Multiple Enthusiasms

Infinite jest. Excellent fancy. Flashes of merriment.

Tag: editing

All the “versus” debates floating around recently have made me think about debates in the first place. Binary thinking.

Conceptual versus linear thinking. Which, of course, one could argue is just as binary.

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The other day, I mentioned a positive review from Shannon Yarbrough at the LL Book Review. Today, I’m going to mention a few others, and make an announcement about something I’m rather excited about.

Today, Raych at Books I Done Read gave it high-caterpillar review. A juicy blurb:

Silly and poignant and real … totally hilarious … basic love story meets girl Tarot card battle royale

Now, Raych disclaims: if you’ve finished Meets Girl, you know that Raych gets a shout-out at the conclusion. Some people might fear some lack of objectivity.

I don’t. I started reading Raych’s blog pretty much as soon as she started it, and I love what a fool she is, and by fool, I mean the n’uncle sort, who says perhaps many nonsensical things and who maybe distracts you with the bouncy jingle balls on his hat but is, often, the wisest person in the room. The canniest. The one who knows what’s what.

I felt the same thing about Veronica’s brother Tom, in the novel. I could see his band–Foolish–doing something silly and poignant and real. Some of what I think are exactly those moments in the novel–the ones that are silly and poignant and real–belong to Tom. When Tom handed our young hero-narrator Foolish’s CD, I saw him offering one with a jaunty, silly, hand-crayoned cover because leave it to the wise-fool to leave the name of the band off.

So it fit, and when I needed a title for that album, I cribbed Raych’s blog.

She doesn’t seem to have minded. Thank goodness. I’m glad she didn’t sue my ass. For cookies. Because who’d sue a broke-ass grad student/novelist/professor/personal trainer for money?

I do wonder about objectivity. Not Raych’s. Just in general. Like, is anyone objective anymore?

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Totally thrilled to spend my holiday weekend revising.

I love having an editor who will mark a paragraph as “Too long. Didn’t read.” Ah, our Internet generation and reading habits.

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In light of the discussion on what editors actually do, and why they may or may not be necessary, I thought I’d point to a piece I found over at the New Yorker (though I’m not sure whom I found it by. Someone in my blogroll, probably). The article concerns Raymond Carver and his editor, one Gordon Lish.

I’ve not read much Carver. My sister is a big fan of his, and even won a bet concerning plot and structure by showing her professor a copy of one of Carver’s collections, but I’ve not really yet explored much of his stuff. I don’t know much about Carver at all, really. He just ain’t my cup of tea, to be honest. I make jokes all the time about blowing shit up, but Carver’s stories, while minimalist, also seem a careful study in the “not much happens” school of short story telling. Which always makes me say, “Wait, nothing happened? Then why the fuck are you telling me the story? Is there a point?”

Personal predilections aside, his voice is distinctive. Nothing may happen, but somehow, you still sort of feel the nothing happening. His stories are weird that way.

Anyway, Gordon Lish was editor of Esquire for several years. Judging by his Wikipedia entry, he was involved with the “Merry Pranksters,” including Kerouac, Casaday, and Ginsberg in SF before he and his second wife moved to NYC. He earned some renown through his career: DeLillo, Kundera, Nabokov . . . the list goes on.

From the Wikipedia entry on Carver’s “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love”:

“What We Talk About When We Talk About Love” is actually a heavily edited version of Carver’s original draft, “Beginners.” His editor, Gordon Lish, cut out nearly half of Carver’s story, adding in details of his own. Carver’s version, released by his widow, Tess Gallagher, in December 2007 to The New Yorker magazine, shows the extensive, and sometimes apparently arbitrary edits.

Now I’m going to speak about this from some personal experience, and admit something; I was, for other writers, not a very good editor. I always tried to make the writing better, the story better, but often to the detriment of the original material, the original voice, and the original content. A good editor maintains that original content; I really wasn’t one. I wasn’t bad, exactly; I just wasn’t good.

Here’s the New Yorker article on the story.

I think it’s worth reading if only for the glance into the sometimes esoteric realm of what occurs behind the scenes in writing and publishing. Considering Lish’s edits, is the story really any better, or is it, in fact, worse for the wear? I’ll admit I found Carver’s original final several paragraphs rather poignant, especially the horses bit, and especially the end; does their loss negatively affect the story? Or was Lish correct that they were stronger without them?

Or is Lish just some editor who was never good enough to be a writer and so had to butcher other author’s works? Sure, he “introduced” major writers of the 20th century, but what did he do to their stories? Considering the finalized state of Carver’s story compared to its original, I cringe to think what he did to Nabokov and Kundera, personally. And I don’t even really like either of them.

Questions, questions.

At what point do you, as Carver say, “You know what? Sorry, but that’s not the story I wrote. You can publish that, if you like, but you’ll have to write it yourself.”

It’s almost like Lish was the P. Diddy of his time, sampling a classic song, laying a bit of new vocal on it, calling it his own, and cashing in.

Or maybe it’s almost like Lish helped those writers transcend their otherwise mediocre writing?

I’ll admit, I haven’t a clue.

Which is, largely, the reason I chose to self-publish my collection. Not because I didn’t want editorial input; I’d already gotten it, several times over. Rather, just because I just don’t know how important editorial input is to short stories anymore.

Finally, also, some thoughts on how to become an editor, over at et cetera.

