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One Writer's World

Manuscript Preparation

Manuscript Preparation
 
It pains me to say this, but writers don't read. There are times when I don't either, but especially in the winter months, January and February, when submissions open for the new Crime Spell Books anthology, I'm reminded that writers don't read guidelines. Maybe they do, and just don't follow them. Either way, I'm confronted with stories that will require extra effort before I can settle down and enjoy them. Hence the topic of this post: manuscript preparation.
 
The author is expected to put his/her name at the top of the page, either left or right hand side, with home address, email, and telephone. And yes, the word length. Sounds simple, doesn't it? But many writers just send us the same story they've prepared for the Al Blanchard Award contest, which requires there be no personal information on the ms. We get the story right after it's submitted to the Al Award committee. We should be flattered, but we're not. We want the personal information. If it's not there, we have to pull the email address from the email inbox, and then hope we never need the snail mail address or telephone number. You will never get a phone call when we tell you we love love love the story but could we talk about page 9?
 
On to paragraphing. Did you notice how I chose to paragraph this page? With single-line spacing, the additional line between paragraphs is quite noticeable. But even with double-spaced lines, an additional line would clearly indicate a new paragraph. Don't do this. Please, don't do this. It's wrong. It is not standard text set-up and it requires the editor, me, who by now is not your friend, to redo the set-up. Learn to use the paragraph function on your computer, and set the first line to 0.5. It will then correctly indent each paragraph automatically, like the following paragraphs. And the spacing will also be correct because you have also changed the spacing from single to double.
 
     If there is a break in the text, center a hashtag or three asterisks in the center of that line, and begin a new paragraph on the next line. It's easy. (But not on this website, which won't allow me to have two different kinds of paragraphing.)


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     The same is true for margins. Set the margins at one inch, top, bottom, and both sides. It looks clean and tidy, and leaves room for notes, comments, or a simple checkmark indicating that the reader likes something here enough to mark it. And you do want the editor to make complimentary notes so leave adequate margins. All these functions—paragraph indent, line spacing, and margins—are located on the same page if you go to Format/Paragraph.
     Include page numbers. I like them at the top on the right, though you can put the page number at the bottom. Standard formatting places them at the top right-hand corner in the header, beginning on the second page, along with your last name and a brief title, but they can also be on the left. Don't put them in the center or at the foot.
     Last, and definitely still important despite its placement, never ever switch fonts for any reason. Use a standard font, preferably Times New Roman, 12 pt, and stick with it through the whole story. I'm going to have to change it anyway, but the reason for choosing Times is the ease of reading hundreds of pages. Your choice of font may not be to my liking, and I don't want to have to change it before I start reading. So, please, stick to Times 12 pt, or another standard such as Garamond, and this editor will thank you.

     And when you're done, say so; otherwise, if you have any kind of unsettled ending, the editor might wonder if a page is missing. Harry may get away with murder, but be condemned to guilty misery forever among his family members. If that's the ending, let us know.


The End

 

Craftsmanship in All Things 

 

January 11, 2024


 
I've been thinking a lot about craftsmanship lately, about the little things done well that we may not notice but that enhance our lives. We can walk through out day so fixated on the important stuff of our lives that we miss the best part of what's around us. My father once took me and my brothers up into the attic to show us something—a chimney.
 
In the house we grew up in, a wing had been added with fireplaces that faced south instead of west. If the chimney had gone straight up, the section above the roof line would have been out of alignment with the others in the front of the house. But the mason was a master craftsman and had turned the chimney, course by course, until it faced west, lining up perfectly with the others in the front of the house. Dad wanted us to see this carefully done but unseen workmanship, and appreciate it.
 
On my walk this morning I came across another example of this, a different kind of care. I've often posted about the sense of humor and community that my neighbors, mostly unknown to me, exhibit, and this morning I found another one—a little house tacked onto a tree, or at least the suggestion of one.
 
