Okay, I know it’s not Friday, sorry I’m a day late, but I hope everyone’s having a wonderful 2016 so far. It’s been busy for me with a new book—On Lucky Shores—published and another Casebook nearly finished.
Talking about On Lucky Shores, I’d like to introduce you to my American editor, PC Zick who is an author, editor, all around star. As usual, I’ve put all her contact details at the foot of the interview so you can concentrate on the chat for now and ask questions later.
KJD: Hi, Pat, how you doing?
PCZ: Very well, Kerry. Great to meet you in person at last. Love these French cakes, what are they called?
KD: Er, cakes, I guess. Despite my claims, I don’t really speak the lingo here. Don’t tell anyone, will you?
PCZ: Pass me another of those delicious lemon ones, and my lips are sealed.
KD: Deal, help yourself. Only one though, the other five are for me. Now, before we get down to the authorly stuff, what’s the most exciting thing you’ve ever done?
PCZ: In 2004, I travelled to Morocco. I had a friend working in Casablanca, but I travelled in trains around the country-blond and alone. Quite an experience.
KJD: 2004? You must have been a teenager! But Morocco? Blimey. How intrepid of you. I’ve seen Midnight Express. I’ve never been further south than Bordeaux. I’m really impressed. There are probably loads of stories to tell—
PCZ: Wouldn’t you like to know, but as the saying goes, “What happens in Morocco …”
KD: Ah, but Casablanca. “Of all the gin joints …” Sorry, point taken. Good job neither of us is named Sam.
Now, I’d like to learn more about the real you. Let’s delve into your likes and dislikes. Imagine you’re planning a dinner party and have a choice of five guests, (you can chose from anyone in history living or dead). Who do you chose and why?
PCZ: John Lennon – because of his genius for writing lyrics that stay in my head and his rebel stance throughout his career. Tina Fey – because she cracks me up and because of her ability to write satire. I find satire the most difficult of genres to do effectively. Pat Conroy – because of his writing, of course, but also because of his damaged psyche that he parlayed into writing beautiful prose. Jeff Daniels – I admire his career, but also he’s my age, and we grew up fifteen miles from one another. I know we must have been at a grasser or two together, and it would be great fun to share memories. He also rented my mother-in-law’s house twenty years ago to film the movie “Sleep.” And finally, to round out the table for interesting juxtaposition, Mother Teresa. How did she find her inner peace that allowed her to shine love on the world?
KJD: Jeff Daniels rocks. Interesting stuff. Mother Teresa was beatified recently and is well on her way to being made a saint. A great guest for any dinner party, I guess. Great choice.
I mentioned in the intro that you are an editor. Can you give us a little background to your life as an editor?
PCZ: I began editing as a newspaper reporter on a small weekly. I had to wear many hats in that job. Then I started my own paper and became the editor-in-chief, which involves much more than actual editing. Then I took a job as editor-in-chief for two regional magazines in Florida. From there, I began editing fiction. There are different skill sets and styles when going from non-fiction to fiction, but I’ve always been a self-starter. Also, I believe editing teaches me things about my own writing.
KJD: Fascinating. And let me take the opportunity to thank you for doing such a great job editing my latest novel, On Lucky Shores.
[That’s three mentions of your new book. Enough already, Ed.]
PCZ: Sweet. You are welcome.
KJD: Without naming names, can you give me some examples of bad writing you have to deal with? And no, you’re not allowed to mention my new novel or my writing in any way, shape, or form.
[Thin ice there, buddy! Ed.]
PCZ: At the magazines, I hired many freelancers who knew nothing about writing but just wanted to write. I spent lots of time pulling out my hair. As the editor of fiction, there was one client several years back that I had to turn down after attempting to read nearly 100 pages of his manuscript. He wasn’t ready for an editor, and he needed to study the craft of his chosen genre. It’s tough sometimes to deliver my truth to someone, but I would have done this gentleman a disservice by taking his money on something that was nowhere near ready for publication.
