Monday, November 21, 2011

Meet Editor/Author Lauren Sweet

I first met Lauren Sweet when I was looking for an editor to help me with Lyon's Legacy. When I contacted her again for another project, she told me she had just published a book of her own. Naturally, I had to learn more. She graciously agreed to let me interview her for this blog.

Please tell us about yourself.

The basics: I was born and raised in New Jersey, spending my formative years with a book in my hand (or sneaked under the desk during math class). I tried my hand at writing romance novels in the ‘80s, took a twenty-year detour through the business world, and finally escaped to Alaska and earned a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from the University of Alaska Anchorage. I now live near Portland, OR, and am a freelance writer and editor. My other esoteric skills include astrology, tarot card reading, and the ability to do a perfect split.

Some things I love: Caramels, Muppets, office supply stores, Nathan Fillion, fudge, Stargate SG-1, sappy love songs, snarky humor, fountain pens, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, crystals, my Jeep, down comforters, my fabulous hundred-acre couch, Winnie the Pooh, flamingoes, and comfy clothes.

How did you get into writing and editing? Which came first? Which do you prefer?

Writing came before editing—the editing part was kind of accidental. I always like to know how things work, so when I started writing seriously, I read a lot of writing books and studied other people’s writing to figure out how stories are put together. Later on I joined a critique group. I learned an amazing amount from analyzing other writers’ works-in-progress and pondering not just what wasn’t working, but why it wasn’t working and how the problems could be fixed. I found I enjoyed that and had a talent for it, and people started asking me specifically to help them with their work. Eventually that led to getting paid.

I love writing and wish I could spend more time on it each day, but it’s also very satisfying helping other writers achieve their dreams. If I had to pick one or the other, though, it would be writing.

How did you get into freelance editing? What are the pros and cons of being a freelancer?

After I finished my Creative Writing MFA in 2008, I hoped to ease into full-time editing by getting an office job and freelancing part-time. But the economy crashed the second I hit Portland and there were no office jobs to be found, so I was thrown into the deep end of the swimming pool as far as freelancing was concerned. Looking back, I’m glad it happened that way, because otherwise I don’t know if I would’ve taken the plunge.

Pros: setting my own schedule, working at home in my pajamas, setting up my business and my services in a way that fits my goals and personality. Plus I get paid for reading some really awesome books!

Cons: uneven income, no holiday or vacation pay, having to provide my own medical insurance and other benefits, extra self-employment taxes, dealing tactfully with the occasional writer who doesn’t want to accept how much work their project needs.

Could you please explain the difference between developmental editing and copyediting? Do you find one type of editing easier or more enjoyable?

Developmental editing has to do with the craft of fiction writing—the way the story is told. Plot, story structure, character development, point of view, narrative tension, dialogue, setting, scene structure, tone—all the “big picture” issues.

Grammar, spelling, typos, word usage, and similar language issues are copyediting issues. If copyediting also includes correcting paragraph and sentence structure, clarity and flow of ideas, it’s usually called line editing.

There’s some overlap between these definitions, depending on the editor, and some editors will also address language issues in a developmental edit, but I normally don’t. Usually after a developmental edit scenes will have to be added, cut, or totally revised, in which case any line editing/copyediting has to be done all over again. Which means the client will have wasted their money having me do it the first time, and I don’t want that.

Copyediting is easier, but developmental editing is more fun.

What is Aladdin’s Samovar about?

It’s about a woman named Amber Polaski who buys an antique brass samovar that turns out to have a (very sexy) genie in it. She makes a wish to find her long-lost father, only to find that he’s on the run from the Mafia. People get shot at, shrink wrapped, and pounced on by a pack of Happy Puppies—and Amber is forced to defend herself against Mafia assassins with common household appliances. Plus, Jasper the genie turns out to be nothing but trouble—in more ways than one!

How did you get the inspiration for Aladdin’s Samovar?

When I was getting my Master’s degree in creative writing, I started a short story about Amber finding the genie in her samovar. (I wish I could remember what possessed me to put a genie in a samovar instead of the usual lamp, but I don’t.) I never finished the story, because in that version she had only one wish, and I couldn’t figure out what she wanted most.

