The Role of an Editor: When to Put Down the Red Pen

0

In 1980, the author Raymond Carver famously confronted Gordon Lish, his editor at Alfred A. Knopf, for stepping over the editorial line. Carver in his impassioned letter wrote that his stories no longer felt like his own, particularly objecting to Lish’s “edits” of “A Small Good Thing”. I say “edits” but it would be more accurate refer to Lish’s contributions as a rewrite. Gordon Lish had not only shortened the story by over 20 pages (leaving eight), he had also renamed characters and changed the title of the story to “The Bath”. Carver felt his integrity as a writer had been compromised, writing, “I’ll tell you the truth, my very sanity is on the line here”. Lish felt he was simply doing his job.
This raises the question, what is the role of an editor? Henry James referred to editing as “the butchers’ craft”, and Christopher Hitchens says, “Authors who moan with praise for their editors always seem to reek slightly of the Stockholm syndrome;” however Steven King famously instructed writers to “kill your darlings”, a task easier said than done. Perhaps it is the editor’s job to be the merciful executioner of those darlings. Betsy Lerner, author of The Forest for the Trees, an advice book for writers speaks favorably of the editorial department, asserting, “For the writer who truly loves language, a trip to the copy editor is like a week at a spa. You come out looking younger, trimmer, and standing straighter”.
The role of an editor goes far beyond that of manuscript alterations. An editor is also responsible for acquiring manuscripts, acting as a psychologist for their authors, and pitching their manuscripts to their publishers. While the author-editor relationship can be fraught, it is often a relationship of trust and mutual respect. So where should the line between editor and writer be drawn? Comment below with your thoughts!

Advertisements

I Know This World Is Killing You

Betsy Lerner

The results are in! Rosemary Mahoney has kindly judged our contest: what do you see in front of your screen or when you open a notebook?  First place goes to Donnaeve : “Initially I see a room full of strangers, by the end, old friends old enemies.” Rosemary writes: I understand this completely and have experienced it every time even after six books.  The silver goes to MSB: “I see the ledge.” Writes Rose:  The ledge is what I see most days when I think about what it takes to be a published writer. And the Bronze goes to Mari, “I see the scene I’m writing. What the room looks like, where everyone’s standing, the subtle expressions of their faces, the furniture in the room. I can’t even write the scene unless I know the colors of every single thing everyone’s wearing”

Prizewinners please send me (askbetsylerner@gmail.com)  your address for…

View original post 50 more words

Records in the Morgue

       Image 

       In our technological society we have lost a lot. Social interactions have changed, consisting of text messages rather than face-to-face contact or hand written letters. The written word is read on screens rather than tangible, beautiful, old-smelling books, newspapers, or magazines. And no one can read a map anymore because Siri will guide us. One of the most tragic losses, in my humble opinion, is the loss of the record. ITunes has revolutionized the means in which we enjoy music in ways that diminish our listening experience to mere background noise or the top forty on repeat until it the songs begin to sound warped.

      Records in themselves are beautiful objects. They come in beautiful sleeves with artwork that is just not the same in my tiny ITunes window. When you buy a record, you’ve agreed to listen to the album in its entirety, not simply listen to the top hits and skip all the others that don’t give you instantaneous listening pleasure. Some of those consistently skipped songs are some of the most musically brilliant, despite their lack of a “cool beat” or “catchy tune”.  Bruce Springsteen’s “Jungleland” is, in my opinion, the most musically complex and brilliant song he has ever created. Does it have the same instantaneous appeal as “Glory Days” or his more current “We Take Care of Our Own”? No. But that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t give the listener a more fulfilling musical experience. He starts his opus with slow, deliberate violin and piano that fade into a simple piano solo accompanied by Bruce’s raspy voice. Most of our generation skipped the song before the vocals even started. About 2 minutes in the guitar comes in with drums and the song comes into its epic, heart-filling stride. Then, of course, there is one of Bruce’s best guitar solos ever, and Clarence Clemons’ unrivaled saxophone solos (R.I.P). 6 minutes thirty seconds in, you think the song is coming to a gradual close, but you’re wrong. He then finishes the song with an epic climax that only Bruce Springsteen is capable of creating. Yeah, the song took ten minutes of you day, but your body feels shaken, your heart broken and pieced back together, and your soul undoubtedly benefitted.

       The music ADD culture robs us of these experiences. Am I guilty of this phenomenon? Absolutely, but I recently started my record collection and feel significantly more appreciative of the music I love. Listening to one song on an album is to read a chapter in the middle of a book. It’s out of context and losing meaning as a consequence. I’m not telling you to dump your ITunes library and stop singing, “I Love it” in your car, on repeat. But for those artists you consider to be artistically brilliant, pay them the respect of buying one of their records and simply listening. 

