Tag Archives: fiction editor

Current read: _Union Now with Britain_, Clarence Streit, 1941

One way to study history is through the writings of the times, including those writings that faded quickly from public notice. An old used bookstore is a wonderful source for these, and I found this one at an antique mall. I gather it’s at least a bit rare.

Streit was an interesting guy. From Montana, he had a passion for democracy as a concept. Might sound a little odd, since until recently the US hasn’t exactly had a large contingent of open fascists, but it’ll begin to make sense later in this post. After serving in WWI and observing the way the League of Nations floundered (usually attributed to us snubbing it), he developed strong feelings about the forward progress of human government. The start of World War II brought those views into urgent focus, and Streit wrote this book in an effort to awaken his countrypeople to a Federal Union of the primarily Anglophone countries: the US, UK, Canada, Union of South Africa, Australia, New Zealand.

Context is everything, and let’s establish it for this book. It was early 1941. Germany had absorbed Austria and half of Czechoslovakia (the remaining half becoming a puppet state). It had conquered Poland, Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands, Belgium, and France (puppeting part of it, occupying the rest outright). Of all those, Norway had taken longest. The USSR and Nazi Germany seemed allied, or at least friendly. Nazi warplanes were bombing the UK on a regular basis, and Kriegsmarine submarines threatened to strangle British connections to the Empire’s resources. Italian forces contended with a British Imperial force in Libya. The US was not at war, but had become something of a non-belligerent ally. Japan occupied a substantial chunk of China and was going to have to find petroleum somewhere, or else.

Dark times indeed.

Streit felt he had the solution, which was to escalate the US system up one level. Just as the thirteen original US states had more or less put aside their plentiful quarrels to form a Federal government, Streit felt that a Federal Union of mankind could begin by associating the Anglophone countries as member “states” of a greater whole. If the Germans took Britain and got the Royal Navy, he reasoned, the danger to the rest of the free world would move from severe to mortal. But if all these countries united with the pledge of never quitting until all were free and at peace, Hitler would either have to exit the war or face the mobilizing industrial might of the United States. Membership could then be offered to other non-Anglophone states, including those occupied by the Nazis, with the pledge of “we won’t quit until you’re free.”

Having advocated this solution for years well before the war broke out in Europe, Streit had thought through most of the issues and ramifications. Some he more or less glossed over as “to be dealt with later: A majority of the population governed by these states, perhaps, were not masters in their own houses; he did not propose to end apartheid and the British Raj immediately, and the colonialist chauvinism of the times is present in his outlook. He acknowledges that black Americans were not even nearly on an equal basis with whites, but doesn’t address changing that situation. He felt it quite possible that Hitler would back down rather than face such a Union (not an alliance, which Streit deprecated as temporary and fragile) alone. Japan’s intent was not known at the time, but I think he doubted Japan would square off with a united UK, US, Australia, and New Zealand. And if it came to blows, the Union would combine the best of all its sciences, locations, and populations to create a military juggernaut Japan could never overcome.

Was it viable? Perhaps, if one could get people to put aside all their comparatively minor conflicts and some major ones. With Britain standing to benefit most immediately from Union, I think Streit figured that a union with Britain looked attractive to our friendly former colonial overlords, and that the rest of the Empire would follow. He might have been right. In France’s darkest hour, Churchill offered them a political union, but the French rejected it. Churchill was still Prime Minister. Might he have advocated this, in order to assure the survival of the United Kingdom?

That telegraphs the basis of my own doubt: my cynicism about people’s willingness to put aside relatively small matters for the greater good. Every time I go to the grocery store and see a maskhole wearing it below his or her nose, or crowding me in the checkout line, I am reminded just how many people simply do not care about others. I felt that way before the pandemic and I feel more so now. Are some peoples better about it than the ones among whom I must buy food? Perhaps; perhaps not so much. I resist the tendency to imagine that people really differ at heart. Take former Yugoslavia, where not only have the former member peoples broken the country into a half dozen pieces–inflicting enormous damage and death upon each other before the matters became settled–but none of the underlying resentments and angers are gone. In fact, all have obtained new chapters of resentment and grudge. And all could join in shouting me down about it, that I misunderstand how their own people’s grudges are all legitimate and those of all the others so much noise, that I know nothing of their region and the Horrible Things Done Centuries Ago that remain unavenged. Maybe I don’t, but I do know they weren’t killing each other under Tito, and when he left, killing started. I think less killing tends to be a good thing. Prove me wrong.

