Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Saborna Roychowdhury talks about India, writing, and her novel, THE DISTANCE

Today, author Saborna Roychowdhury talks about coming to America from India at the age of 19, learning to fit in to a different culture, the difference between Bollywood tales and real India, and her novel, The Distance. Read more about her novel, which recently won a starred review from Publishers Weekly, at the end of this interview!

IB: The Distance deals with a young Indian woman's "coming of age," immigration to Canada and return to her native country. How much of the story is based on your own experience?
Saborna: All the characters in this book are purely fictional. I am not Mini, and there is nothing autobiographical in this novel. However, like Mini, I am an immigrant who left Kolkata and moved to North America. I look at the American society from the outside, as a foreigner. I used some of my own experience in Mini’s struggles to fit in and carve out her own space in Canadian society.

IB: The characters in the book all seem to represent different sides of India -- Amitav is the communist rebel fighting poverty and corruption, Neel is the striving individualist, and Mini is caught between the two. Do you feel their struggles represent India's struggle?
Saborna: India is in early phase of development and like most other states in similar stage of development is fraught with conflicts and struggles.  The struggles come in several different forms.  It includes struggles between the India of old (this is pre-1990s India which was influenced by the Soviet central planning system and professed a more socialistic philosophy) and the India of new (which is increasingly individualistic in behavior and globally homogeneous in thought).  It also includes the struggle between the process of industrialization and costs of it: the people who are displaced for exploitation of land and natural resources.  As one group of people becomes richer from the fruits of such development, another group becomes poorer as they lose their ancient culture, livelihood and way of living.  This is a part of the conflict between the old and new, between the social and the individual, the rich and the poor.  This is India’s dominant struggle as it continues the development to greater wealth and prosperity: it is the struggle for socio-economic justice and equality.         
An example of such a struggle can be what happened in my own state of West Bengal. Nandigram is a rural area about 70 km south-west of Kolkata. The Government of West Bengal,  acting on behalf of foreign capitalists, forcefully tried to acquire 10,000 acres of land from the Nandigram farmers for a Special Economic Zone (SEZ) .This land was to be developed by the Indonesian-based Salim Group for industrialization. Farmers of Nandigram were determined not to give up their land. At first they protested peacefully. But one day, the police entered the Nandigram area and tried to obtain the land forcefully from the farmers. What the government did not expect was the massive resistance they faced in the village. The villagers fought back even though the police force was heavily armed. In the police shootings at least 14 villagers died and 70 more were wounded.

IB:  Like Mini, you emigrated to America. Could you tell us about the biggest adjustment you had to make when you came here?
Saborna: I came to the U.S. when I was only 19 years old. Back home, I was considered beautiful, funny and popular. I was in my high school drama and dance team. But as an undergraduate in West Virginia, I felt everything about me was wrong. In the restroom, I compared myself with the white beauties putting on make-up in the mirrors, next to me. I felt my hair and skin were the wrong color. I did not shave my entire leg, straighten my hair with a hot-iron or put heavy makeup around my eyes. 

I remember in my early days in the U.S.--wearing clothes that were one size bigger than me and shoes that had a few stiches on them. Other Indians took me aside and whispered to me---“You can’t wear this here. In this country people wear fitting clothes and mostly new shoes. Throw away all the old stuff and buy new ones.” That’s was my first exposure to a hyper-consumerist society. I will soon learn and become a part of the quick “use and throw culture.”  

In the beginning, I had trouble making friends. I ran around in packs with other Indian students, staying away from my American classmates. My accent, my experiences, my take on most issues was very different from that of my classmates. In crossing the Atlantic, I had somehow lost my eloquence and my sense of humor. I was just the “weird” Indian girl. Maybe that’s why I can look at the American society from the “outside,” the same way Mini does.   

But later I will come to find out that despite my initial cultural shock, I have come to a society that is also the most open and accepting of differences. Some of these women will become my best friends and a few of these boys will ask me out on dates. I will come to accept America as the most class-less, least snobbish and most socially mobile society of all.

IB: How often do you get to visit India now, and what is it like to go back?
Saborna: I visit India every two years. Kolkata is a city that changes slowly. Even then I see a conflict between a waning feudal structure and an aggressive capitalism taking its place. I see the older generation still trying to maintain family relationships, customs and rituals the old-fashioned way. They think in terms of extended family and identify themselves as a part of a bigger clan. They try to visit relatives on a regular basis and keep up with the gossip and personal details of the greater clan. 

