Editing Trauma

Writing, by nature, is emotional. Truly wonderful pieces of writing always come from a genuine and engaged author. Authors and their writing are so intertwined that it is nearly impossible to edit your own book—which is why editors are so integral to the publishing process. William Faulkner said, “In writing, you must kill all your darlings.” A good editor knows that this process is sometimes painful to the author because their words are their babies. How, then, is an editor to approach nonfiction trauma manuscripts when an author’s words are their nightmares? When submitting a story that includes traumatic events, especially real-life events, an author bares their soul on the page. It can be a form of therapy for some; a way to get their truth out to the world. But it still needs to be edited if it is going to be a published piece of work.

Publisher and founder of Forest Avenue Press, Laura Stanfill, shared her experiences giving and receiving feedback about traumatic events with me. There are ways we can edit trauma with kindness and without lowering our standards. Based on our chat, I’ve divided this post into two sections: the mechanics of a trauma scene and what to look for, and how an editor should deliver feedback on a traumatic scene.

The Mechanics: An editor must consider how the traumatic event or scene fits within the narrative structure of the story. According to Stanfill, sometimes a trauma scene can be really “loud” if it follows a key plot point. It can overshadow other events that the author might not intend it to.

Another consideration is the pacing of the scene. Does it match what is happening to the character? As an author herself, Stanfill said that pacing is hard because memory can slow or speed things up, and the velocity of the read needs to guide the audience through a similar pattern in order to feel authentic.

Details are an important factor as well. There needs to be enough detail to convince the reader that it is the author’s story to tell, but they also need to mind the “gap” that trauma creates in a person’s memory. Too confident of a retelling can feel like someone else’s trauma or, even worse, trauma sensationalized. There is also the question of chronology. How an author chooses to tell the story can make it feel truer to the experience because memories can sometimes come through in fragments and flashes.

The Delivery: An editor needs to have some sort of trust built between them and the author before offering feedback on their darkest secrets. The author needs to feel like they can be open and vulnerable throughout the process in order to add what details may need to be added, or to cut details that could stir legal trouble. This honesty and vulnerability happens when both the author and editor start from a place of respect.

As an editor, Stanfill starts building that trust and respect in the acquisitions phase by telling the author everything she loves about the manuscript. Then, during the developmental editing stage, along with notes on structure and plot, she reiterates how she sees the book as a whole and what positive qualities she sees. As far as what doesn’t work, Stanfill shared that she makes notes in her margins to look back on when giving feedback. This is to make sure it is consistent, author-centric, feeling-driven (concerned with how the writing makes her feel) feedback. Stanfill added that she gives notes—through email or sometimes a phone call—with an awareness of the toll dredging up old, repressed memories takes on the author.

Sometimes it’s as simple as saying: I see you. This doesn’t work. This does work.

Different Places, Different Faces: Book Covers in the US and the UK

This may not come as a surprise, but when a book is sold both in the United States and the United Kingdom, it typically has a very different cover in each country. This is because when the rights of a book are sold to a publishing house in another country, the book goes through the editing, marketing, and design departments of that house, where it is reshaped to suit that house’s specific audience.

As the cover of a book communicates to the potential reader what lies within, many conventions have emerged to highlight certain genres, such as an old photograph that promises a memoir, or an image of a shirtless, muscular man that promises a romance novel. To investigate further, we’ll look at four popular books sold in both the US and the UK and see what each cover has to say about the same story.

  1. Educated by Tara Westover: At first glance, the US cover of this memoir looks like an artful rendition of a pencil; but on further inspection, it shows a woman standing on a hill among mountains with birds flying above. This highlights the journey at the heart of the book—a story of a person surmounting seemingly impossible challenges—rather than the memoir genre. The UK cover sticks closer to the conventions of a memoir: it showcases an image of Tara as a young girl playing on a swing, promising this is Tara’s life story.

