Sunday, January 31, 2016

What We're Writing — Susan's Editing THE QUEEN'S ACCOMPLICE




SUSAN ELIA MACNEAL: I know I wrote just earlier this week about starting Maggie Hope #7, set in Paris during the Occupation, but wouldn't you know it — just got back copyedits for THE QUEEN'S ACCOMPLICE. So it's a bit of "two steps forward, three steps back." 


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THE QUEEN'S ACCOMPLICE is Maggie Hope novel #6, and set in London. It's my first serial killer novel, based on the real-life murderer who terrorized London during the Blitz Blackouts. It's also my most "traditional" mystery — since the murder victims are female SOE secret agents tapped to be dropped behind enemy lines in Europe, Maggie is chosen as the special liaison to MI-5 and Scotland Yard, who are working jointly on the case.

This particular novel was also influenced by the Wellcome
Collection in London's exhibit, "Forensics: Anatomy of a Crime" and the accompanying book by novelist Val McDermid. The trick to writing about a murder set in the winter of 1942 is to make sure the forensics used are historically accurate and the exhibition and book were amazingly helpful.


Aside from the murders and mystery, one of the things I love most about this novel is that we're back in London and get to see a lot of old friends: David Greene, of course, who's still head private secretary to Mr. Churchill. We also catch up with ballet dancer Sarah Sanderson, who's hung up her pointe shoes for a Sten gun, joining the SOE and preparing to be dropped in Paris. Joining her is Hugh Thompson, Maggie's former boyfriend, who's going to be her partner undercover. In MRS. ROOSEVELT'S CONFIDANTE, Maggie made a deal with Mr. Churchill to help her half-sister, Elise Hess, escape from Ravensbruck concentration camp, where she's being held as a political prisoner — and we see how that's going....

For copyedits, I really like to leave home for a few days. Just really
need absolute silence. "Honey, what's for dinner?" and "Mommy, can I play with Johnny?" really break the concentration. So with any luck, a friend will need apartment or housesitting and I'll be able to get away on my own for a bit. (Hank, is the top floor apartment still available?)

I am excited — and also overwhelmed. 

Please wish me luck!


Reds and lovely readers, when you need to perform a task that requires total concentration, what helps you? Silence? White noise? Coffee? What else? Please tell us in the comments!

23 comments:

Joan Emerson said...

Good luck with the copyedits . . . I'm looking forward to reading your book!

I'm really not very tolerant of absolute silence; total concentration around here goes much better with any kind of background noise and lots of coffee.

Reine said...

London during the blitz and Paris during the occupation are two settings that I crave in my reading. I am sure it's because my father and, with one exception, all my uncles served in Europe and the North Atlantic during the war. All survived except Uncle Leo whose plane was shot down over the Pacific. I never knew Leo, but I treasure his last photo, taken in uniform before he left.

I wasn't born until long after the war was over and grew up hearing very little about it. But I remember sitting in my grandmother's kitchen in Boston where I listened to the women's stories of the boys who would never come home and the ones who should never have gone. Too young. Too old. Too blind. A girl. Maybe she was one of those pilots who... ?

I listened until I was sent to bed. Even then I would climb the stairs and lay on the floor with my head over the wrought iron heating vent. I could see through to the kitchen and hear every word. Recently, Auntie-Mom told me that everyone knew I was there. When I asked her how she said that everyone sitting at that table had done the same thing when they were sent to bed.

The women who gathered around my grandmother's kitchen table and drank tea poured from an old dented aluminum pot knew everything. Of course I must read stories of their time and the people and places they talked about.

Edith Maxwell said...

When I read proofs I need to spread out. So I need an empty table - and silence. Not always easy to manage when you live with someone else, but he has learned that when I'm sitting with a stack of pages at the kitchen table and I don't look up when he comes in the room, he is NOT to talk to me.

Reine - lovely story of listening to the women!

Hallie Ephron said...

