FFF 08: Freelance, part 2

Please start with Freelance, part 1. [I bent the purpose of this month by writing a nonfiction piece over two days. I decided it’s okay because I’m still writing.]

I opened a third, unrelated document and tried to comment inside it, which worked fine. It wasn’t just my Word program, then. Just to cover all the bases, however, I shut down Word completely and then restarted it; still not allowed to comment on either of the Not Quite There documents. I shut down my entire computer and rebooted; still no dice. I looked up several work-arounds on the official Microsoft Office Suite forums and scoured the Microsoft Word help pages for something that I could do that would allow me to comment on the document that the editor had directed. I looked through tens of pages of unofficial forums and help pages. Nothing.

Finally, an hour and a half after first accepting the assignment and opening both documents, I wrote back to the editor.

I’m very sorry; I have spent the last hour and change trying unsuccessfully to make comments on either of the documents you sent me. At first I thought it was just the document you directed not to comment on, but then I discovered it was both. I can make comments on/in other Word docs just fine; I only seem to be having trouble with the two you provided.

I have looked up how to make comments in Word forums and the Office Suite help website. (I know how to use track changes and comment, but I wanted to be sure.) I shut down Word and reopened the document fresh. I even completely restarted my computer, all to no avail. I am not trying to change anything in the documents, just make comments. Am I missing something obvious somewhere? Please help!

My apologies.

I explained exactly how much effort I’d already gone to in order to skip the part when the helper asks me if my computer is plugged in and stupid stuff like that. The editor wrote back, in part:

Basically, we lock the documents we send except for the PR Prep document which allows comments only. Go to Words Review tab, and click Add Comment (or New Comment, depending on version). Do not try to turn on Track Changes, as it’s grayed out. The Sourcing document is for reference only and is read-only.

Along with her obviously less-than-satifactory answer, she attached several not-quite-related documents, including the house style guide and a document called “Major uses of the Comma”. I already had all of the documents she sent me, but I knew at that moment that it would be fruitless to try to explain my problem any further. I supposed I was on my own.

I wracked my brain for a way to enable ‘Add Comment’ and came up with nothing short of hacking the file and rewriting it from the inside out, but I wasn’t going to go to all that trouble for a proofreading gig that I wasn’t even getting paid for. Finally, I had a thought.

Maybe the document would work on a different computer. My Apple computer is old and dies a little more everyday, and its system hasn’t been upgraded in more than a couple years. I booted up my best friend’s PC desktop computer, which he lent to be indefinitely for the purpose of playing video game RPGs. He had Apache OpenOffice, a free, open source Word-style program. I loaded all of the relevant documents from my computer onto a flash drive and moved everything over to his computer, where the program wouldn’t allow me to save in the original *.docx format. Luckily, I could create a new *.doc file, wherein I was finally able to make comments, as I had been trying to do all along.

Tired of messing with this unpaid proofreading—did I mention it was unpaid?—I decided to just open the read-only document on my Apple computer and the new “comments only” document on my friend’s computer so that I wouldn’t be forced to share the screen between two documents that were purportedly exactly the same thing.

…Except, as I immediately noticed upon careful inspection, they weren’t exactly the same thing. They weren’t significantly different, it’s true, but I didn’t know which document I was supposed to be proofreading. Which was the publisher’s “final” manuscript, the read-only document or the one that allowed comments? What the fuck, right?

I sent another email to the editor in charge of my proofreading trial to ask with which of the two documents I should work. She wrote back in part, “I’ve never come across this before… They should be the same.” Then, she told me to focus my proofreading on the comments-allowed document. I wanted to know why she sent me the read-only manuscript in the first place, then, but I wasn’t going to ask. I had already spent more than three days in the back-and-forth clarification, and I had only a week to proofread 300 pages, a little less than 50 pages a day every day right up until the deadline.

Fifty pages may not seem like a lot, and maybe it isn’t if I’m reading for pleasure, but when I’m reading specifically to find errors, it’s nearly more than I can handle. It’s not like I was getting paid, after all. When did other proofreaders find the time to read through an entire manuscript properly in only a week? I guessed I was going to find out.

