C h a z z W r i t e s . c o m

The publishing revolution already happened.

Why I no longer swear in my books

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000039_00004]When I wrote my crime novels, I wanted verisimilitude. I’d watched Goodfellas repeatedly, The Sopranos religiously and, of course, I’d been through high school. Naturally, I’m acquainted with an impressive list of swear words and they don’t bother me.

Swearing seemed like a good idea at the time.

Bigger Than Jesus is about a Cuban hit man who, after a very rough childhood and military service, ends up working for New York’s Spanish mob. The subtext is sad but the jokes and movie references come fast. The language reflects reality. In other words, the characters swear quite a bit.

(And the sex scene in Higher Than Jesus? It’s so steamy and frank, that scene was all my dad wanted to talk about after he read it. Sigh. That’s a different post.)

When I wrote the crime novels, I thought any dialogue that reflected the way people really speak was the only way to go for me. I thought that if readers didn’t accept swear words in fiction, they were reality-impaired. Suck it up or don’t read my books, was my policy.

I don’t feel that way anymore.

Well, I do still think people who don’t accept appropriate use of swear words in fiction (and author autonomy to write what they want to) are reality-impaired and intolerant.

But “Suck it up or be shunned,” made me intolerant, too.

Swearing will alienate some readers.

I knew that, of course, but I thought verisimilitude was more important. Now, after two volumes of This Plague of Days — which is devoid of such strong language — I’ve decided I’ve lost nothing by omitting obscenities. Those who aren’t offended by swearing don’t seem to miss it if it’s not there. There’s just no value added, or at least not enough value added, to keep the swearing in. I think I can attribute many of my happy reviews of This Plague of Days to the fact that I did without (though I do skirt it a bit. More on that in a minute.) 

Is my self-censorship a (possibly pathetic) bid to gain more readers?

The short answer is, yes.

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000039_00004]The longer answer is, it didn’t start out that way. Jaimie Spencer, the hero of This Plague of Days, is autistic. He’s seventeen, but he’s a sensitive kid. A book that included a lot of swearing just didn’t feel right for the tone of the piece. Much of the drama happens around the Spencer family in Missouri and somehow, zombies or no zombies, peppering the text with f-bombs just didn’t fit this story or the readers likely to enjoy it. I salted it with Latin phrases, instead.

The really long answer is that it saddens me that some readers are so sensitive to curse words. I hate that they wouldn’t read some of my earlier work because of that sensitivity. However, my writing is about much more than swearing. I can do without it and not hurt the dialogue or the story. This Plague of Days is effective suspense and horror and this stylistic choice doesn’t affect that. Many of the people who love This Plague of Days are related to people on the autistic spectrum. They’re more comfortable spreading the word about the serial and sharing it with family members and friends because I changed my policy on swearing.

The f-word can be a crutch.

Use it too much and dialogue risks a feeling of laziness and sameness. Increase the frequency and the impact suffers. Working around that obstacle has proved so minor, I wish I’d done without cursing from the beginning. “She cursed him as she sliced his throat,” can serve just as well, or better, than a string of expletives.

We all know the words. My kids knew the words when they were quite little. Amazingly, they didn’t learn those words from me. They had to go to school for that. There’s no shock to it and sometimes it just gets in the way and the reader’s eye skips over it. I want all my words to count. I insist on delivering impacts to brainpans and adrenal glands. Swearing doesn’t do the job.

I have not suddenly become a prude.

My daily vocabulary reflects the full range of human experience, though the monologue in my head contains much more swearing. (I get points for holding back, right?)

In This Plague of Days, a “damn” might squeak in from time to time. My mother said that was okay since that was her swear of choice. North Americans tend to find British people saying, “shite” kind of charming. I use that. However, even that little is very sparse in This Plague of Days. 

I’m not claiming that no one could possibly be offended by something I wrote. I’m sure someone will clutch their pearls over the discussions between the religious wife and the atheist husband. That’s sure to annoy both sides, in fact. Reviewers have described the story as “creepy”, “scary” and “terrifying.” Well, I should hope so. Swearing or not, it is still very much horror and suspense.

I haven’t gone soft and I’m not writing children’s books.

