Getting a story from a writer's brain to a reader's eyeballs--the editorial process--is a long, complex, and occasionally messy affair. I've been through it three times for books and a buncha zillion times for newspapers and magazines. From it, I've learned two immutable laws of nature:
A good editor is a trophy.
A bad editor is a wasting disease.
I have, thank God, the former. For which I'm very glad. It makes me a better writer than I otherwise might be. And, I'd hate to spend all my free time muttering, "Stick that red pencil up your semi-colon."
So. Some editor stories ...
In my first book, I came off the tracks midway. The first half of the manuscript was fine. Second half turned into that puddly kinda goo babies spew after too much strained prunes. (Note to editor: Can prunes be "too many" after they're so finely pulverized? No, I say!) My editor, who wasn't my editor yet cause she hadn't purchased my manuscript, took a pass because of said goo. I offered to clean it up. She said go ahead. I scrubbed and hosed and dried and polished, then patted its little butt with talcum. She bought it.
Bless all good editors everywhere.
In my second book, my editor thought the crime around which I'd wrapped my story was in actuality a dead fish, complete with little x's for eyes. Find a cooler crime, she said, and all will be well. I thought about it for a half-second, decided she was right, and found one. An amazingly chilling crime, in fact, which I would never have thought to use if she hadn't said that special four-letter word: dull.
Bless all good editors everywhere.
For my new book, I wised up. I started thinking like an editor the moment I wrote The End. So, I caught my bad scenes myself, during the inevitable lag between turning in the story and the editor reaching it in the tower on her desk called "Manuscripts I Need to Edit."
(Insider's scoop: Occasionally, editors add *%%^$#@ in front of the word "Manuscripts." That's for the writers who are a living pain in the ass to work with, but sell so many books one must work with them anyway. I try not to be that kind of writer.)
Back to our story. My editor was swamped with other obligations at the time of my turn-in, so the lag turned into several months. By then, enough time had gone by I could read my work with fresh brain and eyes and suggest my own changes. Turns out they were the exact things she'd picked up on. She blessed the changes, I made them, and All Was Well in the World.
With one exception:
I've mentioned The Deer before in this space. In the upcoming Torn Apart, this living, breathing, multi-horned beast is the mystical element that shadows the human tragedy and triumph in real time. I'd initially thrown in the deer as a lark--Wisconsin deer hunting season is an important element in the book--and wound up falling in character love. (Note to self: ask Steve Berry if character love is a felony in the South.)
This video has nothing to do with the editorial process. But it did make me laugh my ass off, and it's distantly related to The Deer. So, why not?
Alas, my editor was less enchanted. She thought the mysticism took away from the bang-bang that drives a thriller.
I didn't agree. But she's been at this a long time, and she's been right on my stuff before. (Dammit.) I thought about it awhile, decided that the deer must live--not for myself, but the reader!!!--and counterproposed: How about if I trim each scene, but leave their little hearts intact? Get rid of some Writerly Deer-Thought POV (told you it was mystical) but keep enough to make my points.
She said go for it. So I did. She liked it.
And in the proof stage, she even let me add back a page and a half of Deer POV that I'd sliced out during editing but later regretted.
Did I mention how all good editors should be blessed everywhere?
I'll leave it to others to decide if my (character) love for The Deer is justified, or if I'm just delusional. But in terms of working with an editor, this scene seems typical for most of the writers I know: writers write, editors edit, they kick around ideas and discuss options when those two worldviews clash, and the popular image of knock-down bite-me hissy-fit public battles royale are (mostly) just that: happens only in the movies.
At least I hope that's how it works. I'd hate to think I'm the only one with a cool editor. And no, this isn't sucking up. She already sent me the rest of my advance.
Bless all good editors every one.
COOL RITER GUY STORY ALERT!
For all who know and love Boyd Morrison--and who doesn't, right?--check out his 1st-person account on how he found his literary agent at ThrillerFest, and because of it, will launch THE ARK next month in hardcover, audio, large print, e-book and (probably, because Boyd was once a real rocket scientist at NASA) Martian death beam. Juicy details here.
Shane Gericke (left) is the author of Blown Away, Cut to the Bone, and in July 2010, Torn Apart, the third in his national bestselling crime series starring cop heroes Emily Thompson and Martin Benedetti. His debut novel is now out in Turkish, Chinese, German and Slovakian, and he just sold rights for the German edition of the second book. He wishes he could read all those languages to see if he made himself look dumb in translation, but sadly lacks all foreign language skills. Some might even say English skills, but then again, his editor is always too honest for her own good. Please visit Shane at www.shanegericke.com, and then meet him in person at ThrillerFest in July, where he will labour with vigour as chairman.