I opened the modified comments-allowed document and hunkered down for some serious editing proofreading. I’m still trying to decide if jumping through all these hoops is worth it.

This post is part of Flash Fiction February.

FFF 07: Freelance, part 1

[I bent the purpose of this month by writing a nonfiction piece over two days. I decided it’s okay because I’m still writing.]

I freelance edit for several small presses located in the United States. I realized last year that I was going to have to do some of my own legwork to get my name out there; people weren’t going to just know what a great editor I am. (And yes, I’m a pretty great editor.)

Of the publishers to which I introduced myself late last year, I’ve been in regular contact with two. The first—we’ll call them Leagues Ahead Press (not their real name, obviously)—is a decent publisher with a decent, non-bureaucracy-laden system. This could be partially because it’s a small press and not a bureaucratic behemoth like, say, Penguin Random House or HarperCollins is, but whatever the case, working with them has been phenomenally easy (especially compared to working with the other publisher; but I’ll get to them in a moment).

When I work with Leagues Ahead Press, this is how it goes. They send me a manuscript via Word document attachment in an email to either content edit or copyedit or both. I use Word’s ‘Track Changes’ and ‘Add Comment’ features while I read through the manuscript, and when I’m done editing, I save the file under a new name to avoid confusion and send it back the same way it was sent to me to the same person who sent it. Then, at the end of the month, I receive a receipt for my services and a direct deposit payment into my checking account. Rinse and repeat.

Now, dealing with the other publisher with which I’ve been in contact has been… less cut and dried, shall we say. Let’s call them Not Quite There Press because, well, they’re not quite there. This publisher is very professional and very bureaucratic. I was actually in contact with Not Quite There before I ever contacted Leagues Ahead, but the process with the former has taken so long that I’m not sure it’s even worth it anymore.

First, I applied to be a contracted content editor. Someone from Not Quite There Press sent me a relatively short test and a bunch of directions, house punctuation rules, and the like. The house punctuation rules and the like isn’t unusual, and I read through the documents carefully and took the test in about an hour and a half. Normally, I wouldn’t take that long, but I wanted to be thorough and complete in my editing since it was, after all, a test of my skill.

After about a week, I was notified that I had not been chosen to continue the process to become a content editor. I was surprised because I pride myself on knowing language inside and out and being able to communicate well through writing. But, I know content editing is often subjective, so I didn’t bother taking it personally. They offered to put me in the cue for the contracted copyeditor test, and I accepted.

Second, they eventually sent me the copyeditor test along with all the same documents I already had, plus some extra ones specifically for copyeditors in their employ. I read the new documents and took my time with the test. I wasn’t worried because I’m the best copyeditor I know. That’s not bragging; it’s just fact. I sent the test back, satisfied that I had done well.

Again, I was notified that I had not been chosen to continue the process, this time to become a copyeditor. This time, I did take it personally. I don’t know how much I missed, but my proficient editing skill leads me to believe that either (1) their house rules for editing are unusually divergent from standard editing practices, or (2) the people at Not Quite There don’t quite know what they’re doing, or (3) likely both. In any case, they offered to put me in the unpaid proofreading cue for a two- or three-manuscript trial before moving up in the ranks to a paid copyediting position. I was a bit wary at this point, but I accepted.

Third, one of the editors who handles Not Quite There’s proofreaders contacted me with yet more documents about house rule punctuation and proofreading requirements, which I dutifully read. Shortly thereafter, the editor sent me a 300-page manuscript to proofread with a deadline only a week and a half away. That seemed a little soon to me, but I was still putting up with this publisher’s strangeness, and it’s not like I could complain to the editor herself; she probably hadn’t created such a short deadline herself and was only relaying it to me.

I had been sent two separate manuscripts that were the same except that one had formatting notes on it and was locked against editing (it had been made read-only) and the other lacked formatting notes and was open only for comments (it had been locked against editing except allowing the reader to make comments using Word’s ‘Add Comment’ system).

