EDITING TIPS FROM DOUGLAS GIBSON (#29): BOTH SIDES NOW

typewriter_SMLAs readers of this blog will recall, on occasion I tip-toe into the territory of giving advice on editing. Always with trepidation, because writing, in all its variety, tends to be resistant to rules, and editing is dictated by the writing that precedes it. So hard and fast rules about editing are hard to propound with total confidence.

Last month I was reminded of this when I had the “both sides now” experience of (A) editing, and (B) being edited. As an editor I had the pleasure of working, yet again, with my esteemed friend Terry Fallis, who has a new novel due out in the Fall. As I did my editorial stuff (jokingly telling Terry in the cover note that he would find the edited version “totally unrecognisable”) I was struck, as always, by how often the editor finds that with an experienced author the trick is simply to outline a potential problem area and to say, possibly in these very words, “You might want to think about this…”

Meanwhile, as an author, I’m benefitting, yet again, from the editorial attention of Jen Knoch of ECW, who is putting my manuscript under her microscope, suggesting that the reader doesn’t need to know this, but will be puzzled by that, and wondering if we really need this piece of history, and saying the equivalent of “You might want to think about this…”

It’s an intellectual challenge to respond to these questions and suggestions, and I know that my book is better as a result of Jen’s suggestions. I hope that Terry feels the same way.

But note my use of the word “suggestions” here. I recently heard about an editor – at a respected major publishing house – who was given a first novel to edit. The young novelist had heard about editors sometimes being very tough, so was relieved when the edited manuscript came back in electronic form as clean as a whistle. With not a single change suggested. It was only when he started to read this splendidly clean manuscript that he realised that the manuscript now contained scenes, and characters, that were new to him. The editor had not made mere suggestions, but had enthusiastically joined the project as, in effect, a co-author.

You’ll be glad to know that this editor – who had somehow missed Editing 101 – was promptly removed from the scene. But she may be floating around out there, somewhere.

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Stories About Storytellers, Now in Paperback

stories_PBAs of April 2014, Stories About Storytellers is available as a paperback! This new edition includes a new chapter on Terry Fallis, an account of Alice Munro’s Nobel Prize win, and a print version of the  Storytellers Book Club, which debuted on this site.

The paperback version is available at all the usual retailers, including your local independent, Indigo, and Amazon.ca. It’s also available from the man himself, as he continues to tour Canada with Stories About Storytellers, the show, this year. Stay tuned for more engagement dates!

All Roads Lead to Terry Fallis

Recently I wrote about my visit to Wolfville, where I stayed at The Blomidon Inn. A recent chat in our kitchen with Terry Fallis, author and neighbour, revealed that in October, precisely 25 years ago, the Blomidon Inn held Terry’s wedding reception. He had just married a Wolfville girl named Nancy Naylor who was on her way to become not only the mother of Calder and Ben, but a major figure in Ontario’s public service.

In her government role Nancy encountered Jane (now my wife, and at the time another senior civil servant), and they became close friends. This meant that when Jane and I got together, we would regularly have dinner with our friends Nancy and Terry.

Some of my stage performances have featured a section on “TERRY FALLIS: Saint, Little Red Hen, and Prizewinner.” Let me explain that.

First, the “Saint.” When Terry shyly started to try his hand at writing fiction, with a political satire named The Best Laid Plans, he never once asked me to “take a look at” his new novel. Even when he was facing months of silence from literary agents, and from other publishers, he never raised the question. He didn’t want to trade on our friendship, you see. This, in a world where people accost me at funerals, or bang into my cart at supermarkets hoping that I’ll read their manuscript, comes pretty close to sainthood.

In time, he decided to advance the situation, not by approaching his friend Doug, but by reading the first chapter on the podcast he ran as part of his PR professional life. People really liked it. So he kept going. Then he started to blog the chapters, to his usual audience, which was not used to fiction from him. But people really liked that, so he kept going. People liked the whole book so much, in fact, that he decided, what the hell, to turn into The Little Red Hen. You remember her? When no one would help her in any task she would say, “Very well, I’ll do it myself!”

So Terry decided to publish the book himself, using an electronic self-publishing system that worked well, supplying him with electronic books as well as real, paper ones. He happened to have 10 copies lying around when he read the entry rules for The Stephen Leacock Prize for Humour, and saw that self-published books were eligible, if you submitted 10 copies. It was the ultimate “Little Red Hen” moment.

The book made it to the short list, along with King John of Canada by my author, Scott Gardiner. So I was at the Leacock lunch where the prize-winner was announced . . .“Terry Fallis!”

I went up to him and said, “Terry, now you really need a publisher. Let me read your book.” And I did, and I liked it very much, and I made a few tiny tweaks to the Scotticisms employed by his irascible hero Angus, and rushed to bring the novel out as a Douglas Gibson Book.

And people loved the story of the outsider who took on the staid publishing world, and it went on to great success. There was a follow-up novel, The High Road, in 2010, which I published in a more conventional way, and which  did well. But the high point was Spring 2011, when The Best Laid Plans won the Canada Reads competition. Tick the “Prizewinner” box.

This September his third novel, Up and Down came out. The reviews have been good for this “poignantly funny third novel” (Ottawa Citizen) and “a breezy, gentle satire . . . he might have a shot at another Leacock” (Globe and Mail). But what marks Terry as a truly remarkable author is how hard he works at getting to know his readers, and how much people like his public appearances. At that kitchen meeting last week, as his editor/publisher I asked him to take me through the promotion tour he has been undertaking for Up and Down.

He told me that in just under two months he has already made 42 public appearances . . . readings, question and answer sessions, bookstore chats, inside library events, convention speeches, and so on. And in every case, he finds to his delight that he sells, and signs, not only the new book, but also the previous two books. People are catching up to this author, and they like all of his work.

