Polly’s Ginger Biscuits

Readers of An Unseen Attraction will be aware that our hero Clem’s housekeeper makes a pretty good ginger biscuit as a cure-all for distress.

The ginger biscuits were not long in coming, and Clem was pleased to see their restorative effect. He wasn’t sure what Polly put into them, and nor was anyone else; there were women up and down Wilderness Row formally Not Speaking to her because she refused to give out the recipe. Clem didn’t have a sweet tooth in general but could happily have eaten a plateful at a sitting, and they had much the effect on the system that a stiff drink had on people in books. Rowley nibbled an edge listlessly, sat up, took a second one, and let his hunched shoulders relax a little for the first time since he’d come back.

Clem smiled at him. “They are good, aren’t they? But you do have to have something terrible happen to you first, because she doesn’t like to waste the ginger.”

Well, if you’re more generous with your ginger than Polly, here’s a recipe. I hope nothing terrible happens first.

  • 100g butter (at room temperature)
  • 100g caster sugar
  • 75g fine brown sugar (or you can use 175g caster and no brown if you prefer)
  • 1 medium egg
  • 1.5 tbsp golden syrup
  • 250g self raising flour
  • 2 tsp ground ginger
  • 150g crystallized ginger chunks (chopped to appropriate chunks-for-cookies size)
  • 2 tsp ginger liqueur (completely optional)
  1. Pre-heat the oven to 180/ Gas Mark 4.
  2. Beat the butter and sugar until pale and creamy. Add the egg and golden syrup (pro tip: if you oil the spoon very lightly before measuring out the golden syrup, it just slides right off into the bowl and makes life much easier) and the liqueur if using, and continue beating until well combined. Mix the flour and ground ginger into the biscuit mixture and stir until combined. Stir in the crystallized ginger.
  3. The dough will be sticky. Shape into 20 walnut-sized balls and place on greased or lined baking sheets. They spread so don’t crowd them. Best to use 3 trays.
  4. Bake for 12-15 minutes until golden. The tops will crack and the inside will look a little ooshy. Do not be tempted to cook till they look completely done: they will firm up as they cool, and you want the chewy inside.
  5. Leave on the baking tray until cool enough to transfer to a wire rack (they will be very soft when you take them out of the oven). Allow to cool completely before serving insofar as that’s possible. I mean, warm is fine. Look, just let them cool enough to firm up, okay? Or at least, don’t burn your mouth.

20170224_175713

NB: the ginger liqueur is totally optional. I happen to have a bottle of The King’s Ginger in the house so I use it; don’t make a special trip to the shop. However, if you do have it, you can also make the ginger equivalent of a Kir Royale: put a splosh of ginger liqueur in a champagne glass, top up with sparkling wine for a fizzy, fiery drink. This is a Ginger Royale or, as we call it at ours, a Prince Harry.

Rainbow Win

The Rainbow Awards and A Seditious Affair

Big, amazing, thrilling news: The 2015 Rainbow Awards have been announced and I’ve done, er, rather well.Rainbow Win

Best Gay Book 1st place tie: The Secret Casebook of Simon Feximal (with Amy Lane’s Beneath the Stain).
Gay Paranormal Romance 1st place: The Secret Casebook of Simon Feximal

SecretCasebookOfSimonFeximal-The300I want to take a moment here. The Secret Casebook is a gay Victorian occult detective romance rooted in British folklore and Victorian pulp. It started off as a squib, a short story for an anthology, but the characters wouldn’t go away. It led to a collaboration with Jordan L Hawk (Remnant, still free!) which remains one of my most enjoyable writing experiences ever. And then when I wrote the whole Casebook it turned into a story about stories, and writing, and hiding, and the toll taken by concealment and social injustice. In some ways it’s a pulp paranormal romance romp and in some ways it’s very serious indeed, and it’s a novel in short stories which is not exactly usual anyway, and to be honest I’ve always felt grateful to my editor Anne Scott and publisher Samhain for letting me have my head and do it, because I couldn’t have blamed them for asking, ‘what the hell is this?’ (They didn’t just let me have my head: they gave me a gorgeous Kanaxa cover. Can’t ask for more.)

And now it’s walked away with two wins in the Rainbow Awards including joint Best Gay Book, which…wow. So there you go. I’ll just be over here purring quietly for the next month.

