SD/PEN Member Profile: Marsha MacDonald

SD/PEN regularly selects members at random and profiles their background and experience in an interview-style blog post. These are valuable opportunities for members to introduce themselves to other members and prospective clients through this newsletter and on SD/PEN’s website and social media outlets. This profile features Marsha J. MacDonald, a freelance copy editor and proofreader and a longtime SD/PEN member.

How do you describe what you do to someone whom you’ve just met at a networking function?

When I recently attended a networking function, I explained that I have been freelance editing and proofreading and have been a member of SD/PEN for about 14 years. I’ve edited and proofread short stories, novels, a couple of biographies, one children’s book, and various nonfiction projects (including molecular biology protocols, user guides, website information, and catalogs).

What accomplishment are you most proud of professionally?

My last editing job is my most satisfying accomplishment. It was an autobiography of a Lost Boy of South Sudan’s second civil war and involved some translating, rearranging the order of some sections, massive editing, and a couple of chapters of ghostwriting. Daniel Yamun Ukang, the author of the autobiography, Hinterlands of Hope, now lives with his family in the San Diego area. Sales of his book will help those civil war refugees who are in need both here and in South Sudan. Currently, another SD/PEN member is carrying out the final proofreading of the book,and we both kept our costs lower than usual to help the South Sudanese refugees. Daniel also works for a good cause, a nonprofit organization (, for which I edited his money-raising brochures for free.

What made you decide to become a professional editor?

In 2004, an MD/PhD coworker from China, whom I had edited for during our biomedical research at the VA, informed me of SD/PEN. Because of my several scientific coauthorships, I was able to join SD/PEN and edit some chapters of the Scripps Research Institute’s annual journal. Afterward, as a freelance editor, I edited a wide array of fiction and nonfiction, including a five-volume user guide for lung cancer diagnosis using a next-generation sequencing (NGS) assay recently developed by Thermo Fisher Scientific in Carlsbad, California.

What did you want to be when you grew up?

When I was in junior high school, I wanted to be either an actress or a writer. My short stories were always among the very few read aloud to the class, and I particularly remember a classmate telling me one year that I should be a writer. Decades later, the idea for my first novel in a series struck me: What if I had been born a century earlier, in the pre-Civil War years, in South Carolina? Having lived in Charleston and being intrigued by Ken Burns’s PBS series The Civil War, I had the background for the novel. Being practical, I knew being a full-time writer or actress would not likely support me financially. Still wanting to be of help in the world in at least some small way, I earned a BS in biochemistry and then went into molecular biology research. Finally, I engaged in freelance editing and joined SD/PEN.

Tell us about a book you recently read that you would recommend.

I can’t help but recommend the recently published historical novel Absence of Light—Crawford Hill that is set in the pre- and early Civil War years in America. So far, it has received all five-star reviews on Amazon, including a five-star review from The International Review of Books. In 2011, when unpublished, the novel placed in the top three out of thousands of entries in the nationwide Mensa Creative uRGe contest; in that same year, it placed in the top three out of hundreds of entries in the San Diego Book Awards contest. I must confess, it is my work. I hope to resume writing the second novel in the series soon.

Where would you like to go on your next vacation and why?

Having visited northern India in the autumn of 1988, I nearly returned there in 1992 to volunteer with Mother Teresa in Calcutta and then visit my sponsor child in northern India. However, at the last minute, my trip was canceled because the Ayodhya Temple riots broke out the day I would have arrived in Calcutta. I would have been housebound there, with all of northern India under a massive curfew. Instead, I sent the trip money to my sponsor child’s village so they could build a sewing school for the women and dig a well so that water would no longer have to be trucked in. I would like to go back to visit; however, a disability of over 25 years now makes my ability to travel all but impossible.

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