This Plague of Days contains many scenes that are descriptive of the gore of war. There are some whimsical touches, but much of the story feels real enough you might worry I’m not a horror writer, but a futurist. However, like Twitter’s 140-character limit, the omission of cursing in my zombie apocalypse has forced me to be more clever. Sometimes the omission of swear words has even opened up new avenues for character expression. By that, I mean that there are some really good jokes in This Plague of Days that hinge on the power of irony and understatement, not f-bombs.

Conclusions

1. This doesn’t mean I’m saying you shouldn’t swear in your books. I’m not here to tell anyone what to do so stop feeling threatened.

2. This doesn’t stop me from writing books with so-called “bad words” in the future, though I think I’ll continue to do without. This bears repeating: Those who aren’t offended by swearing don’t seem to miss it if it’s not there. I don’t miss it. Anybody read any Vonnegut and think, This isn’t bad, but it would be so much better with a bunch more f-bombs? (I did, however, note that Norman Mailer could have cut back by half and helped Tough Guys Don’t Dance.)

3. This doesn’t mean that I think swearing is bad. It might be right for your books and I admit that, when done right, a string of obscenities certainly has its place.

4. I also have to admit that I think doing without swearing (in the text!) has made me a better writer.

5. This isn’t a moral stand. It was a solid artistic choice that stumbled into a good business decision. I confess. I want to be read by a wider audience. This is one of the ways I’m accomplishing that.

Filed under: author platform, book marketing, Horror, readers, writing tips, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Video, Audio and Pixels: Hugh Howey hits and This Plague of Days launches Episode 5

And here, folks, are the announcements as promised. It’s a cornucopia of fun stuff to feed your hungry, hungry hippocampus:

See the rest of the interview on my YouTube channel here, or subscribe at CoolPeoplePodcast.com.

Also available on iTunes (or on Stitcher through the show link to the All That Chazz podcast.)

This Plague of Days: The first zombie thriller on the autism spectrum.

Episode 5 is now available! Get each ep for just 99 cents or get the discount deal and get all of Season One for just $3.99.

Episode 5 is now available! Get each ep for just 99 cents or get the discount deal and get all of Season One for just $3.99.

In Episode 5 of This Plague of Days, it’s all action as the Spencer family faces great loss in the Midwest and Dr. Sinjin-Smythe runs for his life in London. Dump your expectations of what a zombie apocalypse can deliver. The survivors of the plagues can be just as dangerous as any horde of rampaging zombies.

From the latest review on Amazon…

“The final episode of Season One did exactly what it was supposed to do. It twisted your stomach in knots, let go slightly, then snatched your stomach away until the second season is available.

All the immediate conflicts were resolved in a satisfying way, not rushed, not unrealistic. There’s plenty of ground to cover next season, and the last few lines will leave you guessing. Well done, Chute. You’ve crafted a high-brow zombie thriller that stands out from the rest.” ~ Ava Easterby

Coming late to the Apocalypse? No problem! 

This Plague of Days scares me to death! I just can’t put it down; I have to see what happens next.

A review from Victor Morin

The mind virus is created. Spread the infection. If you already have read it, please review it.Thanks! ~ Chazz

The mind virus is created. Spread the infection. If you already have read it, please review it.Thanks! ~ Chazz

 

Filed under: book trailer, Books, Horror, podcasts, This Plague of Days, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Writers, Writing and When to Swear

TPOD 0420 2

Apocalypse Art for This Plague of Days by Kit Foster of KitFosterDesign.com

As I work on This Plague of Days revisions, there’s a big difference: This is the first of my books my 13-year-old daughter is allowed to read. No one is swearing in TPOD and any sex is PG-13, at most. Sometimes I think this serial (to be released at the end of May) could be suitable for Young Adult. However, I’m also not pulling back on elements of horror that range from Hitchcockian allusion (The Birds) to classic horror (a gross-out or three). It’s a post-apocalyptic world and things aren’t pretty. 

Crass Commercial Considerations

A cross-genre flurry about  society's collapse under the crush of the Sutr Virus combined with a boy's love for odd words, Latin dictionaries and his father.

A cross-genre flurry about society’s collapse under the crush of the Sutr Virus combined with a boy’s love for odd words, Latin dictionaries and his father.

