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Thursday, February 16, 2017

In praise of moi

The estimable John C. Wright, Dragon Award-winner and grandmaster of science fiction and fantasy, explains what makes a good editor:
Someone asked me privately why I say that Vox Day is the best editor under whom it has been my privilege to work. I wrote a private answer, but I see no reason not to share it with the world. Mr. Day does not suffer from false modesty.

I do not mind elaborating.

The question is broader than just one author’s opinion about one editor. It is asking what editing is. That is a deeper question, too deep for this column, but I can plant a few signs pointing the direction where a fuller answer hides.

A good editor does not substitute his tastes, his politics, his pet peeves, or his sense of where your story should go for his own. A good editor is like a beauty parlor that brings out the best-looking version of the hair style you want framing your face, not someone else’s face.

That is, a good editor can tell the difference between the subjective and objective parts of the way one judges a story, and limit his comments to the more objective.

A good editor want you to tell your story your way, but he want you to tell it in your highest and best way, not your merely workmanlike way.

A good editor does make specific suggestions rather than vague ones, that is, he tells you which lines should be amended and how, rather than simply say “this needs to be tighter” or “this lacks punch”

Let me amend that. I should be more specific. A good editor knows when to be specific (to cure specific flaws) and when to be general (when he knows you know how to address a general flaw, and trusts you to find a specific solution). That requires good assessment both about the writing and about the writer’s professionalism.

A good editor reads the work and his comments show he understands what point each scene is trying to make, how characters develop, how description works or does not work.

A good editor keeps you informed of his decisions that might effect your book. Vox Day has contacted me more often in the last two weeks than Tor Books has in two years.

A good editor finds good covers.
There is, as you can probably imagine, considerably more there, as well as a few other Castalia authors weighing in on the basis of their own experiences working with me and other editors. For me, one of the biggest challenges in editing Mr. Wright is dealing with his massive vocabulary, which exceeds my English vocabulary, and frequently forces me, or an assistant editor, to resort to the OED in order to determine if the unfamiliar word is a typo, a misspelling, or simply a word with which we are unfamiliar.

8 times out of 10, Mr. Wright is correct and our vocabularies are expanded accordingly.

One mistake I think many editors make is to believe that they, and not the writer, should have the final say in how the book will proceed. While I will occasionally pull rank on a beginning writer whose grasp of what works and what doesn't can be dubious, with more experienced writers I am inclined to view my edits as suggestions they can take or leave. Usually they listen, but sometimes they don't, in which case I am content to let them take the chance that they'll hear it from the readers as well.

It's their name on the book, after all, not mine. Therefore, it has to be their call in the end. My primary objective as an editor is to make their book better and more successful, not make it my book. I don't have to agree with them, or even like what they are writing, in order to do that, I merely have to understand what it is they are trying to accomplish.

Of course, it probably helps that, unlike many editors in SF/F, I am actually an established writer in my own right, so I have no need to seek vicarious input in someone else's book. As Mr. Wright noted, I have even been known to suggest a turn of phrase or two on occasion. And, as some readers have observed, all this editing over the last three years appears to have improved my own writing, as having to articulate various issues to a wide variety of writers helps me better understand some of the weaknesses of my own writing.

In any event, I regard editing Mr. Wright as both a privilege and a serious responsibility. While it would be nice if my own books were read one hundred years from now as well, there are worse things to be remembered for than having been a grandmaster's editor.

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48 Comments:

Anonymous v February 16, 2017 1:20 PM  

I also pride myself on my vocabulary, but I'm too fulvous to go up against JCW on that battleground.

Anonymous v February 16, 2017 1:21 PM  

Although I may actually be fulvit.

Blogger Jose February 16, 2017 1:24 PM  

Some of us would really appreciate if that privilege and serious responsibility were being applied to NOWHITHER. Just sayin'

Anonymous Rygel February 16, 2017 1:28 PM  

I'm waiting for NOWHITHER also.. Take my Money!!!

Blogger pdwalker February 16, 2017 1:36 PM  

In a sane world, it'd make a hell of a reference for an editing job.

Anonymous Steve February 16, 2017 1:41 PM  

DAUGHTER OF DANGER is another splendid tale from JCW.

