Monday, September 21, 2009

On Edits and Plum Cakes

What I'm reading: Even Money, by Dick Francis and Felix Francis; contest entries

As of sundown last Friday, we kicked over into a new year. It's now 5770 as well as 2009. This holiday gives a second opportunity to reflect on the past year, and prepare for the new. As with most holidays, the symbols and rituals have underlying meanings.

We eat a round loaf of bread instead of the normal braided one, to symbolize that the year comes full circle, with no real beginning or end. And, in anticipation of good things in the year to come, sweet things are featured. One ritual is dipping apple slices in honey.

As I contemplated the menu, I decided to take a small detour with dessert. Honey cake is common, but nobody in our family has ever liked it, so we've always done another common holiday dessert, "Pflaumkuchen," or plum cake. The recipe calls for fresh Italian prune plums, which have a very short season that usually coincides with the holiday. As a matter of fact, seeing them in the store is usually my mental head-slap to check the calendar because the holiday is approaching.

Here in Orlando, they can be very hard to come by. Buy them too early, and they'll rot before you need them. Wait too long, and there won't be any in the stores. But, I was determined to do a plum dessert, even though I ended up at Whole Foods instead of Publix, and had to pay something like $6 a pound since they only had the organic ones. I gambled and bought some black plums as well, figuring I could stretch things that way.

But instead of my mom's favorite version, which is a cake batter with plums baked into it,

I decided I wanted to do a torte with a Muerbeteig crust. The selling point for me is that a Muerbeteig crust doesn't have to be rolled; you just press it into the pan. And it's a rich, cookie-type dough, so my ineptness with flaky pastry wouldn't matter.

I knew I'd done one before, but didn't have the recipe. A-googling I went, and found two recipes that looked easy enough.

However, one was for a 9 inch pie plate, and the other for a 12 inch tart pan. I have a 10 inch tart pan. One called for adding sugar to the plums before putting them onto the crust. The other called for sprinkling sugar onto the crust before adding the plums. One used brandy on the crust; one used currant jelly. One said place the plums cut side up, the other cut side down. Which would be better?

Which (finally, I can hear you say), brings me to the reality of today's topic. Is there only one 'right' way to do anything?

I had a contract offer from The Wild Rose Press for a re-release of one of my early Cerridwen Press titles (which means I have to change the title, and that's driving me crazy enough! I've mentioned more than once how I hate coming up with titles, so two for one book is killing me.) This means I have a new editor. And she'll have her own suggestions about the manuscript.

Now, it was "fine" before—at least it got very good reviews. Another editor had worked on it. When I got the rights back, I updated it and ran it past my critique group. I tried to apply my improved writing skills, plus I dug deeper into getting all the police work right, since I'm using a real town and a real law enforcement office.

What will the end result be? I'm not sure yet. I got the file Friday evening, and because of the holiday, didn't do anything but save it. My editor had given me a heads up about her impressions of my hero, and said she had a few places that needed tightening. Curious, I clicked on word count. She'd 'tightened' ten thousand words out of the manuscript.

As I write this, I have yet to look at her comments. I know my initial reaction will be one of "how dare she?" but I also know that's a purely emotional response to someone criticizing my 'baby.' After all, after 3 edits, haven't I already murdered all the excess darlings? No, I'm sure I haven't. I recall Robert Crais saying the best advice he ever got was, "Your words aren't precious." Although we sweat over each one we put on the page, they're really not all needed. Fiction isn't real life. A transcript of one's minute-by-minute activity, with each word uttered transcribed to the page would be boring beyond belief.

So, I will go through her comments. I'll accept some without a second thought. Some I'll think about four or five times before deciding. Others, I'll discuss with her. A lot of the time, what's in my head might not be making it onto the page well enough for her to understand, so we need to compromise to find the best way to make sure the plot points are there, the character development is there, and that the reader cares enough about both to keep turning pages.

She's already said she's not trying to change my voice (note the clever reference to last week's discussions), or imprint my story with her own ideas. Eventually, we'll work out what will make the story the strongest it can be. No two readers see the same things in any story; simply because they're also "editors" doesn't change that.

And – for the record, the compromise plum cake was excellent. And there's crust dough left for baking cookies. Maybe there will be a future use for some of those ten thousand "extra" words as well. (Credits: the challah and batter plum cake courtesy of my daughter--both her oven and camera. The tart is mine.

Tomorrow, my guest is author Gail Lukasik, who's got some advice on jump-starting your writing.


Jess said...

Both challah and pflaumkuchen were tasty! Not sure a phone camera counts as a real "camera", tho.. ;) And I am still fighting with that title, too..

Terry Odell said...

Ok, "photo courtesy of my daughter's phone" -- by the time you put a picture on the blog, the quality isn't that different.

Gail said...

Your discussion of editing struck a chord with me. The first time I worked with a book editor, I followed most of her suggestions. I figured I was new to the game and had a lot to learn. Afterwards, I regretted some of the changes. Now I'm more assertive when I work with an editor. I agree, you have to know when to let go and when to hold on.

Terry Odell said...

Gail, I think it's like a marriage. You have to choose your battles.

Sheila Deeth said...

They look delicious, and "pastry" that you press into place sounds almost like my gluten-free efforts (rolling would be a gooey disaster). Food for thought.

And the editing... sounds quite an experience. Can I dream I might share it one day?

Mary Ricksen said...

Both deserts look just great to me. Pass me a piece will you?

Good luck with the book and a title will come to you, you'll see.

Terry Odell said...

I can now vouch for both recipes. I don't know if Jess has any left--and you'd have to travel to Ireland to get some. We've got enough left for tonight, so if you want to taste, you'll have to hurry. It's good with ice cream, btw.

As for a title - since its a reissue, it's doubly hard, since I already dealt with finding the 'perfect' (HA!) title once.

Jess said...

i had to give half of my cake to the neighbors, and we still have plenty!

Nancy J. Cohen said...

Those baked goods look delicious! We were never crazy about honey cake either. Our family is over forty people so we go to a country club and have a catered meal.

Terry Odell said...

I don't think we ever got over 25 at one dinner -- holidays were split into sub-groups. Everyone brought something.