Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Only You Can Write Your Book: Q/A with Carol Fisher Saller and a Giveaway

We are very privileged to have Carol Fisher Saller, author of Eddie's War and the Subversive Copy Editor with us today.
You can see my review of Eddie's War here.

Carol has offered a signed copy to one lucky commenter!

So let's get started...

1) After spending many years in academe what made you decide to write a book for children? 

Actually, although Eddie’s War is my first children’s novel, I wrote several books for younger children before I started working in academe. In the early 1990s when my children were small, we read a lot of children’s books, like Beverly Cleary’s books about Ramona and Beezus, and the Little House books, and Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain series, and Jack Prelutsky’s poetry collections. Not to mention a million picture books. It made me want to try writing them myself.

2) Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you became a writer.
I grew up unremarkably in Peoria, Illinois, and like all writers I must have begun writing as a wee tot, since I don’t seem to remember the process.

3) What made you decide to use verse to tell Eddie's story?

Truly, I never set out to write in verse, nor would I call it that (although you aren’t the first reviewer to describe it that way). I would call it “prose chopped into short lines.” Early on, a critiquer at a conference told me the short lines were a bad idea, so I rewrote them into paragraphs, but the short lines continued to assert themselves and I finally stopped fighting them. I like the way they slow the reader down. They also allow a bit of stream-of-consciousness when I don’t want to be explicit. And of course, without them, the book would only be about 50 pages long.


4) Tell us about your process.
It’s kind of a mess. I don’t follow any of the usual advice (write every day, keep a notebook, etc.). When I’m writing, I try to give it 20 or 30 minutes when I first get up in the morning, before I go to the office. Writing Eddie took me something like six years, and it’s a really short book! I’m very slow, partly because I’m compulsive self-editor. I love revising so much that I do it continuously as I write. I spend much more time rewriting and honing than drafting. It’s so much more enjoyable and rewarding. 

5) I understand the inspiration for Eddie's War came from the journal of your father. Tell us what other research you did and it's role in the creation of the story.
The research was endless, and unlike many writers of historical fiction, I did not love it! It was like homework. But I took my responsibility seriously to get things right, and since I’ve spent my whole adult life copyediting scholarly research, I know how to find facts and document them. I read old newspapers on microfilm; I read books written by WWII bomber pilots; I looked at memoirs from the 1930s and 1940s. I read about farm machinery, typewriters, sparrows, horseshoeing. I listened to Churchill’s war speeches and bought a CD full of radio news programs from the war. (You should listen sometime to Edward R. Murrow reporting from London during the Blitz!) I looked at several books about the Roma in Poland and read whatever I could find online. And my father’s diary was a gold mine of period detail. If I needed Eddie to be doing some authentic-sounding farm chore in June 1943, all I had to do was look in the diary and take my pick. I used the names of books my dad was reading, movies he saw, radio shows.

Although the usual sequence is that a writer needs to confirm a fact and looks it up, your question reveals that you know it sometimes works the other way around: you look something up, and what you discover suggests a new twist. For instance, Jozef was a minor character before I read about the Polish Roma, after which he seemed so much more important as a symbol of the war and its atrocities.

4) You stated that revision is your favorite part of the process, even to the exclusion of drafting. You've also written an important book The Subversive Copy Editor. Why did you feel compelled to write this?
For many years, as part of my job at the University of Chicago Press, I had been reading all the e-mails sent to The Chicago Manual of Style, and so many were from writers and editors who were asking for proof that they were right about something so they could win an argument with someone. I began to see how much needless trouble and angst there was in the editing process, writer versus editor. I also saw how many educated people felt superior when they were actually just clinging to fake or antiquated rules (like not splitting an infinitive, or not using the passive). I wanted to write a book that would give both parties a smack and ask them to update their knowledge, put egos aside, and cooperate in service of the reader.

7) The underlying theme seems to be about keeping the experience of the reader at the forefront of the editing process. Why is this especially important now with the digital evolution of publishing? 
Because online publishing is not always run by professional editors, there’s an increased likelihood of errors and inconsistencies that both detract from the reader’s experience and damage the credibility of the writer and publisher. The idea that editorial quality matters to readers is widely accepted, but editing costs money, and low-budget publishers often decide it’s dispensable.

8) What does a typical writing day look like?
Unfortunately (fortunately?), I don’t have writing days. I have the day job, and I’m involved in a lot of other activities outside work, so I write in little bits and pieces. I’ve often thought that even if I were free to write all day, I’d probably find other things to do after a half hour.

