Transformations Editing is a professional editing and proofreading company. Editor Jill Sulam specializes in editing and proofreading nonfiction books. Visit About to learn more about the services Transformations Editing provides and Résumé to learn about my editorial experience.

Metamorphosis is Transformations Editing's blog, updated periodically on topics related to writing, editing, and the business of being an editorial freelancer.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Friday Fun: Books! Check 'Em Out!

(Surely anyone who lived through the '90s can dredge up a memory of this PSA from the darkest recesses of his or her mind.)

  • It's Labor Day weekend, and you know what that means: time to read trashy books! Here's a list of 40 awful books to read before you die. I've only read a few of them, including Peyton Place and The Stepford Wives, and I'm not sure how trustworthy this list is overall. Some of the books sound so bad they're just plain bad (anything Danielle Steel has ever written or thought about writing), some sound boring (trash should never be boring), and some aren't really trash at all--Lady Chatterley's Lover, anyone? But one can pick and choose and get ideas. For example, I can't promise I'll never check Lace out of the library. (I'm totally looking for Lace next time I go to the library.)
  • I just read, in one night, the best novel I expect to read all year: Eleanor & Park, by Rainbow Rowell. It's the tenderly written story of two likable high school misfits who fall passionately, heartbreakingly in love. It's funny, perfectly paced, and impossible to put down. But--and this is a major but--the ending may make you want to throw the book against the wall. Read it anyway, but just know that if the ending bothers you, you're not alone.
  • I'm getting close to finishing a book I mentioned many moons ago, The Secrets of Mariko: A Year in the Life of a Japanese Woman and her Family. I put it aside for months, but now I don't want to put it down.
  • The next novel on the docket is The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. I've, um, never read it.
  • Sometime soon I need to get back to ...And Ladies of the Club, but it's about a million pages long and is off to a slow start--you know, the kind of start where you're not sure why you should care about the characters. I'll plug away a bit longer to see if it draws me in, and if not? Well, I've never been one to finish a book I don't care to finish when I'm reading for fun. I figure my job is to read every word of the documents I edit and proofread, so when I'm off the clock, I read how I want to read. (So there.)

What's the best book you've read this year?

Friday, May 3, 2013

5 Elements Downton Abbey Cribbed from P. G. Wodehouse in Season 3 Episode 6

My husband, Jeremy, and I are both fans of Downton Abbey, where Robert Crawley (Lord Grantham) is the patriarch of the titular estate and butler Mr. Carson heads up a staff of drama-prone servants. Fellow Downtonians already know that next season won’t begin in the US until next winter. We’re tiding ourselves over by slowly rewatching the last season, season 3, on DVD. Jeremy noticed that there were several striking commonalities between an episode that aired toward the end of the season and the writings of humorist P. G. Wodehouse, and he decided to blog about it.

Warning: Downton season 3 (and Wodehouse) spoilers below!

Did anyone else notice that Downton Abbey episode 6 (episodes 7 and 8 in the UK) of season 3 borrowed a lot of elements from P. G. Wodehouse stories? Here are five:

1.     Aunt Agatha
The young and irrepressible Rose MacClare, great-niece of Downton’s matriarch Violet, Dowager Countess of Grantham, has an offscreen Aunt Agatha, who’s described as “not much of a party person.” When Rose is going to be sent to live with her, Rose decries having “a monster for a jailer.”

Wodehouse’s famous protagonist Bertie Wooster also has an Aunt Agatha, known as “the nephew-crusher,” who makes his life miserable. “Aunt Agatha” has, following Wodehouse, become a term for an overbearing older woman.

2.     The name Gregson
Michael Gregson, the newspaper editor who hires Lady Edith Crawley to write a column, shares a last name with Agatha Gregson, Bertie Wooster’s aunt.

3.     Blackmailing with a secret phrase
Former valet John Bates blackmails lady’s maid Sarah O’Brien simply by using the phrase “her ladyship’s soap,” which troubled (and in trouble) valet Thomas Barrow told him to say to O’Brien. The phrase stuns O’Brien, causing her to immediately change her tune and convince footman Jimmy Kent to drop his insistence that Mr. Barrow be sent away from Downton without a reference from Mr. Carson. Bates doesn’t even know what the phrase means.

Similarly, in Wodehouse’s novel The Code of the Woosters, Bertie Wooster says “Eulalie” to neutralize the brute Roderick Spode. Bertie also doesn’t know what the phrase means; he gets it from his butler Jeeves. It refers to a secret in Spode’s life that would ruin him were it known, just as the secret referenced by “her ladyship’s soap” would ruin O’Brien. In the case of Spode, who tries to be the intimidating leader of a fascist group called the Black Shorts, Eulalie is a ladies’ undergarments store he owns. (Which leads Bertie to remark, “You can’t be a successful Dictator and design women’s underclothing. One or the other. Not both.”)

4.     Hedonistic jazz club
With the Louisiana Boys playing jazz in the background, Rose MacClare and her married boyfriend Terence Margadale dance with abandon in the Blue Dragon club. Bertie Wooster likewise patronizes jazz clubs in New York during his exile of convenience from England.

