How to Say It Like It Is

I was saddened recently to learn that one of my favorite University of Montana journalism professors, Robert C. McGiffert, had died last December at age 88. He wrote the textbook, The Art of Editing the News, received UM’s Distinguished Teaching Award in 1982, and received the Montana Free Press Award from the UM schools of journalism and law. He was a stickler for factual reporting, and I remember my classes with him fondly.

As one former student, Ginny Merriam, put it so well in a tribute: “We are the Journalistic Children of Bob McGiffert….From the beginning, we knew he’d be tough. At the end, we loved him….”

And from my fellow classmate, Carol VanValkenburg: “…I, like so many others I have talked to over the years, decided to become a journalist because of him….”

The following is a poem by McGiffert, published in Editor & Publisher and the Montana Journalism Review. It is so titled because E&P paid him $2 for it.

$2 Poem

As any reader knows, a source can

charge, declare, affirm, relate,

recall, aver, reiterate,

allege, conclude, explain, point out,

answer, note, retort or shout,

rejoin, demand, repeat, reply,

ask, expostulate or sigh,

blurt. suggest, report or mumble,

add, shoot back, burst out or grumble,

whisper, call, assert or state,

vouchsafe, cry, asseverate,

snort, recount, harrumph, opine,

whimper, simper, wheedle, whine,

mutter, murmur, bellow, bray,

whinny or … let’s see now

… SAY!

Thanks, Bob! You taught me well. I don’t need to add another thing.

Follow the Dream Wins WILLA Award

I am excited and honored to announce that my second novel, Follow the Dream, sequel to EPIC-award winning Cowgirl Dreams, has won the national WILLA award.

Both novels are based on my grandmother who rode bucking stock in Montana rodeos during the 1920s and ’30s.

Named for Pulitzer prize-winning Willa Cather, one of our country’s foremost authors, the WILLA is awarded by the Women Writing the West organization. It is given annually for outstanding literature featuring women’s stories set in the west. Awards are chosen by a distinguished panel of librarians and presented at the annual WWW Conference.

This year’s conference will be held Oct. 14-16 at the Embassy Suites in Lynnwood, WA. Keynote speakers are Nancy Pearl and Ellen Waterston. The conference features workshops on writing, publishing, and marketing, panel discussions, a bookstore, and agent/publisher appointments. All writers are welcome. For information and to register, go to the WWW website.

Follow the Dream synopsis:

Nettie Moser’s dreams are coming true. She’s married to her cowboy, Jake, they have plans for a busy rodeo season, and she has a once in a lifetime opportunity to rodeo in London with the Tex Austin Wild West Troupe.

But life during the Great Depression brings unrelenting hardships and unexpected family responsibilities. Nettie must overcome challenges to her lifelong rodeo dreams, cope with personal tragedy, survive drought, and help Jake keep their horse herd from disaster.

Will these challenges break this strong woman?

To read an excerpt from Follow the Dream or Cowgirl Dreams, go to my website at Heidi M. Thomas.

“Proud to Be Here” with Trace Adkins

My husband and I had the privilege of attending a concert at the Lynden WA fair, where country singer Trace Adkins put on a great show.

I like his new CD, “Proud to Be Here,” and love the deep bass voice. One of my favorites on his new album and one he sang last night was “Just Fishin’,” talking about fishing with his daughter and what that means to him. He also teams up with Blake Shelton on this CD with “If I was a Woman,” a fun song poking fun at each other.

One thing I can’t figure out about concerts, indoors or out, is why the speakers are turned up so loud that you can physically feel the bass thumping against your chest. And we are there to hear the singer, but we couldn’t really hear him very well because of that. Is it the venue organizers or is it because the band is accustomed to playing in bigger arenas?

I did enjoy being there, being part of an enthusiastic crowd, and seeing Adkins in person. Just wish I could’ve recognized my favorite songs a little easier.

Published in: on August 18, 2011 at 6:35 am  Comments (5)  
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Sergeant Reckless: A Warhorse Hero

Here is a bit of history I’ll bet you’ve never known. I hadn’t heard of Reckless, the war hero horse. She was a little Mongolian sorrel purchased by an American Lieutenant for $250, and she proved her worth many times over. LIFE Magazine even included her in a write-up about the top heroes of all time.

View the video about Sergeant Reckless.

Published in: on August 9, 2011 at 6:00 am  Comments (6)  
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What is Editing?

There are several different types of editing:  For example I was the editor of the Women Writing the West catalog for three years. And basically what I did, was to organize all the information and prepare it for the designer and printer. I didn’t do much if any, changing of the copy that came in from the authors.

When working on someone’s manuscript, you have basically two types involved: line editing (copy editing) and conceptual (or substantive) editing.

Line editing: making changes on a sentence-to-sentence level. Taking a look at grammar, style, sentence structure, typos, punctuation. (I can hardly read a manuscript without marking commas)

Conceptual editing looks at the overall book to see what’s missing, what scenes can be intensified, and what sort of story-level changes could be made to strengthen a work.

Making a work better and stronger isn’t just about fixing the things that don’t work – it’s about strengthening the best parts as well. My job as editor is to think along with you, the writer, and help make your writing more effective.

A few things for writers to remember:

The better you are, the more criticism you’re likely to get. If your work sucks, it doesn’t take a lot of detail to tell you so. On the other hand, if you’re a terrific writer there may be lots of subtle improvements you’re capable of pulling off.

If lots of people don’t get what you’re doing, it’s you. If one person doesn’t understand what you’re trying to pull off, then maybe it’s that person, but if you get the same criticism repeatedly, then you’re not getting your point across. If you have to explain the joke before people get it, it’s not funny.

Don’t make corrections blindly. If you really feel that the editor doesn’t get what you’re trying to do, don’t jump in and make all the corrections anyway. Even when writer and editor are on the same page, you’ll probably only make about 50% of the editor’s suggestions. (Although you’ll address all of them, accomplishing some in different ways and deciding that others don’t actually help.)

Often the purpose of conceptual edits is to make you think about how a scene works and point out ways to make it stronger; it doesn’t mean you won’t find a better way to address those weaknesses than the ones I suggest. Just approach them with an open mind.

My favorite quote is from Ernest Hemingway: “There are no great writers, only great re-writers.”

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