A few years ago, I was lucky enough to get the job of editing an anthology of local writing. I was living in Ireland at the time, and the town where I lived received a modest grant from the Arts Council to fund the project. It was simultaneously one of the most enjoyable and frustrating times in my writing career.
This was local writing in the rawest sense. People turned in memoir, short stories, poems, and excerpts from longer works. The standard ranged from extremely good professional writers, down to the wanna-bes who churned out a story over their morning porridge. The contributors’ ages ranged from 93 down to 7.
Then there was the politics. There were certain people I had to include: the lady who wrote the obituaries for the local paper, the librarian’s kids, a publican from one of the 28 pubs in town who wrote a long and vitriolic rant about people chucking up their black pints on his carpet.
People submitted their work, and I chose… Well, some I chose were the best, some were written by local characters that were expected to contribute, some were badly written memoirs, but they told a valuable story of local life. Just when I’d finally got it sorted (or so I thought), people wandered up to me in the street, or in the pub and slip a tatty piece of paper covered in illegible writing into my hand. “For the local book,” they’d say. One lady rang me to dictate her story over the phone for me to type.
The editing part was as much tact as bluntness, as much smoke and mirrors as substance—seeing what I could change that would never be noticed. I soon learned that, for the most part, people didn’t want or care about edits. “Ah, sure, I didn’t bother reading it back; that’s what you’re here for.”
There were a few arguments, a few noses out of joint, and a few overrides of my choices by the bigwigs in the Arts Council, all for political reasons. But there were a few who did seem to care very much, and they were as delightful to work with, as keen and enthusiastic as any professional.
The book was a quiet success. We sold hundreds at the launch in a local pub which was attended by half the town. People bought the book as Christmas presents, for their granny, for all their relatives, “for posterity”. And everyone thanked me, everyone bought me a pint of Guinness, so that I had pints to call on for weeks afterward.
It was a great experience. It was editing, of course it was, but it was also PR, HR, politicking, child care, elder care, social work, public speaking, stenography, computer repair, IT help desk, alcoholic, and cook.
Right now, I’m in the throes of editing my second anthology. After 14 years as an erotica writer, and a contributory to anthologies, I’ve finally bitten the bullet. “Forbidden Fruit: stories of unwise lesbian desire” will be published by Ladylit in late August. I can’t wait!
As for the editing experience—well it couldn’t be further removed from the local writing experience. There are 17 wonderful stories in “Forbidden Fruit”, written by professionals and a couple of extremely talented new writers. It’s a great experience, being trusted with another’s story, and when the story is an excellent piece of writing to start with, editing is what it should be: a fine-tune, one that maintains the author’s voice and the story they want to tell.
Look out for “Forbidden Fruit: stories of unwise lesbian desire” at the end of August 2014. It’s going to be a cracker!
None of the contributors to “Forbidden Fruit” asked me to watch their kids while they nipped around to Maeve’s to use the printer. That’s a good thing. But hey… none of them have bought me a pint of Guinness either!
Cheyenne Blue’s erotica has appeared in over 90 anthologies including Best Women’s Erotica, Cowboy Lust, Best Lesbian Romance, Lesbian Lust, and Frenzy:60 Stories of Sudden Sex. She lives and writes by the beach in Queensland, Australia. Visit her website at http://www.cheyenneblue.com