The most essential key to understanding Streit’s perspective is remembering what had not happened when he wrote the book.

  • Japan had not attacked Pearl Harbor, the Philippines, or Singapore.
  • Neither the Soviet Union nor the United States were at war.
  • The public had not the faintest idea of the potential in nuclear weapons.
  • No nation had delivered the Nazi military any meaningful defeat.

A year after its publication, three of four of those ceased to be true. That’s how fast things were moving. No wonder Streit felt such urgency.

With outdated books, hindsight is an easy temptation; we have touched on some of it. Streit’s adoration of the US system as the perfect fundamental basis for Federal Union reads chauvinistic. Dismissing nearly 400 million Indians as unready to govern themselves was not calculated to please them, and glossed over the legitimate grievances of an aggregation of peoples who had done just fine until they became a “crown jewel” in someone else’s empire. We know that the war situation was about to change, and that Britain would survive the Blitz, but Streit did not. If one seeks to pick him apart, he’s no longer around to defend his proposal; he passed in 1986.

In any case, it’s worth the read not only for Streit’s take on the political and geopolitical study of it all, but for the view it provides of the way the world looked through one Montana son’s eyes in early 1941.

If you’re such a great editor, why don’t you write your own books?

We get this one a lot. There are many possible answers, and for some, multiple answers might apply.

  • The editor doesn’t want to. It can be as simple as that.
  • The editor realizes that there is more money in editing than in writing.
  • The editor knows that marketing is the difference between success and failure, and doesn’t like marketing. Or doesn’t mind it, but can’t or won’t do it well.
  • The editor has done so, either under a pen name or perhaps an unpublished work.
  • The editor takes more satisfaction in helping and guiding and teaching other people than in creating his or her own projects.
  • The editor doesn’t want the public engagement that could come with a reasonably successful book, at least not for the pittance s/he would likely earn from it.
  • The editor never got comfortable with the traditional publishing model (writer begs and begs, house condescends to accept the bulk of the revenue).
  • The editor isn’t neurotic enough to be a writer. (Okay, I’m sort of kidding. Sort of.)
  • Editing and writing require different skill sets and not everyone has both.
  • The editor hasn’t got anything original to share.
  • The editor is too busy helping others to focus on his/her own book.
  • A similar situation exists in many disciplines. Not everyone who can refinish furniture can build it. Not everyone who can repair a car can design and build a car.

Some of those apply to me to varying degrees. I’d bet some apply to most editors.

field trip

In school, did you like field trips? I always did. I’d do anything to get the hell out of the classroom.

Today the blog is going on a field trip to Kit ‘N Kabookle, the online home of fellow traveler/colleague Mary DeSantis. She has been posting visiting editorial tips for some months now, one per week, and I’m up to bat.

For my topic, I decided to talk about choosing an editing mode beginning from the writer’s viewpoint: in plain English, what exactly is a given writer seeking from an editing professional? “I need an edit” is very inspecific. It’s like saying “I need a car repair” without talking about what’s wrong.

I always think it’s nice to know the name of what one wants, myself.

Mary’s site has plentiful information resources. She was pleasant and professional in arranging and scheduling this, and I thank her for her kind e-hospitality.

Selling books on Alibris

The basic problem here is TMB.  Anyone who has been here knows that I basically live and work in a library, and though I’m not buying piles of books lately, it’s out of hand.  Imagine 13 ‘stacks,’ each six rows high, 4′ wide.  The fact is that if I want, this is enough to last me a lifetime.  If I reread them all, by the time I got back to the beginning, I would have forgotten what the first one was about.  And the older I get, the easier that becomes…

It’s bad enough that I sometimes buy a second copy of a book that looks good, forgetting that I already have a copy.  This is just stupid (worse yet, it is foolishly wasteful), and it’s time it stopped.  So I’m going to try unloading some.

The process is both easy and hard.  The basic shipping charge will mostly cover the cost of the mailer and postage for media mail, but not all of it.  The company you list with, of course, collects some profit as well.  So the first question is not ‘what are other people charging’, but ‘what must I charge for this to be worth the bother?’ After a visit to the P.O. with a couple of books, and some negotiating with my local UPS store on mailers, the basic answer to that question is:  about $1 for a small paperback, $2 for a larger trade paperback, and $3 for a hardback, combined with the $4 shipping allowance, is the ‘worth bothering’ point.  However, my books tend to be in great condition, me being so obsessive about that, so that should help.

