Beta Readers are Wizards

Something magical happens when I send a draft to a beta reader. I’m not talking about the feedback I will receive once the beta reader has read it, or how useful it can be to let the text rest for a while before going over it again – I mean the very instant that mail is sent or that envelope is posted. It’s like waving a wand and abracadabra: New eyes! Typos pop up from the text like mutated gophers. Purple prose wash onto a beach of shame like so much flotsam and jetsam. Paper doll characters bloat and explode upon the page – setting themselves up for execution or refurbishing. Stilted dialog sticks  out like thorns, and logical flaws make themselves known in deafening roars.

It’s hard to explain, but knowing that your words are being read by others makes a difference in how you read them yourself. I’m not saying that I’ll spot every little flaw myself before the wizards get a chance to point them out, but the knowledge of those eyes makes a remarkable difference.

An Obelus Wheeze is in its third round of being read by new eyes – the final round before I make the finishing touches and send it off to proofreading. Each round is different and serves a purpose in the editing process.

  • Round one: I send the first draft to a trusted friend who is also a writer. I almost feel sorry for her for doing this – the first draft is the text in a fetus stage, not something that is ready for the world. But because of the magic of beta readers it serves its purpose, and I am grateful for early feedback if there should be any major plot holes to see about.
  • Round two: A revised draft is sent to another trusted friend who has an eye like a magnifying glass. It is almost annoying how good she is at pointing out anything awry – from characters acting out of character to displaced descriptions of nature. She makes me feel dumb as shit, and I love her for it.
  • Round three: After implementing changes based on feedback from round two, I send the text to a bigger selection of beta readers – six people (this time), to be precise. At this stage, I pretty much consider the book done, what is left to do is merely minor tweaks – or so I hope. I will, of course, take any feedback to heart, but what I’m crossing my fingers for are thumb ups and hell yeahs.

I find that editing a book is a fluid process that takes its own sweet time. I spend more than twice the amount of time editing the text than I do writing the first draft. I don’t have a count on how many times I go over the text – in the end there are far more drafts behind the final result than the ones the beta readers get to read. And in the end the book would not have been the same without the wizards.

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Once Upon a Time in the North

There’s one question in particular that keeps popping up more often than others in regard to my writing: What made you write a western? And then there’s a string of follow-up inquiries: What inspired you? How did you come up with the idea for the book(s)? Have you always liked westerns?

A lot of folks seem puzzled about my passion for the Old West. I can’t blame them. I realize it must seem odd that a 30-something year old Norwegian girl, who has never set foot upon a prairie, delves into an era long gone and far away from the fjords and glaciers of her home country. Frankly, I find it hard to explain, but I’ll give it a whirl.

Up until a few years ago my interest for the Old West was a fleeting fascination that manifested itself at irregular intervals. It was kind of like a big ole fish with a double revolver rig and broad brimmed hat that kept to the murky shallows, out of sight, but ever present, occasionally breaking the surface with a whoop and a holler.

As a child, I was far more interested in constructing swords out of sticks than anything that went “pang” or “boom” or “pew, pew, pew.” I didn’t give a hoot about horses, actually: I found them downright intimidating. The closest I got to a stable was a pink and white plastic house for my My Little Pony ponies.

I read the Lucky Luke comics and watched the cartoons, he was the cowboy of my childhood. I saw the Terrence Hill movie Lucky Luke at the cinema in 1991. I thought it was the coolest thing ever, although I was somewhat distraught about Luke being blonde in the movie.

A few years later Bad Girls came out, and the next year: The Quick and the Dead. Women badasses! Huzzah! I watched Dances with Wolves on VHS with my mother. My grandfather gave me Tom Sawyer to read. I was fascinated, but I was a kid and my fascination turned to the next cool thing quicker than you can reload a Schofield.

I played the video game Gun when it came out, and my fascination for the western genre was again revived. I discovered the work of Sergio Leone and watched a handful of his movies. I absolutely loved them. This was at the time when I studied literature. My main interest was works from the 19th century, but “all things western” had yet to enthrall me.

It wasn’t until the video game Red Dead Redemption came out that my fascination for the western genre would yet again bloom and finally: not shrivel. This reclaimed fascination spurred my interest to delve further into the genre.

Right in the middle of this cowboy daze I was given a book about writing from a writer friend. At the time, I had started outlining a fantasy novel. I put it aside, figuring a short, action-packed western would be a better place to begin the project of writing a book. What was meant to be a test, to see if I could write a book-length text, turned into my main writing project.

Lee came to life from an outlaw costume I was constructing for myself (preparations for Halloween). I drew a sketch of the attire and started thinking up a name and background story for the character. The skeleton of a story emerged. The first half of that story became Embers at Dawn.

I think that’s about a good a description as I can give y’all about the whys and hows of the uprising of my western fascination. I’ll save details on research, musings on the western genre and further ramblings from an author’s life for later.

Pssst…

Embers at Dawn is out on trade paperback. You can buy it at my CreateSpace store (use discount code HKYX49PQ to chop 20% off the price – the offer lasts ’till the end of the month) or find it on amazon. Kindle version is just around the corner.
As y’all can see: it’s been approved by genuine crazy cats.