But They’re MY Words: Working With an Editor

I’m pretty sure that most writers go through a stage, early on, in which their reactions to editors are similar to a medieval person’s reaction to meeting someone with bubonic plague. “Don’t come near my words! You’ll kill my story!” When I was a new writer I recall a friend once telling me that I seemed “a bit resistant” to editorial advice. She was a master of understatement.

Even so, I knew editing was important. Prior to this I had been writing in a fan fiction community, and I was a big advocate of employing beta-readers. I was relieved when first readers caught grammar and punctuation errors, and would always polish my work … on that surface level.

When I signed the contract for my first novel to be traditionally published, I began to understand that editors don’t just help you clean up your copy. They help fix bigger problems with your story, like gaping holes and gnarled plot points and having the wrong point-of-view character. As writers we are often too close to the story, and too attached to it, to see the problems. So we really do need editors.

Important note #1: editors aren’t looking to replace your voice with theirs, or to in any way hijack your story. Seriously. They are not the enemy.

When I asked my editor, Linda, about this, she replied, “Editors really do want you (and your book) to succeed. It may seem at times like we’re putting you through unusual and cruel forms of torture, but it’s only because our objective eyes can see things about your writing that you can’t, and we’re trying to share that knowledge. We want to make you better writers.”

I chuckled as I read her reply, because with my book that was just released, Uncertain Soldier, Linda did put me through the proverbial wringer. It was the hardest revision and editing work I’ve ever done. I hope that what I went through made me a better writer, if only to avoid having those kind of revisions ever again.

Important note #2: editors are usually right. Not always, but usually. The end result of my brutal revisions was a stronger, more cohesive story. It was worth the sweat.

Linda passed on two pieces of advice that might help you navigate your writer-editor relationship.


Linda & Karen at an awards event. (Picture provided by Pajama Press.)


First, remember that working with an editor is a collaborative venture. Editors are not vengeful gods whose every whim must be satisfied in order for your story to be published (my words). As Linda explains, “It’s your name on the book, and you have to be happy with it in the end. If your editor does or suggests something you don’t agree with, talk about it. Nothing is ever carved in stone, and there’s usually a compromise that will make you both happy.”

Second, don’t rely strictly on email. As a writer who lives in a somewhat remote, rural area over halfway across the country from my publisher, email and the Internet are amazing tools for connecting with other writers, my publisher, and my editor. But as we all know, communicating via email (or online in general) can sometimes lack the clarity we need.

In Linda’s words: “A person-to-person conversation (even over the phone) is sometimes worth a thousand emails, especially if you are stuck on a plot point or a character issue. Brainstorming works better when you can immediately bounce ideas off of each other, and the conversation can flow naturally, not in the “your turn/my turn” way that email’s transpire.”

So keep those things in mind as you work with your editor. Above all, remember that good editors want to help us make our stories the best they can be. They are worth seeking out, and worth listening to. I’m lucky that I have a great one. How about you?

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The Hard Work of Finding an Agent

I neglected to link to this blog post when I wrote it almost a month ago. Silly, right? (If not silly, certainly forgetful.) I asked Chuck Sambuchino, author of the well-known Guide to Literary Agents blog, what are the top three tips he gives to authors looking for an agent. To see his answer, hop over to UncommonYA.

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Writer Wednesday Post

In the build-up to Christmas, I completely forgot to link to a short interview I did for Graffiti Knight over on Uncommon YA. So here is the link: Writer Wednesday. Check it out. If you have questions, ask them here and I’ll be happy to respond.

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Winnipeg Review Interview

 photo MarshaSkrypuch_zps9ea352b0.jpgThe lovely and talented Marsha Skrypuch interviewed me about Graffiti Knight. For the record, she asks really hard questions. If you’re interested in seeing me squirm under the cyber microscope, the results are posted here: the Winnipeg Review.

