0 days, what's ahead

Oh, y'all.... such beautiful, benevolent mail.... thank you so much -- so much!

It's almost 3a.m. I'm just about to hit "send," and I want you to know first.

It's done. It's done.

I can do no more. I've reached the point of diminishing returns.... you know how it is. I know you know!

I'll click "send" and get some sleep. Then... tomorrow morning -- to Charleston.

Charleston. Charleston, South Carolina.

I have not yet begun to pack. :>

But who cares? It's Charleston. Charleston --

The city where Jim and I met in 1968. The air force base from which my dad flew into and out of Vietnam for two years. The low county from whence I learned about life and love and started high school... and fell in love with the sousaphone player I would marry in 2007 when we were both in our fifties... oh, how time moves on and captures us in its embrace.

We have rented a big ol' rambling house on the beach, Jim and I.

I can't wait to get there.

Jim's mother lives on John's Island, and his sister lives in North Charleston. I can't wait to reconnect with them after six months apart... I can't wait for my grown children to visit when they are able... I can't wait for the wind and the waves and the inevitable rain from tropical storm Danny... and all the memories, all the memories we will make!

In Charleston lives my former home, my former church (where I sang in the choir with my mother), my former high school (as an air force kid, I attended three high schools, but this was the one where I met Jim)...

... what a time.

We will visit Fort Sumter, because I have a child who loves forts and the Civil War. And... if I can figure out how it works (do you know?) we will visit Fort Wagner.

We have been wanting to visit Fort Wagner since 1989 when Glory came to theaters... Zach was only seven years old when the movie was released, and yet he connected with that movie in such a visceral way when it came to video. He watched it over and over when he was ten years old; he had a Civil War birthday party, he studied and pondered Civil War history, and today he is 27 and we will go to Fort Wagner, or as close as we can get to it.

We will relive the history of the 54th Massachusetts. We will watch the film first, and then we will get as close to that history as we can.

And this is only one thing we will do in our week at the beach.

Mostly, we will revel in one another. There will be Scrabble. There will be dominoes. And puzzles. We will do nothing much. You know how it is.

I am done with this revision. I want to thank my amazing (truly -- you'll see) copy editor, Susan Casel, who took on the task of helping me create a brand-new kind of book for young readers, who held my fingers to the fire and made me accountable for every fact and figure, who asked all the right questions and did all the right research and insisted that I rise up to meet her very high standards... I hope I have done that.

Thank you, Susan. Thank you, readers. Thank you, friends. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

See you in a week.

1 day, almost done...

It took me 12 hours to recover from yesterday's loss and be back at the place I was before I lost my work. I got there at midnight last night. THANK YOU to all of you who wrote me letters of encouragement. I so appreciate your words -- you don't know. (Or maybe you do -- I am grateful....)

We leave tomorrow for the beach, so it was important to take a day, today, to do family stuff, including banking, bill paying, etc., on a business day, before our week at the beach begins.

I did write my editor a long letter about what I see with this copy edit, and what I've done. I received a lovely letter in return this afternoon, and we are all set to move forward.

I sat with the story for two hours early this morning.

Now, at almost 9pm, the day is done, and I will read through one last time -- a double read-through: I will read the narrative -- the story itself -- and I will also read the copy editor's comments and make sure I have answered all of them... and make sure they are all still applicable, given all I have changed in this past week.

I still have a few copy-editor queries I cannot answer. I'll figure that out as well.

And I have not packed for our week away.

That seems unimportant, at the moment. I am 56 years old: I know how to pack -- at the drop of a hat -- for a week away with family. And I will do that, even if I'm pulling it together at 9am tomorrow morning.

In that case, I will have learned something new about how to pack to go out of town at the last minute. And... I have already learned a lot about how to stick with story and get it off to those who are waiting for it, so they can do their thing with it and we can keep going...

...even if -- as I have just this minute discovered --even if those I am handing the manuscript off to, are going on vacation next week.

Let's not talk about that.

Let's just do the work in front of us, shall we?


2 days, checking in

Hello, luvvies. Thanks ever so much for your mail. I'm here, and I'm reconstructing.

I didn't lose the notes I wrote that contained my research and addressed the copy editor's queries. I had saved those the day(s) before. What I lost, though, was the fine revision (and a couple of places of new writing) that comes when you sink yourself down, down, down into a story so deeply that you feel as if you're One with that infinite mystery that is guiding your heart and your fingers as the words knit themselves together in an order that tells your story so magically it doesn't feel like it's you doing the work.

I know you know what I mean. Who thinks to save a copy off somewhere at a time like that? You're not even here, at a time like that... it's so rare.