  2. The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert: The US version of this young adult fantasy novel presents gold-and-silver illustrations of roads, branches, and other objects that somehow tie into the story weaving around the white font of the title and author name. This cover promises a reimagining of dark fairy tales that intertwine with a central entity. On the contrary, the UK version shows dense, blue-tinged foliage partially swallowing the white font of the title. The UK publisher also added the warning “stay away from . . .” above the title, suggesting something sinister lying beyond the leaves and tempting readers to find out for themselves what it is.

  3. Still Me by Jojo Moyes: Both versions of this contemporary romance novel provide more simplistic designs that showcase the title and author. The US cover offers a more typically romantic look with large, curly font on a blue background. The M wraps around a small rendition of the Empire State Building, showcasing the New York setting of the book. By contrast, the UK cover offers standard black-and-white font centered on a yellow background with a small bee in the upper right corner, accentuating the boldness of the main character as she searches for meaning in her life.

  4. Then She Was Gone by Lisa Jewell: The US version shows a more feminine take on the mystery/thriller novel with large pink font on a white background, which is covered in branches that are bare apart from a few pink petals scattered here and there. Alternatively, the UK version features an image of a person (only shown up to the knees) crossing the street barefoot at night. The UK publisher also added the subtitle “A missing girl, a buried secret,” highlighting the elements of crime and mystery in the book.

Presenting Breaking Cadence

Ooligan Press is proud to present the memoir Breaking Cadence: One Woman’s War Against the War by debut author Rosa del Duca. This thought-provoking memoir details Rosa’s journey from enlisting in the military to becoming a conscientious objector.

Seventeen-year-old Rosa, a small-town girl, sees few options for her future. Living in poverty is a prison that’s hard to escape. When a recruiter from the National Guard comes to her school offering a college education at the price of one weekend a month and two weeks a year, she’s given a thread of hope—a path to a brighter tomorrow. Her mother is apprehensive, but the recruiter assures her the most dangerous thing Rosa will do is fight forest fires, so she consents. Then 9/11 happens and the world changes.

Rosa is thrust into an internal conflict between her own morals and the love of her military family. Honoring her contract means serving in a war she believes is wrong. Fraught with self-doubt and guilt, Rosa decides to become a conscientious objector.

Becoming a conscientious objector isn’t simply saying no to war and walking away. It’s a complicated decision shrouded in public shaming, and for Rosa, a decision not made lightly. Her memoir gives us a glimpse into the female military experience and the effects 9/11 had on our young recruits. In sharing Rosa’s journey with you, we hope to spark a conversation about the issues surrounding teen recruitment and the pressure to remain silent and follow orders, and we also hope to help humanize conscientious objectors.

Rosa’s book is available starting May 21, 2019. Don’t forget to check out her thought-provoking podcast for a deeper discussion about recruitment and conscientious objectors. Through interviews with other conscientious objectors and activists, Rosa explores recruitment and conscientious objection from all angles, encouraging everyone to join the conversation.

You can find Rosa on tour in the San Francisco Bay Area at one of the following events:

276 Village Square
Orinda, CA 94563-2504
Tuesday, May 21, 2019, from 11:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.

Reading and Q&A
3036 24th Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
Sunday, May 26, 2019, at 6:00 p.m.

Reading and Panel Discussion Featuring Bay Area Iraq War Veterans
1537 North Main Street
Walnut Creek, CA 94596
Saturday, June 8, 2019, from 4:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m.

Introducing Breaking Cadence: One Woman’s War Against the War

We’re preparing for a busy season at Ooligan Press, with three titles coming out in as many consecutive months beginning in March. Our final book of the school year, Breaking Cadence: One Woman’s War Against the War by Rosa del Duca, is set to publish on May 21. It’s a thought-provoking memoir that not only communicates Rosa’s path to becoming a conscientious objector in the military but also serves as a conversation-starter around a number of pressing topics.