I know I shouldn't, because his prose is so richly adorned and his stories composed with such imaginative brio they deserve to be savoured, but I gobble his books like the Cookie Monster in a cocaine factory.

John C Wrightaholics Anonymous should be a thing. We can sit around sipping coffee and trying not to think about the SOMEWHITHER sequel.

Anonymous Rygel February 16, 2017 1:53 PM  

I gave my wife Awake In The Night Land and she said it was to verbose. I almost cried. Almost cause I'm not a cuck. That was one of the greatest works I have ever had the pleasure of reading.

Blogger William Meisheid February 16, 2017 2:06 PM  

NOWITHER: I add my request to that.

Blogger Gaiseric February 16, 2017 2:08 PM  

If you're not a cuck, then you shouldn't expect your wife to react to the works of art of a man, meant for men of taste with the same aplomb that you do, right?

Geez, I have a hard enough time getting my wife to read anything besides non-fiction travel books, and watch anything beyond supernatural soap operas or reality shows like The Bachelor on TV. However... I expect that, so it's cool. If she were less feminine, I probably wouldn't love her as much.

Blogger William Meisheid February 16, 2017 2:08 PM  

Rygel: Reminds me of the King of Austria in the movie Amadeus telling Mozart his opera had too many notes.

Blogger ghostfromplanetspook February 16, 2017 2:11 PM  

Have you ever been asked to join the Superversive SF for a livestream? Id give an arm and a leg to hear you and Mr. Wright talking together.

Blogger L. Jagi Lamplighter Wright February 16, 2017 2:13 PM  

John is near finishing the second Winged Avenger's Sidekick book. I think NOWHITHER is next.

Blogger praetorian February 16, 2017 2:17 PM  

On a meta-level: the fact that you and John can disagree so vehemently on some issues and yet remain both admirers and supporters of one another is extremely heartening.

Blogger Jose February 16, 2017 2:21 PM  

praetorian wrote:On a meta-level: the fact that you and John can disagree so vehemently on some issues and yet remain both admirers and supporters of one another is extremely heartening.

When I was a wee lad, this was called "being a grown up," and was expected of all men.

Blogger Cataline Sergius February 16, 2017 2:24 PM  

I'm curious, can an adversarial relationship with an editor improve an authors work?

Robert Heinlein and Alice Dalgliesh appeared to have one, yet she was his editor during his golden period. Now he certainly wrote good books without her but then again that was after he had worked with her.

Anonymous 5343 Kinds of Deplorable February 16, 2017 2:28 PM  

I know this has already been noted before, but I think it's glorious that you two can disagree vehemently about politics but praise each other's good points. These are character qualities on which strong societies, not to mention friendships, are built.

Castalia rules!

Anonymous 5343 Kinds of Deplorable February 16, 2017 2:30 PM  

John C Wrightaholics Anonymous should be a thing.

No Wright book takes me more than one day, as everything else has to take a back seat until I'm done.

Blogger Nathan February 16, 2017 2:30 PM  

Will it be possible to purchase Somewhither as a physical book sometime in the future? I have enjoyed Vox's books, and am eager to read JCW's work after surfing his blog, but I hate reading e-books.

Blogger Matthew February 16, 2017 2:49 PM  

Castalia House will be publishing print editions of all our books; it just takes time.

Somewhither will be sooner rather than later.

Anonymous Delia February 16, 2017 2:56 PM  

I am very much looking forward to reading books from Mr. Wright that are competently proofread. The Golden Age had some miserably error-ridden passages.

Anonymous Cadwallander J February 16, 2017 3:05 PM  

Castalia is achieving something remarkable. I just finished "An equation of almost infinite complexity." You guys are actually putting out significant literary works. That and "The Missionaries" are great finds. I would not have read those types of books from any other publishing house, but Castalia has been churning out one quality read after another. Almost every new book is a must-read.

Having the praise of an author of Wright's caliber will only draw more talent your way.

Congratulations to all involved.

