Category Archives: Susan Speaks

Reopening the Featured New Book Spotlight and Lines of Distinction!


Even though the site redesign isn’t finished, I’ve been able to get into the broken control panel long enough and consistently enough now that I’m willing to go for it and reopen my promotional offerings to my author friends — old, new, and just-made.

Here’s the word about the Featured New Book Spotlight. One question! How hard can it be? (Apparently, pretty hard.)

And here’s the word about Lines of Distinction, for you guys who like to make graphic teasers and/or who’d just like to spotlight their books ’cause you’ve written a book worth spotlighting.

Remember: Read the pages. Follow the directions. They are easy.

Spread the word. A new book only needs to be new to my audience, you know what I’m saying here?

So stop in. Come by often. Tell your friends.

Let’s get more attention for you guys. In an increasingly crowded market, you guys deserve it. And did I mention it’s free?


Susan Speaks: A Personal Note


Despite having blogged pretty extensively about my eye injury, I think of myself as a pretty private person. I don’t talk much about my kids, for example, although clearly it’s my kid who introduced me to my new love for Ultimate Frisbee. So you guys know I have kids. They exist, mostly offline. My daughter is more of a social media person than my son, who’d be perfectly happy to never hear anyone say, “But you NEED a Facebook page!”

But every now and then, I talk about my kids. Like here. In the New York Times.

Yes, the New York Times.

They asked, so I answered, and here you go. What my young people — I can’t call them small anymore, since they’re both taller than me — are up to this summer.

You, ahh, might want to refer me around as the freelance editor par exellence that I am. These activities ain’t cheap, and college is on a lot of minds around here!

(And, as always, join the conversation by letting us all know what your kids are up this summer. Do I really need to tell you that?)


Susan Speaks: And we’re back?


So. It actually happened more in the middle of the A to Z challenge, but I woke up one day, went to check my blog dashboard and… it was missing.

So I got a hold of my awesome web designer and she… didn’t have good news. The site, she said, was broken. Beyond repair.

I’d been putting off a redesign (yes, the white on black is going to be history!) and… well, I couldn’t put it off anymore.

If you’re on a reader, you’d need to click through to see that nope, the new design isn’t done yet. What had been the end of May/early June has been pushed back to July. But what I’ve seen so far has been really slick. Jen lives near me; we’ve had dinner as part of some Pittsburgh groups before, and… she’s nailing the design. It marries a new, slick professionalism with the fonts, the colors that are quintessential West of Mars. And like I said, no more white font on black backgrounds. Even I found that hard to read, and now with the eye? Ugh. I’ll be glad to see that go.

Now, after being told that the site was broken beyond repair and use, imagine my surprise when I came to visit my dashboard the other day out of morbid curiosity (I think I needed something to be pissed about, since the things I’m currently pissed about aren’t things I can change), and… yes! There it was! My dashboard was back!

I don’t know how long it’ll be here, so I’ll try to take advantage when I can. And yes, I’ll have a party when the new design goes live and offer celebratory editing rates or something. I don’t know. Too early to make those decisions, and I’m still pissed about those things I can’t change, and well, my website isn’t the only thing in my life undergoing a facelift right now.

The A to Z posts that never got posted have been saved for next year’s A to Z Challenge. There were only three of them, and I already have a bunch of topics listed. I also have a whole slew of posts that I need to write and post…

Right now, it’s about those facelifts, those things I’m pissed about, and thankfully the constant influx of work that’s been keeping me busy and driving the business to some good, profitable places. I might be able to afford these facelifts!

Keep my editing queue full, and I’ll check in here more often between now and the new site design’s launch date. Worst comes to worst, I won’t be able to post anything. But given that I’ve managed to get in here a couple times now, I expect… hit or miss. And for a site that’s supposed to be broken beyond anything, I’ll take it.


Susan’s Promo Tales: Read an E-Book Week Features The Trevolution


It’s March, and that means one thing: Time for Read an E-Book Week at Smashwords!

If you read e-books but don’t already have an account at Smashwords, what are you waiting for? They truly offer the best royalty rate around, which helps authors immensely. Yes, you can download to your Kindle, folks! For us authors, they distribute our books to retailers and libraries for us. I’ve used them as long as I’ve been publishing, and we’re coming up on the 10-year anniversary mark for that.

Those of you who haven’t read my Trevolution books yet, grab them. Read them. Realize how old they are, and cut me a break. I’ve learned a lot since then, as a writer, as an editor, and as a person. Life is, after all, a journey. Books are moments on that timeline, which is what makes them fun when you know the author well.

Yes, I’m working on new stuff. No, I don’t know when they’ll be out; hopefully soon. My accident knocked me off schedule (go figure!) and even after all this time, my stamina’s not quite back yet. So for now, enjoy the old stuff — I usually manage a couple hundred downloads every year, and I’m hoping this year won’t be any different. Why should it be? If you’ve read the books, help spread the word!

Finally, remember that the best way to say thanks for a free read is to write a review. Heck, the way to say thanks to an author for any book you read is to write a review. It can be as simple as “I liked this because…” or “I didn’t like…” — negative reviews are helpful and good things, believe it or not!

If you are struggling to write a review, do your best and drop me a line. For a whopping $5 — yes, five bucks! — I’ll help you master the art of the review and create something that helps make you, the reader, look good. (Remember that a couple years ago, I was working as a pro book reviewer, so you’re in good hands.)

