Ah, the Kid Editors. We’ve discussed that they’re brilliant. We’ve discussed that giving your book to a kid basically guarantees that you’re going to be given insights about your work, yourself, your talents and your shortcomings in completely unexpected ways. If a kid gets you, give yourself a pat on the back. If a kid tells you you got it wrong, FIX IT IMMEDIATELY.
Well, apart from getting some good story notes, I learned something about myself from the second Kid Editor to check in about The Kairos Mechanism.
Mason is who you want calling you after you get off the phone with Emma. First of all, you know Mason’s done reading because you get his phone call. He doesn’t mess around waiting for me to remember to get in touch with him. It’s fantastic. Secondly, Mason, as a critic, is sort of the opposite of Emma. It isn’t that Emma doesn’t tell me what she likes, or that Mason doesn’t tell me what he doesn’t like, but Mason (after two rounds of beta-reading, now), tends to focus more on what he wants more of, rather than what he wants fixed. Which, in a piece of short fiction, is very helpful. But before I tell you about our discussion about The Kairos Mechanism and what I learned about myself during our discussion, here’s Mason (now 13) on being a Kid Editor.
K: What do you like about being a beta-reader?
M: I love being a beta-reader because for one thing I love reading, and because I think it’s fun and cool to be able to read something before it’s even really been printed.
K: Is it difficult to do? How is it different from just reading a book?
M: It is difficult at some parts because sometimes you forget you’re looking for errors and stuff when you get caught up in the book.
K: What can a writer do to help you give her good feedback? Do you like to have questions in advance? Would you rather just read the book and have the writer send questions later, so they don’t influence your thoughts while you read the book?
M: I think it’s good when the writer sends at least an email every week and asks how you like the book, and then maybe she could send one or two questions a week.
K: What steps do you take after you’re finished reading a book–or while you’re reading it–to decide what you like and what you don’t, and what you think the writer still needs to work on?
M: I read the whole book and as I’m doing so, I take notes on each chapter and then go back and look at what I really liked and what I didn’t like as much.
K: Do you feel comfortable telling someone (for example, me 🙂 that you like or don’t like a particular aspect of a book? Is it hard to do? How can the writer make you more comfortable about giving negative feedback?
M: It’s ok because you know that they want you to tell them what you don’t like as that is kind of the point of you reading it. 🙂
K: How do you involve your parents in your reading?
M: I would always tell my parents what was happening in the book and what I liked.
K: Any other thoughts you’d like to share?
M: Just let me know when you need your next book read, or if any other authors want to use some beta-readers. I would love to help.
Here’s what we talked about regarding The Kairos Mechanism.
It seems that Mason would, if forced under thumbscrew torture to rate what I’ve written, file The Kairos Mechanism squarely between The Broken Lands (his favorite so far) and The Boneshaker (which loses to The Broken Lands because The Broken Lands has more action and also has lots of fireworks). On one level, there’s a place in the writer’s brain (I suspect–or is it just me?) that always wants to hear a reader say that what they’ve just read is the best thing you’ve ever done; on the other hand, it would be highly problematic if that hypothetical reader actually liked your self-published novella better than the more-than-400-page major hardcover release it’s supposed to be a companion to. So I’m okay with Mason’s ranking.
I could hear him flipping through the aforementioned notes as he told me things that he particularly liked: Miranda Porter, Natalie’s friend, who (in Mason’s opinion) is really turning into a great character; the mechanism of the title; the time spent in the mysterious garden behind Simon Coffrett’s mansion. (Sorry, Cyndy. The thirteen year-olds are outvoting you so far.) He felt I was managing some pretty good suspense. His answer to the question, how would you like me to spend five more pages, was helpful but would be a potential spoiler.
He gave me a few things to fix, all very astute and mostly right in line with what Emma had suggested, but here’s what I really want to talk about. He had high compliments for the historical elements, but he wasn’t talking about the fact that the book is set in 1913. There’s another era that’s invoked in the book, and part of it has to do with a war. And as Mason was talking (having just studied the war in question in school) about how he thought I’d done pretty well with all that stuff, I thought, when did I start wanting to write books that deal with war?
The answer is: never. That was never part of the plan, and it still isn’t. And yet, it snuck in.
Part of it is what I’ve been reading. I’ll admit that right now. Right now I’m finishing reading Bruce Catton’s Civil War trilogy. Last year, I went bonkers for Barbara Tuchman’s Guns of August. Just before that, I was all about Six Frigates, Ian W. Toll’s history of the founding of the U.S. Navy during the War of 1812. Two years ago, if you’d suggested to me that I’d have spent the bigger part of my recreational reading on military history, I’d have laughed in your face. But the facts don’t lie, and there are at least seven more books on my TBR pile that follow the same trend.
I’d also have laughed if you’d have suggested that this reading would work its way into what I was writing. I have never enjoyed what I guess I think of as “war fiction,” and furthermore none of my books (so far) have actually been set during wartime, which I guess is why it took me so long to realize how much of its shadow had been sneaking into them.
On the other hand, I’ve either written or written proposals for four books that, in some way, touch upon the ways in which war and the memory of it linger for years afterward. I think it all started because I realized that since The Boneshaker took place in 1913, if I continued telling Natalie’s story I’d shortly have to deal with a world lurching toward the first World War. Not that the stories would suddenly have to be about war–but they’d have to address the reality of taking place in a world at war.
There’s also this, which is becoming more and more clear to me the more I read about different conflicts in different eras: whatever else a time of war is, it’s a time when strange things happen, and do I love reading about the strange quirks of history. That may be the thing that has kept me reading what I’ve been reading, and letting it influence what I’ve been writing.
All stuff I’ve been mulling over since getting off the phone with Mason, who thinks I do a good job with the historical war parts.