Hello fellow writers. In the past, I’ve interviewed authors, both self-published and those who went through traditional publishers. This time, I thought I would interview an editor. Rumi Kijay, a freelance editor from Pagan Writers Press, volunteered. Rumi worked with me on Touched: The Hunter Legacy and is now editing my soon to be released book entitled Psy-V: The Metamorphosis Protocol.
It took a plate of brownies to wrestle a “yes” out of him to do this interview. I also had to make a Starbucks run … who knew coffee could be that expensive.
Okay, so here’s the scenario. You’ve labored for months on a book, read it time and again and think “yes, that’s it”. You then send it out in the world, waiting to be recognized. And when reviews finally start coming in, instead of readers talking about how good the storyline is, there are comments about poor grammar, spelling errors and terrible formatting. That’s a bad time to realize you needed an editor.
L.M. David: Welcome to my little corner of the building and thanks for doing this interview. Usually, my blog guests have a run in with Preston but security told me he took one look at your black and red Tartan kilt and walked off, shaking his head.
Rumi: First, Preston’s your creation, just make him nocturnal and he’ll stop pestering your daytime guests. Second, thanks for the invite, always happy to talk to you. And last, thank you for the brownies, they’re lovely.
L.M. David: You know, I’ve never seen anyone stack them like a sandwich. And the way you jam that into your mouth with a chaser of coffee … wow. You realize you’ve gotten crumbs on your shirt and … your beard. Would you like a small whisk broom to brush them out of there?
Rumi: It’s okay. I got it.
L.M. David: Oh, no you did not just pick that out of your beard and eat it.
Rumi: Why wouldn’t I? It’s not like it landed on the floor.
L.M. David: Let’s get to the interview before I lose my breakfast…
Q. Beyond your eating habits, tell us a little about yourself.
A. Well, I was born in Canada the same year Star Wars made its film debut. I lived in Quebec City most of my life, which is a fascinating place sitting somewhere between Europe and North America. The people and the place have shaped most of my story. It’s where I first fell in love, where I received my Ph.D. in biology, and where I lost my religion. A little under a decade ago, I jumped over the Atlantic Ocean and landed in Brussels, at the heart of Europe, where I discovered a passion for science communication, and expanded my fiction writing and editing.
Q. You currently work freelance for Pagan Writers Press but are looking to expand and work with writers in need of editing services. That being said, tell me what genres are you willing to accept?
A. My main areas of experience are science-fiction and erotica, (he did a fist pump when saying erotica, ladies!) but I’m just as happy to work with fantasy and horror. I’m also interested in non-fiction works, but I feel that I need to have a basic knowledge of the topic before jumping into that in order to do justice to the author’s vision.
Q. Let’s say I wanted to be an editor, what would you suggest I do to accomplish that?
A. Read, read, read, and write, write, write, find your own voice and look at it closely. This will help you to see what the author’s voice is. And it’s one of the most important parts of an editor’s work, in my eyes: to help an author’s voice shine.
Q. When editing a manuscript, what is the most challenging thing with respect to new writers; grammar mistakes or formatting problems?
A. With new writers it’s neither. All writers pour themselves into their work, and have a very personal relationship with their creations. An editor’s challenge is to be as ruthless as possible, especially if the text needs to be whipped into shape. As the author’s work matures, they can add a more distance from their work and that’s where the editor can help them ‘kill their darlings’.
Q. So why, in your opinion, are editors important?
A. As writers, we can lose perspective when it comes to our own work. I’m the first to admit it. Editors are essential because it’s their job to ensure things make sense and the story flows. As a bonus, the basic grammar check is often something we no longer do as writers once we have been swimming in our words after a dozen reads. The mind shuts down, or connects the dots, and we become blind to errors. An editor helps shed new light on the author’s work.
Q. When editing, would you give feedback on a writer’s strong and weak points?
A. Absolutely, it’s the part of the process I find most rewarding, helping the writer grow.
Q. Then how would you handle a client who is sensitive to criticism with respect to their work, and they voice that opinion, or resist the changes you suggest?
