Monday, October 22, 2012


I went back to Cincinnati this past weekend to help my Uncle Wayne sort through Lois's things. The experience was cathartic rather than raw. I spent most of it on the couch, sorting jewelry while Wayne talked about his memories and feelings, and there was the unspoken acceptance of any moment either of us wanted to cry. There was no sobbing, though. Mostly, our talk was of fondness and missing her. And the one thing that struck us both was how most Lois was associated with joy. I'd never seen her cry, and my uncle had seen it less than a handful of times. She never had a harsh word for me. She never raised her voice in anger. She'd argued with Wayne maybe three times in their whole marriage. Was it because she was repressed? Quite the opposite. She just didn't hold onto grudges. She encouraged Wayne to communicate with his estranged sister. She kept in touch with friends who had drifted away from her. She never stopped trying to mend strained relationships around her. Is it any wonder talking to her was a joy?

Sitting in Lois's rocking chair beside her urn and pictures, I fingered the things she had left behind. A blue folding fan, dark chocolate M&Ms, scribbled notes on torn paper. Close to her left hand was the Bible with her initials. Jane Austen in leather sat just behind her head. Within easy reach were several dozen books of humor, well-worn.  

I spent most of the time threading through her jewelry chest. In a way, this was one of the ways to be closest to Lois. She never felt dressed without jewelry, and had such eclectic taste that the full fiber of her kookiness came through best with them. The bright blue TARDIS necklace. Her wacky cowboy cactus earrings. I talked to Wayne about the significance of some of the pieces. She had kept a few rusty tools at the bottom of her jewelry chest, precious to her: these had belonged to her father, who died when she was a baby. I found an unexpected expression of love: she had kept every little childish ring or bauble I had ever given her, like a slender little turquoise ring I had brought back from New Mexico. It had probably been too small for even her slender fingers, but she kept it, polished, in her case. One ring with its tiny sailing ship unlocked a memory from my childhood: Lois used to come home to eat lunch while grandma was watching me, and I remember watching her pick up a coffee cup with that ring on her hand. I couldn't have been more than six. I found an amethyst necklace she'd worn so often that it looked forlorn and out of place in a box.

Tucked into one of the corners was a series of photographs and the strap to her old camera case, full of Dr. Who pins. Pictures of me as a gangly youth, pictures of family dogs, or children she'd watched in the nursery. Pictures of flowers, or butterflies. Beach pictures with her sister. My personal prize: an image of Lois in her full Doctor Six getup, complete with spats. Wayne let me keep that one.

We found funny things, like the enormous Dr. Who scarf she'd knitted and huge Earth globe earrings. Mice riding on witches' brooms--how did those huge things fit on her earlobes? A more emotional find was a jewelry box, which played Für Elise, and which she'd used to put me to sleep. It had been the reason I wanted to play piano. We also looked at her teacups, the ones we had displayed at her funeral, and I told Wayne that she had let me drink from them as a child, now and then. I had felt like a princess.

Once all was done and packed into the van, Wayne mused that we barely touched the surface of all the things Lois had collected. He admitted she was a bit of a hoarder, but all things have their blessings. Lois's stuff will eventually rot, but for me and for the rest of the family, those things are all tiny little reminders of Lois's presence. They have given me an avenue by which I can describe her to you. I can understand, now, why some religious keep icons. That physical presence is something we soon miss from our departed loved ones. And if a piece of wire or stone is enough to bring back a forgotten moment, then it truly is a relic of worth.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

The Zen of Editing

The Subversive Copy Editor, by Carol Fisher Saller, is a book after my own heart--and why wouldn't it be? It's a book on the copyediting life, with some excellent advice and clever analogies. Nice and concise--what else would you expect from a copyeditor? A lot of it will be familiar to any editor, from acquisitions to DEs, with the one problem of being so familiar as to harbor a few truisms and skim-the-obvious moments. I hope every writer purchases a copy of this book: it humanizes editors and gives a clearer idea of what goes on in the publishing process.

My favorite part (I've already used it a half dozen times):
"You know what it's like to come back to a hotel room in the afternoon and find that housekeeping has been there and everything is all fresh and put to rights? That's how a copy editor would like you to feel when you see the editing. If you can view extra-duty editing as the mint on the pillow, all the better. What we don't want is for you to feel insulted that we saw the need for cleaning."
Editors are the cleaning staff. It's so very true. How much I wish authors would stop and think about that before sending an abusive letter. We don't grade your papers; you didn't get an F. You can choose to keep or remove every edit you get, especially if the editor is freelance. Saller notes that editors, despite their admittedly compulsive natures, are very much aware of the collaborative nature of editing, and do their best to work with author objections.

Just be aware: it's impossible for an editor to look at a document and pronounce it "perfect." Some would even try to edit Hemingway's six-word story. Fair warning!

Back to the book: Saller covers editing business more than editing practice (no proofreading marks here!) She writes wittily about office politics, the juggling act of acquisitions, substantive, managing, copy, proofers, indexers, typesetters, in-house and freelancers...the whole lot. There's even a whole section just for writers, detailing the publishing process. Conflict management gets a nice chunk, as well as time management and organization (like chocolate, or tea--never enough).

What I like best about Saller's work, though, is her obvious delight about the copyediting job, which even she admits is full of over-educated, underpaid folks who aren't very appreciated in the publishing business. She offers cheery advice on how to find copyediting work, either in-house or freelance, brushing a layer of zen over all headaches. She made me smile, and I went back to my own editing with gusto.

Onward, ye semi-colons!