#1: In the short time of twelve years you’ve had over 450 non-fiction and fiction magazine credits, many of them in national publications. To what do you attribute such prolificacy?
There’s no magic answer, but I think four personality characteristics help. I’m very stubborn, hard-working, goal-driven, and flexible.
- On being stubborn: in order to succeed as a writer, you have to realize how tough the business is–even now, I receive mostly rejections. You must be able to keep yourself going. Sure, I get upset and mad, but I also get more determined.
- On being hard-working: though life seems determined to keep me from getting to my desk, I’ve written 50 hours a week while staying at home with my children. Our family’s moved six times in the past seven years. During one move, I had four parenting magazine assignments due. I’m proud to say I’ve never missed a deadline, and almost always, I turn in work very early. I also constantly work on improving my writing and educating myself about the market.
- On being goal-driven: I used to keep 100 things submitted at all times–this included very short items, such as filler and greeting card material. I also set my publishing goals high. Instead of starting out my submissions to lesser-known publications, I start at the top.
- On being flexible: I’m always willing to adapt to a magazine’s needs. When “Family Circle” called, and an editor was interested in the 2,000-word piece I’d pitched, she only had space for a 500-word piece, but offered $1.50 a word. Yes, I took the assignment! And yes, I figured out a way to slice out the article’s best fourth of its material. (Did I mention the piece was due on my baby’s due date?)
Sometimes, even with an editor and magazine I know well, a rewrite is asked. When that happens, I never complain and do exactly what the editor asks. Usually, it’s a case of an editor not knowing precisely what they want. For example, once, my “ParentLife” editor asked me to make a Christmas piece “warmer and fuzzier.” I’ve learned to ask very specific questions and help editors articulate what they’re looking for.
#2: Please tell our readers about Manuscripts Makeovers and the type of literary services you provide.
From 1995-2003, I operated a critique company called Manuscript Makeovers with two of my best writing friends. (Our web site is still on-line, as well as a bio of myself.) We offered detailed line-by-line editing, plus our three overall letters that spelled out suggestions and never forgot to compliment a writer on everything they’d done well. Because of splitting profits three ways (and realizing writers couldn’t afford to pay more than we already asked) and our busy lives’ other commitments, we decided to disband. We considered our work “teaching,” and most of our clients were repeat customers, telling us they learned more with our critiques than with college writing courses. We worked on everything from historical romance novels, sports non-fiction books, and horror short stories to children’s short stories and picture books.
In that same spirit of encouraging and guiding new and established writers, I recently decided to start my own company and call it reVISION. In each writer’s computer file of their work sent to me, I enter line-by-line suggestions (including punctuation, sentence structure, word trimming, and story logic). I also write a separate, very detailed feedback letter. I am tactful and gentle as possible, yet give an honest evaluation and work to give the writer clear ideas on how to fix any problems. I spend far more time than what makes financial sense, but I consider this work more than my career–it’s a blessing and a “mission” to help other writers.
#3: Describe to us a typical working day in Lorri Cardwell-Casey’s life.
I wish I had a “typical” working day! We have four children, from age 18 down to a 2-year-old. They are always my priority. This includes the 30 loads of weekly laundry, shopping, cooking, and housework. Thankfully, everyone helps around here, and I have an incredibly supportive husband. He is a business consultant and when he’s not on a trip, his flexible career allows him to take over many of my duties. (Up until the past few years, he worked 60-90 hours a week as an executive, so this is a positive change for our family.)
Usually, around here, things are always lively–the doorbell and phone and instant-messaging are ringing, the dog’s barking, the baby’s squealing and running around like a little clown. I’m juggling whatever the day’s appointments are, the kids’ school and sport schedules, and just hoping to make it to my home office at some point. I’m lucky, because I can work despite a loud noise-level and can also work when I’m waiting at doctor offices or ball games, tuning out most things around me. I’ve came to realize through the years that if my life wasn’t this full, I’d have nothing to write about. Some of my best articles and stories came about because of the craziness of our life. And there will never be a perfect time for writing. You have to carve out your writing time, despite everything else going on in your life.
I also have to overcome my own health problems in order to work effectively. I have serious heart and lung problems, plus severe arthritis. None of my conditions are curable, but my doctors and I are constantly tinkering with medications to handle symptoms like fatigue, fever, and pain. If I have a writing assignment, I do it in stages. I work really hard on my good health days and rest more on days I’m struggling.
Ideally, I like to work early in the morning before everyone else gets up. That’s when my brain has always felt most at full capacity. But I’m learning that I work almost as well, whatever the time, if I’m feeling passion for something. That’s why I enjoy writing so many different types of material. It’s my personality to multi-task and jump around to different projects. I use my laptop upstairs in our living room or in our bedroom and work afternoons/evenings while doing other things. My new mantra is I’m doing the best I can. And doing far better than most people would in my situation! Do make yourself work hard, but don’t forget to give yourself any needed break.
#4: What are the most common writing mistakes, in fiction and non-fiction, you encounter as an editor?
I think fiction is far tougher to get right. Most people include too much. You can learn from the formula for children’s fiction: a quick beginning, a 3-part middle (boom, boom, boom), and a snappy ending. Some other tips:
- Read a great paragraph on page two or three. Would the story stand if you started there and ditched everything before this?
- I advise focusing upon your verbs. If you use active, specific verbs, you can snip out the unnecessary other stuff that bog down your story.
- Don’t tell the reader what already happened. If it’s important enough to include, show the reader as it unfolds in the most interesting, tightest wording possible.
