The Editing Process (Photo Courtesy of my Editor, who posted this on Facebook.)

I knew it was coming, yet I didn’t know when. Last February, after I signed the contract with Firefly Southern Fiction for my third novel, a sins-of-the-father, southern family saga set in 1970’s and 1980’s Memphis, titled Mourning Dove, I was so ecstatic with the realization that it had found the perfect home, that I didn’t think to ask my literary agent when to expect the edits. The reason I didn’t think about the edits is because Mourning Dove’s release date is a long way off. It is set to release on June 15, 2018, and, because both of my other books were edited close to each publication, I put the editing consideration in the back of my mind.
Three weeks ago, I received an e-mail, and the good news is it had a southern voice. I know the south well, having grown up in Memphis, and will report that one of its charming peculiarities is that its language is delivered underhandedly. No abrupt, cold-splashing directives; southerners tend to cushion their own blows. I have to say it warmed my heart, when the e-mail I received from a complete stranger asked in that inimitable southern way if I was “about ready.”
Of course I was ready. I’d spent close to three years in the writing and fine tuning of Mourning Dove. It was an endeavor I held fast to with steel ambition through the publication of my two other books, and because the contract had been signed, I’d moved on to writing my fourth book, thinking I’d press pause down the line, whenever I head from Mourning Dove’s editor.
My editor, Eva Marie Everson, issued no further lead time. When I responded with a resounding yes, the first one hundred and twenty three pages arrived in my inbox within the half hour. I know now that this was a move of sheer brilliance on her part. Had I received the entire manuscript at once, it might have been overwhelming. As it was, the appearance of the first part of Mourning Dove was just too tempting not to look at immediately. Once I’d set up my end of the tracking changes, I couldn’t help but stop my life and jump right in. And I did stop my life, and by all appearances, so did Eva Marie Everson. While I worked into the night and through the following nine days, so, undoubtedly, did she. Eva worked on the second half of the book while I worked on the first.
It was nine days of joy-riding fun, and I look back now that it’s over and know it’s my editor who deserves the credit. Because she is not only an acclaimed editor, but an award-winning author of over thirty fiction and non-fiction books, Eva knows her way around bringing out the best of a manuscript in what could potentially be a grueling process. Because she is a writer, she knows how sensitive a writer can be with their labor of love, and had the wisdom to employ the fine art of encouragement in the margins.
She began by sending me a general paragraph of what to expect. She’d addressed my overuse of commas and adjusted my lapses into passive tense. But beyond these, she kept astoundingly respectful of all I’d written. She took no issue with the story line nor first person voice, and because she is a southerner, there was no awkwardness when she came across dialogue that included half-phrases such as, “Well, I have never!”
There was a continuous flow to the editing process that felt like a running dialogue between my editor and me. With both of us knowing the other was at her desk and instantaneously available, we shot e-mails back and forth when the moment required it, and therefore sped through the process in what I experienced as a highly personal manner. What made it feel personal to me was Eva’s intuitive grasp of who my characters were from the very beginning. Mourning Dove is a coming of age, family saga wherein the two main characters grow from adolescence to maturity in the opulent south. And because it is a glittering, opulent southern setting, and there is little homespun about it, my editor was keenly aware of the matriarch’s character in the story, which is heavily invested in manner and form in the interest of appearances. At one point in the novel, a sixteen year old Finley is taken out of public school and dropped into an elite boy’s private school, where he arrives wearing the wrong clothes. “Wait a minute,” my editor commented. “How could his mother, Posey, let this happen?” My editor was right. I went into the scene, added a few adjectives in the right place, and the matter was immediately clarified.
It’s the small things that can go over a writer’s head. A writer can become too close to their novel. But if an editor comes to the task from the vantage point of both editor and reader, continuity gaps are found then filled and essentially the entire manuscript is lifted up to its highest expression. But it doesn’t happen overnight. Though in Mourning Dove’s case, overnight was also a factor. During the nine days it took to complete the edits of Mourning Dove, I went to my desk first thing one morning and discovered my editor had sent an e-mail at 3:30 AM. Baffled, I disregarded the e-mail’s contents in favor of the more salient question, which is to say I wrote back and asked what she was doing up at that hour of the morning. “Your characters are keeping me up,” she returned, “I figured I might as well get up and keep working.”
Once I received the second half of the novel, the edits seemed to pick up steam. By this juncture, the story’s foundation had been laid, the characters introduced, and what transpired from here was essentially a deepening of this cause and effect story, all the way to its climax, followed by an epilogue.
“I’m a mess,” my editor wrote at the end, in the side bar. “I have to go fix my mascara.”
If comments such as these don’t endear you to an editor, then let me suggest that nothing will.
All told, the editing of Mourning Dove happened in three layers: first, the punctuation and grammar, then a handful of places that either needed slight filling out or a sentence of clarification. Last was the run through of breaking the manuscript into balanced chapters, which my editor did to absolute perfection, without my involvement.
What I took away from the experience of Mourning Dove is this: If an author is graced with the attention of an editor of the caliber that I was, they’d be doing very well to keep and study the initial mark up. It is there an author will learn of their weaknesses and short-comings, and in so doing, the author is left with a road map of how to improve their craft and continue to grow as a writer.

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One thought on “The Editing Process (Photo Courtesy of my Editor, who posted this on Facebook.)

  1. Claire, you are so fortunate to have a dedicated editor who “gets” your work and helps you improve your story. I’ve read articles about nightmare agents and editors who force authors to rework their manuscripts until the story is barely recognizable and the work is no longer their own. Best to you as you continue this endeavor.

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