“Sonder” — A Delightful Concept for Writers

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My son just exposed me to a new word, which now enchants me: sonder. According to the Dictionary of the Obscure, it is “the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own—populated with their own ambitions, friends, routines, worries and inherited craziness—an epic story that continues invisibly around you like an anthill sprawling deep underground, with elaborate passageways to thousands of other lives that you’ll never know existed, in which you might appear only once, as an extra sipping coffee in the background, as a blur of traffic passing on the highway, as a lighted window at dusk.”

I have always intuited this idea, but never put it to words like this. We are in this life together, but living it uniquely. It is brutish to expect that others will live their lives as we do, to have the same values and purpose as we have. How could they? Their experiences of life are distinctive to them. We must embrace this concept of individual perspective, in life and in our writing.

This concept will now more consciously inform my writing. I make it my habit to know my characters inside and out, as complete creations, not as cookie-cutter personae who simply do what I need them to do on the page. With this concept in mind, I will be more aware of how life experiences can be diametrically different for each person involved, depending on their perceptions.

In grad school, I  wrote something that I thought incredibly profound, but which my roommates and friends found remarkably inane. I think, perhaps, it was my version of “sonder”: I think everyone in the world is exactly as I am, except those who are different, warped versions of the universal type, which is me.

Okay, not quite as profound now as it seemed then. But therein lies truth. I stand by it.

 

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The Year in Review: 2012

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In the past twelve months, I have edited 46 academic books and works of fiction, drafted a book on racial profiling, co-authored a children’s book, and coached three new writers. Not bad, considering I also moved to the Southern Hemisphere and turned my life, literally, upside down.

My academic editing was for several well-known academic publishers, and I edited manuscripts for several repeat clients, helping them with books that are to be published in numerous countries. That’s the fun of having a world-wide clientele.

My academic editing included subjects as diverse as Christ among the messiahs, realpolitiks, DIY style in Indonesia, Muslim women’s memoirs from across the diaspora, healing of children after sexual abuse, independent film, love’s subtle magic, and workplace bullying in higher education. As I like to say, I’m getting a PhD in Everythingology, and the list of subjects I edited this year gives credence to that belief.

Aside from my academic editing, I also edited two textbooks (math and biology)…which is what most people assume “academic editing” means. Not so. They are two distinct endeavors.

I also worked with three new writers, who are writing a memoir of reincarnation, a series of theological tomes, and an urban novel. Again, extremely diverse subjects. I particularly enjoy working with new writers, helping them to discover their strengths, their voice, and the story they wish to tell.

I miss teaching fiction writing at UCSB Extension, but this is the next best thing. Truth be told, I might enjoy it more than teaching in a classroom, though I do miss the face-to-face interaction.

Simply put, I love my job. Here’s to a similarly challenging 2013, and unexpected growth and new avenues of endeavor.

Via Lucis Press: books, etc.

As Editor of Via Lucis Press, I spoke with the three other principals in the group (Dennis Aubrey, PJ McKey, and Tom Hanson) this weekend about our immediate plans for Via Lucis Press and our progress on the high-end photography  books we will publish. Dennis and PJ have now taken several tens of thousands of photographs of Romanesque churches in France and Spain, and it is time to begin writing the text that will accompany the photographs (http://www.vialucis.us)  in preparation for publication of our first book.

The first step is to write an article about the Unknown Renaissance, the age of the Romanesque, during which all of the experiments that later led to Gothic art and architecture were made. This is a fascinating subject, as unknown architects and artisans from an unknown era pushed the boundaries of building and art, making those discoveries that later led to the renowned accomplishments of the Renaissance, including the expansion of stone arches and the buttressing of high vaults.

“… the ‘why’ of it all is hard to answer,” writes Dennis in one blog. “I’m not religious, although I think I have a deep streak of the need to believe, which takes expression in artistic work. I first fell in love with Romanesque architecture because of its beauty, durability, and variety. But over the years studying these buildings, I have come to believe that they are some of the most perfect expressions of faith that architecture has ever produced. Our Greek ancestors, with their temples, the Egyptians with theirs, the Chinese, Japanese, so many others have all found unique and powerful ways to match structure and belief. But it was, not to be showing disrespect, elitist. The Romanesque and Gothic, on the other hand, were “partout,“ everywhere. … They were not just the reflection of Man and God, as are the others, but the record of an entire people. When that faith dissipated, as is inevitable in any civilization, we were left with a stone record of incredible beauty, a direct link, as it were, to the aspirations of these people.”

Read more on this topic on our blog (http://www.vialucispress.wordpress.com).

Vision Prose

I was recently talking with an author friend (Meg Gardiner) about a book I recently read, a self-published book that screamed for a proper edit. When asked about the primary problem, I said it was “visual prose.”

Too often, writers envision what they are writing, sort of like running a movie in their minds, and then write what they see. This is what I term “vision prose.” Vision prose will kill a good story.

Here’s an example (created just for this blog, not quoting anyone else’s writing): Todd pushed his chair back, got up from the chair, and grabbed his glass from the table. He looked at Nyla with hatred and then turned and walked to the door. Realizing he still had the glass in his hand, he put it on the shelf, took hold of the doorknob, and walked through the door without a backward glance.

I’m not kidding. This is the kind of writing I sometimes have to edit, and, more often, find in published works.

How would I fix it? First, I’d ask the question: what’s the main point of the scene? Answer: Todd leaves in anger or disgust. We don’t care about the glass. If you put the glass in the scene, and show us Todd placing it on the shelf, it had better figure later in the story. Otherwise, leave it out.