So go. Download, read, and enjoy. And holler if you need help.


Susan’s Promo Tales: The #AtoZChallenge


You know you’re up for this one!

(Okay, I’ve been scheduling posts for a couple weeks now, so I’ve got one or two up on you… but that doesn’t mean this challenge is insurmountable!)

I first became aware of the A to Z Challenge a couple of years ago. I kept vowing to team up with Jett and do it over at The Rock of Pages “next year,” and then 2016 was going to be our year. We were going to take the plunge.

And then I took a plunge of another kind.

So now that it’s 2017 and I’m picking up the pieces that got left behind in a pool of eye goop (charming, huh? I’ll fess up: there was no pool of eye goop. I’m taking an author’s liberties), and the A to Z Challenge is one of them. Only… I’m going to do it over here, not at The Rock of Pages. Jett is busy and I’d rather put the time in here. I’ve been absent for too long.

Here’s how the challenge works: You blog about something starting with a certain letter of the alphabet every day during April, usually taking Sundays off. Because of the way the calendar worked this year, there’s a Sunday or two that you have to blog on, but… that’s what the scheduling feature is for!

You can read the rest of the details over here, at the post announcing this year’s challenge.

This is a great way to widen your circle of networking contacts, make new friends, and push yourself to accomplish something new. Come join me during April. It’s going to be a lot of fun — and if not, hopefully thought-provoking.


Susan Speaks: Talking to Others


I always tell people that when they see the Orange S on the Red Background, they know it’s me.

But sometimes, when I have given an interview or a quote and it appears on other sites, or it’s not proper to use, you can’t see the Orange S on the Red Background. And you may not know it’s me. Or you may not know to look.

I’ve got two such links for you today.

One’s from, of all places, — yes, the diaper people! (And yes, when my kids weren’t in cloth, they were in Huggies. Hard to believe, as I look at them now, but there it is.) The question of the day was “The Best Job in the World: Inspirational Quotes for Moms and Dads.” Click on through to see my words of inspiration.

The second one is more political, so if you’re dead set on the need to get rid of the ACA and don’t want to listen to reasons why it’s been good for people, don’t click through. This one’s on Rewire, and it talks about how the ACA has allowed me to be the amazing editor you guys know and love — and how it saved my hide during the saga of my eye. My medical totals have gone up since I gave this interview, and let how much money is involved boggle your mind. It sure boggles mine.

I’m at work on other spots to spread the gospel of Susan, such as it is. Know of anyone who’d like to host an editor? Send ’em my way.

And like always, get your manuscripts in my queue!


Susan Speaks: An Overdue Eye Update


People have started coming up to me, asking how things are since I haven’t updated about my eye in… eons.

There’a reason for that. Multiple reasons, actually.

First is that leading up to the third surgery, I was a total basket case. It was either going to be a perfect operation, the sort of thing you write textbooks about. A walk in the park.


It was going to be an absolute disaster that would turn into an emergency and would necessitate a fourth surgery the Monday after Christmas. We even had my original surgeon standing by, just in case.

The original surgeon actually walked me from pre-op to right outside the operating room the cataract guy used. The cataract guy was standing outside, waiting, when the original surgeon and I arrived.

I have never felt more cared for.

Now, it didn’t go totally smoothly. I was all wrapped up, the anesthesiologist had started to do her thing, the staff was great about telling me exactly what they were doing, I was having a great conversation with the surgeon and his chief resident (who was only introduced to me by his first name and as the surgeon’s assistant, and who I don’t recall ever actually seeing because he stood at my head) about the size of the cataract — it was bigger than they’d anticipated — and the microscope, which was really cool. I was kinda fascinated by it, to be honest.

It looked nothing like I’d expected.

It was WAY cooler. But not blue.

I don’t think.

And then… the staff forgot to tell me they were bringing something toward my face, I had a flashback to a certain pink-taped handlebar and… next thing I remember was being wheeled out of the ER and into recovery and the surgeon walking out behind me and giving a whoop, a fist pump, and yelling, “That went GREAT!”

Thank you, Tony the Tiger.

But he was right. The filaments in my eye, which we’d been so worried had been wrecked by the impact, had survived, entirely intact. The entire cataract surgery had taken five minutes.


Five minutes.

And then the surgeon and his chief resident spent ten minutes cleaning up some of the inside of my eye. They weren’t entirely successful, since they didn’t want to risk ripping anything, which would have sent the whole thing south, so they proved my original surgeon’s maxim: Everyone talks about how good a surgeon’s hands are, but they forget that what makes a truly brilliant surgeon is the exercise of good judgement and knowing when to stop.

Christmas Eve morning, I woke up and… I could see better than I had in almost a year.

Now, things still aren’t perfect. They need to finish cleaning up that spot on my eye, and they’ll need to use another laser to do it. I’m already fascinated by how this works.

And… it seems my close vision is what it is. Any correction we’ve tried with it has only made it worse. So I’m pretty much going through life now with a left contact lens and a bionic, Frankenstein right eye. I have a pair of glasses that make my distance vision crystal clear, but… at the sacrifice of my close-up vision. And they make my face feel funny, too, which is a really weird sensation. It’s like it’s melting.