Irritated that I had to read the two documents side by side on my computer (one to read the notes and the other to make my own notes), I opened the comments-allowed document and read the first few lines. There was a punctuation error on the first page. I highlighted the offending comma and tried to add a comment. “This command is not available because the document is locked for edit,” the note at the bottom of the screen read.

Confused, I opened the other document, thinking that maybe I had tried to comment on the read-only document instead of the one that allowed for comments. I highlighted the same error in the second document and tried to make a corrective comment. “This command is not available because the document is locked for edit,” the note read again.

Please continue in Freelance, part 2.

This post is part of Flash Fiction February.

FFF 06: Argument

“Will you calm down?” the older woman asked her daughter. “Don’t take everything so seriously.”

“Like hell I’ll ‘calm down’,” the younger woman responded. “He tried to assault me. That’s not a ‘calm down’ kind of offense.”

The mother looked around, obviously embarrassed by her daughter’s loud admission. “Do we have to talk about it here, then?” she asked, trying to pull the younger woman off to the side of the busy New York City street sidewalk. Maybe if they could make it into the park or an alleyway, there wouldn’t be so many people so obviously looking at them.

The daughter angrily pulled her arm from her mother’s grasp. “No, Mom; you don’t understand. We’re talking about it here because it happened here. Right here”—she pointed to the ground in the middle of the sidewalk where she was standing—“under the streetlamp on this busy street, and nobody did fuck-all about it.”

“Will you please not curse?” her mother asked. “There are kids around.”

The passersby had taken to giving the two women a wider berth than was really necessary, and a mother with her young child looked stricken that her son had just heard the F-word, hurrying him away to the subway as though the conversation was catching.

“Mom, stop listening to how I’m saying it and start pay attention to what I’m saying. I’m saying I just barely escaped being assaulted, and you’re worried about the scene I’m making in the street?”

“Are you sure you weren’t just misinterpreting his signals?”

“No, I wasn’t. I can’t believe we’re even having this conversation right now.”

“What were you wearing, honey?” the mother asked gently. “Did you provoke him?”

“Seriously, Mom? No,” the younger woman threw up her hands and turned away, nearly hitting a group of teenagers as they tried to get around the two women. “This is just like that argument about whether or not it’s okay for men to comment on the appearance of women in public. Which, by the way, it’s not.”

“What you’re wearing tells people a story about who you are,” the mother said patiently.

“It doesn’t matter if I’m wearing a bikini or a burka, Mom,” the daughter said, “I’m not ever asking for a man to assault me.”

“Well, of course not, but—”

“I know you were born in a different era, and you lived through Second Wave Feminism and all that. I know you don’t think women are less than men and that women have the right to vote and do the same work for the same amount of money. I know.”

“Sweetie, now, wait a minute—”

“No, you wait a minute. Even knowing what I know about you, you’re still standing here telling me that I could’ve done something to prevent what happened instead of telling him not to be an asshole in the first place.” She stabbed her finger into the air beside her, indicating the absent man.

The mother raised her hands in surrender. “All right, all right; I’m sorry. I didn’t mean for it to come off that way at all. I just want you to be safe.”

“I know you didn’t mean it; of course you didn’t, but telling me I misinterpreted what happened after the fact is hardly the way to go about telling me to be safe.” The younger woman put a hand on her mother’s shoulder. “If you want me to be safe, Mom, you need to help make the consequences worse for person committing assault than the person being assaulted. You need to make it so that men don’t rape instead of hoping women can stop someone from raping them.”

“But you did.” The mother latched on to her daughter’s words and continued, “He only tried to hurt you, you said, right? You stopped him. And if you hadn’t taken self defense classes, then maybe you—”

“Mom. No,” the daughter said, and in that moment, she looked years older than her mother.

This post is part of Flash Fiction February.

FFF 05: Leadership

“Look, somebody has to make a decision!” one of the women behind me finally exclaimed, the frustration in her voice only echoing the tension in the room at large. All the other chatter stopped, and the leader—well, she wasn’t really a leader so much as a person who spoke the loudest for the longest amount of time, though most of us had come to agree that she had a good head about her and was generally fair in her dealings between women with disputes, and so on—turned in the direction of the voice, who had been quiet up to this point.

