A Potential $1,500 Edit, Justified

Now, don’t go bug-eyed about the price tag in this post’s title. Before I share my story, here’s the lowdown–that’s the 411, the skinny, or the scoop for those of you in Rio Linda–of what edits and editors are and what they do–and what they aren’t and what they won’t do.

A developmental edit is a deep content edit. This is the most thorough of the edits throughout your story, and where your editor will find plot holes, inconsistency, what’s working and not, and so on. This is also the most pricey–you’re paying for time, insight, and expertise. Choose this editor wisely, since you’ll have a working, professional relationship with this individual who specializes in this style of editing. What this means for your budget: a DNA sample, your firstborn’s genome, a fraction of your home equity loan, a portion of royalties . . . I’m (slightly) kidding, but the price tag for this is $$$$ to $$$$$.

copy edit is a step above proofreading, but just under developmental editing. It’s another way to say line editing, more or less. These people work to make sure you’re consistent in weather scenes, word choice and what it means either in character or author intention; character names–your MC Steve in Chapter 2 isn’t Jude in Chapter 6–or if you’re in Monday midnight DST in a chapter, that same chapter’s not a snowy Wednesday afternoon EST by its end (unless explained); accents are consistent, etc. It’s also more a consistency in verb tense/1st POV or 3rd POV and other overlooked nits not caught by you or the dev editor than anything else. A dev editor can do light copy editing if he picks it up from time to time, but it’s not a must–especially at the rate you’re paying for the job! Budget for this: $$ to $$$.

Proofreading, or also known as a proofer, ONLY checks for irregularities in punctuation, facts, spelling, times, dates, places, and otherwise flags too many mistakes left in or left out. Some would debate grammar should be checked also, but depending on what some in your cast are doing in dialects, location and the like, that really comes more to a developmental editor choice, a copy editor knowing this about your MS–and, of course, you, Ms. Author :). This edit takes the least time, and thus, the least strain on your writer budget ($ to $$).

What Editing & Edits Are NOT
• Copy edits aren’t developmental edits. Proofing isn’t a copy edit. They blend, yes, BUT,  since both take a chunk of time vs. a little time, that’s why they’re divided as such. Think of it like this: More time = more money.
• Inexpensive, so budget accordingly.
• Your personal cheerleading section–that’s more for writing coaches, crit groups, and writing buddies, if you have them and find them. Get them, if you ned this, too, which I cannot recommend enough. And find the right crowd for this, too . . . but another topic for another post :).
• Aren’t yessing you to death or a doomdayer, “you suck, quit writing this minute!” inputter, either (to be fair, they may think it, which is their prerogative, but you won’t know it).
• Aren’t a taskmaster.
• Will insist you stick with his or her changes to your work.
• Will do beyond what’s paid for or past deadline without an additional charge.
• Aren’t your psychiatrist (yes, Virginia, there’s an app for that–so use it).
• Won’t change your writing voice (conversational, bossy, dark, light-hearted, preachy, etc.), style (staccato or run-on sentences, cold, flat, boring, clinical, etc.), but rather, they may, and should, offer constructive criticism and alternatives.
• Aren’t mind-readers, so communicate your specific needs, results expected, timeframe turnaround, feedback explained, etc.
• And for the love of everything holy, get one suited for YOUR personality type, please! You’ll save so much aggravation and heartache for it in the long run.
• Ultimately, you and the editor are in a working professional relationship, so keep it that way.

“Okay, Missye, You’re Just Bats! Convince Me Why That Price Tag’s Justified!”
Thank you. Be happy to.

After she blew a virtual gasket why I thought a $1,500 dev edit for my specific MS is reasonable, my writer friend pouted and still disagrees, but sees the logic. The argument I gave her, I’ll share with you.

• My 2nd mystery is a plot-within-a-plot, includes an ASTORIA FOXE ONE Casebook #3 sneak peek, a ToC, dedication, acknowledgements, and another large cast, so I’m looking for another set of eyes for overall content, continuity, clarity, cohesiveness, consistency, logical time flow, pacing, what’s too much or too little, etc. That, unfortunately, ain’t gonna come without some financial sacrifice.

• The last time I’d paid a hefty edit tag was on JERSEY DOGS (42 dead and alive member cast, ToC, dedication, acknowledgements, story, and a four chapter Casebook #2 sneak), and I worked with an editor formerly with Scholastic and Penguin Putnam. This price of admission alone I’d shell more for, and some of his previously edited books hit the NYT’s, Amazon’s, and WSJ’s bestsellers lists. This aside, he went above and beyond my expectations: he was sweet, answered all my silly and serious Qs, was thorough, fast turnaround, encouraging, insightful, and did things for my book–cast in order of appearance, questioned sentence murkiness, asked what I meant here/there, and included a solid summary–a nice touch I didn’t ask for or expect. Annnnnd,, dude had been schooled under Sol Stein a few years before the iconic editor’s passing, so that’s definitely saying something. He resided in L.A. at the time of JERSEY’s edit–still may, as of this post, and not cheap in CoL–so his asking rate reflected such.

• Time isn’t replaceable when money is; I’m paying for said time and expertise.

• I’d rather have keen eyes and keener expertise in an edit, and pay that rate for said experience, than brag how cheap this edit was, only for my work and his reflects said edits. It’s disgusting, I’m sad to say, how often writers in free and paid writing listservs, gloat and preen how little they paid for an editing service. Sadder still: there’s absolutely talking NO sense to them how lowbrow, high-minded, and just triflin’ this comes across. Yet if you point this out to the sweetly delusional dreamer in the name of vocational-shaming–yes, kids, that’s a thing, now—you’re the baddie. Okay, then. #SorryNotSorry #NotMyCircusNotMyPonies #CarryingOn :).