The aging older generation expects the younger generation to take care of them just as they took care of their parents once. In general, they expect the same kind of obedience and respect from the younger generation that they had once shown to their elders. The older generation is also more religious and lean towards fatalism when it comes to decision making.

The younger generation, however, has tasted the fruits of capitalism. Many work for multinational companies where they get salaries their parents can only dream of. Instead of living with their parents, they are moving out and living in their own apartment where they pay a monthly mortgage. The extended family structure has almost collapsed or is collapsing.

 The younger generation, which works 50-60 hrs per week, has little patience for their parents’ slow and sentimental world. Lack of time limits their ability to visit or keep up with the extended family. They have also discarded many of the social customs and rituals that their parents still insist on maintaining. This generation is more into new technology and lives a fast-paced, high expense, quick reward type of life. They eat in expensive restaurants, shop in flashy malls and take foreign trips at least once a year. They also rely more on modern science and research in their decision making.

IB: Americans are probably most familiar with India through literature such as The Raj Quartet or A Passage to India, or through Bollywood films. The former captures some of the country's past, the latter its current gestalt. What is missing from these portraits of India that you'd like Americans to know about?
Saborna: India is a land of many hues and colors. There is the ancient India of emperors and kings, there is the India of the raj and there is the India of present times.  My focus is on the India of today, as compared to The Raj Quartet or A Passage to India which depicts the India of the raj. Compared to these books, my books reflect a much more democratic and pluralistic India, in which the female character is well educated and conscious of the implications of her choices and is divided by them.  Quite a few Bollywood movies are also driven by the choices of the male “hero,” with the female “heroine,” playing a noticeably passive role.  On the other hand, the women of India are strong.  India had one of the early female heads of state (the Prime Minister in India).  Female students are some of the top performers in Indian exams. My protagonist, Mini, is educated and socially conscious. She is analytical and a keen observer of changes around her. So I want the Americans to know….they will find a protagonist in my book who is very different from the Indian women they see in Bollywood movies.

IB: Could you tell us a little about your writing journey -- how you decided to become a writer, what motivates you, what you hope to accomplish with your writing?
Saborna: I had just moved to Boston and I was looking for a job. I thought taking a fiction writing class would be fun. I took my first fiction class at Grub Street, Boston. There I met Jeffrey Kellogg, who was a very supportive and inspiring teacher. In a writing exercise, he asked us to close our eyes and think of an image and then bring it to life with our words.

“Write about what you see and feel. Who is in the picture? What is he/she like?”

The image that I saw that night was that of a fifteen-year-old maid who once worked for my aunt back home in Calcutta. Her father used to come every month to collect her wages.

The girl often complained to my aunt how her father never thinks of her wedding or her happiness--just uses her as a supplier of paper notes. My aunt was worried about her and tried to mediate between the father and daughter, but the father was not ready to listen.

 One day, my aunt found this teenage girl hanging from the ceiling fan in her little terrace room. Her body was still warm and her breathing shallow. My aunt did CPR on her. By the time the doctor came, the girl passed away in my aunt’s lap.

The father and political party supporting him ignored the suicide note and demanded a large sum of money from my aunt.  I knew that night that I had to write the girl’s story. When it came to sharing the story with my class, I was worried. I was a chemistry teacher --this was my first attempt at writing a short story. But my teacher, Jeff, gave me great feedback, and other people in my class seemed to like the story a lot.

“Send it off to a journal for publication,” Jeff urged me. “See what happens.”

So it was because of his encouragement, I mailed the story to three journals. Within a month New York Stories called and said they want to go ahead and publish my piece.   I did not know anything about Pushcart prize or nomination then. I was happy the story was published. At the end of 2004, I received a letter from New York Stories.

 “Each year New York Stories receives 3,000 manuscripts for consideration. We publish approximately 25. We nominate six, the best of the best, for the Pushcart prize, and yours, we are happy to say, was among them…” (Danny Lynch, Editor)   When I showed the letter to Jeff, he said, “Getting a Pushcart nomination for a first short story is highly unusual. It’s time for you to write your first novel.”  

IB: What's next -- are you working on anything in particular right now?
Saborna: I am working on my new novel, Parul’s Wish. It is an intimate story of love, betrayal  and redemption in the context of over-arching political and social themes. Parul and Munni, grow up in the same Hindu household in Calcutta, but Parul is Muslim, and works as the maid, and Munni is her employer’s daughter. While Munni’s life is cushioned and blanketed from all sides with a proper education, bank balance, big house and middle class status; Parul battles with poverty and an uncertain future. This growing distance between them will one day result in a terrible betrayal that will alter their lives forever.


