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Monday, December 8, 2014

Interview of Jerri Gallagher: Author and Editor

I'm happy to welcome guest author Jerri Corgiat Gallagher. Jerri is the winner of the 2004 first place Award of Excellence for a debut novel. She’s authored five contemporary romances set in the rolling hills of the Missouri Ozarks, a series big on romance and tough on issues, following five women of the O’Malley family. Originally published by NAL, they continue to be available as ebooks. Now ten years later and working largely as a copy editor, Jerri is finishing the sixth and final novel of the series, available in 2015. 

As a freelance copy editor, Jerri counts Harlequin, Entangled, and Apub (Amazon’s publishing arm, via Girl Friday Productions), as well as several bestselling authors, among her current clients. She's also worked as a freelance line and developmental editor for Adam’s Media (Crimson Romance) and Tekno Books (performing services for Five Star Publishing), and as an instructor for Long Ridge Writers Group in Connecticut. Between 2004 and 2007, New American Library, a division of then Penguin Putnam, published her five contemporary romance novels written under the name Jerri Corgiat. Seventeen years working in the corporate world included copywriting for advertising, catalogs, and customer materials, writing reports, presentations, training mnauals, and human-resource handbooks. Jerri is a member of Editorial Freelancers Association (EFA), Novelists, Inc., and Authors Guild.

What led you to write your first novel?
Unemployment… and wanting to continue it! Ha! Seriously! Although I’d had several jobs I loved (including six years as a book buyer/retail store manager), when the bookstore closed, I’d taken a job I ended up despising. Then around 1998 an unexpected financial windfall allowed me to quit said job. The idea was to spend the summer with my then-child (now an adult), and resume job hunting in the fall. I thought if I could write a book instead, and sell it, I could delay the job hunting and make plenty of money with my prose.

Pretty funny, huh?

I’d always loved reading but had never tried my hand at writing anything lengthy. It proved to be a tad harder than I’d thought-imagine that-and so began a six-year journey haunting the library for books on craft, joining writer and critique groups, attending conferences, taking a continuing-ed fiction-writing class, all to enhance my writing skills…And then I had to do nearly the same thing all over again to learn how to market my finished opus…And then finished opus number 2, which is the one that eventually sold (SING ME HOME) to Penguin Putnam’s NAL.

All five books in your “Home” series are available in print and ebook, as well as a complete ebook boxed set. Any plans to add to the series?
Actually, they're only available used in print, with the exception of SING ME HOME, which sports a new cover and was re-released by Istoria Press on a POD basis. They still host the ebook versions of the HOME series.

And, yes, there’s a sixth book. I’ve been doing far more editing these days than publishing, but I wanted closure on this series, which was dropped by my publisher, when the blend of “soft” romance/WF/comfort-food books these are, ebbed in popularity.

Not an unusual story—one many, if not all, authors have encountered. Anywhoodle, I wanted to wrap up the O’Malley family’s saga with one last book, both to satisfy myself and readers who still ask for another.

Unfortunately, life has kept intervening in the last 7 years, with big ups and big downs, as it is wont to do. I now work full-time so my writing hours are few. Still… I’ve got only about six chapters left in need of revision, and then a layer of polish. I’ll get there… eventually. And I’m hoping not too long after the start of the year. At that point, I hope to find a new host for all six books, plus intend to revamp my web site, which is out of date. I’d like to throw my hat back into the romance ring. 

Although primarily an author of romances, you show an interest in trying your hand at mainstream fiction.  Can you tell us about any new projects? WIPs?
I finished a book about a year ago, titled CERTAIN DARK THINGS (or sometimes THISTLEFIRE, depending on my mood :-) Big departure from my usual fare: Think RIVERTON HOUSE or THE THIRTEENTH TALE. It’s what I’d consider an American Gothic, reminiscent of the old Victoria Holts, only set in Iowa in the decades between WWI and the end of WW2. Lots of family secrets, an illicit romance… twists and turns…and death.

My agent (yes, she’s stuck with me through thick and thin) peddled it, and while I received some stellar rejections… uh-huh, yes I did…and commentary, which indicated what revisions might sell it, we decided to shelve that book in favor of another. Which I’ve yet to write, although the idea is there along with the first twenty pages.  

Is there a setting for a book you haven’t yet used that you want to?
Yes, and I’ll use it in this next book. The Flint Hills of Kansas, during the 1930s. I am a child of Kansas and am in love with the grasslands, finding them both mysterious and nurturing. You don’t stare down from the Flint Hills, you stare out—at  rolling hills, magnificent sky.

The annual “burn” which scorches the earth so the new grass can grow has always fascinated me, too. It’ll be a motif in the book.