• The editor should only edit for a living. This is far different than knowing how to edit when you’re also writing and not writing. While both talents really are two different hats at the same time, they’re also symbiotically intrinsic. I’m proud to say I’m taking a nit comb to Casebook #2 and deleting some of the hefty, but I’m also doing it to deflate some of that dev edit price tag.

• Going in with JERSEY, I knew I’d author a meaty mystery series. That reading time takes dough. As many charge either by the page, word, or a flat rate, there’s no getting around paying more for a bigger output. I’m really working to cut content, but it ain’t easy :).

• Some editing services I won’t pay a dime to due to their inflexibility on receiving payments–most of us don’t have deep pockets, most of us like having lights on, and a key to turn into a lock that’s not a vehicle to call home. Although one came highly recommended for my needs, she wasn’t willing to work with a tight budget, so I politely declined. There’s too much competition around to happily move on more than okay to work with my needs, budget, and timeframe, and I’ll stand by my convictions steadfast. Many writers really don’t think this financial angle through, especially if they’re being supported by ones other than themselves, and sadly go with the first one squealing over their MS, sure, let me help you polish this for that Midas price tag. The peripherals making money from the authors who aren’t yet making enough to cover this, likely know this, but won’t tell them that. Lowdown dirty shame, that is.

• I’ve edit-skimped before: from the proverbial free/need to earn stripes tale of woe to the “it came with the house” deal, regardless of house. Don’t edit-skimp. Ever. Akin to wearing pre-owned day-of-the-week undies even laundered in the hottest water and strongest lye soap available, I felt emotionally and creatively tarnished and second-rate, as that time left me disheartened, frustrated, angry, and outright head-scratching if this person and I read the same damn book. A free or low-cost edit simply isn’t worth the emotional roller-coaster–you may genuinely never know if they truly enjoyed the work, or were they blowing smoke saying they did (You can always run a polygraph if you’re unsure, but if you have the money for such services, use that dough for a professional edit, okay? You’re welcome :). ). Listen, if you believe in your writing efforts, you and it took the bumps and lumps needed to grow as an author and storyteller, then be serious enough to make sure a service is professional enough for their eyes–and your dough!–to have your final draft put its best foot forward. If you don’t sell yourself short on other big important things in life, your MS shouldn’t be treated any less when edit time arrives.

So it boils down to where and how your dough goes, not so much that you’re spending it, regardless. Research like hell, go with your gut voice, DON’T second-guess that voice or yourself, ask scads of questions, and in general, be bold to be informed. It takes time to earn that coin, so no way will I spend it on stupid-awful edits I’ll horribly regret later; it’s enough I’m still scolding myself on a pre-owned Jeep Laredo purchase lasting a whole eight months before its mid-June end. And as my man’s funding my writing life for the better part of the entire time he’s known and been with me, durn tootin’ I’ll make sure our money and time is spent discriminantly. Ultimately, with God expecting me to be a good and prudent stewardess in all I do with the time, talent, and funds He’s granted me, it’s the least I should do. And I’ve been blessed–as of this post, I’ve an editor on retainer willing to work with my budget for my Casebooks! Squeee! But should this post mean you as it does me, you’re justified. Your book is destined to be even better than you’d imagined through another set of careful, caring eyes as yours are.

Back to NaNo, already in progress. Wishing you all a lovely, safe, blessed, and joyful Thanksgiving!

17 Hours by Missye K. Clarke

Late Saturday night, 4 February, 1991.

Sam had himself a time at a sweet jam in Upper Harlem. Talk at the party flowed: plans to rock out Disney World in the spring, because he, Charlie, Marie, and several other family members hadn’t yet been. Sam Junior was doing well in school. He had job security. He’d be a grandpop later that year. The drinks were maybe a touch better than the present company, but on the whole, Sam felt, life was good.

Too bad it all would soon end.

Sam left the Lenox Avenue apartment roughly 1:30am back to Queens and to bed. Mornings come faster when you’ve been partying, and he wasn’t the exception.

The station was quiet when he fed his $2.25 token fare in the Queens-bound turnstile. Distant laughter echoed in the labyrinthine station, and he cut the token booth a glance. The clerk behind the bullet-proofed glass gave a small nod in acknowledgement before returning to his Daily News.

More laughter carried through the chilly station, part of a monstrously complex network New York City Transit is. Although the best method getting around the Big Apple, a cab in that same distance to his Flushing, Queens residence was twenty times the transit fare, and he prided himself on being an unapologetic cheapskate.

He took a seat on the Queens-bound A train platform, sighs. Minutes skidded past. Nice party. Work’s been brutal. I need to do that more oft–

“You got money?” a voice asked over the hard thunder of an approaching train.

Sam looked up. Several teens in dark clothes semi-circle him. “No.”

“That watch says different, man,” a second teen said.

“So?”

The train still barreled in, but slowed as regulations dictated.

The teens rushed the man. No time to think, Sam pulled out a .9. Several against one wasn’t a fair fight, but in a fight, is anyone ever worried about fair?

Shouts, confusion, havoc. Cursing, punches thrown, shots fired. So much chaos for a small number in a tussle on a cold, lonely platform in the young Sunday morning. From a motorman’s viewpoint, powerless he couldn’t stop his run in time seeing a panicked human’s eyes while trying to climb back to the platform, and to safety, he’d find work not so conscience-bruising. No more would he play another part in a senseless end.

