“Editors are Ghouls and Cannibals” (Updated and Bumped)

Filed under:Authors,Need a Good Editor? — posted by Anwyn on October 15, 2007 @ 12:38 pm

Your opinion first, then mine. Tell me what you think of this line of prose, taken from the book All Together in One Place by Jane Kirkpatrick:

“Mazy Bacon embraced her life inside a pause that lacked premonition.”

Not much context necessary; it comes very near the beginning of the book. Mazy Bacon is the protagonist, an 1800s Midwestern farm wife, 19 years old.

Give your interpretation and your opinion of the line. I’ll update this post later after a few comments.

Update: Overwhelming majority in the comments says: Pretentious BS. Also the overwhelming majority made this judgment without going ahead and saying what they think the author is actually trying to say. And thus my point, in a nutshell: Be pretentious and you not only look pretentious but you drive people off of trying to figure out what you want to say. Anne and I were on the same wavelength–she said she’d stop reading right there. And I almost did, although since I already bought the book the fact that I might have stopped reading wouldn’t have affected the publisher’s bottom line–but it would affect the author’s exposure.

“Editors are ghouls and cannibals” was said by Harriet Vane in Dorothy Sayers’s Busman’s Honeymoon. I’m accustomed to taking the general drift of Harriet’s remarks as author’s voice, and if you surveyed a random sampling of authors on the question of “agree or disagree,” I’d lay money that the majority would come back “agree.” But the editor’s only job is to make the author look better. Whether it’s by correcting actual mistakes of grammar, spelling, punctuation, or usage or by adjusting wording for readability or by telling the author, “Look, this is pretentious BS, go back and fix it,” our only job is to make the author look good for publication. Of course there are officious editors who would like nothing better than to swap their own words in and the author’s out, but good editors use their BS detectors on the author’s behalf. Yet so many authors resist changes with everything they’ve got. I don’t blame them; I’ve been on the other side of the coin myself. It is an emotional battle. But if authors kept the basic tenet in mind–that our only job is to make them look better–both authors and editors would ultimately have an easier go of it.

Here’s the kicker: This is not a bad book. It’s not the Great American Novel, of course, but it’s not bad. It’s got a good basic story line, some interesting characters, and some good language … but stunners like this crop up from time to time and divert the flow of reader’s enjoyment right into an anger bucket. It’s not good. The kindest thing a good editor could have done for Ms. Kirkpatrick would be to have stopped her cold at lines like this and made her understand that if the reader has to wade through even one line of meaningless dreck to try to hazard what the author could possibly have meant by it, it takes away so much from the story that readers will even quit reading.

wg’s interpretation: That Mazy Bacon does not think about the consequences of her actions.
Anne’s interpretation: That Mazy Bacon is stupid and doesn’t see even what’s happening right in front of her.
My interpretation, with advantage of having read the back-cover blurb before beginning reading: That Mazy Bacon loves her life and doesn’t know it is about to change.

I believe mine is the correct interpretation (and, of course, I know the other two are incorrect because of what I already know about Mazy Bacon), but it took me a few tries even though I knew what was going on in the story, and the other two folks who hazarded guesses came up with two different ones. If a line is open to so many different interpretations, it doesn’t convey many facts about your protagonist, now does it?

I don’t know whether the problem here was an editor who embraces the pretentiousness a little too much, a dim or timid editor, or a mulish author who resisted whatever the editor might have tried to tell her about this kind of language, but the result was a book that is a lot worse than it needed to be. Sad.

Feeling Fisky: In Defense of Rowling’s World

Filed under:Authors,Language Barrier — posted by Anwyn on July 23, 2007 @ 8:55 pm

Just a light fisking, a little one, for Megan McArdle, for whom magic must depend on scarcity to make sense, and that therefore the Harry Potter series is not as well thought-through as it ought to be. (Via Ace, via PetiteDov.)

There will be **SPOILERS** for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows below the jump. (more…)

And Since It’s a Harry Potter Week (Bumped)

Filed under:Authors — posted by Anwyn on July 22, 2007 @ 3:15 pm

I will just say I’ve got a bad feeling about the new book. No, I haven’t read anything. I just don’t see it ending wholly satisfactorily no matter who lives or dies.

Incidentally, J.K. Rowling needs to save her breath (or pixels). It just makes her look silly to keep begging people not to do things they are going to do anyway, over which she has zero control, and lets us know exactly how inflated her head has become over all the hype. The end of her series is not the end of the world, whether Harry lives or dies.

Update: A judgment on my first statement above. No plot spoilers, but nevertheless click at your own risk. (more…)

How Long Has This Been Going On?

Filed under:Authors — posted by Anwyn on July 18, 2007 @ 5:54 pm

Ann Coulter’s column at Human Events now allows comments.


