Leftovers with C.S. Marks, Author of Elfhunters

Guest posting for us today is C.S. Marks, author of the graphic novel Elfhunter!  Sea Lion Books will be releasing the first part of the series in June of 2012.  The staff and I are eagerly awaiting its release!  Special thanks to C.S for joining us today, and giving us this hilarious post on what it’s like for an author to have their work edited! We also want to give a very special thanks to Hope HooverElfhunter’s illustrator for the custom drawn design (see below) she did for this post!

The first time an author turns a work over to a content editor is a bit of a traumatic experience. The author, having heard all sorts of blown-out-of-proportion horror stories from colleagues, imagines red pencil-marks all over his/her beloved manuscript which, as every author knows, has been carefully crafted so that not a single, perfectly-crafted word should be deleted. Yet it’s more than likely that the editor (if professional and worthy) will  not only suggest some re-writes, but will actually recommend trimming the work down, omitting superfluous lines, scenes, dialogue…even a sub-plot or two!

Superfluous? There must be some mistake!

Now, if you are an experienced author, you’ll no doubt be smiling right now, older and wiser being that you are. Yet you still dread hearing the words refinement, streamlining, and, yes, delete! (‘What? Delete Fluffy’s big death scene? But…but that’s one of my favorites! I weep every time I read it!)

I’ll fess up now–I’ve got a book in the hands of a content editor at this very moment. I’ll also admit that it’s not the first time; my fourth novel has been through two content editors, who made a few very worthwhile suggestions for re-writes. The flow and clarity of the story was improved immensely as a result, so…

…why do I still fear content editing?

Because the novel in the hands of the editor at the moment is my first one. I know it needs more editorial input than my successive works–I’ve improved with each book I’ve written. What if this editor, who is highly competent and professional (therefore I will have little defense) decides to delete, streamline, and refine away some of my favorite early prose? I must now remind myself of an incident which took place many years ago, and I still have not admitted it to my family. It seems to fit this situation.

Hope Hoover's drawing for Reflections of a Book Addict!!

As anyone who knows me is aware, I am a dog lover. No…take that back. I am a dog SOOK! I have owned and loved many dogs in my life; currently there are no fewer than a dozen bouncy canines sharing the farm with my husband and me. At the time of this incident, I had a beautiful, intelligent, sensitive Dalmatian named ‘Siren’, who was the light of my life (other than my horse).

I was in graduate school, working on a Master’s Degree. I had come home for Thanksgiving break to share my favorite holiday with my family, accompanied by Siren, the dog. My family knew there was no point in trying to thwart me–I was always going to bring a dog (if not the horse) to any family gathering. Didn’t mean they were happy about it, my sister in particular. (She was always a ‘cat person’.)

The usual strategy for Thanksgiving dinner was this: We set the table, then my sister and I would bring in dishes of food as they were made ready in the kitchen. Usually someone was in the dining room doing something every couple of minutes. But this year, something (I don’t remember now, as subsequent events dominate my recollection) drew the family outside in the back yard. All except me.

The turkey had been carved and heaped on a platter, then placed in the center of the oblong table. I had carried in a bowl of steaming hot vegetables and set them down (near my sister’s plate), when I noticed that the table-cloth had been pushed up in front of the turkey platter, half of which was not only bare, but licked clean. To my horror, I realized that Siren had eaten HALF the turkey in five minutes.

A glance under the table confirmed my suspicions–my now-bloated, unrepentant Dalmatian was wallowing in a tryptophan-induced euphoria. She was Lassie in the Sky with Diamonds, man! I was dead.

Nothing induces swift action and abandonment of ethics like the threat of withering remarks from ‘cat-people’. I could hear the family tramping back into the kitchen through the rear door! Hastily, I picked off the short, black-and-white hairs clinging to the platter and tablecloth, wiped things down with my napkin, and rearranged the turkey as best I could. Smoothing out the rumpled table-cloth, I then pretended to be quite busy with a nearby pair of candlesticks when my sister appeared bearing a basket of bread. She set it down, scanning the table with beady, suspicious eyes looking for imperfection (no doubt promulgated by the ‘dog person’) but found none.

The family sat down to dinner, and I, of course, pretended as though nothing had happened (occasionally punctuating my probably-far-too-jovial demeanor with surreptitious nudges of the offending dog, which were in fact suppressed kicks. At first, no one noticed. Then my mom, who was sharp (but thankfully not very suspicious), examined the turkey platter.

‘I could swear I sliced more turkey than this,’ she said. I held my breath.

‘Well, it’s really good turkey this year,’ said my Dad. ‘I think it’s even better than last year!’

‘Uh, yeah!’ said I, utterly abandoning what was left of my ethics. ‘It’s so good, we must’ve eaten more than usual already!’

The cat person stared at me with her beady, cat-person eyes and said nothing.

As mom got up and returned to the kitchen to slice a little more turkey, I ‘kicked’ the now-comatose dog again. But no one ever knew what had happened, and the worst outcome was that we had fewer leftovers. Everyone loved the meal–they all said it was the best turkey they’d ever had.

We’re all afraid the dog will eat our most beloved bits of turkey while we’re out of the room; that our manuscript will come back to us a half-empty plate strewn with dog hair. We’ll have to rearrange it and hope for the best. But the truth is, we didn’t need all those words any more than my family needed all that turkey.  An experienced (and talented) pair of eyes can help us weed out that which is unnecessary, keeping the essence of the work, the ‘voice’ of the author–you know. All that ‘good stuff’.

I guess I’m not really afraid of the editor, after all. When you think about it, the only real consequence is fewer leftovers.

5 thoughts on “Leftovers with C.S. Marks, Author of Elfhunters

  1. Oh, man, that is a funny, funny story. I’m not too afraid of editors, either, though I’ve never worked with one on my stories yet. I’m not dreading it, either, because I know they’re vital to catching things I wouldn’t have. Nervous? Maybe. I’m always nervous about what an editor would think of my plot — if the editor would find it unsalvageable. That’s my worst nightmare, I think, but I shoo it away most times. No need for negativity, right?

    By the way, love the comic up there. The cover looks fantastic, and I’ve honestly never read fantasy comics too much, so I’m going to have to check it out for sure.

    • Absolutely no need for negativity. The editor is your friend (repeat until it sinks in). I sent this post to my editor, who laughed and said: “I am happy to play the Dalmatian to your turkey”. Ummm…okay…


  2. I can only agree on what you said. I was so shocked when a couple of online readers suggested I thwart away the two full pages I had worked on so very hard. Of course they weren’t professional editors, but later on after taking a healthy distance from my baby I realized how they were right on the unnecessary givings these ‘precious’ pages contained. Eventually, I even got the courage to scrap away a 80 pages manuscript–that I’m rewriting now, learning from all my mistakes. But still, it’s all for the best. 🙂

    I hope you’re going to get a good surprise soon!

    Michael Aiden

    • Heh! I know what you mean, Michael. I did get the edits back–and at first I wanted to curl up in the fetal position for a while. Then I got over it and went to work. When I quit defending myself and switched to ‘learning’ mode, it was like taking a short course in ‘how to be a better writer’. With an editor like mine (who is not only very discerning and professional, but relatively tactful), it’s a no-brainer. Learn all you can, grasshopper! 🙂

      (Note: I had to throw out an entire chapter…one of my FAVORITE chapters, you know…the one full of drekky romance? Why? Because it was the RIGHT advice. Sigh.)

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