A teen involved with the scuffle–to his mother, he was still her firstborn bear cub, doing her proud he was college-bound–felt remorse he found himself in a fight he wanted nothing to do with.

Maybe his fellow thugs, eager to get high on a generous stash of rolls, blunts, and bowls, saw the event as a way to power up an otherwise witch’s tit-cold early Sunday morning. Their weed dude was late, they had to pass time some kind of way. And hey, a pulse of adrenaline kept them warmer a hell of a lot better than sitting in a boring Con Ed heated apartment devoid of weed would do.

Whichever the case, or the thoughts, those affected might see sunrise hours later. One man on a literal collision course with fate wouldn’t. Nor would he see the mid-year arrival of his first grandchild.

NYPD caught two perps, those outcomes unknown. But being underage, those boys’ criminal records are sealed, if not expunged altogether. The rest of that crew, if any to account so, or would cop to, fled into the ubiquitous shadows of the Manhattan night, maybe hit or missed by bullets, bur definitely gone like cold smoke. Bear Cub, the college-bound, might’ve been among the runners. Conceivably, he kept his mama’s promise and made good in school and then some: he shielded his bear cub child from the life he’d lived, knowing Bear Cub Sr. altered another family’s lives he’d never meet. Perchance this was the bear cub’s way to atone–God sees all but waits. He’d let Bear Cub tell that family his regrets in the next life.

* * *

Early Sunday evening, 5 February, 1991.

“Missye, I gotta talk–” my husband Pete told me as I had my key in the lock of our front door.

“One side, one side, let a rabbit through,” I demanded, feeling like an overfilled water balloon after finding no bathrooms between traveling home from a friend’s memorial for her husband.

Pete side-stepped my mad dash. I let my backpack purse hit the worn carpet outside the loo, not caring if something broke, got wet, or crumbled within the bag. When you’re the start of second trimester pregnant and your remaining wisdom teeth are floating, all bets are off.

I dropped on the seat, let ‘er rip. The release felt needed-laugh good, needed-cry good, or a solid right hook to a boss’s egotistical nose needing a get-back-in-line alignment, good. “Okay, babe . . . now talk to me,” I said.

Expression more solemn than when he’d told me his dog died four years before, Pete said sotto voce, “Honey . . . it’s about Reggie.”

“What about him?” I asked while tidying up.

“I really don’t know how to say this . . . but he’s dead.”

“Not funny, Pete.” I cut my husband a steeled look. “I saw him three days ago, and I just came from a service. Stop bullshitting me.”

Peter shook his head no. “I’m serious. He’s been killed. Charles just told me.”

Like 9/11 a decade and seven months later, shock hit me first. Still semi-dressed, I demanded our cordless phone, dialed my favorite uncle. From his flat tone on the fourth ring, my old normal imploded. So had his. (To this day that old normal’s still imploded with my favorite uncle gone, too. I fucking hate cancer.)

Sam–Reginald Samuel Briggs, and my birth father–was the man under six of eleven train cars headed to Queens those seventeen hours before. As of this post, NYPD has no leads or clues, the case among thousands of homicides in that agency’s cold files. The account of his death, based on scant details offered at the time, permitted me creative license fragmenting together his last moments alive.

Do I know the festering, nagging why behind this crime? No. Do I want to know that why? Again, no. Am I macabre enough to conjecture that night’s events to see how close I’ve come to being right? I have–it’s in the soul’s design to crave answers to things unknown. To a degree, it’s been fun giving this case closer scrutiny NYPD didn’t do–and beats crying to the final verses of Mike + the Mechanics’ “The Living Years” yet again :). But with the key players of this story unable to be found, recently or long dead, and an agency bent on leaving its shortcomings under lock and key, forensic speculation’s all I have.

Although crafting fiction sates my inner Nosy Nancy–I love bamboozling anyone who reads my stuff, if ever they do!–this event, bookending the still-murky motives of the AZ move a decade prior, my wild imagination and inner sense of stark right and wrong, have an outlet. What I can’t do alone in the clearly broken justice system I can do fictionally. I don’t know how purposeful it’ll gift mankind to convince them to do better in solving cold cases, but if it’s a pinpoint of hopeful, philosophical light at the end of a scary-dark tunnel for somebody else worse off than I, justice is served. But I’m forever changed by this. For the better, I’d like to think so, but that’s open for debate and perception.

Or maybe I’m in deep need for good trick-or-treat candy unloaded on me while I ensure good mostly triumphs in my mysteries. Make the haul anything citrus, cherry, watermelon, and sour apple in Jolly Ranchers®, Tootsie Rolls®, and Starburst®, please, and thanks. Kindly hold the bag of rocks–those are Charlie’s. Brown’s, that is.

👻🎃 Happy Halloween! 🎃👻

 

Missye K. Clarke’s Nekkid Take on Titles

Don’t blame me for the face-palming, audibly groaning, or eye-rolling reactions y’all sometimes give me in the titles I conjure for this medium, or for the ones you might’ve seen in my first novel’s ToC. I squarely finger-point my peculiar, odd, and downright Is she fkn CRAZY?!? headline-drafting from two sources: Balls-to-the-wall deadlines–much like last month’s post when I couldn’t think of ONE damn thing to write not already said! Okay, diamonds are created from carbon via pressure and time, but c’mon now, that sh*t’s not even CLOSE to being cute! 🙂

The second: The New York Post.

