Blogworthy

I’ve fallen into a weird sort of alter world when it comes to reading. Every book I pick up now seems to be a reflection of other recently read books, or a continuation of a series, no matter who the authors are and how far apart the books were published.

For example, two books I read one right after the other were of the “doctor in peril” genre, with both doctors being plastic surgeons who used the money they made from fixing the faces of rich women to fix various problems of poor kids, such as repairing a cleft lip. In both cases, the doctors were framed for murder by someone who misunderstood them and misidentified them and wanted revenge. Oddly, the doctors in both books had a similar name — in fact there were only a couple of letters difference between the names. A third book I read about that same time was of the same genre, but the doctor wasn’t a plastic and had a completely different name.

I’m not sure how that happened — I certainly didn’t go searching for doctors-in-peril thrillers; mostly when I am at the library, I pick books at random, either because I like the title or it’s by an author I can bear to read. (Though there aren’t any authors I truly like, there are way too many I can’t tolerate.)

The next time I got a batch of books, two of them were about women who “adopted” a fertilized egg from someone who wasn’t going to use them, and so they gave birth but the child wasn’t their genetic offspring.

In that same batch of books, was the story of an athlete who had his career cut short through bad luck. Years later, he found out he had a child. He had donated sperm, and the clerk in the sperm bank wanted his baby, so she got inseminated.

A few weeks later, I read a book in a series about an athlete who got his pro career cut short because of bad luck. Throughout the story, he kept referring to the son he had recently met, a son who’d been conceived by the clerk in a sperm bank. I kept nodding my head remembering that I had read the previous book in the series where he discovered his son, when suddenly I realized the book where the athlete had discovered his son was a completely different series, written by another author in completely different genre. (One was a paranormal/horror version of a fairy tale; one was a thriller. And yes, my reading does range that widely since I read whatever comes my way.)

Every book I read now seems a continuation of all previous books. Normally, I’d consider this to be a case of having misspent my life reading. I’ve read tens of thousands of books — all genres of fiction and all subject matters of non-fiction — so almost all books are familiar in some sense. There aren’t many books that tell completely new stories. (I tried to do that with my books, and not surprisingly, people who read sporadically find them hard to read, while people who read a lot seem to enjoy them.) And yet, these books that seem a continuation of all others are ones I’ve picked up in recent weeks.

It’s not a big deal — it’s certainly not creepy enough to get me to stop reading — but I do find the experience blogworthy.

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Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator

A Key to Copyediting and Proofreading

Someone asked me today how long it takes me to write a blog, and I’m sort of embarrassed to admit it takes me about three hours from start to finish. I read once that a blog should take no more than twenty minutes to write, but that doesn’t make sense to me. How can anyone write anything of worth in so short a time, especially if a bit of research is involved? Still, three hours seems excessive, though to be honest, at least half of that time is taken up with editing and proofreading.

Proofreading is a problem for all of us, whatever we write — novels, newsletters, blogs. Our brains are structured to see what isn’t there, to fill in the blanks, to rearrange letters and words to make sense. I’m ssre you hvae seen a demontrasion lkie tihs keybefroe, a clveer gcimmik ot sohw you waht I am takling aoubt — that the brain can read jumbled words as long as the first and last letters are in the right place. (At least to a certain extent — sometimes it takes a while for us to make sense of what we are seeing.) Our brains are trained to see whole words. If we have to read each letter, laboriously spelling out the word, by the time we have finished reading two or three words, we would long since have forgotten what we’d already read.

This ability to read works against us when we write, or rather when we edit or copyedit because it’s so hard to pick out misspelled words even with a spell checker, especially if the misspelling is a real word in itself. Tow and toe, for example. Or point and paint. Even worse, we see the center of things. Our brains fill out the edges, and so often, that’s where we find errors — on the top two lines of a page, the bottom two lines, the first and last word on a line.

I know a few keys to improve your copyediting. The best way, of course, is to get someone else to do it. We know what we want to say, so our text makes sense to us no matter how convoluted it is, but so often fresh eyes find mistakes we missed every time we read it. If you have to do your own copyediting, you can work from the end of the piece to the beginning — that way you don’t get caught up in the brilliance of your own rhetoric. You can pay particular attention to the edges of your text, doing the edges as a separate edit, or you can temporarily make the text a different size. If you normally use 12pt Times New Roman, switch to 14 or 16 point. That way the words that were at the edges of the page have been moved to a different place, which makes it easier to see mistakes. (You have to change the size of the font, not merely zoom to a larger view because zooming doesn’t change the placement of words.)

Using these copyediting suggestions, I can improve my text and make sure there are few errors, but doing the whole thing still takes me three hours. No wonder I don’t have time for working on my novels!

[Click here to find out Why Mistakes Happen]

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Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Writing (And Reading) On the Edge

A friend recently taught a class about writing on the edge — writing at the edge of possibility and freedom; exploring the shapeless, the uncertain, the indefinite and the incoherent; accepting the endless, the multiple, the fragmented, the collaged, the ambiguous, the disjunctive, the long forgotten realms of the mysterious and the wild.

Her point was that we are addicted to easy reading as something to lull our senses and to provide respite from our daily lives, and that challenging ourselves to move beyond that changes our perspective and makes us better able to deal with the increasingly complex world.

I would have liked to take the claVenice Beachss since it seemed a good way to discover unreached recesses of my mind, but the 1000-mile commute would have been a killer. Besides, although I would like to explore the long forgotten realms of the mysterious and wild, I’m not a fan of complicated writing. I like books that are easy to read but that have depth or something new for me — a new idea, a new place, a new insight into life or humanity or something. If it’s just a rehash of the same old stories and ideas, I get depressed.

Once a long time ago, I gave my mother a stack of books I had finished reading, and the language in one of them dismayed her. I didn’t know what she was talking about, couldn’t remember any such passages, and said so. She gave me an appalled look and responded, “I’d hate to think that any daughter of mine was so naïve as to not know what the words meant or so jaded that they didn’t bother her.” I just shrugged and said, “I don’t read words.”

That really shocked her, and I could never make her understand the truth of it. I don’t read words when I read a novel. I read by some sort of osmosis. Reading words is dreary task, especially if the passages are complicated and not easy to understand.

The truth is, as my friend suggested, I do read to lull my sentences. (I mean senses, but I left the typo because . . . what a cool faux pas!) For me, the whole point of books being easy to read rather than convoluted and incomprehensible is not so much to find a respite from daily life but a way of running toward the truth, toward real life, and the lull provides a space so the hard work can go on beneath the surface. (The story and words keeps my conscious mind busy and frees me for the important task of inner exploration and assimilation.)

During one horribly depressing time in my life back in my late twenties, I couldn’t stand to read anything that didn’t have a happy ending, so I descended further and further into easy reading — ending up with Harlequin romances. And then I really got depressed! It took me about three months to make the correlation with the books I was reading and my suicidal thoughts, and when I did make the connection, I gave up reading for several months until I found a bit of equilibrium. Now, all books give me that same “harlequin” feeling, which is why I can’t read any more. There is nothing in books but the easy reading. There is nothing to fill the space created by the lull.

Maybe someday when grief is no longer defining my life, I’ll be able to read again, but for now, I’m finding that the lull created by not reading is as important as the lull once created by reading.

Meantime, I’ll see if I can find my own edge and then figure out how to write beyond it to see what lurks in the wilds of my mind beyond the lull of daily life.

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Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Follow Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.