If I start thinking that art and craftsmanship are to be found only in hardcover books with esoteric titles, or artwork hanging in a museum, these experiences remind me that I'm losing touch with the wealth of creativity and good-heartedness that exists everywhere, and is responsible for the quality of my life, whether I'm aware of it or not.
 
When I go out on my daily walk, usually in the morning, that's what I look for, that's what I hope to find—something that is the expression of an interior life that loves quality, humor, storytelling, or the like. It gives me a little thrill (Okay, I'm easily thrilled), and I walk on wondering who has the delightful imagination, who's willing to take the time to make a tree trunk into a little house, who cares enough to entertain strangers walking by?
 
This kind of craftsmanship shows up in writing also, though, we writers hope, less obviously. It shows in the way a story is opened, characters are described, little details chosen to define a moment. It shows in the passage that is okay, that no reader has complained about or noticed, but in our writer hearts we know it just isn't right. So we hold that paragraph, or that scene, and we wait for the answer to bubble up from the unconscious so that we can fix it, whatever it is. And when we see that is awry among the words, we appalled that we didn't notice it earlier but relieved that we did before we sent the ms off as "good enough." For some of us, there's no such thing as "good enough."
 
Care in our work in unseen places is the true test of what we do and who we are.
  
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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Pansies Surprise Me

For the last several weeks I've been keeping an eye on a few pansies in a clay pot sitting on my front porch, wondering when they would finally be beaten by the weather. The remnant of a $6.99 flat of the butterfly flowers has withstood hammering wind and rain, three nights of twenty-degree F cold (on two separate occasions), and a snowstorm. The flowers flag and sag but a few recover, lifting their heads in defiance of the temperatures and season.
 
In November, after the first cold night, just down to freezing, I thought that would be the end of them. They looked pretty sad. But, no, they came back. And after the snow, they remained with bright clean edges and buds slowly opening.

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 They survived three nights of 20 degree cold, and a bud determined to open began to do so.

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As I do every year, I planted the pansies in May. That's eight months ago. Granted pansies are a cold weather flower and flourish in what used to be a spring that had some cool evenings and days. We have fewer of those in the northeast, but still, late April and May are the right months for these plants. But still my few survived through increasing heat and now cold.
 
This is where I should find a lesson in the simple pansy for the life of a writer. The little flower inspires with its tenacity in the chaotic weather patterns, the changing worlds of publishing we all have to cope with, the buds refusing to shrivel and die, just as the committed writer refuses to give up. But I'm not going in that direction. If this is about anything, it's about wonder. Edward O. Wilson makes sense of the, to me, nearly incomprehensible science in his new book, The Meaning of Human Existence. He manages to explore evolution, our place in the universe, and ideas we hold dear—instinct, religion, and free will—while making it all accessible and sensible. I like to think my pansies are in there somewhere.
 
When I set out for my walk in the early morning (well, at least at first light, which isn't early in this season), the first thing I see is the pot of blue and white flowers, in contrast to the gray of early winter. The rotting leaves on the lawn, the paved street, and the bare trees are my first view—except for the pansies—and right now everything is drab.
 
Once the winter starts, it stays for what feels like forever. I could be looking at my yard in early spring, with the ground about to thaw and the trees about to leaf out. How I wish I could bypass winter . . . Right now I'll take the potted flowers outside on the porch, and watch to see how long they last. Perhaps I should bring them in, help them winter over, and bloom again in the spring. I'm sure it's possible. But I like seeing how nature can surprise me, and please me and teach me.
 
For now I let the flowers and green leaves greet me every morning as I set out, and welcome me back after a few hours away. I didn't expect this from a simple flat of very ordinary annuals. I'm glad to be surprised. And hope to continue to be surprised through December. Perhaps I'm failing in my duty as a writer to make much of this series of moments, but I'm satisfied just to have them there where I can see them, watch over them, and hope they last.
 
 

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