Wayback Machine set to 1985. Back to the Future is a monster hit in theaters, Born in the U.S.A. made Springsteen “Boss,” and the media couldn’t get enough of their darlings in Madonna and Cyndi Lauper. I was 19, back in my City That Never Sleeps, a shiny-new high-school grad. Despite my mother’s illness inevitably terminal, I was ready-set-go to take on the world. No kids, no beau, no bills. Nobody to answer to or to tell me no. Zero responsibilities, looking for work, and kickin’ off a year from anything academic.

I totally had my sh*t together.

(Suuuure I did. But I didn’t know that, then. Didn’t much care, either.)

Heading to Queens on the #44 for something to do or another, I’m giggling uncontrollably at a tabloid headline, but I had to pull myself together long enough to read the article. What was it that made me drop my 35 cents for, made the bus driver look at me as if I were on his ride stark nekkid? Bold as lightning, brave as a poltergeist during a church service, front page, dead center on the Post:

NUT SCREWS & BOLTS

No way I could help cracking up. C’mon! Everybody knows that toolbox reference, so it naturally resonated with anyone to HAVE to read the piece. And the New York Post is notorious for its pithy, off-color, oft-tasteless headlines. But in a crowded news town like the Big Apple is, unless it’s a heavy news day–a celeb death, war declared, a murder one case of notoriety, or an only-in-New-York story even Podunk, Kansas will get in their newsfeeds–a catchy headline moves units and pays the paper staff.

Did you expect anything less from such a rag founded by one of the most colorful, controversial men in history, Alexander Hamilton? Of course not.

The story the twisted banner refers to is this: An inpatient (the NUT) to a since-shuttered Queens, New York sanitarium, after a vicious rape of two female nurses (SCREWS), and beating the holy hell of two male orderlies one of the women screamed for help for, the inpatient made his grand escape through a cut fence after bashing an unguarded doctor’s window (& BOLTS). The escapee was captured after a three day-run and transferred to a more secured nuthouse–Bellevue–after a decently long Rikers visit before his arraignment.

One of the reasons the headline stuck with me, apart from its ignoble, seamy story inspiring it–it went there. As authors, we have to. Nor should we second-guess having to. Elmore Leonard himself said if we’re not writing dangerously–genre-depending, naturally, but even then, you can still push that envelope more than you do–what’s the point? If you’re gonna go there, DO IT! Stand behind it! The Post did with the Creedmore inpatient story, and has unapologetically gone there with their headlines since.

Another banner doing the same was where the Post had a blown-up oval shot of Hamilton with a lone tear running down his face. This was to indicate their reporters, editors, and copy-staff were on strike, and subsequently, the paper would be shuttered permanently, or in the lesser extreme, not print for a time. No words were needed for Page One, as further details could be found inside. This was in the mid 1990s.

Having been horrid at this angle of my writing career prior, I’ve since made it a mission to contrive slick, envelope-pushing, instigating titles. Not all my headlines are in-your-face takin’ it there, though. A sweet one I did for an online site for my Hunter College/CUNY years was in tribute to my being a lifelong fan of PEANUTS® creator, Charles M. Schulz. But it didn’t happen without a heap of sweat. Full of hubris, I thought, “Hey, I’m a writer! I can drum up anything good! Girl, you GOT this!”

I had a week to create a Page Two feature, but came up empty on several tries, all having to be approved by my journalism prof. Time ticked.

Plucked more ideas. All were dandelion weeds of nothing.

Even dug in the discarded garbage ideas at home for something. Zilch.

Time ticked on.

And ticked more.

Desperation, first a sink drip, soon torrented in.

Asked for a deadline extension. Professor said no.

Stress levels shot me from rocket boosters to mushroom clouds. A third of my semester grade depended on this sh*t!

Cried to my husband for assistance. His answer? “You got this, babe, you always do.”

Typical man–might as well suggest I swim the English Channel in cinderblock boots. G-R-R-R!!! 

Five days before deadline. Panic hit ionospheric levels.

In February 2000, Charles Schulz passed, four days before my feature was due. Two days before, Tom Landry did, too. As a touch morbid as it was, the story clicked in place in my mind like the 1K piece puzzle you finally know where each section goes without eyestrain and a neck crick. Being a PEANUTS lover since I’m seven and owning a Snoopy lunchbox does that.

Quick interview emails to three comic strip artists whom Schulz inspired to see their work for the dailies like he’d done–they were the creators of Marmaduke, Beetle Bailey, and B.C.,–and to United Features Syndicate for a one-time use of five of the PEANUTS® cast, “You Were An Ace, Charlie Brown!” came to pass. From Schulz’s doodles while in the Army during World War 2 to his enrolling in The Art Institute when returning stateside, this put him on the lane to becoming a handful of cartoonists drafting memorable characters like Ziggy, Popeye, Betty Boop, Garfield, and Rocky & Bullwinkle.

The prof loved the article, loved more I made deadline with twelve hours to spare. I pushed hard for an A plus, but he wouldn’t give it. No matter. The piece’s ending, “Way to go, Chuck. You finally kicked that e-Lucy-ive football through the uprights, after all” rounded out the title, and A plus enough for me.

So how do you craft titles? Here’s a few tips I’ve stumbled over in drafting mine during my writing career.

