Enter the Beyond: Nat Geo’s Are We Alone?

2003972In the last six months, my editorial life has been dominated by the cosmos. I’ve explored images of theoretical white holes; contemplated the nature of time and whether we can travel through it; learned about volcanic moons and potential life on planets other than our own. Enter National Geographic’s Are We Alone? and Other Mysteries of Space. Managing this project was a lot of fun, and really pushed my knowledge of what we know–and how much we still don’t know–about our universe and beyond.

Gazing Up: Nat Geo’s Guide to the Night Sky

I used to spend long summer nights out in the front yard gazing up at the stars and wondering. What were those constellations I could see, but not name? What was it that created a shooting star? Were there untold creatures out there amongst the stars gazing out at me with the same kind of fascination?

And so I’m especially excited that one of my editorial projects, Guide to the Night Sky, is out in the world.

Night Sky

This project gave me the chance to learn A LOT about the night sky that I didn’t already know. From how to watch eclipses to understanding solar flares, I gained a much greater appreciation for what I’m looking at when I gaze up at the starry sky. It includes a appendix full of handy star charts that will help even the least experienced stargazer find interesting objects, and explain what makes them special. And then there is each chapter’s fascinating Q&A written by Frank Drake, the father of extraterrestrial exploration. It’s not every day I get to work with a rock star of the science world!

This book is a must-read for anyone interested in knowing more about what’s out there and how to go outside and spot it. If you don’t see it on shelves, you can find it here.

Beauty Abounds in our National Parks

In honor of National Geographic’s Greatest Parks of the World, here are some images of my favorite national parks in the USA and beyond.

Greatest Parks of the World

Parks

This year, I was given an exciting challenge: to serve as project editor on a special publication about the world’s most stunning national parks, AND to write the manuscript. That meant I got to spend months trolling through ‘best of’ lists, stunning images of beautiful places, and immersing myself in one of my life’s great loves: the wild outdoors. The result is a publication I’m very proud of. It contains over 60 parks from around the world, along with interesting facts and stats about its particular highlights, when to visit, and what other parks might be nearby. I hope this publication inspires readers to visit and treasure our national parks, as writing and editing it did for me!

The World’s Most Beautiful Places

This past year, I had the pleasure of working as Project Editor on a special National Geographic Publication called “The World’s Most Beautiful Places: 100 Unforgettable Destinations”.
mbp

Here is the official blurb:

This stunning collection of words and images reveals how to find paradise in the world’s most wondrous places—and in its most ordinary if you know how to look. And no one knows subtle beauty and the joy of travel quite like National Geographic. Each destination here has been selected by our expert editors and is accompanied by crucial information on how to get there and what not to miss. Four chapters capture the best of every continent on the globe.

I’m very proud of this publication, which features a wide variety of places and types of beauty, both natural and human-made. I learned many things while working on this project, one of which is that beauty truly is in the eye of the beholder: as travelers, the places we find the most beautiful are usually the ones in which we’ve made the best memories and felt the most alive. I also learned that our world is full of an incredible number of stunning landscapes and skylines, waterways and icy expanses, and that there will never be a shortage of magnificent places to get out and explore!

Observing and Responding: Haikus

I’ve just started teaching a high school creative writing class, something I very much enjoy. One of the first things we’re doing is looking at condensed poetry forms in an attempt to understand meter, rhythm, and the importance of choosing words carefully. I took my students into the blinding cold and had them simply observe, for ten minutes, the physical world around them and write a haiku about it. It was pretty cute to see them all staring intently and earnestly at trees and bushes; I was so much inspired by it that I penned my own (nontraditional) haiku:

Leaves shiver

Students exhale thin clouds

into the frigid air.

 

I love the way haikus teach the writer to focus on the briefest, most microcosmic fraction of a moment. I love that they demand of the writer an economy of words, because every word counts for so much.

