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the everyman memoirs

The official blog of author Tali Nay.
AUG
24

Bob's Beach Books

This store hosts a Northwest authors fair each summer, and for years I've been trying to get in. Nevermind that I no longer live in the Northwest. Nevermind that I spend much more getting to author fairs than I make in book sales from them. That's not really the point. The point is me, feeling like an author, introducing my books to people and seeing their faces when they smile that "I want to read this" smile.

It happens less than you think it does. People wanting to read your books. Even when you think your book is one of the best (or at least most normal) options at the whole fair. People will still pass you over for the stapled books of poetry or quilting murder mysteries or cult vampire thrillers. People will ALMOST ALWAYS pass you over for these things. For anything. For anything else you can possibly imagine. Very rarely is your book actually going to be what someone wants to read when given a whole slew of varying options. On one hand, it's comforting, isn't it? That it takes all kinds? And while I used to be discouraged when only a handful of people at an author fair would choose to buy one of my books, I've learned to appreciate it when it happens, knowing this is the kind of person who would probably be a literary kindred spirit of mine. I mean, anyone who listens to my spiel about a jewelry memoir that celebrates the role it plays in our lives, loves, and families and then agrees to buy a copy is certainly the definition of kindred spirit. (Sidenote: this was the first event EVER where I sold more Jeweled than Schooled.)

A word about Bob's Beach Books, because I can definitely see why so many authors want to return to this event. It's remarkably well-run, mostly due to the efforts of the store manager, and, now that I've visited, it's exactly the kind of small-town independent bookstore that I would frequent if I lived there. Here's hoping I get in again next year. Because coastal air up north is so refreshing. And because Oregon has no shortage of kindred spirits. Even if so many of them do prefer quilting murder mysteries and cult vampire thrillers.

MAR
25

The Editor

I'm preparing to do my final read-through of this darn manuscript before handing it over to my editor next week. It really is a bummer that even as your manuscript gets tighter and better as the read-throughs continue, you start to genuinely dislike it. The repetition. The many revisions and re-revisions. The fact that you can recite so much of it for memory that you fear your eyes may simply be glossing over entire pages without really paying attention. By this point I am, as per usual, convinced no one will ever want to read this thing. Probably a good sign that it's time to hand it off to someone else.

When my editor reminded me today that it's been five years since she edited my first book, it seemed a bit hard to fathom. Five years. It's not a huge amount of time, but it is nonetheless significant. The first little chunk in roundable figures. Five years. In so many ways, I feel like I'm in a much better place now. I've cut the tie with Corporate America. I finally left a city I had outgrown. I've become a gemologist. I pursued a dream and it worked out. I got to live in my beloved Manhattan. I tried a pixie cut. I've written three books.

Of course, in a few ways, things are worse, too. I lost a love, a future I very much wanted. I've perhaps lost some amount of faith as well. Not just in the world and the goodness at its core, but also in a belief system that becomes ever harder to embrace in its entirety. And I've obviously lost some youth, creeping ever closer to the point at which I can no longer consider myself young at all. None of these losses are insignificant.

But overall I have to be happy with where things have shaken out over the five years since I picked up one of those Guide to Literary Agents books and began looking for a kindred spirit--or, at the very least, someone who thought I had talent. Given where I sit at this moment (at my writing desk, looking out at the palm trees in my front yard and enjoying the cool ocean-laced breeze coming in through the window), I have to conclude I made a good choice.

OCT
17

ArtNight Pasadena

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For those waiting on the results of my candy experiment, having a big bowl of chocolate at my table did draw in a record number of visitors. Indeed many other authors at last weekend's Pasadena ArtNight commented to me on how popular my candy was. Not that it really sold me any more books. People just wanted some candy. Jerks.