GO BOLD

If the words you happen to string together make you laugh, smile, pissed, gasp, have you go, “Wait, what?” or you’re left speechless, breathless, or perceived thoughtless, GOOD! You’re not only doing your job, but this pushes you out of your comfort zone. If you have the title before the scene, chapter, or story completed, of course you’ll fit it accordingly. If the scene, chapter, or story needs a banner, dig into the work’s theme, point, or subtext for your word choice. Sometimes the work comes first, sometimes the title does. Whichever lands first, don’t be scared, worried, or second-guess your going there. You’ll be glad you did.

MAKE IT PUNNY

You read right. Play on words is a form of satire a lost art nowadays with some walking among us more sensitive to words and the delivery than my albino skin is to too much sun. Like the hideous crime story the Post told in an otherwise hilarious way, sometimes serious topics need a funny, punny, or wry banner title to drive its point home. In Chapter 3 of JERSEY DOGS’s, “Logan and I Hold A Civil Conversation,” anger a rolling boil before exploding, narrator Casper’s in a vicious fight scene with cousin Logan. After, and as physical fights do once adrenaline’s expelled, Casper barely holds it together emotionally, realizing his new normal leading to the fight was literally a gut-punch.

BEG, BORROW, AND STEAL TITLE IDEAS MERCILESSLY

I yanked title subtext ideas from Xanth fantasy author Piers Anthony, J.K. Rowling’s chapter titles in the Harry Potter series–“Wormtail, Mooney, Padfoot, and Prongs” especially stands out and is a personal favorite–Rick Riordan’s chapter titles in the Percy Jackson books, and E.B. White’s endearing banners in Charlotte’s Web. Appreciating another author’s use of context and subtext in the banners’ content, this forced me to know my chapters’ work, drive, and theme more than I figured, so I had to plumb further. While working on Casebook #1 in 2013, an author in a critique group felt another chapter should be added to stronger bridge JERSEY’s middle. In literally two hours, I banged out what’s now “A Little Rusk Nikk’d Us.” After a few tweaks, most in the group, including the one suggesting this, found the addition gave a layer of complexity to the story, and enriched the McG’s soulful element and the danger bearing down on them even more than I’d hoped. (For the record, you CAN pop out a slice of whichever your writing project is in a skin of time and nail it on the first go. It happens more often than you think. A post I’ll expound on for October’s update, so don’t lift it. I know where y’all live :). )

Don’t get me wrong–if you, dear Author/Reader prefer your chapters in a more traditional format–numbered, dated, time-stamped, or named for alternating POVs–as it fits your story or tastes, do you. One fantastic YA read, LIFELINE by Abbey Lee Nash, used the 28 days Eli Ross needed to tell his story while in rehab after almost dying from an overdose. This was a fresh take on an old chapter heading spin, but it worked for the story, and made it flow near seamlessly.

Like the saying goes, we all can’t be NFL players. If word titles aren’t your thing, whichever your reasons, please don’t try it. Creating a book project’s peripherals–a synopsis, a blurb, a tagline, jacket copy, etc.–is irksome enough. Don’t saddle yourself with something not in your talent, energy, or heart’s wheelhouse to do, and appreciate those who can. On the other hand, you don’t know what you’re capable of until you try. Give it a spin–you may be surprised.

I just realized: Although I’m tight with titles, I suck doing synopses. Talk about a sliver of sick irony.

Good grief. Guess that’s my e-Lucy-ive football through the writing life uprights.

How Mysteries Found Me . . . and Elude Me

Ever since I was a fourth grade nothing–and despite my disdain in book report writing during grammar school–my goal was to break into news reporting. Specifically, feature writing, soft-news reporting, or 1st POV investigative journalism. Thank the current events segment of school lessons, two National Geographic and Time magazine issues, and falling asleep to the opening 10 O’Clock news segments–after the announcer’s ask if parents knew where their children were?–of the usual Middle Eastern countries fighting. I’d be amiss if I didn’t give a nod of gratitude to the inimitable Paul Harvey for enriching my love of journalism until his still-missed narrative on said news. The dream became reality in features reporting for two college newsrags, an online site when the Interwebs was young, a stint with a New Orleans Pennysaver, a church tabloid, and scattered articles in First Draft, and in a Brooklyn, a Queens, and a small-town Texas outlets. But even with present-day current events growing scarier, stranger, and noticeably darker with each passing hour as news outlets are also noticeably more crowded and pointy-elbow competitive, I still follow them steadfast.

Much as I love words and what REM sleep-dreams surprise me with, it never occurred I’d write one book, let alone be earlobes-deep into projects spanning three separate series, this platform, newsletter-planning, and shoehorning in working flash fiction pieces and haikus. The universe and the Designer behind it had adventures in mind not involving conventional journalism. As one not believing in coincidences, I’m body-surfing this space-time wave unapologetically.

