Changing My Mind – Reposting

Reposting this blog so that those who have subscribed to my blog via email stand a chance of actually getting this.  Fingers crossed. 


Years ago, someone told me that the hardest thing an author ever has to do is change his or her mind. As I embarked on writing Overkill, the next Ali Reynolds books from Simon and Schuster, I was pretty sure who the bad guy was and what was going to happen.

Before the holidays, I was rocking and rolling along, but then the story stalled out and hasn’t moved for longer than I liked. The day before yesterday, I realized what had to change, and I climbed out of bed in the morning raring and ready to go. But then I opened my email, and there was a message from my Harper Collins editor with an attachment of Den of Iniquity, the next Beau book, asking for a third reading of the first pass.

If you’re curious about copyeditors, just think about your scariest ever English teacher. Rather than being armed with red pencils, these professionals come equipped with computerized yellow markers and little message balloons full of teeny-tiny print that is virtually impossible to read.

When people ask my opinion of self-publishing, I tell them it’s like having five or six full-time DIY jobs—writing, editing, marketing, publicizing, and promoting. I only have to do numbers one and two. Self-published writers have to do it all, and the editing process is a multi-layered affair—the lead editor, the copy editor, the production editors with the author doing a final check each time. The last one happens after the book has been typeset and is in galley form. Usually, I only do one pass on those, but sometimes there’s also a second and third.

By the time the third pass came around, I was pretty tired of story, but I rolled up my sleeves and went to work, and I’m glad I did. The latest copyeditor had discovered lots of echoes. Those occur when a writer uses the same word or series of words in close proximity. I’m really bad about echoes. After all, if something sounds good the first time, why not use it again? She also found a place where I had made a geographical error, by calling Mount Olivet Cemetery in Renton St. Olivet Cemetery. I’m really glad she caught that one, because if she hadn’t, my readers certainly would have. She also found some errors in ages of various characters as well as variations in numbers—136 in one place and 138 in another. Good on all those. Unfortunately, there’s another side when it comes to copyeditors.

My worst ever experience was on Man Overboard—an Ali Reynolds book with action taking place in several locations—Arizona, California, and the UK. The book was set at a time when Daylight Savings Time was still in effect. Arizona doesn’t do Daylight Savings Time. That means during the spring and summer, Arizona operates on Pacific. All through the book, I struggled to make sure the time differences were accurate. When the manuscript came back, the copyeditor had gone through it, changing the time stamps willy nilly. Then, at some point in the book, one character explained to another that at that point in the story Arizona and California were in the same time zone. His note in the bubble said, “Oh, I didn’t know that. You’ll have to go back and change it.” At that point, you’d better believe the air around here was turning blue with lots of ungrandmotherly words!

Early on in one of the Beaumonts, he visited a bar where they were playing country/western music. Whichever copyeditor was on the job at the time, went through the manuscript and changed country/western to country and western wherever those words appeared. I changed them back, leaving the following message in my applicable comment bubble. “No, it is shit kicking, country/western music.” Decades later while working on the editing of another book in another series, I revisited the country/western music issue the same result from yet another copyeditor. I responded by using the same words in my comment balloon. (I’m not repeating them here because that would be an echo!)

Copyeditors often balk at regional expressions based on their own experiences or places of origin. They sometimes balk at my linguistic peculiarities as well. When I receive an email with five or more people in the cc line, I call that a group-grope email. Copyeditors definitely don’t like that one. Today’s copy-editing issue has nothing at all to do with geography and everything to do with the generation gap, but first a small digression.

Readers of my books and blog have probably figured out by now that many of my fictional characters have some basis in fact. When I need someone to walk across my fictional stage, I often go shopping through my memory banks to see who turns up. In this case what surfaced was Miss Woundy, the school counselor at Bisbee High School when I was in attendance there from 1958 to 1962.

Miss Woundy was a short, wide load of a lady, who was hard as nails and who could strike terror into the hearts of even the toughest varsity football player. She’s also the one who told me as a high school junior that I ‘wasn’t college material.” Those kinds of comments are the ones that stick with you, or at least they do with me.

So in writing Den of Iniquity, when I needed a one-time-only walk-on character, Miss Woundy came to mind. I named my fictional character Miss O’Connor and cast her as a high school counselor at Beau’s Ballard High. In her one and only scene, she grabs a varsity football player by the back of the neck and strong-arms him out of the classroom even though she has to stand on her tip toes to do it.

Enter the copyeditor, one that’s most likely several decades younger than I am. She dutifully changed Miss O’Connor to Ms. O’Connor every single time. Nope, a hundred times nope!

In order to keep track of how old my characters are, I sometimes resort to trickery. With Beau, I gave him my birthday. That means he was attending Ballard High School at the same time I was attending Bisbee High. Believe me, female teachers back in those days were either Miss or Mrs., no exceptions, and that’s the opinion I expressed in my teeny-tiny comments in the copyeditor’s balloons.

