Guest Author Interview–Book Review (Don McNair) by Cassiel Knight

As you know, See Jane Publish likes to share writer/publication journeys. Today, we are going to hear about Don McNair’s journey. And, since this is a book on writing and we love books on writing (okay, I do), I’m going to share with you, at the end, a review about his book.

Onward to Don’s story!

MEDIA KIT Author PhotoIn 1956, while sitting in a teen hangout during high school lunch breaks in Fort Branch, Indiana, I read the most incredible frontier novel one could imagine. I still remember it, more than fifty years later.

I recall the teenage hero’s forced hay-cutting contest to free a girl from her abusive father, and their flight upriver in a homemade canoe. I was in that canoe with them. I decided right then, back in my innocent youth, that I’d someday write a frontier book just as compelling.

Thoughts of that fictional trip upriver returned many times during my writing and editing career. I grew up, went to college, and wrote and placed hundreds of articles for clients. I also wrote three commercially published non-fiction books, and won several awards for my public relations programs. But in my silent times I yearned to again share that young boy’s canoe trip.

Finally, I started my own book of fiction, a western novel. After five chapters, I quit. I realized I’d thrown in every cowboy cliché I knew. I’d gotten so confused I finally gave up and buried the poor thing in a file drawer. Every time I open that drawer now I think about what a great book I’d read back in high school.

I got serious about fiction. I took fiction-writing classes at night, read numerous writing books and magazines on airplanes and in hotels as I traveled to write articles for my clients, and delighted in the worlds I invented. One day, while researching a 1770s short story for a writing class assignment, I again recalled that high school frontier novel.

And suddenly, I knew it. It was time to write that book.

I realized I’d waited that long because I wanted my frontier story to be as real to others as it was to me. I needed that time to develop both the skills and a soul-satisfying, true-to-life story about my young hero’s frontier-life struggles.

The story finally in mind, I drove to Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley and physically followed much of my young hero’s fictional 1770’s path. I visited a bend in the James River, for example, where mean Mr. Struthers’ Inn and kindly Noah Dandridge’s little cabin would have been located. I spent time in nearby Fincastle, where the court would award my book’s orphaned young hero—by now I’d named him Matt McLaren—to Dandridge’s care. By reading library materials collected by local Fincastle historians, I got an accurate mental picture of the town’s 1770s appearance. I even knew what that courthouse looked like.

While in Fincastle I also bought a primitive “froe” (a wrought-iron shingle-making tool) at local antiques store, and now consider it Matt’s froe. I kept it next to me as I wrote the book, as a reminder to be true to detail.

This touch-and-feel approach to writing helped, but I knew book-based research would also be vital. Over several months I filled a four-drawer filing cabinet with research, much of it published in the 1800s. Most of what happened to and around my young hero had actually happened to someone in history. Even the little things, such as many of the neighbors’ names and activities, are true to life. I tried to write Matt into the real fabric of our great country’s early  exploration, to make him an icon of the times.

Apparently, I was successful. When I sent the completed manuscript to a freelance fiction editor for evaluation, she wrote: “I want to tell you how impressed I am with your ability to handle with a great sense of immediacy the layering of characterization, setting, plot, and action into scene. And with your writing style. You have voice, which is something that simply can’t be taught. It is either a gift or must be forged through practice by the writer. I think, without a doubt, you can write salable, even powerful fiction.”

Those comments meant more to me than any of the awards I’ve received over my career. But the highest award of all came after I sent the manuscript to a publisher, and the company’s president called to praise it and to offer a contract. “This isn’t just another book,” she said. “Don, your book is going to have a life.”

Since then, I’ve had more novels published. But along the way I’ve learned that, while I love writing fiction, I also love editing it. When I retired from editing in the corporate rat race I launched McNairEdits.com, to use my years of editing experience to help other writers achieve their dreams. Nothing pleases me more than to help massage a manuscript into a powerhouse that may let another writer live the thrill of being published.

I think Matt McLaren and that boy in the canoe would have been proud.

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Now, here’s some information about the book. Keep going; review is coming and so is information on Don’s giveaway and mine J.

MEDIA KIT COVER Editor-Proof Your WritingBLURB:  

Most editing manuals are like geography books. They give great information, but don’t show how to get from place to place.  Editor-Proof Your Writing: 21 Steps to the Clear Prose Publishers and Agents Crave is a GPS that leads you through the writing jungle to solve your specific writing problems.

Most editing manuals are like dictionaries from which you’re asked to select words to write the Great American Novel. This book shows what words to use and what words NOT to use.

Most editing manuals are loaded with mind-numbing theory.  This one presents knowledge a step at a time and asks you to apply what you learned—a step at a time—to your manuscript’s first chapter.  Along the way you’ll also edit a nine-chapter melodrama and check your editing against the author’s.  When you finish, you’ll have an editor-proofed first chapter and will be ready to edit the rest of your book.

This system was proven to work in three years of weekend and online classes, titled Editor-Proof That Chapter and Twenty-One Steps to Fog-Free Writing. They are parts One and Two of this book. Part Three discusses finding and working with critique partners, professional editors, publishers, and agents.  The students loved the concept

This book is perfect for use in classrooms. The information is presented in bite-sized lessons which can be assigned daily. See what students say about their classroom experiences on the back page.

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Still with me? Here’s an excerpt:

If you’ve never been published, there’s both bad news and good news.

The bad news is that most unpublished writers will never be published.  Editors receive hundreds of manuscripts each week and ultimately buy fewer than one percent.  We’ve all heard of hapless writers who have wallpapered their home or office walls with rejections.  Perhaps you’re one.

