The Hard Copy Edit (and other writerly tricks)

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I had to print up the galleys for HIGH MAGA, but then again, I’m old school when it comes to editing.

A couple years back, when we were heading into the final stages of publication for High Maga, I took a picture of the printed proof and posted it on Facebook. This elicited lots excitement about the coming release, and one curious comment:

“A paper copy!” one of my friends wrote. “I didn’t know those existed any more.”

I have a fair amount of techno savvy – more than some, less than others – but it never occurred to me until that moment there were writers in the world who no longer messed with paper. Welcome to the new millennium, Karin!

Being part of a transitional generation, my writing habits have changed a lot over the years. The initial draft of my first novel, Eolyn, was written entirely by hand in journals, to be transcribed and polished on my laptop computer. However, by the time I sat down to write High Maga, I was composing almost everything directly on the computer.

I have to admit, sometimes I miss the gritty feel of pen on paper, the satisfaction of slashing through entire sections, making notes in margins, and so forth. Cut, paste, delete just doesn’t carry the same level of physical and emotional engagement in the editing process. Still, I’m also fairly certain my journal writing days are over. Whenever I sit down and try to do things again with pen and paper, the thoughts just don’t flow like they used to. Like they do now in front of the keyboard.

Although most of my writing is now electronic, at some point toward the end of crafting a novel I simply must go through a print copy of my work. Maybe there’s a neuro-cognitive explanation for this somewhere, but the simple truth is there are many details that slip by me on screen that I invariably catch on paper. And I’m not just talking about missing commas or extra spaces. Sometimes major errors somehow disappear inside the on-screen text, only to jump out at me when I have the print copy in hand. And yes, with the print copy I get to return to the old joy of marking up, slashing out, making notes in the margin, and in general, feeling that scratch of pen upon paper that is somehow so fulfilling for me as a writer.

So, yes, my friends of the new millennium. Paper copies of manuscripts still exist. Indeed, I couldn’t do without them.

How about you? Are you a 100% on-screen editor, or do you need to print things up the old-fashioned way like me? What other tricks do you have to catch those errors that tend to melt into the background once you’ve viewed a manuscript a thousand times?

And just out of curiosity, does anyone out there still use a journal?

L. Blankenship and The Disciple Series

Hello! We’re taking a break from regular programming today to welcome L. Blankenship to my blog. Blankenship is celebrating the release of the latest installment for her fantasy series, The Disciple. Check it out!


War is coming. Kate Carpenter is only a peasant girl, but she’s determined to help defend the kingdom and its bound saints against the invading empire. Her healing magic earned her a coveted apprenticeship with the master healer; now she must prove herself ready to stand in the front lines and save lives.

She’s not ready for the attentions of a ne’er-do-well knight and the kingdom’s only prince, though. This is no time to be distracted by romance — the empire’s monstrous army will tear through anyone standing between them and the kingdom’s magical founts. All disciples must put aside their tangled feelings and stand in the homeland’s defense.

Disciple

the six-part gritty fantasy romance series is now complete!

Disciple, Part VI on sale at AmazonB&NMore retailers

Download Disciple, Part I for free!

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Email me if you can’t get it for free: blankenship.louise at gmail

 

Excerpt from Part I

“You couldn’t sleep either?”

At the whisper, I looked up from struggling to lace my boots with trembling hands. My master stepped into my dormitory room, adding his lamp’s light to my candle.

“Why must I dress as a boy?” I whispered back. Perhaps I was not so buxom, but I doubted I’d fool anyone. “This makes little sense.”

“Patience.” Master Parselev placed his lamp on my writing-table and checked my packed bags. “They’re gathering at the chapel already. None of us got much sleep, it seems.”

The straw mattress creaked when I stood, boots laced and the woolen hose sagging between my thighs. I ran my fingers around my waist, under my layered cotes, to check the drawstring. “Are these right, Master?” I’d strung the hose and braies together as best I could guess and as memory was my Blessing I had no excuse for failing. Men’s underthings weren’t much concern to me — if I saw such, or more, it was while the man lay bleeding on the surgery table.

