The Joy of Editing

When writing I usually have a moment in each novel when something snaps, and suddenly the addition of one complication or deletion of one beloved scene gives the entire story new coherence.  Whatever had been fermenting in my hind brain takes over and all the disparate pieces of the book fall together into a unified whole.

I have learned to trust my hind brain.  At least on first draft.

As an editor, it is my job to find those glitches and point them out to the author and then let them fix it.  I am always amazed at how well they do the job even though their revisions don’t always take the path I had envisioned.  But it is their story and I they have the complete vision.  The control freak part of me has to let go.  But I do rejoice with the author when the book is complete and reviewers say how brilliant the fix was, and didn’t even know it was an adjustment from the original manuscript.  Of course it was brilliant; it came from two hindbrains, not just one.

Then there’s the anthology.  The first time I presided over an open-invitation anthology, as opposed to specific, trusted individuals gathering together, I nearly panicked.  Fortunately for me this was Broken Waves a charity anthology to benefit the victims of the Gulf oil spill.  Most of the work that crossed my desk had been published before.  I didn’t have much editing to do.  I know authors who work mostly in short fiction and they take the time to compare a published edition of their work to the original manuscript and correct their personal copy to match the changes made by an editor.  I’m not that organized.  Most authors when submitting a reprint send their uncorrected copy.  Some other editor loved that story enough to publish it.  Even if it doesn’t match my vision for the story, I can’t mess with it much beyond typos, grammar, and maybe, if I’m very polite about it, recasting a sentence or two to a more dynamic wording.

My real “Ah Ha!” moment came in organizing the table of contents.  That’s an art in itself.  The standard approach is to judiciously place the strongest stories at beginning, middle, and end.  Then fill in the blanks.  But sometimes putting two stories of similar theme together in an odd place and letting the others flow around that core works.  That’s what happened here.  I’m proud of that anthology; and hats of to my co-editor Tiffany Trent for her input.  A little twisted at times, but yeah, the unusual startles the reader and makes them pay more attention.

Then, along came Steampunk.  Gears and Levers published by Skywarrior Books to be precise.

A few (like 3) stories came in right away from Indonesia, Rhode Island, and Croatia.  I didn’t know if I’d get any more submissions at all, even though the final deadline was months away.  I accepted the stories and suddenly found myself in a teaching roll.  The story from Croatia was wonderful, but the author had written it in his native language and then translated it on the fly.  It needed some work to convert it to idiomatic English.  Rhode Island needed some restructuring to make it coherent.  The one from Indonesia was a different case altogether.

The author is a talented story teller in the oral sense.  But telling a story in a bar or at a street fair is one skill.  Writing it—in a foreign language—quite another.  Unlike Croatia who was educated in at least four languages, Indonesia picked up other languages on the street.  My first request for revisions looked liked I’d bled all over it.  But we worked together, it went back to the author another time for more revisions as I got beyond language to the guts of the story.  And then he made it shine.

I doubt I’ll ever put that much work into a short story again.  But I am proud of the work I did and the way the author took my lessons to heart and rose above his limitations.  Way above.

In the end I had so many wonderful submissions to Gears and Levers it went to three volumes.  By the second volume I learned more of the art of rejecting pieces that didn’t work or didn’t fit.  I can afford to be picky now and it makes my workload much more manageable.

These experiences with small presses gave me the confidence to hang out my shingle as a freelance editor.  Radford Editorial email <ramblinphyl AT gmail DOT com> for schedules and rates.  It helps that I am a voracious and omnivorous reader as well as writer.  I can offer my services across several genres.  But once again I find myself teaching beginning authors as well as guiding more experienced ones.  The real joy is to get a sequel to a book I edited and find the author exceeded my expectations and took all my lessons to heart.

And you know what?  I’m learning from my authors.  A turn of a familiar phrase into the ironic, a plot twist I didn’t expect but works better than what I did expect, an unusual organization that shows more talent than I have.

Editing can be a pain.  But it is also a joy


About Phyllis Irene Radford

Irene Radford has been writing stories ever since she figured out what a pencil was for. A member of an endangered species—a native Oregonian who lives in Oregon—she and her husband make their home in Welches, Oregon where deer, bears, coyotes, hawks, owls, and woodpeckers feed regularly on their back deck. A museum trained historian, Irene has spent many hours prowling pioneer cemeteries deepening her connections to the past. Raised in a military family she grew up all over the US and learned early on that books are friends that don’t get left behind with a move. Her interests and reading range from ancient history, to spiritual meditations, to space stations, and a whole lot in between. Mostly Irene writes fantasy and historical fantasy including the best-selling Dragon Nimbus Series and the masterwork Merlin’s Descendants series. In other lifetimes she writes urban fantasy as P.R. Frost or Phyllis Ames, and space opera as C.F. Bentley. Later this year she ventures into Steampunk as someone else. If you wish information on the latest releases from Ms Radford, under any of her pen names, you can subscribe to her newsletter: Promises of no spam, merely occasional updates and news of personal appearances.

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