I picked Alibris over Amazon and Abebooks because a) it seemed easier to work with than Abe, and b) I got to keep more of my money than Amazon.  Part of it also was some desire to separate my selling presence from my authorial presence at Amazon, and part was evidence that Amazon cleverly undercuts its secondary-market sellers.  Many is the time I’ve seen Amazon price books to just where the people who get free shipping would save a nickel buying from them over the poor sloggers selling the book for $0.01, and I find that to be taking unfair advantage of their position.  Alibris isn’t going to do that.

So, let’s see how it goes.  First I have to cover the $20 annual fee, which I suspect won’t be hard.  I put out five books just to learn the interface and see what sort of business I got, get through the process, then we’ll consider going forward after the first week.

Notes from the aliens’ survey, 4/13/2012

The sleek  “Tlai survey frigate ran under full stealth in Earth’s orbit.  It had arrived there two days prior, on a mission from Homeworld to investigate alien intelligences, civilizations and potential friends–or threats.  Ethnographer ‘Plaf, senior researcher, had directed the pilot to orbit for two full days while his staff gathered data.  It was the “Tlai way to be sincere, thorough, and intensely curious.  ‘Plaf had spent much of its day absorbing a great many fascinating departmental reports in preparation for the initial sharing of thoughts.

‘Plaf opened the meeting, then bade its staff present early research data in each’s specialty field.  Linguistics presented the shocking and dismaying report that Earth’s sentient species communicated in thousands of languages, which would take long enough to catalogue–far longer to understand, but they could decipher most of what was said or written in the nine or ten most widely spoken.  Fair progress.  Xenobiology had identified one sentient and several semi-sentient species, each with several racial variants.  Evidently racial variants weighed heavily on the minds of ‘Umaniti, as one widely-spoken language collectively called the sentient species.

“Very good, Xenobiologist li’Wal,” said ‘Plaf.  “Now let us examine a simple situation under close magnification, and see where the data lead us.  What issue do you feel would profit us to study?”

Li’Wal worked its keyboard.  Pictures popped onto the screen.  “Ethnographer, fellow researchers, here are two ‘Umaniti at the center of a large controversy on Landmass D.  One, the one on the left with the lighter flesh, is in the middle of their normal lifespan.  Unlike us, but like some other species, this species has genders:  one which bears young and one which seeds them; both are necessary for procreation, and in this case, both are of the seeding gender.  The one on the right with darker flesh is a youth.  There seems no doubt that the lighter-fleshed one slew the youth with a kinetic energy launcher.”

“Why would he slay a youth? Is this their norm?” asked Military Scientist Khaul.

“It is frowned upon everywhere, and prohibited in most places on the planet,” answered Judician ‘Faur.  “There is great controversy on Landmass D whether the violence was allowable.”

“Why would they consider it allowable?” asked ‘Plaf.

“It’s odd, Ethnographer,” said ‘Faur.  “There is no consensus.  A discredited fringe, all naturally of light flesh, evidently believes that persons of light flesh should justly do random violence to persons of dark flesh.  The majority of all flesh tones reject this view.  The fringe at the other end of the spectrum sees this as yet another act of war based on flesh tone, lighter versus darker, and is outraged that the killer will likely face no punishment.”

“Is it the reverse on Landmass B, where the majority are of dark flesh? Do those of lighter flesh feel the same where they are in the minority?”

“It seems so, but the historical circumstances differ,” offered Historian Xul. “South of the immense central desert on Landmass B, ‘Umaniti of dark flesh were once the sole residents.  Those of lighter flesh, mainly from Landmass A, arrived and subjugated Landmass B, carrying off many in forced labor.  No one on any of these landmasses has forgotten this captivity with the passage of time, though the practice is nearly extinct and has been for at least a hundred revolutions of the planet.  I have learned that those of dark flesh on Landmass D descend mainly from these captives.  They remain somewhat marginalized, and many resent this greatly, but not all.  A ‘Umaniti of dark flesh actually leads the most populous nation on Landmass D, though in reality he seems in between flesh tones.  However, he identifies himself as dark-fleshed, and most ‘Umaniti concur.”