“If they stay up, it’s right. Good. This too.” He slung a heavy felt cloak across my shoulders and pinned it on. The hood buried my face in shadows; my blonde braid, even wrapped around my head, would give me away.

I asked, “Master, this journey will be long, won’t it?” Parselev had given me more clothes than I’d ever owned to pack in those bags. All heavy winter woolens, too. “Shouldn’t you go, then?”

He looked down at me, mouth quirking to one side. Master was a greybeard, said to be over a hundred years old, but his kir kept his eyes bright and his face lightly creased. I had only been his apprentice two years. Surely I could not be ready for this.

“It must be you, Kate,” was all he said.

Disciple Omnibus

collects all six books • save big!

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Doorstop paperbacks at Createspace • Amazon to come

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The Fires of Galia

The magic of volcanoes like Turrialba, pictured here, inspired one of the most important cultures of Eolyn’s world.

One of my favorite stories to tell is about the formation of Central America. I’ve given this lecture for many different audiences at multiple academic levels over the course of about fifteen years. Still, I never tire of retelling the story, rolling through about 250 million years of history in just over an hour.

Central America is one of the most geologically dynamic places on the planet, surpassed only, perhaps, by Indonesia (the home of the great volcano Krakatoa). The oldest pieces of the Central American isthmus date back about 65 million years. According to our best estimates, the land bridge was completed about 3-5 million years ago, connecting two continents, North and South America, that had been separated since the break-up of Pangaea.

Today the land bridge continues to grow and change. The Cocos plate, which underlies the Pacific Ocean in this part of the world, is rear-ending the Caribbean plate. This collision creates a subduction zone, where one plate sinks below the other. As the Cocos plate sinks, the Caribbean plate buckles and pushes upward, creating the mountain ranges of Central America. Because of this violent collision, a string of active and dormant volcanoes stretches across Panama, Costa Rica, and Nicaragua.

Just a couple weeks ago, Turrialba Volcano in Costa Rica had a major eruption, spreading ash across the Central Valley of Costa Rica. At our home in Heredia, we got a relatively light dusting, but it was visible and messy and best of all, a brand new experience for me.

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Next time you have a great cup of coffee, remember to thank the volcanoes!

Volcanoes are cool. From a distance, that is. They inspire awe and embody the majesty of nature unleashed; they are at once beautiful and terrible. There’s nothing we can do to avoid the destructive power of a volcano, except of course, get out of the way before it’s too late.

The devastation caused by a volcano may seem absolute, but life has recovered from volcanic eruptions time and again. Plants, animals, and their cohorts always manage to recolonize areas devastated by ash, lava, and pyroclastic gases.

Indeed, volcanoes feed life by fertilizing the earth. All that amazing coffee you drink in your local cafe is almost certainly grown on volcanic soils. Most recently, small volcanic eruptions have been credited with slowing global warming. And who can forget all those wonderful therapeutic hot springs made possible by volcanoes?

The magic of volcanoes provided the primary inspiration for one of the important cultures of Eolyn’s world, the People of Galia. Galians share a certain heritage with Moisehén. They consider themselves followers of Dragon and descendents of Aithne and Caradoc. However, their magical traditions are unique, shaped in part by the spectacular landscape in which they dwell.

The Galian wizards and their love for magas receives its first mention in the novel Eolyn. The Kingdom of Galia supported the magas in their struggle against Akmael’s father Kedehen. When the magas lost the war and the purges started, Galia provided refuge to fleeing magas and cut off all relations with the Mage Kings of Moisehén.

A view from the summit of Barú Volcano in Panama. Eolyn’s sword, infused with Galian magic, was named after this volcano.

In High Maga, Eolyn inherits the sword Kel’barú,infused with the mysterious magic of Galia. One of the untold back stories of Eolyn’s journey is that this sword once belonged to the family of her father Eoghan, a Galian warrior who fell in love with her mother Kaie. Kel’barú speaks to Eolyn because of the magic that binds it to anyone of her father’s blood line. It’s name, Kel’barú, was inspired by the real-world Barú Volcano in Panama.

