Working with an Editor

The process of writing a book is emotional, long, hard work.  Once a complete story is ready I have found that including a professional editor is the best way to prepare a book that can be understood and appreciated by the reading public.  Once we determined we were a good fit and that the editor would be comfortable working with a dark, violent story that involved marginalized groups, we set off with a developmental edit.  The editor, Amber Helt, from Rooted in Writing, determined that I needed help with pacing, acceleration, dialogue, and timeline order.  She also identified some important characters that had not been developed and started asking for information about the, putting them into chapters with their own point of view.  She kept an eye on Point of View throughout the book.  She asked me for an “I love you” chapter, a PTSD dream chapter and more.  She worked on the violence and motivation for it, the actual commission of violent acts and the logic of the timing for it.  She dove into the romance in the book without judging it.

The end result is that we took out 30,000 words of the original manuscript and added back 20,000 words that included the new character development and the redesigned timeline.  She took out passages and people who slowed the story or did not really add to the narrative.  She did a very good job of changing the book into civilian language and still keeping the military information accurate.

As I read the revisions and added the requested information I started to see a book that I would like to read myself.  The end product is so much more accessible and inviting.  The editing process has increased the size of the market for the book by several factors.

We are done with the development of the book and she will now start the copy edit that will clean the book up and prepare it to be submitted to publishers or to prepare it for an eBook format.  I have options now because this book is actually publishable.

Getting a book out involved the art of writing, having a story to tell, having the courage and discipline to write 90,000 words, the skills of language provided by a professional editor, and then the marketing skills involved in selling it to the publishing world and then the public.  It isn’t reasonable to expect one person to be able to do all these things.  Get help along the way from professionals who can complaint your art.

Rooted in Writing…

Now that I have the cover designed I am working with a professional editor, above, to make the book more readable.  Amber Helt is working with me and I am so happy to have her input and sharp eye working with me.

She began with a thorough read and then a summary report to me about her understanding of the book and her ideas of how best to work on it with me.  She really understood what I was writing.  She described the characters in the book just as I wanted them physically and emotionally.  She know their background and motivations.  For a young editor she seems to have a good working knowledge of how things happen here in the U.S.  I have been touched with her insights and impressed with her open minded acceptance of what I am trying to do.

This is a dark book and deals with unpleasant subjects.  Many of the worst human emotions are found in this story.  There is violence and mistrust, criminal activity and consciously bad ideas and behavior.  The characters are under all the stress of trying to live in a very controlled society and have broken out in an attempt at authenticity.  Ms. Helt has been willing to look at the underlying story as it is told and just to worry about pacing, dialog and flow.

She does ask me questions about what I am trying to convey and how I am saying it, and then once she understands she is creatively incorporating that fabric into the book.  What is happening is a story that has less hesitation and more motion.  It will help you understand what happened and how the people involved felt about it.

This is a tough story to write for civilians because the horrors of war crush the humanity out of soldiers.  In order to survive we (they) have to give up access to most emotions, or we would go crazy doing the horrible things that war requires.  So if I write the veterans in the story accurately they feel to remote for the reader, Ms. Helt is able to tell it from the understanding of a non-soldier while still presenting the challenges of the soldier.  We don’t talk well with other people.  We don’t share our feelings with other people.  We don’t react to things that evoke strong emotions in normal people.  (i.e. non-combatants) If I write that accurately then it could be a pretty slow-moving or shallow story.  The trick is to convey the degree to which the soldier or veteran in this case, is seeming remote even while feeling tortured..

We are progressing 6 chapters at a time and should be done in a month.  At that point I think this will be a story by a veteran, about veterans, that should be easily understood by civilians.

Soldiers want all the same things everyone wants, love, acceptance and understanding.  We all want to be accepted and helped.  We want to share our lives and experiences with others and to understand the experiences of those others.  We just can’t show what we feel.  We are so protected that sometimes we don’t even know what we are feeling or at least we are not able to express it.

This is a book about the search for love and validation but in a very hard reality.  It’s coming.

Suggestions from a CWA Assessment…

I paid the Crime Writers Association for an assessment of my manuscript. They kept it for almost a month and had one of their judges read it and write a nine page review for me. The suggested several things that I could do to improve the book and I went to work to fix, add, delete or improve the book. I was grateful for the professional opinion. These people get books published.

The review gave me the confidence to continue to work on what they saw as a basically good book. Their assessment started out with this:

“The book is rich in action, but its driving force is Elijah’s emotional struggle with violence and his ultimate redemption through his love for another man. It is the story of one man’s search to reconnect with his own humanity, wrestling with the difficulties of readjustment in a ‘normal’ world after witnessing – and playing an active part in – the violence of war. The author is not afraid to confront the serious issues and dilemmas that arise from Elijah’s situation: the analogy of exile between the returned soldiers and the gay community is thoughtfully – and thought-provokingly – explored, and the blending of satanic and earthly evils is interestingly handled.

