Monday, December 30, 2013

My Magi--by Ellen Jensen Abbott



My post this month falls just about half way between Christmas and Epiphany, the day the Christian calendar celebrates the visit of the Magi, or the three kings, to the baby Jesus. So today I want to celebrate my magi—the three women who bring gifts to my writing life.

My first magi is my editor, Robin. When Robin reads my drafts, she sees what the draft can become and gives spot-on advice to help me realize my vision. She always reminds me that this is my book and gives me last say in any changes she suggests. She is sparing with her praise so when she says something is “good” I really believe her. She put up with my extremely long draft for The Centaur’s Daughter and helped me cut 100 pages by cutting words and phrases—not one whole page was cut! (It was just a tad over written….) She feels almost the same level of vulnerability as I do when one of our books goes out into the world, which makes me feel just a little less vulnerable.

My second magi is my agent, Ginger. Of course Ginger does all the things a good agent does: she translates the legalese of contracts and answers my never ending questions about secondary rights, how “export” differs from “foreign rights,” and the difference between unbound sheets, galleys, and ARCs. She stands up for rights I don’t even know I have. She always offers to tell my publisher the things I don’t have the guts to tell her myself, and then she proofreads the e-mail I draft when I know it really should be me who speaks up, guts or no guts. When I wrote to her angsty over the current state of a book synopsis, she began her response to me as follows: “My dearest Ellen, If you were in the room with me, I would speak softly and guide you gently down from the wall--or ceiling, as the case may be.” When a former-mentor read my manuscript and decided not to blurb it, Ginger interrupted taking her daughter to camp so she could commiserate with me.

My third magi is my beta reader, Margaret. Margaret has a PhD in history, specializing in Quaker Women, but she also loves fantasy and scifi. There is no better person than a historian to help a fantasy writer figure out issues of world building. She reads my novels and thinks about economy, demographics, social structure, and sustainability of lifestyle as well as characterization and plot development. When I was concerned that my community of Watersmeet in my first book Watersmeet was too city-like to continue as a hunter-gatherer society, she told me about a Turkish archeological site where a city was indeed supported by hunting and gathering. She is creeped out in the right places and roots for the right characters, while also saying, “Yeah, that part didn’t really work for me.” When I’ve been faced with a deadline, she’s read drafts double time and then Fedexed them to me.

Ginger (see Magi #2) pointed out to me once that success in this business is not just in Amazon rank or starred reviews. For most writers, success has to be found in other measures as well. One aspect of success is a happy, nurturing relationship with your editor, your agent, your readers. That’s what I have with Robin, Ginger, and Margaret. In this month of celebration, I want to celebrate my writing Magi.

(an image of gold, frankincense and myrrh)

5 comments:

  1. What a sweet and thoughtful post. I loved learning more about your magi, Ellen. And Happy New Year to you!

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  2. Ellen, this is such a great post! It's wonderful that you have such women in your life who pull for your writing.

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