KJD: I told you not to mention my manuscript!
Kidding, but I think I might have read his book, too. Teehee. What are the two or three most common writing mistakes you’ve found when editing a manuscript?
PCZ: I will attempt to keep this simple. If someone is serious about becoming an author, these are basics to learn. I see the same mistakes repeated often.
One, learn Point of View (POV). It will mark an author as an amateur if this is not done correctly. Read books that offer basic instruction on it and don’t submit to an editor until your POV is correct. Read other bestselling authors and study their use of POV. Sure, you can experiment, but you’d better know the technique before you do that.
Two, dialogue is another area that will label your fiction as amateurish. Learn the basics of writing it properly. Don’t try to emulate real speech exactly. Capture the essence. And stay away from dialect unless you’re an expert with a doctoral degree. I could go on but those are the ones I see most often, not only as an editor, but also as a reader.
KJD: What’s the best editorial advice you can offer to an author?
PCZ: Learn the craft of writing fiction—don’t leave that to your editor. If I receive a manuscript so full of troubled areas, it is very difficult to be an effective editor. I was teaching a workshop last year on writing—just a basic introductory course. When I talked about getting the craft and mechanics right before submitting to anyone, one of the students (an adult), said, “I thought that was the job of an editor.” Everyone else agreed that’s what they thought. So I say it loudly and succinctly: Learn the craft. If you don’t, no one, including your editor, will want to read what you’ve written.
KJD: Never a truer word. I’ve been writing novels, off and on, since 1985 and still consider myself a novice.
And now let’s move on to your writing. What is the first thing you do when starting a new novel? Do you research and write a detailed plot outline?
PCZ: I’m generally a pantser (fly by the seat of my pants). I write a few things down, but if I get the first line of a novel, then I’m off. I write the entire first draft, which I see as my outline. Then I go back and revise before letting anyone see it. Now as I get into the area of climax and resolution, I might start outlining a bit on a legal pad with a sharpened #2 pencil.
KJD: I’m pretty much like that myself—apart from the pencil part. I rarely resort to paper and pen. The word processor is both my friend and my enemy (if you see what I mean).
What excites you about writing and the writing process?
PCZ: That’s easy. I love telling stories. Ask anyone who’s ever sat on my porch drinking wine with me. I turn a trip to the grocery store into a story. I love it when the characters become real to me and their story pushes its way onto the page. I love researching. I guess I love just about everything. I even love editing my own work.
KJD: Tell me a little about your latest novel.
PCZ: I wrote Misty Mountain during National Novel Writing Month in November. I actually wrote a 40,000-word romance in one month. I’d never done that before, and I was quite pleased with the results. I didn’t have time to think about it. I just wrote the story and set a word count deadline for every day. I published Misty Mountain on January 19 of this year. Here’s the opening chapter:
LACY SCHUMACHER LIFTED A TRAY filled with hot chicken wings from the kitchen window countertop. When she turned to head to a booth in her section, “Your Cheating Heart” blasted from the stage at the front of the bar. Suddenly, her feet went out from under her when she slipped on a puddle of beer spilled by one of the customers. Chicken wings flew in the air, and the small cup of blue cheese dressing landed on top of her head and rode with her on her descent to the floor. A celery stick landed on her chest.
She heard the laughter all around her, making the humiliation complete. Then a hand appeared to help her to her feet. She felt the growing wetness on the back of her jeans from the beer as she stood and faced George. She pulled the container from her head. Blue cheese dripped down her long brown curls. He grabbed some napkins from a nearby table and started dabbing at her hair. That’s all she needed. They’d only been dating a few months, but now any doubt he had about her abilities to do anything gracefully were probably dashed.
“It’s all right,” she said, as she took the napkins from his hand. “I’ll be right back.” She headed for the bathroom, hoping she could clean up well enough to continue her shift at Misty Mountain, the bar where she’d worked for several years.