Ethnographer ‘Plaf looked thoughtfully at the images.  “It makes one wonder why this leader does not correct the conditions.  Why is that, in your view, Politician Lr’uff?”

“His ‘Umaniti chose him as leader, Ethnographer, through a process that makes zero sense to me.  He has limited power.  He and his young-bearer evidently said what the population desired most to hear, in order to attain this office.  As nearly as I can see, his function is to accept credit for all that goes well, and blame for all that goes wrong.  Neither seems justified, but that is my read of their sentiment studying his predecessors.  Some have led during great scandal, some have barely bothered to do the job.  Some have spent more time in the procreational act with the young-bearing gender, one recently to great public embarrassment, especially for his mate.  Speaking of which, young-bearers are almost globally disadvantaged and deprived of power; in some factions they must cover their entire forms in sacks and have few privileges save to bear young upon command and do menial tasks.  A few of the leaders in Landmass D’s history seem to have been noble according to our values, which somewhat intersect with those of ‘Umaniti.   Most seem to have sought power primarily because ‘Umaniti value power over other ‘Umaniti.”

“Very well.  Back on the subject. Faur, please summarize the contending views regarding this slaying, and we shall see what they suggest to us.”

“Certainly, Ethnographer.  In the region where the event occurred, and in some other regions, the law allows anyone to slay another if he or she feels in fear of loss of life.  Many feel that this instance pushes the issue of slaying to an ethical breaking point accented by flesh tone, that the youth was killed simply for being in an area inhabited by light-fleshed ‘Umaniti, and his killer will now escape penalty for a death that did not need to be.  It is on nearly everyone’s speech apparatus in Landmass D, and dominates all media.  One source even made a breathless report that the killer, who is confined by the authorities awaiting the judicial process, spent money at the confinement center’s store.”

“How much did he spend?” asked ‘Plaf, bemused.  “Enough to purchase what, for example?”

“About enough to fully fuel two common fossil-fueled passenger vehicles, which would allow each to operate for 1/4 of a planetary rotation before running out.  An amount that would buy a high-quality meal for two ‘Umaniti at a dining establishment.”

“Why did this matter to anyone? Who imagined it would?” snorted ‘Plaf.  “Does not Landmass D have any other concerns of greater import than how much a confinee spent on what one assumes were petty comforts? Has Landmass D remedied all other social ills?”

“Far from it,” responded Lr’uff.  “This nation is deeply fragmented with great political hatred.  It has borrowed excessively.  Every sector of wealth believes that every other sector should pay to solve the problem, in one way or another.  It is involved in wars against two…abstract nouns.”

‘Plaf turned to Linguist Glrol.  “How would one wage war upon an abstract noun, Linguist?”

“My colleague is speaking semi-literally, but ‘Umaniti seem to take the matter almost literally.  They are at war with ‘controlled substances’–anyone associated with these substances, save legalized businesses that mass-produce the substances–and with ‘terror,’ by which they mean selected groups who launch terror attacks.  Li’wal may correct me if I err, but it seems to me that ‘Umaniti wage war against abstract nouns by means of faction-sanctioned terror attacks, which is ironic when we consider the hypocrisy.  One’s own faction’s terror attacks are a war against terror, thus not truly terror attacks.  Landmass D has no monopoly on this attitude–it seems nearly universal.  I defer to ‘Qorc’s greater consideration of that matter.”

“Philosopher ‘Qorc.  How much of ‘Umaniti’s logic is this self-serving and situational?” asked ‘Plaf.

“Much of it, Ethnographer, but by no means all.  Stripped of fancy paint and decoration, the dominant logic of ‘Umaniti seems to be that what helps one’s own faction is acceptable, and what thwarts one’s own faction is anathema.  There is limited evidence that any of this species’ leaders believe their philosophies, to go by their actions.  Theologies that ban all slaying, then condone slaying or invent excuses for it when they deem it advantageous.  A pro-young-bearer philosophy, espousing greater freedom for young-bearers, casts out any young-bearer who exercises freedom in a way this philosophy dislikes.  Several theologies that promote love, peace and tolerance fly into rages when two young-bearers, or two seed-bearers, mime the procreational act for physical or emotional pleasure–thus showing no love, peace or tolerance.”