I’ll admit it: I want This Plague of Days to sell to a wide audience. I want it to go huge! Multiple translations and audiobooks and mass consumption. I want this serial to be made into a movie or a franchise with TPOD lunch boxes and T-shirts at conventions. I don’t want to return to a day job and a very popular serial without cursing will help me toward that goal. I watched an interview with director Kevin Smith recently in which he breaks down the movie market. The same principles apply to us: R sells less than PG-13. Soften the blow. Make more money.

Yes, I know Fifty Shades of Gray is bondage porn that makes a ton of money off a wide audience. However, this isn’t that. This Plague of Days is about an autistic boy who is a selective mute. A plague spreads across the earth and as the mayhem goes up, society spirals down. Bad things happen. However, the story revolves around the boy and, though it’s third-person limited omniscient, much of it unfolds through the boy’s filter. His special interest is English dictionaries and Latin phrases. Nothing is lost if I don’t make TPOD a cursefest and I’ll gain more readers.

The Irony I Frankly Don’t Understand

Many people are comfortable with just about any depiction of violence but get squeamish about certain words and sex. We’re downright weird about cursing. It’s in mainstream media and on any school playground, but in print, daily newspapers put in coy asterisks like this: f***. As if our brains don’t just fill in the word automatically. Swearing is ingrained in everyday conversations, but we pretend it’s not.

Watching a show like Dexter on a non-Showtime channel, censors ensure the dialogue sounds silly. “Mothertruckers?” Really? (The practice was played to great comedic effect when, in the latest Spider-Man movie incarnation, our beloved hero blurts, “Mother Hubbard!“)

Meanwhile, I get queasy about certain entertainment that is considered mainstream even though it’s extremely violent. I’ll never see Jodi Foster in The Accused and I refuse to watch A Time to Kill. Frank depictions of sexual assault and child rape are not something I want to

My luckless hit man is a funny guy in big trouble.

My luckless hit man is a funny guy in big trouble.

see. I can’t watch CSI or its many iterations. That whole Special Victims Unit thing feels way too voyeuristic and definitely not for me. (I’m not campaigning for a cleansing, by the way. I don’t want art censored. What I don’t like, I don’t watch, read or listen to and that solves my problem nicely.)

Ever since I had kids, I’m generally more queasy about violence that’s too realistic. I’d rather keep my violence diet to thrillers like Bigger Than Jesus. Though there’s plenty of death and even allusions to Jesus’s abuse as a young teen, it’s treated carefully, not graphic, and balanced by the hero’s sense of humor. The funny makes the horrible feel safe, somehow. 

This Plague of Days’ post-apocayptic genre puts the story into a realm that isn’t ours…at least not quite yet. 

Sex and Curses Have Their Place: Serving the story

Jesus is resurrected in Chicago. Sex with the Queen of Giants. Violence with Very Bad Men.

Jesus is resurrected in Chicago. Sex with the Queen of Giants. Violence with Very Bad Men.

My crime novels are funny but still gritty and hardboiled. The swearing in the Hit Man Series is a need. It would have been unnatural to write workarounds for simple, salty language. Acting too coy would have drained too much realism away. 

As for sex, in Bigger Than Jesus, Jesus Diaz is constantly running for his life. The book plays out like a long chase scene. Beatings and murder don’t put the hero and heroine in the mood, even for a quickie. There is a great romantic love interest in Lily Vasquez, but her intimacy issues with the hit man aren’t about sex. Lily and Jesus’s drama deepens character and shows the impact of his awful history on his life. Through their interaction, the reader understands Jesus more and sees why he’s so screwed up (particularly about women). The reader ends up empathizing with a guy who kills for money. As for Higher Than Jesus, the sex scene with Willow Clemont and Jesus is both integral to the plot and erotic. Sex raises the stakes.

The Balance:

Despite any commercial considerations and the joy I feel at being able to show my daughter what I really do,

story has to come first.

Gee, I hope she likes it.

~ Chazz has new websites: CoolPeoplePodcast.com, onlysixseconds.wordpress.com, DecisionToChange.com. In the latest podcast at the author site, AllThatChazz.com, there’s some swearing (in a funny rant) and a fresh reading from Higher Than Jesus.

Filed under: book marketing, Genre, Horror, rules of writing, This Plague of Days, writing tips, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Sometimes reality is far less believable than fiction

Right now, I am heartsick. It’s Sunday morning. I’m listening to CBC radio. The subject is police abuse of power at last year’s Toronto G8 conference a year ago. There are too many examples of violence against peaceful protesters, but one stands out. A group of police tackled a man who is an above-the-leg amputee. They pinned him to the ground. They said he had a weapon. They said he was a spitter. They beat him and handcuffed him. Then an officer ordered the amputee to walk. Of course, he could not.

