Sunday, June 29, 2014

Author Interview: Margo Dill on Curses

Revision: First of all, I have to congratulate you on an amazing book. I started reading Caught Between Two Curses one morning and didn’t realize how deeply sucked into the story I was until the phone rang at noon. I was actually a little peeved at the caller!

Margo: Thanks so much! I have had several people say that they finished reading it in a day or two, including my own mother.
Revision: Since this blog focuses on revision and metaphors, those are some of questions I’m going to pitch at you. I hope I don’t hit you with a curve ball. Do you have your bat ready?

Margo: Always ready, okay, wait, maybe I need to take a few practice swings.

Revision: Your previous book, Finding My Place: One Girl’s Strength at Vicksburg required a lot of research into the American Civil War. What kind of research did you do for Caught Between Two Curses? What part did your research play in making the book believable? Did your research force you to revise what you wanted to write?

Margo: I have to be honest that I didn’t have to do much research for Caught Between Two Curses, except for some information about the Curse of the Billy Goat--the whole reason why the Cubs are not winning the World Series, of course. Other than that, I did a little research on other curses, how people think they have broken curses in the past, and Chicago. Although I have been to Chicago several times, so I was familiar with my setting.

Revision: Curses in literature are usually a metaphor. For example in the movie Brave, the curse put on Merida’s mother is a metaphor for how daughters view their mothers as monsters until they realize their mothers are merely looking out for the best interests of their daughters. In Caught Between Two Curses, beyond simple revenge, how would you interpret your curse metaphors?

Margo: Mostly they are about love--what happens when love goes wrong? The curse that I made up for Julie’s family was put on by a scorned lover--hence the revenge you’re talking about. But more than that, it’s how love can be viewed by some people as something they are entitled to or that they own. And when love is treated this way, it can cause serious damage. In the book, love gone wrong causes death--it sounds like this book is so serious, when really it is quite quirky and fun, except for the death curse, that is.

Revision: In Caught Between Two Curses, some of your central themes focused on the pressures of teen sex, the importance and difficulty of family ties, and what it means to be in love. When you are in the idea phase of choosing what to write, do you pick your themes or do they emerge organically from your text? How does this change in the various stages of revision?

Margo: I think more about plot and characters at first, with a vague idea of my themes. My themes come out more after my first draft, at which point I try to figure out what they actually are. Then when I revise, I really have those themes in mind, so I think it helps focus the revision.

Revision: You have a marvelous way of drawing the reader into the story, making sure nothing pulls them out of the story. What is your process for revising from first draft to last to smooth out those rough edges so the reader can’t put down your book?

Margo: First of all, thank you--that’s nice of you to say. I wish I had a smooth and easy process, but I just really don’t. I basically write the first draft and most of the time, I have my critique group critiquing as I go. So, I’m always going back and fixing things, even before I finish the ending. I revise and revise and my critique group critiques and critiques. They are invaluable. Then I usually try to get it published--but often too soon, and I have to revise again. I can’t even tell you how many times I revised this novel. I took out an entire plot point that was too confusing and getting in the way. I started the book about 5 different times before I decided to start with the Julie and Gus scene. At one point, I had pink post-it notes all over the floor with scenes written on them and important character points, and then I put them all in order on a poster board to see if I had any holes.

Revision: A few weeks ago, Slate columnist Ruth Graham in her article “Against YA” slammed adult readers for indulging in YA fiction, basically saying, “Grow up, the world ain’t pretty, so read literature that reflects the real world.” In one of my previous blogs posts, “Why Do Adults Like Young Adult Speculative Fiction?”  I discussed several reason why I think adults like and SHOULD read YA literature. Why do you think people like her are so against adults enjoying a good read no matter what genre or age group its marketed for?

Margo: I responded to her on WOW!’s blog here, but really, I think two things about that column--one, it enraged readers, but her article got a TON of views, probably one of the most well-read Slate articles ever. So, if you want people to find out who you are, write something controversial. Second, I think she’s a snob--at least when it comes to reading. I think it’s ridiculous to judge people for what they read. WE really want people to read more--whatever they want to read--just read.

Revision: You have a lot to balance in your life: a husband, kids, an editing business, writing, keeping up with your platform, marketing your books, etc. Your life is in a constant state of revision to stay sane and get things done on time. What would be a few pieces of advice for other people trying to do the same?

Margo: Sometimes, I don’t feel like I do a very good job with the balance, but what I try to do is organize my day into segments and get rid of the mommy guilt. So, I try to plan one to two special things with my kids each day--this could be big like the zoo or small like playing outside in the backyard. They don’t care what as long as I am spending time with them (and the dog, too!). I also ask for help. My husband works nights, so some mornings he watches the kids so I can work. My parents do a lot of entertaining too. I also have to be organized. I have to know what I am going to work on when I have the time to work on it.

Revision: Thank you so much for your time, Margo! Good luck with Caught Between Two Curses! It’s a wonderful book and I hope a lot of people read and enjoy it.

Margo: Thank you so much! I appreciate your time and having me on your blog!


