You can find Shelley Egan’s name listed as editor on the copyright page of each novel in the series The Legends of Ḷainjin. So far, the series consists of four books: a trilogy and an “introductory” Book Three, which is a free e-book.
Shelley Egan’s role
What role did Shelley Egan play in the publication of these books? Her work came along as a third step after I completed each novel. In the first step, each one was evaluated by the publisher. It is during this evaluation that the publisher measures big-picture elements like voice, plot, and characters and suggests changes. Once I made these changes in the second step, it was Shelley’s turn to practice what she does best: copy and stylistic editing.
This is a bit like peeling an onion, an analogy that suggests she has had to distance herself somewhat from the process. Too close to the onion, eyes water and effectiveness as an outside observer gets lost. In peeling the onion’s layers, Shelley’s primary task was to assess and, if necessary, “correct” what she found. She first determined whether the meaning of a sentence was clear. If it was, she considered whether there was a better way to say it, while still preserving my intent and my voice.
An editor, first and foremost, considers the writing from the perspective of a reader. Therefore, revisions must represent the reader’s perspective — but must also conform to the author’s intent. The editor must keep both of these perspectives in mind.
A thorough reader, Shelley Egan only rarely misunderstood my intention and, by querying, was careful not to change it. She used Microsoft Word’s editing function, carefully identifying each change to allow me to accept, reject, or modify her suggestions. I never rejected, but sometimes modified, her recommendations. In many cases, her suggestions enhanced what I had intended to write. A writer may know what they want to say but, due to “mind boggles,” be unable to get it right. When a good editor comes along with a fresh perspective, they can often solve the enigma with little hesitation.
To engage and entertain my readers, I want to say things in the best way possible and in the most logical order. This removes any drudgery they may experience in attempting to visualize my descriptions of scenes, for example, or actions among the characters. The fewer distractions the readers encounter, the greater their ability to enjoy the book and to understand what I’m saying at various levels.
Foreign Words and Footnotes
The Legends of Ḷainjin series is unique in several ways. I market it as historical fiction into a genre filled with novels based on American or European history. Other world histories are but thinly represented in this genre, and hardly any include Pacific history. Some include the contact period itself, but few indeed are based on Pacific history during its pre-Western contact period. This period includes over a thousand years passed on mostly by way of oral, rather than written, history.
While writing novels set in this period, I could use no analogies or figures of speech, for example, related to any post-contact topics. As the editor, Shelley Egan constantly needed to keep this in mind. Also, I couldn’t describe the culture and environment of this period without the use of Indigenous language. Often these words describe elements of the environment or material culture for which there is no single English description — thus, all the footnotes. One of the most pleasantly surprising aspects of Shelley’s editing was her enthusiasm for diving into these foreign words and the concepts they represented as well as the accuracy and detail of her glossaries. I’m sure no one had ever before asked her to edit a novel with footnotes!
Another unique aspect of this series is the number of passages related to sailing. If you have flown, or should you ever fly, over the Pacific, look out over the hours, and consider how the early peoples of the area would have crossed the ocean below. Then imagine what writing a novel about their voyages would look like. Although I am a skilled and experienced sailor, Shelley Egan is not. However, she edited these passages carefully from a reader’s perspective and queried when the meaning or intent was unclear.
The scenes related to sexuality may have presented a further challenge for Shelley Egan, as I’m sure they do for many of my readers. This would be especially true for Marshall Islanders, who come at my series from a Christian perspective and have questioned the need for these scenes. Mores changed dramatically once the people of the Pacific accepted the bible’s teachings and integrated the concepts behind them into their culture.
Perhaps these readers will take a second look at the series once I get to describing the trials and tribulations of the early missionary period. When Marshall Islanders read my conjectures about their life and culture before these dramatic changes, many aspects trigger uncomfortable emotions because they previously had no reason to consider such things.
The main protagonist in my story is involved in a series of coming-of-age relationships set in several cultural environments. Indeed, resolving the heavily paternalistic Melanesian perspective with the more matrilineal cultures of the eastern Pacific becomes a major theme driving one major subplot of the series. Shelley handled challenges related to sexuality the same way she tackled the others, by sticking to her craft and suggesting changes where she thought appropriate.
Shelley Egan polished my writing. A skilled editor, she completed a combined copy and stylistic edit: this is sometimes known as a “line edit.” The copy edit ensured correctness, accuracy, consistency, and completeness. With her superior understanding of English grammar and punctuation, she corrected all the errors she found.
As part of the stylistic edit, she encouraged me to replace ambiguous and abstract phrases with clear, concrete passages that flowed well and allowed my intentions to shine through. To enhance the clarity, impact, and originality of my writing, she also encouraged me to remove clichés and euphemisms.
As well, paragraphs may be too long or too short. Sentences may need moving from one paragraph to another. Better words or phrases may be chosen here or there. All to enhance the sequencing and the readers’ understanding of the passages.
It’s also easy for writers, who hold the whole story in their heads, to lose track of exactly what they have or have not yet revealed to the readers. Shelley pointed out the gaps.
She thought that some passages were perfect. However, regardless of the number of times I refined and rewrote certain ones, she often found a way to improve them. Shelley enhanced the reader’s perspective, preserved my intentions, and handled the difficulties related to sailing and sexuality. As well, she organized the unique foreign-word problems professionally. In short, she exceeded my expectations and those of my publisher.
What’s Next in The Legends of Ḷainjin Series?
What direction does the series take next? I still need to complete the story of Helkena and Lōjurok. The free e-book—The Legend is Born: The Legends of Ḷainjin, Book Three—left the couple leaving Naṃdik on their way to Wōtto, Helkena’s dry northern atoll. We will follow their journey there as well as their ongoing relationship with the young Ḷainjin as he embarks on his epic search for his mother.
Finally, I as alluded to above, I intend to write about the early contact period and the coming of the first missionaries, who were, by the way, the children of the missionaries who Christianized Hawai‘i and are described in James A. Michener’s Hawaii.
Many stories of these eras are left to tell. Hopefully, Pacific Islanders—who could certainly tell them better—will emerge as authors to document the glorious history of their islands. In the interim, if my works serve as a stepping-stone along their way, that shall be my modest contribution.
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