Despite Eolyn’s heritage and the importance of Kel’barú, the Galians have had a tangential role in her story. For two novels, I’ve been wanting to find a way to bring the Galians more center stage. Daughter of Aithne gave me that opportunity. When the Galians align with the Kingdom of Roenfyn against Moisehen, we get to meet them in all their color and glory. They are a vibrant people, boisterous and bold like the fiery mountains that paint their home. Their prince, Savegre, has become one of my favorite romantic heroes of the series.

I’ll be talking more about the Galians and all the other players of Daughter of Aithne in the months to come, as we approach the release of Eolyn’s next great adventure. In the mean time, stay tuned & dream deep of fiery volcanoes and fearsome magic.

A closing video: Villarrica Volcano in Chile erupted this year on my birthday. Here’s some spectacular footage of that event:

The Story I’ve Always Wanted to Write

Countdown to HIGH MAGA

Thomas Vandenberg, who created this iconic image of Eolyn for the cover of HIGH MAGA, will also do the cover art for DAUGHTER OF AITHNE.

I’m about 80% through the list of edits given me by Terri-Lynne DeFino for Daughter of Aithne. The focus right now is on ‘big’ fixes. Once I’m finished with that, I’ll do another run through for the devilish details: grammar, punctuation, continuity of all those strange fantasy names, and so forth. Once the manuscript is near-final, I’ll send it to artist Thomas Vandenberg so we can start work on the cover. And of course, Terri may want another read-through, and there’ll be copy editing, formatting, and all sorts of other preparations to come.

The long road to publication has begun.

Daughter of Aithne brings Eolyn’s journey full-circle in a way I didn’t foresee when I wrote book one. Indeed, “book one” wasn’t “book one” at the time I published. “Book one” was simply Eolyn, my first novel, written with much love and meant to be self-contained in its conflict, climax, and denouement.

Then, about a month after I signed my first contract with Hadley Rille Books, ideas began to come together for a sequel. High Maga was born and painstakingly developed over months and years to come. Decidedly darker than its predecessor, book two captures a period of Eolyn’s life when her journey becomes exceedingly painful, her choices difficult and complicated.

Unlike Eolyn, High Maga was not written to be self-contained. You can read it – and enjoy it – without having seen book one or going on to book three, but you won’t understand the full meaning of the events  unless you complete the series. I’ve often said it’s unfair to hold a reader hostage in this fashion, but as an author I’ve come to realize that certain themes are too complex to receive due treatment in just one novel.

So we come to Daughter of Aithne.  

Looking back, it’s hard for me to imagine how I ever wrote that first book without envisioning this third installment.  Eolyn  is a story of hope; High Maga of destruction. In Daughter of Aithne, we see the building of a new future as circumstances at last come together to allow Eolyn and her cohorts to imagine a world different from the one they inherited.

This is something we don’t see all that often in fantasy. Most fantasy characters must accept the world as it is given them. They may have the strength and courage to overcome the challenges of that world, but they are rarely allowed to implement real changes in the fabric of the society to which they are born.

So in order to introduce women warriors, fantasy authors have created societies in which women-at-arms are basically accepted, even if as an exception to the rule. To make a woman part of a matriarchal power line, we imagine worlds where matriarchy has existed for centuries, with no real or effective challenge to that status quo. Worlds where women and men have equal opportunities in a wide range of societal roles are well-established as such by page one of the novel in question.

These are examples of wonderful fantasy worlds where our women characters, our true heroines, have been able to flourish.  But what about the other possibility? What about the struggle for change that breaks open opportunities never before available to women?  And not just for that exceptional character who proves she can do it just like the guys, but for all women everywhere?

I am a proud daughter of the Women’s Movement. I look back on the society to which my mother was born, and I can’t help but feel a deep gratitude for the sacrifices and struggles that made it possible for all the women afterwards to enjoy privileges unimaginable even sixty years ago. We are living a revolution, a struggle that in many ways has not yet ended.

