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Infinite Jest

Infinite Jest

Infinite Jest is nothing if not aptly titled: after reading nearly 100 pages it seems to me to be one huge joke.

I’d been wanting and meaning to read IJ for years, and the more I heard about the book and its author, the more I wanted to read it—but a thousand-something pages? I still haven’t finished War and Peace! Finally, after seeing The End of the Tour, I began.

In the first three chapters I found gems of wisdom buried in acres of verbiage, and was in serious need of guidance; I went to the Internet and found dozens, if not hundreds, of sites dedicated to IJ. I read a few reviews and reader discussions, scanned the Wiki site, and returned to reading. But now, fresh from laudatory reviews by people whose opinions I respect, and gushing declarations by fans and readers, my gut reaction was: You’ve got to be kidding! I mean, huge chunks of IJ are absolutely unreadable. The boredom, the repetition, the footnotes, many of them wholly unnecessary: was DFW putting us on?

Wallace committed suicide in 2008, 12 years after the fame and glory that followed IJ. I don’t know enough about the guy to speculate, but it’s safe to say there was some sort of mad genius going on in there. IJ is indeed a work of mad genius—so much so that I’m somewhat scared to admit my lack of enchantment. David Eggers, who wrote a somewhat negative and astute review of IJ when it came out, has hidden or somehow banished his review from the public; many years after IJ‘s outsized fame he wrote a foreword to the book that was purely positive, expressing the opinion that not a single sentence of IJ is imperfect, not a word out of place. Duck and cover, Eggers!

Thus, to ward off my fear of fans and laudatory literary luminaries who will surely attack my intelligence, or lack of same: for the record, my favorite author is Doris Lessing—no literary slouch—and I’ve slogged through, even delighted in, the works of Henry James, Thomas Mann, Fyodor Dostoevsky, and Edith Wharton, to name just a few who can be rough going.

Is Infinite Jest a work of infinite jest? Is it The Emperor’s New Clothes? No: the shame is, this probably could have been a  much more accessible, readable, and therefore better novel. In the final analysis, Infinite Jest is a powerful testament to the utter absence of bold, intelligent editing in the publishing world today.

The Hair on the Hill

I wrote this piece for the East Bay Express back in 1995. Though it might be a bit dated in some ways, I think it’s still relevant when thinking of Hillary Clinton past and present, now that she’s running for Prez herself.

link.hillary.clintonLike many women, the real reason I voted for Bill Clinton was Hillary. Unlike most women who did so, however, I did not vote for Hillary Rodham Clinton because she would present to the world an image of a smart, independent American woman; nor did I vote for her because of the feminist influence she’d wield in the White House. I shamelessly confess that the reason I voted for Hillary Rodham Clinton was her hair.

That’s right–that bad hair of hers, trailing haphazardly behind a simple black headband, was a source of comfort and validation to me. Hillary’s uneven strands were refreshingly honest after Nancy Reagan’s inanimate bubble. Oh, sure, we had Barbara Bush’s silver wind-tossed curls for a few years, but let’s face it, I couldn’t relate. As a fortysomething woman, I could better identify with Hillary’s badly colored barely styled mop. I imagined that, like me, Hillary had probably spent years searching in vain for a flattering hairstyle, and had finally abandoned the effort: she’d stopped trying to force her hair (and by extension herself?) into shapes that hair was never meant to assume.

I too had finally relinquished the dream of ever having a real “do.” The last in a long line of coveted hairstyles had been Candace Bergen’s: my elusive goal in mid-life was to look, hair-wise, like Murphy Brown. When I presented this proposal to my hairdresser, who has endured more abuse from me than anyone in this lifetime should have to put up with from anyone, she pointed out that Bergen is continuously shadowed on the set by someone wielding a comb and a can of hairspray.

As a more feasible plan, she suggested a bob. In utter despair and frustration I agreed to let her cut it: for the first time in over a decade I would take the plunge, or rather the reverse, and let my hair end well above the shoulder line. After the deed was done and I looked in the mirror, I let out a blood-curdling shriek that put my completely demoralized hairdresser out of commission for a week.

With a few snips of her deadly shears I’d gained 20 pounds. My chin hung lower, my neck bulged eerily, my eyes had narrowed. Though everyone in my life insisted that I looked “sophisticated,” for the next six months I was inconsolable.

My tresses grew back to their normal state of unmanageability right around the time of the ’92 campaign. My spirits soared when I got a load of Hillary in her black headband: her mess gave me permission to keep mine. Most significantly, she seemed nonchalant about unsophisticated hair. It didn’t prevent her from wearing tailored suits or even drawing attention to the situation by donning a chapeau. Liberated at last, I stopped getting trims. I threw out all my ponytail holders and those plastic combs that I’d never really learned how to use. I bought a plain black headband and let it flow.hillaryclinton

And then my role model betrayed me by getting cut and poufed. My life has not been the same.