World Book Night

Tonight marks the first year that World Book Night has come to American shores. The idea is one that seems beautiful to me: volunteers all over the country will be showing up in random public places and giving out free copies of a book they love to strangers. I think it’s an amazing means of promoting several things you don’t see every day: meaningly interactions between strangers, free gifts with no strings attached. I think that it’s a beautiful thing to love a story so much that you want to share it with others. That’s the mysterious, magical power of the written word that made me fall in love with reading, a love that has been one of my life’s most profound and important constants.

I signed up too late to participate, but I thought I’d spread the love for the one book out of the selected group of 30 that I would have handed out tonight.

This is a story about a boy who thinks his father can perform miracles. But when his older brother is suspected of murder and the family must journey across the country to find him, the boy discovers that maybe his father can’t always make things right. This story is a grown-up American tall tale that invites the reader into the strange, beautiful mind of a unique young mind as he navigates an emotional landscape that tests and scratches away at his faith.

This book is very much about believing in the miraculous; and, like most of my very favorite books, that is precisely what makes it difficult to describe. Trust me when I say it’s a beautiful book. If I could, I’d give it to you…free of charge.

Photo of the Week

I’ve been away from my computer, road tripping through the beautiful South. This picture’s from the blackwater swamp at Cypress Gardens, just outside Charleston, SC.

Photo of the Week

This week I took a trip out to the Maryland Therapeutic Riding Center, a wonderful place filled with wonderful people. I tried to get some pictures of the local Canadian geese, but they wouldn’t let me. I settled for this gate view instead.

How To: Self Edit

beloved teacher and writer once told me that editing one’s own work requires two things above all else: the ability to be Detached and Methodical. In editing my work (and working as a professional editor where being methodical is practically holy), I think I’ve pinpointed the things that help writers achieve these things:

1. Create some distance. Most parents will tell you that it’s difficult to be objective when it comes to their kids. For writers it’s the same way. They struggle to take criticism and to dole any out because their characters and plot line are perfect JUST THE WAY THEY ARE. But you have no way of knowing that until you can look at your writing with some degree of objectivity. I find the best way to create objectivity to give yourself some time and distance. I put my first novel-length project away–didn’t look at it, barely thought about it–for almost a year. That’s a really long time, but it enabled me to step away from the story and view it as an editor would, with fresh eyes. You don’t have to wait a year to feel this effect: even a few days can help.

2. Create some distance by making it look ‘real’. Get your book printed out and bound. Making it look professional performs some kind of magic trick, making it easier to see the work as someone else’s. Seeing it as someone else’s helps you to rip into it without as much angst, and seeing it on paper can help you catch things you wouldn’t have on-screen. I’ve also discovered the lovely effects of putting your book onto your Kindle. All you have to do is email the document as an attachment to your Kindle account and put ‘convert’ in the subject line, and the thing looks like any other book you’ve got on there. Reading through my drafts this way really helps me get some objectivity.

3. Create an editing checklist. I learned this once the hard way when editing travel guides. Editing–no matter what you’re editing–is hard. In order to become efficient at it, you need to break it down into manageable steps. If I was in the proofing stage, they would look something like this:

  •  check that page numbers are present/correct
  • proof photo captions
  • Make sure that photos are placed correctly
  • make sure that all map icons and headings are correct
  • check that photo credits are present and correctly spelled… etc.

When you look through a manuscript for everything that could be wrong all at once, it’s impossible to catch it all. But when you break it up you miss fewer mistakes, and the ones that are there are clearer to you.

4. Start from the end. I always used to read my stuff front to back, over and over. The problem is that once you get to the end, your editing eyes (and editing brain) are all sorts of tired out. Sometimes reading from back to front helps bring back some objectivity and lets you see your work in a new light.

5. Ask for help. Get someone you trust to read your work. Better yet, have them read it out loud to you. It becomes ten times easier to pick out what’s not working when your work is filtered through someone else’s voice. Find some critique partners. I’ve got two, and I don’t how what I would do without them. They give it to me straight up, without any fruity syrup or dollops of whip cream. Critique can be painful, but it can help you more than anything else can.