The Distance by Saborna Roychowdhury is available in print and digitally.

“Roychowdury’s debut is a story about India’s growing pains told through the microcosm of a young woman struggling to find love and purpose...Through Roychowdhury’s rich detail and illuminating dialogue emerges a protagonist who is caught in a love triangle and the conflict between rigid traditions and western freedoms. The book also smoothly incorporates the countless facets of modern India, with an abundance of cultural references neatly packed in.”  Publishers Weekly, starred review.

“…a love letter to India itself….”  South Asian Review

Torn between the tradition-bound India of her grandmother and the new, striving country of her peers, young college student Mini searches for love and meaning in gritty Calcutta. Attracted at first to Amitav, an idealistic rebel whose risky attempts to help his countrymen fill her with admiration, Mini is ultimately repulsed by his naivete and unwillingness to see beyond his own personal passions. When her parents begin the process of arranging a marriage, she doesn’t resist.  With her new husband, Neel, she moves to Vancouver, discovering all the wonders of life in a developed country. But material comfort only makes her yearn with ever-growing intensity for the things she’s left behind, and when she returns to her native land five years later, she becomes acutely aware of the distance between dreams and reality, longing and fulfillment, love and sacrifice.

Saborna Roychowdhury was born and raised in Calcutta, and moved to the U.S. for her undergraduate work in chemistry. She now lives in Houston and teaches at Lone Star College. Saborna has been writing short stories since 2001. In 2004, her short story, "Bengal Monsoon" appeared in "New York Stories" magazine and was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Since then she has contributed to Quality Women's Fiction, Chillibreeze, Hilltown Families, The Four Quarters Magazine, and TheWeekendLeader.com. Her article "Having a baby changes everything" was listed in the "Top Stories from Around the Web" by SF Chronicle.

Monday, July 15, 2013

The summer of '67: An interview with Stephanie Gertler, author of Jimmy's Girl

Stephanie Gertler, author of Jimmy's Girl, first released by Penguin's Dutton imprint in 2001, sat down with Istoria to discuss that first critically-acclaimed book, her writing journey, and how she felt as her characters practically dictated the end of their tale to her! Jimmy's Girl is now available in print and digitally from Istoria Books.

IB: Jimmy's Girl 
has an almost dreamlike quality to it, as you switch back and forth between characters and between the summer of 1967 and the later time in which the story is set. How did you create that mood -- was it a conscious choice as you wrote the story or did it flow from the story? 
SG: Switching back and forth was simply part of my thought process as I reflected on the summer of 1967. In my mind, “I was there and I am here.” The juxtaposition of then and now just flowed out of me and came naturally. It was like daydreaming. Defined, daydreaming is fantasy often based upon the mundane – taking real events and, in the case of Jimmy's Girl, looking back and wondering “what if.”  

I wrote Jimmy's Girl while I worked as a lifestyles editor and weekly columnist for a newspaper and freelancer for several magazines. I also had three teenagers at home – 13, 15 and 17. No one tells you that you’ll have three teenagers at once when you have three babies in slightly less than four years! The only time for me was in the middle of the night, and so, I wrote Jimmy's Girl (yet to be titled). For fifteen months, I wrote nightly until around three in the morning and then caught a few hours of sleep before the day began. I was running on sheer adrenaline.

Really, I felt as though I was having a love affair as I wrote while the house was silent and everyone slept.   

Writing in the voices of both Jimmy and Emily felt essential. This was a conscious choice.   

IB: The summer of 1967-- when Jimmy and Emily's love was young--is evoked so well in the story. What are your personal memories of that summer, that year?
SG: To this day, the summer of 1967 remains vivid. It was the Summer of Love, and although I was too young to “participate,” I fancied myself a flower child. I wore a metal peace sign around my neck, granny glasses, a poncho and a button that said “Make Love, Not War.” It was also a summer of tremendous unrest as we watched the Vietnam War and race riots on the nightly news, and it felt as though the world was coming to an end. And yet amidst all the chaos, there was a boy who was my first love that summer, and he did enlist in the Marine Corps. He went to Parris Island and ultimately to Vietnam. My parents rented a house that summer, and I recall my room with the adjacent sun porch and the pink canopy bed. At night, I watched the thunderstorms (they came with such frequency that summer) as I wrote letters to my “Jimmy” and read his letters to me over and over again. There are several songs that bring me back to that summer: "Wouldn’t It Be Nice" (The Beach Boys), "My Girl" (The Temptations), "Coming Back to Me" (Jefferson Airplane). Perhaps the most palpable memory from that summer is one of being so purely in love, untainted and innocent, and believing that “Jimmy” and I would be forever.