It’s easy to guess how this disaster came about: some suave political handler told Hillary that growing up meant shaping it up. He (I’m sure it was a he) probably told her that in these times of fervid debate around health care, the nation’s First Lady ought to have healthy looking hair. But whose standards determine health when it comes to hair? After all, she had to have used a ton of hairspray–decidedly unhealthy– to maintain that bulbous sculpture she sported the night of the big health care speech.

Since then, Hillary’s hair has undergone dozens of permutations. Some of them are really just a variety of the headband bit; others more complex. I concede that she frequently appears more “with it,” now: she looks a lot less like an insouciant hippie undisturbed by extramarital affairs, and more like a public policy maker. But with no more bad hair days, Hill just isn’t someone I could comfortably sit down with to commiserate, not only about our hair, but also about our men, our kids, our jobs. Whereas before she looked like someone I’d go to for advice, now she looks like someone I’d have to pay for it.

So I’m not sure how I’ll vote in ’96. After all, a lot can happen to a woman’s hair during a Presidential campaign. She could decide to get a perm, another solution I periodically consider. She might even let it grow out.

Or she might win my vote by including treatment for the hair impaired if national health reform ever becomes a reality.

Hillary Present

Hillary Present

Moi, Present

Moi, Present

Writing/Editorial Services

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typewriter.signupnowFollowing are the writing and editing services I offer.

Editing From A to Z: There’s editing, and Then There’s Editing.

People are frequently confused by the different kinds of editing done by most editors. Following is a brief explanation.

Line Editing: Literally, going through a manuscript line by line and fixing errors in punctuation, grammar, spelling, and syntax.

Revision Editing: Same as line editing, plus: rewriting sentences and paragraphs, rearranging phrases, clauses, paragraphs, and/or sections, and making additions or deletions as editor deems necessary.

Developmental Editing: Taking revision a step further, this is usually done in consultation with the writer. Developmental editing can include adding, deleting or changing a character, plot, or entire sections of the manuscript. It can mean moving chapters around, or making significant alterations to scenes and/or dialog. It can be quite extensive. Sometimes an editor will make suggestions to the writer, who will then make the changes (or not if in disagreement). If both parties agree, the editor usually goes ahead and makes the changes.

There are even more kinds of editors, such as Acquisition Editors in publishing houses, and Desk Editors at large newspapers, but they’re irrelevant to the work I do as a freelancer.

Writing / Ghostwriting
In order for editing to take place, we obviously need an existing manuscript, no matter what shape it’s in. However, there are some people in this world who simply cannot or will not write one single word. That’s where I come in.

I’ve ghost-written full-length books of non-fiction; blog posts; catalog descriptions; academic articles; and business materials such as brochures, press releases, and e-books. Ghostwriters are usually anonymous, but sometimes given credit as co-writer (“as told to” or “with”). When I ghostwrite a book I sign a confidentiality agreement not to reveal the fact.

The Internet has given rise to a surge in entrepreneurship and motivational speaking, which in turn has led to an increased demand for ghostwriters. Entrepreneurs with specialties in high finance, nutrition, fitness, and dog training — to name just a few — are finding they need a book, or even several, to use as promotional tools. Just as I know little about entrepreneurship, these professionals frequently don’t know how to write, so they hire professionals like me to do the job.

I’ve written books on topics such as online niche dating; ethnic-based cooking and dieting; self-promotion; teaching kids about money; meeting millionaires for business or pleasure (with a co-writing credit on that one), and drama as a form of therapy, to name a few. The entrepreneurs for whom I wrote these books were too busy running their businesses to do the writing themselves.

Autobiographies, Family Histories and Memoirs
Everyone has a story to tell. It can be your family history, your own life story, or a portion of your life that’s dramatic or unusual (you climbed Mt. Everest; your premature baby survived against all odds). These books sometimes become best-sellers, even those about sad or difficult experiences—if handled well they can be inspiring, and everyone wants to be inspired.

Because the Internet enables us to do quick and thorough research, it’s sparked an explosion of interest in family roots and genealogy. More people than ever want to learn their family’s stories while the people who remember them are still around, and tell them to others. Sometimes this is for family only; other times for wider circulation. 
No matter what the purpose, compiling a family history is a complicated project that involves conducting and organizing research; tracking down and identifying old photos; interviewing people; and, of course, writing.

Writing a book requires a set of skills that not everyone has learned or developed. It’s common sense: If you’re a carpenter, you’re a wizard with hammer and nails. If you’re a surgeon, you perform miracles with a scalpel. As a writer, I know how to organize a large amount of material into a coherent, interesting narrative, and in less time than it would take someone who’s doing it for the first time.

Allow me to listen to your story, read your notes, discuss your ideas with you, and then turn it all into the book you’ve been imagining you’ll write someday. Why not make someday now?

Manuscript Evaluation:
A manuscript evaluation is a detailed report of a book’s strengths and weaknesses, with specific recommendations to improve anything that doesn’t seem to be working. This kind of analysis is invaluable; even if a writer is also an experienced editor, an objective eye is essential.