“Really?” the leader asked. “Then make one.”

“Ditch ‘im,” the bronzed woman said immediately. “Why are we even fighting over this guy, anyway? He’s just a man, after all.”

There were murmurs of agreement, but the leader frowned. “He’s still a person,” she countered.

“No, he isn’t. Look at ‘im.” She motioned down to the bound man in front of us. He was crying and the gag in his mouth was only partially muffling his cries.

One of the other women groaned. “Gods, stop whining,” she said, kicking him in the thigh. “You brought this on yourself.”

“Just leave him bound and gagged like this?” the leader asked.

“Yeah, why not? Everyone knows the only thing the ancients got right was ‘women and children first’; men just mess everything up.”

“He’ll die if we just leave him.”

“Isn’t that kinda of the point?” another woman asked.

The leader sighed. It was clear she knew she was out-voted. She rubbed her eyes with the back of her hand. “All right, fine. We’ll leave him. But let me talk to him first.”

A cheer went up among the crowd, and several of the women exclaimed things like, “Finally talking sense!” and “It’s the only logical thing to do.”

“You, you, and you,” the leader said, pointing at me and two other women, “you’re with me. Everyone else: back to the ship. We’ll cast off at 1500 hours.”

Everyone else exited the premises, presumably to eventually make their way back to the Mermaid’s Agreement, the ship that had proven to be our saving grace during the hostilities. The leader knelt down in front of the man and pulled his gag from his mouth. Before she could even say anything, he was begging for his life.

“Please, please don’t hurt me. Please; just let me go. I’ll never say a word to anyone about this; I swear.”

“I know,” she said, her voice tired. “I know you won’t.” She looked at him for a moment, then rose again and stepped back.

“Hold him,” she ordered, pulling out her pistol. The three remaining women, myself included, reluctantly stepped forward, not liking the idea of touching a man.

One of the other women asked, “I thought we were going to just leave him…?”

“I can’t just leave him tied up here to die of starvation or have some animal eat him alive,” the leader snapped. “Hold him.

We kneeled on either end of the man’s bonds and held him still while she loaded the pistol with one round. His crying began anew, and his pleas for freedom became more frantic.

“Poor kid,” the leader said. “I’m sorry I have to do this.” She pointed the gun at the man and pulled the trigger.

Immediately, the man went limp, his cries silenced forever.

“Don’t speak of this to anyone,” the leader said, returning her gun to its leather holster and wiping the sweat from her forehead with her dirtied shirt sleeve.

As we left the room and headed back toward the ship, one of the women caught up with the leader’s long strides. “You wasted a bullet on that guy? That man?” she asked, incredulous.

“No, I showed him mercy,” the leader said. “We must be better than men; we must not let them suffer, even when we want to. They are already men, after all. Putting him out of his misery was the kindest thing I could do.”

This post is part of Flash Fiction February.

FFF 04: Earthquake

It was as though earth had shaken down around them. No, the earth had shaken down around them. They hadn’t known each other before the earthquake—all standing on the sidewalk minding their own business while waiting for the next bus—but as they shook off the dirt and visually checked each other for injuries, they knew that suddenly the earth had made their business each other’s business.

“You okay?” the Asian man asked in a heavy accent that neither of the other two people could really identify.

“A little shaken up, I admit,” the rich black woman replied, brushing what dirt she could reach from her Prada business pant suit. The Asian man and the high school goth looked at her, trying to decide whether or not she was joking, but neither mentioned her unintended pun. The way the woman held herself, it was clear that though she was affluent now, she hadn’t been born rich, and she knew a hard day’s work when she saw one.

“I’m fine,” the goth said, reaching one pale white hand down to pick up the Coach handbag from the street and give it back to the lady.

“I’m Sandra,” the woman said, offering a hand to the man and high schooler in turn.

“Yun,” the man said.

“Cain,” the goth girl said, adjusting her black backpack over her black peasant shirt and menagerie of silver jewelry.

“Cain?” Yun repeated, obviously skeptical.

