punktortoise (punktortoise) wrote,


Editing's an odd task. Somewhere intermediate between reading and writing, in the same way that the editor is something of an intermediary between writer and reader.

A curious beast, neither fish nor fowl.

I haven't exactly learnt editing, except in the sense that I've been incrementally acquiring skills, over the past four decades or so, in the bracketing tasks of writing and reading. So it's entirely possible I may have this editing stuff completely base-over-nosecone. But it seems to me, from my untutored position, that the editor's job (having once decided that a piece of writing is substantially good enough) is to scour the writer's prose for nits, for outliers, for things which might cause the reader avoidable discomfort. To strengthen the suspension of disbelief which bridges reader to writer. It's the most nebulous of tasks, the tinkering with symbols and patterns which are, at base, the product of another's mind, in preparation for their transmission to some as-yet-unidentified third party. How can the editor judge, ahead of time, what changes will be beneficial, which tweaks will best help capture the writer's original intent, while also serving the needs of the reader?

Without the benefit of actual research, I would hazard a view that millions more people write and read than attempt the task of editing, because the latter activity by its nature is not so obvious, not so clear-cut. I'd also suggest that, if my own questionable experience is any sort of guide, those that do attempt editing of another's work are likely first to have expended considerable effort into both reading and writing for themselves, and I further suspect that whereas it's commonplace to begin writing with considerable (perhaps misplaced) confidence in one's ability to transcribe one's ideas into prose, it's likely that those who commence editing do so initially with substantial hesitancy along the lines of not wishing to trample all over the creative endeavours of another. It has, at any rate, been that way for me. What right have I to demand, to even suggest to the author, that his/her intentions might be best served by cutting a paragraph, by changing a description, by perhaps (shock! horror!) expunging a character? And yet, often enough, this is what's needed. This is what the reader deserves, and it's the editor's job to see this when the writer hasn't. It's a dance, a dusting-off-and-shifting-around, a makeover; it's less a case of playing God (which, surely, is the writer's prerogative) than it is of acting the part of the multiverse. Findng the best possible compromise between writer and reader.

Untrained, like I said. I'd aver, because of this, that I have a comparatively light touch, a reluctance to wield the red crayola. And yet, I do enjoy editing. It's a privilege to get to play the part of intermediary--chaperone, matchmaker, pimp--between writer and reader, to piggyback on another's creative juices [if that isn't both a physical impossibility and an egregiously chimeraed metaphor]. And it's an absolute kicker when something I've edited gets some of the recognition to which, through the efforts of its primary creator, it's entitled. My high point for recognition in this respect, to date, is the Aurealis Award gained by Ian McHugh's 'Once a Month, on a Sunday', from my second stint as issue editor, in ASIM 40. (Not that my shaping of the story had anything to do with it--Ian's an exceptionally precise worker with words, and my own contribution to the story's final shape was almost homeopathically sparse.) I'm now on stints three and four: ASIM 51 is now complete except for the very last bits of proofreading, while ASIM 54 (not due out for nearly a year) is still in the protean, half-formed state where it could manage to take any number of future directions.

Am I in fact gaining any sort of skill as an editor? I've no idea, really, but I reckon I've not chosen too badly with the fiction for ASIM 51. Here, let me show you the TOC:

'Bonsai', by Robin Shortt
'Basil Hawthorne and the Cliff Tomb', by E Catherine Tobler
'Ogam', by Carolyn Nicita
'Aberrant Artifacts Found in Two Owl Indian Mound' (poem), by Lee Clark Zumpe
'Requited', by Katherine Woodbury
'A Mirror, Darkly', by Keith Stevenson
'Children of the War', by Rachel Zakuta
'Lacking an Adequate Metaphor for the Human Brain' (poem), by Darrell Schweitzer
'The Household Debt', by Chris Miles
'The Story of the Ship that Brought Us Here', by Stephen Case
'The Bird, the Bees, and Thylacine', by Thoraiya Dyer
'Weapons of Self Destruction' and 'The Tectonics of the Misty Mountains', both by Chris Large
'Merchant's Run', by Calie Voorhis
'Following in Harlan's Footsteps', by Sandra M Odell
'Nessa 1944', by Ellen C Glass
'A Cup of Smoke', by Rachel Manija Brown

For those of a statistical bent, there's both a higher proportion of female authors and a greater fraction of international contributors* than was the case in either issue 35 or 40, and subdivided by genre, there's probably slightly more fantasy than SF. Darkness and light? A judicious amount of each [well, at least I think it's judicious]. Zombies: nil.** Werewolves: nil.** Soul-stealers: I'm sorry, you're going to need to define that term more precisely before I can enumerate this category. And if you're interested in such things, it would technically be possible based on word-count alone*** to fit over 500 repetitions of Carolyn Nicita's story 'Ogam' within the frame of Keith Stevenson's tale of reflective doom**** ...

But the statistics alone tell only a part of the story, or perhaps the mere shadow of the story. The day I stop feeling enthused about selecting stories for ASIM is probably the day I'll hang up my editing boots for good, but I'm particularly excited about issue 51. The more sombre stories are genuinely haunting, while elsewhere there's warmth, there's adventure, there's farce, there's--dare I say it--a sense of wonder. I'm particular intrigued to see what readers will make of Robin Shortt's inaugural story, the wonderfully eerie 'Bonsai', or of the freshly Ditmar-victorious Thoraiya Dyer's Tasmanian novelette (exquisitely complemented by Kathleen Jenning's delightful cover art), or Stephen Case's lyrical homage to Golden Age space opera, or Chris Miles' cheeky fusion of fae and suburbia, or ... or ...

Like I said, particularly excited.

And I'd be remiss if I didn't observe that, while issue 51 will necessarily go on sale for the new, heftier quarterly price of $12.95 per issue, you can still get our special-bumper-hey-look-it's-issue-50 at the absolute bargain price of $8.95 ...

My apologies. I wasn't intending to veer into tawdry commercialism. But such is the way of small press, to a reasonably close approximation.

*in the latter case, 'international' here means 'USA', though that equation won't hold so tidily true for issue 54
** again, that equation won't hold so tidily true for issue 54
*** in three-and-a-half issues of ASIM so far, Carolyn's is the shortest piece I've yet accepted; Keith's is the longest
**** this might, however, diminish the experience for the reader, since Keith's story is--trust me--not to be missed

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