Blogger susurrus February 16, 2017 3:32 PM  

I've been following this blog regularly for a few months now, but never commented--partly because I'm feeling the room, partly because this blog is filled with impressive comments and I have nothing to add anyway. Might as well inaugurate the moment simply and humbly with praise…

There is much about Vox to admire, but this description describes some very admirable traits indeed. This is someone who is highly intelligent BUT ALSO proven commercially and successful in several mediums. For him to remain modest enough to be an over-invested yet objective and highly competent editor is something more impressive than one would initially think. In my paltry editing experience, after slogging through so much crap anytime I came upon a decent work, all my subjective creative urges forced themselves upon the thing. A lot of editors seem like talentless hacks with inferiority complexes. Just think about any academic “peer reviews” you suffered through, or just look at the average professor today—it seems to attract the lowest qualities of the most moderately talented of pricks out there.


I am not a gamer, and though I have a somewhat large library (not braggin or nuthin) I've never been a sci-fi fan (through sheer inexperience—this site alone is encouraging me to take another look) I can't even remember how I ended up here from rabbit hole of the interwebz--it may have been from a Molyneux interview a while back. At any rate I have stayed simply because of the merit of Vox's thoughts, the personal integrity in his writing, his intellectual courage/basedness and his commitment to truth. You may disagree with him sometimes, but its damn hard to and even then you’d have to respect his integrity.

Blogger tuberman February 16, 2017 3:42 PM  

There was a book written by some Leftist hack a few years ago about how the future would be Right Brain driven. At that time I thought he was partially correct, but he wasn't being specific about what would happen in that area and why. He just did not know. About that same time I was reading some top physics people on science and creativity. It seemed to me that specialization or at least narrow ranges of curiosity was a major problem by the time my generation came along.

Specialization leads to hoards of data being collected that seldom goes anywhere, as there is no one capable of connecting the dots with all the legitimate data, and false data becomes an even bigger problem as there were few people with an ability to accurately judge whether data had been "massaged."

I knew many high IQ people, but most were impeded by their narrow range of interests. Today there is a reopening, where quite a few smart people are letting their curiosity roam over wide territories of STACKS, or they could be called knowledge stacks, talent stacks, or even POWER STACKS. President Trump is a great example, and so is Vox Day.

Blogger Gaiseric February 16, 2017 4:04 PM  

tuberman wrote:Specialization leads to hoards of data being collected that seldom goes anywhere, as there is no one capable of connecting the dots with all the legitimate data, and false data becomes an even bigger problem as there were few people with an ability to accurately judge whether data had been "massaged."

The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the deadly light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.

Blogger Jose February 16, 2017 4:09 PM  

5343 Kinds of Deplorable wrote:No Wright book takes me more than one day, as everything else has to take a back seat until I'm done.

What, is there any other way to read a novel?

Blogger susurrus February 16, 2017 4:12 PM  

I agree that we should be modest--true humility and an understanding of limits is the door to wisdom. But don't you think that in a lot of ways the term "specialization" has just become double-speak for "narrow" or "extremely limited." I agree that "broad thinking" by the majority is not beneficial (see SJW, BLM, 3WF). But I still think the intellectual circumference of most of our intellectual laborers is dangerously small.

Its not that people invest so much on their particular branch, its that they take the branch for the entire tree, world-- but most likely they just don't give a shit anyway and don't think of branches or trees at all.

I think of all the TECH labs, theses and dissertations I've come across. Its like most people are content with whatever single strand they have been given-- its probably just a section of a strand-- and they never even attempt to understand the larger web to which it belongs. Consequently they never ask to what ends or purposes their studies and "research" progress. Most lab technicians have no broader context at all-- they're simply matching up numbers or comparing sequences anyway.

Such a person under such a circumstance is thus highly malleable, and of course easier to manipulate. He's just pushing buttons, pulling the lever--its not like he's pulling the trigger or anything... And when asked about global warming, socio-sexual behavior or whatever his segment of a single strand of expertise he'll just point out some minor non-essential detail without any context other than that its proof of the MSM argument (those rising CO2 levels)... so it must be right... you jackass!

Blogger Matthew McDaniel February 16, 2017 4:30 PM  

Did he just say you're a beautician?

Blogger John Wright February 16, 2017 5:02 PM  

"Some of us would really appreciate if that privilege and serious responsibility were being applied to NOWHITHER."

Mercy, my masters! Your humble servant toils with bleeding fingers on his dull and battered quill.

I have the first 27 thousand words written (five chapters, 93 double spaced pages) and a rough outline. I wanted to finish two other novels first before returning to the project.

