Rock ‘n Roll Heaven has been released. This is a medium-length novel focused on the life and times of a fictitious small-time rocker, and in a broader sense the evolution of rock and roll. I was substantive editor.
Its genesis goes back two decades in Shawn’s life, a story he tells in the Author’s Notes. If memory serves, my involvement began about the time he was considering the sequel to his very successful Feels Like The First Time. The opening conversation was inauspicious. Paraphrased:
S: “I want to write a novel about a musician who ends up interacting with all his idols in the afterlife.”
J: “Are you kidding? That’s the loopiest idea I’ve ever heard. It has zero commercial potential. You’re out of your mind.” (I’ve left out the bad words.)
S: “Maybe, but I want to write it anyway. If I do it, will you edit it?”
J: “Of course. If I can’t talk you out of it, I’ll gladly help you make it the best it can be.”
We talked about it for a while, with me not warming to the idea at all. Shawn planned to write about what he loves second only to his wife and children: rock and roll and its history. To me, the whole notion seemed masturbatory, and I told him so. Then what should I do to make it work? Shawn has a gift for asking the right questions. I said that it had better include a story, and a good one.
Shawn is sort of a Veeckian character, a puckish soul with laughing eyes who knows how to let an experience unfold. He’s a great pleasure to work with, because he can take the highest caliber of frankness for which my literary fieldpiece is chambered.
Think about what I did. This is a paying client. I told him the idea was loopy. Then I told him, in cruder terms, that it was self-indulgent, and had no chance to make any money. That’s not what you say when you want the work. At that point, most authors are looking for an editor who believes in the book concept, which means that an editor who doesn’t is Not On Board.
That’s why some authors fail: they focus mainly on people who tell them what they want to hear. They are brilliant, this is the Next Big Thing, etc. They are looking for reassurance and strokes, independent validation of the gushing they got from their spouses and Aunt Sandy. They aren’t looking for someone to tell them they need to improve. Any editor can–and many do–make a living telling novice authors they are brilliant, because it’s what they crave.
Aspiring editors can milk this. Many aspiring writers consider their prose a perfected work of art. Anyone who Fails To Adore simply has no taste, doesn’t get their genius. The less that you say needs to change about their writing, the more credible you are in their eyes. The easy route to good money is to do less work and more sucking up. I’ll even supply the Magic Bullshit (since I’m not using it anyway): “Honestly, I think this is very well written. I can suggest some minor changes, and check for errors, but I love the story.” Just say that. It will mark you as a Believer, and you’ll be hired. Over and over.
Since you won’t do much actual work, you will have quick turnarounds and an airtight explanation: “There wasn’t that much that needed fixing.” Excited would-be authors will preen in delight, seeing that a Real Editor recognizes their genius. The product will be garbage, because the client sought and received sycophancy rather than critique and valuable ideas, but you got paid and your client loved ‘working with’ you. Right?
True confession: I wasn’t completely candid with Shawn. I left out one thing: I was fascinated to see what in hell he would come up with. The man has a Churchillian zigzag lightning streak through his mind, and only a fool would underestimate him. (I no longer do, and am relieved to be less a fool.) Along came the ms, and while I was blunter than usual about some of its issues, it also threw me some invigorating surprises. His research and portrayals of rock legends rang thorough, creative and difficult to predict. Not only did he wrap it around a creditable story, making that story the focal point rather than the rock-and-roll musings, but he redid the opening and hit it off the scoreboard. My work was to keep the strings from showing; let’s hope that readers feel I succeeded at it.
I did one thing differently this time. I normally work in silence broken only by the periodic comments of Alex, my white-eyed conure (a little parrot, bright green). Since the book centered on rock and roll, I felt it irresponsible to edit without background music. It was odd how sometimes the song that played seemed pertinent to my current focus in the narrative.
The creepiest aspect was the author’s notes at the end. I haven’t been asked to edit those before, thank the gods. In this case, for the first time since I’ve worked with Shawn, I found myself perusing his laudatory comments about my work and what it means to his creative process. You tell me: how the hell do you edit someone else’s nice words about yourself? What if you were getting a medal, and were asked to edit the citation that would be read at the ceremony? I prefer ‘as minimally as possible and let’s get the hell out of here,’ and that’s what I did. Or didn’t, one might say. But in spite of my intense embarrassment from the process, Shawn, thanks. Awful kind of you.
R&RH will surprise the reader on several levels. One of Shawn’s last serious questions was the proper Amazon category. Contemporary fantasy? Metaphysical fiction? The truth is a mixture of the two. It contains strong texture and depth on the subject of music and how it is made, but also tells a profound self-discovery story. If you are sick of cloned books, and want something original, I doubt you’ve ever read anything quite like it.