To celebrate the tenth year of 49 Writers’ existence and this blog, we are reposting the work of earlier contributors. Today’s reposting was written by 49 Writers’ founding member, Andromeda Romano-Lax in July, 2011. She is the author of a nonfiction travel narrative and four novels, including Plum Rains, which was published in 2018. According to the Paris Review, “In Plum Rains, the world that Romano-Lax engineers is a character in itself, impossibly complex and daunting in its believability.”
Andromeda Romano-Lax reading from her latest novel, Plum Rains. Photo by Jeremy Pataky
Andromeda now lives on a small island off Vancouver Island, Canada, where she continues to write novels and work, via email and phone, as a book coach. Many of her clients are Alaskans. Her fifth novel, Annie and The Wolves, will be published in February 2021. She is currently finishing work on a mother-daughter thriller set in Guatemala.
Editing and a Note on Hemingway
July 2 marked the 50th anniversary of Ernest Hemingway’s death, so old Papa has been in the news a lot this week, as well as in Woody Allen’s charming and entertaining “Midnight in Paris” (which convinced my teen daughter that she must find a way to visit Paris in two or three years) and in a current New Yorker story by Julian Barnes.
Hemingway was also mentioned in a lecture I attended last month, in which one of my Antioch University mentors, Leonard Chang, discussed how Papa H. rigorously edited his own work, with some essential last-minute help from F. Scott Fitzgerald of Gatsby fame (another intense self-editor who got further revision help from the famous Maxwell Perkins). Evidently, The Sun Also Rises was already in galley stage, practically ready for publication, when Hemingway made the decision, based on Fitzgerald’s suggestions, to completely cut the first two chapters of the novel.
I took inspiration from that anecdote last week, as I was responding to publisher copyedits of my second novel, to be published next February. At the copyedit stage, most focus is on issues of grammar and punctuation, as well as the odd bit of last-minute fact-checking, including how we use certain foreign-language words in the text. But more line-edit scale issues still arise, especially where the latest fresh set of eyes feels something is unclear and says so. As I responded to the copyedits, I had to decide when to simply accept minor changes made (which I did in nine cases out of ten), when to insist upon my original choices, and whether to take an additional stab at certain sentences or paragraphs to tweak characterization or voice, or make some aspect of the story more clear.
The polite, “don’t-make-things-any-more-complicated” side of me wanted to leave everything as is. The “Hemingway” side of me continued to use the holiday weekend to puzzle over the opening paragraph, a significant and purposeful voice shift at the start of the second chapter, and so on. I added two long new paragraphs in those places, and let my husband Brian read the revised draft. He thought the chapters worked better without those latest additions. Out they came again. No doubt when I see my book in print, I’ll feel the twitch of those missing paragraphs like phantom limbs. I’m still too close to the work to know whether every of one of my last-minute decisions were the best ones.
This is all my way of saying that revision is never completely finished, and looking back over the last decade, I can say that I’ve spent many more months editing than first-drafting, usually by a factor of two to one.
I wrote more drafts than I can count of this novel before I shared any of it with other readers. I made major changes when a new agent took me under her wing and offered her critique, with which I strongly agreed. After my publisher, Soho Press, bought the novel, I discussed the possibility of opening the novel in a completely different way (ten years after the story’s main action starts) that changed how the reader perceives the main character; I hadn’t wanted to make this major change until I had an editor onboard, willing to comment on both versions. By the line-editing stage, revision was limited mostly to eliminating inadvertent authorial “tics,” deleting instances where I had explained too much and adding material where I had explained too little. By the copy-editing stage, only two or three particularly troublesome areas remained.
For the first time last week, reading the full manuscript one more time, start to finish, I felt like I had a completed novel in my hands. Do I resent all those editing steps? Not one bit. I’m grateful for the opportunity to correct, to improve, to rethink, and most of all, to learn from the comments of all those keen-eyed readers who took the time to help. I’ll still get one more chance to read my novel at the proofreading stage, in August.
For another Alaska author’s detailed explanation of the stages of editing and pre-marketing leading up the publication of her first novel, The Snow Child, check out Eowyn Ivey’s blogpost, “Am I in the second trimester yet?”