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MILLLICENT G. DILLON, represented by Harold Ober Associates, is the world’s expert on authors Jane and Paul Bowles. She has won five O. Henry Awards and been nominated for the PEN/Faulkner. I worked with Dillon on her memoir, The Absolute Elsewhere, in which she describes in luminous prose her private meeting with Albert Einstein to discuss the ethics of the atomic bomb. Read more. . .

SASHA TROYAN is a Professor of English at Montclair University and author of the critically-acclaimed novels Angels in the Morning and The Forgotten Island, both Booksense Selections, beautiful stories based upon her childhood in France. I worked with Troyan to develop her new novels, Marriage A Trois and Semester. Read more. . .

LUCIA ORTH is the author of the debut novel, Baby Jesus Pawn Shop, which received critical acclaim from Publisher’s Weekly, NPR, Booklist, Library Journal and Small Press Reviews. I have edited a number of essays and articles for Orth. Read more. . .

BHAICHAND PATEL, retired after an illustrious career with the United Nations, is now a journalist based out of New Dehli and Bombay, an expert on Bollywood, and author of three non-fiction books published by Penguin. I edited Patel’s best-selling debut novel, Mothers, Lovers, and Other Strangers, published by Pan Macmillan. Read more. . .

SCOTT WILBANKS, represented by Barbara Poelle of the Irene Goodman Literary Agency, is the author of the debut novel, The Lemoncholy Life of Annie Aster, published by Sourcebooks in August, 2015. I’m working with Wilbanks on his sophomore novel, Easy Pickens, the story of the world’s only medically-diagnosed case of chronic naiveté. Read more. . .

SCOTT WARRENDER is a professional musician and Annie Award-nominated lyricist specializing in musical theater. I work with Warrender regularly on his short stories and debut novel, Putaway. Read more. . .

M. TERRY GREEN enjoys a successful self-publishing career with multiple sci-fi/fantasy series set in the Multiverse, based upon her expertise in anthropology and technology. I worked with Green to develop a new speculative fiction series. Read more. . .

ANIA VESENNY, represented by Beverly Slopen Literary Agency, is a recipient of the Evelyn Sullivan Gilbertson Award for Emerging Artist in Literature and has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. I edited Vesenny’s debut novel, Swearing in Russian at the Northern Lights, and her second novel, Sandara. Read more. . .

STUART WAKEFIELD is the #1 Kindle Best Selling author of Body of Water, the first novel in his Orcadian Trilogy. Body of Water was 1 of 10 books long-listed for the Polari First Book Prize. I edited Wakefield’s second novel, Memory of Water, and look forward to editing the final novel of his Orcadian Trilogy, Spirit of Water. Read more. . .

GERALDINE EVANS is a best-selling British author. Her historical novel, Reluctant Queen, is a Category No 1 Best Seller on Amazon UK. I edited Death Dues, #11 in Evans’ fifteen popular Rafferty and Llewellyn cozy police procedurals, which received a glowing review from the Midwest Book Review. Read more. . .

JUDY LEE DUNN is an award-winning marketing blogger. I am working with Dunn to develop and line edit her memoir of reconciling liberal activism with her emotional difficulty accepting the lesbianism of her beloved daughter, Tonight Show comedienne Kellye Rowland. Read more. . .

JEFF RUSSELL is the author of the debut novel, The Rules of Love and Law, based upon Jeff’s abiding passions for legal history and justice. Read more. . .

LEN JOY is the author of the debut novel, American Past Time. I worked with Len to develop his novel from its core: a short story about the self-destructive ambitions of a Minor League baseball star. Read more. . .

ALEX KENDZIORSKI is an American physician working in South Africa on community health education and wildlife conservation. I edited Kendziorski’s debut novel Wait a Season for Their Names about the endangered African painted wolf, for which he is donating the profits to wildlife conservation. Read more. . .

ALEXANDRA GODFREY blogs for the New England Journal of Medicine. I work with Godfrey on her short fiction and narrative nonfiction, including a profile of the doctor who helped save her son’s life, “Mending Broken Hearts.” Read more. . .

In addition, I work with scores of aspiring writers in their apprenticeship to this wonderful literary art and craft.