Ethnographer ‘Plaf shut the display off.  “Our research now has valid questions to explore.  Doubtless more will arise, but let us keep our sensory apparati trained on them with greater interest:

1) How will we ever treat with ‘Umaniti, if their only ethic is to win for their faction, and an act has one value if done by them, and another if done unto them? Lr’uff’s data indicate that they jettison agreements as soon as they see advantage in doing so, and have done so since urbanization.  Can there be agreements with ‘Umaniti, as we understand them?

2) While ‘Umaniti may technically be sentient, are they of rather low-grade sentience next to other species we have discovered? Is this obsession with polarizing events, to the detriment of issues with farther-reaching consequences, a universal trait, or not? What of their selective ethics and hypocrisies?  They are intelligent enough to take seriously, but are they intelligent enough to let loose on the galaxy? Should we interdict them from interplanetary travel while we have the power to do so, as we were prepared to do yesterday when a lunatic faction launched a rocket that happily fell apart before we had to face a hasty decision?

3) I would like to know how this species has refrained from self-extinction.  Khaul’s reports indicate that various ‘Umaniti factions stockpile enough destructive radiological, biological and chemical weaponry to reduce ‘Umaniti to an even more primitive state than it exists in now.  If this sense of priorities proves typical, then why has not some emotional maniac begun a chain of destruction and reprisal that would ruin this world for thousands of revolutions around the star?”

4) My reading of your reports indicates that ‘Umaniti are obsessed with procreational acts, roles and even the sight of an uncovered ‘Umaniti form, to which we have alluded earlier.  Why? Why can they just not perform their acts as they like, in whatever harmless form, without obsessing about how anyone else does so? Or can they, and we simply have not yet discerned it?

We know little.  We have vast ignorance to repair.  We can as yet conclude nothing, merely suppose.  Before we recommend ‘Umaniti be confined to its world by armed force, let us obtain firmer bases in knowledge.”

The department heads  arose, made gestures of respect and returned to their studies.

Commentary on “42 Dos and Don’ts from a Dick”, and a dirty little secret

First comes the original e-mail, a rejection letter sent to some 900+ applicants who didn’t get an online writing gig.  Read it within this Gawker article impaling it as “42 dos and don’ts from a dick.”  You can then read the original author’s logic and rebuttal at Salon.

When I look at the anger Shea’s long list of advice has generated, my thoughts include:

  • Wow.  No good deed does go unpunished.
  • These people are not cut out to be writers at all.  They cannot take constructive criticism.  I wouldn’t have hired them either.
  • This is a perfect manifestation of the “I’m So Awesome” generation that got a trophy just for deigning to show up.
  • What part of ‘follow the directions’ is so complicated?

I find this all very revelatory.  It’s helpful to me, because there are a couple of errors mentioned that I can easily see myself making, and would rather not make them.  (Thanks, Shea!)  What it reveals to me is that I haven’t been wrong about the Amazing Ego Based Upon Few Results mentality so common today.  Anything that sounds like negative feedback:  “That’s disrespecting me!”  Respect is earned, sorry.  Advice offered:  “How arrogant to think you know better than me!”  Uh, he does; he’s in a position to hire, and you are not.

Think on it.  They would rather have been ignored than receive help.  They would rather flounder in ignorance and mediocrity than take a bruise, suck it up and grow.  Anything less than “You’re so awesome!” is a boot in the groin.

How did we wind up raising young adults this way? Is this a young adult thing, or a writer thing, or a young adult writer thing? Feel free to educate me.  Because when I get a list of 42 things I might be doing wrong, I want to bless the sender.  That’s 42 things I should never do wrong again.

I promised you a dirty little secret, and you shall have it.  Truth:  I didn’t succeed as a ‘lancer because of busting my butt, nor by being a brilliant writer. That isn’t self-deprecation; I’m not saying I didn’t work hard, nor that I’m untalented.  I succeeded at freelancing because most of my competition took a look at its path ahead, sowed as many mines as possible in its path, concealed them carefully, went away for a while to forget where they were, then just waltzed on through the self-made minefield.  Over, and over, and over.  Most of my competition suicided on the way to the finish line.

I didn’t have to beat them.  They beat themselves.

Writing life: being the bottleneck

When books get down to crunch time with a print deadline, it all shifts.  I’m proofreading on an upcoming book, essentially the final set of eyes.  This is something I am very capable at.  If I may be permitted to preen just a bit, the author said:  “OK, let’s get it over with: your proofreading work is stunning. Best I’ve ever seen.  No qualifiers.”  That felt kind of nice.