Does this mean I’m disabled? My original surgeon says he doesn’t believe you’re ever disabled. He also doesn’t believe in concussions, but when I went to the concussion doc at the end of January, he used my own metrics to be pretty convincing: when I first saw him in August, my memory was in the 16th percentile. On January 31, it was in the 93rd.

But I can work. And I have been, pretty steadily, although of course I’ve got room in my roster for more. I’m starting to rebuild what I lost over the past year, bringing in new subcontractors so that we as a collective can turn out more of the quality work you’ve all come to associate with the West of Mars name. A bigger and better editing service is at your command.

Yet the question remains about how much I can see. And the answer is that it’s hard to answer. Yes, I can easily work. No, I can’t thread a needle, but that’s okay because I am less than domestic to begin with. I have trouble finding new places in the dark, even with a GPS or nav system–but I can read street signs. But I can see a Frisbee fly. And I can see the road in front of my bike. Can’t shop at my local Trader Joe’s, and florescent lighting is my worst enemy.

I may look into getting a funky pair of glasses that I can slip on without having to take out my contact, something so that I have that crystal clear(ish) vision when I go to the movies, to the theater, maybe to watch my beloved Thunderbirds. I’m not sure yet. I want that fourth surgery, with the laser, before I make any decisions.

But I’m here. And I can see you. Best of all, as I’ve been able to do all along, I can see my clients’ manuscripts.

So to those clients who stayed with me, thank you. From the bottom of my heart, thank you.

And for those who didn’t stay by me over the past year… well, I hope you find someone as good as the editor you walked away from.


Susan’s Promo Tales: For you Paranormal, Time Travel, and Ghost authors (and readers)


(A little reminder never hurts)

So. There’s a call for authors of time travel, paranormal, and ghost stories over at Wise Words Book Bloggers (aka, Louise Wise’s blog).

I’m still seeing a fair number of these subjects cross my desk, so if you’ve written one, here’s some free promo for you! Free is always good, especially if you’ve gotten active and donated your promo budget to worthwhile causes of late.

And if you’re a READER, a lover of ghost, paranormal, or time traveller stories, what are you waiting for? Add Wise Words to your feed reader, to your e-mail, however you like to read your favorite blogs, and find yourself some good new reads!

Don’t forget… reviews help authors more than words can say (pun intended). If you need help with a review, holler! I’ll fix you up, although, sadly, not for free. I do have a mortgage to pay!

And, of course, there’s free promo for you here at West of Mars. The Featured New Book Spotlight (and remember: it only has to be new to my readers) and Lines of Distinction.

Advocacy and #Resist is important. But so is taking time for self-care and escapism. Do it through a book!


Susan Speaks: It’s Simple, but Oh, so True


Thanks to Ramona DeFelice Long for the amazing graphic.

And for you authors out there, remember that now that I’m healthy(ish) again, the Featured New Book Spotlight and Lines of Distinction are yours. Use them. They’re free, they’re simple, they’re easy.

Don’t merely spread the word about your book. Remind the world why reading matters.


Susan Speaks: Meditate Your Writing into a New Place


This showed up in my inbox, and I thought I’d pass it along.

Here’s the thing: I love Madhu Wangu. If you haven’t read her fiction yet, what are you waiting for? I totally love her works, and I suspect if you like smart, woman-first fiction, you will, too.

But Madhu doesn’t just write. Oh, no! She’s way more versatile than that. She leads a local writer’s group at a restaurant near me. Why don’t I go, you ask? I wish I could! But it’s a many-hours-long enterprise and my clients, all of whom I love dearly, keep me busy enough that I can’t go routinely, and the meditation work is the sort of stuff that you need to do consistently in order to make progress. Plus, not being there consistently would lead to disruptions when I do put in an appearance, and who wants that? While the attention is nice, it’s the wrong time for the spotlight to be on me.

I wish I could go because I believe strongly in Madhu’s meditation guidance. Her practitioners say it makes them better writers, and they are certainly all — well, the ones I know — lovely people with amazing things to say. They have learned to find the stillness they need for their fiction in walks in the woods, in walks down city streets, at home at their desks… wherever they need to. And like most people with important things to say, Madhu wants to reach more writers — or even people looking to enhance their focus, their creativity, their… anything! — by producing a new CD with material that can be downloaded and accessed whenever you like. Perfect for people like me, who can’t be there in person.

Things like professional recordings cost money, though, so Madhu’s put up a Go Fund Me page. I know… there are a million Go Fund Me accounts, and all of them are for good causes, so why is this one different?

Because it benefits YOU. Need some help to stop screaming like a harpy at your kids? Trying to find the inner strength to do something new and difficult? This would work! And Madhu’s voice — I say this because I’ve met her in person — is hypnotic in the good, soothing way. I’d listen to her before some random YouTube person leading a meditation. Maybe that’s because I’ve met her and know how warm and caring she is.

Can you tell I’m a fan girl? Total and utterly.

Please. Take a new direction for your writing and/or your life. Even five bucks will help, and best of all, that’ll leave you money to get the CD when the recording is done and polished and ready to be listened to and absorbed. This is one of those Go Fund Me campaigns that will give directly back to you.

As Madhu says at the end of her Go Fund Me Page, “Thank you so much for helping me bring these meditations to the people who want focus, inner-depth, productivity and connectedness into their creative life.”