I’m a fairly frequent reader of Nick Mamatas’ LiveJournal since I discovered it not long ago (though I can’t remember how). Mamatas mostly seems a pretty interesting guy, and I noted some things in common; we’ve both just recently handed in a thesis to Master’s programs, . . . well. And that’s about it. He’s got quite the track record–winner of a Stoker and nominated for both another Stoker and an International Horror Guild Award. And he’s the editor of Clarkesworld, an ezine/literary mag (is it just me or is there becoming very little difference between an online zine and a blog?).

Mamatas recently posted about banning a writer from submitting to Clarkesworld. This isn’t the first time such banning has been mentioned: see here and here.

All three seem to be instances in which writers respond to rejections, which I’ll be the first to acknowledge is not something writers should do. Rejection is part of the process, part of the story, part of the life. If you’re not prepared to get rejected fairly often and fairly conclusively, go to med school and invest some hours in becoming a doctor, because the pay’s way better, there’s more security, and if Grey’s Anatomy is any indication, it’s probably easier (I jest on that last note. One of my buddies is a doctor. One of the hardest working individuals I’ve ever met. That’s why we’re friends).

However, posting such correspondence on their blogs is not something editors should do.

If this were an isolated occurrence, I might never have brought it up, but it’s not. John Fox, who was on staff at Southern California Review, recently posted A Slush Pile Dispatch in which he inserted comments into a letter SCR received from an inmate. This was troubling not just for the vetting of such correspondence but because John was one of my classmates in the MPW program, a program I chose because it was supposed to be about professionalism, and not “arts”. For what it’s worth, and not that whoever wrote the letter will probably ever see it, but I’d like to note that John’s comments don’t necessarily reflect the opinions of the USC MPW program.

I’d also like to note two other things: first, that John is actually a great guy I’ve enjoyed taking classes with, which means I was a bit surprised by the post but don’t particularly hold it against him; and second, another post I found via John’s site (which, I just realized, I didn’t mention up above: John writes Book Fox, which is really pretty awesome. His interviews at the BookFest were terrific, and he’s going to be running another set soon from Book Expo America). This one over pointed to Fence, which is a literary magazine I’ve actually seen at a newsstand (unlike just about every other one).

In this post, editor and publisher Rebecca Wolff responded to a writer’s question about contributors’ copies by telling the writer to, and I quote, “Eat shit and die.”

When did this become acceptable behavior from editors?

I used to be an editor. For three years, I was assistant editor of the Journal of Psychosocial Nursing and Mental Health Services. The audience of said journal, which had a consumer magazine format, was two-fold: first, psychiatric and forensic nurses involved in the mental and behavioral health care industries.

The other was their patients.

Given that second audience, we received many, many queries and submissions from patients in private institutions that specialized in mental and behavioral health. People with clinical depression, bipolar disorder, body dysmorphia, autism spectrum disorders, and various addictions–as well as people in corrective populations (that’s prisons to you and me), juvenile offenders, and individuals who had great difficulty with lives I have difficulty imagining. We often received manuscripts handwritten in tiny scrawl over twenty pages– or phone calls to the office when particular submitters entered the manic phase of their bipolar cycles and decided to head to Atlantic City for a night of gambling and other self-destructive behaviors.

I edited articles by people who had been in the justice system, and not on the end with the gavel. I edited articles by nurses who had overcome addictions and illnesses to train and gain licensure to treat individuals coping with problems those nurses knew and understood perhaps more intimately than they would have liked. I admire sobriety, and I think of the nurses who found it and then dedicated their lives to helping other people find it, which I can’t imagine would have been easy, perhaps somewhat roughly akin to having alcoholism but going to a bar anyway, perhaps to bartend or perhaps again to try to lend the people who believed they needed a drink the ear and support they truly needed but didn’t want to admit.

But you know what? Besides me and my supervisor, no one ever heard about those letters. No one heard about the correspondences, many of which began before I ever started working there and continue, I’m certain, to this day.

Not only did I edit that magazine, but I’ve been reading Making Light since back when it was both Making Light and Electrolite, probably around 2001 or so (I remember I found it while I was working in Manhattan, which was 2000-2001). It’s maintained by Teresa and Patrick Nielsen Hayden, two editors at TOR (well. I know Patrick is. I remember Teresa mentioned a position consulting for, I believe, a media company, but I’m not certain she left TOR to take that position).

I mention Making Light because it’s maintained by not one but two editors and features frequent contributions from people like Jo Walton and Dave Langford, and never once have I seen such an egregious lack of professional etiquette on that site. They’ve focused on takedowns of plagiarism and fly-by-night/scam publishers, certainly, but never anything like what I’ve seen going occurring lately.

I wish it would stop. I’d really like to see editors do their job, rather than sharing their jobs with the world. I’m a writer. Tell me your guidelines and your rates. Tell me the sorts of stories you’re looking for. Tell me, even, what you’re not looking for. Tell me about any upcoming anthologies you’re putting together, tell me about any projects you’re excited about and want me to be excited about, too.

But don’t tell me how you tell your contributors to “eat shit and die,” and don’t tell me how many you’ve banned, no matter how egregious those writers’ behaviors. Because I’m a writer, and if I see that’s how you’ve treated some prospective authors, or authors you’ve already even published, well, I can’t help but worry about how you’re going to treat me. And nowadays, we’ve got blogs, we’ve got Lulu, we’ve got book reviewers and designers, and the Internet makes it incredibly easy to meet people we need to when we want to, so what do we even need you for, anyway?

In the relationship of aspiring author and zine/mag editor, one person often has professional status, and one often does not (especially considering the word: “aspiring”). Here’s a helpful hint: if you’re paying for stories, you’re a professional editor, and you should act so.