Saturday, January 9, 2010

Where on Earth

… have you been?” one of my friends asked me last week. “I haven’t seen you since before Halloween. What on earth have you been doing?”
            “I’ve been right here,” I told her. “I may have been a technological nincompoop until now, but that’s changing. I’ve been learning to do new things on my computer. I’m toddling into the 21st century.”

            Yes, I’ve been sitting right here. Learning, as John Dewey said, by doing. In September, I decided it was time to update my web site, which was originally created a dozen years ago to publicize my books. Every time I had a new book published, either my friend Alexis Masters ( or my daughter-in-law would update it for me. I didn’t have a clue about how that was done. But when Alexis and I spoke on the phone early in October, she said, “You’re going to learn to work with the content management system yourself now. It’s time for you to stop being so helpless.”
            And so the “class” began. First I created a Word table, into the boxes of which I wrote my ideas for new pages. Because I earn my living as a book editor, I changed the focus of my web site from my books to my editing work. The headline under my name now says Let Me Be Your Editor. After Alexis walked me through picking a color scheme, we got to work on the content management system (CMS). This is my “admin page,” which she titled The BAWriting Room (Remember to Breathe). We deleted most of the pages on the old site and I wrote new everythings, including pagettes on Maine coon cats, Michael Ball (I’m a member of his fan club), musical theater and Shakespeare, my trip to England, and my son Charles, who is also a writer. There are pulldown menus along the top of my home page, and these pagettes fall under About Me. I also wrote about how I work (“My Wordy Life”), set forth some opinions concerning how publishers treat writers, and selected a dozen books I’ve edited over the years to serve as examples of my work. But I didn’t forget my own writing—we also set up pages for excerpts from my books, some of my shorter works (including a prize-winning magazine column I wrote when my gay brother reappeared in my life after 23 years of silence), some of my poems, and a links page.
            What did I learn to do? How to save all the new text I wrote as plain text files. How to copy and paste these files into the admin pages. How to save and refresh and edit the admin pages and save again. How to size and post photos to the pages. Alexis did the hard part, though; she made a nifty table for the thumbnails of the covers of the dozen sample books I’ve edited. How to add links, both internal and external. Let me brag a bit. Alexis said I learned better and faster than her other clients. Take a look at my new site: Tell me what you think.
            That was October and part of November. When I was very young, I used to listen to the Horace Heidt Orchestra on the radio in my grandparents’ living room. Last year, Horace Heidt Jr. decided to write a memoir about his father, and I had the pleasure of editing it. The memoir is about 400 pages long and filled with wonderful photos. Here’s the tricky part—I had to edit not a Word document but the typeset pdf files. But you can’t edit a pdf file. I got to learn how it’s really done. You download and save it, then you start reading. The writing, while interesting, wasn’t good, so every time I saw something that needed to be rewritten, I had to highlight the words or punctuation and add a yellow sticky note. Adobe gives you a nice yellow pointer, which you move to the beginning of the highlight, and a yellow brick road to the attached sticky note. You type the corrections on the sticky note. Some pages had so many sticky notes I had to nest them. The typesetter’s a friend of mine, so I also wrote notes to her about global changes and hyphenation. Heidt had a radio show in the 1930s called Pot o’ Gold. This is also the title of his 1941 movie. But what he’d written was “Pot O Gold.” We had to change it every single time, plus put all the song titles in quotation marks and all the titles of movies and TV shows in italics. Yeah. Lots and lots and lots of sticky notes. My friend the typesetter trudged through them like she was crossing a swamp. I’ll be eager to see the book when it’s published.
            In mid-December I was persuaded that social networking might help people find a good editor—me. So my son and a friend led me through the thickets of Facebook. I’m friending and being friended—and almost immediately I posted a note saying that “friend” is a noun and we should not verbize nouns. (Is the Facebook Team paying attention?) (No.) Now I’m looking at Plaxo and Twitter. I have not yet clucked or chirped or tweeted. I’m building up to it.
            Finally, earlier this week, my Internet service provider (I won’t name it, but you can get a clue from my email address) fu—failed to connect. Repeatedly. I get all my editing work via email. I had to be on line every morning and several times during the day. Here was Another Useful Learning Experience. A helpful neighbor walked me through a different way to connect and we put a new shortcut on my desktop. One of these days, though, I’ll have to get into a “live chat” with one of the multi-talented minions of my ISP and get it fixed.
            My plan is to go back to blogging for you about writing. We’ll begin with getting organized to write a book. Next time. Happy New Year.

Feathered Quill is excited to welcome Barbara back after a brief hiatus.  Stay tuned for lots of great info. to help you with your book.  We hope you enjoy her column.  Learn more about Barbara at: Barbara