Like me, one of the topics Marsha covers in her books is World War Two. She often writes about Ukrainian experiences in the war, which are well worth reading about if you aren’t familiar with the history. They had been cruelly mistreated by the Stalin regime prior to the war and so saw the invading Nazis as possible saviours. Time proved that they were no such thing. Ukrainians were sandwiched between two cruel oppressors, and Marsha strives to make that history known through her gripping stories.

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Pitch Perfect Pitch

Today on UnCommon YA, I blogged about one thing that sold Graffiti Knight. Pop over and take a look: Pitch Perfect Pitch.


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On Naming Characters

A month ago I introduced Graffiti Knight‘s main character to readers. One thing I didn’t mention was why I named him Wilm. It might have been the name of a knight…
 photo d3788f54-0de3-43b1-ae0d-d48da27c0b1f_zps2b16150b.jpg But I honestly don’t know.

What elements go into choosing a name? No doubt you’ve heard or read about many of the don’ts: don’t use names that are too weird or too long; don’t pick names that sound the same (Mr. Tolkien, did you want to confuse your readers with Saruman and Sauron?); don’t use the name of someone famous (google it to make sure it isn’t); don’t use a name that ends in an S (it causes confusion re possessive forms). No doubt there are other things to avoid. And no doubt, there are cases where going against the common advice works for the story, such as, perhaps, when writing humourous pieces.

On the positive side, writers are often encouraged to pick names that reflect personality. I’d suggest you be careful with that for it can slide into parody. But it is wise to know the meaning of a character’s name so that you don’t convey something you didn’t intend. In Summer of Fire I named the WWII teen Garda, which means “protected one”. I chose that name for its old-fashioned sound and for the irony, because she was very unprotected in the story. In Graffiti Knight Wilm is short for Wilhelm, which means “resolute protector.” It turns out he does think of himself as a protector. It’s a nice coincidence that this is part of his personality, but that’s not why I gave him this name.

Because Graffiti Knight is historical fiction, I had to consider the time period. Wilm was born in 1930 and the story takes place in 1947, so I had to look at names that were popular then, not now. And I had to consider German names, not North American ones. Friends in Germany pointed to useful websites for historical names. But even that wasn’t why I chose the name, Wilm.

In the end, I chose Wilm’s name because I wanted to name him after someone. Have you read the book or seen the movie, The Pianist? If you have, you might recall the German soldier who helped Wladyslaw Szpilman survive those final days of the German occupation of Warsaw. That soldier was captured by the Soviets and died in a prison camp in 1952, seven years after the war ended. The Soviets beat him whenever he tried to tell them that he had helped Poles, including some Jews, survive the war (which he had). His name was Wilm Hosenfeld.

I have no delusions that my Wilm in any real way reflects the historical one. But there are a few, possibly vague, parallels. My Wilm is also trying to protect those he sees as being treated cruelly by the authorities. My Wilm is also striving against the Soviet army. My Wilm plays a dangerous game that could see him share Wilm Hosenfeld’s fate: death in a Soviet prison camp.

But mostly, I like that my character bears the name of a real German who, in his own way, stood against the Nazi tide. He is proof that there were good Germans living in a terrible time. I admire Wilm Hosenfeld and his convictions. And so I named my character Wilm.


In case you haven’t see it, here is the book trailer my publisher made for Graffiti Knight

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Meet the Main Character: Wilm from Graffiti Knight

Leipzig1“Hallo. Ich heisse Wilm Tauber. Ich bin sechzehn. Ich lebe in Leipzig. Der Krieg ist seit zwei Jahre zu Ende.”

Wilm, you can’t speak German. Hardly anyone will understand you.

“Klar. Aber, Ich spreche kein Englisch.”

Right. You don’t speak English. Then why don’t I introduce you? Don’t look at me like that. I wrote your story. I know you pretty well. A shrug? That’s all I get. Fine, that’s a yes.