Rosa’s first encounter with the military came at age seventeen, when she was a high-school student in a small town in Montana. Stuck without a way to pay for college and to break free of confining family dynamics, the National Guard recruiter that came to her school seemed to offer the perfect solution: a straightforward path to continue her education while training one weekend a month, and two weeks during the summer. She did the math: she’d be ten percent soldier, ninety percent civilian. It was the year 2000, and the recruiter assured her that the most dangerous work she’d be doing was fighting forest fires. A year into Rosa’s contract, 9/11 changed everything. As the US entered the War on Terror, she began to comprehend the increasing disparity between the American military’s agenda in the Middle East and her own principles. Ultimately, she realized that in order to live by her own ethics, she needed to seek conscientious objector status.

We’re excited to share this memoir for a number of reasons. It’s unique in offering a female perspective on the military experience, as well as a before-and-after perspective of the impact of 9/11 on the military and our society as a whole. Moreover, many people are familiar with conscientious objectors as pertaining to the Vietnam War but have less exposure to those who sought this path in more recent conflicts. And because the War on Terror is ongoing, the issues Rosa raises still resonate soundly today. This book has a dual purpose, then, in sharing her extraordinary story and sparking discussion around relevant issues like teenage military recruitment tactics and the moral quandary between honoring a commitment and not wanting to compromise your core values. You also don’t need to have a background in the military to engage with this book; Rosa’s journey to find her voice and identify her true path in life will resonate with readers beyond a military context.

If you don’t want to wait until May to learn more about Rosa, she also has a highly-rated podcast that’s been releasing episodes since October. In addition to her prowess as a writer, Rosa has an extensive background in radio and music and uses her talents to the fullest advantage in this medium. Her podcast features interviews with other conscientious objectors, activists, and individuals involved in the legal process of war resistance, as well as further reflections on her military experience. It’s an engaging and eye-opening companion to the memoir, and I hope you all check it out and join the conversation.

Memory and Truth: How to Classify Nonfiction Titles

I stared at a tattered childhood Christmas picture. It was the living room of my grandparent’s old house in Atlanta. Wrapping paper covered the floor, my aunts and uncles were still young, and my grandparents were still alive. I took in every detail, hoping the picture would be the catalyst that would allow me to mine forgotten memories. I began to remember little things: the smell of the house, the pattern of the linoleum, the weeping willow in the front yard, and eventually, a story emerged. The question is, are memories true? Can I verify that the events I mined and cobbled together are how things actually happened? Can anyone? If we can’t verify how the events occurred, how can we classify a memoir as nonfiction?

Nonfiction is generally considered anything that is not fiction. This includes reference books, travel books, cookbooks, self-help books, and narrative nonfiction (to name a few). Narrative nonfiction is often misunderstood, as it is fact that reads like fiction. It’s also called literary journalism, fact-based storytelling, and creative nonfiction. The word “creative” can be misleading as it implies storytelling, which is often misconstrued as fiction or historical fiction. Unlike an academic paper, reference book, or journalistic article, in a narrative nonfiction piece the research is seamlessly woven into the storyline. It tends to have characters, a plot, an arc, high stakes, compelling writing, and many other characteristics of fiction. However, a narrative nonfiction writer is not allowed to fill in the blanks with anything that isn’t true.

The two predominant forms of narrative nonfiction are the essay and the memoir. The essay is a conversational examination of a topic or idea and often incorporates research, experiential accounts, interviews, and anecdotes. The memoir is the story of a life, a section of a life, or an event. The memoir is usually written as one sweeping true story or a collection of true short stories. It is a factual account told in a story or narrative format.

If that’s the case, why does nonfiction allow something as unreliable as memories? The idea is that the writer is truly recounting the memory, not whether or not it actually occurred. The experience is born out of the memory of the event. A memoir is a recounting of memory. It has to be a truthful recounting of only what is remembered and what is researched.