- Check your manuscript for words like “have,” “had,” “can,” “could,” “would,” “was,” “were,” “that,” “just,” “really,” “very,” “been,” and “to be.”
- Reword and/or reorder sentences, so that you don’t need to start with phrases like “there was.”
- Develop your main character so completely, your reader is inside him and knows what makes him tick. Will your reader care enough about this person to want the problem to work out? Will your reader identify? Is your character too flawed? Or worse, too perfect?
- Make sure your subject has some twist upon the norm.
In non-fiction, you need to be as creative as you are with your fiction. No one wants to read an encyclopedia piece. Figure out how to pull in the reader, and keep her with you. Again, find a new twist on the norm, and you’ll probably make a sale. My non-fiction is probably 95% of my credits. Remember that if you want to be published, give yourself a head start. Submit non-fiction. Your competition is drastically reduced. Editors need non-fiction for the bulk of their publications.
The #1 worst mistake I personally think you can make in fiction or non-fiction is for your work to be boring!
#5: Let’s say a writer has just finished writing a book. What is the best, most efficient approach when editing one’s own work? Any helpful tips?
First, congratulations! Just finishing a book is a huge accomplishment! Now, it’s time to forget about it. What, you say? Forget about it? Yes. Print off your book. Put the pages in a file or a pile, and don’t read a single word for as many weeks as you can stand. Don’t open the computer file. After at least two weeks, preferably a month, schedule enough time to read the entire thing. Pretend it’s not yours. Where does your book ramble? Where does it get dry? Start jotting improvements on your hard copy, since it’s easier to spot needed changes than on the screen. Print off other copies for several trusted readers, people who will be honest. Ask them to note on the margins how they felt reading it. Ask them to be nice, because this is your baby, but also ask them why they would or why they wouldn’t buy this book. Start working on the imaginary book jacket material. This can also help you fine-tune things. If it’s tough to briefly describe your book, you probably have serious problems with the plot.
During the time when you’re letting your material “age” and not re-reading it, work on your possible markets. If you don’t have an agent, study the most current Writer’s Market and find publishers that seem appropriate to submit to. Decide what genre(s) your book falls into. At the back of WM, cross-reference those genre categories and make a list of publishers falling into more than one of these. Go to the library and look at their books. Study Amazon.com for their book listings. Google their editors’ names. Go to their web sites and print their guidelines. Study writing advice on how to write great cover and query letters. The more work you do in this phase, the lower your chances for a rejection.
When you feel your book is as good as you can make it, start submitting. If you’re patient with your own editing process and the submission process, you are a professional. If you are also impatient and thus, keep working and working and working, you will be a successful professional.
#6: You’ve written so many short pieces. Have you ever considered writing a full-length novel? Maybe in the future?
I’ve not only considered it, I’ve been attempting to do it for many years. Though I have material published in four books, I don’t consider those “my” books. I have several children’s novels either completed or in-progress and am actively submitting those whenever possible. (We’re living in our nineteenth home and eighth state, so I think I’ve done okay under these circumstances.) Most people don’t realize it’s harder to break into the children’s market than into the adult book market. That’s because there are still so many poorly-written children’s books out there. People assume it’s easy, and that’s what you do before you try the adult market. That’s my pet peeve, if you can’t tell. I’m often asked if I plan on writing for adults after I learn what I’m doing in the children’s field. But I happen to think writing for children is the highest calling possible and that only the “chosen” get to succeed at it. I respect and love kids and write “up” to them, not “down” to them.
As my children become older and more independent, I hope to spend more time on my novel-writing. And hopefully, more time promoting all the novels I’ve published!
I also have one adult novel I started many years ago, very loosely based upon my aunt’s murder. At first, our family thought she drowned. Because the material is darker, it’s tougher for me to focus upon it and jump into it and out of it with all the family hubbub around me. I hope to finish it and have a rather odd personal drive to do so. My mom tells me I started the novel at exactly the age my aunt was when she died, my hair was cut in a shag at that time, similar to my aunt’s style, and half the time, my mom calls me “Mary,” her sister’s name, because I look and act a lot like she did. One night when I was up late working on it, the electricity went out, but only in my office. I felt a strange, prickly sensation and my aunt’s spirit with me. It freaked me out, so I ended upstairs in my closet, writing on a legal pad, feeling less scared, nearer my husband and children. It just so happened that I was working on the death scene and trying to get it just right, so it seemed my aunt “won,” even though she died. I always took that experience to mean that I had done it well, and my aunt approved of my efforts. She had a famous sense of humor, and I think she got a good after-life laugh out of my scared skedaddle up our stairs and seeing me hover in that closet!
My mom and I both seem to be blessed (or cursed) with extra-sensory abilities. We know things about people we love. My mom and her sister were less than a year apart, their relationship very close. The night my aunt died, my mom was actually dreaming her sister was drowning (later, we learned at the exact time of death) and telling Mom things about her regrets in life, but how everything was going to be okay now. My mom still grieves, but feels peace because of that dream.
#7: For those interested in your literary services, what is the best way to get in touch with you?
Thanks for asking. I wish I had my web site established, but I don’t. If a writer would like a price quote and time estimate for a project, they can e-mail me the information at LORRICASEY@aol.com. I normally turn around my work in less than two weeks. If someone decides to send their work, I ask for an e-mail attachment (.txt or .doc) with work double-spaced, in 12-point font. Or if someone prefers old-fashioned snail-mail, I can do that, too, at:
800 Tomahawk Court
Marshfield, MO 65706 U.S.
Interview by Mayra Calvani