The reason is basic.  Many writers send problem-riddled manuscripts to editor after editor, as Barbara did, believing they are perfect.  In the meantime they blithely build the same flaws into their next manuscript.  They simply don’t know they’re making those mistakes.  Unless someone tells them or they somehow learn on their own, their manuscripts will be rejected the rest of their lives.

Note, however, that someone does recognize their problems.  Those editors!  They quickly spot them in a manuscript’s first chapter—often on the first page—and reject the submission without reading further. They know the rest of the manuscript contains the same mistakes, just as we know an iceberg’s submerged part is made up of more of the same ice seen on top.  But editors simply don’t have the time or inclination to teach authors writing skills.  So they send out “sorry, it’s not for us” letters and move on to the next manuscript in their bulging “in” baskets.

MEDIA KIT don with awardsAUTHOR INFORMATION:

Don McNair spent his working life editing magazines (eleven years), producing public relations materials for an international PR company (six years), and heading his own marketing communications firm, McNair Marketing Communications (twenty-one years). His creativity has won him three Golden Trumpets for best industrial relations programs from the Publicity Club of Chicago, a certificate of merit award for a quarterly magazine he wrote and produced, and the Public Relations Society of America’s Silver Anvil. The latter is comparable to the Emmy and Oscar in other industries.

McNair has written and placed hundreds of trade magazine articles and four published non-fiction how-to books. He considers his latest, Editor-Proof Your Writing: 21 Steps to the Clear Prose Publishers and Agents Crave, (published April 1, 2013 by Quill Driver Books) to be the cap of his forty-year writing and editing career. It’s an easy-to-use editing manual that helps writers edit, step by step, their first chapter, then use the knowledge gained to edit the rest of their work.

McNair has also written six novels; two young adults (Attack of the Killer Prom Dresses and The Long Hunter), three romantic suspenses (Mystery on Firefly Knob, Mystery at Magnolia Mansion, and co-authored Waiting for Backup!), and a romantic comedy (BJ, Milo, and the Hairdo from Heck). All are published internationally, and are available at his website, http://DonMcNair.com .

McNair, a member of Romance Writers of America, Mystery Writers of America, and the Editorial Freelancers Association, now concentrates on editing novels for others. He teaches two online editing classes.

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Now, here’s the review:

Editor-Proof Your Writing tells authors everything that I, as an editor, would like them to know. From the introduction with a healthy dose of reality mixed with motivation to the entire book, Don McNair gives real-world advice and takes book readers step-by-step to creating a manuscript that shines.

McNair’s voice and style of writing is easy to read and actually entertaining. This is not a dry how-to book. Witty chapter headings and light-hearted prose make it easy for the reader to learn the where-fores of craft and apply them to their own work.

I work for three digital publishing houses as an editor and many of the things McNair discusses are things I see on a regular basis such as information dumping, use of filler words, issues with dialogue tags and addressing roaming body parts, or as he puts it, Stop Those Wandering Eyes.

McNair positions these as ‘steps’ to clear prose. If you follow the steps, you’ll have your clear manuscript without sacrificing the most important thing to a writer—your voice.

Each step is interactive in that, at the end of the chapter, you get exercises to further solidify the instruction in your head. I especially love Step 12 and 13—dialogue tags and said. So many times I’ve told my authors to let their dialogue do the ‘talking’ for their characters and that if done right, you don’t need dialogue tags. Or that while ‘said’ is supposedly not seen by readers (like McNair, I completely disagree), many times you don’t even need to use said.

At the end of the book, after you’ve polished your prose, McNair provides practical advice on critique partners, hiring professional editors, the query letter and even how to write a synopsis. This isn’t an in-depth look but it’s enough to get you started and thinking.

The only negative thing I can say about Editor-Proof your Writing is that I have some things I wish he would have addressed but that’s okay. He can pick those up in version 2. Maybe I’ll drop him a note. <grin>

And even though I’m going to go ahead and give away a copy of his book, I’m actually going to keep one for myself. I used to buy a lot of craft books but haven’t lately but this one—it belongs on my shelf.

Frankly, I think this is a must-read for authors, self-published or otherwise. Run out and get yourself a copy. You can use the polishing, I promise. <grin>

As an editor, I look forward to receiving manuscripts that take McNair’s steps to heart.

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A Giveaway!

Finally, Don is awarding one randomly chosen commenter their choice of books from his backlist. Want more changes to win? Follow the tour and comment to better your chances at winning. The tour dates and sites can be found here.

Plus, for See Jane Publish commenters only (not a part of the tour), I will giveaway my review copy of his book. Don’t worry – it’s in excellent condition (I don’t mar books – that’s sacrilegious). All you have to do is comment and I’ll draw one name and come back and post the winner on Friday. Yay!

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Posted on April 3, 2013, in General and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Great blog post. I’m dying to know –
    1) What was the great book that inspired him?
    2) What’s the name of his book that received such great praise?

    Like

  2. Cassiel, thanks again for allowing me to be your guest blogger. Yes, please DO tell me of things you’d like a sequel to cover! Do you plan to post your review at Amazon and Barnes & Noble?

    Like

  3. This sounds like a fabulous book. Exactly the thing most of us need – particularly those who are indie-pubbed and haven’t quite figured out all the answers. Thanks, Nancy

    Like

  4. Thanks, Cassiel, for letting me guest-post on your blog. And thanks for the kind words!

    Like

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