Five years!

Five years ago Sunday, I went to the Kent County Clerk in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and filed DBA papers to officially open Last Syllable Editorial.

My goal in those early days was to make it to this anniversary. Data from the Small Business Administration show that about half of small businesses fail in the first five years. If I could make it that far, I thought, I’d be all right.

Today, officially, I made it.

In the last five years, I’ve edited or proofread six novels, seven nonfiction books (with another in process now), 1.4 million words across five volumes of The Reading Teacher, countless articles and slideshows for SheKnows, and more reports, papers, and other small pieces that I didn’t track or count.

My family moved once in those five years, and I was able to juggle my schedule around to accommodate the move. One baby was born, and I didn’t need to consult with anyone about doctor appointments during pregnancy. (I took maternity leave, too, although I decided afterward that it wasn’t necessary. Had baby Rosaline and I been less than fully healthy, however, I’d have needed that time.) Next Monday, that baby goes to preschool and her big sister, Margaret, goes to first grade. Having both of my kids in school all day promises to usher in a new era of productivity here at Last Syllable!

My other goal — other than to still be in business, still editing, still not wearing anything fancier than yoga pants if I don’t want to — has been to work on projects that are offbeat, interesting, and out of the ordinary. I’m still a generalist, and although I can divide my work into loose categories, I think I’m doing well in that regard.

Now that I’ve made it to five years, I have two more goals. The first is to get a tattoo: a feather quill, on my forearm, to celebrate this milestone. And the second is to retire from this job, oh, thirty years from now.

Thank you to all the writers, corporate clients, friends, and colleagues who rely on me and Last Syllable and who have made this day possible, and thanks especially to the old guard of editorial freelancers for paving the way and for showing me how very attainable these goals are.

When I wanted to be a journalist

In June 2014, I sent in a résumé for a full-time copy editing position. (Obviously, I didn’t get it. I think it was for the Grand Rapids Press.) This post was in Drafts because I wanted to tell a story about that.

As a college student, about halfway through my stint at the Ferris State Torch, I decided I really wanted to find a copy editing job in a newsroom after graduation. But given the local job market (even in 2004), I was basically waiting for one or two positions to open up. It didn’t happen, I started in an entirely different field instead, then I got into educational publishing when I moved to Baltimore in 2006. Besides, I thought, copy editors work a late shift. I was in my 20s and I didn’t want to give up my evenings and weekends. And the Torch was a weekly paper. I was intimidated by the idea of editing for a daily. And so on and so forth.

The 10 years since then have been the latest part of a seismic shift in journalism, with mass layoffs and budget cuts and dwindling advertising income and more multimedia online content rather than a single daily or weekly print issue. I’ve been through plenty of personal changes over the last 10 years, too, and I’ve done a lot of the things that intimidated me before. I’ve worked a full-time second shift. I worked in journalism again for almost two years. I’ve burned through my 20s and my early 30s, stayed married, had babies, and found that my introverted self is happier chillin’ at home most of the time (even if I don’t have coworkers to blame for not cleaning the microwave). I’ve sent out so many résumés and been successful enough as a freelancer that I can see a résumé as a marketing document; not all my hopes and dreams ride on it. I can do the things that scare me, that intimidate me, and I’ve found that I survive, whether or not I succeed.

But I still remember being 9 years old and touring the Saginaw News offices with my mom. I remember walking into the Torch office at 18 and taking that editing test. I remember proudly pinning up my business cards and press passes from covering big campus events at 23. I remember watching the Grand Rapids Press jobs page the following year (if I sent a résumé for anything, I didn’t get a callback), and setting up a job alert when I was searching again in 2010. So when I saw my onetime dream job show up in 2014, I had to send in my materials, even if getting the job would mean I’d have to trade my yoga pants and all that dorky business admin stuff I like for a commute and a regular paycheck. I owed it to Past Me to give it a shot.

A consequence of that seismic shift and all the layoffs? There’s a longer line of tremendously qualified editors for every job opening. Dreams or no, I didn’t spend 10 those years building journalism experience, and I’m sure there were stronger candidates. No callback this time, either.