A. That situation becomes tricky, and one that doesn’t have a single answer. I believe it depends on the suggested changes, of course. The duty of the editor is to help make the book become better, not to attack, or belittle the author. There has to be openness on the part of the writer with respect to an editor’s changes, no matter how large or small, to their manuscript from the time it is accepted for publication until it actually goes to print. If the editing process becomes a squabble fest, then the partnership between editor and writer hits a wall and growth is not possible, not for the writer, the editor and, most of all, for the fine tuning of the book.
Q. I queried my Prose Group for questions. One asked: What are the most common high-level errors you see, problems beyond those a competent line-editor would catch and fix?
A. Hmm… Difficult question, although a very interesting one. Every writer has his/her own quirks and blind spots. And every editor has his/her own pet peeves so where the two meet is a possible collaboration between writer and editor. Mistakes that do come up are often in word choices, in the direct translation of spoken language into written form, but higher than that is story construction and evolution of characters that sometimes get lost into the writing process.
Q. Here is another question from my Prose group: Do you have any suggestions regarding handling dialogue? Meaning, as a writer, it can sometimes be difficult trying to figure out when you should identify the speaker and when it’s okay not to.
A. There are no steadfast rules. I suggest reading it over with as much distance as you can get, and see if it is understandable. You can also use the help of someone external to see if the dialogue is understandable. Usually when it’s two people who are talking, you need less identifiers, but as soon as you get into a discussion with many people, then it can get confusing very fast, and then you have to get back to ‘said’ at every piece of conversation. I like things simple, so I’m an advocate of ‘said’ to be used all the time in conversations instead of alternate verbs like ‘sputtered’, ‘whispered’, ‘interjected’, ‘remarked’… ‘Said’ is an invisible word in the English language, and it doesn’t break the flow of conversation.
Q. Here is another question from the Prose group: I have a problem with tenses, most of it being present and future. Are there any rules to follow to get this right?
A. The only rule is that all your verbs should work together. If you start your narration in present tense, then all other verbs have to use present as their ‘reference point’. It’s not much more complicated than that. What do you mean with ‘most of it being present and future’? Do you write fiction with future tense narration? This can indeed be very difficult to achieve, and I don’t recommend it to anyone.
Q. Another member asked this: Most of my work in in first person POV. What are the most common mistakes made using this format?
A. First person narration has one main problem: the person telling the story has no distance from it, so a lot of information needed for the reader to understand the story lies beyond the boundaries of the ‘I’ experience. This can lead to convoluted lines of thought by the narrator in order to get the information through. In a mystery, or an adventure setting, the ‘I’ narrator announces from the start the protagonist is going make it through the story alive, otherwise he wouldn’t be telling it. One of the arguments for first-person narration is that it is more engaging for the reader. But it can also turn out completely the opposite, making the text seem self-absorbed and self-obsessed, and alienating the reader instead of engaging him. On a very practical level, an ‘I’ narration can easily suffer from ‘I’ overload, with every other sentence starting with ‘I’, and trying to fix that can lead to word gymnastics that are not necessarily much better.
Q. Here’s another question from the Prose group: Head hopping is an issue for me. How can I let everyone have a voice without someone pointing a finger at me about the head hopping subject?
A. Limit head hopping to clear scenes or chapters. It’s ok to have several voices in a story, but it has to be in clear chunks, otherwise it becomes confusing. I am not sure if it is advisable to let ‘everyone’ have a voice. When telling a story through the eyes, or the life, of one character, or maybe two, or three, it can make the whole thing more personal. So take the jump into one character’s head if that is how you want to tell your story, and don’t worry about leaving the thoughts of other characters out of the narration. The POV character could actually wonder what the others think; it could be a nice trigger for dialogue, for instance. You could also take a step back in the narration, telling the story of everyone at once, but then you can’t get into anyone’s head.