And furthermore…

Gay Historical Romance 2nd place: A Fashionable Indulgence
Gay Fantasy Romance 4th place: Jackdaw
LGBT Anthology 3rd place Charmed & Dangerous (including my story, ‘A Queer Trade’).

I’m immensely proud of and honoured by all of this. Huge thanks to my editors and publishers (Samhain, Loveswept, JCP Books), and I recommend checking out the full Rainbow Awards results for what I can only describe as a massive and magnificent shopping list. So many excellent books, so much work put into this by judges and organisers, and publishers and editors and cover artists (let alone the authors). It’s a privilege to be part of it.

 

In other news (but still me me me, sorry), the blog tour for A Seditious Affair begins tomorrow, with the book publishing on 15th December. I have done lots and lots of posts about stuff, and there’s giveaways running, so do check the stops out. Links go to site homepages.

Just Love Romance          09-Dec                 Excerpt

Ellie Reads                         10-Dec                 The Past and Points of View

Boys in our Books            11-Dec                  A Kink without a Name

Sinfully…                             12-Dec                Putting the Romance into History

The Breakfast Octopus   13-Dec                 Interview

All About Romance          14-Dec                 Mind Your Language. On getting historical vocabulary rightish

Ever After Romance        15-Dec                 Standalones and Overlaps: telling several stories at once

Joyfully Jay                        17-Dec                 Historical attitudes and Regency Radicals

I will probably mention it when the book publishes. *cough*

Release Day for ‘The Ruin of Gabriel Ashleigh’

‘The Ruin of Gabriel Ashleigh’ is out today as a short story from Loveswept. Huzzah!Resized_The Ruin of Gabriel Ashleigh_Charles

This is the story I originally wrote for the Another Place in Time anthology, which sparked the idea for the entire Society of Gentlemen trilogy. It’s the same story so for heaven’s sake don’t buy it twice. Or, do buy it twice in the full knowledge that’s what you’re doing. It’s a free country.

‘Ruin’ is the story of Lord Gabriel Ashleigh, a somewhat useless younger son, who has managed to get drunk and lose everything to notorious and sarcastic gambler Francis Webster. Ash has a last chance to win it back in one more card game, although the stakes come as something of a surprise. *cough* This is me getting very Georgette Heyer, except with binking, that being an area in which Georgette was reticent. I’m rather fond of this story and very happy to see it available now.

The story is set in autumn 1818, a few months before the events of A Fashionable Indulgence. It’s not crucial to the events of the trilogy, but if you’re interested in the backstory of Ash and Francis and the ghastly Lord Maltravers (all significant secondary characters throughout the trilogy), well, here it is. Oh, and if it seems handy, there’s a Society of Gentlemen cast list here.

Links!

Amazon.com

Amazon.co.uk

ARe

Publisher

Goodreads

Censorship, Guidelines, Endorsement, Oh My

Backstory: The Goodreads MM Romance group runs an annual story event, in which authors write from prompts. This year there was a prompt asking for a romance where a black slave falls in love with the white slave-owner’s son, set in the American South. The story was  written, and published by the group, and a lot of people are extremely upset.

Many have said that the MM Romance group should not have published this story under the auspices of its event, and that the rules should be tightened to prevent this kind of thing. Other people, who don’t find this premise innately offensive, or who disagree that the context makes consensual love impossible, or who believe that unfettered free speech is the first priority, are arguing that this would be censorship, and that no content restrictions should be set.

I’m not going to write on why this story premise is offensive: I’m a white Brit, there are more qualified people doing that. Instead, I want to focus on the concept that asking a publisher to set guidelines/restrictions on content is censorship. As follows:

No, it isn’t.

If a publisher (any platform provider, from Big 5 to a Goodreads group) makes a decision not to publish a work, if a publisher sets boundaries and guidelines for submission that exclude a story, that is not censorship. All of publishing has rules on what they will and will not offer on their platform. That is how publishing works.

