Don McNair spent his working life editing magazines (eleven years), producing public relations materials for an international PR company (six years), and heading his own marketing communications firm, McNair Marketing Communications (twenty-one years). His creativity has won him three Golden Trumpets for best industrial relations programs from the Publicity Club of Chicago, a certificate of merit award for a quarterly magazine he wrote and produced, and the Public Relations Society of America’s Silver Anvil. The latter is comparable to the Emmy and Oscar in other industries.
McNair has written and placed hundreds of trade magazine articles and four published non-fiction how-to books. He considers his latest, Editor-Proof Your Writing: 21 Steps to the Clear Prose Publishers and Agents Crave, (published April 1, 2013 by Quill Driver Books) to be the cap of his forty-year writing and editing career. It’s an easy-to-use editing manual that helps writers edit, step by step, their first chapter, then use the knowledge gained to edit the rest of their work.
McNair has also written six novels; two young adults (Attack of the Killer Prom Dresses and The Long Hunter), three romantic suspenses (Mystery on Firefly Knob, Mystery at Magnolia Mansion, and co-authored Waiting for Backup!), and a romantic comedy (BJ, Milo, and the Hairdo from Heck). All are published internationally, and are available at his website, http://DonMcNair.com .
McNair, a member of Romance Writers of America, Mystery Writers of America, and the Editorial Freelancers Association, now concentrates on editing novels for others. He teaches two online editing classes.
My Favorite “Vacation”
By Don McNair
Author of Editor-Proof Your Writing: 21 Steps
to the Clear Prose Publishers and Agents Crave
Well, I guess it wasn’t really a vacation. But my week-long visit to an Indiana Spiritualist camp to research for an expose book was the best time of my life. I now have an official diploma—two more weeks, and I’m a Spiritualist preacher—and a lifetime of memories.
I arrived at the camp and registered, with a tape recorder hidden in my pocket and an innocent smile pasted on my face. I then signed in at a dumpy, old hotel with postage-stamp rooms that shared a single bath on each of the two floors.
Our first activity was devotion in a church, where they’d covered all the windows. We all filled out short questionnaires, then the mediums turned off the lights. Various disembodied voices intoned about Spiritualism, some reading people’s minds and predicting futures. I taped away, even though they forbad tape recorders there to “protect the spirits.” Later I listened to the babble and realized none of it made sense.
The camp consisted of the church, statues of Jesus and other spirit leaders in a circular garden, and several small, equally dumpy Spiritualist houses radiating from it. I selected my first “Enlightenment” subject and signed up for that evening’s class in a book on a porch. I’d later be advised if was accepted or not.
Many things happen to me in those meetings, but I’ll mention only two. One séance featured a young, rather good looking medium—most on the campus were old and overweight. She welcomed me, turned the lights off, and left. Presently I heard the spirits speak.
“This is your Grandfather Brown,” one said, in an eerie, muffled, strangely effeminate voice that sounded as if it were spoken through a trombone. “I just wanted you to know I’m doing fine here on the Other Side.” Before I could react, another voice spoke. “I’m your mother Ruth, and I’m doing well since my passing,” she said. “Please follow the right paths on earth.”
I was shocked, to say the least. Then I realized what happened. That questionnaire asked questions that prompted me to give names of family members passing, and they were now feeding them back to me. I had lied about my mother; she was actually living in a small town a hundred miles to the south. But now I realized the strange class registration method gave mediums time to check this information source before my séance.
In another session, two dozen of us sat around a long room. Again the lights went out, and the medium at the right end asked “Marie” to appear. A young female voice, who the medium said was that of our guardian angel, sounded from the room’s other end.
“Can you turn on the light?” she asked, in a voice one might expect a small waif.
“No, I’m afraid we can’t,” the medium said. “The other spirits don’t want us to.”
They conversed about inane things, and the medium invited us to ask the guardian angel questions. The medium had told us earlier that they helped the living find things. She now asked the darkened room, “has anyone in here lost anything lately?”
“I can’t find my ballpoint pen,” a young man across the room said. It was pitch black, but I recognized his voice from the cafeteria. “I had it on the table.”
“Well, be sure to check under the table when you have a chance,” the guardian angel said. “I think it’s there.”
The scariest thing happened in a chapel. Just as the main medium held up her arms to bless us, my hidden tape recorder started playing. Oh, my God! Others in the room turned my way as I slapped desperately at the bulge in my pocket. I guess the spirits were on my side that afternoon, because the recorder stopped playing.
All this was a hoax, right? But still, something happened later that made me wonder. A visiting medium in one meeting pointed at selected individuals, saying things like, “you’re a teacher,” and “you’re a bus driver.” When she got to me, I froze. She stared at me.
“You’re a writer,” she said.
“No, I’m not!” I said quickly. What was going on?
She frowned. “Are you sure?” She stared at me even closer. “And just what is it you do?”
I gulped. “I’m a… farmer,” I said. I wanted to get out of there, and fast.
She frowned deeper, and shook her head. “That’s strange. That’s never happened before.”
Well, I never did write that book. I put all that research away, promising I’d sometime revisit it and have a great story to tell. But years passed, and so did my interest. The other day, while cleaning out the storage shed, I ran across that box, now covered with cobwebs. I thought a few moments about it, then closed it up again and stuffed it back onto the shelf.
One can’t be too sure.
Most editing manuals are like geography books. They give great information, but don’t show how to get from place to place. Editor-Proof Your Writing: 21 Steps to the Clear Prose Publishers and Agents Crave is a GPS that leads you through the writing jungle to solve your specific writing problems.
Most editing manuals are like dictionaries from which you’re asked to select words to write the Great American Novel. This book shows what words to use and what words NOT to use.
Most editing manuals are loaded with mind-numbing theory. This one presents knowledge a step at a time and asks you to apply what you learned—a step at a time—to your manuscript’s first chapter. Along the way you’ll also edit a nine-chapter melodrama and check your editing against the author’s. When you finish, you’ll have an editor-proofed first chapter and will be ready to edit the rest of your book.
This system was proven to work in three years of weekend and online classes, titled Editor-Proof That Chapter and Twenty-One Steps to Fog-Free Writing. They are parts One and Two of this book. Part Three discusses finding and working with critique partners, professional editors, publishers, and agents. The students loved the concept!
This book is perfect for use in classrooms. The information is presented in bite-sized lessons which can be assigned daily. See what students say about their classroom experiences on the back page.
Unpublished writer “Barbara Stevens” asked me to critique and edit her newest unpublished novel’s first chapter. “I’ve written twelve other manuscripts,” she said, “and they’ve been rejected a lot of times. I hope you can figure out what’s wrong.”
Well, I did figure it out, and quickly. This lady was basically a good writer. Her blogs sparkled, she dreamed up creative plots, and her heart was certainly in her work. But she’d made a major craft mistake in that chapter and, presumably, in all twelve of those manuscripts. It was a mistake that almost guaranteed she’d never be published.
We discussed her problem (we’ll get back to that later), and the light bulb over her head glowed brilliantly. She rewrote that first chapter and I edited it again, and, as if by magic, it became publishable. Barbara used her new-found knowledge to revise the rest of that manuscript, followed by her twelve other novels. Within two months she sold one, and she’s now been published many times. She’s on her way.
The point? Barbara’s breakthrough came directly from correcting that one craft mistake. She’d made it time and time again and was destined to repeat it again and again, until someone told her what it was.
You may be making that same mistake. Or perhaps you’re making another equally deadly one—mistakes we’ll identify and resolve in this book—and are not aware of it. But there’s hope.