My now-deceased mother devoured anything medicine-related for a career in nursing, but my joyous arrival detoured those plans. My being born with albinism likely pushed her into the genetics end of biology of medicine, from the sneaks I saw of her Queensborough College class notes, and with her help during high school biology and organic chemistry, I aced the classes; to this day, I still remember most of the components. On her days off from working as a phlebotomist lab tech since early childhood, she watched every medical or crime mystery on TV. Perry Mason. Quincy, M.D. Nancy Drew/Hardy Boys Mysteries. Hart to Hart. Ironside. Alfred Hitchcock Presents. I Spy. The Saint. Mannix. Barnaby Jones. Kojak. Nero Wolff. More often than not, she cracked the case before the show’s penultimate commercial block. She also read Sidney Sheldon, Michael Crichton–The Andromeda Strain stands out alongside Robin Cook’s Coma and another title with “Ophelia” in it, but I’m unsure which this is–Jackie Collins, and back copies of Ellery Queen. She’d offer these when I read everything in our area library or at home, but I did so lacklusterly (yes, I made up a word! 🙂 )–no kids were in it. Leastwise, no cute guys I could imagine as my book boyfriends. Sherlock Holmes was easier to listen to than to read, but even then, that story captured me as long as a rainbow lasts; ADHD much? Same with Nancy Drews (what WAS it with every 👏🏻 story 👏🏻ending 👏🏻 with 👏🏻 an 👏🏻 ice 👏🏻 cream 👏🏻 sundae 👏🏻 celebration?!? Who can even eat that much ice cream–NOT looking at you, Joey Chestnut! 🙂 Yikes!). The Hardy Boys were more fun than Nancy, as were a handful of classic Scooby-Doo episodes, but not for lack of trying. Aside from the aforementioned, there wasn’t much for kids to believably play in, and case-crack, good whodunnits. Sci-fi, sure. Judy Blume, Richard Peck, Heidi, Charlotte’s Web, Peter and the Wolf, Beverly Cleary, and Paula Danziger ruled the kid-lit scene as Harry Potter, Wimpy Kid, The Dork Diaries, and the Percy Jackson reads do today, but the After-School Specials in book form tackled fitting in, boy-meets-girl, boy-loves-girl, boy-loses-girl or boy-claims-girl-again, bravery and honesty in friendships, humility, and standing up for oneself Cleary handled. Danziger and Blume took on heavier topics like divorce, drugs, puberty, sexuality, dysfunctional families, or weight struggles. So who’d believe a kid crime-fighter or a pint-sized spy in the same playing field genre as Sherlock, Nero, Bond, or Mike Hammer, let alone one grown-ups would take seriously? Heck, even teenagers Frank, Joe, and Nancy were grown-up technically, but they probably still did kid-stuff like ball games, pillow fights, sock-hops, and pajama parties offstage!

Aghast and disgusted with American journalism’s willful descent into madness during college, post graduation and zero job prospects, I pondered what I’d next write, where I’d next go. Diary-keeping–meh. Blogging wasn’t a thing. I loved emailing, but didn’t know a soul I couldn’t easily talk to in person or on the phone. And most family members had passed away or weren’t on speaking terms with me to engage in letter-writing. My imagination? Then, like now, is too friggin’ big to contain in a short story if I tried. Still reading though–Harry Potter, in this case–while cleaning my kids’ bedroom one afternoon, a teenage boy on his bed in his messy room, looseleaf open on his knees as he dozed, flashed to mind like C.S. Lewis’s lit lamppost in a snowstorm-shrouded forest popped in his. This fully formed Wyoming high school sophomore, oldest of three siblings and sans girlfriend, was Jay Vincent. Upon hearing stock car racers Tony and Cruz Pedregon’s surnames later that evening, I stole this to tag as J.V.’s. Add in Keenan Alexander, the name Keenan influenced by the Wayans brothers on a youngish FOX network, and Casper McGuinness from another false-start novel, I had my central cast in need of a story. A few turns of the imaginative Phillips head, Keenan became Casper’s street-smart, smart-ass, and lady-killer cousin Logan.

2005 was pivotal for news and personal events. New York State Governor Eliot Spitzer made headlines in regular trysts with a prostitute and for it, shamed out of office. Not long after, New Jersey Governor Jim McGreevey lost his post for hiring a PI to track his gay boyfriend’s affair at taxpayers’ expense. Iconic comedian Richard Pryor, and R & B artists Luther Vandross and Rick “Superfreak” James died, but Pryor made ink with his birth allegations the result of a hooker-john union. In that year, I happened into a long-forgotten neighbor around the corner from my then-residence who remembered my being a non-conformist curiosity preschooler, and a ball of near nonstop energy. A ten minute exchange of hellos and are you so-and-so’s daughter turned into a year of visits, teas, desserts and hushed conversations I deserved to know, including confirmations behind our 1980 cross-country move, how my maternal grandmother had been an alleycat, and my dad’s acidic bigotry to Caucasians were explained.

Even with my questions and suspicions acknowledged, a deeper why thickened the current events and history soup I mentally and emotionally digested: What if two high school kids learn they’re sons of prostitutes, set to be slain to keep them from discovering why they are? From that, I the composer to sleuth-to-be Jay Vincent Pedregon and cousins Casper and Logan McGuinness, the players of the music in pouring out my heart in anger, shock, astonishment, rage, and sadness in my experiences-backstory-explained on paper, mixed with current events in the novel’s plot, found a story home. In the storm and its cleansing, JERSEY DOGS was born.

Was that to shamelessly plug my inaugural mystery? Nope. It’s to illustrate why I’m an author in the first place, and how my ancestry’s sordid and unapologetic past drop-kicked me here. My mother’s love for this genre, and learning she used to write before her vocation in peripheral medicine? Partly. But it’s broader and more intense than having messy creative fun in streaking watercolors to blend word forms, characters, scenes, plots, and settings. If I’m gonna be ugly-crying honest with myself and with you, I need to be constantly okay with my father’s homicide in 1991, that I may never uncover why that now Pluto-cold case ever happened, or that his putrid ethnic views might’ve factored in his death. I’m also good with not knowing my mother’s deepest fears in having daughters with albinism, or her fright behind her uprooting my 14yo self and its bustling, never-sleepy Metropolis life to a podunk northern Arizona town with one traffic light and one post office. Forensically, though, albeit fictionally, my curiosity Qs and As are a little more sated with each story crafted, crime solved or gotten away with, and growth steps my characters take. That, too, is okay. If there isn’t enough time to read all the books I’d like to, then in a world where the 5Ws and an H are often plain, aspects of how my author life came to pass is a sweet enough mystery for me.