What it meant, in this case, was that a key (penultimate) chapter was on the way, after much health-hammering and sleep-starved labor by the author and editor, and as soon as it hit my inbox, I was on the clock.  Now it’s all waiting on me.  I was actually delighted by this, because:

  • There had been an excellent chance it would happen in the middle of the night.  And if that phone call came at 4 AM, I’d have to get up, put on coffee and get to work.  Instead, it came at 4:18 PM.
  • It was a chance to show off.  On previous chapters, I’d had the luxury of multiple reads, wording suggestions, recasting, and relaxation.  It was easy.  This was not easy; I was on the clock.

In writing, as in any profession in which one takes pride, there are those moments:  the moments where one is doing something most people just cannot do.  They are what make most work worthwhile.  For a lumber grader, it might be spotting the exact cuttings of shop lumber to reach a given grade, watching the inspector lay a skeptical tape measure on the board, and find that your eye from ten feet away was as good as if you’d had ten minutes to lay out sample templates of perfect dimension.  In homemaking, it might be doing seven things at once and doing them all well.  It is when one feels uniquely capable, achievement mixed with refined talent and skill.  ‘And that’s why not everyone can do what I do’ moments are gratifying.

Got the chapter in at 7:32 PM.  Turnaround:  three hours, fourteen minutes.  Bottleneck? Not for long.

A great book you have not read: Transit Point Moscow

Some years back, I happened upon Transit Point Moscow in a used bookstore.  Synopsis:  an American, on the spur of the moment and with great impulsive idiocy, agrees to try and smuggle heroin through Soviet-era Moscow–and it doesn’t go well.  I guess that’s in the category of “young, dumbass stunts we pull that cost us ten years of our lives.”

Why it’s great:  the writing style is clear, often funny, and skillfully descriptive of the transition from arrest to imprisonment.  The book also offers a lot of cues to Russian culture.  I wouldn’t describe Amster and his cronies as sympathetic characters, but there’s a sense of honesty in that.  One does pose the question of how much of Amster’s story we believe.  I’m more inclined to believe someone who paints himself as a complete ass than as a dashing hero, and there isn’t much glory in Amster’s self-portrait.  The book is better for it.

What got me thinking about it was a more recent read, Alexander Dolgun’s Story.  I got turned on to this in a strange way, for it was on the guest room nightstand at some friends’ home.  I didn’t read it, just glanced at it, but noted the title and ordered a copy.  Dolgun was in the Gulag in the late forties and early fifties, when life was a lot harder there.  Even accounting for the temporal separation (Amster did his Gulagging over a generation later), there was enough in common between the two accounts for me to recognize terms, prison subcultures and practices.

You can learn things about a country’s mentality from its prison system.  For example, from the sheer magnitude of ours, one begins to suspect that our national mentality is that we should all be incarcerated in it. From its deep division between country club pokies for those who steal billions, and PMITA hard time for people who grow dope, one suspects that we consider having a good time (or relieving pain) without buying the drug from a corporation a horrific crime, but that if you steal a few bill, hey, that’s how we roll, shouldn’t have gotten caught.   I still haven’t figured out what the Gulag says about Russia’s mentality, honestly.

Greek phrases I wanted Berlitz to provide me

If you are familiar with the Berlitz language books, they will get you through a trip rather conveniently.  I especially like the helpful phrases.  I don’t speak Greek, except for about 25 really poorly pronounced words and phrases, but I can think of a lot of English phrases I would have liked to render in Greek:

  • I promise I am not here to start a riot, Officer.
  • I assume this is the same city street plan as the time of Pericles.
  • There is no way I can eat all that.
  • I don’t know what the spicy cheese dip is called in Greek, but it’s the only food I ever need again.
  • Right now I would commit low crimes for a toilet that allows you to flush the paper.
  • It looks like, long term, you lost the Persian War.  Look at all these barbarians on the Acropolis!
  • Never again will I refuse to believe that a tour bus can get through any space.  I bet he could drive this thing through a GI tract without messing up the paint job.
  • Please show me to the only ten square feet of Greece that are as flat as Saskatchewan.
  • What is the strike about? Oh, wait, I forgot.  It’s Monday.  My bad.
  • So when are you going to get a good Viking metal band at Epidauros?
  • Okay, I give up.  Is it ‘Patra,’ ‘Patrai,’ or ‘Patras?’ Just someone please clear this up?
  • No offense–this Corinth Canal is hella cool to look at, but that’s about all it’s good for.
  • I have no idea how even a goat can find anything to graze on out here.  I have half of the country’s non-olive vegetation caught in my socks!
  • How many pottery traps does this bus stop at?
  • With all these steps and slopes to climb, how does anyone in this country achieve fatness?
  • What do you call a Greek female banker who loses her composure? A drachma queen, ar ar.
  • Please don’t make me drink ouzo.  Do you have any Nyquil instead?