But that’s not even the super evil part. Not yet.

The officer then ripped off the amputee’s artificial leg. He ordered him to walk again. Couldn’t. So then the officer ordered him to hop, which was too painful.

The whole story of mistakes made by police at the G8: confining people without arrest; arresting people they know are innocent, peaceful protesters; arresting people who aren’t even protesting but made the mistake of living downtown and trying to buy milk at a local convenience store. Restricting freedoms with violent, bullying tactics and demanding people move but giving them nowhere to go. Worse, these unprovoked criminal acts against innocent people, perpetrated by police, are covered up by police. Unconstitutional “containment tactics” entrapped people. Police were hyped up, spoiling for a fight where non was necessary. Hundreds of cell phones and cameras recorded these crimes, yet police refused to discipline themselves.

I know a couple of cops. I like them plenty and this isn’t about them. I’m confident they are peace officers, serving and protecting. This is about the fact that the facts are worse than what most of us could pull off in a novel. A police officer who rips off an amputee’s leg and demands he hop? You couldn’t get away with that in a novel. That’s so bad, it reads as cartoony evil. If I used that in a novel, my beta readers might well accuse me of writing “over the top.”

Meanwhile: 11909. That’s a badge number on one officer’s helmet as reported on CBC radio this morning. A protester wants to bring assault charges against the officer whose identifying number is 11909. Allegedly, that officer struck a peaceful protester with a riot shield. There’s video evidence. However, the powers that be are refusing to identify that officer so due legal process can ensue. It seems we can complain of mass arrests, police brutality and detainment without process or cause, and the bureaucracy in charge of these officers do not feel the need to respond to charges in court or in the media.

Some people think this travesty of justice doesn’t apply to them. They think only troublemakers were hurt or arrested or detained by police. Among those abused by police were many people who felt the same way, at least they did until last year this time. Where there is no accountability, when a country’s constitution can be discarded at a whim by authorities, we are all in danger. Freedom of speech without exercise isn’t freedom.

The Toronto police chief, Bill Blair, first stated that everything was fine and there was no basis for any criticism of the police. Then the video came out. Now he admits police made mistakes, but is less interested in pursuing a conversation about it. So will there be a public inquiry? It hasn’t been decided yet, even with all the video evidence. Even though many officers mistook fear of them for enforcing respect for the law. Even though accused officers are still covering up. Even though for all the mass arrests, their successful conviction rate? 2.2%! The fact that they are resisting a public inquiry at all tell you all you need to know.

I am nauseated by this. No kidding. It make me sad for my country and for the damage done to the reputation of  good officers. I wish it were fiction.

Filed under: Horror, Media, Rant

The Fatness

For a change of pace, here’s my column, Practitioner Parables, in Massage & Bodywork magazine on page 127. It’s called Therapists Through Thick and Thin. It’s about being heavy and getting thinner.

(CLICK HERE) 

Filed under: Horror, links, Media, Rant, , , , , , , , , , ,

Writers: Mickey Spillane’s Rule for Selling Books

本の構造

Image via Wikipedia

Mickey Spillane sold a lot of books. Here’s how:

“The first page sells the book,” he said. “The last page sells the next book.”

I was reminded of Spillane’s axiom as I finished the last page of Mr. Monster by Dan Wells. I’m not going to spoil it for you. You’re just going to have to go read it. That book, and his first in the series, I Am Not a Serial Killer, are sometimes harrowing reads. These are books where the author takes risks. John Cleaver is a protagonist you won’t like, but you feel for him, too.

Dan Wells has turned his protagonist, a young sociopath with a dangerous mind, into somebody I’ll follow. I’ll follow the series. Dan Wells is going to sell a lot of books off a character who will make you very uncomfortable.

It was the last line that got me. The really good ones stick with you. The end of Fight Club is a great scene with a neat twist. And William Goldman? He’s the master of the last line that stick a knife between your ribs and gives the blade a half-twist. Goldman’s trick is to make readers comfortable, letting them think they know what will happen next, and then sucker punching them. At the end of Goldman’s The Color of Light I actually threw the book across the room because just when I thought I was safely in the dénouement, he hit me again. 