IB: When you were writing the book, did you have a fixed idea of how Jimmy and Emily's relationship would resolve--whether they'd get back together or not--or did that grow from the story as you wrote it?
SG: This is always my favorite question about Jimmy's Girl. I had absolutely no idea how the book would end until it was in front of me on the screen. As I sat down at my desk to write what I knew would be the last phase of the story, I felt as though Emily and Jimmy were sitting next to me. It was as though they both said, “OK, so now let us tell you what ultimately happened with us,” and I could hear the back and forth in their dialogue as they spoke to me and my fingers flew on the keyboard. As the ending began to unfold on the page, I was choked up. When the ending appeared with finality, I cried.

IB: When the novel was originally released in 2001 by Penguin's Dutton imprint, it was very well received by critics. What did that feel like, to receive this praise for your "baby"?
SG: It’s so interesting that you use the term “baby.”  I’ve often said that writing a book  is an experience similar to giving birth. The book is conceived and then comes the gestational period as I write and then the book is complete and I want to show it to the world. And hopefully, everyone will think it’s a beautiful baby! I was on the edge of my seat as I waited for industry reviews, and it was surreal when Publisher’s Weekly, Booklist and Kirkus came in with raves. You know that expression about “pinching yourself?” Well, I did. What had been written from my heart and soul, as both a catharsis and retreat, became a book. I must say that the consumer reviews, and letters and emails that I received from readers were the most moving and compelling for me. Jimmy's Girl, although fiction, is a deeply personal story.  For strangers to open up to me with accounts of their own first loves and confessions of their own “what if’s” warmed my heart.

IB: Jimmy's Girl was your debut. Could you tell us a little about your writing journey before this novel--had you tried to get anything else published, for example, how long it took to get Jimmy's Girl to an editor and accepted.
SG: From the time I was a little girl, I wrote and made up stories in my head. I had a collection of “foreign dolls,” and when I was around ten, I set up a house for them (a sheet over two chairs) and created a series: All of the girls were in boarding school and they got into all kinds of antics and situations. Jump to college at New York University where I majored in Journalism and minored in English and about a year after I graduated, I landed a job with the Miami bureau of Newsweek Magazine and freelancer for Miami-based publications. A few years later, I came back to New York City and worked as a medical editor. Then came marriage and three babies one after the other – but I always wrote – even if it was just in a journal or stories for my children.

Once my youngest was ensconced in kindergarten, I went back to work at a Connecticut newspaper – starting over again as an editorial assistant which was rather sobering. My kids were in after-school day care until I got home from work, and they were not happy. I promised myself that if I wasn’t promoted to reporter within six months, I’d just throw in the towel and go back to being a stay-at-home mother. I was promoted! And then I was promoted to lifestyles editor and then there was a snow day. Schools were closed and I couldn’t get to work because there was no one with whom I could leave the kids, the oldest of whom was 13. It was 1996 and I was stuck at home with just a phone and a fax. No email back then. And I had an empty front page for my lifestyles section. So, I sat down at the computer (we did have one of those) and wrote a piece called “Pizza Wars” which was about the snow day with the kids. The  piece ran full on the front page and was a huge hit with the readership who wanted more of the same.  Subsequently, my weekly column “These Days” was born and it won a lot of awards from the Society of Professional Journalists.

Three years later, I took a book-load of These Days columns to an agent, Marcy Posner, thinking the columns could become a book.  Marcy called a few days later and said she absolutely loved the columns, but a book wouldn’t work because no one really knew who I was. I was disappointed. Marcy said to write a novel. I told her that I couldn’t – when would I have the time between work and kids and domestic chores? But in September 2000, I sent the manuscript for Jimmy's Girl to Marcy. A week later, she called and said she loved it.  In October, she sent it out to several publishers. I decided not to think about the fact that Jimmy's Girl was “out there.” There was a snowstorm in November, and I was driving when Marcy called my cell. Her voice rang out with her usual, “Hi, Honey! Where are you?” I explained that I was driving and the snow was blinding. She said to pull over. I said that I had all-wheel drive. She insisted that I pull over and I obeyed. That’s when Marcy told me that Jimmy’s Girl was accepted for publication by Dutton in a two-book deal – meaning that I now had to write another novel. I kept slapping my leg and screaming “Get out! Unreal!” She was right to make me pull over before giving me the news! I might have driven off the road otherwise. My editor at Dutton was Carol Baron – the editor for best-selling authors like  Maeve Binchy, Judy Blume, Tracy Chevalier, Harlen Coben, Nicholas Evans, Al Franken, John Grisham, Thomas Harris, John Lescroart, Elmore Leonard, Robert B. Parker, Amy Tan, and Danielle Steel. And me? Amazing. Working with Carol was fantastic.