The tone of the narrative is satisfyingly dark.”

They said that I overexploited at times, which is fixed now. They said I came on too strong sometimes, fixed. While I overexploited some things I didn’t give enough description to create a sense of place or to create an atmosphere of what was happening. I worked on this.

They liked Elijah McCoy the main character.

“I liked Elijah tremendously, and despite some highly unconvincing dialogue (see section 6), I believed in him and in his situation. His struggle to find a path from the violence of his heart is movingly explored, and his awakening to love and sexuality makes him attractively vulnerable. He is an intriguing blend of complexity and naivety, violence and compassion, and unusual because of that.”

This was interesting to me in that the stilted dialogue really did describe one of the big problems that veterans have when they (we) come home. The fact that the dialogue was uncomfortable and “off” emotionally proved the authenticity of the book. However that had to change so the reader could understand what was being done, thought, and felt. I hope i have fixed that but some of the time I am pretending that I know how to talk to people. This was true of Elijah’s emotional reactions along the way. Something terrible would happen and he did not react like a normal person. Well that is one of the ways a veteran protects from horrible experiences. I tried to mitigate this without changing the way a veteran reacts. At least they are somewhat aware of it now. If you ever watched the TV series Dexter, with his discomfort at being around normal people you get the problem.

“The progression of the plot is logical and the transitions in Elijah’s character are well-paced, leading to a satisfying personal and collective outcome.” I felt as if the story was told to me by Elijah (some part of me?) and that I just wrote down what happened. I wrote it in big blocks and was surprised sometimes at what happened. I was anxious to share the pages with my partner because of the surprise.

“Ironically, it’s not the dark, supernatural aspects of the book that stretch credibility (these worked well for me, whether you choose to read them on a literal or metaphorical level); it’s the moments of everyday living, and this is down to a fundamental problem with dialogue.” This gave me strength to keep working on this book. I continue to work on the dialogue.

I was grateful for this service and think that the story is told in a much better way as a result of it. I am completing the eighth edit of the entire book. I think I am getting close to being ready to publish.

We Are Born Into the Darkness…

In first world countries we feel as if we are born into the light and live there safely.  We feel as if we have to be careful of the darkness but just being watchful should be enough.  Everyone who lives outside the first world knows that the world is made for the darkness and only by our volition and through a huge and constant effort can we move toward the light.

This book, about the Consequences of War is a study, or an exploration of the effect of bad people and bad behavior on us all.  Governments choose to wage war, often and dangerously.  Those governments have an acceptable number of their own citizens that they will sacrifice in the waging of war.  The decision to wage war rather than some other conflict resolution method is the decision that it’s okay to kill people in other countries and take their land and wealth.  It’s also okay if some of your own people are killed so that the ones who decide can have that wealth or land. Amazingly vague and illogical reasons are given for the war and for the participation and ultimate loss of citizens that will result from it.

A huge amount of the resources, including materials, wealth, time, effort and even human lives are devoted to the ability to wage war, and the actual wars. Surprisingly, even knowing that the violence of war is going to result in damage, physical injury and psychological and spiritual injury will occur, there is very little time, materiel, wealth, resources and human lives dedicated to repairing or even addressing that damage.

Induction into the war machine, often of citizens who were drawn in unwillingly (through a draft for example) is brutal and contains no consideration of the humanity of those conscribed .  The justification is that the war machine is intended to be brutal to do brutal things to the other countries considered enemies.  The people who are pulled into service are given physical and psychological tasks to shape them into fighters capable of being brutal. Brutal is defined as extremely cruel or harsh, typical of beasts.  Not of humans but beasts.  The fighters, or combatants who make up the war machine have to give up their humanity and become capable of behaving like beasts.

Each task or step in shifting citizens from civil to brutal is a test of willingness of the people involved.  Each time the combatant has to decide if they will give up some more of their humanity.  Among the tools the owner of the war machine (i.e. the government) use include a view of failure to become brutal as weak and disgusting.  To enforce the difficult decisions each combatant has to make an effort is made to create a belief that it is patriotic, brave, heroic to give up the humanity and become brutal practitioners of war.  The more brutal the more heroic. Patriotism is understood to be showing a great love and support for your country.  Any other behavior is viewed as not only weak but hateful of your country.  Any combatant that is successful in serving the war machine is therefore, very little human on their return.

