Moving Special!

Hey, friends! I’m gearing up to move and need to defray costs. Because of that, you get a special deal. For the next thirty days (April 11th-May 10th), I’ll be offering 1 copyedit + 1 proofread + 1 format job (epub OR pdf) for $350. It will be first come, first serve (obviously), but if you have a specific publishing date, I’ll work my hardest to meet it. Also, this offer is limited, as I can only take on so many jobs at one time. If you don’t need your work done right away, and I’m full up through May, I’ll honor the deal if you contact me within the thirty day time frame. Interested? Email me at jdomschot at msn dot com or send me a message on Facebook. I look forward to hearing from you!

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Ten Reasons You Should Buy My Book

I was going to say that books of short stories are hard to sell. That’s true. But as a self-publisher, I find books in general to be hard to sell. Short stories are just one step up on the difficulty ladder. People seem to prefer novels. Therefore, I’m going to give you ten reasons why you should purchase my book of short stories, The Jaybird’s Nest and other stories. [Fill in the numeral] Reasons Why posts are all the rage. Or one would think so by how often they’re shared and tweeted and all that. Let’s hope I can come up with ten

  1. Clearly, you like numbered lists. It will be easy for you to check each story off your obsessive mental list as you read them.
  2. There is less commitment in reading a book of short stories. You can complete one story a night before you go to bed and not have to suffer from the angst and/or panic that is triggered by turning out the reading lamp before you’re done with the ENTIRE book.
  3. I have a dark and twisted sense of humor. You know you like that.
  4. However, some of my stories are serious, treating modern dilemmas, such as whether to be trepanned or how to deal with annoying relationships brought about by LifeMap predictions, with empathy and sensitivity.
  5. As an extension to the last, some of my stories are literary in tone. But they are also dark and twisted. I mean, is she really an alien or not?
  6. There are 31 stories in the book. So many stories and only $2.99!
  7. Thirty-one is a prime number. Who wants to read books with chapters/stories that don’t add up to a prime? There are too many loose ends — it’s unsettling. My book will settle your soul.
  8. Because some of these stories were written very quickly under duress, they are a glimpse into my subconscious. For all of you armchair psychologists, you’ll have fun diagnosing and evaluating me.
  9. The rest of the stories are how I think about the world all the time in my conscious mind. You will, therefore, be able to manipulate me by triggering me with words such as “honor”, “cupcakes”, and “robots”.
  10. One reviewer said that my book “steals back Borges”. I’m not sure who I’m stealing him back from, or why he ever belonged to me to begin with, but it’s an intriguing thought, to say the least.

Now what excuse do you have left? Go buy my book!

 

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Editing Philosophy, Demographics, and Pet Peeves

I’ve been editing in one capacity or another for about fifteen years. I’ve had many venues for doing so: helping students with essays, critiquing author stories and books, teaching home school, being involved in university workshops… When I first started editing, I worked with paper. Yes, that’s right. I would take a stack of short stories, essays, chapters, or complete novels home with me and mark them up with pen before delivering them back to the respective authors. Then I moved to using in-line document editing notes such as brackets, highlighting, and strike-throughs, and sending and receiving via email.

Nowadays, for book-length documents, I almost solely use comment boxes and a separate document that lists potential problems by page (sent and received via email or Google docs or Dropbox). I do this because I want to leave as little of myself behind in the final document as possible. My job is to open the author’s eyes to problems he might not readily see and give advice as to how to fix the problems. It’s up to the author to make the suggested changes, or conversely to ignore them. I respect authors and, furthermore, I’m not a dictator. I’m a freelance editor who has, in the past, been readily willing to give my services away for small trades or favors. Now that I’m very busy with multiple projects, I have to charge for what I do. But I’m still not a dictator. Occasionally, authors become defensive about my suggestions, and to those, I must emphasize my prior point: I’m not a dictator. You are in charge.

