thought, a city council could be about to vote on a proposal to bar residents from shooting off fireworks. I created a main character, a teenage girl, who is desperate for the ban to pass because of how fireworks set off in her neighborhood scare her dog, Bailey. The vote is expected to be close, and she has a friend whose neighbor is on the city council, so they decide to try to push him to vote their way ... with an unconventional approach.
 
Now it's almost a year later, and Memorial Dayanother holiday associated with fireworksis right around the corner. It's the perfect time for Low Down Dirty Vote Volume 3 to have been published. And I'm delighted the book includes my story "For Bailey." It's not the straight-on revenge story some people were hoping for, but it does address the effects fireworks can have on veterans with PTSD, firefighters, the environment, wildlife, and, especially, pets. I should add that I do not endorse any real-life crimes against people who set off fireworks or sell them. But I do like using fiction to try to open some eyes to the impact fireworks can have while offering an entertaining tale at the same time.
 
The anthology is out in trade paperback and ebook. It includes 22 stories of crime and suspense, ranging from comic to tragic and from cozy to noir. You'll also find a few stories involving science fiction, horror, and fantasy. The publisher is donating all the proceeds to Democracy Docket, an organization fighting voter suppression in the United States.

Here are the authors with stories in the book, in order of story appearance:

David Corbett, Faye Snowden, Eric Beetner, Sarah M. Chen, Gabriel Valjan, Jackie Ross Flaum, David Hagerty, Thomas Pluck, Katharina Gerlach, Stephen Buehler, Ember Randall, Camille Minichino, Patricia (Pat) E. Canterbury, James McCrone, Ann Parker, Miguel Alfonso Ramos, Misty Sol, DJ Tyrer, Anshritha, Bev Vincent, Barb Goffman, and Travis Richardson
.

You can order a paper copy of the book through many indie bookstores. Click here to find some near you. If you prefer Amazon (paper or ebook), click here. Paper copies are also available through Barnes and Noble. Click here for them.

The anthology supports a worthy cause, so I hope you'll consider picking up a copy. I also hope you enjoy my story and you and your loved ones (human and furry) don't suffer too much from the effects of fireworks this summer.