Friday, April 16, 2010

When Your Editor Says 'Oh, Deer ...'

By Shane

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:

The Deer.

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.


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, and then meet him in person at ThrillerFest in July, where he will labour with vigour as chairman.


Meredith Cole said...

Shane, you sound like a delight to work with! Your editor must also be thanking her lucky stars.

I also have a great editor. Even when we disagree, I learn something from her comments and my writing improves.

Shane Gericke said...

Thank you, Meredith, for that most kind comment. I've been on the editing side of the equation--newspapers--and so try to treat editors with the respect they deserve. Editing is a difficult job, because you're pressed from both ends: the publisher wants X, the author wants Z, and you're the one in the middle going Y oh Y. (Yeah, lame joke. It's early here in Chicago, and I haven't had the proper amount of coffee.)

More seriously, editors are responsible for finding stories the public might want to buy, selling the merit of the work internally in the publishing house to get budget and other tools to do his or her job, working with the author to get the story into shape, getting the sales and promotions teams to sign on enthusiastically, making sure the author gets paid, and a million and one other things. If the book gets delayed because of internal problems (or God forbid cancelled), the editor has the joy of delivering the good news to the author. And if despite all best efforts the book doesn't sell well, the editor as well as the author gets the hairy eyeball from the bosses.

It's a tough job, but like I say, my editor (all right, all right, I'll tell you, it's Michaela Hamilton at Kensington Publishing) does it with grace and not a little good humor. That's not to say we don't have our moments with each other--it's inevitable in the clash of publisher's needs vs. mine--but we work through them with pretty good humor and without resorting to the red-pencils-up-the-semi-colons I mentioned at the top of this dispatch. Plus, we both like likker. And that, as you know, solves all problems, or at least makes them more mellow.

As I mentioned, I'm fortunate to have started my book career in such professional hands. I recognize it could have been far different.

Your editor sounds like a treat, too, Meredith. We can learn a lot from good editors if we just listen. And the smart editors listen to us, too.

Shane Gericke said...

Hey, everyone, I fixed the hyperlink to the ThrillerFest site in the Boyd Morrison problem. Now you can actually read what I meant you to.

Hard Boiled Mysti said...

Shane -- I can't wait to read the Deer POV, it may replace my favorite POV to date, a book club (Jane Austen's Book Club)!

Video Lesson learned: if you can't shoot with your gun, hit with it.

A had a biology instructor in Australia who told us how he accidentally hit a kangaroo on his motorcycle. He got up, the kangaroo got up, and then it kicked his ass. He said he didn't blame it :)

Fingers already crossed that I get an editor as talented as yours! Thanks for sharing your stories about the back and forth of it all.

Sophie Littlefield said... i cannot work any more, cause i'm thinking about what kind of a friend just keeps rollin' video while you're on the ground gettin your ass kicked. huhhh???

Shane Gericke said...

Wow, Mysti, a book club POV? I gotta check that out!

My friends would probably keep filming, Sophie. If they could stop laughing long enough to hold up the camera :-)

Terry Stonecrop said...

I've never seen such an aggressive deer. Ok, I haven't seen too many deer. But I confess I laughed too.

Now the deer POV intrigues me. Glad you got to keep it.

Kelli Stanley said...

I am so looking forward to seeing you labor with vigor, Shane! :)

I LOVE your deer (and you, dear), and am so glad you and your editor (God Bless Them, Every One) found a solution. :)


Kelli Stanley said...

And by the way ... I was very glad to see the video of Bambi grown up and taking back the forest!!

Shane Gericke said...

I hear ya, Kel. I think hunting is fine, but occasionally like to see the prey fight back. It's only fair!

Joshua Corin said...

"Wasting disease" = perfect.

Shane, I can't speak for the whole South, but down here in Atlanta, character love is not only legal but encouraged.

Shane Gericke said...

LOL, Joshua. Mostly I just wanted a way to say "Steve Berry" in a blog and therefore fool readers into thinking I'm important by association ...