Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Help, I'm being pursued by a serial comma! Rhys on writing.


I always look upon the arrival of copy edits with dread. Sometimes they are a breeze and I go through them in a couple of days, changing the odd word when the copy editor has pointed out that I have used "distraught" four times in one paragraph. Other times I grit my teeth when a copy editor and I don't agree over certain facts of grammar and style.  I sometimes like to write partial sentences--that don't actually have a verb in them. "I found it hard to breath. Stifling darkness all around me."Copy editors are raised to think that every sentence has to have a verb, so they insert "was". I delete again.. 

Then there is the battle of the commas. I am not good with commas, I confess. The rules are different between UK and America and I was never good to begin with. So the copy editor and I wage war over what I consider an excess of commas. 

These I can handle. What I find harder is a copy editor who is a thwarted writer and tries to change my prose. Occasionally I agree that a rephrasing would be better.  More often I underline and write STET in big letters. It's my book. I wrote it and if the prose isn't purple enough for you then tough luck.        

I'm about to start on the copy edits of CROWNED AND DANGEROUS, the next Royal Spyness book, due out in August. Usually the process has been painless at Penguin, so I'm hoping for the best.

We left Georgie and Darcy at the end of Malice in the Palace heading for Greta Green in Scotland. We pick up where we left off, but in a snowstorm with the Great North Road closed by a drift:

            We drove on, hoping to see at least a village close to the road. I think we must have been almost back as far as York when we finally found any sign of human habitation, at least humans who might be still awake.  This was also a pub, a little off the road and by a railway crossing. The sign, swinging in the blizzard-like wind, said The Drowning Man and showed a hand coming out of a pond.
            “Hardly encouraging,” Darcy said dryly. “But at least a light is still burning and hopefully someone is still awake.”
            He opened the driver’s side door, letting in a great flurry of snow, then wrestled the wind to close it hurriedly before running across to the pub. I peered through the snow-clad windscreen, watching him. He knocked, waited, and to my relief the door finally opened, letting out a band of light across the snow. They seemed to be having a prolonged conversation during which the other person could be seen peering at me, then Darcy marched back to the car. For a horrible moment I thought he was going to say that they had no rooms and we’d have to drive on. But instead he came around to my door and opened it for me.
“They appear to have rooms. Hardly the most welcoming of places, from what I can see, but it’s really a case of any port in a storm.” He took my hand and led me through the snow to the building.  I was going to say the warmth of the building, but in truth it wasn’t much warmer than the motor car had been. One naked bulb hung in a hallway and an uncarpeted stair disappeared into darkness.
            “Caught in the storm, were you?” the inn-keeper asked. Now we could see her she was a big boned, cart-horse of a woman with little darting eyes in a pudgy face with heavy jowls.
            I shot a swift glance at Darcy, praying he wouldn’t make a facetious comment along the lines that we were actually heading for the Riviera and took a wrong turn.
            “We were heading for Scotland but the road is closed.” I said before he could answer.
            “Aye. We heard that on the wireless,” she said. “Reckon it will take days, don’t they? So you’ll be wanting a room then?”
            “We will,” Darcy said.
            “I’ve just the one room,” she said. “The others are occupied.  You are a married couple, I take it?”  And she gave us a hard stare, trying to see a wedding ring through my gloves, I suspect.
            “Of course,” Darcy said briskly. “Mr and Mrs. Chomondley-Fanshaw. That’s spelled Featherstonehaugh, by the way.”
            I fought back a desire to giggle. She was still eyeing us suspiciously. “I don’t care how it’s spelled,” she said. “We don’t go for airs and graces in this part of the country. As long as good honest folk have the brass to pay, we don’t care how many hyphens they have in their names.”
            “Right then,” Darcy said. “If you’d be good enough to show us the room?”
            She didn’t budge but pointed. “Turn right at the top of the stairs and it’s at the end of the hall. Number Thirteen.”
            Then she reached into a cubby and handed us a key. “Breakfast from seven to nine in the dining room. Breakfast is extra. Oh, and if you want a bath you’ll have to wait till morning. Hot water is turned off between ten and six. And the bath’s extra too.”
            Darcy gave me a look but said nothing. “I’ll take you up first then go and get the bags,” he said. “Come on.” 
            I followed him up the narrow stair. An icy draft blew down at us.
            “Are there fires in the rooms?” Darcy turned back to ask the landlady who was still standing there watching us.
            “No fireplace in that room,” she said.
            “As I suppose a cup of hot chocolate is out of the question?”  There wasn’t much hope in his voice.
“Kitchen closed at eight.” She turned her back and walked into the darkness of the hallway.
“We don’t have to stay here,” Darcy whispered to me. “There must be proper hotels in  York. It’s not that far now.”
            “It’s still almost fourteen snowy miles. And we’ve no guarantee anyone else has a room,” I said. “If all the roads northward are closed…” In truth I felt close to tears. It had been a long day starting with helping to dress the bride at Kensington Palace, then the ceremony at St. Margaret’s Westminster, then the reception at Buckingham Palace and the long, cold, snowy drive. All I wanted to do was curl up into a little ball and go to sleep.
            The floorboards creaked horribly as we tiptoed down the hall. Number Thirteen was about the gloomiest room I had ever seen—and I had grown up in a Scottish castle noted for its gloominess. It was small, crowded with miss-matched furniture dominated by an enormous carved wardrobe that took up the one wall where the ceiling didn’t slope. In the midst of this clutter was a narrow brass bed with a patchwork quilt on it. A naked bulb gave just enough anemic light to reveal sagging and stained curtains at the window and a small braided rug on the bare floor.
            “Golly!” I let out the childish exclamation before I remembered that I had resolved to be sophisticated from now on. “It is pretty grim, isn’t it?”
            “It’s bloody awful,” Darcy said. ‘Sorry for swearing, but if ever a room deserved the word bloody, this is it. Let’s just get out of here while we can. I wouldn’t be surprised if she didn’t kill off the guests during the night and make them into pies.”
            I started laughing at it. “Oh Darcy. What are we doing here?”

