Today I’m hosting Noah JD Chinn of Mossfoot Editing on my blog. He’s graciously agreed to put his red pen aside, or should I say, his track changes and comment bubbles, so that we can learn more about him.
Noah has worked with a variety of writers including New York Times, USA Today and Amazon best selling authors. As both an editor and multi-published author, Noah knows what it’s like to be on both sides of the keyboard and I know first hand what that kind of experience can bring to a project. Noah edited my debut novel, STILL LIFE.
For the benefit of those who haven’t worked with an editor before, let me briefly explain what such a professional does when it comes to bringing your raw project to a shiny, ready for publication, finish. An editor ensures your manuscript follows a logical course to the best ending possible, making it stronger. Then they refine and polish it. He or she will do this while maintaining the writer’s voice and goals. An editor will find balance between the writer’s vision and the publisher’s expectations, all while meeting the needs of the reader. Good editors are sticklers and have an eye for detail. In fact, Noah is probably doing some mental editing on this blog even as he reads it.
Editors are writers, too. In addition to some world-class editing, Noah has also published several genre-blended books and short stories, that include a cartoon series, satire, science fiction & fantasy, paranormal suspense, horror, and his latest, a mystery set in 1985—each one sprinkled with his unique sense of humor.
Let’s get to know a bit more about Noah.
Describe what would be the perfect manuscript to edit.
One that was good enough to win a Pulitzer yet needed hardly any work from me?
Kidding aside, my favorite authors are those who have a solid grasp of the mechanics of writing, because it means less nitpicking on my end. But more importantly, I enjoy working with those who understand and enjoy the nature of storytelling. Sometimes I’ll end up jamming with authors over email about how arcs might develop, or how to breathe life into a villain so they’re not a cardboard cutout, how to play with certain tropes so they don’t come off as cliche. If it’s a good story and I’m having fun working with it, that’s about as perfect as it can get.
What are the qualities of a good, marketable manuscript?
For a single book it boils down to two things: characters and world. You don’t just want to be invested in the characters, you want to live where they do for a time. Doesn’t matter if it’s a small town or a space station across the galaxy, it needs to feel real enough that you imagine yourself hanging out there with the characters.
For a series you want a sense of something bigger going on as well, to keep you coming back. Not just a matter of having loose threads to tie up, but mysteries you want to uncover, or larger plans you want to see build and coalesce. The trick is introducing or drawing out these things in a way that isn’t ham-fisted.
What are the worst (or common, you choose) mistakes a writer can make with a manuscript?
The most common mistakes are nothing to be ashamed of, they’re common for a reason. Heck, I came up with a list and still add to it from time to time. And sometimes they’re the hardest ones for a writer to notice because they’ve become blind to it.
Overusing visual tricks is one thing, like italics for emphasis, scare quotes, ellipses. Also, short two-word and one-sentence “bam” type paragraphs. These are things we add for visual and tonal style, and are fine as long as they’re not overused.
Over description, whether it be someone’s appearance or using too much stage direction to describe every move someone makes. For example: He strode across the room, turned the door knob, opened the door, left, closed the door behind him, and walked away. (Yes, I have seen sentences almost exactly like that)
Overuse of dialog tags (Bob groaned, grumbled, growled, etc) when “said” will do just fine. If Bob is saying it in a surly fashion, it should come out through the words rather than being told how he said it.
You’ll notice the term “over” pops up again and again, which is perhaps the real lesson to take away from this. Too much of anything will get noticed.
What was the oddest editing experience you’ve ever had?
The true oddities I’ve thankfully been shielded from. Some of the slush submissions our team had to sift through had some doozies, and they would share them from time to time–everything from creepy-as-hell story pitches (creepy as in “this person should be in jail”) to overconfident submissions where the author clearly assumes they’re a best-seller just waiting to be discovered by someone and they are blessing you with the divine opportunity to be that person… those are especially hilarious when they can’t spell. But I’ve never had to deal with those submissions myself, I just get to hear the laughs (and wails) from the editors that do.
Any words of advice to a writer who’s not sure if they should invest in professional editing?
Even my most polished writers still benefit from having a couple of passes from a copy editor (and a line editor to clean up). Writers become blind to their own failings–lord knows I am–and while using friends as beta readers can help, they’re not going to pay the same attention to detail that a proper editor will.
That’s true. Plus, I learned that friends are apt to dance around the hard truth that a writer may need to hear.
Let’s get personal. Tell us three things about you that we don’t already know.
What do you know? Who have you been talking to? What have they told you? Did they send you?
Ha, wouldn’t you like to know.
Let’s choose some really random stuff that you won’t find on my website or blog:
1) I got fired from being a security guard for throwing toonies on the ground trying to pop the center out.
2) In Japan I taught English to the director of the horror movie “The Grudge” at a Starbucks.
3) I still have a drawing my brother drew of me writing a story that he did over 20 years ago. The original is long lost, but I had taken a picture of it and printed off a copy that’s on my office wall.
Three truly fun facts! But what’s a toonie?
A yes, sorry, forgot you’re not Canadian 😉 Toonie is a 2 dollar coin, which has a silver outer ring and a goldish inner center. When they first came out people complained that the center could pop out if they were dropped hard enough.
Other than the computer, what modern convenience could you never live without?
The refrigerator. No fridge means no ice cream. No ice cream means no life. Well, not one worth living anyway.
My hubby would agree. Are there any unique challenges for an author who also edits professionally?
Finding time for your own writing.
And how do you balance that precious time between your editing job and your personal writer’s journey?