  • If I send a collection of poetry to Harlequin (as, when I worked there, someone did), they will not publish it because they don’t publish poetry. That’s not censorship. What would they do with a poetry book?
  • If I send a bestiality story to, eg, Riptide Press, they won’t publish it because like many, they have a specific and clear set of guidelines about their erotic content that excludes bestiality. Not censorship, guidelines. Take the horse porn elsewhere.
  • If I send a gay romance to a hardcore evangelical Christian publisher and they decline to publish it for religious reasons? Not censorship. They don’t have to publish books that would go against their beliefs.
  • If I send a story packed with homophobia and racism to a publisher, and they decline to publish because they feel it will damage their reputation? Not censorship. It’s them saying: This book will make us look like a publisher that supports hatred, and that’s not in our five-year marketing plan.

None of these publishers are censoring. They are setting guidelines for the kind of books they read, publish and market. A publisher that published everything that came over its threshold would be unspeakable. Trust me. I’ve read slush pile. To publish something is literally to put your imprimatur on it: if you publish it, you endorse it. Which is why publishing without a quality/content filter is likely to seriously damage your reputation.

The MM Romance group has made a statement declining to moderate the prompts and stories they publish, including the following:

Any time we discuss content restrictions we come up against the question of censorship. Censoring either our prompt writer or authors is not something the moderators support. […] There has never been a vetting process for either prompts or stories. Stories are beta read, edited and formatted but are never judged based on their content. [my italics]

Hurrah for free speech! Except that the italicised statement is not true.

  • The group specifically bans stories with underage sex.
  • The group publishes m/m. If I send in a heterosexual romance, it will not be published because it doesn’t meet the event premise.
  • The group publishes romance. If I submit a thriller with no romantic content, an extract from my literary novel about the Dutch porcelain trade, or an essay on the feeding habits of the mantis shrimp, it will not be published because it doesn’t meet the event premise.

In other words, the group does indeed judge and select texts on their content. And that is not censorship, and it would still not be censorship if they, for example, stated that racism, misogyny, transphobia, ableism etc must be handled with respect, care and sensitivity, and that stories would be accordingly vetted pre-publication. You could then have a lifetime of argument, since one person’s sensitive treatment is often another person’s cack-handed mess (I’m informed the slave book was intended to be respectful), but at least there would be a principle to refer to, a basic idea of what is and is not okay, and a means by which to say: hang on, you messed this up. We all mess up, all the time, and guidelines are one way to do it less.

Declining to publish is not censorship. Censorship is preventing something from being published, the way governments do. A specific publisher declining to publish is saying: “This is not for our platform, it does not work for us.” It does not stop an author from seeking out a platform that wants them, or creating their own. Plenty of publishers declined Harry Potter, and JK Rowling got her voice heard in the end.

Of course, people don’t always decline to publish for good reasons. Say (as happens) that a publisher declines, eg, a children’s book with black main characters because they think they won’t sell enough copies. Overall, if every children’s publisher does this, it has the effect of censorship, because it means there are very few stories to point to and say, “look, of course they sell”, and a vicious circle is created. This is why it is extremely important to talk about this, and look at the numbers of what’s being published, and who’s writing it. But it is also not the same thing as declining books based on clear explicit guidelines; in fact, it’s the opposite because this is hidden, back-room, unaccountable stuff.

The consequence of publishers applying guidelines is not that books that they deem unacceptable cannot be written or published. It might be that the authors would have to consider critical feedback and modify their stories if they wanted publication in a particular place (again, this is how publishing works and informed critical feedback is generally a good thing, even if it’s no fun). It might be that if they weren’t prepared to make changes, they’d have to spend longer looking for a platform, or self publish and thus not benefit from a publisher’s imprimatur and promotion. But none of this would be an infringement on the author’s free speech. It would merely be the consequence of other people declining to amplify that speech for them in its original form.

And that’s how it goes. Because freedom does not mean freedom from consequences. And free speech doesn’t come with a book deal attached.

___________________

My blog aims to be a safe space, including the comments. Anything that I deem likely to infringe that will be deleted without discussion as soon as I see it. My platform, my rules.

Fashionable Indulgence_03_04_15

A Fashionable Indulgence release day!

A Fashionable Indulgence is out now! Go buy it!

That’s it, basically. I’m keeping this brief because I am actually on holiday right now. (No, you booked two weeks on a campsite in the middle of France right over your book launch. Ahem.)Fashionable Indulgence_03_04_15

This is book 1 of my Society of Gentlemen trilogy published by Loveswept, which is about Regency gentlemen, radical politics, class divide, nice clothes, murder, sordid goings-on at all levels of society, and why you should never trust puce. (THIS IS IMPORTANT.)