The Vehicle by Which Lileks Manages to Merge His Efforts at Adjusting His Attitude with That Lame Newsweek Article About Beta Males

Filed under:Authors,Heh,Movies — posted by Anwyn on May 31, 2007 @ 11:24 pm

“I don’t want any of this lover’s lament crap. I want something peppy, something happy, something up-tempo. I want something snappy.”

Update: Lileks still has a job. Let’s hope somebody gave him more than 300 words to play with this time.

Tolkien’s Children of Hurin

Filed under:Authors,Cool,Tolkien — posted by Anwyn on April 18, 2007 @ 9:15 pm

Christopher Tolkien’s master-stroke of editing and piecing together his father’s fragmentary work was released yesterday to much “fan”fare. TORn covered and assisted the line at a Manhattan Barnes and Noble where fans lined up to buy copies signed by both C. Tolkien and illustrator Alan Lee. Andrew O’Hehir, who’s been covering matters Tolkien for Salon for a long time now, has a thoughtful, in-depth review, focusing largely on the startling difference in tone between this tome and The Lord of the Rings.

“The Children of Húrin” will thrill some readers and dismay others, but will surprise almost everyone. If you’re looking for the accessibility, lyrical sweep and above all the optimism of “Lord of the Rings,” well, you’d better go back and read it again. There are no hobbits here, no Tom Bombadil, no cozy roadside inns and precious little fireside cheer of any variety found here. This is a tale whose hero is guilty of repeated treachery and murder, a story of rape and pillage and incest and greed and famous battles that ought never to have been fought. If “Lord of the Rings” is a story where good conquers evil, this one moves inexorably in the other direction.

Readers of The Silmarillion, which seemed at the time of its publication the end of all things Tolkien but proved to be merely the beginning of Christopher Tolkien’s work of editing his father’s legacy, know that LotR notwithstanding, Tolkien was very occupied with themes of hubris, falls from grace (or characters without grace altogether), and dark, inexorable destinies. The jagged yet constantly descending roads these characters take in their slides toward doom are indeed startling, but though as O’Hehir says the darkness will “surprise almost everyone,” the surprise for those left out by “almost” is more and more coming to be that Tolkien had it in him to write the happy-ending stories of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings at all. He could only do it by omitting utterly one of those occupying themes, hubris, from his three central characters of Frodo, Aragorn, and Gandalf, thus avoiding for them the dark destiny but reserving for them nevertheless places in grey twilight as their reward. When all’s said and done, Lord of the Rings is not a happy story, but at most grimly optimistic, to use Andrew’s word. In the end the individual matters only insofar as he or she did duty in the larger battle against evil, or failed in that duty.

Judging by the reviews, it looks as if The Children of Hurin will be a stark illustration of how to do your duty and fail miserably in life all at the same time. In a phrase, it’s Tolkien, painfully aware of the human condition, to the core.

Might Be Some Dead Mice in There, Too

Filed under:Authors — posted by Anwyn on March 22, 2007 @ 11:07 am

Nasty Imagery of the Day: Lileks’s freezer may not smell like “Gollum’s loincloth,” but for the Bonus Ew he tags the similarity between freezer and loincloth in the very next sentence: “fish-bricks.”

Name the movie: Rumor has it you’re a real cold fish. Think your bricks smell sweeter than most.

Head in the Clouds

Filed under:Authors,Cool,Language Barrier,Tolkien — posted by Anwyn on March 12, 2007 @ 9:37 pm

Alan Sullivan with Best Word Use of the Day: Numinous. One of Lewis’s most-used words and the most concise and beautiful for meaning “supernatural, of the spiritual realm.” And probably associated in his mind with Tolkien’s Numenor, although Tolkien was at pains (and sometimes borderline uncharitable to Lewis) to set inquiring readers straight on the fact that “Numenor” in no way derived from “numinous” and was unrelated to Lewis’s unwelcome use of “Numinor.”

Also, in which I learn about sheer boundaries and what causes turbulence in clear air:

Such clouds may form low in the atmosphere, like these off California, or much higher, at cirrus levels. They are the visible form of eddies at a sheer boundary. Such phenomena are common in clear air, and they make for a bumpy ride when aircraft encounter them. If there is just enough moisture, clouds may provide a signature for the process.

Eddies in the air, just like in water. Fascinating, Captain. And good for an aspiring pilot to know. And yes, numinous.

In Fangirl Praise of Lileks

Filed under:Authors,Reviews — posted by Anwyn on March 9, 2007 @ 11:19 am

Best Word Use of the Week: Rectitude.

If there’s any industry that makes your scam-hackles rise, it’s the car-repair world, but these guys impressed me from the start with Conspicuous Rectitude. Maybe it’s a Minnesota thing. It’s certainly an American thing: six months after a repair job, they agreed without hesitation to revisit the work, because Mister Customer Almighty’s precious quarterpanel was 3/8” out of alignment.

