Sunday, February 19, 2012

Rule Breaker

I remember receiving a letter somewhere in the early stages of the Sammy Keyes series where Nancy (my editor) sent a cover letter with a marked-up manuscript that mentioned somewhere in it that, yes, she was asking me to work on three Sammys at once.

It's been a long time since that first time, but I find myself, once again, needing to work on three Sammys at once.

There's the second pass galleys of Sammy Keyes and the Power of Justice Jack, the rewrite of Sammy Keyes and the Showdown in Sin City, and the new one--Sammy 17 for a lack of a better name.

Of course I can't physically work on all three at once. I have to tackle them one at a time. So, going by deadline, I've been up to my eyebrows in reviewing Justice Jack. In theory it should be easy because I could jump from one copy editor comment to the next and simply address the specific notes without reading the entire story.

I do feel sorry for my copy editors. I think manuscripts are mostly "farmed out" to freelance copy editors, so it's not like there are in-house comma queens or grammar gurus waiting to review your work. And I imagine that freelance copy editors do work for all the publishers, so there are good odds against getting the same one twice.

Which is too bad because I drive each and every one of them crazy.

Well, there was the one who read Runaway and made wonderful comments in the margins, but that's unheard of.

(Except that you just heard of it. Right.)

Anyway, mostly copy editors pay attention to the nitty-gritty details of punctuation, style, consistency, and grammar. Well, they try to reign in the grammar, but dangling prepositions abound regardless. They also sometimes make comments about dogs that make you realize they have cats.

But never mind about that.

By and large they stick to the facts, ma'am, and the fact is that Sammy Keyes books break a really big rule of writing--they flex back and forth between present and past tense, sometimes within the same paragraph.

It drives copy editors NUTS.

Switching tense like that is just WRONG.

But you know what? Speech is fluid. When people (especially kids) talk, they move from past to present all the time. So if I'm going to capture the voice of a 13 year old, I have to break the rules. At least I choose to break the rules to portray an authentic voice. Sammy Keyes is, after all, a rule breaker.

So fifteen books into the series and I am, once again, feeling very sorry for yet another copy editor who is trying to edit by the rules. Past or present tense?  Which is it? What am I supposed to do with this? You can't switch like this! It's against the rules!!!

Poor dears. I know they're pained by the struggle to figure out how to professionally deal with this doggone rule breaker who must not know even the basics of writing.

Nancy sees the manuscripts first, and winds up crossing out all of the copy editor's tense notations (which are often done in red). And then I get the bloodied manuscript with a note from Nancy saying something like, Not as bad as it looks! The CE notated tense.



So I'm rereading the whole of Justice Jack and, tense notations aside, it's a good thing I didn't just jump from mark up to mark up because I found (what I consider to be) a pretty big mistake (which I can't believe nobody else caught!) -- I had previously edited out something on one page, but the reference to what was now gone still existed two pages later.

So even though it was "optional" for me to review the "2nd pass galleys" (I'm sure Nancy just didn't want me to see another 300 pages of bloodied verbs) I'm glad I'm going over it, and going over the whole thing. Again!

Glamorous life, huh?

Next week I'll tell you about Sin City, and then #17. And one of these weeks I am going to do a Justice Jack ARC giveaway, so I hope you'll check back for that. Meanwhile, break some rules. Or at least a tense situation!

(Sorry, that was bad.)

Have a good week!


Kylie said...

Oh my god I break that rule all the time! One minute I'm talking in past tense the next present, I drives my parents insane!
And I can't wait to hear about Sammy Keyes an D the showdown in sin city (I love the name!) and Sammy Keyes #17 (wow 17!). I also can't wait for the arc giveaway because i just looked up today to see when justice jack will be out and it said July 10! I can't wait that long! It is so long away! Will there be two books coming out this year, or only one? I hope two! And it is so insane that you are working on three books at once! Wow!
Well it is 10:22 an I guess I should be going to sleep but I stayed up hoping you would post something!

Wendelin Van Draanen said...

Aw! Sweet of you to be waiting up! Good night Kylie :)
PS Yes, I've heard July. I thought it was May. Sorry. One book in 2012 (but it's good, I promise!)

Unknown said...

The final joke was bad, but it totally made me laugh out loud. Here's to breaking up tense situations this week!

Madelyn Glymour said...

One of my absolutely favorite things about the style of Sammy Keyes is the tense-switching. It's so absolutely true to the way people tell stories. (Especially out-loud.)