As Wilm said, he’s sixteen and lives in Leipzig, a small city in southeast Germany. The Second World War has been over for two years and now the Soviet Union controls eastern Germany. The Soviets hate the Germans. If you know what happened during the war, you know they have reason. Wilm doesn’t care about reasons; he was fourteen when the war ended and he doesn’t think it has anything to do with him.Leipzig2

To be fair, Wilm never fought in the war so he’s probably right, but don’t tell him; he’s cocky enough as it is. Not about everything though, and for sure not about girls. Oh he’s interested, but he hasn’t figured out how to even talk to them. There’s one girl, Johanna, who was a childhood friend and has reappeared in his life. Wilm would love a shot with her, but she has a boyfriend.

Worse, that boyfriend is Ernst, his sister Anneliese’s old boyfriend. Ernst dumped her, which pisses Wilm off because he’s extremely loyal. He would do anything to protect his sister and his friends, even if it means risking his own safety.

Some random things about Wilm:

  • Favourite food: piping hot sausage (which he hasn’t had for years). Actually, he wants me to change that to almost any food that isn’t potatoes, turnips or cabbage, which he’s sick of.
  • Favourite subject at school: no such thing (or so he says).
  • Plans for when he finishes school: NOT being a bookkeeper like his dad.
  • Hates: horsemeat (he did say almost any food). Also, people who throw their weight around.
  • Loves: walking on bridge railings.
  • Wants: to kiss Johanna. Or hurt Ernst. Or both.
  • Wishes: his friend, Georg, had enough to eat.
  • Terrible at: refusing a dare.
  • Great at: making his father angry.

What Wilm really wants, more than anything, is some freedom. He isn’t likely to get it though, not in 1947 Leipzig, a bomb-damaged city that is being cruelly suppressed by the Soviets, where the police stomp on everyone to ensure it, and where Wilm’s father jumps on every little thing he says or does.

But what Wilm doesn’t know yet, is that when he discovers Anneliese’s secret he will be willing to challenge them all – and risk any chance at freedom – to get a mere sliver of justice.

“Was? Was hast Du da gesagt? Sag das nochmal!”

No Wilm, You heard what I said. I’m not going to repeat it. You’ll just have to live it.

ps: Wilm shouldn’t watch this, but here is the Graffiti Knight trailer my publisher produced:

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Joining UncommonYA

I’ve signed up with a group of YA writers on a website called UncommonYA. It’s described as “a collective of YA authors who have come together to spread the word about the newest, bold, gritty fiction. Our genres include realistic, contemporary, historical, magical realism, and paranormal – with a healthy dose of suspense woven through all of them.”

Here is my initial post (cross-posted on UncommonYA and by others in the group) in which I forgot to mention that GK will be released in the US on March 1:GraffitiKnight_xs

In a market flooded with dystopian novels, award-winning author Karen Bass brings readers a fast-paced story about a real-world era of censorship and struggle too often forgotten by history: Soviet-controlled post-World War II East Germany, where one boy fights for self-expression and the freedom to build his own future.

Speaking out in East Germany is forbidden, but sixteen-year-old Wilm has found his voice. At night he wages a graffiti campaign against the police, who answer to the Soviet Army that controls the country. “Marionetten,” he writes—puppets. And Wilm’s war of embarrassment feels good. It feels powerful. If only Wilm can keep that power he won’t ever end up weak like his father. And he won’t ever stand by and let Soviets—or anyone—hurt his sister again.

But to keep his newfound power Wilm has to become more and more like his adversaries. And when he crosses one line too many, the victims may be the very people Wilm wants most to protect.

Read the first chapter here.


Helen Kubiw of “CanLit for Little Canadians” gave Graffiti Knight a 5-star rating and said, “Bass provides enlightenment via a new perspective.”

John Wilson, YA Canadian author, reviewed Graffiti Knight for Canada’s book and publishing news magazine, Quill & Quire: “Bass has artfully recreated an historical time and place peopled by realistic, three-dimensional characters grappling with their own emotions and global forces they can only barely understand.” Full review here.

Pick up a copy!


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