Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Editing Tanith Lee (1947-2015)

Tanith Lee, one of the greatest writers of fantasy, died recently. I "came of age" in my own fantasy career reading her marvelous stories (even though we were born the same year) and had the delight of editing several of her short stories and in the process becoming friends. Many writers and readers have posted tributes to her. Here is a bit of my own story, originally written as part of a "behind the scenes" series for The Feathered Edge: Tales of Magic, Love, and Daring, which contained the third of the Tanith Lee stories I was privileged to edit.

What is there to say about editing a Tanith Lee story? You sit there, holding the typewritten manuscript that she sent you, and something in your brain turns itself into total fangirl jelly. But you already knew that.

To begin with, the first Tanith Lee story I worked on was for Lace and Blade (2008). She'd agreed to submit a story in the very early planning stages of that project, before I came onboard as editor. And it was my first gig as editor. Over the years, I'd worked with a bunch of different editors and had ideas about what worked for me, what didn't, and how I wanted to interact with writers "from the other side of the desk."  After years of participating in writer's workshops and teaching adult education classes in writing, I was all set to instruct and guide.

None of this prepared me for the experience of holding in my hands an original typewritten Tanith Lee manuscript.

The first, and most important thing, I had to do was to take off my fangirl hat and my fellow-writer hat, and affix my editor hat firmly to my head. This involved an excruciating change of gears. I made mistakes. Of course, I made mistakes. (And I learned how to clean them up.) I wasn't born knowing how to edit, let alone how to edit iconic authors in whose shadows I have long stood. Tanith herself encouraged me. She wrote to me, "On editing though - like writing, I feel strongly one must do what one feels is right. In me, of course, you run into an old war-horse, 40 years in the field, covered in armour and neighing like a trumpet." Which was a most gracious way of acknowledging that the relationship between an author and an editor is an organic process that, when at its best, is rooted in clear communication, deep listening, and respect. Not intimidation (in either direction), but a partnership in which both people have the same goal -- to make the story the best representation of the author's vision.

By the time I received, "Question A Stone," Tanith and I had evolved out a procedure that worked for both of us. It began with her sending me a typewritten manuscript. In a 1998 interview, she said, "I have to write longhand, and no one can read my writing, I have to type my own manuscripts, because I'm going almost in a zigzag, across and then down. (I don't write backwards, I've never been able to do that!) I used to throw away my holograph manuscripts after I'd typed them, but I'm keeping a lot of them now, because I'm starting to think, if anyone ever is interested in me after I'm dead, they can look and see, 'My god, this woman was a maniac!'"

I'd tried scanning Tanith's pages into a digital file, but all the handwritten corrections and irregularities of type, not to mention the paper being British-sized rather than American-sized, meant the result required an enormous amount of line-by-line clean-up. So I transcribed it (and then printed it out and sent her a copy for review, which amounts to a preview of proof pages.) I've heard this technique suggested for beginning writers -- type out pages from the published works of your favorite authors, to get an inside look at how the story is put together, how the prose works, all the details you miss when you read; the action of typing (or writing out the passages longhand) engages your brain in a different way. Transcribing Tanith's manuscripts taught me an immeasurable amount about how she crafts her prose and weaves together the details of character, setting, dialog, plot, the works.

On the computer print-out, I highlighted anything I had questions about, she caught my typos, I caught hers, and what she sent back was ready to go in the final anthology line-up.

"Question A Stone" involves two superb and very sexy swordsmen who, through a twist of circumstances, find themselves committed to fighting a duel to the death, despite having fallen in love with one another. Their swords, being magical, have other ideas. The whole adventure takes place in an inn called The Chameleon's Arms, a delight suggested by Tanith's husband, John Kaiine.


"Forgive me that I must interrupt your meal," said Andreis, as he stopped beside the table. "But unfortunately you and I have something to discuss."

Talzen looked up at him in dreary self-annoyance. Which with a flick of expression sometimes bewildering to others, he changed to the lightest arrogance. "Pray sit. Have some wine. It's from Khavalisc. The l8th Year."

Andreis raised an eyebrow. "That won't be necessary. But I will sit." He sat.

Was ever such male grace surpassed?

Damnation, thought Talzen.

"Perhaps an apple then? They're at perfect ripeness."

"Forgive me again," said Andreis, who had too quite a wonderful voice, "but I dislike to share food or drink with anyone I shall presently kill."

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