Sunday, August 6, 2017

"Who edits the editors?"/ William Grimes

Sept. 10, 2016 "Who edits the editors?": I cut out this article by Mark Medley in the National Post on Jul. 14, 2012:

Not long after graduating from Columbia University with an MFA in creative writing, Karen Thompson Walker was forwarded an email from an editor at Simon & Schuster who was leaving her job and searching for a replacement.

“I was looking for a day job,” recalls Walker, who applied for the position. “The idea that my day job could be connected to books was exciting.”

In 2005, she began working for Scribner — an imprint of S&S — as an editorial assistant. For the next six years, she led a double life: working on her own writing early in the morning, and spending the remainder of the day editing other authors.

“People who knew me really well knew — my boss knew — but not a lot of people beyond that,” says Walker, who eventually rose to the position of editor. Colleagues only learned of her literary ambitions last year, when the 32-year-old writer received a staggering seven-figure advance for her debut novel, The Age of Miracles.

“The progress was slow, it felt to me, as I was writing,” says Walker, during a recent interview in Toronto. “Also, people I went to graduate school with were publishing books” — classmates Karen Russell and Rivka Galchen both scored book deals and spots on The New Yorker’s list of the 20 best writers under the age of 40 — “and most of the ones who published books during that time did not have full-time jobs. I felt worried about whether I was missing some sort of train by working full time.”

Yet, like athletes who excel at two sports, it’s not uncommon in the publishing industry for writers to work as editors, and for editors to become writers. Walker’s former colleague, Colin Harrison, is both a senior editor at Scribner and the author of several acclaimed novels; Susanna Clarke wrote her bestselling fantasy epic Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell while editing cookbooks for Simon & Schuster U.K.; David Davidar penned two novels (The House of Blue Mangoes and The Solitude of Emperors) while serving as publisher of Penguin India and, subsequently, Penguin Canada, and last year released a thinly-veiled novel (Ithica) based on his time in the industry; Will Schwalbe, the former editor-in-chief of Hyperion Books, will publish The End of Your Life Book Club this October; and Robin Robertson, the prize-winning poet, serves as publishing director and poetry editor for Jonathan Cape.

“It’s a curious position, to be gamekeeper-turned-poacher,” Robertson says. “We all — or most of us — need to earn a living. I found myself in publishing because I like working on text with authors, and enjoy providing the means for unusual or complex work to see the light of day.”

Closer to home there’s Stuart Ross, author of too many books to count, who edits an imprint for Mansfield Press; Michael Holmes, an editor at ECW Press, has published several collections of poetry and a novel, Watermelon Row; Andrew Steinmetz, author of the novel Eva’s Threepenny Theatre edits fiction for Véhicule Press; and Coach House Books’ editorial director Alana Wilcox published a novel, A Grammar of Endings, in 2000.

“I think nearly every single editor has a manuscript in a drawer somewhere,” Wilcox says. “[I’m] just not sure who’d admit to it.”

David Levithan will. The publisher and editorial director of Scholastic, Levithan had worked for the children’s publisher for a decade before his first novel, Boy Meets Boy, was released in 2003. “Luckily for me, everybody was very cool about me leading a double life,” he says. Since then, Levithan was written or co-written more than a dozen books, including Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist.

“I went into it clear-eyed, knowing that it was not going to be easy, and that success was not an automatic thing,” he says. “But I also saw what the rewards were, and they were certainly worth trying [for].”

He cautions that working in the industry is not a shortcut to publication.

“I think you want to make sure that people aren’t getting into publishing as a vehicle for their own writing — getting a foot in the door,” says Levithan. “It’s a somewhat outdated notion that your only avenue to having your words get out there [is] to work at a publisher, and some day hand them your manuscript.”

When David Ebershoff was ready to hand in his manuscript, The Danish Girl, the very last place he wanted to send it was Random House, where he’d worked, at that point, for four years.

“Until that book went out on submission, I had not told any of my colleagues that I was writing a book [or] that I had any interest in working on a book,” says Ebershoff, who has since published a collection of short stories and two more novels, including The 19th Wife. “I had kept that part of my life totally separate when I walked in the doors at Random House every morning.”

Editors who write, or writers who edit, must ensure that separation remains.

“When I’m editing someone else’s book, my job is to think like they would, and to write like they would, and to arrange the words like they would,” Levithan says. “As long as you compartmentalize them, as long as when you’re working with other people’s books you’re not trying to make them your own books, I think it’s fine. If anything, both sides feed off each other.”

Like a director who also acts, editors say the one skill complements the other. Walker believes her job as an editor — “Having to learn to be a professional reader, and figuring out again and again what makes a story function, and what’s the right pace, and what makes characters seem real or when do they seem false?” — helped her write The Age of Miracles.

“I know for sure that it made me a better writer,” she says.

But if being an editor makes you a better writer, does being a writer make you a better editor? A minor brouhaha erupted in the British press earlier this year when it was suggested by one poetry editor that to edit poetry you must write it, too. Does the same hold true for fiction?

“I know many great editors who, as far as I know, are not fiction writers,” says Ebershoff, pointing to Random House editor Kate Medina, who edits both he and Walker.

“An editor is an ideal reader, not an ideal writer,” Levithan says. “I think as long as you can read poetry, or read fiction, and know how it works, and analyze it, and piece together how it can be its best — that’s the requirement. You don’t have to create the words from scratch from your own brain in order to know that.