Hi . . . Missye K. Clarke, Newly-Realized Synesthete

**The title is solely from the author’s imagination, and is not looking to do disservice to those with this neurological condition or for ones familiar with Alcoholics Anonymous.**

Live Streaming from The Saturday Show on WQXR’s app: John Coltrane’s “Giant Steps.” Great song if you want an explosion of colors bouncing in your mind’s eye like blown dandelion puffs on a breeze like I have now.

Allow me to share a funny, true story. And thanks for the “Hi, Missye!” hellos for being part of this incredible platform, by the way.

My youngest son devours chocolate milk, especially if it’s a lovely blend of soft-serve and imported dark chocolate of Michelin Star grade. I found a great little seafood place in Lancaster PA called Mr. Bill’s (est. 1974), and took the last of their blueberry, strawberry, and orange cremes in stock after remembering the picture he’d showed me from online. One orange creme I snagged was his. Past tries of blueberry and strawberry milk left me gun-shy for another go; the sugar content may as well have been akin to rocket fuel-boosters for the Apollo 11 mission.

Our drinks deliciously cold hours later, I left my orange cremes be. He insisted I sip his strawberry and blueberry after saying, “It’s a liquid form of a great blueberry muffin–seriously.”

I looked at him dubiously.

“No, Mom, it’s not the sugar version of Thurgood Stubbs’ salt addiction. You’ll like it,” he pressed.

He made me laugh; I got the joke, took his container. Well . . . if Sam-I-Am liked green eggs and ham . . .

I dared a taste.

And delightfully found it to be exactly what pastel purple would taste like!

We sipped the milks again, but I barely contained my excitement.

My son: “Totally a liquid blueberry muffin. Yeah!”

Me: “I see that. But it’s what pastel purple taste like if more people could taste colors.”

He, looking at me like I’m bats (which is often): “Mom . . . are you saying you’re tasting a color?”

Me: “Well, I see musical notes in colors, too, so . . . yeah, I guess I am.”

And later that night, the orange creme, breathtakingly delicious, I tasted a lovely dream.

You’re A . . .Who?!?

A synesthete (pronounced sin-UHSS-theet, or sin-ESS-theet). It’s the medical term for one having sensory pathways crossed, which is synesthesia (from the Greek syn, meaning “together,” and thesia or thaesia for “sensation.”). According to dictionary.com, it’s an “involuntary neurological condition where the individual activates a second sensory pathway when the first is stimulated.” Apparently there’s more than 60 ways to either instigate or innately have synesthesia–one way to be part of this is to drop acid, but that’s not surprising (Sidenote: I’ve never in life dropped acid, nor will I, research or no. I’m taking zero chances of lasting side-effects, I’m scared I’ll become addicted to the substance, and/or what it’ll do to me during and after consumption. I know me–if I’d’ve had a positive, lovely trip, I’d want to do it again to get that back. If I’d’ve had a bad, negative trip, I’d be tormented for hours like I am in one of my asleep-dream nightmares. Best that door stays welded closed and moved on from altogether). There’s no real statistics in how many have this condition, because baseline science is only just putting the call out to those with such exceptions to how the senses are so crossed to be double-blind studied, or done so objectively.

In my mind’s eye since I was young, I’ve always seen musical notes in colors; the blueberry milk episode, obviously external, only recently. Until now, I thought everyone heard music this way. For others affected with this still-understudied condition, it manifests externally and has a strong run in families. Synesthetes can also become such from a stroke, blindness, or another health anomaly. In one extreme case, a British woman, according to a special about her documented on NatGeo in 2011, had to get rid of her television; any time food, cologne, or laundry advertisements aired, she could literally, just by hearing the ad described, “taste” the human and pet foods; laundry detergent, soap washes, and dish liquid; colognes and perfumes, too. But the times she found her synesthesia pleasant was during certain weather days. Sunny days, she’s reported, the sunshine tasted of lemons, pineapples, or bananas. On rainy days, she heard the raindrops in random musical notes the way wind chimes sounded on blustery days, and saw the raindrops on her patio table in sprays of colors. When she used the products she could “taste” by hearing them on ads, when actually using then, she didn’t have this sensation.

Weird, right?

I remember asking my mother could she taste the color blue when I was about four. Trying not to laugh, she said, no, honey, blue’s a color. I told her I could taste it. She asked–amusing me, probably–what did it taste like? Like ice. Or snow. Or ridonkulously really cold water, I said, and does today. As for my musical notes in colors–they range in dark blues and greens, with pops of distant bright white and silver for the A major chords. C majors are royal blues, shamrocks, bold reds, deep golds. F majors: red, bright yellows, bright whites . . . and pretty much so on.