Misty Mountain hopped on a cold Thursday night in January, and Lacy longed to go home and soak her aching feet in a hot bath as she used a wet paper towel to dab at her hair. Too bad her house didn’t have a hot tub like so many of the rental cabins in the Smoky Mountains.
The economics of the town depended on the tourists whose visits to the mountains were as unpredictable as the weather during the winter months. Locals accounted for a fraction of the crowd most of the time, and the part-timers were scarce from Christmas to Easter. But tonight, the restaurant was enjoying the first busy night of January.
“It’s the winter festival in Blue Ridge,” Julie Cole had told Lacy when she’d come in for her shift a few hours earlier. “We could have a big crowd tonight.”
Julie and Lacy had started working at Misty Mountain about the same time several years earlier. Julie, more outgoing than Lacy, gravitated to bartending. She loved teasing and laughing with the customers. Lacy enjoyed her job most of the time, but she was quieter.
“The band from Nashville will draw a crowd, too,” Lacy had responded. “I can use the tips, and I bet you and Johnny could use the business.”
“That’s for sure. It’s been a slow month so far.” Julie had stopped washing glasses and put her elbows on the bar. “So have you two talked yet?”
Lacy tied a black apron around her waist. She knew Julie meant well, but she didn’t want to talk about George. Julie, and her husband Johnny, owned Misty Mountain, and George was Johnny’s brother. Even though she and Julie were good friends, she felt uncomfortable discussing George with her. Small towns bred familiarity—she knew that all too well.
Lacy shook her head. “It hasn’t come up.”
“It will. Especially if Becca ever finds out the two of you are dating.”
Becca, George’s ex-wife, lived in Nashville, where the two of them had moved twelve years earlier. She knew Julie was right. Maybe it was time to just end it with George before it went any further. It was inevitable that Lacy would be left heartbroken when Becca found out, and George inevitably succumbed to her demands. Even though they were divorced, they had a child together, and Lacy felt certain Becca would use that to manipulate George.
“George is buying into the bar,” Julie had said as she poured the pitcher of beer. “Did he mention it to you?”
Lacy shook her head. George had moved back to Murphy after his divorce, but his son still lived with Becca in Nashville, four hours away. Last time they’d talked about it, he said he wasn’t sure what he was going to do. He’d been handling the music end of the bar for a month, bringing bands in from all over the south for live music on the weekends. Maybe he’d decided to stay, even though it made seeing his son more difficult. He certainly didn’t need to tell Lacy about all his decisions.
“He sure has been bringing in some good music.” Lacy had said. “I guess he’s decided to stay in Murphy for a while.”
She’d been burned too many times in the past by men she fell for who hadn’t fallen for her in return, so she tried not to think about George’s sandy brown hair that fell softly over his collar or his brown eyes that sparkled whenever he talked about music and his passion for finding just the right sound. She didn’t think about his broad shoulders or the way he looked in his solid-colored flannel shirts rolled up halfway on his forearm. She most certainly didn’t think about those things or about the way he kissed her good night when he walked her to the door of her house. So far that was as far as the relationship had gone, and that was fine with her. She liked George and enjoyed spending time with him, but that was it. She didn’t need another relationship to turn out like the last one—with her boyfriend engaged to another woman.
KJD: Wow, so much information packed into such a short passage. I guess that’s down to your journalism background. Nice. Thanks for the sample. My readers will love it.
What’s next in your life?
PCZ: My husband and I are transitioning into a new era in our lives. He retired in December, and we moved to a cabin in the Smoky Mountains. We also have a home in Florida where we’ll live in the winter, starting next year. I probably will never retire. Right now, I’m between writing projects and finishing up some big editing jobs. However, I have books to write this year, and I plan on expanding my editing business by actually promoting rather than depending on word of mouth. You’ve not seen the last of me!
KJD: So glad to hear that. Pat, it’s been a gas. Thanks millions for visiting and thanks again for the wonderful work on my novel. Darn, what was it called again?
PCZ: Do you mean On Lucky Shores?
KJD: You got it. 🙂
[That’s it. This interview is over! Ed.]