Wouldn’t it be nice to see that revolution, and its makers, honored as metaphors in our stories? Wouldn’t it be nice to promote change as an integral part of the journey of fantasy?

I didn’t realize it when I started Eolyn, but these were some of the questions that motivated the series. What if women – key women, of a particular character – were given the opportunity to change the world? Would they imagine it differently from the men before them?  Or would they subscribe to the same power structures, the same intrigues, the same tools for resolving conflict?

There are many possible answers to these questions; and a thousand stories waiting to be written that might address them. Eolyn, High Maga, and most of all, Daughter of Aithne are just three examples.

As with Eolyn, the denouement of Daughter of Aithne flies in the face of conventional fantasy.  It is a dangerous ending in some ways, one that may get me into trouble with certain sectors. Readers will either love it or hate it.  In fact, my worst fear in sending the manuscript to my editor was that she would advise me against the ending.  But Terri didn’t do that. In fact, she loves the vision behind Daughter of Aithne, and she is just as excited as I am to see it in print.

That is, once I finish fixing all the things she told me to fix.

It’s taken two novels to set up Daughter of Aithne correctly, but now I’m almost there. This is the book I’ve always wanted to write, and I’m very much looking forward to sharing it with you.

Where It All Began

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The spider monkey, one of four species of monkeys found in Corcovado National Park. (Photo by Rafael Aguilar Chaves.)

All of us have origin stories, ranging from epic tales of how the universe began to smaller but equally important moments in life that set us off in fundamentally new directions.

One of my origin stories happened in the Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica. I first traveled to the Osa in the summer of 1991, one of a handful of graduate students that followed our intrepid adviser Dr. Larry Gilbert to the edge of the known universe: Sirena Station in Corcovado National Park. My experience in Corcovado sealed my commitment to tropical ecology, and set me off on a long career of teaching and research in Costa Rica.

Corcovado houses a unique forest, the only lowland tropical rain forest on the Pacific coast of Central America, extraordinary in its diversity and home to many species found nowhere else in the world. It has multiple moods: as a poetic forest of towering trees; as a mysterious forest of filtered light and shadowy mosaics; a peaceful forest of crystalline rivers and tropical breezes; a noisy forest of monkeys and macaws; a dangerous forest of snakes and pumas. Above all, it is a forest of endless discovery.

In 1991, Sirena Station was a small outpost that housed researchers, park guards, and a handful of outback hikers dedicated to boldly going where no tourist had gone before. As graduate students, we spent five weeks in complete isolation. There were no telephones, only a park radio, and certainly no such thing as internet or WiFi. Visitors were few and far between, and for this reason, always welcome. We had each other and the forest for company. In the end, that was all we needed.

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Trees will grow, fall, and be replaced, but the forest remains eternal – as long as we are willing to protect it. (Photo by Rafael Aguilar Chaves.)

Many of my cohorts completed the research for their dissertations in Corcovado. I eventually moved outside of Sirena but remained on Osa Peninsula, conducting my own studies in the forest reserve that surrounded the park. This was a period of magic and adventure, when my world was reduced to a few thousand hectares of forest and yet broken wide open in a way it had never been before. Osa taught me how to listen to the forest. I’ve never forgotten this lesson, and I try to impart to my own students whenever I can.

Last week, to celebrated my birthday, we returned to some of my old haunts in the Osa Peninsula. I had not been back to the Osa in over ten years, and even more time had passed since my last visit to Sirena Station in Corcovado. We hiked a full day in through the forest, from Los Patos Station on the eastern border of the park to Sirena, which lays on the western coast. Two nights we camped in Sirena before hiking out to La Leona, where we stayed at a beautiful oasis, Ecolodge La Leona, before returning home to Heredia.

I learned a lot on this trip; more than can fit in a 500-word blog post. So I will focus on a couple of the most important lessons:

The forest is eternal. If we define boundaries and dedicate our efforts to protecting the space, then twenty-four years later, the woodland we so valued in our youth will remain for others to enjoy. True, there will be turnover of individual trees, movement of animals, and so forth. But the fundamental magic remains the same. This was very encouraging for me, to see that Corcovado has remained Corcovado, despite the passage of time and the many threats it has faced.