(and before you ask, nope, Madhu hasn’t paid me off to be her ad campaign. I’m doing this because I adore her and want good things for a really good person. Who can argue with that?)


Susan’s Promo Tales: Got an Opp for You!


Got a book you’re promoting? Looking for somewhere to do it?

Not only do I offer two options — and they’re free (unless you want to reserve your date) — but my buddy Susan Leigh Noble is booking for her 2017 spots.

Go on over. Check out what Susan’s doing. Drop her a line (yes, in that order!)

And, of course, send me your graphic teasers or your answer to the one-question interview. I miss hearing what you guys have to say, so look for more of these to pop up in 2017.


#SusanSpeaks Ahh, Here We Are


So where have I been?

Busy. Lots of clients cleaning off their plates and wanting to launch books prior to the end of 2016. Which means that as we get further into December, my queue is strangely empty. C’mon and fill that right on up, will you? ‘

And, of course, we can’t end the year without more surgery, right? The cataract needs to come out so the original surgeon can keep an eye on the damage behind it, and so the concussion specialist can determine if the migraines that continue to plague me are related to the TBI or if they are related to my attempts to see through a cataract the size of Texas.

This one scares me, in a way that nothing up to this point has. I’m having a hard time being my usual optimistic self about it.

That’s because it’s up to my eye. Either the filaments that hold my cataract-filled lens are in place or they’re not. And if the cataract surgeon saw signs that they’re not, he’s not talking. But my original surgeon will be standing by, just in case.

Because this can go THAT badly. Another retina tear. The lens falling into the back of my eye. More vision loss. Another gas bubble and no driving for 8-10 weeks.

Or… it can go absolutely swimmingly, be a fifteen-minute procedure, and no driving for 24 hours and then a slow return to my crazy life.

My response to this isn’t merely to be scared out of my wits, terrified like nothing else has ever terrified me. Nope. It’s a restlessness, a need to put it behind me, to get out of the holding pattern of the injured, and move forward. Explore new things. Embrace new hobbies and people. To be outside more, despite the weather.

There are some pieces of this already in place, but they are personal and don’t affect work (yet), so we’re not going to talk about them. On the radar is fixing the temperature problem in my office, so I don’t freeze in here all winter and sweat all summer. But that’s on the radar, and only worth mentioning because I’m sure there will be disruption to my day-to-day process when this gets going. Because one can’t work in one’s office when it turns into a construction zone.

Feel free to distract me over the next not-quite-two-weeks. I keep trying to soothe myself by saying we’ll know the results of the surgery in less than two weeks, but… it’s not helping that much. Better to bury myself in a manuscript and lose myself in work.

Fill up my queue, folks. Right now, I need you maybe more than you need me. And if you’re writing, you need me. Believe me. I’ve been reading a lot more lately and… I’m kinda sorry I have been. People need me.

Fill up my queue.


#SaystheEditor: I’ve Said it Before and I’ll Say it Again



Facebook has its uses. But like everywhere else on the Internet, the bullies reign.

Interestingly, it came this time from a fellow editor. Someone who should know the value of words, how to wield them most effectively, how to come across as a professional and someone whose opinion has value. When dealing with authors, I think this is an absolutely imperative list of skills. To be good at what I do, I have to step outside my world view and try to engage with the author’s. I’m helping them bring the best out in their book, not make them bend to my will. I’ve found that when I can consider the view of others in general, I bring a better approach and experience to my clients. Can’t always do that, but hey, I’m human. We all are.

And it takes all kinds to make the world, and it takes all kinds to call themselves editing professionals.

Now, we’ve all done slips of the tongue before. But follow the tale. This isn’t a bad choice of words. Nope. Not even close.

It began harmlessly enough with a question: how’d you pick your business name. Fun topic. People often ask me about West of Mars, and while the answer is long, convoluted, and private — and harshly reveals things I’d like to leave in the past — the simple answer is, “It’s where I live.” Nice and easy. So I was taking a break from editing for my client, Steve, and answered with that short, pithy phrase.

It wasn’t the timing of the reply, as the bully assumed. It was his wording. “I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again… (blah blah; lots more high-handed language)”

In other words: “I keep talking but you’re not listening, so I’m going to keep escalating the intensity of my response and keep saying it until you listen up and do what I say.”

Need proof?

Revisit your childhood. How many teachers, parents, adults in charge used that phrase on you? And what were they saying? “Shut up and do it my way.” Or maybe it was softer: “My way is the right way. You must follow.”

“I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again…”

The implication is that the speaker isn’t going to shut up until not only heard, but obeyed.

Whatever, I thought. For me, it ended there. I’ve got two edits after this one; I’m not getting paid to engage on Facebook with people who are so absolute that their way is the only right way. I’m dropping in to take a break, clear my head so I can jump back in and give Steve my best.

At my next break, I took a look at my mail, including the notifications from Facebook. Seems my new friend has posted a brand-new post, broadly apologizing to the world for potentially offending anyone. And then he offered details about our exchange, including his assumption that I was miffed at him because of the timing of our replies.

And of course, his supporters showed up and began to bash this “mystery” member of the group. Editor dude, you are THE BEST. They must be having a bad day! What sort of jerk is that? Don’t they know you have a depth of knowledge that is unsurpassed? (and yes, that’s an almost direct quote)

Still doubt “If I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again” isn’t someone being the bully? He had to go and post a whole separate discussion in order to get one up on me.