That about sums up my philosophy. Now I’ll move on to demographics. My client base is 100% male, with a majority being my age or a little younger/older. This is most likely because writers tend to get serious enough to hire editors in their thirties or forties. The genres vary: I’ve dabbled in multiple genres and have met authors who write the spectrum of fiction and nonfiction. As for gender, I worked on a book for a female author last summer, but that was an unusual occurrence (update: I’ll be editing a female author’s work next month!). I don’t know why I don’t normally reach a female demographic; I only know that I don’t. I have a feeling that female authors find their writing circles and remain loyal to them, even down to the freelance editors in their circles, while male authors are simply looking for a market exchange. Men look at a sample of my editing style and then decide if my work is worth the money (at $350 per editing pass and $150 per formatting job, I’m far from the most expensive editor, BUT I’ve come across editors who are willing to work for less). I don’t know if this is a correct evaluation of the genders. I really enjoy editing books by female authors — they bring something different to the table. However, as long as I keep a steady group of clients, I’m not going to be too worried about it.

Okay, on to pet peeves. I don’t have a lot of them. One of the biggest nuisances for me as an editor, who recently started formatting books for clients, as well, is quotation marks (not to mention apostrophes). Authors these days are brilliant at figuring out how to write their novels on the go. But what that means to me is having to weed out different types of quotation marks and apostrophes in their documents. Many carry-around devices automatically use the straight style, while word processors are usually set to “smart” (the curly ones). I have to say that this is a royal pain in the derriere. Literally. I have to sit for longer trying to maintain some kind of consistency, as I tend to eschew my standing desk (which I realize is my own laziness problem and has nothing to do with quotation marks). Hard tabs are also a royal pain, but are easier to eradicate. Search and destroy! says my inner robot child to bad formatting. You will be destroyed nicely if you readily submit!

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The Egalitarian Nightmare Mythologized

I read The Giver and its companion book Gathering Blue many years ago when my eldest two children were relatively new readers. I enjoyed them, but didn’t keep up with the series, and hence didn’t know about the sequel or the other companion book until my ten-year-old brought them home from the library last week. After having read all four books now (and having recently watched the film version of The Giver), I’ve come to the conclusion that Lois Lowry is an important writer, as she’s creating a relevant and modern mythos that might well have a lasting impact on the culture.

Messenger and Gathering Blue are pure fantasies, or even fairy tales. They are kindred books, one from a male perspective, and the other from a female perspective. In the same way, The Giver and Son are kindred books, with a male perspective in one and a female perspective in the other. Honestly, put them all together, and I think she’s detailing the problems inherent to a culture that pretends itself to be egalitarian and must heal from the damages this lie has caused. The theme of human evil is overarching, but the evils-of-egalitarianism theme is present nonetheless.

Her choice to write four books with back and forth male-female — as in traditional male-female — perspectives supports this view. However, it’s the content that ultimately supports it. I’m not one to insist on my interpretation as being the author’s intention. I find symbology in books all the time which the author either didn’t know was in there or insisted was not, and that’s because I’m educated. Education creates bias; yes, it’s true. It would be really difficult for the author, in this case, to pretend that the content of masculinity and femininity in her books didn’t exist or that she didn’t intend for it to be in there (egalitarianism goes farther than equalizing the genders, but gender is a strong component of these books).

The first book in the quartet, The Giver, paints a nightmare of an egalitarian society. The society has been artificially engineered to negate differences among people. They are color blind, cut off from their feelings, and all men and women work assigned jobs in an equal fashion. Nobody marries and produces families; the children are supplied by birth mothers (no doubt the only non egalitarian position) and assigned to couples who have also been assigned to each other. Some of the details reveal that the boys, while still children, act like boys — albeit subdued. They’re attracted to vehicles, for example, in a way the girls aren’t and volunteer to work with them when they’re young. The girls, true to form, often volunteer in the childcare center or the nurturing center. But when they begin to have sexual stirrings, their natural genders are suppressed through medication.

The people don’t know any other way, as anyone who isn’t compliant is “released” (i.e. murdered), and everybody else is heavily medicated. I don’t want to put too fine a point on it, but isn’t that exactly where we’re at right now? Isn’t it? We’re a pretend egalitarian society who is all but color blind and devoid of our natural emotions. We encourage girls to begin taking birth control pills at a young age, ostensibly to prevent pregnancy or more neutrally to “correct irregular and painful menstrual cycles”. What it does, ultimately, is to create an artificially neutered society. In addition to this, male sperm counts have been low for some time now, and there are a number of theories as to why this is so, including the one about oestrogens polluting the environment.