Lots of writing advice is about baiting the hook on the first page. On the last page, make sure you get the barbs in deep for the next one, too.

Filed under: authors, book reviews, Horror, publishing, Writers, writing tips, , , , , , , , ,

Writers: Top 10 of the 2010 Top 10 Chazz Writes posts

Top10

Early last year I considered going back to school to become a librarian. (I dumped that idea before I saw this graphic, but it does make me feel better about my choice.)

After some career counselling, I decided to refocus my efforts on my writing and editing. I needed (and need!) to bring art to the front burner. I began this blog as part of reorganizing my life to that end. Since last May I’ve posted 402 times and gained lots of readers, friends and even some clients (hurrah!) Things progress.

 For lucky #403, this is a look back through the Top 10 lists of 2010:

1. Authors! Part II: Top Ten Lessons from the Networking Master

2. Top 10 Ways Writers Waste Time

3. Writers & Editors: Top 10 Editorial Considerations

4. (Top 10 Things +1) Writers Love

5. Top 10 Reasons We Write Sci-fi

6. Top 10 (plus one) Publishing Conference Lessons

7. Top 10 Things Writers Fear

8. Top 10 Reasons We Write Horror

9. Top 10 Reasons We Write Romance

10. Writers Top Ten: Why blogging about publishing is important

Filed under: authors, Books, ebooks, Editing, Editors, getting it done, Horror, Publicity & Promotion, publishing, Rant, Top Ten, Useful writing links, Writers, writing tips, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

We tell our stories. It’s not supposed to be about fame. Or is it?

Illustration depicting thought.

Image via Wikipedia

You’re at your computer. You’re in a coffee shop. You’re in your bed. You’re at your desk. You’re thinking of me reaching out to you through these words.

I’m here at my keyboard, typing these words, thinking of you and how isolated we are from each other.

I’m thinking about how isolation allows things to happen that shouldn’t. For instance, last week one of my pages was attacked in a creepy cyber way (and it still isn’t fixed completely. Costly tech support arrives today on a white horse, carrying new modems.) If the hacker knew me, he probably wouldn’t have done what he did. We’d kick back and have coffee instead. Our mutual isolation makes me a number. To him, I’m just another IP address, not a human being.

And yet, there is such potential for the electronic web that stretches out among us to pull into a tighter weave.

The Internet has such power and possibility if we can only figure out how to harness it.

For instance, this week on Kevin Smith’s podcast Plus One, Smith and his wife talked about how Mitch Albom hit him up for some help with a charity to feed a village of starving children. Albom needed $80,000 a year. Kevin generously got the charity ball rolling. Sure, if you’re rich, you can give. But if you’re rich and famous, you can give and alert others to the opportunity to give.

The Tiny Science of Your Fragile Humanity

Yes, a chance to donate is an opportunity. It’s your chance to provide aid. It feels good to give if you have something to give. It feels good because we are wired to be sympathetic. Our brains have mirror neurons that allow us to empathize so much we cry when we see an actor in emotional pain on a movie screen, even though we know it’s fiction.

Mirror neurons are that bit of biological microscopy and brain chemistry that make us human instead of irredeemable monsters bent only on survival by domination and murder. Boot camp, by the way, doesn’t turn off your mirror neurons, by the way. The discipline and brutality uses tribalism so your sympathy and courage is directed only to the benefit of your fellow soldiers.

That’s how you make good people do awful things.

To be creative and find an audience for your creativity is not just about making money. In fact, many artists would work for free (and many do) just for the love of art. Expression is often an inexplicable compulsion. If money comes, it is a side benefit. You hope to be paid for the fruits of your imagination, but wealth is something to be hoped for, not expected.

Seeing how privileged people use their influence to make the planet a better place, I see that I was wrong about fame. I undervalued it. I thought it had the potential to be a big pain in the ass, but that’s not fame’s only aspect. Now I see how it can be used beyond art. Fame can be a tool to help starving kids, for instance.

So many artists of all genres and stripes are poor. I wish you success (and much of the content here is aimed at helping you achieve it.) Success is important, but not just for you. Famous artists have bigger audiences. Famous artists make enough money so they can help others. There’s no nobility in a starving artist’s hovel. When you’re hungry, it’s very difficult to produce art.