IB: What happened after the publication of Jimmy's Girl--tell us a bit about your writing life after this beautiful debut.
SG: I completed all pending assignments at the magazines and left my post at the newspaper – only continuing to write These Days. I had to address Novel Number Two. My contract said that it was due within 18 months. Now, Jimmy's Girl took 15 months to complete, and that was while I had a “day job.” Still, I was somewhat daunted by the deadline. I had a vague idea of the plot for the second novel, but I was struggling. I think it was also a case of nerves: Was Jimmy's Girl just a fluke, or was I really a novelist now? I went with a friend to one of my favorite places on the planet – The Adirondacks. I knew that would be the setting for the novel. But still, I was grappling with the “twist” in the plot. And then one night, it came to me – literally in a dream. I woke up with a start at four in the morning, and there was the “twist.” For whatever reason, I had no pad of paper with me (no laptops in those days!), but I did have two large brown paper bags from the local supermarket. I opened them so they were poster size and wrote the synopsis for The Puzzle Bark Tree. When I got home and typed up my script, the synopsis was 42 typed pages. My third and fourth novels, Drifting and The Windmill, were also written on a deadline but, by then, I knew that 18 months was more than enough time to give birth to a book.

IB: Are you still writing? If so, what are you working on?
SG: Oh, yes! When I am not writing, I feel empty. I have been doing quite a bit of ghostwriting which is quite different from writing a novel, but I enjoy it enormously. It is not dissimilar to being in the newsroom, and I often miss those deadlines and the bustling interaction. My last ghostwriting project was Silent No More: Victim 1's Fight for Justice Against Jerry Sandusky (Ballantine) and I am proud to say that it was a New York Times Bestseller. I am also working on my fifth novel. It seems that just when I’m in the thick throes of this fifth novel, another ghostwriting job comes along and I can’t turn down the opportunity!

IB: The book market has changed a great deal in the dozen years since this novel was first published. Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?
SG: It has changed – with the biggest change being the advent of the e-book. At first, I was adamantly opposed to electronic readers and carried as many as five books with me when I traveled. Then I caved and got a Kindle because if I carried that many books, I had to leave too many pairs of shoes at home.  I never thought I’d be able to “curl up” with a Kindle as I could with a book – but I can! However, I always have pen and paper handy so I can take notes as I read since I miss folding the pages over and underlining. I know there’s a way to do that (sort of) on a Kindle, but it’s not the same for me as the touch of paper.

As for advice to aspiring writers: Write what you know and write how you speak. Never fall in love with your words: sometimes a passage might read well, but it simply doesn’t work – so save it for later. And above all, write fearlessly! Most, if not all, fiction has a strong element of truth. Go with the truth and know that fiction can take you to a safe place as you tell your story – and then some.   


Stephanie Gertler's moving tale of lost and found love, Jimmy's Girl, is available in both print and digitally through Istoria Books. It is free today, July 15, 2013 at the Kindle store! If you take advantage of this free offer, please consider penning a review!

During the Summer of 1967, sixteen-year-old Emily Hudson falls in love for the first time with Jimmy Moran just before he enlists in the Marine Corps and heads off to war. When he returns, both Emily and Jimmy have changed, and they go their separate ways. Now, thirty years later, Emily can’t stop thinking about Jimmy and wonders “what if?” Her question is answered when she finds him online. Although they are both married to other people, Emily and Jimmy meet again in Washington, DC, visiting the Vietnam War Memorial together and revisiting their lost love, ultimately having to decide if they deserve a second chance. Told in the alternating voices of Jimmy and Emily, this tender story explores misunderstanding and reconciliation in thought-provoking and poignant ways.