It was a great event though, the ArtNight. And hats off to Pasadena for arranging such a complete and hassle-free experience. I found myself wishing I could ride the free shuttles around town to the different buildings housing various artists and musicians for the evening. What a great way for a city to see and experience a wide mix of genres and talents. And such a great reminder, for those of us at the library, of just how many people out there write books. Of course, it's also a reminder of how there really is something out there for everyone...and about a billion things not for everyone, which is why indie book selling is and always will be so challenging. There's a relatively (read: extremely) small number of people out there who are interested in reading your books. As opposed to all the other books they could be reading/buying. But I suppose that's what makes the world go round. And keeps the traffic at a book fair moving. As for that traffic, however, there might have been more of it had the library's $1 books room not been right next to the author area. Made our prices a tough sell...even with candy.

 

SEP
23

Choose my Table

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I'm getting ready for an author fair next week. I love author fairs. Book events of any kind, really. It's nice to be reminded you're an author, especially when just a lowly one like me. Because sometimes I forget. Sometimes I feel discouraged and wonder why I do it. But an author event can bring me back to myself...my writerly self.

The question at any author fair is, of course, how to get people to buy your books. Selling books is hard. People can't just look at a book like they can jewelry or artwork and know they will like it. And people aren't as free with their money as they used to be. An author fair attendee peruses everything and oftentimes buys only one book. One book. So how do you make sure yours is the book they buy? Just make sure yours is the most interesting book. Right? Possibly out of your control, but even if it weren't, before a person can even think your book is interesting, you've got to get them to approach your table. And there are *a lot* of tables at an author fair. Most of the time all lined up in a row or arranged in some other closely-spaced configuration.

I don't know what the magic formula is--something tells me it probably involves a low-cut top, a celebrity guest, and an expensive giveaway--but I may try out a few new things at next week's fair. (Much to my sister's disappointment, I will not, as she suggested, be hiring friends to hang around my table and act very interested, thus creating the illusion of mass intrigue and popularity. But that's really only because I can't afford it. And also because I don't have many friends yet...new in town, remember?) In any case, if you find yourself in Pasadena next weekend, I hope you'll choose my table. There will be candy. Which, come to think of it, is probably almost as good as a low-cut top.

JUL
28

Fireworks: Musings on a Small Town

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This is just a firework, and a mediocre one at that, but it's a firework that was set off in my hometown, above the baseball fields in the town park. Other than Christmas, I go home so seldom that I think this past weekend may have been the first time in over a dozen years that I was around for the annual summer festival.

It's comforting, going home. You know where everything is, for a few days you feel as young as you did while living there, and that so much seems exactly the same is a great constant amidst the fluctuations fast enveloping all other aspects of your life. But even as I walked through the booths at the small festival thinking that everything--the layout, the goods, the pre-fireworks exploding anvil--was identical to when I was a teenager and taking some comfort in that, it was also a teensy bit alarming to realize how much about this trip was, in fact, different. The golf course has been renamed. To something totally ridiculous, by the way. The Dairy Queen is about to be replaced by another franchise; some dispute over fry sauce. And when I attended my old church congregation, I saw a sea of mostly strangers. It felt weird to introduce myself. "I grew up here," I said, as if I were reaching for some kind of justification for being there at all.

It's just the way of things, I suppose. You never forget or feel less endeared to a place, but the connections you have there grow thin when you move away and never come back. Writing books about the people you grew up with doesn't really help your cause either, but I've made my choices, I suppose. I guess I just wish I chose home more often. It's hard to find good fry sauce.

FEB
11

Unified

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I attended a high school basketball game last week that just may have restored my faith in the youth of America. See, I'd never heard of a "unified" basketball league, but they are essentially composed of a mix of kids with special needs and kids without them. The kids without special needs, many of them quite athletically talented, are the ones who primarily rebound, get the ball down the court and into the hands of a shooter, but they themselves are not allowed to shoot. Only the special needs kids can shoot the ball.

When the concept was explained to me prior to the game, it's the sort of thing you hear about and then worry you might cry when you see it in action. "Oh no," I was assured. "It's not like that." But it is like that. And I'm here to tell you that I could have cried at almost every moment of that game. Every time a girl in a wheelchair or boy with down syndrome put their arms up in celebration after making a shot. Every time the audience cheered at full volume when either team made a basket.