This is the first in a trilogy of m/m Regency romances about a group of gentlemen with unconventional desires in a time of social and political turmoil. Reviews are nice so far! Book 2, A Seditious Affair, is out in December. The linked story that started it all, ‘The Ruin of Gabriel Ashleigh’, will be available as a separate story in October, more soon!

You can get it, should you so wish, at Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk, ARe, the publisher and all the usual places. I have been/will be yattering on about stuff at the following locations throughout August, and there will be giveaways. I’ll link posts as they go up where possible but, like I said, holiday.

7              Ellie Reads Fiction

10           Smexy Books (with Ava March)

10           Bookaholics Not-So-Anonymous

12           Joyfully Jay (with Ava March)

12           All About Romance (with Ava March)

13           Fiction Vixen (with Ava March)

14           Prism Book Alliance (with Ava March)

14           Bayou Book Junkie

15           Sinfully… (with Ava March)

17           Boys in our Books

19           Christine’s Words

 

Which is why I’m not posting anything else here.

I’ll be back in late August with other new news, including on the Charmed & Dangerous anthology. Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do!

charmed-cover-200

Charmed and Dangerous anthology news

So, there is a new anthology coming: Charmed and Dangerous, a collection of ten m/m paranormal romances. If you like mmpr (and if you’re reading this I have to assume you do or this will be like one of those really awkward party conversations where it turns out nobody knows anyone else there), you are likely to be just slightly thrilled. Check out the gorgeous cover, and also the author list. I am unspeakably excited to be part of this.

charmed-cover-200

When Jordan Castillo Price asked me to write a story (I like to drop that phrase into conversation), I set out thinking about ideas, and reached, as I often do, for Henry Mayhew. His 1860s book London Labour and the London Poor is an early example of social research, and includes long accounts of what his interviewees said, in their own words. (Ish, at least, there are questions over Mayhew’s literary ambitions, but let’s not be fussy.) Mayhew gave us three hulking volumes that told us how London’s least regarded workers and street-people lived.

One of the street trades was that of waste-man, the people who bought used paper and sold it on for packing and wrapping. Mayhew interviewed a waste-man who explained what his job was. I don’t know if there could be a more plot-bunny-packed paragraph than this; in particular, I would ask you to think about the effect of the last line of this quote on a writer of Victorian gay romance:

An old man dies, you see, and his papers are sold off, letters and all; that’s the way to get rid of all the old rubbish, as soon as the old boy’s pointing his toes to the sky. What’s old letters worth, when the writers are dead and buried? Why, perhaps 1½d. a pound, and it’s a rattling big letter that will weigh half-an-ounce. O, it’s a queer trade, but there’s many worse.

I read this paragraph and knew that I had my story for this anthology: an old man dying and his papers sold on. Which, since this is a paranormal romance story, are magical papers, bought unwittingly by a waste-man, which must be retrieved by the apprentice warlock before anything dreadful happens. (This is me. Hands up who thinks nothing dreadful will happen.)

Here’s the blurb for my story:

Apprentice magician Crispin Tredarloe returns to London to find his master dead, and his papers sold. Papers with secrets that could spell death. Waste paper seller Ned Hall can’t resist Crispin’s pleading—and appealing—looks. But can the waste-man and the magician prevent a disaster and save Crispin’s skin?

It is, of course, called A Queer Trade. (You wouldn’t have resisted that either.) And while it is an all-new story with completely new characters, sharp-eyed readers may see some old friends passing through.

Charmed and Dangerous is out 25 August, a mere fortnight after A Fashionable Indulgence, and weighs in at a startling 180K word length. Have fun!

Amazon.com

Amazon.co.uk

If you sign up to my newsletter I’ll remind you when this and other cool things come out. I promise not to spam.

SecretCasebookOfSimonFeximal-The300

Victorian Occult Detectives: A Warning to the Curious

My new book is a romance (long, sometimes difficult, ranging over twenty years) between Simon, a Victorian occult detective, and his companion Robert, a journalist and writer. What do I mean, a Victorian occult detective? Ah, well, I’m glad you asked me that.

