Redheaded Neanderlady

Redheaded Neanderlady
This is a photoshopped version of something I found in National Geographic about the time I started researching

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Writing and publishing woes

In my previous post about The Virgin Queen's Daughter , I mentioned that the author had some trouble with certain words, and certain types of factual information.  Ella March Chase and I have something in common -- we both have writing partners that are helping us see our way to publication. The difference seems to be that both I and my writing partner seem to have a better grasp of words and grammar than she and her writing partner do.  This is not entirely meant as a criticism of her, although I do hope she finds some way to get better editing so the glaring errors I saw  in the book won't be subsequently repeated. If they are, it will be unfortunate, because there are a large number of people(and the number appears to be growing), of readers of historical novels.  And many of these readers are quite knowledgeable about some historical period. Not only are they knowledgeable, they are often knowledgeable to the point of obsession.  This could be a problem, because if they spot factual errors in spelling or grammar, or errors like "Hans Holbien", they may just throw the book at the wall.  I've done the same with writers who made far fewer spelling mistakes than Ms. Chase did, but had factual errors so glaring they practically hit me.  The last time that happened, I all but threw the unfortunate author's book at the nearest wall!  Since I'm writing what is essentially science fiction set in medieval England, I can't really say I'm a "historical novelist".  So I suppose I'm a bit more tolerant about some of these things, than some "history obsessives" might be.


However, whether or not readers of historical novels are "obsessive" about their fact checking isn't exactly the problem.  As my writing partner/friend said not long ago, the real problem seems to be the nature of the publishing business.  And the publishing business has changed a lot -- to the extent that there are no longer really any such things as copy editors who would catch such things as misused homonyms or words that are verbs, which are frequently thought to be nouns.  I'm thinking here of the confusion many writers have when using "prophesy"(verb) as a noun.  "Prophecy" is a noun.  "Prophesy" is a verb.  But I can't tell you how many writers fail to see the distinction, and don't think to look in a dictionary -- a tool I think every writer should have.  On the other hand, a lot of people just rely on their spell checkers, which is fine as far as it goes, but the trouble with spell checkers, as my writing partner pointed out, is that they recognize anything that actually is a word.  Thus, they will recognize "prophesy" used like a noun, just because it is a word.  The same is true with "flare" and "flair".  They are both words. I have sometimes used the thesaurus provided with each of my word processing programs, though I don't use it very often.  But use of a thesaurus might help some writers get the "right" word in the right place. 


The thing is, that if a writer gets anywhere close to being published, without a copy editor, these kinds of mistakes will keep cropping up.  This is not the end of the world, exactly, but a lot of readers, especially the kind that read historical novels like The Virgin Queen's Daughter, are what linguists call "prescriptivists"; grammar and spelling rules are very important to them.  I have my "prescriptivist" hackles, which is why I notice such things.  Unlike the "obsessives" out there, I don't necessarily end up ranting and raving about it, since I'm not a "prescriptivist".  Much of what these folk wail about is simply due to the inevitable changes that all languages go through over time.  As far as English is concerned, if it hadn't changed, we would probably still be speaking and writing the language Beowulf was recited and written it.  Which is complex and beautiful in its own way, but hardly understandable to most people today.  Still, this lack of decent attention to detail in the writing world is sad, but not incapable of correction.  The trouble is, it's the writers who are going to have to do the correcting, by themselves,  or with help from critique groups, partners, writing workshops, instructors, etc.  For many of us, this is an extra burden, but may pay off in the end, since a manuscript that is well-written, and "gets it right" when sent to an agent, is more likely to get published. 


Finally, I'm hardly perfect in this regard, and neither is my writing partner.  We've both made mistakes, and corrected each other's errors to the best of our abilities. Just last week, while merrily writing a chapter in my Great Medieval Science Fiction Masterpiece With Neandertals, I was describing a funeral.  I was writing so merrily, that I had the body "interned" in the freshly-dug grave.  "Intern" is a word.  But as my writing partner pointed out, I should have used "interred".

Anne G

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