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Sirena Station has been renovated and expanded, but now it houses a very different sort of community.

The human element is ephemeral.  While the forest has remained constant, the human world superimposed on Corcovado has changed dramatically. Gone are the small and friendly stations I once knew; vanished are the communities dominated by researchers dedicated to understanding the forest. Sirena is no longer a remote outpost; it is a popular tourist attraction. Hundreds of visitors arrive every day, by boat and plane. They come to see monkeys and macaws, but they are no longer willing or able to dedicate the time and energy once necessary to reach this beautiful corner of the planet.

It seems to me Sirena has lost something and gained something in this transition to high-capacity tourism. The costs and benefits of the new reality can be debated at length, but beneath it all, the forest that makes the experience possible remains constant.

I’m not sure what it all means, but I was moved to reflect a lot this past week. At the end of the day I’m very grateful for having had the opportunity to know Corcovado when I did, at a moment in history when only a handful of people had what it took to reach the heart of this forest and connect with it on an intimate level. In truth, I never anticipated that reality would change so quickly and completely.

I’m also very grateful that Corcovado has been preserved these past decades despite all the threats it has faced and the hordes of people that visit it now. There’s something immutable in the spirit of this forest. I remain hopeful that its integrity will persist through the many changes to come.

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I’m not as young as I was when I first entered Corcovado, but I can still do the 9-hour hike in and the 6-hour hike out. Yay me! (Photo by Rafael Aguilar Chaves.)

Love Thy Editor

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Exploring the cloud forest with students from the School of Environmental Studies and Ruta Verde Tours.

I’m in a wonderful spot right now, a brief respite between two amazing trips. Last week, I traveled the cloud forests of Monteverde and the lowland jungle of Arenal Volcano with the School of Environmental Studies and Ruta Verde Tours. This week, I will hike into one of the most spectacular rain forests of the Neotropics: Corcovado National Park.

In the interim, I received word from my editor Terri-Lynne DeFino, who finished reading the first next-to-final draft of Daughter of Aithne. The good news: Terri is very pleased with the vision and depth that has gone into my third novel. The bad news? Well, let me share with you the first golden rule of writing to publish:

There is no such thing as bad news from your editor. 

Even if she slashes apart your favorite chapter,

even if he throws out your wittiest moment,

even if she makes you kill your main character,

even if he asks you to completely rework the whole damn thing,

Rejoice!

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Need to let off some steam? Maybe zipline is the answer!

Your editor has just saved you from the worst of all fates: publishing a manuscript that will only disappoint your readers and damage your future as a writer.

Back when I first went into publishing, which wasn’t so long ago, the industry was on the verge of a momentous change: Self-publishing loomed on the horizon as a viable option for many new authors.

“Wouldn’t it be great,” some of my colleagues said, “to bypass the antiquated hoops of an ossified industry?”

“Wouldn’t it be great not to have to deal with an editor?”

Fortunately, the culture of self-publishing has come a long way in a very short time. Nowadays, every author worth his or her salt knows the importance of having a good editor, whether you publish with an established press or not. The editor has the most crucial job in the writer’s journey: to keep us from embarrassing ourselves when the manuscript goes to press.

More than this, editors allow us to reach our full potential as story tellers.

So if you’ve just heard from your editor with a long list of tasks that need to be done before your work goes public, don’t throw the computer against the wall or lock yourself in the bathroom or drown your sorrows in liquor. The simple truth of writing is that we will never achieve our best unless we can depend on someone else to point out our mistakes and push us toward a higher bar.

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A view of Arenal Volcano serves as a gentle reminder not to blow your top when you hear from your editor.

Yeah, it’s a pain to be looking at another few weeks (or months!) of work, but isn’t that better than putting out a bad novel and suffering the ire of readers instead?

Breath deep. Take a break. Go for a walk. Do something fun.

Once you’re refreshed, come back home, sit down, and get to work. After all, your next best novel is only a list of edits away.

Oh – and don’t forget to thank your editor!