5.     Estate agent job for the not-so-well-off
Tom Branson, husband of the late Sybil Crawley, the youngest daughter of Downton’s Lord Grantham, is not wealthy or aristocratic like his in-laws and, unlike them, must work to support himself. After Sybil dies, Tom is set to go join his brother Kieran’s car repair business in Ireland. But the Dowager Countess suggests that Tom be given the position of Downton’s estate agent—the overseer of the huge estate—to keep him and his infant daughter with the Crawley family.

In Wodehouse’s novel Psmith in the City, Psmith—who is from a well-off family—taps his cricket-playing friend Mike Jackson to be the Smith family estate agent (as well as convincing Psmith’s father to pay for Mike’s university education). This saves Mike from a dreary job in a bank, much as Tom was saved from working in a garage. (As a bonus parallel, Tom learns to play cricket in the next episode of Downton.)

Apparently Julian Fellowes believes that “good artists copy; great artists steal.”

When Jeremy isn’t reading Wodehouse or watching Downton Abbey, he’s developing Price Per Unit Calculator, a mobile web app you can use while shopping to compare unit prices. He’d appreciate your feedback on it!

Thursday, March 14, 2013

A "Pi-Ku" for Pi Day

It's Pi Day, and editors everywhere are rejoicing.

Well, maybe not.

Pi Day, March 14--you know, 3.14--is a nod to the mathematical constant π that even we language types remember from middle-school math class. I'm a mathematics proofreader (and occasional editor), so I may be more aware of this geeky "holiday" than others who work with words. (But I admit I'd never heard of Pi Day until I began working for the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics [NCTM].)

Some celebrate March 14 by eating pie. I am celebrating by sharing this "pi-ku," via NCTM's Illuminations teaching resources initiative.

If you are a publisher of mathematics resources for teachers or students and are looking for an experienced freelance editor or proofreader, you can celebrate Pi Day by contacting me.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The Proofreader's Table

(From left to right, roughly)

Darling iPad, second love of my life.

Red pens, tiny Post-Its, napkins (why so many? I don't know), gift box containing a heart-shaped paperweight, binder clip.

Manuscript, thoughtfully hole-punched and put in a binder by my client.

Pack o' Post-Its atop a book-shaped decorative box holding more red pens, page flags, and other proofing miscellania.

Proofs of a book on educational equity in teaching K-8 mathematics.

Aged but still perfectly functional calculator on top of a page of notes about the proofs.

Tea mug: indispensable.


CMS (yes, I still use the 15th edition).

Page flags, white-out pen, red pencil.

Already-read pages, overturned.

(Table: our former dining table, the perfect size and shape for spreading out.)

Monday, January 14, 2013

Transforming My Website

At the start of every year, I think about What I Need to Do Better, in both business and life in general. I'm not one to make real resolutions (because I'm not one to keep said resolutions), but I don't mind informally mulling over things I'd like to change.

Something I really needed to change was this site. People, my online resume had not been updated since 2011. This could not stand. I am revising my résumé page now; in the meantime, you'll find an up-to-the-minute, complete publications list (PDF format) in its place. (By the way, if you are looking for an easy way to link to a file, I suggest signing up for a Dropbox account and using Dropbox's new Links feature to create a custom link you can copy and paste into a tweet, blog post, or webpage.)

Another site-related change: how I use the blog. I have been an... infrequent blogger. I'd like that to change, but I've realized that I will probably never be a regular blogger if I stick to editing- and writing-related topics. Others are simply better at blogging on these subjects than I am. They keep up with the happenings in the publishing world; they read books that are less than five years old; they link to content as it's going viral, not a week after even your grandmother thinks it's played out. I'm not great at those things. But there must be something I can do particularly well, right? That thing is probably writing about, well, me.

But there are a couple of problems with that. First, this is a blog for my business. I assume you're here because you're looking for an editor or proofreader. You probably aren't interested in the details of my life--and I'm not sure I should be sharing them with the world. And that is the second problem. I am a very private person, and my image as a businessperson is a pressing concern. I'm not sure I have the guts to post about politics, personal issues, or the embarrassing books I read before bed. I want you to think of me as a competent professional, and I'm not sure that posting about, say, my favorite young adult book series does much to further that perception.

The thing is, however, that I can think of only two people in the editorial field who a) blog only about editing, proofreading, and writing AND b) update regularly. Other editors and proofreaders blog irregularly, or write about a variety of personal topics in addition to writing about their work. Some do this extraordinarily well, engaging readers by letting them into their lives and talking about the business of editing. Can I do that? Do I want to do that?

I started writing this post days ago and still don't have an answer to those questions. What I think I will do, for now, is write some more posts that are only kinda-sorta related to editing and writing. If I enjoy it and it helps me add new content more regularly, then I just may keep it up.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Catching Up

It's been six months (six months!) since I last blogged, so it's time I post something, anything.

What's happened at Transformations Editing since I last posted?

