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The Devil is in the Details


The love-hate relationship of authors with editors reveals the depth of engagement in the making of art. Both individuals are intensively committed to the work, which means that there will be conflict. In recent weeks, I’ve come to love — or at least I deeply appreciate the efforts of — Brian Buckley

He’s technically the copy editor for Poisoned Justice, who you might think corrects punctuation and grammar:

I switched to past perfect (“all we had” to “all we’d had,” etc.) since his father is dead. The reader doesn’t know that yet, so we want to avoid making it sound like he’s alive.

That’s important stuff, but there’s more to the work of a good copy editor (note the use of “we” in Brian’s explanation—he sees this as a shared venture). So what else did he provide?

Brian meticulously tracked the geographic context. For example, he called my attention to having mistakenly located Martinez, California (Joe DiMaggio’s birthplace) as being near San Francisco, rather than Los Angeles (an important detail that was easily fixed).

Brian also assured that the timeline of the story was impeccable. For example, I wrote that Riley, “threw back the last of my Black Bush and headed to bed. With three days down and eleven to go, the case was looking more interesting. And less solvable.” This was a fine wrap-up for the chapter but Brian noted:

By my count, it’s four days down and ten to go. He accepted the case Thursday night, and it’s now Monday night

Nice catch! During the revision process, I’d moved this scene from elsewhere in the book and overlooked the change in dates.

However, sometimes the author digs in his heels. Brian kept careful track of the cultural context. For example, I referred to a television and Brain noted:

According to IMDB, Charlie’s Angels premiered September 22, 1976. This scene is on September 24, 1976, so the dates don’t quite match.

He was right, but sometimes fiction is akin to playing horseshoes. I replied:

Ok, but the timing seems close enough for plausible fiction. The time-frame of Charlie’s Angels surely generates the right historical sensibility for the story.

My apologies to aficionados of bad television in the ‘70s but the story-line trumped reality. Brian accepted my reasoning—and this ability to work with (rather for or against) an author is the crucial to a first-rate copy editor.

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