Secret CasebookThe Victorian era is famous for its incredible technological progress. This was a century that went from sail power and horses to a massive rail network and steamships capable of crossing the Atlantic. 1819 was the last full year of the Regency; by 1899 Marconi was sending radio across the English Channel, the paperclip had been invented, the theory of evolution was widely accepted, and we’d had the first motorcar companies and indeed the first fatal car crash. “Let the great world spin for ever down the ringing grooves of change,” wrote Tennyson, who lived 1809-1892, and must have been pretty damn confused by it all.

Because it was scary. Evolution upended many accepted ideas about Biblical accuracy, chronology and how creation happened. It displaced God from the centre of many people’s world view, leaving a hole that had to be filled with something. There was a religious revival, spreading a peculiarly joyless Evangelical faith of the kind people often associate with the Victorians, but there was also an explosion of belief in dissenting sects, cults, and the supernatural. This was the great era of table-rapping, ectoplasm, séances.

…the religious and scientific strands of the century [were] closely intertwined. Every scientific and technological advance encouraged a kind of magical thinking and was accompanied by a shadow discourse of the occult. For every disenchantment there was an active re-enchantment of the world. (Roger Luckhurst, excellent article.)

It was easy to confuse miracles of nature with the supernatural. The occult started to be presented as if it were a new branch of science, subject to rules and study and investigation. And, honestly, why not? If telegraphy could send words whizzing through wires, why shouldn’t telepathy send words whizzing between brains? If magnetism could somehow produce electricity that made light, why couldn’t animal magnetism (aka mesmerism) produce a current that caused healing?

The occult detective was a response to this baffling period of grasping for belief, and confronting new science as it remade the world. It brought the old Gothic tradition together with the exploding genre of detective fiction, to show us people confronting the mysteries of a scary and unknowable world with the tools at their disposal. Thomas Carnacki, ghost-finder, uses an Electric Pentacle to keep evil at bay, and half of his cases show him detecting human fraud rather than supernatural activity. The good guys in Dracula attempt to save a vampire victim by means of blood transfusions. Plenty of the detectives didn’t go to occult school to be called Mr: we have Dr Hesselius, Dr Taverner, Dr Silence, and the boss of them all, Professor van Helsing, with a string of letters after his name. And even when the occult investigators are amateurs, they are very often academics. Most of MR James’ stories centre on scholars, using their powers of research, big libraries and intelligent questioning to solve the central mystery of what the hell is going on.

The occult detective says: the world is big, unknowable and terrifying, but we can get a grip on it with courage, by applying our knowledge, using our heads, working together. It stands up for human potential. If you have a heart, some books, a brain, and preferably a loyal assistant, you can take on whatever dark horrors the Gothic past throws at you and win.

That’s where romance and the occult detective meet. They’re both, fundamentally, about how people find light in a dark and scary world, about what the human brain and heart can do. And that’s why I wrote my occult detective stories as a romance, or possibly why I wrote my romance as occult detective stories. Either way, it worked for me.

——————————————–

KJ Charles is a Rainbow Award-winning romance writer and freelance editor. She blogs about writing and publishing, spends too much time on Twitter, and has a Facebook group for book chat and sneak peeks. The Secret Casebook of Simon Feximal, a Victorian occult m/m romance, is out now from Samhain.

A story too secret, too terrifying—and too shockingly intimate—for Victorian eyes.

A note to the Editor

Dear Henry,

I have been Simon Feximal’s companion, assistant and chronicler for twenty years now, and during that time my Casebooks of Feximal the Ghost-Hunter have spread the reputation of this most accomplished of ghost-hunters far and wide.

You have asked me often for the tale of our first meeting, and how my association with Feximal came about. I have always declined, because it is a story too private to be truthfully recounted, and a memory too precious to be falsified. But none knows better than I that stories must be told.

So here is it, Henry, a full and accurate account of how I met Simon Feximal, which I shall leave with my solicitor to pass to you after my death.

I dare say it may not be quite what you expect.

Robert Caldwell
September 1914

Amazon UK

Amazon.com

ARe

Goodreads

The Return of Simon Feximal – with art and giveaway

Let’s have a quick recap. (Previously on KJC…) I wrote a couple of stories about a Victorian ghost hunter named Simon Feximal and his lover Robert Caldwell, set in 1894 England, followed by a  crossover story, Remnant, with Jordan L Hawk’s occult detectives Whyborne and Griffin, set in 1899. A lot had changed for my characters by the time of Remnant. Robert, previously a carefree young journalist, is now Simon’s full time colleague, with a sinister metal cartouche in his hand and a nasty scar under his eye.