Q. What is your favorite genre to work on? And why is it/they your favorite(s)?
A. My genre of choice is science-fiction, in good part because it’s the genre I’ve been swimming in since I started reading. Looking forward and imagining what might be has a strong pull on me, and I enjoy exploring the visions of other authors. Another genre of particular interest to me is erotica, mainly because finding well-written erotica is a rare thing in this age of fan and slash fiction. My work as a photographer has been an exploration of sensuality for 15 years, now, and I am happy to explore the same theme in my writing and editing work.
Q. Off subject, you mentioned you have written books. What are they about and do you plan to publish any in the near future?
A. I have participated in the craziness of NaNoWriMo for the past five years. Through it, I’ve written five novels, all of which are in various states of completion. I am at a place in my writing where I feel I can finish each and hand them to an editor and, from there, get them published. I have in the works a science-fiction trilogy, a pre-historic epic, and a modern-day tale of enlightenment. I believe it’s this last one that will get re-worked and pushed towards publication. The title is ‘The Council of the Enlightened’. It follows a man who reaches the awakening and gets tangled up in the bureaucracy of a strange organization that monitors everyone who reaches enlightenment. It’s a theme that seems to crop up in my writing again and again, this quest for illumination. I’m also working on an ongoing poetry project ‘A Thousand Kisses’ that is growing organically at the rhythm of my inspiration.
Q. What do editors pay the most attention to? Spelling, grammar or how the story is written?
A. It all depends on the state the manuscript is in, and on the individual editor. The most important thing for me is the story. The rest is easily fixable, but a story problem needs a lot more work.
Q. A friend of mine said that editing is easy and editors are not necessary as long as I pay close attention to what I am doing. Is that true?
A. Editors give you an outside eye on your work, which is always a valuable input. At some point in the writing process (very early on I’d say), we lose the perspective needed to judge our own work dispassionately. Something we find amazing might actually be bad, or the other way around. That’s where editors can come in handy, to bring us back to the reality of our work.
Q. Here is yet another question from a Prose member: There was one thing that worked for me once (many years ago) when I was applying for a rather big job. They seemed to be having trouble making up their minds about me and someone else. I sent them some additional information (naturally, just trying to be helpful – and not at all pushy). It may have worked. They hired me. All publishers have a set procedure for submissions, and tell you not to vary an iota from it, but I wonder if that is true. For instance, I’ve added one story to my short story collection, and am sending it to the five publishers I sent the first 21 to. Just being helpful, letting them know there’s even more. They have a lot of submissions and names mean little to them, so my thinking is it doesn’t hurt to give them reason to remember my name. So, the question is: If you have something helpful to add to the submission you originally sent, should you send it?
A. This all depends on the specific publishing house, but I would say that it is not necessary. An extra story out of “21” is not going to tip the balance. If the rest are good, they are good, and if the rest are not good, then an extra story is not going to make a difference. I would like to think that all serious publishers care about stories when they are in the selection process. The extra nudge is not necessary, in my opinion.
Q. Here’s another Prose question: Can my self-published book be published by a notable publisher?
A. Most publishers have clear guidelines about submitting previously-published work, and these guidelines apply both to traditional publication and to self-publication. I would suggest you go through an agent to help with the process unless you are knowledgeable about how the system works.
Q. And totally going off the editing topic, I’d like you to name some of your favorite authors and tell us why you like them.
A. Well, I prefer science-fiction classics, books from Asimov, Clarke and Herbert, mainly because that is where I discovered the joy of reading. ‘Dune’ is one of the first novels I read on my own impulse in the first year of high school, and it shaped the way I construct stories now. Another favorite is Kim Stanley Robinson, who writes compelling ‘hard’ science fiction. I also love the work of Carl Sagan, who found a balance between science and poetic imagery that resonates with me very strongly.
L.M. David: Well, okay, that’s all the questions I have. Thanks, again, for doing this interview. As a side note, I’d like to add Rumi and I have been collaborating on a little erotica novelette entitled: “Distant Promises”. It follows a long-distance relationship between two people who both have their demons to battle, and who heal each other’s wounds through, for lack of a better description, mind-blowing sex. It’s now in the editing stage.
“Rumi” website editor’s link: