Monday, July 7, 2008

Night of the Living Dead

...which is soon to be a major motion picture entitled Kreeping Krudd II: The Hacking. (For those who have tuned in late: Keegan came down with the head cold eveyone else has had, has, or is getting, and it's going the full monty, with the sinus pressure, sore throat, hacking cough, the works. This is day two.)

What I need right now isn't cough syrup. That's just delaying the inevitable (the cough will come right back). What I need is to get rid of it permanently. Something along the lines of a radical amputation at the shoulders. A nose-ectomy won't do the job: the throat has to go too.

Seriously, guys, if anyone knows how to contact the Headless Horseman, just give me his number, and I'll go stand in the yard tonight and watch out for him, make sure he doesn't miss me and ride on, by mistake.

Actually, Sleepy Hollow is one of my favorite movies. For some reason I missed it on the big screen, but it plays well on DVD, and one can only applaud Tim Burton for his fresh take on the old idea. The effects are fine; and the digital grading, which drops out virtually every color save the red of blood, is most effective. Johnny Depp is the acknowledged master of accents, and he does extremely well as Ichabod Crane -- ghost-pale and uptight, the exact reversal of Jack Sparrow. The humorous touch makes Ichabod strangely believable: he's squeamish, phobic about spiders, and terrified of the supernatural ... which also underscores his courage, in forging ahead anyway, and doing what no one else in the Hollow will. Full marks to the supporting cast too; it was cast in London, with veterans lieke Michael Gough, Michael Gambon, Richard Griffith, and that guy who played the Emperor in Star Wars, and whose name escapes me utterly at this moment. You know the one I mean. Ian MacD...something. Him.

You've probably heard that the movie of Sleepy Hollow is absoltely nothing like the original story, and this is quite true. However, it's just as true that Washington Irvine's classic story is marvelous: I don't think I've ever read a more beautifully written story. His prose has almost the sound of poetry, and his turn of phrase is inspiring. I don't think there's an in-print version of the story at this time, but I did manage to track it down.

Let me save you the trouble:

sleepyhollow.txt ... it's just a text file, download size is just over 88kb, and it's been virus-scanned by AVG. It's the Project Guttenberg file, plain text, and public domain. Enjoy. This is a great piece to read on a winter's evening, accompanied by whisky and the crackle of a live fire.

As you can guess, I'm not getting through too much work right now. Survival is close to the top of my priorities list. I'd get on with the fresh edit of AQAMARINE, but I can't concentrate worth a damn. Put it like this: when you're so sick you can lose the plot of SPACEBALLS (!) don't even think about trying to work. Sheesh. (Besides, who needs plot when you've got the young Bill Pullman looking so cute it ought to be illegal?)

And yes, I know: Keegan is making less sense than usual. Bear with me.

To answer a recent question: no, I don't actually take on freelance editing assignments ... for good reasons. If it's going to be done right, the work is amazingly time consuming, and I don't believe writers who are just setting out to work their way into the market should start out under the kosh of huge editing bills. (The other side to that statement is, nobody can afford to work for a few bucks on the hour these days. It's getting too hard to make a living! If you're not going to starve, you have to charge a reasonable fee per hour, and an in-depth edit can take 50-100 hours. The math works out horrifically.)

Also, I try not to edit for friends, because ... it's delicate, and it gets emotional. Even confrontational. Nobody actually likes to be edited; many new writers seem to take it as a personal insult. Yet an otherwise good story can need a VLCC-load of work at the copy editing stage to get it into professional trim. Now, if you pay an editor to do the work for you, you'll certainly get it done in one shot, but (depending on how much work needed to be done, and what the editor's fees are) the bill could be appalling. You could be looking at two, even three grand.

For this much, I'd expect the editing job to be so smooth and slick, the book should stand an excellent chance of winning a contract. However, the downside is, few first-timers are paid very much. It would be very possible to sell the book and have the royalties earned not even cover the editing bill. (Plus, selling a book can be a crapshoot. You could pay for the editing and not still get a professional contract. There are scores of sound reasons for failure to sell, of which the quality of the work is only one!)

The last snippet of logic I'd like to apply to this question looks beyond the first sale (which might have turned into a break-even situation). You're hoping to sell many more books than one. If you LEARNED to edit yourself, you don't have to pay editing fees on each subsequent work. If you outsourced your editing, you might have learned little (or nothing) from the experience. In short -- on your next book, you're looking down the double-barrels of the same shotgun. Until or unless you start to sell well, and earn big, the editors will be profiting from your royalties.

My advice to anyone just starting out? LEARN. Join a writer's workshop, if you like to work in groups. Take a course, if you have have some spare cash to lay down. Or else buy the books, and actually read them. For instance, start with a used copy of something along the lines of THE HARBRACE COLLEGE HANDBOOK, and puzzle through it. Apply what you've learned to your own writing. Hammer your typing, spelling, punctuation and grammar into good order. Get this out of the way, and next you can look at your writing STYLE, which is such a massive (and contentious) subject, people have written tomes about it.

Incidentally, I'll be writing on this subject myself in the near future. I've agreed to contribute to a new Internet-driven project, a kind of 'Want to write my novel' website, where every topic from getting ideas to getting published will be tackled. My brains are about to get picked -- and that's cool.

Right now, the best thing I could think of to give to a new, aspiring writer who needs quick editing results is another link to another little ebook. It's also a freebie, yours for the downloading. ELEMENTS OF STYLE is an old-ish book, but the vast majority of its info is never going to go past some use-by date:

Elements of Style is packed as a zip archive; inside is setup.exe which explodes a printable ebook. (Apologies to Mac users; I don't know of a version for your platform -- there probably is one, but you'd have to hunt it down for yourselves. Not being a Mac user, I guess I'm not so well versed in where to find your kind of executables.)

The zip file has been virus scanned, and it's another freebie (sometimes the best tools for the job are free), and you can LEARN. With this little book, and a good college handbook, you should be able to get your editing along to the point where a light, even superficial 'polish' from a pro freelance editor should do the job. You'll still be looking at $350-$600, something in that ballpark ... but not a ruinous bill.

Best of luck in your endeavors!

Now, I'm going to crawl off and find somewhere warm and soft to expire...

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