Yusa said...

I'm always switching past and present tense in writing at school and then i have to go back and fix everything.
And what drives me crazy is that literary essays have to be present tense and i always forget.
OMG if it comes out in July then the library will get it in August. AHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!
6 more months of torture!!!!!!
1/2 a year!
What am i going to do tell then?


Optimistic4ever said...

I noticed that Sammy switched tenses a lot, but it always sounds so natural don't worry about it too much.

Oh look at me, switching tenses. Didn't mean to do that. Just kinda happened.

Anyways, can't wait for Justice Jack and the other two books.

That last line was so punny! HAHAHAHAHA!

I'm so lame... but did you get it? Funny, punny...

Ok maybe not.

Imma go break a tense situation this week. Plenty to go around!

Im hungry... does Sammy like Toblerone? Good stuff...


Anonymous said...

I noticed the whole tense-change thing, too. I'm going to admit, the first time I noticed it, I actually thought it was a mistake (you can't blame me). But then I found myself flipping through different SK books and looking at different chapters and sections to see the tenses? That's when I was like, "Oh, it's just her style".
I really hate it when the person editing a story of mine (teacher, friend, sister--not 'editor' for me because obviously I don't have an editor like you) is like, "Yeah, this sentence isn't grammatically correct" and I'm like, "It's a story, a teenager isn't going to talk like Tolkien".
I'm actually writing a novel right now. I'm planning on TRYING to get it published--I'm not like, "Oh yeah, I'm an awesome writer, I know I can do it!" but I'm also not being totally modest either. I think, if I put enough effort, it's worth a shot. So since you're my favorite author, and I think you're writing style is pretty kick-ass if I do say so myself, I've been going back to your older posts and reading posts where you talk about the writing process, styles, etc.
Thank god you're one of those interactive authors who's cool. Something about those secluded authors who hide in closets or something and write and don't like interacting with their fans makes me feel like they're robots.
I loved this post.
And Sammy Keyes and the Showdown in Sin City?
Wait. Isn't the 16th book the one where she finds out who her dad is?.
I would love it if Marissa's dad just showed up in Vegas and an into Sammy.
"...Oh...this is awkward."

Kylie said...

Steph your back! Oh my god I have missed you! I can't believe that you deleted you blog! I am so sad! And if Sammy does see marissa dad she needs to tell him off for what he did to Marissa and Mikey!

Kylie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Norma said...

As an English major hoping to become a copy editor, I find this situation rather amusing. Is it wrong that I can picture you having a sword fight with a CE over tenses with Nancy referring? :D

Colton said...

You know, I've never actually noticed the tense-change thing before -- though it does make sense for a 13-year-old to do that. Heck, I probably do that myself without even realizing it.

What I found really interesting, though, is that mistake you found that everyone else missed. Sounds like the copy editor's so focused on commas and verb tenses that a plot hole--in many ways more damaging that a misplaced comma--went right over their head.

AbaGayleb said...

I used to write in past tense, but now I just can't seem to do it. With reading or writing. I'll still read the book, but it ticks me off. Sometimes. I suppose it depends on my mood.(:

When I'm editing something for a friend and I catch that, I'm like,"Noooooo! Lookwhatyoujustdid! :OOO." Yeah. I'm like that.

No! You can't write #17! That means you're closer to the end of the series. Oh, my. *sigh* it will be a sad, sad day, when the last book I'd complete.

You should TOTALLY do what some authors do, and write short stories about your book. O:

Give away?! Oh Em Gee. I need to win. I love my Sammy Keyes. I can't wait THAT long. Oh, well. I can only hope.(:


bookworm said...

You keep us all on edge with these mentions of ARC copies! GRRRR.

But YAYAYAYAYAYAYAY!!!!!!!!!!!!!

And I've caught you doing that with your writing, the fluxuationg, but that's what makes Sammy Sammy. And your writing so unique. :)

Optimistic4ever said...

Steph I missed you! Where'd u go?!?!?!

Anonymous said...

"poor little dears" :)
i love how you kept this post focused on the editing, and yet look at all the news we got! a title for sammy 16, progress on sammy 17...!!!!

Harriet said...

Holy mackerel! Its so cruel of you to make us wait :D And your working on two more! Gosh your so amaaaaazing wendelin.

Now I have to finish writing a paper for school before tomorrow...if only it could be a report about Sammy keyes and not Aristotle :(