Guest Blog: Jacqueline Markowitz Opens Up to the Author-Editor
The original drafts of a novel create its structure and determine how the story will unfold. The years and years of editing that follow infuse the book with character, crafting it into the best possible version of itself. And the final edit, when you know in your gut that you are finally done, gives the writing its shine.
At least that's how it appears to me, having just published my first novel, Conversations for Two. It's the story of a woman who serendipitously comes across a box of her brother's writings, twenty-five years after his death. Through his journals and poetry, she discovers pieces of his world, and the love that defined his life. It’s about love, death, and how we remember—the tangible essence of memory.
I worked with three editors over the years, and had three professional reads with feedback. And, by the way, on the completion of each occasion I happily thought I was done. That is the cruel and wondrous twist of the relationship between editor and writer. A good literary editor, I believe, pushes and supports you to stretch, consider, and discover pieces of your writing self that you didn’t even know you had.
I had a manuscript that I felt was complete, but I decided to get one last opinion. A senior editor from a big publishing house, who was now freelancing, read my manuscript. I felt confident. I was looking forward to her review. After an hour and a half, I hung up the phone. It was not exactly what I expected. I fought against her assessment. Yes, I was sure I had said all that needed to be said. My book was a “different” kind of reading experience.
I didn’t want to hear what she had to say, but her words got under my skin and wouldn’t let me go. I didn't know if I had anything left to give.
Finding the Right Editor
I enlisted the services of the woman who was to serve as my publicist, Janis Seftel, who also had a background in editing. It was an instinctual decision. She understood my story on a deep level. She had an eerie comprehension of the infrastructure of the work, how the prose and poetry intermingled and created conversation—the delicate merging of certain truths with fiction, and the nature of the bridge between the life/death interactions of the primary relationship. I had a feeling we would work well together. It was worth a try.
I can tell you now that all the other occasions of writing and editing were a precursor to this experience. A book has a life of its own; the writer is just the instrument. I had initially resisted, but once I let go completely and gave myself over to the process, I became a writer.
This last edit began with a writer who had already bared the soul of her book. What was left? Where was there to go?
Getting Down to the Details
We identified what needed to be done. Create a stronger arc. Rearrange the narrative structure—play with where the chapters go, consider moving segments. Give more depth to the characters—detail more of their story in a way that makes sense to the style of the book.Was there more to say? What didn’t need to be there?
Truthfully, it was daunting. Beginning is always difficult. Beginning again seemed impossible. I relied on Janis to guide the process. I don’t think I could create a “how-to” guide from our method—it seemed that it just happened intuitively, seamlessly, and powerfully. Six months wrapped in the vapours of writing. I was completely immersed in the experience.
She gave me what I would describe as clues for me to discover. She would say things like: “Is this the way you would like to start the book?” Clearly, my writing brain read this as: She doesn’t think it’s good the way it starts. So, hmm, I had liked it, maybe now I don’t. Ohhh, I see, I could begin like this …
Or, “I wonder if you could expand here a bit. The narrator says she understands how her mother felt, but what about how that relates to her life now?” That comment sent me on a beautiful path of discovering the moments of the narrator’s life that allowed her greater compassion towards the memory of her mother’s emotions.
Trusting the Process
The process between editor and writer is a bit like shining a flashlight in a dark cave. What lies directly ahead? What is there yet to encounter? Let’s look behind us. What is that on the wall beside us? We take the journey of the book together, and bit by bit, we decipher what needs to be done to take us into the light.
Jacqueline Markowitz is a writer and creative producer with a background in film, visual art, and advertising. She lives in Toronto. Conversations for Two is her first book. For more info and for book club details go to www.thejampress.com. More of Jacqui’s writing can be found at www.recipeforlifeclub.com.