And people pay this editor for help making their manuscripts better. Think about that. Does this mindset bring YOU the help you want/need to make your manuscript better? Can someone like this bring an open-mindedness to your work? Can they bring out the best in you, or will they harrangue you into doing it their way, even when your gut tells you it’s not the way that’s right for you? And if you dare to disagree, will YOU wind up as a conversation on Facebook, invited for ridicule?

I’ve met too many authors who have wound up in this position. People who feel forced to produce a book that they don’t love anymore. That the joy has been sucked out of. Some of them are stuck: they’ve signed a contract with a publisher. But others have used freelance editors who’ve left them feeling like this.

And that’s a shame.

There are a lot of really good people out there who look at editing as a way to bring out the best in the client. Who don’t make fun of their clients on Facebook. Who don’t ask others for grammar help; they know it, or they know who to seek out privately to find the answers.

If you’re looking for an editor, go find one of them. It’s YOUR book, YOUR vision, YOUR creation.

Don’t let someone pull that line on you: “I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again…”

When you hear that and you’re an adult? Stop listening. Find yourself better people to surround yourself with.

(Oh, and for those of you keeping score, when I responded to a few geninue requests to understand what wording I was reacting to — with an explanation similar to what I said above– suddenly *I* was the one who had misunderstood *his* intent. He’s not a bully, merely misunderstood! Which… of course… perfectly explains all those other conversations inviting people to build him up while tearing me down. Can you say gaslighting, boys and girls? I haven’t been back to look, nor responded to the gaslighting, but you know his next move will be the personal attack. Yawn. Dude, go find someone else to bully. I got clients to take care of.)


Susan Speaks: Been Awhile


I’ve heard from a couple people now that they’ve been looking for updates from me. What’s going on, they’re asking. How’s the eye?

I have no idea.

It’s in my head, it’s working. (And now that I think about it, having been through a severe eye injury, I don’t buy TWD’s season premiere, and you who watch know what I mean, but it made for a grand, romantic gesture, so I’ll shut up now.)

But the cataract is big and fat. And slurping down whatever it needs to get bigger and fatter by the day.

Every time it grows, I have less and less of an idea of how the original injury is healing. I have zero idea at this point how much vision I truly have, if the ripples on the retina have smoothed out as they seemed to be doing. Nothing. I have zero concept of what my vision is behind Fatso the Cataract.

The second surgeon was able to make time for me… in a month from now. So it’ll be six weeks between the time the appointment was made and when I see the guy. And who knows how long before the surgery.

But in the six weeks between the last time I was at the optometrist and the original surgeon, I lost a line on the eye chart. Doesn’t sound too terrible, but stop and think for a minute.

Forty-three weeks ago, I was faced with horror of losing my sight. And let me tell you, it’s a horror.

And here I am, losing sight.

This isn’t a comfortable place to be. Not even close.

Needless to say, life’s getting tough. I don’t know how much longer I’ll be able to work; I may have to switch out of my home office and my big screen on the desktop and work on the laptop for awhile. Strangely, the smaller screen is easier to see (maybe because I sit closer to it and even when standing at my desk, I’m not as close). For someone who freelances, and who is still down in income from the original accident, this is a problem, and not just because I am expecting five or six manuscripts to show up between now and whenever they arrive.

And driving? Ugh. Unfamiliar places after dark proved to be a poor option last weekend, even with GPS directions.

I am leaving messages for the second surgeon every week. Let me tell you this: when they send out that survey asking what I think, these people are being marked as horrible. I mean, I totally GET that they are doing me a favor by finding me an appointment in this calendar year. My original surgeon’s office had to call in a favor. I get it. I do. I should be grateful. I am.

But surely people cancel appointments, and surely they keep a list of people who need to get in sooner. And surely they can call me.

Because by the time the appointment comes, it’s going to be in an unfamiliar place. During the day, sure. But unfamiliar. And I may not be able to do it by myself.

So that’s how I am. Heading to end 2016 the way I began it: worried about my vision. Because as routine as a cataract removal is, mine won’t be. You can’t take an eye that’s been through as much as mine has been and expect even something simple to not have a chance to go sideways. That’s why I am stuck with this one particular surgeon: he operates on the same day as my guy, in the same hospital. If the original guy needs to come save my eye and/or my vision again, he needs to be right there.

Aren’t you glad you asked?


News Roundup, end of September edition


I’ve been super busy and haven’t had time for an update, but lots of friends and clients and cool people are doing newsworthy things, and since it’s mostly all book related, let’s spread the love.

Reviews are continuing to roll in on my friend Joyce Tremel’s first book in her new series, Brewing Trouble. The second book comes out in early October, so check out what our mutual friend (and amazing writer, herself) Annette Dashofy has to say over at the #30Authors event.

West of Mars friend KC May has updated her E-Book Formatting for Novelists. It’s available for free at a number of locations, including this one at InstaFreebie.

West of Mars friend Liz Milliron (among mega-cool others) has a story in a new anthology, Blood on the Bayou. Check out this glowing review — and then get a copy for yourself.