Secret CasebookThe Secret Casebook of Simon Feximal (out now!) is the full story of Robert and Simon, including what happened to Robert’s career, how he got the scar, and what’s going on with the magical implant. I don’t know if I’d have written it if it hadn’t been for Remnant. But once I’d done that, the glimpse into my characters’ future nagged at me until I’d written the book—because, as Simon says, stories must be told.

The Secret Casebook of Simon Feximal comes out on 16 June. Plus, ‘Butterflies’ (the second Feximal story) and Remnant (Smashwords or ARe) are available free, and the terrific Whyborne and Griffin series has reached book 6 (Remnant comes between Stormhaven and Threshold). Don’t say Jordan and I fail to supply your late nineteenth-century gay occult detective needs.

The blog tour begins today and I’m giving away three copies of the book on a Rafflecopter. Click here to enter!

Here’s the blog tour so you can follow/avoid me to taste. Links as they go up:

11 June – Prism Book Alliance – extract
12 June – Sinfully… – blog post on folklore
13 June – Joyfully Jay – blog post on romance and horror
14 June – Boys in our Books – blog post on writing things you didn’t mean to
15 June – Novel Approach – extract
16 June – Love Bytes – extract

And finally, what you’ve been waiting for: superstar artist Lydmila Tsapaeva has created a truly fabulous piece of Remnant crossover art, featuring Robert, Simon, Whyborne and Griffin. Just adore this:

Ver_3-med (2)

——————————————–

The Secret Casebook of Simon Feximal, a Victorian occult m/m romance, is out now.

The Secret Casebook of Simon Feximal

A story too secret, too terrifying—and too shockingly intimate—for Victorian eyes.

A note to the Editor

Dear Henry,

I have been Simon Feximal’s companion, assistant and chronicler for twenty years now, and during that time my Casebooks of Feximal the Ghost-Hunter have spread the reputation of this most accomplished of ghost-hunters far and wide. You have asked me often for the tale of our first meeting, and how my association with Feximal came about. I have always declined, because it is a story too private to be truthfully recounted, and a memory too precious to be falsified. But none knows better than I that stories must be told.

So here is it, Henry, a full and accurate account of how I met Simon Feximal, which I shall leave with my solicitor to pass to you after my death. I dare say it may not be quite what you expect.

Robert Caldwell

September 1914

Amazon UK

Amazon.com

ARe

Goodreads

Terrible Editors and Why You Shouldn’t

I read this blog post and it made me go full Steaming Professional Fury.

The editor who was assigned to work on my manuscript was one of the unkindest people I have ever come across. For some reason, my story brought out the absolute worst in this lady. I don’t know what struck her core but something sure did. She did not like one thing about what she was reading. She hated the heroine, the hero, the premise of the book, and even the villain was too villainous for her. Yep. She said that. […] Nasty comments abounded which made me hate my own work that I’d been so happy to submit and have accepted by the publisher. […] A couple of examples: “You must not have worked very hard on this book as I’ve read one of your other books and it was better.”; “You must not like your characters.”; “I want to cold-cock your heroine.” (AND this was not meant in a sexual way); “I want to tell her to go screw herself.” and, after highlighting most of a chapter: “Rewrite this as it’s nonsensical.” No guidance, nothing – just rewrite it. And one comment was just, “You’re kidding.”

I tweeted (extensively; I was cross) about this and had a horrifyingly large response from people saying they’d had similar experiences. Consequently, I rageblog.

As I have discussed before, there are small presses who apparently feel that editing is not a skilled job. They pay $50 a MS for an edit, or give editors a small royalty on the book rather than an upfront fee, and since obviously professionals can’t work for that, they use amateurs who will do it ‘for love’. As far as I can tell, this means keen readers and reviewers.

Now, as I have often said, I support the right of reviewers to write whatever they like about a book, however vicious and snarky. You know who doesn’t have that right, not even a little bit? Editors.

The editor’s job is to make the MS better in partnership with the author. The editor is the author’s ally. She may hate the author’s guts (welcome to the club); she may hate the book (in which she needs either to suck it up or to ask to be reassigned). She may not, ever, take out her feelings on the author in spite, hyperbole, snark, bitching and malice.