But what perhaps touched me the most was that these kids--the ones without special needs--were choosing to spend their time this way; to be on this team as opposed to one where they could have played to their full potential, showed no (or at least less) mercy, and perhaps gained some amount of notoriety around campus. Being on a high school campus at all reminded me of my own high school days, which, whether or not this fully came across in Schooled, I feel like I experienced in an almost constant state of selfishness. It's just the way teenagers are, I've rationalized. Only these kids weren't. And I was so impressed by their selflessness as they pushed wheelchairs and walked step for step with their more challenged teammates. I left feeling moved and inspired, and how many times do your interactions with teenagers have that effect? It's why I believe everyone who attends a unified league game knows instinctively that he has witnessed something truly special.

JAN
23

In Honor of National Handwriting Day

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JAN
19

Book Group

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Recently I had the opportunity to participate in a book group discussion. I don’t belong to any book groups, and never really have (other than this one time, but I only went once, when that month’s book was something I had already read, but the host’s house smelled like fish and it was hard to hear over the yappy dog being kept in a bedroom), but a book group over on the west coast invited me to participate in the discussion of their January book, which just so happened to be one that I wrote.

It’s a weird thing, listening in when a group of readers are discussing your book. It’s even weirder when they’ve got you up on the big screen TV while you’re talking. But technology is pretty cool when you think about it. And it got me thinking about how nice it would be if, after finishing a book I’d enjoyed, I could have a conversation with the author, ask her any questions, tell her I particularly liked this aspect or that.

And that’s what these ladies did. They asked questions about jewelry, questions about writing Jeweled and if it was harder or easier than writing Schooled. They asked if I visited my jeweler when I was home for Christmas, asked about conflict diamonds, giggled about my musings on old-lady veins, shared how powerful the opening scene was with the whale. They even answered a few questions for me which might help me shape the structure of my next book, which I’ve recently begun to rethink.

How grateful I am for readers, for books, for kind words, for camaraderie. I’m also grateful for the times that make me feel like a real author. I will not say that they happen a lot, but when they do, it's enough to keep me going.

JAN
04

Farewell to my First Hobby

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If you read Schooled, you'll recall I learned how to tie lanyards in the 3rd grade. I loved it so much that I kept tying them until I left home, at which time I had not only accumulated a sizable collection of supplies (string, hooks, beads, not to mention all of the finished lanyards themselves), but I had also realized that I couldn't possibly bring said supplies with me to college. Nor did I really want to at that point. I had outgrown my beloved hobby, only I couldn't bring myself to throw the supplies away.

I'd forgotten about them until I was at my parents' house over Christmas going through various bins of childhood belongings in an effort to consolidate. With my recent NYC-inspired gutting of possessions (see Less > More post), it seemed like the right time. Indeed, most everything in the bins got thrown away. Things like my She-ra dolls, my troll collection (remember the two minutes when those fluorescent-haired little things were trendy?), oodles of school papers, a box of dried up corsages (from what events, I have no idea, since the only dance I ever attended was my senior prom), framed photos of Olympic gymnasts from back when I was sure that the same level of glory and athletic prowess could be mine as well.

But nothing gave me as much pause as those spools of lanyard string. As Billy Collins says in his own poem, The Lanyard, nothing "could send one into the past more suddenly." I remember so well sitting through that after school program and, after having no interest in any of the other activities (think chess), I remember loving the lanyard tying right away. I recognize now it was probably because it didn't involve interacting with any of the other kids...nor was it something at which they could handily beat me. Indeed, I could not even count the hours I spent in my room over the next decade tying those things. It honestly makes me a little sad to think about--all the time NOT hanging out with friends or becoming an Olympic gymnast--but it made me happy.

I might have opted to keep the string instead of throw it away when I unpacked it from a bin last week, but apparently plastic lanyard string doesn't have a 20-year shelf life. Let's just say it was not in tie-able condition. And that is how any future child of mine was saved from inheriting a tub full of plastic lanyard string. Not that this will stop me, should any such child ever exist, from teaching her how to tie them. She may not be as introverted as I am, but I hope there is at least one season of her childhood where the calming repetition of strand over strand engenders a sense of independence and creation. Besides, we can't all be Olympic gymnasts, now can we?