This is great news for me, of course, as the proud publisher of my friend Terry.

But there’s another reason for my special pleasure in his success. He works notably hard at promoting his book. And he’s very, very good at it, because you can see the very likeable enthusiast shining through.

Like his other books, Up and Down will leave you feeling “up.”

The Mae Wilson Theatre in Moose Jaw

Saturday was a busy day for me, with two readings (James Houston, then W.O. Mitchell) in the morning, then the show at the Mae Wilson Theatre on Main Street. This is a grand old Edwardian Theatre, with all the elaborate plaster trimmings, where touring performers like Sir Harry Lauder have appeared down through the ages.

I did my show (with the help of Eric the soundman, and Shane looking after the lights — and Jane up there in the booth) against a truly massive screen, perhaps 15 feet by 30 feet, which meant that the author caricatures were clear to everyone in the 300 person audience.

The audience was set up by a very generous introduction by the local author Bob Currie, and was notable for the fact that the gallant Jane, who knows the show very well, managed to handle the slide changes perfectly, so that the audience thought that my casual hand gestures automatically changed the screen.

One new part of the show was a special surprise for my good friend Terry Fallis, author of The Best-Laid Plans. I had got the splendid Tony Jenkins to do a caricature of Terry, knowing that he would be at Moose Jaw, although he had seen my show before.  (Terry is that kind of friend). I gave his picture the sub-title “Saint, Little Red Hen, and Prizewinner” and explained each part of the sub-title as Terry gurgled and blushed in the audience at his unexpected appearance in mid-show.

The audience seemed to like the show, and gave me a standing ovation. Later we had a Q and A session (“Did you have any authors you really didn’t like working with?” “They’re not in the book.”) A good day’s work, worth a relaxing spell in the Spa pool.

Uxbridge (Or, More Formally) Tuxbridge

Uxbridge (or, as Terry Fallis amended it, since it was a formal dinner, “Tuxbridge”) staged a fine “Book Lover’s Ball” on April 14 in aid of the local Library.

The setting was the local “Wooden Sticks Golf Club,”  a name that spoke to the ancient tradition of golf clubs with hickory handles. I was able to mention that in my ancient Scottish village, I actually grew up playing golf with “wooden stick” clubs, which at the time seemed normal to me. But then, true to my “make things last” Scottish roots, that evening I was wearing the tux that my parents gave me as a 21st birthday present. Dinner jackets don’t change much over 47  years, and nor does my lean shape — nor my respect for my parents’ admonition that if I looked after the tux properly I “should get many years of wear out of it.”

The excellent Terry spoke about his three books (The Best Laid Plans, The High Road, and this fall’s Up and Down, which will prove that he can make readers laugh, and also make them cry) and delighted the audience after the salad course. I did my stuff after the (very fine) chicken course, talking about a few of the authors featured in my book, and telling stories about them.

But the best speaker of the evening  — and by far the best storyteller — was Michael, a local dentist. He spoke about his family’s experience  escaping from Vietnam as “boat people” who were sponsored by kind people in Uxbridge. The local librarian made a special point of always asking him what he was reading, and, like dental patients flossing before an appointment (an interesting professional analogy), he read voraciously, to be always able to answer her question.

When the family was moved away from Uxbridge to downtown Toronto, although his parents both worked two jobs, things were hard for the young family in a tough area. In time their Uxbridge friends contacted them with an offer that would bring them back to Uxbridge, with a down payment on a house supplied by an anonymous benefactor. The family accepted gladly, on one condition: that they learn the name of the benefactor, in order to pay him or her back.

It was the librarian.

Now here was Michael (like his brothers and sisters a successful professional) giving back to the Uxbridge community by providing major sponsorship for this fundraiser for the Uxbridge Library.

Stories really matter, don’t they?

Stories About Storytellers Companion Reading (#6)

Many early readers of Stories About Storytellers have remarked that they finish reading it only to rush to pick up one of the other books Doug has so lovingly described. So to make it easier, this recurring feature revisits some of those books and reminds you why they’re worth a read. Last time, we revisited Paddle to the Amazon by Don Starkell, and this we’re featuring . . .

The Game by Ken Dryden (1983)

The CBC Canada Reads competition was won last year by my friend Terry Fallis and his political satire The Best Laid Plans. (Try to catch up with it and its successor, The High Road. Terry has a gift for easy, funny writing with distinct and memorable characters who make the events of the plot fly by, with the good guys winning in the end. Yay! And this fall there will be a new Terry Fallis book, Up and Down, also edited by yours truly.)

This year I had hopes that books edited by me would win Canada Reads two years in a row, since Ken Dryden’s The Game was a hot contender. My emotions were split, because I was the publisher (although not the editor) of my good friend Dave Bidini’s book On a Cold Road. But when Dave’s book fell by the wayside in the harsh voting, I was able to root wholeheartedly for the book that Ken and I worked on way back in 1983.

Looking at my copy today, I’m impressed by the confidence that led me to write on the book’s back cover, “You are about to read one of the best books ever written about any sport.” I still believe that to be true. And I remember that the late Trent Frayne wrote in the Globe that it was “the sports book of the year, and of the decade, and even of the century!”

Ken and I (as readers of my book know) are such good friends that I was able to play a practical joke on him, involving a Preston Manning imitation. I am still touched by what he wrote in my copy of The Game: “For Doug . . . We have gone through a lot for a long time. I hope you’re as satisfied with the end result as I am. Thank you for all your help and patience.”

I’m delighted that Canada Reads (and Ken’s book lost narrowly in the last round, although it won the popular vote) has brought The Game to the attention of a whole new generation of readers.

For Doug’s tales of Ken Dryden (including his Preston Manning prank) see 311-314 of Stories About Storytellers.