  • By Victoria Mixon

    Roz Morris goes by the online moniker @dirtywhitecandy, which all by itself is reason enough to interview her.

    But on top of that she’s also a ghostwriter with eleven novels under her belt, eight of them best sellers, a critiquer for a London manuscript-critiquing agency, owner of the fiction-writing blog Nail Your Novel and author of her own self-published book of original, hands-on fiction-writing techniques, Nail Your Novel.

    Plus she’s one heck of a hilarious human being.

    So I went over to her blog and dragged her back here for an interview, and wouldn’t you know it, it stopped being interview almost immediately and became instead a wonderful, rollicking after-dinner ramble about our craft, this extraordinary work of editing fiction—all over not just email and my blog but also Twitter, where she challenged me to a brief wrestling match and promptly threw me.


    Please join us now for a trans-Atlantic date, as we guzzle wine and talk fiction editing:

    Roz, what’s the one thing about writing that writers don’t know that makes them need editors? (I just wrote a guest post on this—I hope you don’t answer the same thing I did, or it’ll look like I’m plagiarizing you.)

    Roz: Two reasons why writers need editors. One, because they can’t see their own blind spots. Even experienced writers have bad habits they don’t realise are jarring—such as blithe unawareness of POV changes and lapses into telling instead of showing.

    Reason two is because all writers are too close to the story. We know it from the inside out, whereas the reader comes from the outside in. You can’t judge how well you’re drawing the reader in and what you’re drawing them into, any more than you can do your own cosmetic dental work or see your own bottom (unless you’re very talented).

    Hope that isn’t what you wrote, too. If it is, at least leave in my bottom joke.

    V: [laughing] No, it’s not—at least not enough for it to sound like I stole it from you. But it’s the general gist of my opinion, as well. I mean, it’s not even really opinion when you’re talking on this level. It’s just a reality of the craft, part of the creative process. Everything looks very different from the perspective of inside, but you can’t create anything if you’re afraid to step inside it. (This is starting to get back to your bottom joke, isn’t it?)

    If you could, Roz, what kind of client do you wish you could take home with you forever, even if they can’t write for beans?

    Roz: The kind who genuinely wants to learn how to communicate with a reader and finds it endlessly fascinating. Most of us can’t write for beans when we start. We learn because we can’t leave it alone, and we develop our awareness of what works and what doesn’t—and we’re ruthless with ourselves, being disciplined with our weaknesses and doing whatever we can to practice our art better.

    The next question you’re probably going to ask is, Does that mean everybody can write well? Maybe some won’t have the facility that others do. But no one should think they don’t have room to improve.

    I don’t ask for much, do I?

    V: I’ll tell you, I don’t buy the business about some people being born to write and others not. I’ve read F. Scott Fitzgerald’s early novels. He ought to have been banned from owning a typewriter. He ought to have been banned from walking past a typewriter. And yet he wrote The Great Gatsby and later proved the extent of his developed skills in The Last Tycoon.

    It just goes to show anyone can do it.

    So what kind of client do you wish you could launch off a tower over shark-infested waters?

    Roz: The kind whose manuscript is deeply flawed and doesn’t want to hear any criticism. Most of us get a little grumpy when we see pages of criticism, especially when we think the novel was finished. That’s understandable, and I’m not complaining about that. But some people seem to imagine they are paying for an ego trip, to be told how brilliant their work is, and when you point out what isn’t working they tell you you’re wrong. Sometimes they will tell you they have friends who are writers or are in publishing—although they usually remain vague about why this reflects on the quality of their manuscript.

    I had one client whose novel was promising but needed a lot of work. When I told her this, she proceeded to tell me she had friends who had ‘worked on Hollywood movies’ in a vague sort of way and thought ‘the novel sounds good’—which was probably supposed to have put me in my place. I also have friends in Hollywood, and I know darn well that book wouldn’t have been seriously considered or optioned. Her loss, I suppose—she paid all that money for a report that told her how to fix a book and refused to believe it needed any work.

    Right, tell me who you’re throwing to Jaws.

    V: Hollywood, hmm? I wish I were important enough to know writers in Hollywood. Hang on a sec—I do.

