Now back to our regular programming...
HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Oh, Canada has nothing to do with this blog, really, except that I love the Canadian national anthem, and I've been singing it in my head ever since I began chatting with Janet Costello, the editor of CRIME SCENE, the Toronto Chapter Sisters in Crime newsletter. (So now you're singing it too, right?)
To celebrate the twentieth anniversary of the Toronto Chapter of Sisters in Crime, they produced our first anthology, The Whole She-Bang. And Janet--volunteered!--to edit. Ooh, I thought. Good person to grill about what works and what doesn't--just in case any of us want to submit a short story to someone someday... :-)
HANK: What a task, Janet! What'd you do first?
|Janet and the tools of the trade|
JANET: I read Getting the Words Right by Theodore A. R. Cheney. As with non-fiction editing, Cheney emphasized writing basics. Reduce the word count. Keep the story moving forward. Important ideas should be at the end of a sentence, a paragraph, a story.
Our judging was blind, so when I signed on for the project, I had no idea who I would be editing. Canadian Sisters in Crime includes several best-selling and award winning authors. Once the twenty stories were determined, we had a variety of successful authors, short story writers and first publications.
HANK: Did it turn out, in the end, that the best stories were by the already-successful people?
JANET: While we have some excellent stories by established authors, we were delighted to have some wonderful stories from first-published authors too. While members of the mystery community may know some of our authors as established mystery writers, I challenge you to identify the story that is a first-time publication for that author!
For a historical entry, I had to check for anachronisms. Do you know how long the Y-incision has been used in autopsies?
The biggest adjustment for me was editing dialogue. . Little changed between the quotation marks—characters speak how they speak, even with deliberate bad grammar. But it didn’t take long for the lessons learned for my Erle Stanley Gardner reading to float to the surface. The requirements for snappy back-and-forth dialogue were clear and consistent in those gems.
HANK: Talking about dialogue—what made it work? What ruined it?
JANET: As the editor, I don't think we've let anything through in dialogue that ruined the story or plot.
In one story you might not realize, in the first line or two from the character, that he has a local dialect, but that does become evident. And letting you pick up on that, rather than spelling it out, invites the reader to engage with the story.
In "An Unexpected Christmas Gift", there is one line, which we included in our youtube video (featuring one line from each story), that just melts your heart.
HANK: What were the pitfalls in the stories you rejected?
JANET: I cannot emphasize enough that proof-reading your work for grammar and full thought processes, is critical. Reading your work aloud, or having a friend read it aloud to you is an invaluable tool.
Punctuation can sneak by you, especially when you’re making changes. I would have bet a small amount of cash that I’d caught any exceptions to the standard one space after every period, but our formatter would have enjoyed a nice lunch on me if I had. And now I understand why writers break into an animated discussion around the n and m dashes!
HANK: What do you hope for before reading a short story?
JANET: Well, to be caught quickly. Drawn in by the voice or a character or the situation. And surprised at least once before the tale is told. I find the shorter the story, the more likely all of these are likely to occur.
Many hours went into the editing of The Whole She-Bang, and many lessons were learned. For our next anthology, the process will be more efficient, but I think our result will be the same. We got the words right.
HANK: Want to read for yourself? Janet is giving away a copy of The Whole She-Bang with a coupon for an e-reader, or sending you a print copy. And Janet will be here to answer questions about short stories!
And to enter—here’s an EASY one. What’s the best short story you’ve ever read?
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For six years, Janet Costello has been the editor of Crime Scene, the Toronto Chapter Sisters in Crime newsletter. There she has also published interviews, articles and puzzles. She enjoys attending mystery conventions, especially when she can volunteer. Janet works as a commercial insurance underwriter to support her reading habit (and to ensure that habit includes a glass of red wine nearby). The Whole She-Bang, e-vailable for 99 cents on Oct. 18th, is her first anthology.