Editorial Virtues

Kage Baker showed her work to very few people for most of her life.

I always thought her innate reticence would be the biggest problem when she ultimately tried to get published. I really thought she might founder on the whole business of working with an editor. I even essayed a bit of cautionary advice as it became obvious she really did mean to submit her writing professionally.

“You know,” I ventured, ” an editor is going to tell you to make changes. There are going to be things you have to drop or add or switch around.”

“That’s all right,” said Kage. “Why should it be a problem?”

“Well, you might not like that,” said I, recalling some awfully vigorous conversations about scenes that had logical flaws. These had varied from the proper spelling of mercenary to an argument about which way a camel’s knees bent, with a detour to argue Kage’s assertion that fish were not animals. (And, of course, do raw potatoes carry tularemia?)

“It’s an editor’s job,” she said, with commendable logic and maturity. And then, with not quite so much, “I listen to you, don’t I?”

Yeah. About as much as the waves listened to Canute.  Nonetheless, when it actually came to it, Kage turned out to be a perfect lady regarding editorial interference. She made changes when she thought they were needed, she was polite, she was prompt, she actually did  consider every alteration seriously and objectively. And when she decided the suggestion was crap, she explained her choice courteously.

Except for the editor who objected to someone being able to see the Milky Way from the surface of the earth – because, he said, Earth is in the Milky Way and you can’t see the galaxy you’re in … the same gentleman did not know what the “nap” of a carpet meant. For these – and several other reasons – Kage finally asked him if he’d been raised in a Skinner box, and pulled her manuscript from that house.

Anyway: part of the point here is that Kage was so convinced she was a patient, reasonable respondent to editorial demands, that she became one. That’s an important moral. The other point is: she taught me that acceptance of criticism is situational – and if you asked for it, you had damned well better listen, because someone is offering you the fruits of considerable time and effort.

If you didn’t ask for it, the case is altered. Go with your gut response. And when you have stopped leaping around the living room howling out doom and destruction on the critic, have a drink and never ever read their review again.

All this remembrance and philosophy has led me in a meandering way to say Thank You to all of you, Dear Readers, who sent me comments on the first installment of Marswife. Everything everyone said has been of enormous help, especially in pointing out places where I had wandered off the cliff-edge of my own imagination and left you behind. I’ve thus been able to shore up several crumbling edges.

Those of you who also sent me questions – oooh, that’s fun! I’ve been sending out responses bit by bit; I have to ration them because I do so enjoy correspondence and will sit chatting for hours rather than get back to writing. But I mean to answer all of them, I promise. That too helps me work out details.

And, if anyone is willing, I will send out another installment in a few days. I need to forge ahead for a bit and develop more momentum. But then I may ask for your excellent help again. I may even number the pages, as one patient reader has noted that if she wants to reference a line, she now has to count down several hundred of them – which she obstinately (but sensibly) refuses to do … you get no respect when one of your Readers is your sister. But it was a system that worked for the Brontes and for Kage, so I am sticking to it.

And now back to Commerce Square, where I left my heroine asleep in a pile of vizio …