The new book sounds fantastic - what a riveting backdrop.

I love copyediting. It's so manageable and precise in terms of what needs to be done. I find I have to do it in short intense stretches -- if I go too long I risk getting numb and skating over errors.

Kathy Lynn Emerson said...

For most of my books, line edits take concentration but copy edits aren't much of a problem. I'm stuck doing them on the computer with track changes, so that means at the desk in my office, but that also makes it easy to find the comments/queries and deal with them. I'll never get all my commas in the right places, but other than that and a few places I need to STET, the whole process is usually fairly quick and painless. Now page proofs are another matter. I know it's my last chance to catch any mistakes or typos, so I go over those as carefully as I can and work someplace where there are no interruptions.

P.S. No matter how carefully I plan, all three jobs needed to finish the last book always come just when I most want to focus in the WIP!


Kathy/Kaitlyn

FChurch said...

When I'm in the zone, writing, outside noise just fades away. But copyediting--I need relative quiet--so, no, practice on the piano in your room, please, and you--the one on the guitar and singing, please shut your door. And, quick, feed the cats so they take a nap....

But, it's a great problem to have, right? Your book, going out into the world! Congrats!

And Reine, we had the same kind of heating registers when I was a kid--and I loved it at my grandparents--we'd be put to bed and the bedroom doors left open--you could hear the soft conversation and laughter drifting up the stairwell.

Susan Elia MacNeal said...

Reine, lovely story of listing to the women's stories! Wow, I'm so glad to know that so many of you also need quiet! I'm hoping to apartment-sit for some friends for this one...

Reine said...

Edith... I have to try your method when writing at the kitchen table. Will let you know how it works for us!

Reine said...

Hallie, if I ever get to that point in my writing, or at least close to it, I will remind myself of what you said! xo

Reine said...

FChurch... so happy to be ale to share that memory with you!

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Susan, YES! xoxoxo

And you are so right about the concentration. I'm at my desk, and it has to be completely quiet. Think about it-you're holding an entire book in your head, all the puzzle pieces, and making sure the whole picture is cohesive and logical and thematic at every turn.

I love copyediting. Love it. It allows me to see what my story is meant to be. More about his later this week!)

And don't you always find/mine/unearth/realize something wonderful, some great connection, in your manuscript you didn't realize was there?

Susan Elia MacNeal said...

Hank, I am equal parts terrified and delighted as I face copyediting. I find it really stressful, actually....

Kathy Reel said...

Ah, complete quiet. It is what I am experiencing at this moment for the first time in a month and a half. My husband has left this morning to go back to Kansas, where his work is located, and no one is stirring or expected to stir. This is the quiet that settles in and around you, and it won't be broken except by you. If you turn the television on, if you turn music on, if you play something on the computer, if you make a phone call or turn your phone volume up to hear calls. It is your silence to have and to hold. There is no one expected to come through the door and release it. Some people might find this silence sad or unwelcome. I find it renewing. I don't by any means want to imply that I didn't love my husband being here or that I wasn't happy to take care of him when he needed me. I enjoyed his presence, and I look forward to it in his retirement. But, my husband is a noise person, who turns the television on when he gets up first thing in the morning and can pretty much have it going most of the day. I prefer quiet when I get up and had gotten used to it over the years that he has been located elsewhere. I know it's something we will work on when we have to later. But, quiet is an important part of my day and life, so, while I miss my husband, I am soaking in the quiet of a space unfettered at present, my toes practically uncurling into it. Of course, after the last month, quiet is a precious commodity. Gee, I hope that didn't come off as sounding selfish. I just think quiet is more important to some than others.

Working in quiet. I'm pretty much all for that, too, so I can understand why you would want a distraction-free zone for your edits, Susan. I've always preferred to do any kind of writing or editing work in a silent state, one where the expectation of someone interrupting is absent, because, sometimes that can be as distracting as the actual interruption. So, Susan, you really should see if you can't find a place away from everyone to lower that part of the stress. Of course, however you do it seems to work, as the books are always spot on. This one has me really excited, with it back to the London setting and characters and this creepy factor of the serial killer. Oh, what does get crime/mystery readers adrenaline flowing!