All this is to say that Lois Lowry has painted us a fairytale version of our own suppressed society. In The Giver, the male protagonist Jonas, after becoming the Receiver of Memories, learns to feel emotions again and then becomes masculine when he ceases to take his drugs. His renewed masculinity spurs him to be noble and courageous, eventually leading his people out of their artificial stupor. By contrast, in its kindred book Son the female protagonist Claire is a “birth mother” who, by bureaucratic negligence, has been forgotten about; she is never put back on her drug regimen after giving birth. She therefore begins to feel the intense loss of the baby that was ripped from her uterus and stolen from her. She ends up sacrificing herself — her entire youth, to give a bit of a spoiler — to be reunited with her child.

Son is Jungian in the way that it progresses. Claire learns what it means to be a woman, and she’s guided by a grandmotherly figure in her quest. She faces the evil shadow side of humanity in order to find her lost child. In the end, however, the hero who finally defeats the shadow is none other than her own son, nearly grown. In other words, the timeless story of the woman who births the man-child, and the man-child who grows up to defeat evil, together set the world right again. Sorry about the spoilers, if you haven’t read it. It’s still worth reading.

I’ll just leave it at that.

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Blood and Gore Are Overrated

Having finally read Lowry’s Son, I rewatched the film rendition of The Giver. For Hollywood, it’s a well-done adaptation. I was especially struck, this time around, with the beauty of its subtlety. Of course, the book works off subtlety. Still, though, there were a number of places where the film might have gone off the rails with tawdriness between Jonas and Fiona, or even worse, with violent depictions of Jonas’ received memories.

I hate to be a fuddy-duddy, but the violence and tawdriness in films these days are astonishingly bad. The mind does become numb after a while, and the impact of simple storytelling is lost due to visual blood-skin-gore fests. I was thinking about this because, as the kids and I were debating what film to watch on this gloomy Sunday evening, my son was adamant that we not watch The Giver. The baby dies, he insisted. No, Gabe doesn’t die, I reminded him.

And then when I watched the film (son was half-watching, half-reading a book), I remembered what he meant. The excess twin is “released” through injecting a needle in his skull. There is no gore. There is no blood. It’s clinical. The baby is moving one moment, and the next he is still. It’s utterly horrifying. I don’t often watch films from beginning to end, as I’m constantly distracted by other things. Therefore, when I actually sit down and watch an entire film, I’m surprised by the details I hadn’t previously focused on. In this case, focusing on them took me on an emotional ride.

Blood-skin-gore fests should horrify us, too. Becoming numb to violence and death is a very bad thing for the human spirit. I’m not even certain that it’s overexposure that causes the numbness; I would conjecture that we don’t allow it to filtrate too deeply into our souls for our own protection. We might shut down inside, or we might shut our eyes or walk out of the room if it becomes too much. Subtlety, however, seems to worm its way past our filters and can have a much stronger consequent impact and/or influence on us.

The other day, a friend asked if I was the one who had written about art vs propaganda in the past. In reply, I said something like this: “Probably, as it’s something I talk about. However, it’s my contention that all storytelling is propaganda. Those storytellers who know how to hide what they’re doing through subtlety are better artists. But they are also quite a bit more dangerous because they know how to jack into the subconscious mind rather than the conscious mind. Meaning, they will influence us without our being consciously aware of it…unless, of course, we as an audience have trained ourselves to be aware.” Yes, I AM quoting myself. Not only am I constantly distracted, but I’m lazy. Go figure.

Good art is dangerous. How did I end up here? Lois Lowry is an incredible storyteller. Does that make her dangerous? I suspect it’s only dangerous if we’re not consciously aware of the messages that are subtly influencing us. I happen to believe that Lowry’s messages are life-affirming and well worth exposing ourselves to. And, in fact, her messages in this quartet of books dovetails quite well with the subject, making all of this seem kind of circular. Isn’t that what The Giver is about — numbness? A human society that has become numb and would rather remain that way in order to protect itself?

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