July Q&A 2

Q: From Kathleen, What did you draw on for the descriptions of Rae’s woodwork in “Folly”?

A: My father repaired furniture for a living for a while, and built furniture for various family members\’e2\’80\’94we eat off a table he made, although every year at Thanksgiving when we gingerly put the leaf into it we wonder if this is the year it will snap right in half. But for the artistic side of Rae\’e2\’80\’99s work, I just read a stack of woodworking magazines and books, and went to admire the work of local artists and talked to them about it.

Q: Molly A asks, As a theologian and having written about Mary Magdalen yourself, what are your views on the DaVinci Code?

A: Did Leonardo invent a code? Hadn\’e2\’80\’99t heard of that, but the man invented everything from flying machines to water systems, so I suppose he did. Not sure what that has to do with the Magdalene.

Q: MarthaB says, Finished TOAD. Thank you!
I was curious about what makes a good editor. (You wrote that yours was very good.) How do they keep it a LRK book and not the editor’s book?

A: Now there\’e2\’80\’99s a title for a book, the DaVinci Toad. The ideal editor is one who pays you a truckload of money for a first draft and makes it sell a million copies, as is. The real editor pays you a living wage for a first draft, and helps you rewrite it so it resembles the book you had in mind in the first place. The editor\’e2\’80\’99s role, when it comes to shaping a book, is that of first reader. She (most of the editors I know are women, I have no idea of the M/F ratio) sees the finished product beneath the rough exterior, and helps the write coax it out.

Often, you as writer are the last person to know if something has worked, mostly because as the book is in process, it\’e2\’80\’99s too fresh in your mind for a critical analysis. But the editor comes with fresh\’e2\’80\’94and experienced\’e2\’80\’94eyes and says, This works, this doesn\’e2\’80\’99t, I\’e2\’80\’99d like to see more of that. If she doesn\’e2\’80\’99t understand a plot development, chances are no other reader will either. If she is annoyed by the speech patterns of a character, you probably need to make sure that annoyance is what you\’e2\’80\’99re aiming for.

You, the writer have the final say in an editorial disagreement, but getting the better of an editor in an argument doesn\’e2\’80\’99t mean you\’e2\’80\’99ve won. Instead, you need seriously to consider her criticisms, and where they\’e2\’80\’99re coming from. If her suggestions are based in the novel\’e2\’80\’99s saleability, you have to decide if you want to sell\’e2\’80\’94which sounds odd, but there are some books that are meant for a limited audience, which would be ruined if they are remade to appeal to the masses. And of course, part of that decision is if the publisher will continue to publish you with a marginally profitable book. If you don\’e2\’80\’99t want to sacrifice all for your art, you might want to follow your editor\’e2\’80\’99s advice.

But by and large I have found that editors do what they do not because they want to create a platoon of Dan Browns (although that would be very nice for their job security) but because they just love books. Most editors, if they were given sufficient time by their publishing house, would strive to make every book a great book. Sadly, many editors are not given that time, which is why you see so many badly edited books out there.

And which is why a hands-on editor is a treasure to be cherished.

Q: Elisa wants to know, How is your son doing these days? I hope all is well.

A: As far as I know he\’e2\’80\’99s off wrestling alligators in Florida, haven\’e2\’80\’99t heard from him in a while. The Army is basically a big Boy\’e2\’80\’99s Club with a sign on the door saying No Mothers Allowed. But thanks for asking.

Q: Antigonos asks, I am intrigued by the two mentions, in “A Monstrous Regiment of Women”, of Holmes’ son. I would very much like some elaboration on that.

A: I think I\’e2\’80\’99ve answered this before, so I will merely say that it\’e2\’80\’99s possible we\’e2\’80\’99ll address that question in the next Russell, for 2008.


  1. Anonymous says:

    Thanks for finding the humor in my transposing the O & A in TAOD, for your excellent example of editing my too long question to the essential points, and for your reply which answered my question on editing. Once again you demonstrate your grace. It isn’t required in a writer but it is so very nice.

  2. “most of the editors I know are women, I have no idea of the M/F ratio”

    In both the Denver Publishing Institute and the NYU Center for Publishing about 90% of the students are women and 10% are men. I don’t know how recent or gradual the drop of male students has been, but it still takes many of the lecturers by surprise.

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