I was so close to the end, on page 314 of 344, I was so lost in the story and in that world, and had been for hours. When the little box flashed a "windows needs to update" message I quickly clicked cancel so I could keep going, keep going. At the same time, I read the rest of the message which was "do you want to save your work?" -- so, bleary-eyed and not realizing what I was doing, I cancelled my revision, basically. I did it.

Windows was going to update whether I wanted it to or not. That shouldn't be possible... but it is. Many of you have written to me about how to fix this so it doesn't happen again. Yes, I'm using Vista. No, I'm not going to buy a Mac. Yes, I have backup copies, and yes, I have my computer set to back up every few minutes... but I cancelled my work without realizing what I had done.

It's a sick, sick feeling, isn't it? So many of you wrote to say you've been there. Curiously, that does help. I got some sleep, and I am back at it. I am nothing if not dogged and determined. I have an encouraging note from my editor. I am on page 144. Two hundred pages more, and this time through it is not as daunting, perhaps, as the work I did all yesterday and last night is still fresh in my mind. And maybe, just maybe, if I get lucky, I can touch that magical place again. I can certainly try.

So back I go. Thanks again for all the kind and supportive words. Tomorrow morning is my goal. I still have a few queries to run aground and a final check-through after this revision is done. I can do it. You've told me I can. :>

It has just started raining. I think that's a good sign.

2 days, addendum

... and I was on page 314 of 344 pages.

I was almost done.

Now I need to begin again.

I can't believe it.

To sleep? I don't think so.

2 days, i can't even say....

I can only say this. It is 3:14am. I have been reading and revising for hours. Hours. I have done SUCH good work!

And just a few minutes ago, Windows decided it needed to update and shut down everything. Everything.... against my will. And I lost all the changes of the past four or five hours. ALL OF THEM.

I cannot say more, because I am so sick I might cry if I try to go on.

I ... am sick about this. That is all.

3 days, danny dunn to the rescue

What a team! I heard from several of you yesterday regarding the term "laser beam." Alternatives mentioned: "ray gun," "atomic beam," "death ray," "atom bomb," and more.

I loved your stories most of all -- the stories of playing in the woods (or on bunk beds at night) with army men and imaginations, making death ray sounds and capturing one another, digging "trenches" and piling up leaf forts and hiding from the enemy in those trenches and forts or in trees (with water balloons!)... wow. Thanks for the stories.

Then, here came a post from Carianna Gischer in Washington State:
Danny Dunn and the Heat Ray by Jay Williams was first published in 1962. The heat ray was definitely a laser beam. Even though the title of the book refers to it as a "heat ray," the concept of laser (did you know it stood for Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation?) is pretty thoroughly explained by Professor Bullfinch in Chapter 5.
Wow! Heat ray! Of course! And look at that documentation. I did some research of my own, and sure enough -- 1962. A way to talk about laser beams before they appeared in the common parlance. For kids. Who'd have believed Danny Dunn would come to my rescue?
The power of the Web, I tell you. And of connections. Thanks so much Carianna. Thanks so much, readers, for your stories.

I'm doing a read-through today. In addition to cutting and snipping and shaping, I find myself adding a few things in, for clarity and phrasing... and rhythm. So glad I have the chance to do that.

Still have some queries to answer, but I'll attend to them tomorrow. I want to be done tomorrow, so I can ship the whole thing off on Friday morning and devote a half-day to packing before we leave on Saturday.

That's the plan now. Let's see how it goes.

Today question for you: How many of you remember telephone exchanges? The number to call "Time" when I was a kid was TI4-2525. But I don't remember exchanges for my family phone number. We never used area codes unless we called out of state. And I believe we went through an operator when we did. But it's the exchanges I'm most interested in now. In 1962. Go. :>

(And... how many of you loved Danny Dunn?)

4 days, for the record

Well, well! Who knew! *Fourteen* of you are either Wendy Ward graduates, drop outs, or wanna be's! And that's the fourteen who wrote me. There are more of you out there, I'm sure....

How funny to strike a chord with a mention of Wendy Ward. Oh, how I wanted to attend the Wendy Ward Charm School when I was a kid, at the Montgomery Ward store at Iverson Mall in Marlow Heights.

But hey -- did you take ballroom dancing lessons? I was 14, my brother was 13 (or were we 15 and 14?) -- at any rate, we took ballroom dancing lessons one summer, and learned to fox trot, tango, waltz, box step, and cha cha. We danced some sort of made-up version of cool partner dancing at school dances, and impressed (so we thought) other kids. Who also took those dance lessons. Did you?

