An Encouraging Note to Mistake Makers

“Nowadays most people die of a sort of creeping common sense, and discover when it is too late that the only things one never regrets are one’s mistakes.” ― Oscar Wilde

Some people come to the table with all of their research done. They’ve outlined every subplot of their future novel, they’ve studied the market, they’ve researched every aspect of publishing, and they’ve networked the hell out of their blogs.

I love those people. I’m impressed by them … but I’m not one of them. Even when I really, really try.

Instead I seem to learn best by making mistakes and having adventures.

Some mistakes I’ve made in life: marrying with doubts, wasting my time at NYU and

not having my book professionally edited.

Yes, most people are forgiven (and sometimes celebrated) for marrying and divorcing multiple times. Many of us think little of wasted nights at university, but everyone despises those writers who don’t pay to have their books professionally edited.

For a while (until I could afford to have my growing library of book titles edited) I kind of despised myself now and then.

But this is where the encouragement comes in:

Publishing mistakes can be fixed and sometimes in the fixing we learn a lot.

I consider myself lucky that I wrote my first book before I knew anything about publishing or else I wouldn’t have started. If I was told that I’d have to figure out how to blog or format documents I would have curled up in a ball despising myself all the more.

I published when a trusted friend dared me.

I published so that my children would have something to remember me by (they think I’m ridiculous for thinking of death all the time, but it’s in my blood).

A Historical Novel Society Surprise

When I started getting random good reviews I was pretty shocked (though I loved my book). When I got a really good review from the HISTORICAL NOVEL SOCIETY I hoped and prayed that my self-editing had been enough —  yet knew deep down that no one catches every typo or weird writing habit for themselves. I gave it a good try — and with each re-edit I learned a lot about editing.

The First Negative Review!

When the first negative review came in and mentioned that I randomly always used the verb “pat” when I meant “patted” the worries flooded in. This was just a weird glitch in my brain, but how many other glitches were hidden from me???

Honestly, I was thrilled that my self-edited early versions of THE HOUSE ON TENAFLY ROAD still managed to get mostly good reviews yet I knew I was selling myself  and my readers short and leaving myself open for the occasional vicious review about little typos and the word pat. I even felt some satisfaction when I found typos in traditionally published books. 🙂

Every writer comes to the point were they have to decide how devoted they are to their stories. After writing a six book series I knew — I  really, enthusiastically believed in my work (that’s fifteen years of my life right there!).

Having my series polished up by the great KEVIN BRENNAN at INDIE-SCRIBABLE EDITORIAL SERVICES this past year has been such an amazing experience and one that I’m not sure I would have appreciated as much had I handed over the books earlier because I was too insecure back then. Kevin is great at getting a feel for a writer’s work and stepped in with wonderful suggestions, comments and encouragement.

I won’t lie, I was incredibly relieved each time I opened one of his emails and read that he was enjoying the series and that the typos and occasional wonky wording were just that — occasional. On a professional level, the fixes were super important to me because I wanted all of my hard work to shine and flow. Fifteen years ago I didn’t even think I could write a short story and certainly didn’t believe  in myself enough to hire a REAL editor.

The point is, all those years ago I didn’t have the money, but more importantly I didn’t have the guts to consider myself a professional at anything. I did everything exactly how you’re not supposed to do it, but I’m still here. I’m more a writer now than ever. I’m more willing to defend my work and my life than ever.

I feel like things are working out just as they are supposed to.

I wrote a book.

I edited it myself and designed the first cover (more to come on that disaster).

My sister told me that writers had to blog. I didn’t even know what that was.

Through blogging I met Kevin and never even thought about his editing services — until the right time and then I knew without hesitation that it had to be him. It was all meant to be, in my humble opinion.  The thrill of sharing the series with a writer I admire who happens to be an excellent editor has been one of the highlights of my life.

How often are you afraid to begin things?

I get it. I really do. How often have you turned back after making painful mistakes? I get that too. But if you have a dream, don’t give up on yourself too early (and it’s probably always too early to give up). Your path is your path. Winding roads aren’t always a bad thing.

Just the other day I got the following review for THE HOUSE ON TENAFLY ROAD:

“I saw that this book was close to 600 pages. That didn’t daunt me, but I wondered if I would be engaged in such a long book? I was. For 3 full days. I really enjoyed The House on Tenafly Road. It is an interesting story with well written characters I came to care about. The Civil War history is well researched and accurate. There were many eye opening and fascinating facets of the Civil War, and the military in general, that I found interesting. I liked how the character of Katherine became a major one, and following her domestic life as a military wife in a then-remote outpost (Arizona) was excellent. I commiserated with her in the awful heat; pregnant, lonely and struggling in a barely livable hut. The all too real issues of war crimes, Native American relations, pain, family stress and addiction were woven seamlessly throughout this enjoyable read. One thing I will say; unlike almost all Kindle books I have read, this one had hardly ANY typos. There are some books that are so badly transcribed that they are almost unreadable…thoroughly frustrating and annoying. Not this book. Flawless and that made reading it truly enjoyable.”

So it took a while but I did it and you can too. No matter how off track you get. No matter what you don’t know yet. Just love what you do. Love yourself too –even when you make mistakes. They are often hidden gifts.

P.S. I obviously HIGHLY recommend INDIE-SCRIBABLE EDITORIAL SERVICES

 

Adrienne Morris is the author of

The Tenafly Road Series

The Tenafly Road Series

“Characters so deep you follow them into the abyss, hoping to come out unscathed, but never returning the same. They will haunt me forever.”

