In Praise of Beale
Someone asked me privately why I say that Vox Day is the best editor under whom it has been my privilege to work. I wrote a private answer, but I see no reason not to share it with the world. Mr. Day does not suffer from false modesty.
I do not mind elaborating.
The question is broader than just one author’s opinion about one editor. It is asking what editing is. That is a deeper question, too deep for this column, but I can plant a few signs pointing the direction where a fuller answer hides.
A good editor does not substitute his tastes, his politics, his pet peeves, or his sense of where your story should go for your own. A good editor is a like a beauty parlor that brings out the best looking version of the hair style you want framing your face, not someone else’s face.
That is, a good editor can tell the difference between the subjective and objective parts of the way one judges a story, and limit his comments to the more objective.
A good editor wants you to tell your story your way, but he wants you to tell it in your highest and best way, not your merely workmanlike way.
A good editor does make specific suggestions rather than vague ones, that is, he tells you which lines should be amended and how, rather than simply say “this needs to be tighter” or “this lacks punch”
Let me amend that. I should be more specific. A good editor knows when to be specific (to cure specific flaws) and when to be general (when he knows you know how to address a general flaw, and trusts you to find a specific solution). That requires good assessment both about the writing and about the writer’s professionalism.
A good editor reads the work and his comments show he understands what point each scene is trying to make, how characters develop, how description works or does not work.
A good editor keeps you informed of his decisions that might affect your book. Vox Day has contacted me in the last two weeks more often than Tor books has in two years.
A good editor finds good covers.
Note that this is no criticism of any of my editors at Tor. Even the best editor at Tor could not do this for me, because the Art Department was separate and autonomous. Not that I have any complaints about Irene Gallo’s taste in covers. I have been very pleased with the designs her department sets on my books.
However, disputes with the Art Department flatlined my deal with A.E. van Vogt’s widow to pen the sequel to his immortal WORLD OF NULL A, over an absurdly trivial question of how big the lettering should be of Van Vogt’s name versus mine. The tireless work of my agent, Jack Byrne, eventually ameliorated the adverse parties, and the project was shocked back to life, and found a heartbeat again.
To this day, my gratitude to Tor Books for allowing me to complete that project is without reservation. I thank them, and always shall. To write that book was a dream come true.
With no disrespect meant to any larger publishers, Castalia House simply by being smaller and more agile is able to give personal attention to one author that the impressive but overworked giant cannot. Vox Day consults me about the cover art, and solicits my opinion, and he is the only editor in my life ever to do that.
He also publicly praises my work. Now, one would think financial interest, if nothing else, in an author would make every publishing house trumpet the praises of their product.
Without naming names, I will simply say that this has not been my experience elsewhere, not even when a certain publishing house (to my financial embarrassment) gratuitously provoked my readers into an ongoing boycott, and indifferently made no gestures to ameliorate it. This publishing house has done me good service in the past, so I wish not to shame them, but I do wish to glorify the contrast with Castalia House.
A good editor has an eye for a good curtain line. Two of my best stories were made better by little touches Vox Day suggested for the end of the tale, both of which I enthusiastically accepted.
A good editor is not overbearing, but respects an author’s judgment. Vox Day has one blind spot I have so far discovered, a pet peeve of his where his judgment is skewed. Every editor has such blind spots. He made certain suggestions for a character in a story of mine which were so alien to the personality trait I was trying to convey that I could accept none of them: they would have made the character the mere opposite of my design.
My point here is that he did not insist, even though he wagered me that I was making a terrible error. But I had the last word. Some editors will not give the author the last word.
There was no row, no emotion, no sarcasm, no rolling eyes or clucking tongues. Merely two men with differing conclusions on a matter where reasonable men can differ.
A good editor makes good suggestions. That sounds basic, but it is amazing how rare that is, even for short stories submitted to magazines or anthologies.
The opening chapter of SWAN KNIGHT’S SON was originally a fist fight between kids at school. Vox Day suggested I re-read the opening of THE DARK IS RISING by Susan Cooper, and note her method of establishing a mood, and copy it. I did. The result was a strong and powerful opening, eerie and memorable, rather than a mundane and slow opening, a weak opening. This was sound advice.
And he was not the editor who once took every single bog-foresicken line of dialog of an ethnic character of mine written in his ungrammatical thick accent, and corrected all the malapropisms, spelling and grammar errors back to standardized Strunk and White English. It took hours to uncorrect the corrections.
And he was not the editor (nor was the great David Hartwell) who wagged his finger at me for using the word “Oriental” to describe a Tibetan, and said that word was only used to describe rugs.
My reply to this insolence was somewhat curt. Imagine a writer using the word ‘Black’ to describe Tuvok of Vulcan, but having an editor snidely insist on ‘African-American.’
My job as a writer should not be to waste time telling an editor wasting my time that his job as an editor does not include thought-policing my vocabulary.
Nor does an editor’s job include lobotomizing my rich, deep, and multifaceted English vocabulary (which I have so carefully for so many decades gathered like the treasures in a dragon hoard) down to the trivial level of idiot Newspeak, and politically correct arglebargle and bafflegab.
Vox Day has never pulled a stunt even remotely like this with me, thank heavens.
I suppose if I wracked my brains I could, as a proper lawyer should, come up with the opposing argument, and find some way Vox Day falls short as an editor.
But I trust my reputation for being an icy-hearted and inhumanly honest man will banish the suspicion that I engage in flattery when I say this about the opposition argument: Any shortcomings seen in Vox Day’s are shorter in coming in other editors with whom I have worked. I can list over twenty of them.
There are times when an editor is as unlikable as a dentist because of the nature of the job. But a fair man, once the drilling is done, can tell the difference between a white and shining smile he ends up with, and a mouth that still hurts because the wrong molar was pulled.
For the writer’s part, your job is to have dead nerve endings about such things as necessary cuts, tweaks, and changes. Your story is your work product, not your baby. The editor is polishing your marble statue, not sandpapering your cat. Don’t get emotionally involved.