Charm school and dance lessons figure into Fallout. (Still feels funny to call it Fallout, but this will become second nature soon enough. I called Each Little Bird that Sings "the Comfort book" or even just "Comfort" for so long until it had a proper name, right down to the wire.)

I napped late yesterday and went back to work after supper. Turned in at 4am, after getting through the entire manuscript, all 344 pages. However, not all queries are answered. I marked the ones I need to go back to, and will. But not today.

Today is for beginning from the beginning and doing a read-through, with the queries in mind (keeping me company on the right hand side of the page), but reading mostly for flow and content. Snipping what doesn't need to be there. Tightening. It's a matter of removing a word or two or sometimes complete sentences, thoughts, because they are redundant or don't need to be there. Selecting the best verbs to say exactly what I want to say. Being clear. And... I hope... finding the poetry in my prose.

I've done some of this with the queries as I discovered that removing the queried phrase (or a word in it) would satisfy the copy-editor's question, and would also strengthen the passage -- so begins a delicate dance.

Some of last night's queries:

Would laser beam have been in common parlance in 1962? The copy editor included her research. I researched old movies, including The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) -- remember that laser beam that Gort, the robot, shoots at the military when he's protecting Klaatu? The Man with the X-Ray Eyes -- remember that? It haunted me for years (1963, so too late for Franny). Remember Goldfinger? Sean Connery about to be sliced from crotch to crown with a laser beam? Too late: 1964. Still... I think yes to laser beam. Klaatu barada nikto! What do you think?

Correct order of lyrics to Brian Hyland's "Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini"? I listened to this at 2am. Got it. Still, I don't mind transposing verses to get the effect I want within the narrative... but if we get permission to use the record sleeve, then let's use the verses in order.

Cannot confirm this extract. Please confirm and provide source so it can be styled. There's still lots of this. Most sources I have. Some I don't... and need to decide what to do about that. I need the source or I need to switch to a sourced quote. Or delete.

"Serial killer" is probably anachronistic. How about "ax murderer"?

Okay as is? "Whom" is correct but too formal for Franny.

And how about this:

Cannot verify that this is a real book. Please confirm. The name of the book: The Arrow Book of Secret Codes. Is it real, readers? :>

Many queries surrounded my use of the text from the Duck and Cover public service announcements (the one using Bert the Turtle). Here it is, in its 9-minute entirety (stills and the film are in the public domain), if you haven't seen it. If you listen to the words, you realize how chilling it must have been for Franny to see this film in school the day after Kennedy's Oct. 22, 1962 speech to the nation.
Paul and Patty... are always ready to take care of themselves. Here they are on their way to school on a beautiful spring day. But no matter where they go or what they do, they always try to remember what to do if the atom bomb explodes right then. "It's a bomb! Duck and cover!" Paul and Patty know what to do.

I know what to do, too. Lunch. With my husband. At the Rainbow Grocery. Then... back to the pink chair for an afternoon's reading and shaping.

5 days, right brain-left brain

After two days given over to left-brain, copy-editing fever, a good dose of right-brain creativity is in order. I spent Sunday in creative heaven.

Just look at this blissful face! There is nothing like a brand-new book in the world. And when it is YOUR book, your very FIRST book... well! Shine on, Kristy Dempsey, shine on, girl. Enjoy every single moment. I loved meeting you face-to-face, finally. Much good luck with this book and a long, full career in children's books.
Me with You, available now, is a sweet, sweet story of a grandfather and grandchild together, but it's a universal story as well. I bought it for my Jim. As I was standing in line to have my book signed by Kristy, Jim was across town at Ken Gregory's studio, 800east, recording his new album.
I photographed Jim and the band through glass first, as they were recording bass tracks. Each player occupies his own sound-proofed room as he plays. The headphones enable them to hear one another. Jim on piano:
Herman Burney on bass:
Paul Fallat is percussion:And Ken Gregory, who is a composer and guitarist/brass man as well, runs the board as engineer. After the take, everyone congregates with Ken to listen to the playback.
They pick it apart. "I want to do that measure over." "I wasn't sure here at first, now I know what I'm doing." "Let me run that again." "I don't know if I like that tempo." "Let's do it again." "Want to save that take?" "No." Or "Yes, but I want to try it one more time."

And back they go. Third take. Fourth. The Chinese food arrives. "We have to earn it!" says Jim, and they get into a new groove finishing up.