Once the combatant returns to society it is fully expected from day one that they will be fully human again and able to behave in a civil manner.  The combatant often feels so unable to anticipate how they should react to any situation, that they withdraw emotionally, and sometimes physically from society.  This makes people around them uncomfortable which reinforces their withdrawal.  One of the central feelings that keeps the returned combatant from asking for help or even explaining what they are feeling and why, is shame. This is a feeling of guilt, regret or embarrassment, that expresses  a feeling of disgrace or dishonor.  In a society like ours here in the U.S. where no one talks to veterans, no one wants to understand what they experienced or felt in the war, the problem is huge.

So a veteran comes home, goes to work, tries to have a relationship in which they can’t share what they are feeling, live unknown in their own homes, and tries to cover the fact that they really don’t know how to react to any challenging situation.  The result is sadness, loneliness and frustration.  It makes the returning combatant a poor partner, a poor friend, and even a poor companion.  Their frustration often builds and expresses itself in ways that harken back to the skills they learned in the war.  The veteran feels under attack by being ignored or judged by people who know nothing about them.

The veteran, in order even to survive, has to learn complex and dangerous skills in the service of the war machine.  A quick violent response is the most effective way to avoid and survive what is viewed as hostility from those around the veteran.  Some veterans become frustrated enough to resort to what they learned to do best and become violent. Once that path is chosen is descends rapidly into choices that can’t be escaped.

This book deals with two veterans.  On their return after 6 years of frequent combat, they both know that they’re scary and hard to be around.  One gets married, starts a family, and opens a business.  His fellow combatant can’t make the transition back to home.  Elijah can’t make it home and moves into a safe house that he and Juno build in the back of Juno’s import/export business warehouse. Elijah works a few days a week with the Longshoremen’s Union, through a friend of Juno.  He keeps himself fit and battle ready. He finds opportunities to use his skills as a soldier in his new hometown and that is the problem.  We find Elijah at home and experiencing one of this bad dreams early one morning.  He goes to have breakfast even before sunrise because he knows he can’t sleep any more.  He discovers three men beating up a young slender man near his favorite breakfast place.  He is incensed and enters the battle.  He seriously injures one of the three bullies.  He kills the second and chases off the third  He takes the injured man to his breakfast place, Buster’s Cafe, so the injured man won’t have to confront the police and become a martyr for the gay movement.

This is a simple act of bravery that opens a door that can’t be closed again for Elijah.

Choosing the darkness or the Light

In this space I will ask you to join me in a discussion of how we should choose the darkness or the light in our lives.  Life in the darkness is centered on the self.  Time and energy goes into the development and advancement of the self only.  Life in the light is working to be fully while reaching out to other fully developed people.

This blog will focus on the effort to tell the story of a pair of veterans returning from war. Their transition from citizens in a first world country into warriors operating often in third world countries.  We will look at their process through the demands that are put on them by those who have the power to jail them, place them in danger, or reward them.  We will experience their decisions as they turn into people who have either accomplished a lot or those who should be ashamed of what they have done.Cost of War, Gilliland cover

Part of the exploration of how to choose between the darkness or the light is the presentation of a book based on the lived experience of a warrior who has been trying to come back for 45 years.  The author was drafted at the age of 19 and then spent almost 5 years in Vietnam service (1966-1971).  For him the war began in 1966 and continues to this day.  This is true of veterans who have served in a theater of war and in combat.  Only about 25% of military serve in hot combat and for those, their lives are forever changed. The arc of their lives is knocked off the path that was set from their birth family and circumstances.  The people the would have met, the relationship they would have had and the consequences of war in their lives will be different than if they had not been chosen.

It is believed by psychologists who deal with veterans that war is crazy, when you are pushed into it then you should run away, or go crazy, or find some other way to deal with the incongruities of the experience.  Some do run away.  Some do end up in facilities to serve the emotionally disturbed. Some deal with the constant barrage of horror by developing a condition called Alexithymia.

Alexithymia – condition characterized by the inability to identify and describe emotions in the self.

  • Dysfunctional emotional awareness
  • It leads to un-empathic and ineffective emotional response
  • Peter Syfnios – 1973 identified the condition and described it.
  • The word is based on the Greek lexis for speech, and thumos – the soul modified by an alpha positive (that expresses negation or absence) it literally means no words for emotions.

The expression of the problem is that one who suffers from this condition just don’t have the normally expected reactions to most situations.  People around the one who suffers notice and become uncomfortable to be around that person.  The person who has lost the ability to emote normally just withdraws.

It is difficult for the sufferer to explain why they are stymied in their response because the cause of the withdrawal consists of things of which they are ashamed.  Alexithymia is part of PTSD.  This larger and more discussed condition only exists in societies (like ours) where returning soldiers are not encouraged to talk about the experience they had in their war..  In cultures where everyone goes to war like Israel, and then returns to share experiences with each other, PTSD is almost not known.