JUN
03

On Love

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The feedback from early readers is that most of them like Jeweled better than Schooled. I confess this is very surprising to me, as I figured the universality of school would ultimately leave readers more satisfied than a book about jewelry…which, admittedly, is something most people don’t know about, care about, or wish to read about.

I heard from someone over the weekend who told me he liked the new book ten times better than Schooled (praise, indeed!), but his one complaint was the back cover copy, which he felt didn’t really capture the spirit of the book. (Let me just say right now that deciding on the back cover copy is much harder than actually writing the book.) What this reader was saying is that while the back cover copy focuses on the gems and the jewelry, the book is really held together by the stories I tell about love and marriage and family.

A bit of an A-ha moment, as I hadn’t really thought about this book as being held together by love (although I do say in the book that the connection to love is one of my favorite things about jewelry). As I’ve thought about this over the days since my conversation with this reader, I suppose this might be why people are more pulled to this book than I predicted they would be. Here I thought I wrote a book about jewelry, when the overarching theme ended up being one that’s exponentially more universal.

MAY
07

Pre-Mother's Day Pontification

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After Schooled was published, someone commented to me that their favorite characters were my parents. Not at all major players in the book, they apparently still left this reader with a sense of their down-to-earthness. True, my parents are golden (“the two most constant and sparkling fixtures to ever decorate my life”), and whenever Mother’s Day is upon us—closely followed by Father’s Day—I find myself waxing pensive. (When am I not waxing pensive? Good question.)

I don’t classify myself as first and foremost a religious person, though I do have convictions that are very important to me. I believe, for instance, in heaven. That we will exist after we die. It’s always made sense to me then that we probably existed before we were born. So any theology or conjecture around this possible pre-Earth state always piques my interest. For me, honestly, it’s the only way that life makes any sense. I mean, otherwise, what is the point? (Where am I going with this? Another good question.)

If you subscribe to the idea of some sort of pre-Earth state, then I’m particularly curious when it comes to the topic of families. Did we, for instance, pick the families we would be born into? Draw straws? Receive assignments? No one can really know, of course, but I suppose this is a roundabout way of saying that if we did have any say in our future families, I know I would have chosen exactly the family I’m in. If you’re still with me, and I hope you are, I apologize for going all convictionite on you. It won’t happen again. At least not until next Spring.

And don't mind the mini mustache magnet. It's a family thing.

MAY
02

New Book, First Copy

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When the first proof copy of Schooled arrived, I remember being flooded with a "This is it??" kind of feeling. All that work, years, and this is all I get? Not that I hadn't known that the finished product would be one measly 250-page book, but for some reason I thought that initial first copy would seem more grand.

This time around, I was filled with no such feeling, and I can honestly say that the thought that overcame me when I opened the box containing the first proof copy of Jeweled last week was, "This book looks amazing." I'm not sure what the difference is, other than that I've now been through it before. Jeweled is also a book that allowed us to be more creative visually, and so there are so many things about the visual theme of this second book that I find delightful. The trim size of Jeweled is also different, which I find to be a further improvement. Bottom line: Things are getting exciting up in here.

Lest I get carried away, let me point out that I was reading Annie Dillard on a late-night flight last night, a book I will finish tonight when I go back to the airport, and I was struck by the following passage, especially on the verge of releasing a new book. "Putting a book together is interesting and exhilarating. It is sufficiently difficult and complex that it engages all your intelligence. It is life at its most free. The obverse of this freedom, of course, is that your work is so meaningless, so fully for yourself alone, and so worthless to the world, that no one except you cares whether you do it well, or ever."

How true this is. And how excited, in spite of this, I still am.

AUG
15

The Judges

My very talented book designer entered Schooled into a competition a while back, for the design and cover categories, and I decided to throw my hat in the ring for the writing and content categories as well. We didn't win anything, but I'm so glad we tried. It's always nice to have some "possibilities" out there, plus a lot of the feedback that came back from the judges was extremely positive. Here are a few excerpts:

"Cover got my attention. Loved the chapter pictures and the author's photo. Liked the chapter typeface. Well Done!"

"Very clean, in every way! Well written, great editing, interesting story-telling, easy to engage in, professional cover. I would buy this book and pass along to friends. Great job. A diamond in the rough."