    Yeah, I have to heave a pretty deep sigh when I get a client who takes umbrage with serious, detailed, constructive advice because it runs counter to their visions of genius. We all secretly believe we’re geniuses. And we’re all wrong.

    Honestly, I think I’ve only had one or two of those in the two years I’ve been doing this work—which is in my opinion an excellent reflection upon the aspiring writing community out there.

    But I had a lot of these people when I was a technical writer and editor, computer engineers who couldn’t tell a sentence from a side of fries but regarded writers as unnecessary obstacles between them and their adoring publics. By comparison, fiction writers are a real dreamworld of courtesy and humility.

    Roz: They are, and what’s lovely about them is that most of all they believe in making a worthwhile book.

    V: Yes. That wonderful belief in fiction that is the reason we all do this work. Of course, if you’re smart enough to hire an indie editor, you’re probably smart enough not to argue. Same goes for therapy, you know. Nobody’s listening to your protestations but you.

    Roz: It’s interesting you should mention therapy. The writers who’ve written a novel as therapy are the most sensitive and potentially aggressive about criticism. It’s always hard for writers to learn the patience to disembowel a manuscript that is precious, but those who have written too much from the heart can easily feel that when you criticise you’re judging their life.

    Editors need to develop special antennae for it.

    V: It really is like practicing therapy, only with imaginary people. I love listening to clients talk about their characters. I love the process of discovering who they are. You are probably not as interesting as your novel—that’s a hard one for some people to swallow. But, you know, to serious writers it’s a godsend. I’m not as interesting, either, as my skills—what I bring to a manuscript.

    Roz: I always feel I’m not nearly as interesting, brave or remarkable as the characters in my books. Mind you, I wouldn’t like to live their lives either. Characters I write about will be pushed in ways I would find intolerable.

    V: That’s it, isn’t it? Fiction is about characters coping with things far worse than anything the readers will ever cope with. That’s how they reassure us we’re going to survive our own lives.

    So, when you do a Developmental Edit on a new manuscript, what’s the first thing you look for?

    Roz: First of all, I consider whether I’ve been grabbed by the story and the characters, as I would if I was reading any book. I always read analytically, whether I’m reading for a client or for pleasure—I can’t shut the crit goblins up. I make copious notes, and gradually strengths and weaknesses emerge so that my report arises naturally from these.

    V: What’s the last?

    Roz: When I’ve got to the end I mull over what the writer was trying to do, whether they’ve succeeded and whether that’s the right approach. The final thing I consider is the manuscript’s suitability for the market.

    You, if I may be so bold? Oh, sorry. You’re bold.

    V: [laughing] I just got that.

    The very first thing I look for is a gripping hook. I read a 1966 mystery last night—by Lawrence Block and called rather preciously The Canceled Czech—and halfway through the first chapter I was sitting up shrieking. The next page made me shriek louder. By the end of the chapter, I was in convulsions, insisting on reading it to my (rather bemused) husband. That’s what you want in a hook.

    As I read through a client ms the first time, I’m mostly, like you, just reading to see how hard the story grabs me. When I run across a rip in the fabric of the fictional dream, I jot down a quick note. Then I read a second time, outlining for proper plot structure, making sure all the pieces are in place. Discussion of characters grows out of that kernel. It takes me longer to mull over the characters, where they’ve been, where they’re going, what’s working and not working, what the writer has yet to bring to the surface. Character is a more complex issue than structure, which is why so much modern stuff gets published without being any deeper than the little puddle left in my wine glass right now. . .

    I read everything I lay my hands on analytically, too. It makes me enjoy a good book more and allows me to bail early on crap I shouldn’t waste time on. I read a ton of fiction in this job, constantly developing my expertise. I simply don’t have the time to waste.

    Roz: I am nodding so hard I’ll soon need to call an osteopath. Reading analytically doesn’t spoil books for me—it increases my pleasure. And I have no patience at all for a book that doesn’t grab me—unless there is a research reason for me to read it. Sorry, back to you.

    V: [laughing again] I thought you were handing me the wine bottle.

    Roz: Gerroff. Mine.