If you don’t know by now, West of Mars is located in the Pittsburgh suburbs. I’ve always loved living here (okay, not so much in high school, but how much do you really appreciate in high school anyway?). My beloved city is currently having a sort of renewal, rebirth, or has simply done stuff to be trendy and hip. I’m not sure which. But at any rate, to go with our killer new restaurants, we’ve got a brand-new bookstore: Nine Stories. I’m busy during their grand opening, but I’ll have to go on down and (find parking. Ugh. The bane of my existence; I hate being a suburban girl!) make some connections to help better the writing/reading community in the city… and beyond.

Over at The Rock of Pages this week, Jett’s coveted a few books and left an important announcement about Rocktober. Which is that I’ve been busy recovering from the bike accident (yes, still — today’s the 40-week mark and go and make all the pregnancy jokes you’d like to) and didn’t have the time or energy to hunt down authors to ask them to join in. If you know an author of Rock Fiction or read Rock Fiction, Jett and I are always glad to hand the site over for a guest blog post and/or review… or anything you can think up, so long as it joins music and fiction. At The Rock of Pages, it’s Rocktober all year round. Spread the word. Get involved.

On an editing front, I’m booked out about three weeks at this point, but there are a couple potential clients who I’ve been talking to, and I’m awaiting a major project from a client, as well. If you need an edit, better be in touch with me soon. And by soon, I mean NOW.

Also on the editing front, although a bit differently, one of my clients is debating the merits and advantages (and disadvantages) of ACX versus Audible. Leave your feedback here or at the West of Mars Facebook page. Help a fellow author — or two. You never know who is lurking and will take your advice to heart!


#SaystheEditor The Morality Police



I belong to a number of editor groups at this point in time. I usually lurk, but wound up following a thread the other day.

…there were other places that seemed homophobic to me, which is not something young people should read


not something young people should read

You were hired to EDIT a work of fiction. You were not hired to interpret the content. You were not hired to be the morality police.

You were hired to perform a job. You were not hired to overlay your views, beliefs, and politics over someone else’s work or vision.

If you have a problem with it, yes, bring it to the author or publisher.

But to make a blanket statement about what people should and should not read?


You are not the acquiring editor, who (in this case) has paid the author an advance against royalties for the work. One presumes they have approved the content and have seen this content that is not something young people should read. Clearly, the acquiring editor, on behalf of the publisher, does not agree!


I once edited a book, helping get the third book in a trilogy ready for submission to an acquiring editor who had already bought the first two, and the storyline stretched plausibility. I said to the author, “This is problematic to me. I have trouble buying that a person in this profession would act in this way.”

“But this is my life,” she huffed back.

“I get that,” I said. “But sometimes, truth is stranger than fiction and I’m concerned this won’t go over well with your publisher or the audience you’ve built.”

Her publisher refused to publish the book. For the exact reason I’d raised. The trilogy was never completed and remains a two-book series.

So what’s the difference here?

Easy. I won’t make a judgement about what should or should not be read by the public.

This other freelance editor did exactly that. And that bothers me.

She wasn’t hired to be the morality police. She was hired to interact with a text and make it better.

Maybe making it better means flagging the material that she finds inappropriate. (But let’s face it: if she was hired to do a straight grammar check, then no, she wasn’t hired to flag material that offends her. She was hired to make sure the grammar is correct. Nothing more.) But more to the point, it means swallowing your sensibilities and approaching the work as a professional would do. Is this in context? Is it realistic that this character thinks/feels/acts this way? Does it advance the storyline? Does it let the reader have a better/different/illuminating glimpse of the character? Does it help shape the way the reader interacts with the text, in the way that the author has indicated via other parts of the text?

That’s what an editor does.

Freelance editors are not here to be the morality police and tell the world what they should and should not read. They are only here to make the work of fiction in front of them shine. Go ahead and challenge the author. “Is this what you mean to say? Do you see how it can be taken the wrong way? Are you prepared if it is?”

Save the blanket statements. Tuck the morality police away.

Do the job you were hired for, which is to make a book shine. Not to judge what a segment of the reading population should and should not be exposed to.


Susan Speaks: Thirty-Six and Still Counting


It’s been a whirlwind around here as the clock keeps moving forward. Thirty-six weeks since the accident and I’m still counting.

Therapy’s helping, but slowly. Feeling’s starting to come back to the fingers of my left hand. My strength is coming back even faster — just in time for snow shoveling season!

Being concussed is, quite frankly, a total pain in the ass. I liked it better when I didn’t know I was concussed and was just living my life, full-speed ahead. To go from full speed to a crawl has been the hardest part, although the isolation is hard, too. Remember your chronically ill friends, folks, and try to keep the support coming. Sometimes, the longer things drag out, the more they need you. I’m learning this one through experience.

Since I was cleared almost two months ago to wear contacts, I piggybacked an appointment for my son to have his eyes checked with an appointment of my own for a valid prescription for contacts. The little computer they made me stare at said my prescription has gotten better and the tech asked if my strongest glasses were too strong, but then she had me read the eye chart and yep, the doctors were right when they said the cataract would make my vision worse, not better.

I see the surgeon in another month, and we’ll see what he says. On the one hand, I want my retina as healed as possible before we tackle the cataract. But on the other, I’d like the surgeries behind me. I’m eager to get on with living, not healing.

This surprises no one.

