Meet Mary DeMuth & Brad Whittington
Today launches the first of four parts. It's something called a tag team interview with Mary DeMuth and Brad Whittington as they talk about their writing life. I'll add a few comments at the end from my acquisitions editor's perspective.
First, let's meet these two authors:
Mary E. DeMuth has been crafting prose since 1992, first as a newsletter editor, then as a freelance writer, followed by a fiction and nonfiction author. Mary’s articles have appeared in Marriage Partnership, In Touch, HomeLife, Discipleship Journal, Pray!, Bon Appetit, Kindred Spirit, P31 Woman, and Hearts at Home. For two years she penned a lifestyle column for Star Community Newspapers in Dallas (circulation 100,000). Mary’s books include Ordinary Mom, Extraordinary God (Harvest House, 2005), Sister Freaks (Time Warner, 2005, one of four contributing authors, Editor Rebecca St. James), Building the Christian Family You Never Had (WaterBrook, 2006), Watching the Tree Limbs, and Wishing on Dandelions(NavPress, both novels releasing in 2006). Mary loves to speak about the art and craft of writing as well as the redemptive hand of God in impossible situations. She’s spoken in Munich, Vienna, Amsterdam, Portland, Dallas, Seattle, and San Jose. A thirty-eight-year-old mother of three, Mary lives with her husband Patrick in the South of France. Together with two other families, they are planting a church.
Brad Whittington was born in Fort Worth, Texas, on James Taylor’s eighth birthday and Jack Kerouac’s thirty-fourth birthday and is old enough to know better. He lives in Hawaii with The Woman. Previously he has been known to inhabit Texas, Ohio, South Carolina, Arizona, and Colorado, annoying people as a janitor, math teacher, field hand, computer programmer, brickyard worker, editor, resident Gentile in a Conservative synagogue, IT director, weed-cutter, and in a number of influential positions in other less notable professions. When he isn’t writing he does what he can to impact the productivity of his fellow workers in the telecommunications industry. He is greatly loved and admired by all right-thinking citizens and enjoys a complete absence of cats and dogs at home. Brad won the 2004 Christy Award for Best First Novel, Welcome to Fred.
Tag Team Interview from 12/20/05
Ultra-cool and fatally hip authors Mary DeMuth and Brad Whittington take a break from the holiday madness to trade questions about editing, the limbo-time between submitting a draft and seeing the book on the shelf, and the black art of promotion. Through the beauty of the Internet, they chat across 11 time zones, Mary in her cozy writing corner in southern France and Brad from the palm-tree shade of his lanai in Honolulu.
BradW: So, Mary, how’s the weather in southern France this Christmas?
MaryD: Well, Brad, it’s much colder than Hawaii, I can tell you that much.
BradW: Shucks. I thought with all that Mediterranean influence it would be balmy. It’s 9am, sunny and in the mid 70s here.
MaryD: Dang. Nope it’s zero here (Celsius for all you Fahrenheit folks out there). So, aren’t we supposed to chat about writing? Like editing? You wrote the Fred books. Did the editing process get easier with each book?
BradW: I had certain expectations when I started on Welcome to Fred.
MaryD: Like that you would win a Christy?
BradW: Heh. Actually, at that time I didn’t even know what a Christy was. I’m curious to hear the experiences of other authors, but I expected there to be a lot of interaction between the editor and me as I developed the story. That didn’t happen.
MaryD: It didn’t happen with me either. I was on my own.
BradW: As I educated myself about publishing, I discovered that kind of editing died a long time ago.
MaryD: I suppose that’s why Self Editing for Fiction Writers is a good book to have.
BradW: Yes, I read a book on self-editing about 20 years ago. Don’t remember the title, but it was very helpful. Before then I didn’t have a clue where to start. Welcome to Fred originally started as 5 short stories. Robin Hardy gave a copy to Gary Terashita. He first contacted me in October 2000, I signed a contract in March 2001 and in July 2001 I was in Atlanta for a trade show and he drove down. We talked about how I would turn 5 stories into 3 novels. Then I went back to Honolulu, knocked out 3 chapters and sent them to him to see what he thought. It took weeks to get an answer and it was basically, “Don’t try to get fancy, just stick with your style and tell your story.”
MaryD: How did that make you feel?
BradW: Relieved, actually. I was feeling the pressure to write something incredible and I didn’t think my own style was incredible enough. I made some changes and sent it to him and never got any response, so I just plowed ahead and wrote the thing. As I went along with no input I adopted the perspective that it was my job to be the expert at writing and the publisher’s job to get the book out. So I quit waiting for feedback and set out to write the best book I possibly could on my own.
MaryD: So, then you sent Fred to Broadman & Holman Publishers and waited.
BradW: Yeah. I waited, expecting some back and forth editing. However, what happened was that many months later I got the typeset pages to proofread.
MaryD: Really? Just like that?
BradW: There were very few changes from what I had originally written. We haggled over a few things and that was it.
MaryD: Well, there you go.
BradW: But I expect it’s different for non-fiction. You have a non-fiction book out (Ordinary Mom, Extraordinary God) and one due January 2006 (Building the Christian Family You Never Had) and a novel coming out in March 2006 (Watching the Tree Limbs). How much editing did you endure for your books?
MaryD: Three different ways, three different houses. First book: talk it through on the phone, get the final typeset pages. Second book: Edits written in the document with things like [Author: Did you want to use this word? This is a stupid word. Use mine instead.] No, not really, but you get the picture. Third book: No edits at all on the manuscript, all notes written out in a separate doc.
BradW: Yes, I get those “why the heck did you use that word” questions, too. The only edited manuscript I’ve ever seen is the typeset page proofs with some minor things marked here and there. I sit down with The Woman and have her read the entire book out loud from the page proofs while I read what I submitted, to see what edits they made that they didn’t tell me about.
MaryD: Oh. That’s hard. They should have a track changes document.
BradW: Yes, but they barely change a thing I’ve written, except for normal copyediting. I will find the occasional word they’ve changed that I make them change back.
OK, that's it for part one. Tomorrow the conversation will continue.
I want to make one comment about the editing process within book publishing. Many writers have the false expectation their editor will totally transform their half-baked writing into a masterpiece of prose. Bottom-line profits and sales are what drives publishers. Most editors carry a large volume of books to shepherd through their publishing house. If they take hours to transform a manuscript, imagine what happens to the other books in their responsibility. Those other books don't move and get stuck in the process. Publishers look for excellent writing then they can maximize the use of their editors and move the projects toward publication. If the writing isn't excellent, then the publisher will pair a collaborator or ghostwriter with the author in the early stages of the process to again make the best use of their editorial staff. Those days of Max Perkins, the legendary editor who took pages from an author and transformed them into bestsellers, are gone. Brad and Mary's editorial experience isn't too much different from mine. The lesson for every writer is to turn in the best possible proposal or manuscript from the beginning.
Hurry back tomorrow for part 2 as the tag-team interview continues.