We published two previous novels written by Charles that gathered great reviews. Walk on, Bright Boy (2007), was described in Publishers Weekly as “taking place in a remote Spanish village during the Inquisition, after the Christians have conquered Moorish Spain. A combination of morality tale and gothic horror, the book raises questions about religious extremism, faith, miracles, justice and torture.” Standing at the Crossroads (2011) was lauded by Library Journal as “an exciting and thoughtful adventure story as well as a subtle political and philosophical meditation on Sudan’s long-term tragedy,” while Kirkus called it “an absorbing read, written in the spare, allegorical style of his first novel.” Translation rights for both were sold in Poland and Russia.
Suffice it to say we were surprised to receive Hitler, Mussolini, and Me as a manuscript a year ago, and see how Charles seamlessly melded facts with sharp satire. Better to laugh at these monsters of history, men who came to power quite by chance rather than brilliance; by cosmic forces beyond understanding. One would never guess that all of Hitler’s and Mussolini’s dialogue comes from what they actually said. And the same holds true for Hitler’s flatulence and Il Duce’s chronic constipation. Truth, in this case, trumps fiction.
This background, however, has nothing to do with Charles’s current blog, which offers high praise to one of the best copy-editors in the world, our very own Barbara Anderson.
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“I'm a rubbish writer but a champion rewriter. That's what I've always believed, at least. Beliefs can be hard to hold onto sometimes. I was reminded of this recently when a correspondent mentioned The Permanent Press's copy-editor, Barbara Anderson. The possessive "'s" back there, that's for her. Personally, I'd just go for the inverted comma and have done with it, but Barbara insists on her esses. Worse, she can tell you why, too.
“Being a rubbish writer but a champion rewriter is not unusual. I heard John Irving saying something similar in an interview, though admittedly he didn't use the word "rubbish". Plenty of writers sling stuff down on the page in their first drafts that later makes them cringe with horror. There's no shame in this. It's like having a party in your parents' house when you're a teenager. So long as nobody gets hurt and you clean up the broken bottles and more unsavory items afterwards, it's all a normal part of progressing toward maturity.
“Admittedly, the parties I have in my first drafts are very wild and very messy indeed, but I chuck a lot of stuff out afterwards then scrub like crazy, so that by the time I open the door, I'm persuaded that subsequent modifications will simply be titivation to take account of other people's tastes. Basically, straightening the chairs and rearranging the flowers. On the whole, I think this is the case. When Marty and Judy suggest changes it generally involves dispensing with superfluities or rendering slightly more plausible the illusion that there was never a mess in the first place. For the most part, I follow their advice (they are putting their money on the table, after all) and when I baulk, they are big enough to let me have my way. Then Barbara comes along.
“I don't know how she does it. I've done a bit of proofreading for friends, I'm a bit anal retentive (you should see the coat hangers in my wardrobe), I taught grammar for several years, I've got a thing about words, and as I say, sticking with the teenage party image, I've been scrubbing the bloody carpet for months on end. But Barbara, she's like the Mr. Muscle of dirty manuscripts. She spots these horrible stains where somebody (not me) has done something unspeakable in the middle of the ceiling; she's fishing slimy things out of dark corners and pointing out sticky patches on the sofa; and "Oh, my God, she's found a moribund body in the basement!"
“It can be quite humiliating, the typos, spelling mistakes, infelicities, factual errors, howlers, inconsistencies, and downright imbecilities still lurking in a text despite the fact that you've been poring over it for a period that is almost glacial in its duration. But Barbara cleans up the mess you've made with such expeditious energy, insight, and good humor (and not a jot of anal retention) that there's nothing to be done but thank her for preventing the humiliation becoming public. I was tempted to write "pubic" there just to upset her, but I restrained myself.
“Copy-editors are the unsung heroes and heroines of publishing. What you have just read is hardly a song of praise. Barbara hasn't had a go at it, you see, so it's more like the first inebriated belch of the evening. But for want of anything better, let it stand as a nod toward a very necessary profession.”
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As always, I hope you will post your comments on this site. If you wish to reach Charles Davis directly, you can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org
COMING NEXT WEEK is a blog from Marian Thurm, who has written ten previous books—two of which have gotten major coverage in the New York Times Book Review—and whose forthcoming literary thriller, inspired by an actual event, The Good Life, will be published in April.