While the autobiography offers an encompassing picture of the subject’s life, the memoir offers a glimpse, or pieces, or a complete accounting of a certain part of a life. Trauma narratives such as Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor E. Frankl can shed a new light on atrocities. Travel narratives such as On the Road by Jack Kerouac and Travels with Charley by John Steinbeck can give the readers a snapshot of a place in time. Immersive writing such as Friday Night Lights by Buzz Bissinger is another form of narrative nonfiction where the author immerses themselves in a place for an extended period of time.

Historical fiction is often confused with narrative nonfiction. There is an ongoing debate as to where one ends and another begins. Historical fiction is a researched story based in facts, but the blanks are often filled in with a fictional account of what the character was thinking or feeling, made-up dialogue, and scenes that happened behind closed doors.

Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell is a well-known example of historical fiction. It is based on a factual account of the civil war. However, Mitchell made up characters, scenes, dialogue, etc. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot is an excellent example of narrative nonfiction. Skloot wrote an investigative and historical account of the He-La cell. She traced the cells back to their origin—a woman named Henrietta Lacks. Skloot expertly laid out a factual account based on nearly a decade of research, while seamlessly creating a compelling narrative.

From the beginning of time, people have written true stories. Whether they are documenting events, examining a topic, or remembering the lilt of their grandmother’s dialect, narrative nonfiction allows writers to creatively craft the truth of their experience.

The Memoir Project Gets a Title: Introducing “Breaking Cadence”

As a project manager for a year now, I’ve tackled everything from social media marketing to planning launch parties, especially while working with my previously managed title, The Ocean in My Ears. But I experienced a completely new part of the process when starting Ooligan’s new project: picking a title.
As you can tell from my previous post, I’d already realized that this would be a challenging new task for me when the press acquired a memoir by Rosa del Duca about her experiences in the National Guard leading up to and after 9/11 and her gradual realization that she is a conscientious objector. However, I don’t think I anticipated quite how difficult it would be! Of course, content is king when it comes to books. But a book’s cover and title are the first two things that a person comes in contact with, and thus are the first clues as to what that book is about. A good title and cover both need to accurately convey the content while also making it easier for the reader to figure out the general genre and topics covered as well as make it stand out from others in its genre at the same time. That’s a tough order to fill!
Thankfully, my team has many design-oriented members, and we all agreed on what we want the aesthetic of the cover to be and how we wanted it to convey Rosa’s mix of confusion (over whether or not she can leave her army family) and confidence (when she realizes she needs to stand up for her personal beliefs). Our cover design process is starting this month, and we’re very excited to see the wonderful concepts members of our press come up with! Soon enough, we’ll have a cover to share with the world.
However, that still left me with the problem of finding a great title that also sufficiently and eloquently captures the same things we want the books cover to show—the division of self, the strength to stand up against the status quo, and the unique mix of vulnerability and bravery that Rosa portrays so movingly in her memoir.
I went through many tactics in our search for The One (as Rosa liked to call our perfect title). My team brainstormed, we gathered ideas from Rosa, we sent out a poll to the entire press, I begged others for advice, and finally, I wrote down every military-themed word I could think of on green cards, words that had to do with the ideology of the book on pink cards, and connecting words on yellow cards. Then my team and I moved them all around into different combinations until we got inspired.

Here are some of the words we moved around on cards to try to find the best combination of words for our title!

Now we have a title! Our memoir project for Spring of 2019 is officially Breaking Cadence: One Woman’s War Against the War. If you don’t know, “cadence” is a term that is used in the military for the call-and-response “sound-offs” that are shouted while running or marching. Breaking Cadence represents Rosa’s eventual break from the military, while the subtitle “One Woman’s War Against the War” portrays her extraordinary courage in standing up for her beliefs, even if that often meant standing alone.
Now that we have a title, I’m excited to pass along the project to my upcoming successor as project manager, Sarah Loepp. Sarah has been with this project from the beginning and has a great grasp of the positioning, marketing ideas, and editorial process as well as where the project needs to go moving forward. It’s been an amazing experience to start the work on this title, and I’m very excited to see the end product! As my time here ends, I wish Sarah, Rosa, and the rest of the press best of luck moving forward with Breaking Cadence.