We also don’t need to see him push his chair back before rising from the table, unless he does it slowly, with great deliberation, his anger building with each backward inch. If there isn’t some specific meaning to his pushing back the chair, don’t write it.

…. and there’s so much more, but I’ll leave it alone after I ask: How did he manage to walk through the door? Is he only protoplasm?

My suggested edit: Todd scraped his chair backwards, glaring at Nyla, and left without a backward glance.

Okay, so I could probably improve even that, but you get the gist. We don’t need a blow-by-blow description of each of his actions. Give us the meat and leave the fixin’s out.

Next: Describing a Character: Why and How?

Excellence in Writing

I just finished two books over the weekend: Greg Hurwitz’s Crimewriter and Brett Battles’ The Cleaner. Both were gripping and, most importantly, well written. Too often, I find good stories that are poorly written. This seems to be especially common now that publish-on-demand (POD) is so easily available.

I won’t name names, but there are books being sold today that would likely not have seen the light of day had it not been for POD. One of the first giveaways to bad writing for me can be found in most of these books….the self-description by the narrator. These are typically so bad, so “I’ve got to tell them what this character looks like,” that I want to throw the book across the room. Of course, POD authors are not the only ones who are lame at this. Take Dan Brown’s description of Robert Langdon in Angels and Demons. That almost got me to throw the book, but I was laughing so hard I simply dropped it. Pathetic. The guy tells a fun story but he is not a good writer!

That’s the difference with Hurwitz and Battles. Both write extremely well. I was a bit put off by the beginning of Hurwitz’s book. In fact, I put it down for a couple of months before getting back to it. It was a case of “look how well I write,” for me at least. I was too aware of him patting himself on his own back, admiring his description of Los Angeles. I’m glad I worked past that though, because it was an excellent book once I read further. Great story idea and well plotted.

I was hooked on Battles’ book from the first moment: the Cleaner, who goes and cleans up crime scenes for “the Office.” Unique idea and tightly plotted and written.

Both of these authors represent excellence in writing as far as I am concerned. I devoured both books and looked up for more, sateless. Next, however, must be Laurie R. King’s latest book, God of the Hives, and Meg Gardiner’s latest, Liar’s Lullaby. Held off reading King’s book, making myself savor the wait. Now is the time. And as soon as Gardiner’s book arrives, all else must wait.

In Awe

I am in awe of Anthony Horowitz. This man writes some of the most varied and interesting works, from a teenage spy (Alex Rider) to a historical drama (“Foyle’s War”) to modern murder mysteries (“Midsomer Murders”). But it’s not just the variety, it’s what he includes in each of these. It’s the side stories that make me marvel.

For example, in the latest “Foyle’s War,” which, if you haven’t watched them, I highly recommend you add them to your must-see list, the story is about a young man accused of treason during WWII. All well and good, but he is accused of treason for having joined other British soldiers who accepted Hitler’s offer to get out of a prison camp, don the German uniform, and fight against the Russians in the British Free Corps.

There isn’t a great deal said about the British Free Corps, but that is Horowitz’s way. He whets the appetite and it is up to us to read more, to do the research that he has done but which he chooses only to allude to in his story. This isn’t the first time he has done this to me, either. I am forever researching something after I watch one of his shows. That’s what I love about his writing.

Now I am researching the Special Operations Executive and the women spies of WWII. That started because of something Horowitz mentioned about cryptography in one of the shows, which led me to the first digital telephone, used during WWII between Whitehall and the Pentagon, which then led me to the SOE.

My style is to write about what I know. Horowitz’s style is to leak a little about what he knows and then drive us to further research.

If you don’t know his work, I highly recommend him. He has written several children’s books (Alex Rider mysteries among them, written for a woefully under-represented age group), about 50 novels, and numerous television shows. But I warn you, you can’t just read his work and walk away. He WILL challenge you to read more.

Long-Term Clients

Back in 2007, I was asked by a client to help edit her Masters in Nursing paper. At the time she contacted me, Maria typed on the computer as though using a typewriter, with a carriage return at the end of each line of text. Fixing that alone took a great deal of time, but it was necessary before I could even get to editing the meat of her paper.

We finished the project and her paper was accepted, and we ended our client relationship on excellent terms. Two years later, who appears again but Maria, with Doctoral proposal in hand (figuratively speaking, since we have never actually met face to face). By this time, fortunately, she had learned the fundamentals of computers and I could jump right in to the editing. There was a great deal of give and take on this project, as is to be expected when dealing with mentors and a review board, and the dissertation was finally accepted. Again, we parted on excellent terms.

Earlier this year, Maria approached me for help in turning her dissertation into a professional healthcare workbook. The result had to be a different animal from her dissertation, more user friendly and beneficial to the user. We worked long and hard on the conversion and she is close to publishing it now, after a few more tweaks.

I have been delighted to work with Maria for these projects and realize that client relationships don’t always end once a single project is completed. Good clients return, if I’ve done my job well.

Here is Maria’s testimony, written after this last project edit:

It is with great pleasure that I recommend Ann Aubrey Hanson as an editor. I have worked with Ann since 2007 as she edited several of my scholarly papers. This includes my final Masters in Nursing Project and, most recently, my Doctorate level papers and Capstone book project. Ann has always displayed a high degree of integrity, responsibility, and accessibility in helping me to accomplish my objectives. She provides thorough feedback and is organized and sensitive when providing suggestions for changes in my research papers to enhance their quality. Ann is a wonderful editor. I am happy to give her my wholehearted endorsement.”
Maria Rodriguez, RN, MSN, CNS-BC