Since I write novels in the same amount of time it used to take me to write a short story, I hope your patience will not be exhausted. I am aiming for having it out this year, in winter.

Anonymous 5343 Kinds of Deplorable February 16, 2017 5:15 PM  

I am aiming for having it out this year, in winter.

Whew! It's not like we don't love the other 15 things you're currently doing, but Nowhither is major.

Now if I can just get my hardcover Somewhither to re-read ...

Blogger Nathan February 16, 2017 5:32 PM  

Thank you for your response. I don't mean to be a pain -- I love SF/F and finding quality authors is a joy. I have signed up for the new release news letter to stay updated.

Blogger tuberman February 16, 2017 6:11 PM  

#24 &26

When talking about these narrow ranges, I am talking about much more than just science... it's in everything.

'Its not that people invest so much on their particular branch, its that they take the branch for the entire tree, world-- but most likely they just don't give a shit anyway and don't think of branches or trees at all."

This is not a problem with most of you on here, but many of the people in my generation don't see our connection to Western Civilization. These are people around my age that I tried to talk to about things like the Rotherham Rapes, and it was like, "Oh well, that is over there, across the big pond, and it has nothing to do with us." Now, these were almost all "America First" Trump voters, yet no feelings of strong connect with even the UK, let alone the rest of Europe. This has improved a lot over the last year, but over two years ago when I was first staggered by this information from some European Alt-Right sites, all this was received by less than a shrug response.




Anonymous Ray P February 16, 2017 6:14 PM  

The dangers of excessive editing recalls a remark of Damon Knight on Herb Gold, the nineteen fifties Galaxy editor: he could take a mediocre story and mahe it good and take a great story and make it good.

Blogger Lovekraft February 16, 2017 6:43 PM  

He's the type of guy who you know will give you honest advice, free of hidden motivation. You trust that he will let you take his advice and still be in his good graces.

Blogger Basil Makedon February 16, 2017 6:47 PM  

Honest, agenda-free advice is rare and accordingly valuable.

Anonymous Marvin Boggs February 16, 2017 7:46 PM  

Mr Editor, you just sold me on Mr Wright. Next fictional book I buy will be by him. One thing I always want to see in a book is a word, or two, that I do not know. Words are the currency of writers. They ought to have a better vocabulary than I, and it ought to show in their work. Not excessively, mind, but it ought to show.

Anonymous 5343 Kinds of Deplorable February 16, 2017 8:13 PM  

Words are the currency of writers.

Stephen Donaldson. Gave me half my vocabulary.

Anonymous Laz February 16, 2017 8:25 PM  

"I am very much looking forward to reading books from Mr. Wright that are competently proofread. The Golden Age had some miserably error-ridden passages."

You aren't the only one. Although, to be honest, the bar is not set very high for proofreading in sc-fi.

It wasn't only the golden age that had bad proofreading. I'm in the middle of the Monster Hunters series and I can't go 5 pages without a typo.

Anonymous Laz February 16, 2017 8:28 PM  

Ha! Once I hit publish I realized you didn't mean the golden age of sci-fi.

It still needed to be said though.

Anonymous Laz February 16, 2017 8:30 PM  

"...I can't even remember how I ended up here from rabbit hole of the interwebz--it may have been from a Molyneux interview a while back. At any rate I have stayed simply because of the merit of Vox's thoughts, the personal integrity in his writing, his intellectual courage/basedness and his commitment to truth. You may disagree with him sometimes, but its damn hard to and even then you’d have to respect his integrity."

Well said. Same here.

Blogger susurrus February 16, 2017 8:58 PM  

tuberman wrote:many of the people in my generation don't see our connection to Western Civilization. These are people around my age that I tried to talk to about things...and it was like, "Oh well...over two years ago when I was first staggered by this information... all this was received by less than a shrug response.

Has anything changed in those 2 years? In my experience its only gotten worse.

I'm 26 (I assume we're in or close to the same generation?). It still shocks me. I'm reminded of the scene in "The Big Short" when Steve Carrel's character is walking down a bustling sidewalk and screams something along the lines of, "Everyone's walking around like they’re in a fucking Enya video-- don't they know the world's about to end!?"