"What a delightful book! You are able to tell school tales with a wonderful voice, which prompts the reader to want more! By the title and knowing this was non-fiction, I was expecting to read about assessment, policy , or other academic topics. Much to my surprise, you offered a pleasant and humorous distraction in the process. I look forward to reading your future projects. Best regards!"

"Very nicely done. The cover photo does an excellent job of portraying that the book is about a girl at school, and it gives us a clue about the time period, too. The typeface, which I generally dislike, is well-used here."

JUL
16

And it's in.

My second manuscript, that is. Handed it off to the editor tonight. It's funny how in these final days and read-throughs I was hit with all kinds of "this isn't good enough" thoughts, to the point of pure panic, but then again, that's exactly how I felt last time. And I think Schooled turned out pretty well. Even though there's a bit of angst this time around as well, mostly I feel incredibly relieved this evening. And proud. And also excited about seeing the book take shape over the coming months. I loved what Crystal said in this post about manuscripts being like childbirth...it may be ugly but the kid is still mine. And this manuscript in particular is definitely mine.

JUN
05

The Teens

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Last weekend marked the 16th anniversary of the little driving mishap that's chronicled in Schooled. It's hard to believe that much time has gone by. It's hard to believe I was ever that young. When looking at teenagers today, in many ways they seem less mature and more lazy. Sometimes I'm sure I was in better shape (in terms of overall head-on-shoulders-ness), but when I really think back to those years, my attitude was far from where it should have been. Wish I would have been less selfish and more appreciative of my parents, for instance. That's teenagers for you, some might say, but I know a few who are making it through those years seemingly unscathed by selfishness and attitude, and I guess what I'm saying is I wish I could have been one of them.

It's also an interesting experience to reacquaint yourself with things you swore by in those days. Daiquiri Ice by Baskin Robbins, for example, which I used to think was heavenly. The. Best. Kind. Of ice cream. At BR just last night, I ordered Daiquiri Ice for old times' sake, and I didn't think it was all that great. It could have been the word 'daiquiri' that had me so enchanted as a youngster, or maybe the frosty green color that  made it stand out from the other flavors. Or maybe my tastes are simply different now. I remember my parents showing me and my sister a movie they had loved when they were teenagers. When it turned out to be much more crude than they remembered it being, they were embarrassed and apologized profusely.

So, see. We change. We improve. Yes, we also regress, but I bet improvement holds the lion's share as we grow older, gain perspective, and hone in on the kind of people we want to be. The kind of people we are. And, in my case, the kind of people we wish we would have been. Shoulda, coulda, woulda is not a productive train of thought, but sometimes I can't help it.

PS - Who knew daiquiri was spelled that way?

MAY
15

On Chronology

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When I wrote Schooled, I originally had it organized into themed chapters. I thought this would be more readable (or at least less predictable) than chronological, so I lumped the vignettes together into themes. I had a troublemaking chapter, a theater/acting chapter, a teachers chapter, etc. And organizing a manuscript just the way you want it is no small task. So realizing after all that work that I actually did prefer the book in chronological order meant a whole lot of additional work. Not that it matters if it's the right decision, which I think it was, but my point is simply this: rearranging a manuscript is a big undertaking.

Since this second book will not be chronological (I think this is the right decision as well), there are a lot more ways I could potentially sequence it. A couple of weeks ago I had the manuscript spread out across the living room floor as I worked through the night to come up with an order that made sense to me, and I found one. Which I've felt good about. Until Monday night when I had a thought, a little epiphany, and once again spread the pages across the floor and reshuffled their order. I feel better about what I have now. I think I'm getting closer to the one that will stick. But who knows what another night, another spread of the pages will bring. This, if you ask me, is the fun stuff.

APR
29

Anniversary

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It's been a whole year since the book bash. And of course this weekend last year was bitterly cold and stormy out, while this year it was sunny and gorgeous. Oh well. You can't win them all. Plus it wasn't an outdoor party. It was just my bare party dress legs that suffered as the store door opened and shut all afternoon. Not to get ahead of myself, but I'm already excited for the next party. Even though it's still a long way away, the manuscript now being sorted into piles on my coffee table is evidence that I'm over the hump.