Better? Let's take a listen. Oh, yeah!
It's good. It's really good. It's done! One tune down.
Time for Chinese. And a little goofing off.World class musicians. Another new album off to a good start. They will work long hours, all week, and later this week, trumpet, guitar and sax will lay down their tracks with Jim -- Eric South and Joe Gransden will occupy the studio with Jim and Ken.
I have heard Jim downstairs in his studio composing and practicing this music for over a year. What excitement it is to hear the parts played by the musicians he wrote them for. The harmonies and instruments Jim has heard only in his head are now coming together as a whole new creation. It's exciting to hear the input from the musicians as well, elevating the composition to a new level, and bringing Jim's music to life. You can hear some of the last albums here and here and here, and other places around the Web.A novel is like this. The characters live in the author's head and heart, wholly in the imagination, created out of whole cloth and moments, memories, meaning. They live on the page as the writer fashions them there, with the help of a good engineer and many world class players.

A story is revised over and over -- that's where the magic lies. I saw that magic created in front my eyes yesterday -- what a privilege. I heard it come to life. I can't wait to hold it in my hands, a finished CD. I'll hear it on the radio soon, and I'll remember what it was like to watch it being created, in my home and in Ken's studio...

... and suddenly copy edits don't feel so left-brained. They feel very creative to me today, as I sit here with them, on page 181, struggling with Wendy Ward. I want there to be Wendy Ward Charm Schools in 1962, and especially a Wendy Ward book. But I can't verify this for the copy editor. The closest I can come is 1963. So I may ditch Wendy Ward and create my own charm school to substitute so we aren't anachronistic.

And that will be creative work.

6 days, who needs sleep?

Wow. It got ugly fast. I could not, for the life of me, make myself stick with copy edits yesterday. This is my way; why does it always surprise me? Is it fear? Revulsion? An inate need to nest before the big job?

It's like this: When I first get a manuscript back, I have to look at the whole thing, read comments page by page (which takes hours in itself, and which I did on Friday), and then let it cool. Let it steep. Go for a walk.
Yesterday I walked a fer piece... all the way to Kudzu (okay, I drove, in Miss Daisy). I stayed there for hours. They know me, they love me, I love them, my home is a shrine to my dealer friends (!) and "my assistant" Charles (thank you for the Co-Cola yesterday!) and owners George and Kate Lawes and all the wonderful finds I've hauled home (thank you, Calvin) in the five years I've lived in Hotlanta.

Yesterday I was clearly into glassware.
But I digress.

By the time I wrangled myself back to the pink chair, it was dark. By the time I really got into the manuscript, it was 11:30pm. I had spent hours trying to find a reliable source for the price of a gallon of gas in 1962.
Then I scoured my slang sources (I also have a "dweeb" problem, and a note from my editor: "Good catch! A more 1962-appropriate insult, please!") and ended up reading The History of Insults in English and making myself a list of possibilities. I read through your mail! So much mail yesterday -- all of it helpful. Thanks for all the suggestions and great ideas. I ended up substituting "weirdo" for "dork."

And... the shoes remain square. Stet. I think the reader will get it in context.
It got interesting... nay, fascinating!... and I found myself having a professional, meaty conversation with my amazing copy editor, right there in track changes, as I crawled through page after page and hour after hour. (You can enlarge any screen shot by clicking on it to see that conversation.)

The way pin curls were made, the advent of Stride Rite shoe stores, how to handle photo captions (or to include them at all), too many fonts? too many itals? stet! stet! stet!
I especially liked the conversation about why Franny's family does dishes by hand, even though they have a dishwasher... this was in three queries.
Okay to delete this comma? Was there a 7-Eleven in Camp Springs, Maryland in 1962? The actual name of the base hospital is the Malcolm Grow Medical Center -- was it Malcolm Grow Hospital in 1962? Was there a McDonald's across from Andrews Air Force Base in 1962? Cannot verify but don't think there was but one size of French fries in 1962. Please confirm. Okay with this transposition? Thank you, Word Wealth Junior!
After all that avoidance and fear, I sat myself down and enjoyed this more than my visit to Kudzu, and that's saying something. I loved revisiting the biographies and trying to come up with a standard format for them -- they are highly stylized and are probably a copy editor's nightmare... but we (I, responding to queries) plowed through them (two of them, anyway)... and when I stood up to stretch because my back was killing me, the birds were singing outside, and the sky was lightening into day.
133 pages. I pulled an all-nighter and did Saturday's and Sunday's pages. Which is a good thing, because today (Sunday) is a busy day. There's lots happening today, and I want to be part of it.
Perhaps I'm going to do it this way... all-nighters... at least over the weekend. By Monday I'll probably be back to days in the chair. And I still feel the pressure of the deadline -- I need to get through the copy edits in a timely fashion so I have time to read through the story and shape it -- all those niggling little stumblers need to come out -- I'll share that with you, too. Fine-toothed revision. I didn't have time for this last go-round and I'm worried about it.