You may be great at identifying what’s wrong with a book. You may have the rarer skill of seeing how to make it right. But if you can’t convey those things to the author in a professional manner that keeps the author onside and engaged, you aren’t fit to be an editor. And if a publisher employs an editor who lacks that skill, I’m not sure where they get off claiming to be a publisher.

The problem is not just unprofessional editors and publishers, it’s inexperienced authors accidentally enabling them. If you’ve never had good editing, you may not know what it looks like, and you may not know how to draw the line between a tough, close edit and a horrible abusive experience. (Because, let’s face it, the first can feel like the second in the heat of the moment.)

Nobody likes taking criticism. Authors have been known to complain vociferously about the most carefully phrased editorial letters because they suggest any changes at all. So I am not saying that adverse criticism = horrible incompetent editor. Quite the reverse, in fact. An editor who scatters compliments like sunshine and daisies over a flawed MS may be a temporary joy, but she’s not doing her job either. What you need, what the publisher’s cut of the receipts buys you, is an editor who can identify problems, explain what you need to do, and convey that in a helpful, respectful manner.

Example time! Let us say you have a minor character, Trevor, of whom you are fond, and with whom you have been self-indulgent.

Terrible Editor: Trevor is a total waste of space. Are we supposed to like him, because he was a walking cliché and I felt like screaming whenever he turned up. There was no point in him being in the book anyway because he didn’t DO anything, he was just boring.

Bad Editor: I love Trevor! He’s so funny! I smiled whenever I saw him!

Useful Editor: You need to consider Trevor’s role. He takes a lot of page time but he doesn’t actually play a part in the plot. I’m afraid I think his role needs to be very substantially cut back to improve the pacing, eliminating the conversations in chapters 7, 9 and 10 altogether. I realise that’s going to hurt but if you read with an eye to structure, I think you’ll see he’s bringing the action to a halt without adding anything new to the otherwise tightly-constructed plot. Might you be able to use these conversations (which are very lively and enjoyable in themselves) as bonus features for the blog tour?

See?

So. Eight points for authors…

  1. Make sure your contract includes the following: A clause specifying that editing takes place in consultation with the author, and the author has the right of approval. A clause saying you will receive professional editing. A breach of contract clause.
  2. Abusive ‘editing’ is not professional. A professional editor will never insult your work or demand rewrites without guidance. A professional will be thinking about your feelings, not about venting her own. A professional works with you to help make the MS better.
  3. If you get an edit that is full of snark and spite, first have an experienced published author look at it to make sure you’re not overreacting. If she agrees that this is a hatchet job, go to the managing editor and say that you’re not happy and you don’t think the edit is appropriate or professional. Ask that you should be assigned a different editor who doesn’t hate the book.
  4. If the publisher’s response includes words like ‘extremely sorry’ and ‘reassign immediately’, great. If the publisher doesn’t seem bothered that they’ve employed a non-professionally-competent person, or fails to listen to you, consider very hard if these are people you want to work with again. (Hint: They aren’t.) The publisher accepted your MS; they should have faith in it.
  5. Don’t be scared to cite the contract clauses mentioned in point 1. That’s why you have clauses in your contract: to use them as needed. Don’t believe anyone who tells you that you’ll be blacklisted by all publishers in your genre for being ‘difficult’, that’s hilariously untrue. To quote author/editor/publisher Aleks Voinov, “Enforcing an industry-wide blacklist would be akin to creating a global cat union.”
  6. If you haven’t got the contract clauses mentioned in point 1, stop signing crappy contracts. Have someone else look over the next one first.
  7. Remember that you are better off self-publishing than having an incompetent editor make a dog’s breakfast of a book that comes out under your name.
  8. See 7.

One for whoever it is doing this so-called ‘editing’:

  1. Being able to read and spell does not make you an editor. If you have been let loose on an author’s MS without track record, training or supervision, and you think you can just wander through it saying whatever you like, you need a humility check right now.

As for the publishers that don’t pay for actual editing but still take a nice big cut of your book’s receipts…I can’t even. Just stop signing contracts with these people. Please.