Manuscript evaluation is a tender pursuit. Whereas I’m a hard-core editor when preparing work for publication, when it comes to the process of fiction or creative nonfiction I’m more inclined to be gentle, knowing that harsh, insensitive criticism can damage rather than improve a piece of writing. (See my blog post, Every Writer Deserves an Editor).

Mentorship / Tutoring
While teaching creative writing classes in San Francisco, I developed a system for working with students one-on-one outside the parameters of the classroom. Using email and occasional in-person meetings, I helped those who wanted to write but lacked knowledge of the craft and/or confidence in their abilities. Some students worked on a specific project, such as a novel; others practiced various assigned exercises, using my feedback to hone their skills. Having undergone this same process as a writer, I know how to guide others to overcome the internal barriers that can prevent us from using and developing our creative instincts.

To contact me about any of the above services, email


Line Editing $3.00 per page* (300 pages = $ 900)
Revision Editing $4.00 per page (300 pages = $1200)
Developmental Editing: $5.00 per page (300 pages = $1500)

*Standard page: 12-pt. font double-spaced = 250 wds.
The above are estimates only. I ask for and edit the first ten pages gratis before finalizing my fee with a contract.

Note: For going rates on writing and editing fees, see the Editorial Freelancers Association:

Here’s what some of my clients have to say:

Marcy’s careful attention to both details and the broader picture improved my writing tremendously. She gives honest feedback, which is exactly what I wanted and needed. It’s almost scary to think of how much worse my book might be if it weren’t for her insightful feedback. On top of all that, Marcy is a pleasure to work with.—Christina Brown, author, Laika in Lisan

I’ve worked with Marcy many times over the years, and am always impressed by her editing talents. I can honestly recommend her to do an inspiring job on any writing project.–Susie Bright, writer, speaker

I have dealt with many ghostwriters, and no one comes close to Marcy’s skill, creativity and professionalism. Proficient, intelligent, and talented, she gets the job done on time and absolutely impresses my clients. She is my go-to ghostwriter from here on out. I recommend her 100%! –Alicia Dunams, Book Writing, Publishing and Marketing Coach for Business Owners

Marcy Sheiner has a kick-ass wit and cuts right to the heart of whatever she chooses to write about. I’ve enjoyed and benefitted from having her as a collaborator. Her honest feedback has helped me with my own writing. – Annie Sprinkle, Ph.D Author/Sexologist

Marcy is one of the few editors I’ve known who actually listens to writers. She doesn’t insist that her point of view is necessarily best, but engages the writer in conversation about the work. She’s a pleasure to work with, and to learn from.–Susan St. Aubin, writer

Marcy’s incredibly good editorial ear helps flesh out what the writer wanted to say–even when the writer doesn’t quite say it. I’ve worked with her many times, and her editing has made my stories stronger. –Kate Dominic, writer

“Marcy’s a great writer and an interesting, entertaining person to work with. I recommend her without reservation.”—Tommy Tompkins, writer and colleague

Marcy is a fantastic editor and writer! She’s thorough, conscientious, creative, intelligent, and tough in just the right way. She lets you know when something doesn’t communicate, and she’s often able to give a writer inspiring insight about making words work. She knows how to get to the heart of any story, and can take a project from scraps of notes to finished document or book with amazing ease.— Jamison Green, PhD

From Elance Feedback Comments: Professional, talented and an extremely competent writer.—Dean Homicki/Rating: 4.6 out of 5

On The Bus in Oaktown

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Riding the bus around Oakland as I do is sometimes boring, sometimes maddening—but yesterday it was illuminating. I was sitting under my headphones as usual when two adorable teenage boys got on; one of them was carrying a bottle of unopened vodka—no bag, just the bottle. The kids were certainly underage, maybe 15, so I noticed, but soon went back to my music, tuning out. A few minutes later I heard a hubbub on the bus, and saw that women were shouting and the kids were laughing. Curious, I took off my headphones.

Two or three women were yelling at the kids, asking them how old they were, and why they were boldly carrying a bottle of booze out in the open. They weren’t yelling at them for the alcohol per se, but because, they said, the kids were likely to be stopped by cops, arrested, sent to Juvenile Hall and who knows what else. The kids were being totally good-natured about the whole thing. At some point I said to one of the women, “It Takes a Village,” and she nodded and said “That’s right.”

“You should have it in a bag,” I told the boys. Seated across from me was a nearly toothless man holding a frayed backpack, from which he drew an old plastic bag and handed it to the kids. We all applauded as the boys, still laughing, bagged the offending bottle.

“This is great,” I said, as the conversation continued, mostly about black men and cops. I almost hated to get off at my stop.


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SunIn a recent issue of The Sun is an illuminating article called “The R Word” by Heather Kirin Lanier. For those who don’t know, the “R” stands for retard or retarded, a word ignorantly used to denote stupidity, often in a “humorous” tone. The author talks about the history of words used to describe what we now call developmentally disabled or challenged people, how each new term becomes a slur in time. When my son was born almost 50 years ago with what I now call a chronic medical condition, doctors told me he had a “birth defect.” Charming. I’m recommending everyone read this piece. Here’s the link.


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