I need car guys like his, but that’s beside the current point: Lileks has a precision of expression that is tough to stop short of the event horizon that sucks you into the Pretentious Zone, but he does it day after day. You’d think it’d be easier to do in a column limited to 300 words, but the Bleat is better. Slice-of-life paragraphs incisively expressed, political opinions that lazily skewer the pomposity of the day without any venom or dirty pool, and now and then he pulls out a Jane Austen word like “rectitude.” Add to all that, he apparently manages to write like this while having stayed at home with his daughter while she was preschool-aged and now continuing to be her main source of company, authority, and homework help during the school week.

If I could write one-tenth as well as that, I’d write instead of edit for a living, but I like to think the ability to size him up is what makes me a pretty good editor. I’ll take what I can get. And keep reading, avidly.

Quote of the Day

Filed under:Authors,It's the Jihad — posted by Anwyn on January 26, 2007 @ 10:46 am

But the notion that this war is about our moral failings is comfort fantasy, pure and simple. It soothes us with the false idea that, if we but mend ourselves, the scary people will leave us alone. … our enemies were not created by the peccadilloes of free people and will not melt away before a moral perfection that we, in any case, can never achieve.

Via Hot Air.


Filed under:Authors,Religion — posted by Anwyn on December 11, 2006 @ 10:58 am

Dawn Eden promotes the soul-deep virtues of chastity — in the New York Times!

Via See-Dubya, who dares to think that because Dawn actually is “born again” considers herself to have had a “born-again experience” that it’s okay for the Times to call her “born-again ^ Christian” rather than “Catholic.”

Cross-posted at Electric Venom.

Edited to remove potentially frightening literal implications of “born again.”

Any Lewis Fans in the Crowd?

Filed under:Authors,Cool — posted by Anwyn on December 5, 2006 @ 10:20 pm

I’ve long loved C.S. Lewis, though as I get older I gradually see that he is not the be-all, end-all fountain of Christian wisdom I may have believed while I was growing up. A book written by one of my college professors, Dr. John Beversluis, is being updated and will be reissued next year, and I await it eagerly. It purports to show that Lewis failed in his attempted rational defense of Christianity. Lewis’s premise was that nobody should accept Christianity if his best reasoning tells him it doesn’t make sense. Beversluis’s book promises to show that it doesn’t.

Victor Reppert at Dangerous Idea notes the upcoming release and both reasonably anticipates arguing Beversluis’s points and also reminds us that if Beversluis isn’t 100 percent right, at least he’s “a good antidote” to anybody who’s willing to wrap themselves in wholesale Lewis. But he’s wrong about Beversluis as “consummate Lewis-basher.”

How do I know without reading the book? And why do I so eagerly await a book that purports to show that one of my childhood heroes failed in the object of his writings? Simply this: in college I took a class from John Beversluis, on C.S. Lewis. He did not use his own book as a teaching tool in the course (I didn’t know the book existed until last month), I didn’t know he was an agnostic rather than a Christian until many weeks into the course, and I think it was in private conversation that he revealed this, rather than in class. In other words, he set out to teach a course on C.S. Lewis, and Lewis was what he taught–not Beversluis. In this academic climate, that’s somewhat remarkable, and in addition, it makes me far more receptive to what he has to say about Lewis–now that I’m aware of the book, now that Dr. Beversluis is retired–than I would have been as a wide-eyed undergrad.

Update: Speaking of wide-eyed undergrads, I wrote like one last night when I attributed the opinion of Beversluis as “Lewis-basher” to Victor Reppert. He was observing that many people think of Beversluis that way, not that he himself does. He observes below in the comments that he doesn’t share that opinion of Beversluis but that passages in Beversluis’s book can come across that way. Apologies and welcome, Victor.

Where Beverly Met Ramona

Filed under:Authors,Photoblogging — posted by Anwyn on November 17, 2006 @ 9:34 pm

Today The Little Bean and I went “overtown,” as Bevery Cleary describes crossing the Willamette River to enter the other side of Portland, on an errand to the airport. On the way we scouted several locations in northeast Portland where Beverly Cleary passed her childhood. She lived until she was five or so at the farmhouse pictured in my previous post; her paternal grandfather is the “John Marion Bunn” in the plaque on the wall of the house. Her family subsequently moved into town. During their sojourn in the first of two rented houses, little Beverly Bunn attended Fernwood Grammar School, now Fernwood Middle School.

This clearly used to be the front of the school, but judging by the lack of handles on the door surrounded by neat stonework, it’s no longer even an entrance.

The inscription over the non-entrance reads “Fernwood Grammar School.” Around the side, on a newer portion of the building where the main entrance now is, is a newer sign designating it Fernwood Middle School.

Pictures of Cleary’s high school and the home her parents bought when they sold the farm after the jump.

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image: detail of installation by Bronwyn Lace