What will probably surprise all of you is that my September editing calendar is now completely booked. Depending on work, therapy (once a week, I have three hours of therapy, between the pinched nerve and the concussion work), kids, and life, it might spill into October, which is hard for impatient clients. But it’s super for me. And it’s not just that dates are booked, either. It’s that manuscripts are here, all files open on my desktop, ready and waiting for me. This is job security, man.

I have missed this. Having manuscripts waiting, being in demand.

This is what happens when you are good at what you do.

So keep it coming. Keep counting with me; I’ll be fully healed one day (maybe) and on to something hopefully with less risk and even more personal fulfillment. If you can consider anything about the past thirty-six weeks to be in any way personally fulfilling.


Susan Speaks: Pulsed


I have been Pulsed.

What the heck does that mean?

Pulse is the name of my son’s summer team. It’s a complex organism, the summer team, comprised of kids from all over the city and suburbs. Kids my kid competes against in the fall and spring, kids he has a rivalry (usually friendly but maybe not always) with now become his teammates and they have about ten weeks to come together and gel so they can perform at a high level on the field.

All I’ll say about that last bit is that they entered the tournament as the #10 seed. They left it in thirteenth place.

We can say the team got Pulsed.

Despite the poor finish, there’s a lot to be positive about. Great coaches, one of whom is going to be a rock star of a coach, if he so chooses. And the Spirit of the Game that is mandated by the rules pervaded pretty much everyone on this trip: players, coaches, chaperones. People were friendly and talkative and… yeah. Spirit of the Game. The three Pittsburgh teams rooted each other on. They helped make a strong sideline, which is an important part of Ultimate, and they taught my son’s team — the under 16-year-old kids — how to be that sideline. They did it through example. It was a good thing.

This is why I love Ultimate. Spirit of the Game extends off the field.

Of course, there were problems and we won’t get into them now. My kid had a rough first day. REALLY rough. But his coaches knew what to say and they even figured out how best to instruct him so his final two days of competition weren’t just better, but I watched him push through his own obstacles and elevate his game. Of course, with only ten kids by the final day (one left early and one tore a pectoral muscle) while the other teams had 22, there wasn’t much choice. Which is what we’d wanted: lots of time on the field. Lots of touches on the disc. Experience.

My kid’s been Pulsed.

This was his last year of eligibility for this Under-16 team, as his birthday’s coming up in a scant two weeks. Next year, he may or may not make the more competitive Under-19 team. That’s on him and how he chooses to elevate his game. Time will tell.

On a work front, I’d thrown the edit I was working on into Dropbox, but the hotel Internet was really quite poor (and again, I have major issues with Hilton hotels) as I got nailed with Malware of some sort and when I ran the scanner, cleaned it up, and restarted the machine, Dropbox decided it wasn’t going to cooperate with my laptop. What the heck? I have to go open the file and see if the changes I’d made up to that point saved or if all that work was wasted…

I got Pulsed. Not in a good way.

But the pictures from the weekend are uploaded and if you’re a close friend, I’m glad to share the link. If you caught my Facebook post, I was the one not only taking pictures but running the team’s Twitter account, which had parents on the first night wandering around the hotel lobby and asking who was so much fun. Like this surprises any of you?

So… lots of catch-up work. And, of course, I heard from a number of potential clients over the weekend, all of whom need to be followed up on, and not only do I have the current edit to deal with, the next in line has arrived, too. This is all good, as I now have a mega trip to pay off!

Right now, it’s off to PT to deal with the pinched nerve from the bike accident.

And who messed with my desktop while I was gone?


Susan Speaks: The Mountain, Conquered


Week 32. And I can say I did it. The mountain is conquered.

This year, I didn’t just take my Venturing Crew out to summer camp. Nope. We went full-octane: to the mountain. The mountain in West Virginia, in fact. The mountain where the Summit Bechtel Reserve has been built.

Half-healed, I set foot on one of the BSA’s high adventure bases… and almost let it beat me.

I blame it on a couple of things. We got into camp and it was hot. We were rushed to set up our tents — the tents were up, but the cots were not, and the tents themselves had the windows shut, so they were furnaces — and then join the orientation tour. We saw lots of statues of donors but didn’t get enough information about what activities were open and where things were. Since we were largely relying on the boy, who had been at the 2013 Jamboree, to know where to go, that wasn’t good.

It was rush, rush, rush, and then we were back at the campsite and heading up to the dining tent. It was a fifteen-minute walk, so I’d say it was about three-quarters of a mile. Shorter if you ignored the switchbacks, but between the constant yells to stay on the paths and how steep the grassy areas were, the long way was the best way.

My crew, not thinking, walked at their usual pace.

At my best, I walk slowly. But between the heat, being rushed around, and frankly being overwhelmed by a totally unfamiliar situation — the first time that had happened since the accident, despite the crazy adventures I’ve had over the past 32 weeks — I was walking even more slowly.

And they didn’t notice.

They went into the dining hall before I was near the top of the path. I tried following them in.

To commemorate the first night, a DJ was playing. People were everywhere. I changed my glasses, but I still couldn’t see. Couldn’t see how the room was set up. Couldn’t see my people. Heck, I couldn’t make out much of anything, just the tables directly in front of me.

I tried texting my Crew. They didn’t understand. I got more scared and frustrated.