Oh, and before anyone thinks that I've pushed the hubby out the door and have cut off contact, I do talk to him on the phone about every hour on his drive back to Kansas. He likes the company and I like knowing he's okay. But, I will enjoy some silence today, too.

Reine, I have to add how much I enjoyed reading about your grandmother's kitchen and the stories that were told there. I could practically see you on the floor with your head over the vent. You are always so interesting, dear lady!

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Okay, I get you! ANd yes, no pressure, but the stakes are high. But on this other hand-- this is when you can evolve your good book into a fabulous book. Just--read it, like a reader would read it.

Remember that MIchelangelo quote about sculpting the David? That he took out everything that wasn't the statue?

Rhys said...

Susan, my copy edits for Penguin are all electronic these days and frankly I'd rather have real pages spread our on my desk. That is so much easier when an editor says "is this consistent with page 184?" To flip real pieces of paper.But the edits in various colors are useful too. I have copy edits on Crowned and Dangerous waiting to be tackled. Ugh.

Hallie Ephron said...

Love that, Hank - maybe that's what Elmore Leonard was paraphrasing when he advised writers to "leave out the parts people skip."

Kathy, you held me in your thrall with that description of being home alone with the quiet. My husband is not much of a noise maker. When he's not here I often turn ON the radio just so it will feel like I'm not completely alone.

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Yes, Rhys, but you can do that with edit-find, right?

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

And I cannot wait to read your book, Rhys!! Thank you!

Phyllis Schafer said...

I can do scholarly editing on the computer, but when I read mss. for fiction writing friends, I save a special copy of the ms. and single space it. I also have a pile of paper under my printer that has been used on one side. That pile is my resource for printing off a version to take into the living room. There I settle into the couch, with at least one cat purring on my shoulder, and read the book (as I think of it, rather than as a manuscript). That's when I'm struck by inconsistencies, accidental changes of characters' names, etc., etc. And it's a much more enjoyable experience too!

Susan Elia MacNeal said...

Kathy, what a lovely description of being alone in the quiet! Hank, great description of Michaelangelo. Rhys, I'm sure your copyedits will be wonderful, as always. Phyllis, isn't it great to have a cat around when writing/editing? I so loved meeting yours.

Pat D said...

I discovered years ago that I cannot concentrate in total silence. My mind starts wandering. When I worked my radio tuned to a rock station, on low, served as white noise. Nowadays I use the TV as white noise. It helps if no one else is in the house and the damn phone doesn't ring. I'm at war with our landline right now. I want to get rid of it because of all the nuisance calls that the Do Not Call registry doesn't cover. So those are my requirements: white noise, no people, no phone! I'm eagerly awaiting the next Maggie Hope tale Susan.

Reine said...

Susan, I forgot to respond to your question about concentration. I work best with the TV on. Noooooo... I don't. I work best at the kitchen table.

On those rare days when I have trouble focussing, I go into the closet I converted into a tiny writing room where I have an old laptop configured with MS Word and email. I write. I save. I email. Later I add my work to my writing program. Sometimes this works better than anything. I have a few important items in there to inspire me. My mother's London Fog coat. My father's green box with his scripts, short stories, poetry, and his personal notes and memorabilia. I'm still looking for the picture of the Russian woman he stayed with after his ship was torpedoed during the Arctic convoy. I think my mother found it first.

Kathy, thank you.

Lucy Burdette aka Roberta Isleib said...

Susan, so sorry I forgot to visit JRW yesterday. I'm very much in awe of your research and all the careful historical detail you put in the books--that has to be right!

I had my first experience with electronic page proofs--I so much prefer the real pages, but time marches on...