Finding faults: the fine art of proofreading

My current effort is the final proofreading of a book soon to be published.  This sort of work is no joke, because final proofreading means just that:  the last set of eyes.  If I miss it, it gets printed, and every time I read it, I will have to live with the fact that I missed it.  All I expect is perfection, and I consider full perfection a reasonable expectation of myself, attainable or not.  In writing and editing, that’s elusive and imaginary, but in proofreading, it is simple:  you either saw it and noted it for correction, or you have failed.

I haven’t been given leave to say anything about the book itself, so I cannot do so here, though when it goes gold I will trumpet it, as I am proud to be associated with it on many levels.  Its author is a social historian whose work I admire (and am honored to be asked to nitpick); it covers a topic we mostly would rather not address, but should and must; best of all, it’s in sufficiently good shape it can be proofread.

That works this way.  A work may need heavy editing/rewriting, in which case it is frankly incomplete or incompetently written.  A number of people make good livings doing this, and honest livings, bringing to fruition the autobiography or musings of an otherwise interesting person who cannot write to professional standards.  Moderate to light editing will mean rather less of the above, and intellectual honesty compels my confession that my own ‘finished’ works could benefit from moderate editing.  You get so grooved into your habits that you fail to see where they bother the reader.  “But that’s my style” is a bad rejoinder.  If your style makes the reader unhappy, your style needs adjustment, because without the reader you are soliloquizing.

On the above two groupings, proofreading is not really feasible, as they will change too much.  You can only proofread something that is ready to go to print–before that, it’s wasted energy.  If it needs editing, it’s not ready for proofreading.  This book, with which I am helping, is fully ready for proofreading.  I’m on an Easter egg hunt for odd commas, misspelled names, very rare run-on sentences, mislaid accents on foreign names, loose spaces, italic and case issues, and anything else I encounter that I imagine the author does not want printed as is.

And goddamn it, I am going to find them all.  The layperson might imagine that the author would be shocked, appalled and dismayed that I do.  The professional understands that this is precisely what the author desires.  I change nothing; I merely call attention.  I have no investment in how the author and editors react to what I highlight, for their work is to act upon my work.  They’re capable, seasoned hands.  Once I have noted and pinpointed the issue, action is on them.  They may decide to ignore what I say.  They may tell me to not bother with a given type of issue going forward.  They may make changes.  And I don’t care.

How can I not care? That’s the easiest part, which is that I know my role.  My role is to spot and note, and occasionally to suggest, or explain my reasoning.  Nothing more.  Once one has read a manuscript enough times, and edited it enough times, it becomes the norm to one’s eyes.  Errors that have always been there are no longer seen.  You can’t proof your own stuff.  I am, with no false modesty, the best proofreader I have ever met, and I cannot proof my own stuff.  The value a final proofreader can bring is a combination of fresh eyes and zero emotional investment.  The author has worked on this book for five years, and gods only know how much time his editors have put in.  Quite a bit, to go by the state of the finished product, which has me looking for the fussiest and minutest details.  I can suggest how they might handle an issue, but they know what they meant it to say (or look like).  Once I call it to their attention, it will be handled as they see fit.  I did what was asked of me, and avoided meddling in what was not asked.

It’s not that I don’t care about the end result.  I care about it almost savagely.  I care enough about it that if you send me a chapter in which I think I didn’t find enough problems, I’ll suspect that I lost focus, and do it all over again until I am satisfied I have found all that exists.  If I find nothing, I will do it again.  If I go through it thrice and find zero, then I finally believe my work is done.  Believe you me, I care.  I just know where my job begins and ends, and trust my teammates to take the handoff and hit the hole for paydirt.