Recording Audiobooks at Ooligan

In recent years, audiobooks have been one of the fastest growing markets in the publishing world. With sales that rose 18.2 percent in 2016 according to Publisher’s Weekly—and are expected to post similar gains for 2017—more and more readers are choosing to take their books on-the-go.

With this in mind, Ooligan has decided that it is time to step into the audiobook world. This is an exciting time for Ooligan, as it means we have the opportunity to see just what goes into the creation of this popular format. And our most recent acquisition, a memoir by conscientious objector Rosa del Duca, seems the perfect place to begin when looking at audiobooks.

As a university press, the main challenge right now is finding a place where we can record professional-quality audio without having to pay a third-party company, like larger publishers can afford to do. Luckily for us, PSU is home to the Sonic Arts and Music Production program. Collaboration with this program might not only allow us to record our audiobooks here on campus, but as Stephanie Argy (head of Ooligan’s Digital Department) notes, “it would serve Ooligan’s educational mission” and fit “PSU’s philosophy of cross-disciplinary collaborations.”

Another question that Ooligan is currently grappling with is whose voice our audiobooks will feature. Although it may seem like a no-brainer to have the author of the book read the audiobook, this is actually not common practice. Most books make use of a professional reader—someone who is accustomed to projecting their voice in a manner that will be easy to understand when played-back. In addition, recording sessions for audiobooks take hours to complete. Between the sheer amount of time it takes to read an entire book aloud and do-overs when a mistake is made, the process is a longer one than most authors are prepared for. Memoirs, however, are one of the exceptions to the rule. It is more common for an author to read their own memoir so that readers can feel closer to them as they hear the author’s story.

This is another reason why Rosa’s memoir is a perfect selection to be one of Ooligan’s first audiobooks. It just so happens that Rosa has previous recording experience. Not only has she been featured on podcasts like The Lapse, but Rosa is the lead singer of her band Hunters. While neither of these are quite the same as recording an audiobook, it gives her and Ooligan a leg-up when learning how to do so.

One of the most exciting parts of working at Ooligan is getting the opportunity to actually be a part of bringing books to life. Though it is still in its beginning stages, our hope is that within a few years, most—if not all—of our books will be available for purchase in audiobook format. This means not only will our students get the exciting opportunity to see what goes into the making of an audiobook, but hopefully we will be able to share the stories we help publish with even more people.

Working in Untitled Territory

Four years ago, Ooligan Press published a memoir called The Wax Bullet War by Sean Davis, a veteran who reenlisted immediately after 9/11. Since then, the book has been a bit lonely in our backlist as the only political/military memoir we’ve published. That’s about to change.
Ooligan’s newest acquired title will join The Wax Bullet War in the category of military and political memoir. Aside from these similarities, however, it differs significantly in plot. Author Rosa del Duca movingly brings readers through her journey as she attempts to gain conscientious objector status after enlisting in the National Guard following high school. While Rosa’s story may be unique, her experiences trying to decide where she fits in while dealing with misogyny, a dysfunctional home life, and feelings of uncertainty and self-doubt that are relatable to us all. As she discovers where and how to take a stand for her own beliefs, readers grow, change, and learn right along with her.
This title and its message is important to all of us in the press, and we can’t wait to get it in front of readers. Before that can happen, however, there’s so much work to be done. The most important of which is to figure out exactly how to represent that message with the title. We have a few options at the moment, but we are still trying to find the one that feels exactly right. In the meantime, the editing department has headed a developmental edit of the manuscript, and my team and I have started working on the marketing strategy, cover design brief, book description and synopsis, and contact lists for potential media outlets, reviewers, and blurbers.
While this book is in its initial phases, we have to ask ourselves many of the same questions Rosa asked herself: Where does it fit in? What message does it convey? Why this book, and why now? How do we want to portray it to the world? It took a while (no spoilers!), but Rosa eventually decided her place in the world and what she would sacrifice, stand for, and fight for to get there. Now, we just have to decide the same for her book.
We can’t wait to get this story out there. Until then, stay tuned with Ooligan’s Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for updates until the memoir’s release in Spring 2019.

