Sunday, May 31, 2009

How to get a Gatsby

The editing process of a novel is a shady area not usually opened up to the gaze of the publishing unwashed: the reader or aspiring writer. As a first-timer, I stumbled into it with hope, excitement and anxiety.

Luckily, I had Jane Parkin as my editor for The Blue. Highly respected in NZ publishing circles, editor of a range of marvellous award-winning fiction writers, her style can be characterised as insightful, inclusive, gentle and persistent. She also never made me feel she'd edited enough first novels to know without looking what to do with mine. In other words, Jane approached The Blue with respect, excitement and curiosity. Or that's how it felt to me. And when I received the marked-up drafts -all red dashes and post-it notes - it was like seeing finger marks in a clay sculpture, as if she'd gently pressed the novel's skin to find the pulse.

All the changes Jane suggested were good ones that I applied forthwith; many were essential to the flow of the story. Often, she would present me with a problem in the book - we would discuss it - then I would go away and think what to do. I liked that she didn't always know the answer and trusted me to find it. One structural problem we tossed around for a bit, tried one thing and then another, and then at the last minute I flicked the difficult chapter into a slightly different position and suddenly the novel relaxed into place. Jane agreed. It was the many hours of dicussion that got us there. Frankly, it was exciting to have one other person in the world as fascinated by my novel as Jane Parkin was, and as willing to obsess about its every detail.

The elegant writing partnership between The Great Gatsby's F. Scott Fitzgerald and his editor Max Perkins is explored in a new book on writing The Writer's Notebook: Craft Essays from Tin House. Uber UK blogger Mark Sarvas has serialised the essay and it makes fascinating reading. Here's Part 1 - scroll up through his blog for the other three parts.

Here's the link to The Writer's Notebook on the Tin House website.


Tania Roxborogh said...

Aren't we lucky Mary? For Third Degree I had the incredible Emma Neale who did just as Jane did with your Blue. Penguin is such a great house to write for. I know Vanda agrees. Here is an extract from my acknowledgment pages for my editor:
[thanks to] Vicki Marsdon, who never fobbed me off. What can I say but your belief in me was staggering and for this I am eternally grateful. If every writer had the privilege of working with such a talented and passionate publisher, we would fill the world with brilliant stories. Short thanks because words are not enough to tell you how much I appreciate everything you have done for Flea."

I know writing is a solitary business (in that it's we who actually have to key in the words) but without the cheerleading team of people who believe in us AS WELL AS the skills to take our 'clay' and refine art, I think we would be much less productive.

What do you think? said...

Jane Parkin is the Fairy Godmother of my first novel 'About Turns' - she waved her editing wand and sprinkled stardust,shifting sentences, deleting the cliches, moving a metaphor from here to there, and then even giving me back one, when I already had two on the page, but she'd slept on the idea and decided it was okay... such care and thought and as Mary says, the thrill of having someone other than yourself who actually believes in your story, knows your characters, and likes them.

Plus - Tania, I've been trying to private message you on Leafsalon to say yay and hooray to you for your thrilling news about 'Banquo's Son', but I've lost my password, so here's a public hooray, via Mary's blog. How's that for social networking.