"A tender evocation of lost love, and what it means to find it again." (Kirkus Reviews)

"Sharp-eyed [and] impeccably detailed." (Marie Claire)

"A sweet response to one of life's constant what-if questions." (Booklist, starred review) 

Stephanie Gertler is the author of four novels and one nonfiction book. She lives in New York City with her husband.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

What the NSA would find in my Google searches

by Libby Sternberg

I'm innocent! I swear, officer! 

Well, yeah, I was looking up stuff online about weapons and explosives and getaway cars and….

But if I don’t get it right, my boss will be awfully mad, see? They double-check our work all the time. No, no, my boss isn’t involved in anything nefarious. I’m telling the truth here! Yes, I had to get accurate info on Colt 1911s and 9mm guns and powerboats and Humvees for her. I wasn’t intending harm at all. Just the opposite.... Yeah, Plexiglas, too. I confess—I looked that up. No, no, I had no intention of…  Well, yes, I do keep referring to Chicago. No, I’m not planning to go to Chicago. I live in Pennsylvania. 

I’m just a suburban housewife, I swear, with no ties to terrorist….well, yes, you’ve got me there – I was Googling al Qaeda recently. And, yes, I did look up information about Navy SEAL operations. But I wasn’t building any connections or networks or…. I don’t even know how to speak the terrorists’ language, for crying out loud! 

Uh, what’s that? You have records of me using online translation software to look up some Pashto phrases and some Spanish ones, too? Um, yes, I’d forgotten about the…but, hey, since when is it a crime to speak Spanish?

As I said, I’m just a housewife…a grandmother, for Pete’s sake!  Well, uh, yes, I admit it, I also searched more than once for information about SIG SAUER guns! But…I couldn’t remember if the name is hyphenated.

No, hyphenated isn’t a weapons-making process! It’s a dash, see, like an en-dash… No, en-dash isn’t a code. It’s a typography designation for, well, something like a hyphen. Oh, good grief, I just told you that the hyphen doesn’t mean anything! No, “hyphen” isn’t the code word giving a green light to some plot to take down a Chicago building.

Chicago is the Chicago Manual of Style, see? No, no, it’s not some handbook for terrorist plots. It’s a book for copy editors. Like me. I copy edit novels, and some of them are suspense books, thrillers, and…we use Webster’s 11th, too.

No, no, Webster’s 11th isn’t a special cadre of bad guys. It’s a dictionary! I swear. Look it up! 

Anyway, these are our tools—copy editing tools! Not real tools! For the love of…. And sometimes I need to refresh my memory to see if words like powerboat are closed compounds or open compounds or hyphenated….

No, no, I’m not talking about compounds for training terrorists! I just told you about hyphens, right? And that’s part of being a copy editor, making sure you have the compounds right…. Oh, Lordy, can’t you understand, I’m a writer! And an editor! Nothing important!

When I research Colt 1911s, it’s to see if it’s a semiautomatic, as the author indicated. When I look up SEAL training, it’s to validate the author’s description of those programs. 

And Plexiglas…I bet you thought that was an un-trademarked word spelled “plexiglass,” didn’t you, mister? Nope, trademarked. Lots of common words are—Band-Aid, Dumpster, Jacuzzi, Formica, Styrofoam, even Realtor….  Yeah, that’s right. Realtor. Start uppercasing it, buddy. And lowercase the “x” in x-ray when you use it as a verb. But uppercase it when it’s a noun. Got that? 

And dash that dash in lighthearted—it’s a closed compound while light-headed is hyphenated…Write it down so you don’t forget, sweetheart. And when you’re taking down a suspect’s words, use hyphens to indicate stuttered letters, but em-dashes—longer hyphens—to indicate stuttered words, okay, bub? And watch out for those dangling modifiers, Smartypants, you with your “Googling all this violent stuff, we need to ask…”  “Googling all this” has to agree with the subject of the sentence, see, which you meant to be me. Get yourself some Strunk & White and memorize that section, Muscle Head. And stop using “like” when you mean to say “as if.” I might seem as if I’m engaged in suspicious activity. Not like I’m engaged in same. Got it, Officer Krupke? Don't get me started on punctuation, either, junior. We take the Oxford comma very seriously around here....

Are you yawning? 

As I said, I know you found all these things on my computer through random NSA searches, but I swear, I’m not a terrorist. I’m nothing! Really. Nothing. I’m a copy editor. Nothing…..

In addition to being editor-in-chief of Istoria Books, Libby Sternberg copy edits for a major romance publisher. She is also a novelist. Her latest book, After the War, is now available in print and digitally.