    V: [laughing harder] Stop being so funny, Roz. You’re wrecking this damn interview—

    Join us again next week for Part II of:

    We can’t leave fiction alone—the Roz Morris interview
    After-Dinner Wine-Induced Fiction Editors’ Wrestling Match

    Roz Morris, aka @dirtywhitecandy, will probably also be silly with you if you just ask her. She likes smart-alecks, Scottish accents, and pulling suspicious faces. She can be found on her blog, on Facebook, and on Twitter.



    “The freshest and most relevant
    advice you’ll find.”

    —Helen Gallagher, Seattle Post-Intelligencer

    The Art & Craft of Writing Fiction

    The Art & Craft of Writing Stories




20 Responses to “We can’t leave fiction alone—the Roz Morris interview
After-Dinner Wine-Induced
Fiction Editors’ Wrestling Match
Part I

  1. Loved this Happy HourInterview. And the pictures of you two add so much to the piece. Fun, fun read. And not only is Roz a great writer, she’s a great random word picker too. 😉

  2. dirtywhitecandy said on

    Shane, blushing a little and raising a glass in your direction!

  3. And you should see her pick her nose!

  4. That was helpful to get the editor’s point of view on critiques. I guess the first thing a writer needs to do after receiving criticism is put their hand over their mouth long enough to digest what’s being said. Thanks for the interview…I learned a lot.
    Edge of Your Seat Romance

  5. dirtywhitecandy said on

    Raquel, that is so true. And I still find it hard. I far prefer to get notes by email or on paper so that I can huff and puff in private and then accept that there’s a bit more I need to do.

  6. Oh, yes. I cry. Great copious buckets. The Self-Loathing Phase of Revision.

    Not really—but I do assume most clients will cry and try to phrase my feedback accordingly.

  7. Roz likes smart-alecks and Scottish accents? That reminds me of someone, I’m just not sure who. (Or should that last be “whom?” I think it should.)

    So…would the tagline for this little soiree be, “Interview drunk, edit the interview sober…?”

    I enjoyed this. 🙂


  8. dirtywhitecandy said on

    Cheers, Simon! The Scottish accents remark probably needs some explanation. After an evening of playful interviewing banter I had a dream that Victoria tunneled down my email and appeared at a friend’s party. She spoke with a perfect Scottish accent, although in the dream she didn’t look surprised by it.

    Like the tagline. When we’ve worn people out on Twitter we’ll offer it up as sage advice.

  9. I would never be surprised to find myself speaking with a Scottish accent in someone else’s dream. I’d be too busy just being surprised to find myself in someone else’s dream.

    Also, my grandmother was a Barter and exceedingly proud of her Scottish heritage. When my sister named her son Ian, Gam said, “You know, Ian is Sco’ish for John.” After Gam died, I inherited a plaid shawl nobody knew what to do with, which I rather casually assume to be the Barter plaid, and family rumor has it there’s even a Barter Castle out there somewhere.

  10. I don’t know what any of that is supposed to prove except that Roz has weird dreams.

  11. […] her place where we had, in her words, ‘a rollicking after-dinner ramble about our craft and the extraordinary work of editing fiction…’ Plus some […]

  12. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Imogen Woods, Lydia Sharp. Lydia Sharp said: A. Victoria Mixon, Editor » We can’t leave fiction alone—the Roz Morris interview Part I: via @dirtywhitecandy […]

  13. What a fun interview! Great job.

  14. dirtywhitecandy said on

    Thanks, Laura. Hope we managed to be a little bit useful too… editors let their hair down!

  15. Love that stern editing face of yours in photo booth pic #2, Victoria I think you should include it with all your edits to cut down on backtalk.

    Please pass the wine.

  16. Kathryn, now I’m laughing so hard even my husband is laughing.

  17. What a fun interview! More like a nice, revealing chat where we could be flies on the wall. Thanks for the insights~

  18. Wilhemina Rameau said on

    If this comment doesnt appear after reading all those instructions Im sending a carrier pigeon next

  19. […] amateur aspiring writer approaches the writing, as Roz Morris once mentioned, as therapy. They don’t treat it as a craft to learn or an art to master so it can be shared […]

  20. […] We Can't Leave Fiction Alone–Part I—Roz Morris […]