But for now, to the showers. I've slept five hours, I'm good to go. I'm heading to Little Shop of Stories in Decatur, Georgia, where Kristy Dempsey will be signing her new book, Me With You at 3pm. Yay, Kristi! Congratulations!

Jim has headed back to the studio -- he begins recording his new album today. I'm the photographer. And then, supper with the band? Who knows, but it's rare to get them all together these days. Herman has flown in from D.C. There is life to be lived, even in the throes of copy edits.

Today's question for you: Who said, "Life does go on." The hint, and the surprise for readers of the Aurora County trilogy, is below.
See you tomorrow. Here's to LIFE. And Story. And those who, with their expertise, help us tell our stories well.

(Now, for "dweeb" -- nincompoop, nitwit, kook... or numbskull (my favorite). You?)

7 days, 344 pages

Okay. The copy-edited manuscript of Fallout* is 344 pages. I have seven days to answer all queries, tighten and snip, brush it up, turn it around, and send it back to Scholastic. If I commit to at least fifty pages per day, I will make my goal.
We leave for the beach in seven days. I have lots to do before we go, but the most important work-job is getting this manuscript back so everyone at Scholastic who's involved with this book can keep going, and we can make our publication deadlines.
Yesterday I read through the copy edits, page by page. They are indeed rigorous, and I do appreciate that. A thorough, thoughtful copy edit elevates a book, and I am lucky in this regard.

Some queries are easier than others to answer:

p. 12: "Okay with this transposition? For flow only."

Some are reteaching me punctuation:

p. 13: "Added comma okay? Franny has only one brother."

And some are going to require heavier lifting:

p. 6: "Cannot verify material. Need source."

Gad, I hope I have it. There are lots of these heavier lifting queries. There are many hundreds of queries overall. I'll share some of them in this next seven days, so I can stay connected as I burrow down into this novel for the last time. I know many of you are teachers who are using the blog this year with your students as part of your writing program, and I'm hoping this will be useful. Thanks for bringing me into your classroom this year! Now:

On p. 10 I have written:

"Mrs. Rodriguez wears square shoes with thick soles and glasses on a beaded string around her neck."

The copy editor's query is: Should this be "square-toed" shoes? "Square," in this time frame, could mean "uncool," as opposed to an actual description of the shoes, which I think is the author's intention.

Yes, that is the author's intention. But I don't know that Franny would think to say "square-toed" -- she's frustrated right now, and she's eleven, and I need to stay true to her voice.

What do you think, readers? You haven't read the book, but as a reader coming to this line in the story, would you bump over "square shoes" or would you get it in context?
I have a hundred of these queries to answer today in the first fifty pages of the newly titled novel, Fallout.

* Yes, Fallout. You all shared such fantastic title ideas -- thanks for all the mail on the title change for this novel. You were much more creative than I was! In the end, Scholastic fell for Fallout the hardest, and as I live with it, I'm liking it more and more as well. Hope you will, too.

We'll talk title more, later. For now, back to copy edits. One last query for you, from page 21:

I wrote: "... and Tom slugs Jimmy in the arm. 'Dork!'"

And the copy editor has queried: This word was coined in 1967, per Web 11. Reword for time continuity? Perhaps "jerk"? Or even better, "nerd," which seems to have been coined by Dr. Seuss in If I Ran the Zoo in 1951.

Remember when we had this discussion, waaaay back here? An entire year ago! And, if you read the comments, you'll see that Walter Mayes was correct. As always.

So readers: what say you? Jerk? Nerd? Something Else? Square shoes? Square-toed? And could you please go find the sources for the quotes and passages I need to verify?

Send vibes, at least, would you? I'll check in every day.

Seven days, 344 pages, one pink chair. Go.

"a rigorous copy-editing"

How to get ready to receive "a rigorous copy editing" job on your manuscript:

1. Visit son Zach's potted vegetable garden and marvel at the organic okra, cucumbers, eggplant and tomatoes.
2. Squeeze in a cookout between showers.
3. Eat lots of scrambled eggs.
4. Buy a rug.
5. Rearrange the furniture.
6. Pick daisies in the garden.
5. Meet with staff to discuss editor's letter. Just what does it mean when he writes, "I know you will welcome the rigor of the queries, and indeed they are rigorous..." and "You'll see comments of many colors..."
6. Practice banjo.
7. Eat a tomato sandwich.
8. Take the long view. It's going to be so good when it's over!
Time to get to work.

Have a great weekend! You know what I'll be doing...