As it turns out, that was pretty okay. I’m happy where I am, yoga pants and all. Dear Past Me: Everything turns out in the end—or, at least, it does for the next 10 years. You make it. Keep dreaming. It’s gonna be just fine.

When I wanted to specialize in “weird projects”

I had “Weird projects a specialty” in my profile for a few months (in 2012), and maybe overthought it a bit. I took it out. Nobody thinks their own projects are weird, I thought.

But I’ve said for years that what I really wanted to have was an interesting résumé, full of strange things that made for good stories later on. Weird stuff.

In high school, I worked at a bee farm. Mostly I stuck labels on plastic bears by hand (boxes of 396, 99 to a row), occasionally helped grab honeycomb frames from the hives and later pour harvested honey from big 55-gallon drums into jars, and went on a few deliveries in the ambulance/delivery truck and stocked honey in local grocery stores. Tip: Honey is sticky but washes right off with hot water and a little dish soap. Also, if your honey crystalizes, you can just heat it up and still use it; honey never goes bad. At the end of the year I worked at the bee farm, I even entered the Michigan Honey Queen pageant. (It was a tremendously educational experience.) For my talent, I did a modified Victor Borge bit about phonetic punctuation, but I’d never seen or heard Victor Borge do it. And there was an essay you had to read — I started mine out with something like “you’ve probably heard a few times today that melissa means ‘honey bee’ in Greek” and a bunch of other common facts, which probably would have gone over better if my turn to read had been later in the program (I went third).

The day job I had before I started freelancing was Caption Editor. I applied in the first place because the job title had “editor” in it, but it turned out that I was creating closed captions for cooking shows and DIY shows. I played the video of a final or nearly final TV show, listened to what the people were saying or what noises were happening in the show, and typed it all into a caption. Easy to explain, hard to accomplish. It takes hours to do this for a half-hour show (which actually runs 22 minutes minus the commercials). I started with cooking shows, and that year I did some of my best cooking. I’d be there watching and listening over and over and over to get the words exactly right, and obviously my brain is engaging with what’s being said, so I’m learning knife skills (I still cut onions the way Roger Mooking showed on Everyday Exotic) and thinking about the taste balance of a dish (I put nutmeg in spaghetti sauce whenever I can) and going straight home to try something a chef had spent six minutes talking about enthusiastically (I made my first clafouti for exactly this reason). That didn’t happen as much for the DIY shows because I’m not as good at building stuff as I am at cooking. I captioned a lot of House Hunters, though, which is a very formulaic show that is still addictive as all hell. HGTV has embraced this and made branded bingo cards (PDF).

When my past self stuck these stories in a draft post, I threw in a link to How Not to Be Invisible by Walt Kania at The Freelancery, and today I discovered his post said a few of the same things Brandy said at the start of Project: Mic Drop: Be you, and let your people come to you. And I had said it myself in the strange language of mission statements back in 2012.

Embracing the weird is not a new idea. And in fact, I’ve found, it’s pretty easy to be your authentic self when you’re the only one home, dancing in your kitchen, let’s say, completely hypothetically. It’s harder to keep dancing when your husband and kids get home and catch you. But in this completely hypothetical situation, I announced that I was having a kitchen dance party and kept going. The kids joined in, I put on the Frozen soundtrack so they could sing too, we had a blast, and now Margaret requests dance parties every so often. It’s good — it was good to be seen that way, to be the mom who has kitchen dance parties (not at all influenced by the midnight margaritas scene in Practical Magic, I assure you), and to tell a story about it.

So, hi. I’m Rachel Lee Cherry, the copy editor who did a Victor Borge bit at a honey queen pageant when I was 18 and who used to write the closed captions for cooking shows and who started having dance parties with my kids because I got busted belting out “House Party” while unloading the dishwasher. I’m perfectly capable of being very normal and editing lesson plans aligned to Common Core ELA standards, but if you’ve got a novel set in a universe where the protagonist can travel through time with a special essential oil and falls in love with a sarcastic 13th-century alchemist, and you need it copyedited? I’m in. With bells on.

It Came from the Drafts Folder

In September I participated in Project: Mic Drop, a little circle of artists and intuitives and other business owners facilitated by Brandy Morris, in which we were challenged to dig deep and tell stories and release our mad flava into the world.

