Alistair MacLeod Got It Right

The Globe and Mail obituary for the Rankin Family’s Raylene Rankin on October 10 began,

Raylene Rankin and Susan Crowe disagreed about a scene in Alistair MacLeod’s novel No Great Mischief. There is no way that the story’s narrator would take his brother all the way back to Cape Breton to die, argued Crowe.
“[Raylene] looked me in the eye and said, “You’re not from Cape Breton,” said Crowe of her friend and musical collaborator. . . .

I’m not from Cape Breton, but in editing the book I never questioned Alistair’s decision to provide that particular powerful ending. Sometimes editors are smart to assume that authors know what they are doing.

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Editing Tips from Douglas Gibson (#26)

In this recurring feature, we’re sharing tips for editors from the desk of Douglas Gibson. Good for those starting out or old hands who need a reminder, these guidelines form an engaging guide for sharp-eyed wordsmiths.

Tip #26

I have written earlier about the importance of keeping all of the entries in a list consistent. All very obvious, you may say.

How, then, can we account for the giant signs outside Indigo stores that say: “Books” (That’s good, and it’s nice that they lead off their list of items for sale with the printed word. ) “Gifts” (Again, a sensible widening of the items available.)  Then, finally . . . “Kids” (What is this? Either baby goats are now on sale, or junior human beings, or the list of items has just taken a head-spinning turn to express the idea that, um, you know, things suitable for children are available at Indigo.)

“Books. Gifts. Kids.” Nice work.

Editing Tips from Douglas Gibson (#25)

In this recurring feature, we’re sharing tips for editors from the desk of Douglas Gibson. Good for those starting out or old hands who need a reminder, these guidelines form an engaging guide for sharp-eyed wordsmiths.

Tip #25
A recent article in The Atlantic magazine discusses the pros and cons of unscripted dialogue in movies. The main advantage, the writer argues, is that the spur-of-the-moment conversations produced by the liberated actors “sound more real.”

Anyone who has spent much time reading faithfully transcribed examples of “real” conversations knows that in print the disadvantages of, you know, um, like I say, the, er . . .  kind of real stuff massively outweigh the advantages. So cut and polish that dialogue fearlessly, and you’ll have people talking the way they think they do.

Editing Tips from Douglas Gibson (#24)

In this recurring feature, we’re sharing tips for editors from the desk of Douglas Gibson. Good for those starting out or old hands who need a reminder, these reminders form an engaging guide for sharp-eyed wordsmiths.

Tip #24
Any time an editor sees the word “literally,” sirens should sound and red lights begin to flash. For “literally” is used wrongly most of the time, by most people. “I literally died of embarrassment” is not an extreme example. Every month you will read, and hear, dozens of such mistaken uses, serving to deprive the world of a useful word that says, “And I really mean this, it is the factual truth.” Dozens of examples. Literally.

Editing Tips from Douglas Gibson (#23)

In this recurring feature, we’re sharing tips for editors from the desk of Douglas Gibson. Good for those starting out or old hands who need a reminder, these reminders form an engaging guide for sharp-eyed wordsmiths.

Tip #23
Another hat that the ideal book editor wears is the Marketing Specialist’s Hat. Even a literary novel allows possible special markets. A central character’s interest in bird-watching, for example, opens up prospects of attention, even reviews, in birders’ magazines or websites. A story set during the Canadian advance in Italy during the Second World War provides gives the publisher the chance of a market among veterans, the Legion Magazine, and fans of military history. The editor, as the first reader of the finished book, should be the spearhead of the attack on these special markets. Or, if you prefer the bird-watching analogy, should be the one to tweet the news around the publishing house.

Book Writing Is Not an Easy Job

In response to Mark Medley’s July 13, 2012, Afterword piece, “Who Edits the Editors?”, Doug offered his experience of editors becoming authors in a letter to the editor, which was published July 17, 2012. Doug writes,

Mark Medley’s fine column catches most of the problems facing people who work in publishing, yet boldly decide to write fiction. The matter of divided loyalties — and divided imaginative time — is central, of course.
But I especially liked the account given by the distinguished British publisher and poet, Robin Robertson, of the depressing reality in publishing offices of what happens to most books: “All those ashen faces among the glossy displays; all those unsold, unsaleable books; all that crushed hope underfoot.”
In my days as a publisher, dealing with writers’ hopes and dreams, I would sometimes gloomily describe myself as being in the business of disappointing people — the authors we decided not to publish, and , in too many cases, the authors we did publish.
In this case, Mr. Medley does not extend his research to include non-fiction writing by people in publishing. I know something about this, and its pitfalls. My recent book of publishing memories, Stories About Storytellers, has produced a rueful confession, under the subtitle: “Harder Than I Thought — A Publisher Tries to Write a Book.”
Is it possible that many wise people in publishing shy away from writing books simply because they know how hard it is?
Douglas Gibson, Toronto.

Editing Tips from Douglas Gibson (#22)

In this recurring feature, we’re sharing tips for editors from the desk of Douglas Gibson. Good for those starting out or old hands who need a reminder, these guidelines form an engaging guide for sharp-eyed wordsmiths.

Tip #22
Recently I came across a carefully printed sign in the well-known educational establishment OISE.  It invited patrons who had used its services to pass along comments, including “criticisms” and “complements.” My comments were not complimentary.

Should this sort of spelling error matter? My response is that this was not a scrawled sign in a small-time grocery (“Cabages”), but a designed, carefully printed sign that had gone through several stages of checking by educated professionals. The resulting error reflected badly on them, and thus on OISE. I’m certain that you don’t have to be a professional editor to have this reaction. Spelling still matters to a large proportion of readers, which means that it still matters.