It’s Been a Busy Week . . .

By Allison Brennan

Once again, Alex has a brilliant post about spiritual themes, analyzing one of my all-time favorite movies, THE MATRIX. And I have to blog after her. Sometimes, life is not fair . . .

I’ve had an unusually busy week (okay, nine days.) Last Friday was my daughter’s 14th birthday. (Happy Birthday Kelly!) The day started out unusual enough–I toured Folsom State Prison with the FBI Citizens Academy alumni. Fellow thriller author and all-around great guy James Rollins was there as well (as a guest, not a prisoner) and I think we both enjoyed the three hour tour (fortunately, we didn’t get stranded.) I blogged about it on Thursday at Murder She Writes.

After the tour, I rushed (not speeding) to my kids’ school to pick up the birthday girl for her special one-on-one birthday lunch, after which I took her to a track meet 45 minutes away. After the meet, we made it home by 7:30 to have cake and open presents . . . 

The weekend was spent finishing the rough draft of LOVE ME TO DEATH, which I sent off to my editor at about 2:30 Monday morning. Well, the last 75 pages . . . the rest I’d sent a week before, so she’d finished and was ready for the very rough ending. Later that day, we talked for two hours about the book, what worked, what didn’t, and I got the manuscript back with comments. I mulled over her comments for a couple days, caught up on things I neglected when I was rushing to finish the first draft, and started revisions on Wednesday.

I love revisions. Some authors apparently dread them, but honestly, every book I’ve written is better because of editorial input. I think some people, especially if they’ve never been through this process, or maybe had a strict editor, think that revisions mean that the author has to make every change the editor suggests. My editor rarely says to change specifics–she tells me what she likes and what’s not working; where the pacing is slow or too fast; characters that are weak; and places to increase the emotion . . . among much more. 

For example, in this book (being vague here so I don’t give anything away!) my editor had some questions on how my characters learned specific information, so it was obvious I wasn’t clear enough earlier. She felt that one of my main characters started strong, but fizzled when my hero came on scene and because they are both important to the suspense plot, I need to balance them better after the first third of the book. I also had a scene that is important but drew attention to itself because of over-description. And my primary villain–I’m writing a first person POV villain for the first time. I feared that was going to be the weak parts (I’ve never written first person before.) Fortunately, it worked–but she wanted him introduced earlier and add more scenes from his POV because he is such a strong villain.

A lot of these things I’d sensed, but couldn’t pinpoint while writing the manuscript. Perhaps, if I had time to put the book aside for a few weeks and then re-read with fresh eyes, I’d see the problems. But being on a tight schedule, I don’t have that luxury. My editor, however, never tells me how to fix problems–she helps identify them and then I can talk them through with her as needed. But the remedies, the fixes, are all mine.

A classic example I’ve used when speaking about the value of editorial input is when I was revising THE KILL, my third book. I was still a very new author and struggling with the revision process (mostly in finding my own path.) There’s a scene where the villain had the heroine hostage in a car (the heroine is forced to drive) and the hero and FBI Agent are following. They’re driving down a winding mountain road and the killer has a gun on the heroine. The scene plays out pretty quickly, and the villain is apprehended.

My editor felt the scene had a lot much tension and high stakes and it ended too quickly, and suggested that my heroine go for the gun. I didn’t see how that would work, but I agreed with her that the scene was too short. I role-played with my husband, trying to get the water gun from his hand while in the car, and in every scene I ended up dead. It would not be the smart thing to do while driving down a winding mountain road–and my heroine was very uncomfortable around guns. But she WOULD try to get away, knowing that she’d be dead if she went with him, and may live if she jumped from the car.

So I had her slam on the brakes and open the door, trying to jump from the vehicle, but the villain pulls her back inside. He’d dropped the gun when she slammed on the brakes, but now he has a knife in hand and it’s at her throat. I was able to draw out the scene and increase the tension.

My point here is that good editors know when a scene has problems. They don’t always know how to fix it. That’s why I always listen when my editor is struggling with something, because that means my readers will struggle. But ultimately, it’s up to me to find a solution that fits with my characters and logic. 

So I was very excited to start! But first on Tuesday, I editing the synopsis for the second Lucy book and sent that off to my agent. I’d written it awhile back, but now that I was done with the first book, there were a lot of changes. Not that I’ll ever look at the synopsis again. That would be too much like . . . plotting.

Wednesday and half of Thursday I worked on the revisions . . . only I had to put the book aside early. I’d agreed awhile back to speak to the third graders at my son’s school. It was a blast. The kids were enthusiastic, they love reading, they asked great questions, and I had fun talking about the two things I love most: reading and writing. We talked a lot about perseverance (one of their themes this year) and working hard when you want something, whether it’s learning to play baseball or the piano or writing a book. There’s nothing to stop you except you. Third grade is a great age–too young for most of the drama and brattiness, but old enough to understand hard work and dreams. So enthusiastic about the future. I love this time!

While I tried to write at night, it proved impossible. And on Friday, I went to my kindergartner’s Mother’s Day breakfast where we ate, drank coffee, and listened to them sing. Yes, most of us moms were crying. My littlest guy is a hoot. There was a dance, and while he was dancing with me, he kept looking over at his “best friend” — a little girl. I asked him if he wanted to dance with her, and he started off . . . I pulled him back, saying she wanted to dance with her mom. But he wouldn’t stop looking over his shoulder, trying to catch her eye! LOL.

