Continued from Part 1
An outgrowth of Elizabeth’s writing group is her work as a freelance editor. Picture her next wearing an accountant’s green eyeshades, reading my manuscript, and scribbling notes in the margin. I asked her what she looks for when she considers taking on a new project. “The primary thing I look for is first whether or not the subject matter interests me in a general way. Can I imagine living with the characters for the span of many many edits? If not, I pass. I also try to discern whether the writer has a decent sense of the book’s strengths and weaknesses before I even begin. I don’t want to work with a writer who can’t see that even the best books have room to grow. That said, I want to work with a writer who has taken a book as far as he or she reasonably knows how to take it before they come to me. I want them to be proud and perhaps a little in awe of what they have done. Because writing a book is an awe-inspiring thing. If it doesn’t scare you, humble you, and occasionally keep you up at night, you probably shouldn’t be doing it.”
“…writing a book is an awe-inspiring thing.
If it doesn’t scare you, humble you,
and occasionally keep you up at night,
you probably shouldn’t be doing it.”
How does she describe the editing process? “Working with a given author is completely tailored to the work and the writer, but my primary strengths as an editor and a book coach are to help the writer see the forest again when all she can see are the trees. I help with character development, plot arcs, emotional resonance, flow, etc. I rarely mess with language. Your language is yours. I’ll edit for clarity, but if you don’t already possess an interesting voice, I can’t help much, and working too much with language on a sentence level begins to feel like plagiarism to me.”
What advice does Elizabeth have for aspiring writers out there reading this post? “The number one mistake is impatience. Writing is a craft. It is slow hard work. The adage is true—you get only one chance to make a good first impression. If you send your work to an agent or an editor at a publishing house too early and they reject it because you weren’t ready, you’ve shut that door forever. The same is true with self-publishing. Just because the technologies are there to get your book out in a month doesn’t mean it should be out in the world that fast. I am always telling folks to do every last possible thing they can to make the book the very best it can be so that when they send it out, they can really let it go and fight for it.”
But Elizabeth isn’t just talking out of her hat, so to speak. (Imagine an artist’s beret.) Her own writing follows the advice she gives others. She has the requisite novel-in-a-drawer, that is, an autobiographical novel she needed to get out of her system. While completing her M.A. in English at Ole Miss, she worked on a short story collection. But “I knew I didn’t want to write short fiction because I wanted to explore the psychological underpinnings of a character’s motivations. I wrote a short story [while on an artist’s residency at Hambidge Retreat Center] that became the seed for my novel Paradise Park.” Paradise Park tells the story of the Turners, an Evangelical Catholic family who operate a sin and salvation theme park in Alapaha, Georgia, in the mid-1970s. The arrival of Graciela, a fortuneteller, upends and drives apart the five Turner children, all of whom love her.
Yes, her novel is a WIP. Elizabeth says she tries to walk the fine line between being obsessed with finishing it and being analytically detached. “It’s not a race. It’s about quality.”
Elizabeth’s life is full of creative outlets, each wearing something different: a softball cap for playing third base and shortstop; a wide-brimmed gardening hat to tend her “hoard” of houseplants; a painter’s cap, its bill turned backward, for remodeling projects on her home. Strength training is a passion, as are learning Olympic lifts, cooking, reading, of course, especially nonfiction “political stuff.” “I play with my dog a lot. I think it’s important for me as a writer to have tangible projects that I can see progress and celebrate finishing. Novel writing is a slow, lonely business at times so it is good to have other hobbies.”
Elizabeth has agreed to answer any questions you might have, if you send them within one week of this post. So the deadline for questions will be November 28th. See Comments box to pose your question.
Happy Thanksgiving. –Christina Kaylor