APR
26

Thanks...now who are you?

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I received this picture along with the following text message yesterday: "Just thought you would like to see the books I have on display in my office..."

Messages such as this warm my heart, and I do love seeing my book on a shelf. Anyone's shelf. Which brings me to the following despicable confession: This could very well be anyone's shelf, because I have no idea who sent me this text. And isn't that the worst? Someone whose number you should probably know is not even in your phone.

Something similar happened recently while at a production of War Horse (great show, by the way). As the show ended and the packed theater was filing out, I saw a woman who looked familiar. I didn't think much of it, because I couldn't place her, but when she caught sight of me a minute later, she greeted me as if we had once been besties. All I could offer back was a cheery "Hi!! How are you?" and after establishing we were both fine, we were separated again in the large crowd. Who this woman is, I have no idea. I don't have so much as an inkling of her name or the circumstances under which I knew her. How does one handle those situations, and why are we so embarrassed to admit that something has slipped through our mental cracks? I had an answer to that, but it's escaped me.

APR
22

Honesty: Still the Best Policy.

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I got together recently with some friends, and the husband, who had just finished reading Schooled, asked me how I handled being so honest in the book. Particularly about my own thoughts and feelings. I guess some things I mention are pretty personal, but throughout the whole process of writing and prepping the book (and even in the time since it's been out), it's never really bothered me. I wanted an honest book, even if it revealed the oftentimes ridiculous, selfish, and self-pitying thoughts I had as an adolescent. This man said he wasn't sure he could do that, and several others have made similar comments to me, usually sounding something like, "Wow, it's sure gutsy to basically make your diary public."

The bigger concern to me when it comes to writing about real life is that you have to talk about other people. I mean, it's one thing to embarrass yourself, but quite another to potentially embarrass others. In writing Schooled, I wrestled with how honest to be at other peoples' expense. Not that anything about the book is vindictive, but I'm a nice person, and my desire to be honest has probably harmed a few relationships. It's something I've been reminded of as I'm re-reading manuscript #2. Because it means another list (although this one much shorter) of people in my life who are mentioned and may not appreciate everything I say. My defense (and this is my overall case for honesty in writing period) is that it's simply not realistic to have only ever had positive thoughts about and experiences with someone. In an effort to show a balanced and realistic depiction of life as I've experienced it, I'm not sure you can omit all of the less flattering details. Most of them, sure, but not all.

Yes, I will probably always worry about hurting people's feelings, and I will always feel gutted upon hearing that I actually have. But I will continue being as honest as I'm comfortable being, as I believe it is key when writing. I still think Betsy Lerner said it best...I quoted this passage a year ago in a post and I think it's worth repeating here:

"Let’s face it, if in your writing you lift the veil on your family, your community, or even just yourself, someone will take offense. . . . If you write what is most pressing, you are revealing thoughts, secrets, wishes, and fantasies that you (and we as readers) would never otherwise confess to. Most writers, like most children, need to tell. The problem is that much of what they need to tell will provoke the ire of parent-critics, who are determined to tell writer-children what they can and cannot say. Unless you have sufficient ego and feel entitled to tell your story, you will be stymied in your effort to create. You think you can’t write, but the truth is you can’t tell. Writing is nothing if not breaking the silence. The problem is, no one likes a snitch."

APR
17

Did I write THAT?

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It's an interesting process, editing. And one I enjoy immensely. When first out of college I had it in my head that I might want to actually be an editor. And not just because Betsy Lerner's book had changed my life. But then business happened. And now the only editing I do, prior to handing them over to a real editor of course, is that of my own manuscripts. I'm in the middle of my first post-writing read through, and can I just tell you what a strange thing it is, especially since much of the book was written quite a while ago. Some of the pages I can't even remember writing. Some of them are much more delightful than I originally thought, some are much less so. Lots of work to do, and while I am loving this first full read-through, I know from Schooled that by the time a manuscript is ready, you have read it so many times that you become a bit sick of it. But one step at a time. For now it's back to my red pen.

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