Friday, December 20, 2013
Coffee Chat 2.0 with Author S.K. Anthony: Revisions
If you haven't gotten around to reading the first Coffee Chat with S.K. Anthony, I'd suggest you take a moment to do so before even attempting to follow the conversation in this one. It's not easy to keep up with us on a good day; no sense starting off behind the curve.
I'm so thankful to have Stephen King back with me again today. We'll just refer to her as S.K. for ease and clarity, just in case the "other" Stephen King decides to show up. For the record, I did ask him, but he doesn't have a special coffee cup to match ours, and frankly, I think he was a little intimidated at the idea of trying to keep up with two overly-caffeinated women. Either way, S.K. is here and I'm glad she's still willing to talk to me.
ER: So what's been happening since our last interview? I'm asking this as if I don't know, because you and I both know we talk to each other almost every day . . . but for the purposes of Coffee Chat, we can pretend we only talk here on Easy Reader. We'll have to keep that a secret, though, so remind me not to type it in later.
SKA: Okay, if I don't forget to remember, I will remind you to take that bit out. Since the last time we talked . . . let's see, I drank more coffee, I tickled the kids, and I worked on some revisions. I'm so glad no one gets to see my first drafts. Goodness me . . . I'm so talented at making lots of mistakes the first time around that I'm even in awe of myself. What can I say? I'm that good at being bad. What have you been up to? And surprise me; tell me something I don't already know . . . GO!
ER: No pressure, no pressure. I think you already know I drank more coffee, so I can't use that one. My eighteen-year-old son (Mr. Green Eggs and Ham himself) is the only kid within reach, so I'm not going to risk tickling him. I did some edits this week for a horror story and scared myself. I now have an occasional facial tic and keep seeing odd movements out of my peripheral vision. I can't imagine how much more scared I would have been, had I been reading it straight up and not for edits.
SKA: I think it would be a fun experiment for you to tickle Mr. Green Eggs and Ham (great post, that one!). [laughing] A facial tic . . . scary books would do that to me, also, but then I would have wine and probably forget all about it. Speaking of, imagine if we had "Wine Chats." I'll bet it would like Coffee Chats but on steroids. Oh, my.
ER: I also received a really cool prologue for a new book and edited it by mistake. (Sorry, Stephen. Not my fault. It looked ready.) So I suppose I could use the excuse that I was trying out the Wine Chat all on my own.
SKA: Skipping ahead and having all the fun on your own with the wine. I'm not sure how I feel about this.
ER: [applying diversionary tactics] So let's get down to business! Because I'm fairly sure that was our original intent . . .
How's the new book coming? Do you have Static on the brain these days?
SKA: Okay, so the book. Yes, my hair is very Einstein-like. Not because of intelligence, contrary to my kids' popular belief, but thanks to all the Static-ness going on. The first draft has been read through by Mildred Loudermilk and she left a lot of notes for me. Now the real fun begins!
ER: Well, I already started having fun, so you have some catching up to do.
What's your first step after finishing the first draft? Obviously, you read through it, but do you look for certain things during that first time through, or do you just read it to see if it flows?
SKA: After finishing my first draft, I do a happy dance and I smile. Then I sit and cringe because that's when the real work starts for me. I like to revise a lot, so I focus on different aspects each time. The first time I'm writing I go for the general idea and the characters' journeys. Second time, I focus on the big plot, more detailed descriptions, and character voices. The third time, I try to make sure I have things explained well, and that I have the humor splashed around along with the emotional moments.
I check on facts (dates/timeline/repetition), and from there on, I fix and delete, fix and delete, and fix . . . as much as I can until my wine runs out. Then I send it off to one CP [critique partner] and revise again while hubby gets me more wine—
ER: Good man you've got there.
SKA: —and then I send it to my other CP & revise again while I chat with you. Then it goes to one or two betas and I revise again.
[ER runs off to refill coffee, exhausted from hearing all about the labor of others.]
SKA: Then I have a CP give it another go before I kill myself, and then if I can't do anything else to it, I send it to you so you can do your thing. [Breathes for just a moment.] Yeah . . . that's what I do.
ER: And you know I have to ask: If you read it out loud, do you read each character's dialogue in a different voice? 'Cause I would.
SKA: [laughing again] I "hear" the voices and make up my face according to who is talking and what is being said when I write it. When I'm reading out loud toward the end of the revisions, I actually try (really hard) not to make different voices, because I want to make sure the words themselves work to imply the tone I mean to imply. I'm not sure how to explain that, but I think you'll understand.
ER: I do. If you're able to use the right words, you can eliminate a lot of dialogue tags or adverbs. When McCoy from Star Trek delivers his, "I'm a doctor, not a magician/juggler/garbageman!" line, if it were written in a book, we don't need "he shouted" added to the end. Nor would we need to add any adverbs to clarify. The words themselves show the frustration.
SKA: Every reader has their way of approaching a book and the way the characters sound to them. If I talk to myself as if I'm them [the characters], of course I would think it sounds right, but if I try to speak straight up, I'm more aware of anything that sounds "off."
ER: So let's focus on the revisions for a moment. Unless you want me to do some of my character voices for you, of course. [Begins singing like Mary Poppins, since that's the only accent that works easily. Stops abruptly upon realizing people are home.]
You get asked to read a lot of books/manuscripts for review/advice, it seems. Of the books you find . . . um . . . let's say "lacking" in some way, can you point your finger to a lack of revisions as a running theme? What jumps out at you?
SKA: At the moment, "supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" jumps out at me . . . you mentioned Mary Poppins . . . so anyway . . .
Yes, I do beta read a fair amount of manuscripts, but that's before they're published, so revisions would, of course, be lacking. In regards to published books that are also lacking something . . . it's hard to say. I feel like the problem might be revisions, but that's probably because that's my process. For the author, that might just be how they want their stories told, and I'm the one who just didn't connect. Since I can't outline for the life of me—I know how, but I just don't feel free enough to keep writing with a detailed outline; I rather pants around—but if they [other authors] outline and this is their story, I can't say they're wrong. Just that it wasn't for me.
ER: I almost followed that. I do get it, though: you're making allowances for personal writing styles. But what brings the extra "polish," so to speak?
SKA: The biggest mistake I think we can all make is to rush. Yes, we have a deadline. But you know what? At the end of the day, it's better to push back the dates and make sure everything's as good as you can get it, rather than to screw yourself over. Letting your manuscript sit for awhile and then going back to it with a fresh mind helps a lot as well. And I'm not saying I know much about this—I'm still learning—but it's what works for me.
ER: I think you know more than you realize. When I first read Kinetic, my first thought was that it didn't have the feel of a first-time author. All those revisions pay off. It shouldn't take twenty years to produce a novel, but it shouldn't only take twenty days, either. The reader will notice.
SKA: I know that to the best of my current ability, I gave Kinetic my all, and I'm proud of what I wrote. My sixth-grade teacher once told our class to make sure we were proud of anything that carries our name, and that advice has always stayed with me (I'm sure Stephen King would appreciate that). Maybe I'll look back at it a few years down the road and want to shoot myself, but I will always be able to say confidently that I gave it everything I had. And at the end of the day that's what readers deserve.
ER: Well, we're out of coffee, so the rest will have to wait until after the holidays. We'll be seeing you in a couple weeks!
You can find S.K. Anthony in a number of places. She's on Twitter @SKathAnthony, her website is www.skanthony.com, her Facebook page is S Katherine Anthony, and on occasional occasions, she'll be right here with me, drinking coffee and laughing it up over our latest plans and schemes. And possibly even talking about books and writing.
You can find me here. I'm always here.