9) Where is your favorite place to write?
In the sun, which is difficult on my high-glare laptop. I wonder if there’s some kind of gadget for that.

10) What did or do you find most challenging in creating the story and getting it published? What do you wish you would have known?
I got very discouraged at times, thinking that the whole thing was hopeless. My writing group and my editor, Stephen Roxburgh, kept telling me just to keep writing, and I wish I’d had more faith that it would actually lead to a finished book. 

11) What is the best writing advice you've ever received?

Aside from “Just keep writing,” it would be “Only you can write your books.” I’m sorry I don’t remember where I heard it. It’s easy to get caught up in comparing myself to other, more celebrated writers. Or worrying about whether someone else is writing something similar, instead of remembering that what I do with a given idea is unique and valid, and that writing is not a competition. There’s room for many voices.

12) Are you working on a new project? Can you tell us about it?

I am! I’m still outlining, so nothing is set in stone, but I can at least say that it’s about a girl whose great-great-grandmother was hanged for murder. I want it to be a bit dark—a mystery—as the girl tries to track down a journal that will prove her ancestor’s innocence. It will be more YA than Eddie, and set in the present—although of course we’ll have to go back to 1935 when the hanging took place.
13) What advice would you give others who write for children? 
                    Join SCBWI! That will give you all the advice you’ll ever need.

Thanks so much for coming by the blog! This has been great getting to know more about you and your work.  Find more Carol here:

Subversive Copy Editor Blog

And now for the giveaway...

Answer the following question in a comment and tweet about this post. Easy, right?

Question: According to Carol, what was the advice she wished she'd had more faith in?

Whoops, I forgot to put a deadline on this give away. Deadline for entry is March 31st and winner will be announced on April 1st. 


  1. The advice - which I need to hear, also, and then heed - was "just keep writing."
    As a grammar and CE nerd, I adore your stuff, Carol! Thanks for the interview.

  2. For the giveaway: "My writing group and my editor, Stephen Roxburgh, kept telling me just to keep writing, and I wish I’d had more faith that it would actually lead to a finished book."

  3. To just keep writing... she wished she had more faith that it would lead to a finished book. Whether she had the faith it would or not, it did and I'm inspired by her fortitude. I also really enjoyed hearing her not-the-usual views on how and when and where to write. It helps an aspiring writer a lot. Great interview.

  4. Carol, I love that you returned to your format for Eddie's War against advice. It is often so difficult to know when to take a critique to heart, and when to trust your instincts. One exception, of course, is the wonderful and precise advice you give as the subversive copy editor, I always take it as word. So glad my daughter (grad of Columbia Chicago Journalism) turned me on to you.

  5. I am buying The Subversive Copy Editor for my collection (academic libary) and Eddie's War for my children's school library. Thank you!

    1. Oooo! I would love this book (for me and my kids)! Thank you so much for the insightful interview and the giveaway. The comment about writing having room for so many voices is beautiful.

      Carol wished she had more faith in the idea that "just keep writing" would pay off in the end.

  6. Great interview! I loved EDDIE'S WAR, and I look forward to reading Carol's next book. Also, I have to agree that it is SO true how the simple task of fact-checking can suddenly suggest a twist that you want to (or even *have to*) incorporate. You never know what you'll find out there!

  7. To just keep writing and have more faith that it would lead to a book. Love this interview. It is so helpful to get a glimpse into another writer's process and journey. I'm glad I clicked on the link from The Chicago Manual's Facebook page. I'm bookmarking your blog! Thanks!

  8. Keep writing, and do have faith that it will lead to a finished book. For me, I have such writer's block when faced with my own blank pages. Good advice for many parts of the process--thank you.

  9. The advice was "to keep writing." Great interview!

  10. Thank you, everyone! And Pam, thank you for asking about both of my books. Sometimes I feel that the two audiences have no overlap, so it's nice to hear that there actually is some.

  11. For the competition, Carol wished she'd had more faith in the advice to "just keep writing" and that it would lead to a book. Such a lovely interview. Thank you, Carol, for being so honest. I am a freelance editor working in Australia; I would love to have a copy of The Subversive Copy Editor for my library.

  12. The advice was "just keeping writing" and it would lead to a finished book. Clever giveaway idea - made me sit down at my computer and type "just keep writing" - now I've really no excuse not to! Love the interview, very wise. Thanks. Sarah

  13. The advice: “Only you can write your books.” What you do with a given idea is unique and valid, and writing is not a competition. There’s room for many voices.


I would love to hear from you!

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