Most of your work day is spent copyediting for several publishers and authors.  Beyond getting the commas and hyphens  in the right place, I know very little about what a copyeditor does. Enlighten me please.
Oh my. This won’t be a short answer! Copy editors are charged to make various levels of edit by a book’s editor—in most cases light to moderate to substantive. A light copy edit involves flagging repetitive words or phrases, awkward verbiage (many times misplaced modifiers and the like), assuring dialogue tags are really tags, and noting anything that the line editor or editor may have missed. Many times, we are also asked to make suggestions for changes.

For a moderate or substantive fee, we’re paid for rewriting substitutes for those repped words or awkward passages. In my authoring-only days, I remember once having a hissy-fit (fortunately privately) over liberties a CE had taken with my book—not realizing my editor had asked her to do so, and that’s what she was being paid for.

For a light edit, we also fact-check basic information (geography, distances, titles of known works, quotes), make sure an author’s character didn’t have blue eyes on page 20 and brown on page 233, that the protagonist didn’t drive a van on page 5 and a Jeep on page 129. We flag and check trademarks for accuracy. We watch vocabulary. (It’s “VoilĂ !” and not “Walla!” Something sits on a mantel, not a mantle, on an altar, not an alter.)

We also track timelines –we watch to be sure a protag’s child isn’t getting up for grade school on Sunday morning, that a car ride from Kansas City to St. Louis doesn’t take only an hour, that characters aren’t being kept up and running for their lives for 96 hours straight, without taking at least a nap.  (And, yes, I’ve found all these things.)

And inconsistencies: Did someone have breakfast at dawn and then “Five hours later, he admired the sunrise”?

And then there’s the nuts and bolts, the grammar and punctuation…

Along with most people, I’d once thought copyediting was an application of grammatical rules, which often were a reflection of the whims of the copy editor and what she/he learned in grade school, and with “what sounds right.” As a writer, when my own work was copyedited, I was fairly certain the copy editor many times got things wrong. (“What does she mean by putting a hyphen there? I’ve never seen those words hyphenated before!”)

A copy editor—a good copy editor—tries to keep the work absolutely true to the writer’s voice, while also assuring the prose doesn’t contain lapses in readability (i.e. isn’t tangled to the point where the reader has to pause, even momentarily, to reread) and consistency.

While trying to make sure those criteria are met, rules aren’t rigid. There’s lots of room for author preference…

Is it “Oh my God” or “Omigod”?... “Last night she went to the store” or “Last night, she went to the store”? Either is fine, but it’s a CE job to make sure usage is consistent. (By the way, commas aren’t required after introductory phrases, except in certain circumstances. It’s the CE’s job to know what those circumstances are.)

The blueprints most publishers (and so CEs) use for fiction are the 1026-page Chicago Manual of Style and Merriam-Webster’s 11th. The publisher’s stylebook trumps both, though. (Publisher stylebooks are not consistent with each other. Nor are they always consistent with CMOS and M-W. Which is why authors often encounter differences in writing for more than one publisher.) Knowing all those rules, good copy editors know when and how they can be bent. And under what circumstances. They also know when they can’t.

This not only applies to punctuation but also to grammar—when to use which vs. that, past vs. last, blond vs. blonde, like or as if, fewer vs. less, on to vs. onto… the list is fortunately not endless—but almost!

Should a sentence start “So,” or just “So”—no comma? Is it “try and” do or “try to” do? What about mid-afternoon vs. midafternoon? E-mail vs email? Is internet capitalized—or not? Is someone well-deserving or well deserving and who decides? (Merriam-Webster, that’s who. While most “well” words aren’t hyphenated after a noun, they are when preceding it… unless the word appears in M-W with a hyphen, then it is always hyphenated. And no, spell check cannot tell a writer these things.)

Still with me? To different degrees for different publishers, copy editors also either check styling done by a designer and/or apply styling so that, for example, all films mentioned are in italics and all news articles are surrounded by quotation marks. So that all first paragraphs after a scene break are flush left… or the first four words are capped… or not.

Bottom line: While most individual items are not a Big Deal, taken as a whole, if copyediting is sloppily done, readers will notice. I figure it’s my job to help make the work shine.

(P.S. As for finding a typo in a finished work: Believe me, if any mistakes remain in a work once a good CE (and then proofreader) has completed his or her job, they are far fewer in number than the ones that were corrected!)

         Wow, you weren't kidding when you said this wouldn't be a short answer! A lot of detailed information that I'm sure many of us didn't know before today. Thank you!  

Did you base Cordelia, Missouri, the fictional town for your “Home” series on an actual Missouri Ozarks town? 
Sorta. :) The physical location for the town is a spot about midway between Stover and Cole Camp, both towns that I traveled through over the many, many years of summering in that area. Cordelia is bigger than both—more the size of Morgan County’s seat, Versailles—and it grows over the life of the series, which spans about twenty years.