“It’s almost a sixth sense of knowing where the words go,” he adds. “Sometimes you have the sixth sense for other people, and sometimes you have it for yourself. And sometimes you have both.”

But having both senses doesn’t necessarily mean they can be used at the same time. Until recently, Melanie Little was senior editor for Canadian fiction at House of Anansi. She’s held several editorial positions over the years, but always juggled them with her own writing career (she published a collection of short stories, Confidence, in 2003, and a novel for young adults, The Apprentice’s Masterpiece, in 2009). Though she will continue to edit for the company on a freelance basis, Little left Anansi to focus on her own writing.

“I’ve found that the creative mental space taken up by editing fiction doesn’t leave room for figuring out some of the big questions in my own work,” she says. “I find that if I can take any significant time completely away from editing — even two or three blank days will do — then I’m able to think straight about my own projects again. But when I’m deeply immersed in someone else’s book, my own work invariably goes to the back of the bus.”

It’s a balancing act. Time, or lack thereof, seems to be the major issue. Beth Follett, who runs Pedlar Press, published her first novel, Tell It Slant, in 2001, and has been working on her sophomore effort almost ever since.

“The press keeps me very busy, such that my own writing time is exceedingly limited,” she writes in an email. “I have been working on a novel for seven summers now. I accept this pace, and am (mostly) able to keep the psychic battleground peaceful. The foolish ego makes its occasional grabs, wanting membership in the ‘full-time writing club.’ ”

With limited opportunities to write full-time — or none at all — editors must carve out time from their schedules. Levithan devotes weekdays to editing, weekends to writing; Ebershoff spends the morning on his own fiction and the rest of the day on other projects (though, as editor-at-large for Random House, he now only edits a handful of titles each year).

Robertson says his “solution, for years, was to go on retreat for four to six weeks, which had a built-in detox period before the writing could begin.”

But “even more than time,” argues Wilcox, “it’s a question of space: As an editor, especially of fiction, you spend your day inside other people’s heads, deep in their rhythms and vocabularies and obsessions — and neuroses — so you have to be quite assured in your own voice to be able to sustain it.”

Ebershoff thinks confidence is a big factor.

“If you’re the kind of writer who might feel competitive, or intimidated, by seeing books go through the process and emerge into the world while you’re still working on yours, then it may not be a good environment.”

Someone who works as an editor and still has the desire to write is like someone who works at Oscar Mayer and still enjoys eating hot dogs. One Canadian publisher — who does not write — told me “the one thing I would say to anybody about book publishing is that if you want to write, you’re better off never stepping foot through the door of a book publisher.”

Robertson agrees: “All those ashen faces among the glossy displays; all those unsold, unsaleable books; all that crushed hope underfoot. I try and see authors outside of the office when I can.”

“There’s the depressing fact of the assembly line of production you’re a constant witness to — working for ages on a book, perfecting it, only to see it disappear from the shelves after four months,” Wilcox says. “So you have to be able to retain the optimism writing requires, to separate yourself from the sad facts of publishing, in order to convince yourself to invest the time.”

In the end, Walker left her job at Simon & Schuster eight months after selling The Age of Miracles to concentrate on writing.

“I had an increasing feeling that they were pulling me in a different direction,” she says. “I just decided it was too tempting to not try writing full-time. I don’t know if I’m going to do that forever, it just felt like the time to give it a try.”

Dec. 22, 2016 "Writer was famous for his brutal zingers": Today I found this article by William Grimes in the Globe and Mail.  Here is an excerpt about A.A. Gill, a critic, essayist who died at 62:

A student who worked at Tatler suggested that he write a short article about his recovery for the magazine’s “Good Rehab Guide.” The editors, impressed, took him on as a food writer and essayist.

He joined The Sunday Times in 1993, as a writer for the newspaper’s new style and travel sections. Before long, he was named the television critic, to compete with Clive James in The Observer.

His travel writing and foreign reporting were collected in A.A. Gill Is Away: Helping With Enquiries (2002) and A.A. Gill Is Further Away (2011); his television writing appears in Paper View: The Best of the Sunday Times Television Reviews (2008).

“I failed into journalism,” he wrote in his memoir. “If I’d been a better barman or painter, a better shop assistant or warehouseman or gardener, I’d have stayed doing that. Those who can’t do, teach, but those who can’t even teach P.E., report, and those who can’t report, write columns.”

He wrote cookbooks on two sister restaurants in London – The Ivy: The Restaurant and Its Recipes (1997) and Le Caprice (1999) – as well as Breakfast at the Wolseley: Recipes From London’s Favorite Restaurant (2014). In Grand Cafe (2013), he offered a history of famous restaurants across Europe, with recipes. Table Talk: Sweet and Sour, Salt and Bitter (2007) gathered a selection of his restaurant reviews.

He leaves his mother; his fiancée, the style journalist Nicola Formby, always referred to as “the Blonde” in his reviews; their two children, Edith and Isaac; and two children from his second marriage, Flora and Alasdair. His younger brother, Nick, a Michelin-starred chef, disappeared in 1998 after a mental breakdown.

In his column announcing his cancer, Mr. Gill summed up his career in a nutshell. “Somebody said: ‘Why don’t you watch television, eat good food and travel and then write about it?’ ” he wrote. “And, as lives go, that’s pretty good.”

My opinion: I see his tip on how to get this career.  Write an article for a magazine and newspaper, and someone may offer you a job or at least more assignments for the publication.

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