 Getting paid is good. 

If you want to help the poor:

Don’t be one of them.

Recently, on The Biggest Loser, one of the contestants, Frado, found a way to use his good fortune to “pay it forward.” He had a clever idea. Frado won a session with chef Curtis Stone. Instead of just getting the expected tutorial for his family alone, Frado asked Stone to hook his name to a charity event. Stone cooked up some healthy food and Frado hosted five charities to raise more than $25,000. The hit and run tutorial would have come and gone. Frado found a way to use his newfound fame, and the celebrity’s chef’s notoriety, to make an impact on people’s lives.

It made me wonder, how can we harness social media, our fans and our followers, to help people in need? I think of the clients I know who have breast cancer or have had breast cancer. I think of my cousin and my neighbour, both hit with prostate cancer. My mother died of lung cancer though she never once smoked. These causes need research dollars. There are so many causes that need voices raised for them. There are so many everyday injustices and our silence is taken for complacency. I suppose, to my shame, that is what it is. 

I have undervalued fame. I didn’t think I should value it because that would make me shallow. Then I saw how fortunate people are using their fame in constructive ways. Now I have a larger goal beyond simple publication, teaching and the petty propagation of my little entertainments. I’m working on my books.  One day they will sell and I may achieve a little bit of recognition in some circles.

If we can get flash mobs together, how about flash protests and flash fundraisers? We try to make book trailers go viral. How about YouTube videos that show the needs that must be met. How about using our narrative powers to activate those mirror neurons so people are moved to help each other?

What then?

Better: What now?

Everyone dreams about what they’ll do if money comes their way.

What dreams can we light, as one flame fires another, with bright fame?  

What can I do in the meantime, in these mean times?

What can we achieve, working together?

We have the most power tools of connection and interactivity

that have ever existed. Now.

Please let me know your ideas.

There are too many hungry. There are too many sick. We will all be sick.

There are too few who are reaching out to draw the whole together.

We have to find the way. We can start small, but we must start.

You and I could make the change that others will not.

Let’s become WE. 

 

Filed under: DIY, grammar, Horror, Publicity & Promotion, publishing, Rant, Social Media, , , , , , , ,

Christopher Hitchens yelled at me (and rightly so)

Christopher Hitchens1

Image via Wikipedia

Imagine my dismay. I sat at the front of the room in the middle of an editorial meeting when the crowd parted. There was Christopher Hitchens sitting alone in the middle of the room. He was angry with me.

“You need a lifestyle editor!” he said. Not that he was applying for the job. He was talking only to me and the group I had been speaking to became a faceless mob. My job was managing editor for a magazine. And here was someone I admire proclaiming that I was screwing it up.

“You have to take responsibility!’ he said. “How do you expect to succeed without a lifestyle editor?

His last words to me were, “The clock is ticking, you know. How much time do you think you have?”

Wow. I was confused for a couple of reasons. Though I’m a big fan, I couldn’t picture a situation where I’d be in an editorial meeting with Mr. Hitchens. More to the point, I played managing editor on my college newspaper. I’m not a managing editor at the moment.

I was dreaming.

But dreaming with a point.

I woke up startled. I pulled back the sheets and sat on the edge of the bed. “My unconscious is telling me to work on my lifestyle, to chase my dreams with more awareness that life is an opportunity that does not last forever.” I exited the dream vehicle, not just reminded, but committed to continuing my lifestyle changes as well as alterations to my professional life.

The message was made all the more stark considering the challenges the real-life Christopher Hitchens is now facing. Esophageal cancer is a bitch.

It’s one of those weird little life fictions from the dreamscape that, even if it’s wrong, it’s right. The experience affected me deeply.

So it was like all good fiction.

Filed under: authors, Horror, What about Chazz?, , , ,

How to be a Bad Editor

The phrase that pays.

Image by pirateyjoe via Flickr

Most editors are pretty good to great. Then there are the others. Here’s how to be one of those bad editors:

1. Edit without being asked. A copy editor I knew came up with a detailed critique of small advertisement I had for one of my businesses. I hadn’t asked and his manner was that he had caught me out at something. He hadn’t, actually. He didn’t like the paragraph’s wording but everyone else was okay with it. At best, his editorial suggestion was a lateral move. Worse, when I gently brushed him off, he didn’t have the grace to shut up. Then I had to brush him off with force.

