The news that Ann Paden has died arrived this week—shared among mutual friends and in a caring memorial written by her son on Facebook:
When someone dies it underscores how important they were in our own lives and it can also reveal how we feel about death itself.
If life and death provide the playground in which we connect with others—some of us shoveling sand, some of us playing on swings, others standing apart next to a chain link fence—I will always remember how Ann, herself an accomplished writer and editor, invited me to join in.
In Buddhism, we are exhorted to remember, whenever we hear that someone has died: “this could have been me and one day will be”. But I find myself just recalling how much she helped me with my writing and the generosity with which she shared her tremendous skills as an editor.
I linked up with Ann because a fellow novel-writing friend shared her with me, as someone might share a 40-year old scotch or a favorite Zen story. I met her in person a half-dozen times, but we exchanged hundreds of emails as she read and brought forth the potential in my manuscript.
She shared a few personal experiences, for instance in an e-mail written in June 2013:
What fun it is to see the world through a child’s eyes. It was amazing–first time ever for her: Actually touching the dolphins in their training pool at SeaWorld, seeing the real ocean and running away from the waves at Manhattan Beach, first roller-coaster ride ever at Santa Monica Pier (which I feared to take her on, but her response hitting the bottom was “Oh My God! That Was So Much Fun!! I want to do it again!)
But it was as an editor that I will always remember her. I hope others–writers and non-writers–will be able to appreciate Ann’s skills as I now share a few excerpts from our e-mail correspondence. In the emails below, along with feedback that will obviously be most meaningful to me, there are insights about the role of an editor in the creative process, which I believe will be of interest to anyone who writes or reads, and to anyone who knew Ann in her long and impressive professional life.
She was able to engage the plot, character, and chronology of my story in such an encouraging way that (as I say in the Acknowledgements for “Falling on the Bright Side”), she made me “want to write a better book”:
I hope you have not reported me as a “Missing Person”! I AM right here, and . . . I do hope to be able to get it back to you by next Monday.
Thank you, Michael. I am pleased to think that you may find some of my comments useful. I think the bottom line of all those words is to validate and affirm your concept for this book. I get it! And I am sure other readers will, too. Beyond that, I especially admired the structure of the book. The story is complex and happens on different levels (lending richness to the basic narrative). But this is difficult thing to carry off. You have done it beautifully.
Hi, Michael — I love your line about “applying the spirit of feedback on early chapters in the virgin forests of later ones”! The later chapters really are just fine. Content is right. Just need a little trim around the edges and perhaps working out the problem I felt with Bill having such a complete recovery–speech-wise–in such a short time. Long and articulate speeches. That would make his move back east unnecessary and would make Larry and Philip redundant. I think the work-through would be to have both Larry and Philip have larger roles as middle men/ translator/ interpreters in the end of the summer.
I’m glad the “chronology,” such as it is, is useful to you. That really is nothing at all to have done. Just part of the job. You know, there are at least three levels of “editing” and many subsets. The first is a straightforward copy edit, picking up punctuation, spelling, and inconsistencies. Next up is what is usually called a line edit, which is a more comprehensive kind of copy edit. And which is how I approached Falling on the Bright Side. That is where matters such as getting the chronology into line, watching the flow of (and possible flaws in) character development, and probably querying matters of fact. (For example, I checked what the time difference between Albuquerque and Tucson would be in July because I know that Arizona does not observe Daylight Saving Time, but I can never remember which way that goes.) Then at another level–which is what would happen in Lisa’s class I believe, is manuscript analysis. I did that in my own mind at the first read-through. The next step, which I will do next–when you are satisfied that all is as you want it–is a final proofread. This has not much to do with any of the above. It’s the one where the editor makes sure that t’s are crossed and i’s are dotted. That is a technician’s job.
Do you have the new Chapter 16 on one file? I would love to see it. I promise not to meddle. I like the idea that YOU are inventing/ discovering/ developing tools for the new form of communication right along with Larry and Philip, as they enlarge their own vocabulary of sounds, observations, signs, etc. In other words, it seems from what you write that you are informing yourself (and ultimately the reader) of Larry, Philip, and Bill’s progress toward developing their own common language, one step at a time. It really feels like this is working! A creative challenge, which I bet you will find to be quite satisfying as it progresses. I also think that for you to take the time to build these baby steps into the manuscript will make it an even richer and more interesting story. July plans for a full read sound good to me! Do send C. 16 if you can. Ann
I am so all set for our own kind of closer—a final read of Falling on the Bright Side. And very much looking forward to seeing changes, however subtle, to bringing Philip into larger focus and giving Julie the depth of character that you had already drawn in earlier drafts, but that I already know is more compete now.
. . .
When someone dies we can peer into their life as if it were now an historical edifice whose last stone has been set in place. But perhaps what we see looking back at us is the fellow human being who peered into our lives and invited us to let the chain link fence at the edge of the school yard slip from our fingers.