You can bet that when DOI hits the bookshelves this fall, Miss O’Connor will still be Miss.

And now it’s time to get back to my interrupted melody, Overkill to see if my recent change of mind will work. If not, I may have to change it again.

48 thoughts on “Changing My Mind – Reposting

  1. The blog is being reposted because many email subscribers didn’t receive their copies today. If you received it twice, I’m pretty sure you know how to press the delete key.

    • Enjoyed this one so much I read through it more than once. Liked the humor and age related responses to being edited by someone a generation or so separated from characters in the novel. I’m older still, so no stern counselor in my high school, but our principal could stop you in your tracks with just a glare. Your Friday blogs have become the highlight of my week, JAJ, a positive change for me, thanks a bunch.

  2. Thanks for reposting this. I have had hit or miss blogs recently but know you post on Friday so go to fb or your web site if I don’t see it on my feed. Love reading your musings.

  3. I got this on my email account and think it’s fantastic. I made a pretty lengthy comment, and sent it to the wild blue nowhere. I have that talent, somewhat like an echo somehow. Anyway thanks for all the insight on editors, who knew? and the light hearted humor. As far as changing, you’ll figure it out, you always do. Thanks for keeping us all in the loop. I’m always looking forward to Friday mornings.

  4. I remember Miss Woundy! And yes, she was as hard as nails. My homeroom teacher was Miss Smith.

  5. I’m subscribed via email, and have not had any problems with getting your weekly missives. I know that because I make a point to check my email on Friday, for the sole purpose of getting it.
    Is there an issue?

  6. They don’t call it “license” for nothing!!! You write it the way YOU want it! And I’ll gratefully read it.

  7. I love hearing about these tidbits of things you and the editors have to do before these truly wonderful books can be read by us! Thanks, JAJance. ?

  8. Don’t ever change the way you write! You are probably one of the easiest writers to blend with! I say blend because I don’t read a book I become part of the book! I blend!

  9. I got the original, but am appreciative for the resend.

    Looking forward to “Overkill”.

  10. Your emails like this are a joy to read, enjoy and learn from.
    I didn’t get the first one.
    Please keep writing books and notes.

  11. I have no clue how your Friday Postings are done. Recently they have, on occasion, not shown up on my email but I get them on Facebook. Today (jan 19) it did not show up on email, but I did see it on Facebook. No clue (echo) that there is an identifying gremlin.
    Apropos,of nothing much, do you ever regret giving up your Tucson house.? I have mixed feelings. Bought and built in Oro Valley in 2001, sold in 2008 to have money to travel the world. Also our first home as married kids was across from Davis Monthan in 1964. We had 58 years. Good run. Please keep doing what you do.

    • Yes, we miss our Tucson home–especially during the last two weeks, but travel during the pandemic and now ongoing health issues would have made maintaining and visiting it impossible.

  12. So glad you got it sent. I look forward to your blog every Friday morning. I’ve tried to edit some materials through the years and the same kinds of problems always appear

  13. Read this installment of your blog twice. This morning, when it wasn’t wasn’t in my email, I once again had to.hunt for it. Then this evening, there it was, so I read it again I live in California but have Arizona. So I.know about the time differences or non differences. But I don’t always remember. I have been an hour late because of that before. Miss Woundy???? Really. If you used that name in a book, I won’t believe it. So appropriate since she seemed to like to wound students

  14. Having worked as s proofreader I always had the constraint of needing to assume the author was correct and while I often questioned what I was reading, that was the extent of my power unless it was an out and out typo. I hope you get paired with a copy editor who has actually read your work and gets your style.

    I just finished listening to Blessing of the Lost Girls. It was the first of the Walker books that I listened to instead of reading it. This is without a doubt a book to hear spoken. The format fits with the storytelling that is such a huge part of the book. Now it’s time to go back and listen to the rest of them so I can fully appreciate them.

    So glad you left insurance for writing!

  15. I know just what you mean by Miss Woundy. I had an eighth grade English teacher that could make those (Bad Boys) toe the mark with just a look and her quiet voice It was amazing. I don’t remember her name but I can visualize her. Always looking forward to your next book!!!!

  16. When reading your books, I have picked up on names that were familiar to me in our town growing up. One that comes to me right now was Danitza, which is a name I’ve never come across again. She was a good friend of my 6th grade teacher, Miss Brooks. BTW, Miss Brooks named her Scotty dog Angus. ?

    • Yes, the real Danitza was a good friend of mine, too. But I also remember receiving a complaint email from a reader saying it was a terrible choice of name. But I think Nitz would have appreciated the resilience of that particular character.

  17. Miss Woundy never wanted me to go to college either. Every year she would build me a schedule to prepare for a secretarial job. As soon as I left her office I headed to register and changed it all to college prep classes.
    I wonder how she felt when we both received several scholarships on awards night? She must have known ahead of time.