RHYS: So Crowned and Dangerous comes out in August and is already available for pre-order. And my next book is TIME OF FOG AND FIRE, a Molly Murphy novel that is published March 1. I'll be putting up signing events on my website in a few days.  As to what I'm writing now... If I told you, I'd have to kill you.......


  1. Oh, poor Georgie and Darcy! Snow and a ghastly excuse for a room . . . I'm looking forward to reading the rest of their adventure!

    Best of luck with the copy edits . . . .

  2. I fought to the dirt over this phrase dealing with the vestiges of case in English: "it's Simon's and Zach's room." God (the Chicago Manual of Style) says it should be "Simon and Zach's room." But if you substitute pronouns, "it's his [possessive] and her [possessive] room," then I believe it's inconsistent to say that "it's Simon [nominative] and Zach's [possessive] room." We were taught that with compound possession ("Give it to her and me") was correct because, if you remove one of the pronouns, the other should be correct on its own. That's why "give it to her and I" is incorrect. I'm not even going to get into why "Give it to her and myself" is an abomination...Stick to your guns Rhys. It's your story; you wrote it your own self.

  3. It's fiction and creative and all you need to justify its purpose in sustaining mood and such. Too many commas disrupts my attention. I like them only when needed for understanding. Still, I don't want to have to stop and dissect a sentence in order to understand it. I may never get published, but there is only so much I can force myself to bend without losing my mind. I'll face that later if I'm lucky.

  4. Love the scene, Rhys! I've been pretty lucky with copyeditors, but I had one who was trying to rewrite the book. My editor got as upset with her as I did.

  5. I just love the dynamic between these characters, Rhys. Brilliant!

    I confess I usually agree with my copyeditor. Though one time she fiddled with dates which screwed up an entire timeline. Fortunately it was at a level of detail that 99.9% of readers don't notice. Still, it rankles. The path of least resistance isn't always the best.

  6. Great scene Rhys! Here's my favorite sentence: "a big boned, cart-horse of a woman with little darting eyes in a pudgy face with heavy jowls."

    we knew right away they were in trouble...

  7. Thank you so much for the peek into the next novel, Rhys! Love it!

  8. Wonderful scene, Rhys! Looking forward to the release. I have a confession to make, in the age old debate about what drives one to buy a book...Time of Fog and Fire would hook me immediately even if I didn't know how fantastic a series it is. Looking forward to the release date.