“Yes,” she answered, sizing him up as though they were about to fight. “Take it or leave it.”

“Fine,” Sandra said, not really caring what the girl’s name was. “Everything attached that’s supposed to be attached? Nothing broken or hanging weird?”

“Nah,” Cain said, though she stepped gingerly on on foot and then the other as if she wasn’t sure the earth wouldn’t just open up underneath her at any moment.

Yun rolled his shoulders and cracked his knuckles. “Seems fine,” he pronounced.

Standing there on the sidewalk, the three unlikely comrades began to take in the damage the earthquake had created in the world around them. The downed powerline across the street was hanging over several cars parked underneath a large flashing sign which read “CONSTRUCTION AHEAD”. The line sparked and sizzled, but there was no one around at the moment to mark off the area as dangerous and potentially lethal.

Behind them, the door to the dive bar open at 3 PM stood wide open, a huge crack in the concrete running straight through the threshold and into the dimly lit cacophony of overturned chairs and flipped tables. Except for the snapping of the downed powerline, the street was eerily silent. It didn’t look like anyone was in the bar, either, though they could be sure.

Cain headed for the open door and ignored Yun, who tried to stop her by saying, “That’s 21 and up only!”

“Nobody’s doing any drinking right now, anyway,” Sandra said, following Cain into the darkness beyond what the bright day-lit sidewalk really allowed them to see.

Yun looked around the street again, but it didn’t look like there was any movement or obvious signs of life, so he turned and brought up the little procession’s rear.

“Whoa! Grab the doorframe!” Cain ordered just as the earth began to shift under their feet again and Yun was knocked halfway to the ground. When the rumbling stopped, the bar’s hanging lights created an strange swinging effect that made the three of them step just a little closer to one another.

“Doorframes and hallways are the safest places during earthquakes,” Cain said.

“How—?” Sandra began.

“Didn’t you ever have earthquake drills in school?” Cain asked impatiently.

“I grew up in Chicago,” came Sandra’s response. As they moved toward the back of the bar, she ran one hand over the length of the counter.

“Ah!” Yun exclaimed. “Snow days!”

“Yes,” Sandra agreed, giving Cain a pointed look.

The goth flipped a chair upright with one twist of her hand and sat down on it backwards so that she could rest her arms on the top of the backrest. “You guys have a plan?” she asked.

Yun and Sandra looked at each other and then back to Cain.

“Where is everybody?” Sandra asked.

“Good question,” Yun agreed, looking around the bar as though he’d find the answer along the wall in one of the kitschy picture frames that hung haphazardly there.

They could hear the wailing of sirens and car horns outside, and the sound seemed further off than was really likely.

“Call your parents,” Sandra told Cain, pulling a mobile phone from her purse and handing it to the girl, who accepted it reluctantly.

While Cain dialed, Sandra and Yun tried to figure out their next move. “Find out if family’s okay,” Yun said.

Sandra shook her head. “I don’t have any family in the area.”

Yun nodded agreeably. “Me either.”

“Where are you from?” she asked him.

“Chinatown,” he said, pointing the direction to indicate where.

“They said stay here,” Cain interrupted, tossing the phone back to Sandra, who just barely caught it before it landed with a smack on the wooden table beside her.

“We’ll wait with you,” Sandra said, looking at Yun. He nodded.

Cain shrugged. “Whatever.”

This post is part of Flash Fiction February.

FFF 03: Together

Ashur headed out the door of the flower shop with a bouquet of relatively inexpensive flowers, the door chime ringing behind him as he exited. He turned the flowers over in his hand, inspecting them one last time before he entered the subway and lost the natural light. No roses, no lilies, no orchids; just daisies, carnations, and baby’s breath. He sighed, but it would have to do. They weren’t eating caviar off golden plates just yet, after all, and though he wanted to spoil his wife Mulli, they weren’t making enough money together (much less making enough separately) to justify his spending absolutely more than he needed to on flowers, a luxury in and of themselves.