    • I always thought I was the only one. I wonder if she lived long enough to see me presented with an Honorary Doctorate.

  18. Thank you for resending. I did not receive the blog this morning and as I am fairly new at getting them, forgot it should have been there. I enjoy reading them, and the comments everyone makes. I usually get them for days afterward. I have now marked my desk calendar to remind me to go looking for it if I don’t get it next week. Please keep doing what you are doing.

  19. I have worked as a proofreader and copy editor, but only in newspaper and periodical publication. Working on fiction sounds more challenging, but it would seem that even a young editor should know that if you are referring to a historical period (which the 1960s is, now), you should use the language norms of the time.

  20. Clearly Miss Woundy was not “Counselor Material!”
    There are such destructive characters who somehow thrive in jobs where they can abuse children and adolescents-
    Even in New York City, where your copy-editors probably work, we are familiar with
    “Country/Western” music!
    Are these youngsters aware of anything but Hip Hop?

  21. On the bulletin board at church someone posted a copy of an old newspaper clipping they had squirreled away. It was from what at the time (1950s) was called the society page and under a photograph said Mrs. Albert Wong hosted Mrs. Reverand Burt Jones and Miss Stephen Nakamura at tea in her home in Kaimuki last Thursday. The kids at church kept asking why those ladies had men’s names. (Of course I have changed the names to ‘protect the innocent’)

  22. Oh, where would we be without our copy editors? XD It sounds like your publisher puts a lot of effort and resources into editing, which isn’t always the case. I’ve read some books (published by major publishers) that made it clear that someone ran spell check and called it good. I love your books, and always enjoy hearing the stories behind the stories.

    • Just yesterday, while reading a book about gardening, I spotted a place where “barley” had turned into “barely”. No one read that sentence with their brain engaged before the book went to print.

    • Yes, we miss our Tucson home–especially during the last two weeks, but travel during the pandemic and now ongoing health issues would have made maintaining and visiting it impossible.

  23. Thanks for this look into your work-world. You are obviously a master of your craft, but that comes with lots of hard work. This consumer of your talent thanks you!

  24. Received your email, very interesting stuff!
    My only squawk with wording is ‘get’ and ‘got’ are overused by almost everybody.

  25. You sure did have me chuckling during this read. Thank you! I can’t wait dor the new books.

  26. And I LOVE that your books fit the area! With the correct terms, correct time etc! You go girl – keep battling those young whippersnappers!!

  27. Thank you for the good read and laugh today. My birthday. Sick husband, dinner plans cancelled. Boo!

    But the read and laughter set me right. The Weiner dogs are wishing you happy and successful writing. Me too!

  28. I find while reading your books, you have less mistakes than most authors that I read. That means a lot to a long time reader. Most of your infect all of your books I can rely on being accurate. I love reading an author who has a backlog that is organized Lol can you imagine if the same person was born three different dates in four books that would be so confusing for a reader. Been a long time reader, I feel Confident in the quality of your works. Have a lovely day. I’m looking forward to your next book your books make me feel good and happy and it’s 75. That’s hard to come by. Lol.

  29. I am so ready for some new books with Beau and Ali , can’t wait.
    Thank you for writing such great books.

  30. Interesting insight in the process of writing a book. I thoroughly enjoy your weekly blog ! You are one of my favorite authors.

  31. Interesting insight in the process of writing a book. I thoroughly enjoy your weekly blog ! You are one of my favorite authors.

  32. I was wondering. Beau has always had a hard time driving around Seattle. Why doesn’t the city have a subway system? I’ve never seen it mentioned anywhere. Is there a problem with digging underground there? Too many rocks?

  33. I loved getting an insight into the behind the scenes of writing and publishing. A layman like me had no idea what all editing entailed.
    I only had to experience a scary English teacher once in high school in a large honor’s class called Block which combined English and Philosophy. On one of my papers, she filled it with red marks and a nasty comment also demanding that I see her at once!
    I cowardly never did but that comment stuck with me for the longest time. When I later became a teacher, I was mindful to never do that to my students.
    It’s hard to imagine having to go through that time and time again with your editors. But I guess it is helpful, albeit sometimes aggravating. It hasn’t seemed to affect your confidence though, for which I’m grateful as a fan of your books.

  34. Oh what fun youth today is. No understanding of life when I went to school in the 50’s and 60’s. I grew up in Portland area with a high school Vice Principal who had a holy flat wooden paddle to emphasize his mountain of right to some of the kids valley of wrong.

    Lark has her own growing up memories in the Chief Sealth High School area of West Seattle.

    Her home was near the top of the hill overlooking the Fauntleroy Ferry crossing was an amazing vista to gaze at from the house or across their backyard which at times were filled with Combat battles with her brother.

Comments are closed.