2. Treat catches like a moral victory. A newspaper editor descended on me because, on my first day, I wrote Sidney instead of Sydney, Nova Scotia. I thanked her for catching my error. “This is not a minor error!” she said. “I said thanks,” I replied. “Were you looking for? Blood? I’m fresh out.” Mistakes happen. It was her job to catch my errors. I owed her my gratitude, not an apology.

3. Be very sure, and pissy about it, even when you’re wrong. A teacher, who was presumably responsible for helping generations of students, circled a word in a business document. She used her red pen as if I were one of her unfortunate, young charges (though I was about 30 at the time.) “You got this wrong!” she said with delight. (See #2) By that time I’d already edited and/or proofread hundreds of books. I knew what I was talking about and here’s the rule: You affect the effect. This is a common mistake. She stayed sure I was wrong. It was just too delightful to think she was right, I guess. That’s another common mistake.

4. Treat your writers like crap. (And refer to them as “your” writers, as if we’re owned.) Working in a big daily’s newsroom was an intense environment, sometimes unnecessarily so. For some reason, the air was also very dry. You’d think all those tears would be humidifying. Anyway, I had a nosebleed and some assignment editor (who was all of a year or two my senior) walked up and dropped an assignment on the keyboard upon which I was trying not to bleed. He didn’t say a word about my hemorrhage and went on about his work. A year later I was working in publishing with someone who had worked at the Toronto Star and she told me she’d experienced the exact same story with a person who was just as uncaring about her welfare. Weird.

5. Be a strict grammarian. Insist on obsolete rules. Insist the legendary “to boldly go where no one has gone before” was a mistake in two Star Trek series, a crime worthy of beheading. And never allow anyone to start a sentence with “And.” Also, grow visibly nauseous when anyone dares to end a sentence with a preposition. That’s something up with which you will not put.

6. Insist that new word usage is the cause of all our economic, political and moral woes. Insist we should freeze the language at some arbitrary point that makes you comfortable. Verbing nouns particularly irks you. Exclaim your objections and try not to faint with the vapours when someone says, “I’ll google that.” Civilization began to end when we started using “impact” as a verb and texting abbreviations are not analogous to a new language. Texting is a sign of End Times.

7. Be a tyrant. Change your mind. A lot. This is particularly fun for assignment editors. Expect writers to read your mind about how you want the story to go. Don’t tell them what you want. That would ruin your fun. Instead, get angry when they guess wrong. For extra bonus douche points, decree that you loathe simultaneous submissions and take forever to answer queries (or don’t answer them at all.) Pay a pittance on publication. Better, pay in bird-cage liners and tell seasoned writers they should be grateful you’re allowing them to “pay their dues.”

8. Be cruel in your rejections. When work you’ve turned down succeeds elsewhere, never doubt your judgment. Sniff at the plebian tastes of the masses instead. Better, put up examples of queries you find execrable and hilarious on your website. Mock it mercilessly. Sure, you’re a ball breaker and a soul crusher, but if you call what you do helping, it’s okay.

9. When you edit, don’t focus on making the text better. Focus on making yourself feel better. It’s that kind of prioritizing that can make you a famous infamous editor. Be sure to crow to everyone how x,y, and z author owes everything to you because you gave them their big break. Act as if you did them a favour (instead of the business decision it really was.) When your fledgling authors come to their senses and flee to work with someone sane, declare them a bunch of ingrates and try to have them banned from ever making a living or even having lunch in your town again. (Yes, these legends aren’t just in New York. I’ve met a couple of these demons in Toronto’s publishing houses,too. They’re people who never figured out that it’s not how you treat your superiors and your supposed equals that defines you. How people see you is determined by how you treat your assistant and those lowly writers.)

10. Be a frustrated writer. I once knew an editor who worked in educational publishing. She was a nice person, or at least I thought so until I saw an example of her work. While it’s true, particularly of educational publishing, that there is a style to follow, her changes to copy were gratuitous. She wanted to write, not edit. It showed. 

Follow these ten examples and you will soon be recognized as an editor to fear, loathe and avoid. Congratulations!

Filed under: Editing, Editors, grammar, Horror, publishing, Rant, Top Ten, , , , , , ,

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