Like you I know plenty of otherwise high enough IQ people who yet fail to grasp what is slapping them in the face. That's how far leftist propaganda/social engineering works though I think. It discourages objective sober thought, often by hijacking a topic, framing it as an absolute moral one then channeling emotions into it. When anything is turned into heretical taboo (serious conversation for instance),it’s a way to conceal a delicate truth or discourage further analysis. After this is done, people can only operate off false assumptions if they haven’t already ran as far from the topic as they could. So nothing gets solved because the obvious base of the issue is barred from everyone, and even the smart people are far less likely to associate with it at all.

PC culture has become so extreme that most people run the other way in fear when confronted with any controversial topic of any kind PERIOD. Whether they fear the label of "conspiritard" "racist" "bigot", or just fear losing credibility or status, this fear and shame shuts down their ability to think clearly.

As an example, blank slate theory is a new dogma, anything contradicting that is heresy. If you're a white guy and mention any other race (and you can only mention your race disparagingly) people will avoid you like the plague. No one will touch that conversation. Think about anything dealing with race or gender and education for instance. In the major city near me you constantly hear how the inner city schools are still failing-- this is despite all the money, resources and attention the state has been pouring into improving urban education for nearly 2 decades. On top of this, the Catholic/Charter school programs have taken a dive in quality and revenue and may be closed down after years of AA type programs.

The media cries out "Oh how could this be?!?!?"

Its almost a game at this point guessing the answer: "uhhh... must be... a cultural issue!...extending from white male privilege!... the founding father's owned slaves you know!...so...we have to change/lower standards and strengthen AA quota's to combat this societal flaw… and by wiping the system clean of the white bigoted Constitution of Independence, THEN FINALLY Blacks will have a fair shot!"

That's partly why right now I respect objectivity, honesty, integrity above intelligence, IQ or status. Those are still important, just not as essential in our circumstances. Today, intelligence itself means nothing without humility to be open to any topic and integrity to persevere and stand by your knowledge.

(sorry for the long meandering bloviating)

Anonymous Mr. Rational February 16, 2017 11:26 PM  

5343 Kinds of Deplorable wrote:No Wright book takes me more than one day, as everything else has to take a back seat until I'm done.
I find myself in the odd position of having to disagree strongly.  I am about 60% of the way through "The Vindication of Man", which is where I've been for a good many months now.  I am wrung out with that story line and can't go any further yet.  I may never get back to it.

This may be a case of taking it all on too much, too fast and burning out, but there you have it.

I've also not been flustered by Mr. Wright's vocabulary.  This may be the consequence of growing up between two families with English teachers and a crossword-addict father.  OTOH I do find that part refreshing, as I found the archaisms in the Baroque cycle interesting and delightful.

OpenID multicultri72 February 17, 2017 12:16 AM  

"A good editor does not substitute his tastes, his politics, his pet peeves, or his sense of where your story should go for his own."
Surely there is something wrong with this sentence?

Blogger The Overgrown Hobbit February 17, 2017 1:14 AM  

I read the OED for fun. As I've mentioned elsewhere, please feel to call on me for any copy-editing needs viz a JCW story.

Build up. Build over. Build Around. We win, they lose.

Go team Castallia!

Blogger The Overgrown Hobbit February 17, 2017 1:21 AM  

Dear Mr. Boggs. If you enjoy SF and also want to improve your vocabulary pick up anything by Jack Vance or Gene Wolfe. You'll also enjoy some of the best writing in the English language.

Anonymous LurkingPuppy February 17, 2017 2:45 AM  

The Overgrown Hobbit wrote:I read the OED for fun. As I've mentioned elsewhere, please feel to call on me for any copy-editing needs viz a JCW story.
E-mail Vox and/or Matthew (automatthew @ GMail).

Blogger Resident Moron™ February 17, 2017 4:41 AM  

Or just send corrections, as has been mentioned in these columns many times.

And if you're not prepared to do this, then .... (fill in your own imprecations here).

Blogger Ann Kellett February 17, 2017 9:55 AM  

As a ghostwriter and editor, I aspire to be considered among the best in my niche. Having these traits spelled out helps immensely, both professionally and personally.

Blogger wreckage February 19, 2017 8:42 AM  

For vocabulary, read Clark Ashton Smith!

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