Our editor on editing.
June 17, 2011
Our editor, Robyn Read, is a pretty rad gal (just ask any of our authors…) She’s kindly agreed to write a series of guest posts chroncling the editorial process for each book. Post #1: Ian Williams & Not Anyone’s Anything.
Ten Things About Editing Not Anyone’s Anything, and working with Ian Williams
By Robyn Read
10) The start:
Not Anyone’s Anything was in my first round of acquisitions at Freehand Books. We had a lot of short fiction collections slotted for upcoming seasons, so although Ian was given his offer of publication in January 2009, the book was not published until April 2011.
After he received our initial offer, Ian emailed me: “I’m about to go Tom Cruise all over my Oprah office chair.”
I talked about acquiring the manuscript with Eric Volmers of the Calgary Herald:
“It was a ‘slush pile’ manuscript sent in cold by the author. … I still can remember reading the cover letter. … It was very eloquent and by the first page of the first story I was hooked.’”
Our Managing Editor Sarah Ivany added,
“That’s the benefit of accepting unsolicited submissions, you can stumble upon a gem.”
9) In his words:
#9 from Ian Williams’ blog post “Reconstruction of the tour” http://www.ianwilliams.ca/blog
Robyn Read and Owen were waiting for us in Calgary. Owen was holding up a sign as if he had never met us before. He was also wearing a cowboy hat. I seem to recall cowboy boots too. There was much talk of getting naked as a promotional stunt, so the cowboy boots may be a psychological deflection.
There are many things to love about Robyn. Owen is one of them. For years, she spoke about “her husband, Owen” who was supposed to show up for this or that meeting but never materialized until I thought that she was a little unstable and that, come publication date, my book would be part of some elaborate delusion that this woman was having. But alas, Owen is real. And the book is real too.
Seriously, for a sec, Robyn really transformed this manuscript over the years that we were working on it. There should be a joint-glory system where writers and editors show up together at events, tied around the leg like runners in a three-legged race.
The other thing that Robyn can do, though I don’t think it’s traditionally recognized as a talent, is to knit a room together, to make everyone feel connected and safe.
8) Title story:
“Not Anyone’s Anything” placed third in a US long short story competition, the A. E. Coppard Prize: http://whiteeaglecoffeestorepress.com/page8.html
It was originally longer. I have always been a big fan of the use of flash cards in this story; to me, they were like a joke employed by an intelligent comedian, who is testing how long the gag can be prolonged, the energy maintained, before the crowd loses interest. The flash cards constitute their own narrative within the narrative, and can be read as their own story. Even though so many are still included, Ian and I both thought they would work best if their sequence didn’t overpower, or steal the show from, the short story itself. So many of the original flash cards were cut from the story. They are available for purchase on eBay… just kidding.
7) Dr. Williams:
Ian completed his PhD in English Literature at the University of Toronto under the supervision of George Elliott Clarke. While the PhD was a critical one, GEC has been a big supporter of Ian’s creative writing, and blurbed his first book, a collection of poetry published in the spring of 2010 by Wolsak and Wynn: You Know Who You Are. [GEC quote from back of book—it’s in our collection]
We edited the book in three sections (before the copyedit and proofreads of the book as a whole) because we really focused on the relationships amongst the stories in these three groups before we returned to the linkage of the stories throughout the entire collection: all the stories, in one sense or another, have something to do with “breaking” or “shattering” something (as the collection itself, as postmodern, playful fiction, breaks conventions).
The three groups could be considered:
I. “breaks”: breakup, breakthrough, break-in
II. borders (that divide) and stats (that define or assign)
III. testing the human body (ripping flesh, heart palpitations & attacks, inscribing (tattoo) and the threat of assault
5) A single section:
The stories in II play the most with form, and were considerably more truncated in their initial submission; the endings were originally more abrupt, while the eccentric part three of “Criminal Activity” was even more obtuse. So these were developed and revised throughout the editorial process. Overall, the idea is that the stories do literally leave you guessing a bit, because they have to do with attachment, addiction, and abandonment, but while the stories are purposefully reticent, we wanted them to be brief, not sparse.
4) A single story:
“Statistics” plays, poetically, with repetition, of memories, images, and phrases: “We ate roti. … Your father’s finger bled. People said, Just get over it” (116). Ian worked on developing the crash of the lightshade so that it was obviously not just a tangential delay of the plot and energy, but inflated as a conscious memory for the narrator / a memorable part of his day that would be the textual event he would philosophize about, providing a platform to cover (like, pulling a rug over) the subtextual, underlying, current of consideration throughout the story: fathers leaving, fatherless households.
3) A single sound:
198: “The point with the dad ums are threefold: 1) they substitute for words in the previous sentence, showing a new preoccupation with the father’s uncertain condition (dad and um). 2) They point out the rhythm of a heart. 3) They scan the sentence into trochees, which is the rhythm for the rest of the section. The whole thing if you vacuumed out the words would read like a ballad stanza (the rhythm). For me that’s where the failed love story and the father story meet: in the history of ballad stanza (love, loss).” — Ian Williams, from the copyedit
The original copy for NAA—for press releases, sales catalogues, our website, and the back cover of the book—stated (of the characters) “They are disastrously ambitious, cutting the flaps of skin in between their fingers…” However, Ian pointed out how “Prelude” was one of the stories with more traditional sequencing and releasing of information and details (and built a bit of a suspense, too), and that we were giving away the ending by including this detail on the back of the book. If you consider that the collection as a whole includes characters who are ill but not dying, who increase their heart rates but do not hurt themselves, who leave one another, or are left, but survive, this is one of the only enacted physical transgressions in the book. So, to not give this away, we changed the copy to, “They are disastrously ambitious, performing amateur surgery or perfecting Chopin.”
The first change I suggested to Ian ended up being the one main thing that we did not do: we originally were going to change the order of the stories, in fact flip them, beginning (suitably, we thought) with “Prelude” and ending with “Not Anyone’s Anything,” and thus, the line, “Every time is the last time.” (“Trios” was always meant to provide the interim.)
But after revisiting NAA, we realized we wanted to start a collection about breaks/breaking (note the shattered piano on the cover) with a proposed, attempted breakup, a “break” that might happen, but hadn’t happened yet—not to mention, this was the page that ‘had me’ for Ian’s collection at page one, and I wanted to ensure the reader had that same experience/opportunity that I, as the acquiring editor, did. If we started with “Prelude,” while, title-wise, it seemed appropriate, then we would have been starting with actual, physical breaks rather than just the threat of destruction, the flirtation, or dance, with severe and split. As well, “Fall,” a domestic gothic story reminiscent of some of the early work of Alice Munro, seemed like a suitable final piece, and we both loved the opportunity to leave the reader with an ending (of the collection, of the brothers leaving their childhood innocence) that was also the beginning of a walk into the woods that supposedly, and likely, would have just ended with the brothers finishing their assigned task, but (beautifully) renders the ominous sibling enmity of “His brother’s eyes heat the back of his neck.” That image, of a gaze lingering on skin, I thought stood so well for resonance, a tingling sensation, the ghost of a good book that a reader should be left with.