And also on Friday, my third grader turned nine . . . and my daughter had her last track meet, the final meet. She came in third in two events (the mile and the 4X400m) and did great! After the meet we rushed home to . . . you guessed it! Presents and cake. While my mom watched the two little kids, my husband took the birthday boy to the fish store to pick out fish for our new tank.

Then came Saturday, the party. Thirteen kids between the ages of 4 and 9, ten of them boys, at my house. Tired, but not completely out, I took the two oldest teens (14 and 16) plus one of their friends to see NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET. Great remake. I really enjoyed it, especially since I thought the storyline was more believable than the original, and because of that more scary (more suspenseful while being less gory, though I haven’t seen the original in more than 20 years so my recollection is poor.) The new version used a lot of the same elements as the old one (boyfriend accused of murdering one of the victims; Nancy seeing her friend in a body bag; among others) there were fresh twists and a different crime for Krueger. Worth seeing if you like horror.

And now it’s Sunday. Well, for me, late Saturday night! For Mother’s Day, after church we’re going grocery shopping, then home, then an early dinner out with the kids and my mom. Probably some games when we get back.

Today is my last day off. Not only am I eager to get back to my revisions, the deadline looms two weeks away. Enough time, but it’s ticking . . . and there’s the next book, waiting for me to start writing.

Happy Mothers Day to all the mom’s reading this!

9 thoughts on “It’s Been a Busy Week . . .

  1. Zoรซ Sharp

    Hi Allison

    This is a very timely post, because I, too, am in the midst of revisions to the next Charlie Fox book at the moment, and I’m very happy with the improvements to the book that a good editor can make.

    But, let me get this straight – you emailed the last 75 pages to your editor at 2:30am Monday morning, and she got back to you the SAME DAY with full comments?

    Wow.

    Reply
  2. Allison Brennan

    Editorial trust is hugely important, Cornelia, I totally agree! My editor lives in England, so 2:30 am my time is 10:30 am her time (though I just checked the message, I sent it at 1:30 am.) She knew it was coming, she’d already read the first 350 pages, so she only had the ending to read. We talked at 1 pm my time, which is 9 pm her time. But even when we’re not crunched for time, she’s always very timely, but she doesn’t have as many authors because she’s now freelance (her husband too a job in England and they moved 2 years ago, but she’d been my editor at Ballantine for 9 books before she left.) This book isn’t late or crunched, but because I have a Jan and Mar book, we both want enough time for the Mar book.

    However, (I should have blogged about this! Maybe another day) I learned with my SDS series that the second book is a (very teeny bit) easier than the first book. Not the story overall, but the characters. I learned about them in the first book, including backstory and personality, so writing in their POV I already have their voice down. Makes the second book go so much smoother! So I’m hoping the same is true for Lucy’s series.

    Reply
  3. Louise Ure

    Once again, Allison, I get tired just reading about your schedule.

    But I adore editorial input, too. My editor at St. Martins made such a pithy comment about the ending of Liars Anonymous that I rewrote the whole book to change the identity of the villain.

    Reply
  4. toni mcgee causey

    I am very late getting here today–was gone all weekend (lovely lovely weekend just being a completely slacker) (after attending a gorgeous wedding in St. Louis Cathedral Friday night, my first time to see inside it after Katrina)…

    Anyway, I love editorial input–my editor at SMP would always ask brilliant questions (which I rarely had the answer for, but it made me dig). She was wonderful about not trying to say how to fix things, just talking about where she felt there was an issue and why, and it was one of the best educational experiences, working with her. I think I learned more in that timeframe with her than all of the years beforehand, on my own or in classes.

    (I am convinced there are at least two clones of Allison running around, getting all of that stuff done. No way just one human being can do all of that.) (Lie to me, at least.) ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Reply
  5. BCB

    Happy Mother’s Day, Allison (and all the other mothers reading this)! I think there are about 10 minutes left in the day here on the east coast. I’m already exhausted and reading this makes me feel I have no right to be. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Spent all day (14 hours or so) at my daughter’s college graduation [UNC-CH, JD’s alma mater] — and then lunch, departmental reception with ceremony, hanging out at her apartment (ie, packing and cleaning, OMG) and then dinner al fresco at a fantastic restaurant before driving home. It was wonderful and beautiful and I only cried a little, but it also kind of wore me out. I’m a total wimp compared to you. Maybe next post you can reveal how you make that whole clone thing happen…

    I haven’t worked with a "real" editor yet, but I agree that any time I’ve received constructive feedback it has made my writing stronger. (When your dad is an English teacher, you learn to deal with critique at a very early age.) I don’t understand writers who see it as a combative process.

    I’d tell you to get some rest, but you seem to thrive on this craziness that is your life. Good for you.

    Reply
  6. Allison Brennan

    I’m not a clone! I swear! I wish I could see the cathedral, Toni, someday . . .

    BCB, congratulations on your daughter’s graduation! That’s terrific. That would wear me out, too. And I’d cry a lot more. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Reply

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