The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery

Image

** SPOILER ALERT! If you haven’t read this book and are still hoping to be surprised by the ending do NOT continue reading, regardless of how provocative this bold, starred writing is!**

      The Elegance of the Hedgehog is told from the perspective of a French concierge of an upper class building, Renée, and a pre-teen genius, Paloma who lives in that same building. Renée is determined to hide the fact that she is well read and brilliant while still enjoying the literature, film, and music for which she lives. To reveal her intelligence would be to betray the role society has given her. As a concierge she appears stupid and obtuse in order to allow her tenants to maintain the illusion that everything is as it should be. Thus Renée is seldom allowed to reveal her true self and remains isolated. Paloma is similarly alone. As a brilliant child, she is unable to reconcile her family’s elevated role in society with their inherent stupidity. Paloma decides to commit suicide in order to escape from a world that she sees as useless and distinctly unfair. 

            The story continues as Paloma searches for beauty in the world and Renée struggles to suppress and hide her own. Though there is very little action in the book, it is nevertheless engaging. Barbery’s focus on the minutia of life allows the reader to appreciate the subtleties which are so often taken for granted like the universality of culture, and the beauty and simplicity of grammar. Both Renée and Paloma are grammar sticklers, which apart from being hilarious, also allows the reader to appreciate the elegance of the construction of language. Paloma in her journal writes about her own view on grammar:

Personally I think that grammar is a way to attain beauty. When you speak, or read,          or write, you can tell if you’ve said or read or written a fine sentence. You can recognize a well-turned phrase or an elegant style. But when you are applying the rules of grammar skillfully, you ascend to another level of the beauty of language. When you use grammar you peel back the layers to see how it is all put together, see it quite naked, in a way. And that’s where it becomes wonderful because you say to yourself, ‘Look how well made this is, how well-constructed it is! How solid and ingenious and rich and subtle!’ I get completely carried away just knowing there are words of all different natures, and that you have to know them in order to be able to infer their potential usage and compatibility. I find there is nothing more beautiful, for example, than the very basic components of language, nouns and verbs. When you’ve grasped this, you’ve grasped the core of any statement. It’s magnificent, don’t you think? Nouns, verbs…

      The book speeds up considerably when Kakuro Ozu moves into the apartment of one of the deceased tenants.  Kakuro not only suspects Renée’s cultural refinement, but also recognizes Paloma’s brilliance, and thus befriends them both and brings the kindred spirits together. Renée and Kakuro begin a very intimate friendship, which Renée finds not at all appropriate. She thinks that a concierge has no business crossing class divisions. It becomes clear that Renée’s mistrust of the upper class stems from her sister’s experience with a rich man. Kakuro assures her that she is not her sister, yet Renée is still frightened. Meanwhile Paloma and Renée discover each other and realize that regardless of class, age, and life experience, they are very much the same.

            The ending is where my relationship with the book gets complicated. Renée is hit by a delivery truck, which happens to be from the same dry cleaners from which she stole a dress for her dinner with Kakuro, and dies. Her final thoughts for her loved ones fill the page, thoughts for her dead husband, Kakuro, her cat and especially Paloma.  The most wonderful thing about the ending is that Paloma decides to forgo suicide and to live her life for both her and Renée, for Renée has shown Paloma that beauty does exist. To me, the event driven ending seemed incongruous with the subtlety of the rest of the book. The fact that the delivery truck belongs to the same dry cleaner from which she stole a dress does seem divine retribution her trying to escape her class role. I very much hope that isn’t the case, because the rest of the novel shows that class is irrelevant in cases of brilliance and love.

             This book is witty and heart wrenching, sassy and earnest. It shows that in this mundane world beauty and love are hidden in strangers. 

Babe, You’re Doing Feminism Wrong

Thought Catalog

In the early days of this website (read: a year ago, maybe two), I used to write about feminism a lot. To me, the definition of a feminist has always been simple and requires no academic training. You believe women deserve equal respect and rights as men and you also don’t look the other way when the universe decides to take a giant dump on a girl’s face. There! Instant feminism that’s ready to serve at dinner parties. (Best garnished with a slice of outrage.)