  • Over the summer, we sold one home and rented another. (The search for a house to buy continues... sigh.) Our rental house fulfills two major dreams I've had for years: I finally have a dedicated office, and we have a hammock in the backyard. The hammock is every bit as wonderful as I expected--more so, actually. I'm convinced that there is nothing in the world like lying suspended under a blue sky and old trees. Weeks ago, when it was still warm and the trees were still in full leaf, I passed an hour or so lying there, listening to soft bluegrass radio coming from our neighbor's house and poking around on the iPad. It was as perfect an hour as I've had in ages.


  • Speaking of perfect and of houses, I heard what I consider to be a perfect short story on the radio over the summer. Please listen to Wells Tower's "House Dutiful," the story of his seemingly hopeless plan to renovate his father's dilapidated house. Tower's characters and places are fully evoked, absolutely there and real--and he does not waste a single word in the telling. There is no sentimentality, only emotional truth. It is heartbreaking and funny, and I would not change a word of it.

  • I've been working quite a bit, mostly for my primary clients. Recent projects have included editing books on project sponsorship and contractor selection; proofreading books on teaching statistics to middle- and high school students; and proofreading articles for two math education journals.

  • What I haven't been doing is reading much for pleasure. I haven't been to the library in more than two months, which is unbelievable and certainly unprecedented. I did request The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry from our local branch, but I imagine it will be 2013 before I see it--I was number 150 or so on the wait list. 

  • I also have been thinking a lot about blogging in general. I read dozens of personal blogs (and a few editing and writing blogs), and I'm finding myself more and more annoyed with the State of Blogging. Personal blogging seems to be devolving into a frantic swirl of product giveaways, sponsored posts, and begging for "likes," and it's just not interesting. I had to remove a blog I have been following for some five years from my reader yesterday because the blogger--a talented and funny writer--has made so many commercial posts in the last few weeks that I can't remember the last time she just wrote.


Phew. Now I remember why I don't post more: writing is tough. I feel, in the immortal words of Britney Spears, like I'm at Harvard.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Where Are the Wild Things? In the Writer's Mind

Renowned children's author and illustrator Maurice Sendak, best known for Where the Wild Things Are, died the other day. I was inspired to post by something he said about imagination:

I believe there is no part of our lives, our adult as well as child life, when we're not fantasizing, but we prefer to relegate fantasy to children, as though it were some tomfoolery only fit for the immature minds of the young. Children do live in fantasy and reality; they move back and forth very easily in a way we no longer remember how to do.

This lifelong, pervasive engagement in fantasy is particularly characteristic of those of us with "writer's minds." It is with some shame that I admit I have never written so much as a complete short story (not after elementary school, anyway). But I do think I have the mind of a fiction writer, if not the ambition or talent. Since I was about ten years old, there has not been a time in my life that I have not had characters dancing in my head, that I haven't tried to wrestle them into some sort of narrative that would be worth writing down. (It almost never is, at least not to me, and so I do not write.)

Sometimes my characters go away for a while, when I'm too busy thinking about other things, or dreaming of other things, to take care of them. But when they come back, or when I am reminded of them, I fall in love with them again. I remember how much I need them, how much they, and the fragments of their stories, add to my inner life. I have never believed that such fantasy is "tomfoolery," though there are few people with whom I would discuss "the characters in my head," and perhaps no one I would tell about the most secret of them, the flat ones I use mostly to work out my own issues.

Why do I need my characters so? Why does it comfort me to "hear" them talking? (This may sound crazy, but it isn't!) Why do I get a little thrill every time I form the outlines of a new one? One reason: I have largely been a rule-follower throughout my life. (Perhaps this is one reason that I am now a copyeditor.) But in my head? There, to paraphrase T.S. Eliot, I feel free. There are no fences on thought, and no consequences for letting my imagination run like a horse. That beautiful contradiction--true freedom and safety in a single place--is impossible anywhere but in the mind.

Those of us with rich fantasy lives and rule-following outer lives believe that the best place for the "wild things" of life is in our own heads. We imagine what we, or our characters, would do if we met these things, fell into them, pursued them. We engage with them while keeping our real selves safe. (A valid question, though: can one really write anything of worth if one always turns away from the wild things? Maybe not. Maybe that is why I do not write fiction.)

In one sense, it does not matter whether we give voice to our wild things by telling others our stories, or whether we are happy to let our characters live their whole lives in silence. Allowing ourselves to fantasize is its own reward. Not only is it fun, it helps us work on ourselves, on our lives, without having to open the door to creatures we are not ready to confront.

Our characters, even if they are not much like us, become our surrogates. We use them to rehearse our battles, and they don't mind. In fact, they may become deeper, stronger, more real with use. (And even if they don't, they have served their purpose.) Sometimes those characters are little boys in wolf suits. Sometimes they are monsters. Sometimes their clashes are, we know, too trite for the page, but we continue to set them against each other in our minds, because the conflict, the fantasy, means something to us. And sometimes that's enough reason for us to keep dreaming.