Inspired by the NatGeo doc, my experiences and its scientific term, a character in MccGuinness/Pedregon Casebook #3 has this condition. Gregory Street is afflicted with synesthesia and a key component in helping the crew solve why former top five music competitors are homicide targets. Unfortunately, he’ll make the killer’s crosshairs in his main goal of murdering my narrator, but I wanted a way to fold in this condition with solving this crime. I just hope I do Street’s death justice not only in believability, but showing his condition with grace and dignity in the honest portrayal I’m offering. Moreover, it’s my biggest hope neurological science not only finds a way to explore, deep diagnose, and explain why this occurs, but shows its daily impact on affected individuals. Do they “taste” fire like they see the flames, hear them roar, feel its heat? Do they “hear” mud, or dirt as they feel, smell, or see it? Can they “see” petrichor–the way a geographical landscape looks and smells after a hard, fast, and intense rain? Can they “touch” sounds the way we can feel the differences in sandpaper, or petting an animal, or holding an ice cube?

Have you known someone, or maybe you yourself, have this sensory cross-stimulant? Have they shared their experiences with you? If you’re beset with tis condition, what’s your experiences been like? Do you find this condition strange in a good or bad way? I’d love to know your thoughts, so please share in the comments.

On A Collision Course With Words

On the radio: Live-Streaming a NYC station playing Willie Nelson’s version of Hoagy Carmichael’s,”The Nearness of You.”

Hi, y’all! Been a long time I’ve blogged, and I’m thrilled and grateful to be part of a stellar group of talented authors on this platform of LADIES OF MYSTERY. I’ll do my genuine best to be a good egg . . . but I can’t promise I’ll always play nice with the other kids. If some of you know me from the SinC boards, I kinda have a big mouth. Not intentionally mind you, but, well . . . I think I’m just naturally antagonistic. And naturally a big mouth. Shy writers, don’t go–I’m really nice, honest. I’ll just save that why-I’m-a-big-mouth post for another time (Teaser–it’s why and how I began writing to start with).

I’ve always thought words were incredible, powerful tools. Onomatopoeias (words that spell out sounds–remember the series Batman? “POW”! “CRASH!” “ZAP!”? That.), And, according to family members, I was reading by three, and I remember spelling my first big word when I was four: “Freedom.” When I discovered the dictionary at 12–my fault for telling my Granny I was bored, what could I do?–I found out homophones, synonyms, antonyms, and pseudonyms were ugly cousins to one another. How cool to know ew, ewe, you, yew, yoo, whew, and hue are close enough to pass, but only just. Now I see why the English language is so hard to master. Once done, it’s wonderful to unearth the mysteries behind why it’s still the most widely accepted language spoken on the planet.

Before I wrote or read, I talked. And sang. A LOT. I never shut up–and gee, big surprise, that got me in trouble more often than not. When I wasn’t in trouble and other kids weren’t around, I’d either sing or talked to imaginary friends in whatever words or worlds my fictitious playmates and I dreamed up. Sometimes the play was fun, sometimes I sang to the radio to my pretend audiences, or sometimes I was bored and moved onto my dolls, Play-Doh, or Hanna-Barbera cartoons on TV. Or my radio set to WABC in the middle of the night (yeah, I never shut up then sometimes, too). There, I’d pull the cartoon characters from the storyboards and craft fan-fiction stories and games before that became a thing. Oh, if I could go back in time . . . Rocky & Bullwinkle Tag Team Casper and Wendy! Underdog vs. Might Mouse. Tom & Jerry Meet Heckle & Jeckle. The killing I’d’ve made, too . . . but I digress.

But I discovered words were so strong, so impressionable, so damned fun, so I used them often. And sarcasm, too, when I learned what that meant. Putting those words to paper in book report form when I was a kid, not so much, and I refused to do it. It was easier to give oral reports on the books than written ones–this way, I could act out my favorite characters in the stories I devoured. Whether it was a great story a spelling test–I don’t have to tell you I almost always aced those–a vocabulary quiz, or something involving ways to express myself, I was, as report cards home oft said, never at a loss for words to do this. Couple in being born and raised in 1960s-1980s NYC, and, well . . . Big Mouth, par excellence 🙂.

So how does this relate to writing? And writing mysteries?

Two ways.

The first–my mother, her desire to be a nurse, was an avid fan of crime shows with a medical twist, Ellery Queen, Michael Crichton, and Robin Cook. She turned me onto my first mystery, an I Can Read story titled The Case of the Cat’s Meow, and later, The Hardy Boys Mysteries. The Cat’s Meow book I have to this day, ready for when my first grandchild is old enough to discover new universes and boundless imaginations books hold.

The second way came when my father’s death, in a collision with a NYC Transit uptown-bound A train in 1991, marred the birth of his first grandchild by his oldest child–me–that same year. His unexpected end is still listed in the NYPD rosters as a cold case/unsolved homicide to this day.

So I suppose in all rights, mystery writing found me.

Although I wrote plenty in journalism since my teens, I didn’t ever think I’d write a book, much less I’d want to. Now I’ve three series plans in blueprints, and several books within said blueprints in varied states of progress. But past events, not excluding my move to a speck of town called Page AZ from gigantic Gotham on a lie discovered after the parties involved died, prompted wonderings how could a mystery work. Peppering in tales from my past, people who knew my parents still living to share their stories, and strangers who remembered little me when I was four and spelling “Freedom” for them, all began to weave a tale in my thoughts.

In writing, I hope to never stop asking why or have my curiosity’s thirst ever quenched. I hope my cast of zany characters never stops asking why I’m as zany as they are. Most of all, I deeply hope to inspire a lonely, bored, or imaginative kid–or said kids at heart–to be transported into the stories as I’d been at their age, and still am today, fostering a love for words I vow to never let die.

Until next month . . . dew the best yew ewe were born two due.

Stay Awesome!
~ Missye