Margo L. Dill is the author of Caught Between Two Curses, a YA light paranormal romance novel about the Curse of the Billy Goat on the Chicago Cubs, and Finding My Place: One Girl's Strength at Vicksburg, a historical fiction, middle-grade novel. She currently has two more books under contract--both are picture books--with High Hill Press and Guardian Angel Publishing. Besides being a children's author, she is also a freelance editor with the business, Editor 911: Your Projects Are My Emergency! and she is part of the WOW! Women On Writing e-zine's staff as an editor, blogger, instructor, and social media manager. When she is not writing, editing or teaching online, Margo loves to spend time with her husband, stepson, daughter, and crazy Boxer dog, Chester in St. Louis, Missouri. Find out more at

WOW! Women On Writing:
Book trailer: Caught Between Two Curses


Next main course on Revision is a Dish Best Served Cold: 
Surprise! Surprise!

Also look for my articles on Walrus Publishing’s website. 

Like Ghost Stories? I’m published in Rocking Horse Publishing’s Spirits of St. Louis: Missouri Ghost Stories. Check it out!

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Editing vs. Revising DEATHMATCH

When people ask me to “edit” their work, I often think, “I don’t think that word means what you think it means.” (Ah, I love that movie!)

In the writing world, “revising,” “editing,” “critiquing” and “proofreading” are broad terms with several sub-categories that involve different levels of time commitment. They also involve different levels of financial investment.

Yeah. Just like going to the dentist, getting a filling is a whole different level of coverage on your dental plan than getting a crown. And I don’t mean a sapphire and diamond one. That would be a grill and a topic for another post. (You don’t know what a dental grill is? Look it up. Bling city. And how do you talk with one of those in your mouth, dude?)

So for those of you who are already gurus in the field of “I know this, you’re boring me, what’s the point of me reading further?” please, hang with me, okay? I do have a revisionist point to make. Skim if you must.

As stated in this VERY clear PDF from Clarion University, revising is a “re-visioning” of your piece into a better and more readable form. This is step one. This includes changing the order of sentences, paragraphs, and chapters, changing characters, changing plotlines, changing scenes, and (small scream) totally deleting old passages and rewriting them. Or leaving them out altogether.

In other words: revision is hack and slash galore. If you don’t see blood and guts of your story hanging off your word processor screen, you’re not doing it right.

Editing, however, is synchronizing your style, analyzing word choices, focusing on readability, clarity of thought, things like that. Even though some people chunk this with proofreading, I see it as a separate function. MHO. Middlebury College agrees with me:

Editing, my friends, is plastic surgery. After the main violence passes, you sew up the wounds, set the broken bones, and start rehab.

Critiquing can be done by a singular individual, someone who can give an opinion on marketability, clarity, continuity, etc., but most often critiquing is done by a group of (trusted) friends who know how to point out additional errors for you to go back and revise and/or edit.

Critiquing can sometimes lead back to the violence of the revision war or merely back to the operation table for a nose job, but just because someone wants to hack up your work doesn’t mean they’re right. You and only you know if a comment is on target. Here’s a hint, though: the amount of anger you feel is often in direct proportion to how right they are. Which means, if they get your goat, there’s a goat to be gotten SOMEWHERE. They may not have the right solution, but they might have hit on the spot to fix SOMETHING. Watch those goats. They can be cursed!

The very last step, proofreading, is correcting grammar, spelling, and punctuation. Middlebury College agrees it should be the last step. (See link above.)

Proofreading is makeup. Coif your hair, file and paint your nails, a little shave or wax for the ladies, a little manscaping for the guys (if you’re into that sort of thing, otherwise, just take a shower.) Don’t get me wrong. Grammar, spelling, and punctuation are ESSENTIAL to clarity and understanding, but they’re the window dressing to great writing. If you don’t have great writing, great grammar, spelling, and punctuation mean nothing.

If you’re curious there’s a website that lists the current average rate for various types of editing and revising services:

These are all things I’m asked to do as a freelance editor. I read, I give my opinion, and then the author...well...responds to my comments in a variety of ways. Few of them include the words, “” (Ah, I love that movie!)

So where’s the controversy? The revision? The crazy question?

I’ve heard many writers say the establishment has set arbitrary rules that writers need to break so their style can shine through. (Check out Origins of the Specious:Myths and Misconceptions of the English Language by: Patricia T. O’Connor) Some say that many editors and agents are too indoctrinated with the rules of the establishment to allow anything new or innovative into the world of writing. Can’t a writer simply write in his or her own style, in any way he or she chooses, and publish? And be successful? In fact, why would you need an editor at all with spelling and grammar check in most word processors? At most you’d need would be a few beta readers to check to make sure you didn’t change Lola to Bethany in Chapter 7, right? I’d love to hear your opinions and see a discussion on this topic!

Editing vs. Revising Deathmatch. It’s all-out war, ladies and gentlemen, but who are we fighting?

Yet another rare dish served cold for your revision delight.


Next main course on Revision is a Dish Best Served Cold: 

An interview with Margot Dill (Editor 911) about her new book 

Also look for my articles on Walrus Publishing’s website. 

Like Ghost Stories? I’m published in Rocking Horse Publishing’s Spirits of St. Louis: Missouri Ghost Stories. Check it out!