I dug deep. I told stories. I broke a seal on my writing that had been in place since my daughters were born (my favorite form of writing was lengthy introspection, which babies don’t much give you time for), and I’ve written almost daily since September 1. Project: Mic Drop gave me back something powerful.

Earlier today I posted about my rockin’ Friday night with a cup of chai and 87 WordPress tabs open. It turns out that the Drafts folder had a few stories worth telling, but they languished there because I wanted to tie them to some link of the day instead of letting them stand on their own. So, in the spirit of releasing mad flava, I’m going to publish It Came from the Drafts Folder, a series of stories about me and who I am and what I know. The first installment is queued up for Thursday.

Maybe they do or don’t illustrate some bit of publishing industry ephemera. They’re just fun for me to tell, and hopefully fun for you to read, and that’s enough.

Why I read historical romance

I’m back today with #WhyIReadHistoricals (there’s also #WhyIWriteHistoricals but I’m a reader here, not a writer). I’ve been ravenously reading historical romance novels for the past few months — right now I’m at that point where I’ve read the first book or two of several series but I’m waiting to get book 3 or 7 and can hardly stand it. (Recommended: Julie Anne Long’s Pennyroyal Green series, Tessa Dare’s Spindle Cove series and Castles Ever After series, Isabella Bradford’s Wylder Sisters series, and Grace Burrowes’ Windham series.)

historicals historys heartbeat
Source: Historical Romance Network/Facebook

What’s drawn me to historicals? Pretty, pretty dresses. Seriously, I’ve been doing some Regency fashion research because I love seeing the details of a dress vividly in my mind, or I’ll come across a reference to a piece of clothing or accessory that I can’t picture (what’s a reticule? or a pelisse or a spencer?) so I look it up. There’s some fond, unanswered girlhood wish of mine to swan around in dresses with enormous skirts, and historicals scratch that itch a little bit.

And I read romance (not just historicals) because I love to be caught up in the emotion of a book. When I read for pleasure, I’m not necessarily paying attention to themes or foreshadowing, and I can forgive plenty of fudged details for the sake of the story. I’m not trying to guess the ending, because it’s clear before the story even starts that the heroine and the hero end up together. What’s interesting and satisfying is how they get there and what they feel along the way. If the hero is a notorious rake and love of the heroine changes him into a loving, respectful, monogamous gentleman, how does that happen? If the heroine has sworn off love and sees only duty and sacrifice, why does she give up her duty as she falls in love with the hero? What do the two of them do (and not just the sexy times) to create that change in themselves? How can the happily-ever-after be believable for those two people?

And it’s not pure escapist reading, either. The hero in When the Duchess Said Yes by Isabella Bradford, the Duke of Hawkesworth, doesn’t much care for his ducal responsibilities; he’s set up agents to take care of his households and affairs, and he’s got his villa in Naples, and that’s where he prefers to be. However, one of those responsibilities is to marry the heroine, Lizzie (this arranged marriage is what starts the story). There’s a scene after the wedding in which Lizzie, now a duchess, meets the staff of her new home. Not only is it a trope, Bradford describes how this particular meeting is ritualized and what’s expected of each person; with that knowledge, we can understand why it’s a big deal that it’s been days between the wedding and this scene. Rather than the Duke introducing her to the staff, Lizzie introduces herself, and even though this is a breach of etiquette they’re more relieved that it’s done. The staff know what to do next in their jobs, and Lizzie has taken her proper place and now has one less thing hanging over her. When I read this book, I was in a place in my own life where I felt just like Hawke but needed to see how, even though it feels good to hare off somewhere and delegate my responsibilities to someone else, I really do need to show up, take my place, and handle those responsibilities. (Without completely spoiling the book, I’ll say that my takeaway doesn’t map to the ending; this was just a way I connected with the story.)

historicals best views books
Source: Historical Romance Network/Facebook

I’ve never been to London, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t seen it. Or the Scottish highlands. Or Paris (I don’t even know how many times I read The Three Musketeers as a teenager; it’s why I took French in high school).

I hope it won’t be months until my next post here. I lost my voice for a bit, and I do very much want to get it back.