Then, somewhere along the way, I stopped writing about gender because reading the comments on a post would seriously delete years off my life span and I also didn’t feel like I had anything else to add to the discourse. Recently though, I had an experience that made me realize just how fucked we are in terms of treating women fairly and I just…

View original post 1,230 more words

Gossip Girl: A Guilty Pleasure or a Reader’s Refuge

     Image

     Everyone has that show that they can’t get enough of despite its obvious aptitude to destroy brain cells. Whether it’s Dog the Bounty Hunter, The Real Housewives of New Jersey, or Pretty Little Liars, we all have that show that we crave despite the fact that we “know better.” My brain poison of choice has recently been Gossip Girl. What’s not to like in a drama featuring a teenage tycoon who owns half of New York City, a busty, blonde, babe who invariably chooses the wrong guy, (occasionally ones with whom she shares a half-sibling), a brilliant and beautiful schemer who usually has her plots fail spectacularly even with the help of her Polish maid/mother, and a socially awkward do-gooder who somehow got in with “Manhattan’s Elite.” I was in the middle of season four when I had an epiphany: Gossip Girl is actually literary. I’m not just talking about the brilliant word play and puns featured in Gossip Girl’s narration, or the fact that Dan Humphrey is constantly whining about  his tween fiction and his dreams of the New Yorker; Gossip Girl actually contains several veiled literary references suggesting that maybe this pleasure need not be so guilty after all. 

      My first literary revelation came in the shape of Lily Bass/Van Der Woodsen/whatever her name is.  Both Lily’s name and situation mirrored that of the protagonist of Edith Wharton’s House of Mirth.  LILY Van Der Woodsen marries BART Bass; the protagonist in House of Mirth is named Lily Bart. I assumed the name was a coincidence until I thought about Lily and Lily’s similarities. Both are New York socialites who fall in love with someone below their status. Both risk losing their inheritance over this love. While Lily Bart does tragically lose all her money, and dies without her lover, Lawrence Selden, Lily Bass manages to avoid this catastrophe by marrying and divorcing several men so she is eventually rich enough to marry her true-love Rufus Humphrey without destroying her social standing.  Lily Bass’ situation would probably ended up the same as Lily Bart’s had she not been a modern woman. While Lily Bart relied on men to clothe herself and live and had no opportunity to support herself, Lily Bass does not require a husband to be financially independent. 

      The second literary instance I noticed was after Chuck Bass was mugged and shot.  He is rescued by a poor, yet stunningly beautiful French girl who nurses him back to health. When Chuck awakes from his feverish state he decides he would like to start a new identity for himself, so when the girl asks him his name, he looks at the book on his bedside table Henry V. If I hadn’t been currently reading Henry IV, I probably would not have noticed the connection, but Chuck Bass and Henry V have a tremendous amount in common. Henry IV is the leader of Britain, until his death, when his son is crowned King. Henry V, aka Hal, however does not have the spotless reputation his father would have desired. Hal is constantly getting on the other side of the law with his roguish companions, including Falstaff. However he rises to the occasion and becomes a successful king.  When Bart Bass dies, he leaves the empire to Chuck despite Chuck’s less than stellar behavior record.  Everyone is surprised that Chuck actually takes his leadership in stride and is a successful businessman.

     Readers, I implore you to keep watching and let me know of any other literary land mines you may stumble upon. Happy watching! 

You know you love me, 

xoxo

Critiqueen 

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

Image

My “mother-daughter book club” (my Joy Luck Club) consists of my best friends (for 13/14 years) and our mothers. There are a total of six of us in the group, and each mother daughter pair brings different preferences to the table. We have all brought in a book that has been unpopular, but we have also exposed each other to books that we would never otherwise read. Lauren has always been prone to fantasy. Whether it was transforming her kindergarten drawings of horses into Pegasi (God help you if you think it’s a unicorn) or writing about her new crush, Harry Potter, in her elementary school diary, she has always lived in a world more fantastical than the average girl. She and her mother brought in The Night Circus, which admittedly, I never would have picked up. The picture of the gothic priestess A.K.A. author on the back flap was enough to scare me away. The last book we read was Elizabeth Bowen’s Death of the Heart, which Lauren had found far too dull and ordinary. So Olivia and I took pity on Lauren, voting for her choice because she had just endured our literary drudgery. It seemed only fair.

While The Night Circus wasn’t necessarily “my-type” I did recognize its merits.  The book revolves around a mysterious, mythical circus whose descriptions are absolutely exquisite. This beauty of description is somewhat undermined by the haphazard organization of the book. The storyline distractingly bounces around thorough time leaving the reader confused about the age and development of the characters. While the setting is beautifully rendered, none of the characters reach their full realization.  The plot revolves around a love story between an enchanter and enchantress who are bound to compete in a possibly fatal game that will affect the fate of the circus. The romance is not built up enough to have the readers rooting for it with any sort of passion. In fact, I felt indifference for the characters and concern for the fate of the circus rather than their lives. The protagonist Celia remains a bit too aloof, while her lover Marco is distinctly unlikable.  There are other interesting characters introduced, but, again, they lack development. While the book is certainly entertaining, it is not particularly moving. I enjoyed the ride, however I won’t be dwelling on it for long.