I put the story aside and didn’t get back to it until three years later. At one point after writing the first version, I’d had a conversation with a classmate who said that since Amber had never met her father, her wish would be to meet him. (That was a head-smack moment for me; those things always seem so obvious once someone has pointed them out to you.)

Once I reread the story with that in mind, I wondered what would happen if Amber found her father, but he wasn’t what she expected—if he were, say, on the run from the Mob. I immediately realized that could be the jumping-off point for a novel—or even a series. And Aladdin’s Samovar was born.

Did you edit your own book, or did you hire another editor to look it over? What factors influenced your choice?

I have beta readers who help me pick up any inconsistencies in my work (and let me know if it’s really as funny as I like to think it is). But other than that, I’m my own editor—I’m a nitpicky perfectionist, so I’m usually more critical of my work than anyone else is.

I also have writing colleagues that I turn to when I’m stuck on a solution to a writing problem, who are kind enough to brainstorm with me and let me bounce ideas off them.

Who are your favorite authors and why do you admire them?

Hmm—so many writers; so little time… I love Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series, because her characters feel so real, and I always finish her books convinced that I know what it’s like to live in the 1700s. She also raises a lot of interesting questions about the way we look at issues like violence, gender, war, honor, marriage and religion, by voicing various points of view from people who lived in completely different circumstances than we do.

I also love Dorothy Gilman’s Mrs. Pollifax series—about a sixty-year-old widow from New Brunswick, New Jersey who becomes a CIA operative. Some of the books are kind of dated now, but the character is so much fun!

And a non-novelist—I’m a blatant worshiper of Joss Whedon, the TV/film writer who created Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly. He’s so deliberate (yet brilliant) in his storytelling—everything is planned out and he knows exactly where he’s going with the long-term story arcs in his shows. I also love his originality—he knows every potential cliché in the business and manages to throw a fresh, surprising twist on each one.

Are you planning to write other books?

I’m already working on the second book in the Amber and Jasper series. One of the characters from the first book, Iggy the homeless dwarf, was formerly a carnival performer. He drags Amber (and the genie) off to help him rescue a friend from his carnie days. There’s a murdered clown, buried treasure, a midget cowboy show, and a very scary ventriloquist’s dummy. Plus some unexpected romance, and hopefully a lot of laughs!

What do you like to do to relax?

One of my favorite things to do is kick back on my aforementioned couch with a cup of tea, a cozy blanket and a good novel (or a stocked-up Kindle!). When I’m on vacation, I can easily go through a book a day. I also ice skate—I take figure skating lessons and once in a while I do a competition—jumps, spins, spangly dress and all. And I love to sing Karaoke—mostly cheesy country songs.

What’s something people wouldn’t be able to guess about you just by looking at you?

I look like a little suburban cream puff, but inside I really want to be Xena the warrior princess, wear studded black leather and kick butt.

If you had three wishes, what would you wish for (besides more wishes)?

Jasper the genie is already smirking! (When he grants a wish, it rarely turns out the way you thought it would. He’s a trickstery kind of genie…)

Let’s see. I think I’d like a superpower—the ability to fly. Flying dreams are so cool…the reality would be amazing. My second wish would be that Dulce de Leche ice cream would no longer have calories (and no, Jasper, the no-cal version has to taste the same, or there’s no point). I guess my third wish would be that my Amber and Jasper books go viral and become runaway bestsellers. Either that, or that Michael Trucco would give up his acting career, throw himself at my feet, and become my Boy Toy. (Kidding!)

Or we could go with world peace, ending hunger, and cleaning up the Texas-sized island of plastic garbage in the middle of the Pacific ocean.

Aladdin's Samovar is available on Kindle for $2.99.

If you'd like to contact Lauren, please e-mail her at writerservicesATlauren-sweetDOTcom


Sara Backer said...

Cool interview! It's funny how ideas can simmer for years and jump out at you again with a fresh take. Good luck, Lauren!

jennymilch said...

I call Lauren the best editor in the world (a title she now shares with the editor at my publishing house) but still...I wish her all the best with her new book :)

writerservices said...

Thanks for the good wishes, Jenny and Sara! And thanks for coming by.


Anonymous said...

Such a fun interview, and I loved hearing about the editing process you embark on in addition to writing. Can't wait till you start writing book 2!

Site Meter