On the train, Ashur held the plastic-wrapped bouquet under one arm and juggled the rest of his things with gloved, clumsy hands. He tried to avoid swiping other subway passengers with the blooms when he turned, but it was practically impossible in the lunch rush hour. He hoped to get to Mulli’s work in time to surprise her with flowers and lunch, but every time he looked at his watch it seemed like only a minute or two had passed.

When the train finally pulled into his stop, he pushed through the huddled masses and onto the above-ground platform, taking care not to ruin the bouquet more than it already had been. The icy cold air hit him directly in the face, and he had to stop to catch his breath before continuing down the platform stairs into the din of the city below.

He had crossed three streets, jumping over slush piles and narrowly avoiding stepping in yellow snow, when he finally reached the unassuming office building where his wife worked. It was kind of squatty, he decided, since the building was framed on every side (except the side facing the street) by apartment buildings much taller than its short three stories. He smiled as he walked up the brownstone steps, remembering one time Mulli had half-jokingly complained that her commute was too far and that they should move into one of the apartments adjacent to her work.

Pulling open the first door into the building, Ashur kicked his boots against the rough wall to knock off any lingering snow so that he wouldn’t track it inside. Making sure the first door was closed to avoid a gust of wind, he pulled open the second door and stepped into the warm waiting area where the doctors’ clients sat before they were called for their respective appointments.

The receptionist looked up from her work at the front desk with a retail-flavored smile. “Hello! What can I do for—” Her smile faded into confusion. “Hi, Ashur,” she said. “What are you doing here?”

“Here to see Mulli, of course,” he replied. He held up the drooping flowers and makeshift picnic basket full of food he’d lugged with him through the city’s transit system. “I brought lunch. Do you know when she’s having her break today?”

“Mulli?” the receptionist asked. “Why?”

Ashur lowered the food basket to his side again and set the flowers on the front desk’s counter. “I brought her lunch,” he repeated, frowning. “Is she back there with a client?” He leaned over the desk to see into the hallway that led to the private rooms where the doctors and nurses worked.

The receptionist shook her head, still somewhat confused. “I’m sorry, Ashur, but Mulli doesn’t work here anymore. She hasn’t worked here in more than a month.”

“What do you mean?” he asked. “She left this morning like usual. She hasn’t said anything about not working here.”

“She had a fight with one of the doctors about a client’s care, and when the doctor pulled seniority, she stormed out. We haven’t seen her since. Didn’t she tell you?”

Ashur stepped back, even more confused than the woman in front of him. Mulli had been in a fight? Mulli had been in a fight? She was demanding and difficult to please professionally, but she had never once so much as snapped at another coworker—doctor, nurse, or anyone else.

Scratching the back of his head, he swiped up the flowers again and backed into the entryway. “Oops! I just remembered she mentioned it before, and I was just on autopilot getting here.” He was out the door before the receptionist could finish asking him to let them know what had happened, and it was likely he’d pretend he hadn’t heard her request.

Mulli: missing. Ashur stood on the sidewalk at the bottom of the stairs and looked down the street one way and then the other. He thought for a moment and set off purposefully toward the park a few blocks away.

He found her sitting under a pine tree making little mountains in the snow with her booted feet. He sat down next to her, gingerly wiping some of the snow away so that he wouldn’t end up with his pants soaked. “I brought you flowers,” he said.

She didn’t look at him but leaned against his shoulder, the last vestiges of tearful shaking working its way through her body. “Want to tell me what happened?” Ashur prompted after a moment. She shook her head. “Did it have to do with a client?” She nodded against his coat.

He pulled her closer to him and wrapped one arm around her, the flowers and basket of food temporarily forgotten beside him. “Have you been looking for a new job this entire time?” She nodded again, and he could hear the strangled sob even through the coat’s layers where she’d buried her face. “Are you worried about the money?” he asked quietly. She nodded once and refused to lift her head to look at him.

“We’ll make it through, Mullissu,” he said, using her full name to catch her attention and bring her back from the catastrophizing her brain had surely worked itself into. She stilled against his chest, and he wrapped both arms around her more fully. “We’ll figure it out together, okay? I’ve got you; I won’t let you fall.”

This post is part of Flash Fiction February.