I fled, intending to grab my stuff and my car keys and really flee.

The mountain began crowing its win.

My guys and girls came and got me. We worked it out. And for the rest of the week, they kept an eye on me. They’d turn around and make sure I was close enough. They’d tell each other to stop and wait. Sometimes, they’d just stop on their own. They rallied, and they helped, and they made sure we sat near doors and that I always knew where things were.

And I declared the mountain conquered.

It tried again to get me, though. Wednesday was both my lowest and highest point after that rough start.

Despite the pinched nerve, despite the concussion (one night at dinner, I proclaimed we were being fed peas and carrots. Which would have been fine if those yellow things had been peas and not corn!), despite it all, I decided I wanted to do the canopy tours with the guys. We harnessed up and… I failed out of ground school.

Two reasons for that: first is that my balance is off. WAY off. Scarily off. And you had to go up and down little wooden steps with no railings to get attached to the zip line. And then, they sent you halfway down the line and made you stop yourself. No problem there. But pulling myself back? No strength in the poor left arm.

If I got stuck, I couldn’t help myself. If I fell off the stairs, bad things would ensue.

I failed ground school.

In 31 weeks, I hadn’t been tempted to cry. Not once, and most of you know what I’ve been through. Even Sunday night, when we got to camp and it tried to kick my ass, I did not cry.

I almost cried after failing ground school.

But thanks to a kind woman, I redeemed myself later that night, during open program. I grabbed the boy and a couple of the others and we jumped on a mountain bike. I told myself I was only doing the absolute easiest route and… dude. That was my personal high point of the week. For those few minutes on a bike, I felt like myself again. I felt like Susan. There were pedals under my feet and handlebars under my hands and a helmet on my head and mud was flying and I wanted to throw my head back and laugh and savor because I felt normal. Finally normal.

The high lasted the rest of the night.

I didn’t chase the high when we had our scheduled session at the more hard-core mountain bike trails, opting not to ride but to hang out and chill instead. I did yoga on the stone sign marking the program area. I chatted and posed for pictures with our new friends from Virginia.

But afterward, when we were hiking back, we stopped at the line for the Big Zip. One of the longest zip lines in North America, my boys had already been down it twice. The rule was that if there was a long line, repeat offenders were bumped, so I had to check: If the guys walk me up there, are they going to ride down with me?

Yes. No one was up there.

We had arranged it beforehand: we’d take the forty-five minute hike up (and I do mean up! I’d love to know the elevation gain) and do it slow. Take an hour, an hour and a half. But dammit, I was getting up that mountain and I was riding that zip line.

My lungs had adjusted by this point, and so had my legs because I’ll be damned, but we made it in forty-five minutes. (It helps that I left my daypack at the check-in point and that one of the other guys carried my water bottle, although the boy kept handing me his, silently reminding me to stay hydrated.)

I had no balance problems on the steps at the launch point. Okay, they were bigger steps, wider than at the canopy tour. And yes, I had a rope already attaching me to the zip line to hang on to.

“Take a step down,” the staff said when my lines were all attached. “Sit down in your harness.”

I did.

“GO!” she shouted.

The boy and I whooped as the release let go. The view was everything they said it would be. The ride was peaceful and gorgeous and if we were really moving close to 60 mph, it didn’t feel like it. And when I saw the boy tuck into a tighter ball to try to pass me, I tucked up, too… and beat my own kid. Handily.

But let me tell you, it wasn’t the same thing as that mountain bike the night before. Not even close.

So, my mountain, The Summit Bechtel Reserve, you tested me. And I won. It was a close fight, but not a fair one: I’m nowhere near healed yet. And yet I won.

Imagine how unstoppable I’ll be once all this is behind me.


Susan Speaks: Into the Woods


So you need an editor like NOW.

Sorry. I am taking the week off this week and heading into the woods. I’m sitting on a mountaintop in West Virginia, by and large. Distances are large and I’m hoofing my way around, camera in hand, to take pictures of my seven so they’ll have cool High Adventure shots for their Eagle ceremonies. Concussion (which may not be a concussion) and pinched nerve (which definitely is a pinched nerve) and bad shoulder be damned. I’m going. Cool High Adventure shots for Eagle ceremonies.

Okay, the girl won’t have an Eagle ceremony. She wants to earn a bigger and better award, and we’re going to see what of that we can get started, too.

This is my reading this week:

Existing clients, or those content to wait, my phone and my laptop are coming into the woods with me, and the camp is entirely connected (thanks, AT&T) so don’t hesitate to reach out with questions or manuscripts that need my eagle eyes. Just… don’t expect me to do a lot of editing. This week’s about giving the eye time off. I know the surgeon said it’s healed, but… what if it isn’t, and the time I’m spending into the woods is a helpful thing?

See you when I survive the bears. And the poisonous snakes. And the ambient showers, camp food, and a tentmate, which is scarier than poisonous snakes.

After that, we go from Into the Woods to Frisbee Central again, and a trip to the Youth Club Championships. And then, if I don’t collapse from it all, I get to be home for a good, long while. Flood my inbox with your fantastic manuscripts, authors. I’ve got to pay for all these adventures! And beyond that, you guys make me love what I do. I can’t wait to come home, chomping at the bit to get busy again.

You guys inspire me. Keep it up. And flood my inbox.

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