Today's forecast for St. Peters, MO: Mostly cloudy, high 61 degrees, chance of thunderstorms for this evening. Thunderstorms beat the thundersnow we woke up to early Sunday morning.
I am pleased and honored to have acclaimed author George Singleton as my guest blogger today. Singleton is visiting Donna's Book Pub as his last stop on his WOW! Women on Writing Blog tour. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution calls Singleton: "[The] unchallenged king of the comic Southern short story."
Recently I finished reading one of his laugh-out-loud story collections, Why Dogs Chase Cars. One afternoon while waiting for my grandchildren in the carpool van, I read it with the windows down. I was laughing so hard I kept getting strange looks from other moms and grandmoms picking up their kids after school. If you get a chance, check this book out. It is side-splitting funny and will definitely put a smile on your face. Also, check out his latest non-fiction book from Writers Digest, Pep Talks, Warnings and Screeds: Indispensable Wisdom and Cautionary Advice for Writers. I can't wait to read my copy and see what George has to say.
Singleton's publishing credentials read like a short story writer's dream resume. His short stories have appeared in The Atlantic Monthly, Harper’s Playboy, Zoetrope, The Georgia Review, Shenandoah, Southern Review, Kenyon Review, Glimmer Train, North American Review, Fiction International, Epoch, Esquire.com, New England Review, Carolina Quarterly, Greensboro Review, Arkansas Review, American Literary Review, and so on.
His stories have been anthologized in eight issues of New Stories from the South, and also in 20 Over 40, Surreal South, Writers Harvest 2, They Write Among Us, and Behind the Short Story. His non-fiction has appeared in Bark and Oxford American, and has been anthologized in Best Food Writing 2005, Dog is My Co-Pilot, and Howl. He has published four collections of stories: These People Are Us, The Half-Mammals of Dixie, Why Dogs Chase Cars, Drowning in Gruel; and two novels: Novel and Work Shirts for Madmen.
George was born in Anaheim, California and lived there until he was seven. He grew up in Greenwood, South Carolina. He graduated from Furman University in 1980 with a degree in philosophy, and from UNC-Greensboro with an MFA in creative writing. Singleton has taught English and fiction writing at Francis Marion College, the Fine Arts Center of Greenville County, and the South Carolina Governor’s School for the Arts and Humanities. He has been a visiting professor at the University of South Carolina and UNC-Wilmington, and has given readings and taught classes at a number of universities and secondary schools. His papers are reposited at the Jackson Library at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. He lives in Pickens County, South Carolina, with the clay artist Glenda Guion and their eleven dogs and one cat.
What an impressive list of credentials! Also impressive is what George has to say in the following essay.
Once upon a time I had a great, great copyeditor named David Hough. From what I understand David got let go when Harcourt got bought out by Houghton-Mifflin. I’m sure he’s landed on his feet, for he is the best copyeditor of all time, as far as I’m concerned.
Backtracking somewhat, when I was a graduate student at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, all of the MFA students were required to take a class taught by Jim “Lester” Clark called Contemporary Publishing and Editing, wherein we learned the ins and outs of editing, proofreading, understanding the Chicago Manual of Style, and so on. Maybe two or three meetings into the course I understood, without a doubt, that I would never, ever, ever want to work in the publishing industry. There’s a reason why “editor” and “endoscopy” are close together in the dictionary, as far as I’m concerned.
Anyway, my last novel was ready to be fact-checked and proofed by good David. But his mother got sick up in Minnesota, or North Dakota, or one of those places that a southern boy will never understand. He called me up and, in his Tom Waits-like voice, said, “I’m going to have to subcontract your novel out to another copyeditor. You’ll be in good hands.”
I said that I understood, for I did: There’s enough to worry about when one’s mother is sick in the South, much less a state that doesn’t know the term “Springtime.”
A couple of weeks later I got the proof pages of my novel in the mail. I looked over it. Already I knew that I might have some problems with colloquialisms--that was nothing new. In the past I had had to explain that we call liquor stores “red dot stores” around here, because of the gigantic red dots painted on the sides of the establishments. I’ve had to explain how we catch possums and raccoons live, pen them up, feed them corn for a week to clean out their systems, then slaughter them later for the wonderful roasts that they offer up. I’ve had to explain how sometimes grown men call each other “Cuz,” or “Bo,” and that not everyone down here says “Bubba.”
I readied myself.
The subcontracted copyeditor, as it ended up, was an eighty year-old woman who used to work in publishing up in New York. So she knew the rules of grammar.
The first time I wrote something like, “I only wanted to get out of the AA meeting and go home to my wife,” she used a transposition sign so that it read “I wanted only to get out of the AA meeting…”
She used that same procedure when I wrote something like, “I only cared about getting my name cleared of the situation.” She changed it to “I cared only about getting my name cleared.”
Understand that there’s a term called “stet,” which means “let it stand.” I wrote “Stet” in the margins both of these times. People don’t say things like, “I cherished only the freshest Beaujolais” around here.
On the third occasion--and I know this sounds like a joke, where everything comes in threes--she changed “I only thought about my future” into “I thought only about my future.”
And she wrote, “Do you people not know the rules of grammar down there?”
Uh-oh. I didn’t write “stet” in the margins. I wrote, “I want only to kill you, right now.”
As it ended up, David’s mother recovered. He returned to work. He called me up after getting the proofs and said, “I had a feeling there might be a problem, but I didn’t want to tell you.” He said that he kept all of my stets.
So. I relate all of this to only say that one must be patient with copyeditors, who’re doing their jobs, and who know way more than any of us the correct rules of grammar, et cetera. And I’d like to add that, with fiction, voice matters.
There you have it--some of George's indispensable wisdom and cautionary advice for writers about the value of a good copy editor and the importance of voice in fiction.
If you have any questions or comments for George, please feel free to post them here and check back for his answers.