  9. Congratulations to Susan, Hank, and Rhys for their Agatha nominations!

  10. Lucy/Roberta, I totally agree. She can't be a good omen!

  11. Congrats to all the Reds with Agatha nominations!

    I've long been a fan of the Oxford comma, but have been finding that the pressures to drop it have become perhaps more intense than I want to endure. Oh well. I have up two spaces after a period. I can give up the Oxford comma, right?

    And having done copy-editing, any copy editor who tries to change the story should probably find another line of work because that ain't copy-editing.

  12. 'Copy editors are raised to think that every sentence has to have a verb, so they insert "was".'

    Oh poor Rhys. I don't know who to have more sympathy for: you with your hidebound editor (does she also insist on changing "Who did you give it to?" to "To whom did you give it?"?)...

    or Darcy and Georgie and the cart-horse (who in another life might have been a hidebound copy editor).

  13. Rhys, Georgie's voice is so marvelous--you are incredibly authentic! LOVE this!

    And the "was" thing drives me crazy. I don't hate "was," but the more I see it, the more annoying it becomes. I try to avoid it, and I feel your pain when an editor stabs it back into your sentences.

    And ever since an early copyeditor--years ago--said something like: didn't that happen Tuesday? ANd I couldn't figure it out…well, since then, I've kept a timeline. Live and learn.

    And don;t ever get me started on hyphens. One editor wanted to make it chocolate-chip cookie. And faceup. What the heck word is faceup?

  14. And THANK YOU!! And hurray for Susan and Rhys, too, We're AGATHA NOMINEES! Yay. I am thrilled, and cannot wait for malice. Well, yes I can. Until then, everyone wins. YAY!!!!

  15. Loved the excerpt, Rhys, and am salivating for Time of Fog and Fire.

    Best advice I ever got from an editor, when copyediting: "We generally follow CMS (this was academic nonfiction), BUT the author's style always takes precedence, as long as it's consistent." Of course it does! So, copyediting was to catch the inconsistencies of grammar and punctuation, of meaning, etc., and point those out to the author.

  16. So happy for Hank and Susan, joining me as Agatha Nominees
    And Hank--timelines are my bugaboo too. When the copy editor says "this happened on Tuesdsy" and you realize you've got Sundsy wrong and they can't be at church when the crime is committed! Uggghhh.

  17. I loved the excerpt Rhys! Darn it. I want more. Now. I'm sure in some future story Georgie will remind Darcy of the god awful inn they stayed at on the road to Gretna Green. And he will groan, roll his eyes, and apologize profusely. Or swear.

  18. To be honest, I listen to all of your books so I never see your commas. Katherine Kellgren gets so much more out of the jokes than I do. So that's me walking the Irish Wolfhound in Anchorage, Alaska laughing out loud as I listen to Royal Spyness. The neighborhood is used to me; no one has sent the men in the little white coats yet.

  19. Oh, poor Georgie. I want her to have a cozy fire and a fairytale setting. Of course, that wouldn't be how Georgie's and Darcy's relationship goes. I can't wait to see what happens in these dire surroundings. The cover is spectacular, too. Oh, and the new Molly with its alliteratively perfect title has me champing at the bit. Rhys, I wholeheartedly agree with you that you should be able to use the fragmented sentence form. Sometimes, I think editors might benefit by reading the paragraph aloud and listening to the flow, not just attacking sentence by sentence.

    I wanted to quickly comment on your post yesterday, Hank. I am really looking forward to reading your Charlotte series, and, in fact, I tried to use my coupon from the librarians' tea in Raleigh to get the first one. No luck. So, I'm especially happy to see these beautiful new copies,
    which are now on my wish list.

    Now, to all the fantastic celebrating today! Congratulations to Rhys, Hank, and Susan for the Agatha nominations for your amazing books! You all deserve to take home one of those lovely teapots. And, congratulations to Edith on your short story nomination!

  20. Congratulations Hank, Susan, and Rhys on your Agatha Award nominations . . . so well-deserved!

  21. Yes, congratulations on your Agatha nomination -- and Hank and Susan too!

  22. Congratulations to Hank, Rhys and Susan for their nominations, and to our honorary Reds Barb Goffman and Edith Maxwell for Best Short Story Agatha noms!

    And Rhys, I love the description. I think Ross and I stayed at that Inn once...

  23. Rhys, I didn't tell you I love the scene! I love the scene! xo R

  24. Thank you, Julia! It's a huge thrill.