When you have the time, how do you relax?
I love watching sports… baseball (the KC Royals journey into the World Series was just awesome!), pro football (go Chiefs!), college basketball (Go KU!)… as does my husband, so that’s a big pasttime.

We also follow a number of television shows, which we binge watch on Hulu or Netflix, like House of Cards, Parenthood, The Good Wife, and a dash of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D…

I’m also a walker. Two miles a day, most days. Occasionally farther, occasionally shorter. It’s my moving meditation. We also hike when we can… I love Colorado, although we only get there maybe once every few years.

You have plans to write a  historical saga during those moments when you have nothing else to do. :-) Can you tell us about it?
The Flint Hills during the depression is the setting for the new book. With a working title of PRAIRIEBURN, it’ll be of the same ilk as CERTAIN DARK THINGS and involve the unraveling of the mystery of a long-ago disappearance…

A young woman returns widowed and with her child to the town of Calliope, where she arrived years ago on the orphan train, which delivered her to a hardscrabble life she’d hoped never to return to. Calliope, and the people who populate it, rekindle memories of her twin brother, who disappeared when they were teenagers, and was presumed dead in an annual burn.

I plan to tell the story a la GONE GIRL (the ability of Gillian Flynn, Gone Girl’s author, just astounds me, and if I can be even half as skillful in the telling, I’ll be happy), from at least two POVs. Who did what will be the crux of the book. Things will not be as they seem.

Are you currently accepting copyediting clients? If so, how do they contact you?
Always! I can be contacted at or I also have a website at, which includes some brief information. I’m hoping to get a new copyediting-only website up during 2015.

You have a Bachelor of Science degree in journalism from the University of Kansas. Has the knowledge you gained from that degree been useful for your work as a copyeditor?
Oh, absolutely. Back in that day (about to date myself now), proofing and copyediting (they aren’t the same) were done manually. Proofreader marks provided the common language shared by everyone working on a piece, including the typesetter.

But more than that, my second-grade English teacher, Miss Carter, laid the groundwork. Anyone reading this old enough to remember diagramming sentences? I did a heckuva lot of that during grade school.

Now for some fun stuff about you:

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
A writer. Honest.

Favorite happy memory:
Honestly, there are too many to list. I’m generally a happy, optimistic person and find joy in lots of things, big and small.

What is the top thing on your bucket list?
A winter retreat in Rockport, Texas.

If you could have a super power, what would it be?

Tell us where we can find you
FB: Jerri Corgiat Gallagher

Thank you for sharing with us, Jerri. Is there anything else you’d like to add?
A big thank-you for choosing to interview me, and a wish for everyone to have a wonderful and magical holiday season!

Interviewed by Polly McCrillis


jean hart stewart said...

Marianne, nothing is coming up on my blog site except your name. Might be my computer, as it's acting very strangely....

Paris said...

Welcome, Jerri!
Thanks for sharing just what it is that a copy editor does. Years ago, I belonged to MARA about the time that you were getting married and am happy to hear that you're still writing. I love a Gothic and anything set in that time period is fascinating, so please keep us posted!

Rose Anderson said...

I really enjoyed your interview, Jerri. You hooked me on your idea of a dustbowl-era story in the Flint Hills. Best luck.

Sandy said...

Hi Jerri,
I remember you from years ago at MARA. I wish you the best of luck.

The Flint Hills are a favorite spot for me, too.

Cara Marsi said...

Jerri, I enjoyed your interview. I love the premise of your stories. And thanks for enlightening us about copy editing.

Jerri said...

I've tried to post a couple times, but for whatever reason, things aren't cooperating here. :)

So good to "see" MARA members! I miss you all but life took me in different directions - like a long drive from our meeting place. :) What projects are you all working on?

If anyone knows "visiting Flint Hills" ideas, I'd love to hear them! Husband and I hiked in Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve, and Konza prairie near K-State last spring. I've also been on the Flint Hills bypass highway between Council Grove and Cassoday, Kansas - at the overlook near Strong City, you'd think you were alone in the universe! Oh, and the Flint Hills Discovery Center in Manhattan, and the Orphan Train Museum in Concordia.

Polly McCrillis said...

Hi Jerri, Again, I want to say it was good to "meet" you! I enjoyed getting to know you and all the projects you are involved in. Happy writing, copy-editing and Happy Holidays to you and yours!

Marianne Stephens said...

Jerri, so glad you agreed to do an interview with RB4U! There are quite a few MARA members here that you'll know.
Good luck in writing and editing!

Melissa Keir said...

It's wonderful to meet you Jerri! You do have a busy job and as a teacher of third graders, I wish they could diagram a sentence more. There's something so wonderful about knowing a language... :)

All the best!

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