QUOTE: “If you want to tell people the truth, make them laugh, otherwise they’ll kill you.”

“I think that God in creating Man somewhat overestimated his ability.” Oscar Wilde

When you write historical fiction people ask these types of questions: Did the Apache men really cut the noses off of women suspected of cheating? Did some people really get addicted to morphine after the Civil War? Did some people really have wounds that wouldn’t heal? Did people really know about homosexuality?

The other day I mentioned stuff I didn’t feel like writing about. I have strong opinions, but like a quiet life. A few years back when I started writing Weary of Running about straight- as- an- arrow West Point Cadet Buck Crenshaw I had no idea that the US would be embroiled in sexual politics on such a grand scale so when a celibate, gay-leaning missionary wrote himself into my story I found it mildly curious. How would Buck and the other characters deal with him?  As anyone who’s read my first book knows, I pride myself on creating flawed characters. I wouldn’t be able to relate to anyone else.

Now before someone gets all excited when I say the gay character is flawed, let me ask: is he human? Let me answer: yes, he’s human so he’s flawed. I hate witch-hunts against gay people. I hate witch-hunts against Christians. I hate false narratives that keep us at each others’ throats. I don’t want a Christian, a Muslim, an atheist, a feminist or a gay activist forcing anything upon me. Having said that I’ve lived a pretty cosmopolitan life and have friends who would define themselves as at least one of the things I just listed. We all agree to disagree on certain points.

Once I mentioned this celibate gay character to an artsy straight woman who thought she knew everything about gay people because she worked in the theater. I wasn’t going to get into a gay trivia contest with her, but it alerted me to the fact that I better start researching how 19th century people handled gay-ness. We all love to go on about prudish Victorians, but even when researching straight sexuality back then you’re immediately struck by the sexually transmitted diseases, divorce and prostitution. Flaws, flaws, flaws.

So here’s what I discovered:

Washington Roebling, one of my very favorite engineers (built the Brooklyn Bridge) felt awful when a classmate of his fell in love with him (and who wouldn’t fall in love with Washy?). The love-sick student killed himself when Washy explained to him that he preferred women. The whole thing was handled discreetly. Washy didn’t express the least bit of hatred toward his friend–just a sad sympathy.

Homosexual behavior was alive and well in the 19th century. Walt Whitman had no trouble finding young, working class men to carry on affairs with. No one ran him out of town either–but then he handled things discreetly.

In England in one town they considered closing the parks at night so gay men wouldn’t have sex there, yet in general anti-sodomy laws were hardly ever enforced.

Why would that be? I think last night I discovered the answer in a stodgy academic journal: Victorians were about discretion. Is this just another word for hypocrisy? I’m not sure but I get it. Here’s their reasoning: Sodomy goes against God’s laws (as does adultery, theft, lying etc). We all struggle with sin, but to expose it (sodomy) gives it a force, a power to contaminate young people and weak-minded women (same goes for dime-store trash novels and modern video games?). Best to ignore it, unless someone makes us deal with it.

Enter Oscar Wilde. Everyone KNEW he was not heterosexual (even when he married). He dressed and behaved in what the Victorians believed was a very stereotypically gay way. Victorians weren’t stupid. They knew what Oscar got up to. They whispered about and laughed. They may have judged him, but they loved his wit. He knew all the best people and everyone wanted him at a party.

Enter disgruntled aristocratic father of one of the young men Oscar slept with. This man wasn’t happy. He warned his son to stay away from Oscar. He warned Oscar.

Back in the day, a male prostitute’s word was seen as suspect. No court would convict a man of sodomy based on a prostitute’s words. In fact a court would prefer not to mention the word sodomy. Oscar thought to nip the whole thing in the bud. Bad move.

The Victorians could handle his “deviant” behavior as background noise, but once the papers turned it into a scandal the nails were hammered. The sin was the contamination. the widespread, open discussion of Oscar’s sexual encounters–and the off-the-cuff, defiant way in which Oscar made fun of social norms in court. The tide turned against him then.

In my upcoming novel there is no grand call for gay rights. There is no gay-bashing either. The character’s sexuality is background noise. He is more than his desires. He is more than a stereotype used to illicit some political agenda–left or right. He’s a struggling human who trusts God more than I do and that’s why I find him interesting.

For more about societal norms and Oscar Wilde:

SCANDAL< VICTORIANS AND THE FALL OF OSCAR WILDE

BEING GAY IN NINETEENTH CENTURY AMERICA

“Nothing Succeeds Like Excess.” Oscar Wilde

Chronic Chinamania (incurable)

Chronic Chinamania (incurable)

Everyone LOVED blue and white china!

http://www.washingtonpost.com/gog/exhibits/chinamania-whistler-and-the-victorian-craze-for-blue-and-white,1168679.html

http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smithsonian-institution/chinamania-now-open-at-the-freer-gallery-388091/?no-ist

http://www.victorianweb.org/art/design/ceramics/haslam1.html

A Word on Fashion

Symphony_in_flesh_color_and_pink_by_JM_Whistler,_1871-74

“……all the most ungainly and uncomfortable articles of dress that fashion has ever in her folly prescribed, not the tight corset merely, but the farthingale, the vertugadin, the hoop, the crinoline, and that modern monstrosity the so-called “dress improver”[i.e.bustle] also, all of them have owed their origin to the same error- the error of not seeing that it is from the shoulders, and from the shoulders only, that all garments should be hung. -Oscar Wilde, The Woman’s Dress 1888-1890