New Acquisition: Untitled Memoir by Rosa del Duca

Ooligan Press is pleased to announce the acquisition of an untitled memoir from Rosa del Duca. In 1999, Rosa del Duca joined the National Guard. It was her opportunity to make something more of her life, but as her unease over the military’s role reaches a boiling point with the attacks on 9/11, Rosa comes to the realization that she is a conscientious objector. She must now decide how far she is willing to go to stand up for what she believes in—and what she is willing to sacrifice in return. We are excited to be able to work with del Duca on her first full-length literary work.

Rosa del Duca is a San Francisco Bay Area writer, journalist, and musician. While she enjoys paying the bills by writing and producing at NBC Bay Area, her passions are creative writing and music. She earned her MFA at Saint Mary’s College of California, graduating in 2010. Her work has been published in Cutbank, CALYX, Grain, River Teeth, Umbrella Factory, and Mission at Tenth. In addition to the memoir, she is completing final revisions to her first novel, which centers on a television reporter who is suddenly moved from the “fluff beat” to a disturbing kidnapping case in California’s Central Valley. In June of 2013, she completed a six-month fellowship at the San Francisco Writer’s Grotto. She regularly performs solo or with her folk pop band, Hunters.

Emily Hagenburger and her team will be manning the helm on this project. Be sure to follow their progress on the Ooligan blog!

Surviving the War

The Wax Bullet War is not a story that relishes in scenes of drama and so-called action. On the contrary, Sean Davis’s account of the war in Iraq is shockingly realistic and enlightening. His memoir begins the day of reenlistment, traverses through the chaos of war, and relives the trauma of violence. There are no victories to glorify, no marks typical of the action thriller genre. The Wax Bullet War has another purpose—at its core is a story exemplifying acts of courage and compassion in a world of violence. In Davis’s words:

I don’t think the world needs another war story about a squad of men who fought against all odds and won, who rallied against near-impossible obstacles until the tear-jerking end, whose story could easily be made into a Hollywood blockbuster. Maybe if I write a book exposing my faults and how vulnerable, confused, and scared-as-shit I was throughout this time in my life, it can help someone (277).

As a writer, soldier, artist, and person, Davis is inspiring and his memoir profoundly moving. In the midst of tragedy he manages to persevere and find moments of hope, warmth, and humor. Sean’s story is a love letter to anyone who has been affected by the violence of war, whether a soldier, family member, or friend. His memoir is a wake-up call to a society where war is too often perceived as a simple matter of right and wrong, good and bad.
Davis leaves his readers not with closure but the possibility of finding new purpose after experiencing unspeakable events. He recalls that:

I wave and smile at people holding signs thanking me for my service, but this isn’t a happily-ever-after. The nightmares don’t go away. The physical injuries caused some permanent damage; the emotional injuries, too. The war changed me in many ways, but I did get through the toughest times. There were many times I didn’t think I would … The artist inside me did what the soldier couldn’t. The artist found a new purpose and something to live for (276).

In the spirit of The Wax Bullet War, and in support of Davis’s efforts, this Memorial Day is a reminder to honor our fallen soldiers and all those affected by the traumas of war. This May presents numerous awareness opportunities and campaigns in support of our troops. Look forward to:

  • Loyalty Day (May 1)
  • National Anxiety and Awareness Week (May 2–8)
  • Nurse Week (May 6–12)
  • National Prevention Week (May 15–21)
  • Memorial Day (May 30)