Tuesday, November 24, 2015

REVIEW--Flight of the Sparrow by Amy Belding Brown

5.0 out of 5 stars 17th-century abduction, slavery, and PTSD, November 23, 2015

(Christy K Robinson)
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This review is from: Flight of the Sparrow: A Novel of Early America (Paperback)
Flight of the Sparrow
at Amazon
 I first ran across the Mary Rowlandson story when I was researching my three books on William and Mary Barrett Dyer (two were historical novels that were light on fiction and heavy on fact, and the third was nonfiction). Mary's abduction from Lancaster, Massachusetts Bay Colony took place in February 1675. She was separated from her also-captive pre-teen children, and her six-year-old died of a gunshot wound. Mary was a slave to Weetamoo, a female sachem related to "King Philip" of the 1675-76 King Philip's War. Mary was marched around New England in the depths of a Little Ice Age winter and spring with her own bullet wound and heavy heart at the loss of her children, her sister, and her home and lifestyle, before being redeemed from captivity about three months later.

The original Rowlandson book is moralistic and rather stiff, as you'd expect from the Puritan Congregationalists of the era. But in Flight of the Sparrow, author Amy Belding Brown gives much thought to the background of the story, and brings Mary Rowlandson to life. Belding Brown must needs fictionalize the story somewhat, but I know from my own research and writing experience that when you spend so much time with the subjects of your books, you enter into their thoughts. Belding Brown was able to see Mary Rowlandson's traumatic experiences and the thoughts and actions which saved her life, and then deeply affected Rowlandson's return to "civilization" and normalcy--and perhaps resulted in a loss of her faith in humanity and God.

There was an element of 21st-century feminism and abolitionism which Rowlandson probably would not have dreamed of, let alone spoken, but it makes the book approachable for most readers who are unfamiliar with 17th-century religious beliefs. In her fiction writing, Belding Brown deftly takes the reader through what must surely have been Stockholm Syndrome and PTSD. Rowlandson was dragged through the wilderness both physically and spiritually and I found the deterioration of her religious beliefs to be believable. And readers are brought close, through 21st-century fiction, to what was likely very close to the truth.

The book was beautifully written, and described the environment, customs, and lifestyles of the English settlers as they crashed against the Native American tribes in the 17th century. The contrasts of silence and sound, sophistication and savagery, love and indifference, and many other conditions we take for granted, were striking. The one negative (for me) was that Flight was written in present tense. It's a device that's done more often these days, but it's not my favorite because it bumps me too often into the present. If that's something that bothers you, don't let it stop you buying and enjoying Flight of the Sparrow.

Both Mary Rowlandson's original book (public domain, available free on Google Books and several platforms) and Belding Brown's Flight of the Sparrow are appropriate for ages teens through adult. There is some violence depicted, in the sacking of Lancaster and throughout Rowlandson's slavery experience in the wilderness, but it's probably realistic and certainly not gratuitous or salacious.

If you're a descendant of Mary Rowlandson, you should read this historical novel to better understand the mysteries of 17th-century religious belief and culture. You'll think better of Rowlandson than you would from reading the journal alone. If you're not a descendant, then read Flight of the Sparrow to learn the strength of character our early-American ancestors had to have to survive the ordeal of settling a wilderness--and building a nation.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Editors worth their weight in gold...

... even if they could stand to forgo that fried chicken or cheeseburger.

After months or years of research, plotting, writing, revising, and getting friends and family to critique your manuscript, you're ready to spring it on the world.

Wait. No, you're not. It needs an editor. Whether you're an experienced author or an English teacher or a novice novelist, you need an editor. Even editors need an editor. You are blind to your own errors now, after all that hard work. You know what you intended to say with that phrase or sentence, but your readers do not. They look at it and say, "Huh?"

This article, by author Holly Robinson (no relation to me), gives great examples of the work process of an editor. The original article ran in Huffington Post on October 9, 2014.

Publishing's Unsung Heroes: Copy Editors 


The copy bubbles are everywhere on the manuscript:
"I crossed out 'Tuesday' because later you say it's Wednesday."
"She's fifty-nine here and fifty-eight on page 102. Which one?"
"If he Googles the land line, why is she answering the call on her cell phone?"

I'm going through the copy editor's remarks on my newest novel -- the one that will be published by Penguin Random House as Haven Lake in April 2015. And, once again, I can't believe all the mistakes I made in this book -- even after eight or nine revisions, two of which were done in collaboration with my savvy, brilliant editor.

Writers and readers sometimes wonder why it takes so long to publish a book with a traditional house. Here's why: every step of the process takes time.

First, you send your novel to an agent, who (you hope) likes it enough to shop it around to various suitable editors. An editor buys it (you hope) and goes through the manuscript, suggesting revisions in an editorial letter. You address her queries and suggestions, and then you send the revised manuscript back to the editor. The editor then reads through the new draft and sends it back to you with (you hope) fewer suggestions, catching a few fine points here and there, praising you or telling you to rework certain sections. You do all that and send it back.

Four books ago, I thought the next step would be publication, but oh no. The next step is copy editing, and here's where the party really begins: a copy editor is someone who takes out her bright lamp, microscope and fine-toothed comb. She nit-picks through each one of your pages, catching time transitions that don't make sense, erroneous spellings, accent marks if one of your characters happens to speak a foreign language, word repetitions, name changes or hair color changes you forgot you made, etc. In other words, the copy editor is a fierce, mistake-seeking hound, nosing around in every dark corner of every paragraph to make sure you get things right.

Thank God.

Copy editors are worth their weight in gold, yet hardly ever garner a mention. So here it is, a shout-out to you, copy editors around the world: we writers and readers are so lucky to have you smoothing sentences and paragraphs and chapters. Thank you for all of your hard work.

And for those of you who are self-publishing books, some advice: if you have any extra funds, do yourselves a favor and hire a copy editor. Your books -- and your reputation as a writer -- will be better because of it.

Now back to my manuscript and the copy editor's bubble comments in the margin:
"It can't be Saturday here, because you said it was a school day earlier."
"Same words in previous sentence. Change here?"

As John Cleese of Monty Python would say, "My brain hurts." But it's so worth it. No manuscript will ever be perfect. But, thanks to copy editors, we can get closer.