The Last Word : I'm the editor
Recently I took on the job of editor of the renowned publication, the Dukes County Intelligencer (DCI). The DCI is the quarterly journal of the Martha's Vineyard Museum and has just finished its 50th year of continuous publication. My predecessors, all men, have left a blueprint for me - and several large pairs of shoes, which is a shopworn expression, but there really isn't a more apt metaphor for taking over a role that is so well established and rooted in local history. Reaching to insert my dainty size sixes into these deep impressions makes me stretch, wobble and, hopefully, grow enough to fill them.
What I wasn't expecting was the sheer head-rush of working with established writers. Even more fulfilling is being able to encourage new voices, especially having the satisfaction of working with less experienced writers to hone good stories into better ones. Of saying, yes, I like that idea, bring me your story. There are choices to be made, story budgets to develop, facts to be checked, and images to select that will illustrate the articles that tell the story of Martha's Vineyard. I want a desk plaque that says: I'm the editor, that's why, not because I feel powerful, but because I am empowered by all the enthusiasm for history that these writers exude.
Having spent the better part of the last two decades being edited, this is quite a change for me. I've always respected and understood the role an editor plays in making a story a good one. I've relished the back and forth and the gotchas. But now I understand more fully that there are layers of editing. First is the solicitation of the writing, which can also be the acceptance of a concept or idea that then blossoms into a story. For instance, the first layer of my relationship with my primary editor at St. Martin's Press is for her to want my story, to see something of merit in the barebones plot and lightly sketched characters. The second layer is cultivating that story into a book. Sometimes the tender shoots are weeds, and sometimes they're sunflowers. My editor knows the difference - even when I protest that this stalk might well turn into a flower if I can only keep watering it. She indulges me until I rip the thing out by the roots.
The third layer is the nuts and bolts layer. My copy editor rolls up her sleeves, sharpens her colored pencil, and finds all the punctuation, hyphenation, fragmentation errors, along with the inevitable inconsistencies that pop up between the beginning of a book and the middle of it when I've forgotten how old a character was when his transformative event took place. In these days of texting and Twittering, copy editors still write marginalia and use proofreader's marks as they have always done.
In a similar fashion, I have article ideas pitched to me, and I'm learning to ask for submissions from anyone who mentions an interest in some facet of Island history. I give people deadlines! I sharpen my pencil. And, in the end, with the powerhouse skills of my design editor who makes the journal as beautiful as it is, and without whom I'd be up a creek, a quarterly issue is produced.