That’s a struggle I’m still dealing with. Working from home requires self-discipline, and I am not exactly a storehouse of that. If something has to be sacrificed on any given day, it’s almost always my own work in favor of editing. I’m hoping to get more focused as time goes on, but it’s not easy. There’s always a new distraction waiting somewhere. Facebook, video games, binge watching TV shows… by the time I figure it out I’ll probably have a VR headset and then I’ll be down the rabbit hole all over again.
Social media is addictive and fun, but it’s a time suck to be sure.
What do you enjoy most when you do manage some free time?
In a word: escape. Exactly what kind of escape can vary.
I live to have real life adventures now and then, bike riding long distance (got eight countries under my belt), hiking up mountains, or just travel in general.
I also like games. My favorite being Elite: Dangerous, because in it I can be a starship captain. There is no plot other than what you impose on it – be a trader, be a pirate, be a bounty hunter, be an explorer. Whatever you want. That freedom lets me create my own adventures in my head.
Writing is another kind of escape, and I sometimes do that in conjunction with my other escapes. I’ve written about my adventures, either as blogs or stories, and I’ve written about games like Elite Dangerous by taking my in-game adventures and fictionalizing it for fun. Yes, this editor writes fanfic.
I also play roleplaying games (of the paper and pencil variety), which kind of combines all of the above, and in a social setting with friends.
Every author has a process–what works for them when they write. What does your writing process look like from first scribbles to finished manuscript?
I usually have a vague idea of the shape of a story, but I’m not the sort to plot everything out ahead of time. I want to be surprised as well as I go along, and I usually am. More than once I’ve had stories end up far different than I originally thought starting out, sometimes because of how the characters develop changes where things go.
So basically, come up with a situation, come up with a character, see how character deals with situation.
What is your formula for finding the perfect plot twist?
God I hope there isn’t one. Sorry, it’s just that “formula” to me feels like you’re looking for a magic bullet. And once you think you have that, it’s going to be a crutch rather than an aid.
J.J. Abrams talked about his success in screenplays and TV by introducing “the mystery box.” It’s an effective way of hooking an audience, but getting them to ask questions and a desire to have them answered.
Then remember that this is the same guy who gave us Lost. Lots of great mysteries, but lots of disappontment when it came to giving us answers in the end. If you’re going to give us a mystery box, there better damn well be something good in it.
Anyway, sometimes a twist comes naturally, when you get to a part in a story, look back, and realize there’s something else going on the whole time. I had that experience with Trooper #4, where the role of the protagonist suddenly became clear to me about halfway into my first draft, and changed where the story was going.
If you’re writing with a twist in mind, then you need to make sure you cover your tracks, but still play fair. It’s never fun when a twist comes out and there were no clues beforehand. Clever readers might predict it, sure, but more often than not they predict several possible twists to cover their bases anyway.
If you could thrive solely either as an editor or novelist, which one you choose and why?
Oh, that’s hard. It’s always been my dream to make a living just as an author, but being an editor has one thing that my writing doesn’t – collaboration. Working with a dozen different authors to make their stories better is very statisfying. Working on my own is just kinda lonely by comparison. But I’m also in control and exploring my stories and worlds, which is hella fun.
I might have to flip a coin on this one.
What is your favorite book of all time? (feel free to say mine, it’s okay :-D)
As much as I’d like to say that, it’s probably The Lord of the Rings. I don’t often re-read novels, but that and Stephen King’s On Writing are the only books I’ve ever re-read more than five times each. I don’t think any story has felt more “real” to me than LOTR.
Tell us a little bit about your recent release.
One of my favorite mysteries is The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett. The relationship and banter between Nick and Nora Charles was just perfect. Hell, I envied their relationship. So when I decided to write mysteries I wanted to try and capture some of that with James and Lettice Cote. First in Getting Rid of Gary and now in The Plutus Paradox.
As for the setting, in many ways the 1980s was the end of an era for mysteries. Magnum P.I., Murder She Wrote… those kind of mysteries can’t really fly in the internet/cellphone age. And especially not post 9/11. Part of what appealed to the first readers of Sherlock Holmes was that it harkened back to Gaslight London in a time when electricity was taking over. There was a nostalgia for a time that was still in memory, yet gone forever.
I think of the 1980s in a similar fashion, and wanted to use these stories to tap into it.
What other projects are you working on?
A fanfic story that I hope won’t stay fanfic. The developers of Elite: Dangerous had licenced some official fiction back when it was first released, and I’m hoping they’ll allow more licences to be released in the near future. That would be awesome.
I also have an adventure story called Relics I’m getting ready to submit. It’s basically a modern day Indiana Jones, except with a team of treasure hunters instead of just one. Unlike the James and Lettice mysteries, I’m fully embracing the idea of how technology is changing the adventure story, trying to use everything at our disposal in a logical manner.
Nice, both sound like ambitious projects and I wish you the best of luck! Thank you, Noah, for spending time here today and being so candid. It’s been a pleasure.
Click the banner below to catch up with Noah on his website: Noah Chinn Books
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Here’s the scoop on Noah’s latest book:
The Plutus Paradox is the second James and Lettice Cote mystery. Set in Vancouver in 1985, it revolves around the sudden kidnapping of Lettice’s father, Harold–a man she thought had been dead for fifteen years. And as If that wasn’t strange enough, the couple are left to care for the missing man’s six year old daughter, Lettice’s sister, also named Lettice.
In a case that spans Vancouver’s preparations for Expo 86 to the reclusive leftover hippie communes of the Sunshine Coast, James and Lettice are on a race against the clock to find out why Harold disappeared fifteen years ago, and who has him now. They soon discover that Harold is a man full of contradictions, but also learn that not everything about his past is what it seems to be.