_____________________

KJ Charles is a freelance editor with twenty years’ professional experience, thank you, and an author. Her next book is The Secret Casebook of Simon Feximal, coming 16 June. 

 

Voting's Like a Jar of Jellybeans. The earwax-flavoured kind.

There is a UK General Election today (at the time of writing). I’m talking British politics, but the principle remains the same for anyone with a vote, including the US people with local elections coming up, because local elections matter too.

I saw yet another article recently on People Who Don’t Vote. People granted space in the national news to express their views on why they don’t want to express their views. So, that’s bewilderingly pointless.

Actually, there should be more articles on people who don’t participate in the basic requirements of society. Maybe People Who Don’t Put Their Rubbish in the Bin (“What difference does one crisp wrapper make?”) and People Who Don’t Say Thank You When Doors Are Held Open (“It’s pointless, it doesn’t change anything,”) and People Who Watch Other People Fall Over And Don’t Try to Help (“Well, I don’t feel it’s anything to do with me, you know?”). Perhaps even People Who Refuse Point Blank to Give Their Opinion While The Office Party is Being Planned, And Then Sulk Because They Don’t Want to Go Bowling. I’ve often wondered what that’s about.

Let’s look at these.

“What difference does one vote make?”

Very little. It’s not meant to. You aren’t the Patrician.

Ankh-Morpork had dallied with many forms of government and had ended up with that form of democracy known as One Man, One Vote. The Patrician was the Man; he had the Vote. (Terry Pratchett)

The point isn’t that you vote and then the country is run to your specification. The point is that we all vote and the country is run to an aggregate of our opinion. It’s like those ‘guess how many jellybeans are in the jar’ things. If you guess, you will be horribly wrong. If ten people guess, the average of their guesses will be closer to the right answer. If a hundred people guess, their average estimate will be surprisingly accurate.

It is obviously not the case that all elections end with a ‘right’ answer. It is particularly not the case when you have an electoral system like First Past the Post, as Britain does, which pretty much guarantees an unrepresentative result in a multi-party system. Nevertheless, the system is based on everyone giving their opinion and an overall result emerging, and remember, however much you may think the system sucks, you live in it. The only thing not voting achieves is to give extra weight to the voices of people who do vote, and their interests may not be yours. Because if you’re one of the 40% of people who don’t bother to guess the number of jellybeans, the other 60% will skew the result.

“It’s pointless, it doesn’t change anything.”

In the last election, 80% of over 65s voted, and only 47% of 18-24s did. As a direct result, we have a government very interested in protecting pensions, and completely unbothered by introducing tuition fees for students.

The ruling party, whatever it is, helps the groups likely to keep them in power at the expense of the groups who won’t. That is what governments do, because they want to stay in power. If you don’t want any particular government to stay in power, your options are as follows:

  • Plot a coup, raise a revolutionary army, march on Westminster singing rousing songs, string them all up from lampposts, become Military Dictator of New Britain, get a fluffy white cat or maybe a chair made of swords.
  • Vote.

All voting sends a message. Voting for a candidate who is nearest to your views but doesn’t stand a chance sends a message of ‘I want more and valid choice’ (and if enough people do it we may get electoral reform). Turning up and drawing a penis over your ballot paper sends a message about problematic disengagement of people from the current system, because they count up the spoiled ballots. And not voting sends a message about who can be safely ignored by every single party. Oh look, it’s you.

Incidentally, for the record, there is not one single UK MP with an outright majority of eligible voters. If we all voted, there wouldn’t be a safe seat in the country. Just saying.

 “I don’t feel it’s anything to do with me, you know?”

Then you’re not paying attention. If you live in a building, or get sick, or get old, or have children, or are LGBT, or ever leave the country, or have a job, or don’t have a job, or pay tax, or buy things, or breathe air, then politics affects you, and pretending it doesn’t is, frankly, ridiculous.

“I don’t want to go bowling!”

Then you should have said so at the point we asked for your opinion, and we might have made a different decision. But you didn’t say. And now it’s too late.

***

Voting isn’t a special treat for a special flower, let alone a magic wand. But it shapes the world you live in, it takes half an hour once every couple of years, and UK voters don’t even need a polling card: if you’re on the electoral register, you can just turn up.

And then we can get back to the far more interesting business of talking about books.

_______________________

KJ Charles can’t stand bowling, which is why she votes.