A freight train broke down ahead of us this morning, so we sat on the track in the middle of nowhere for about four hours. When we finally got moving again, we had used up all the time I was supposed to have in Portland between connections. Indeed, we arrived after the second train was supposed to have already left, but it waited for us. I stepped off my train, was scooped up by a conductor and driven in his golf cart to the next platform, shooed into the sleeping car, where I quickly dumped my suitcase in my cabin, and trotted down the corridor to the dinning car for a rather late lunch, within about two and half minutes of the first train coming to a complete stop. Full marks for efficiency!
I, on the other hand, wasn’t every efficient or productive for the morning, partly feeling sleepy and partly worrying about my connection. (I tend to be a nervous traveler, which is irrational because not only had my wife contingency plans for every eventuality, she has my back remotely – anything goes wrong, she knows about it before I do--thanks to Amtrak updates via Internet--and can talk me through anything as she makes and unmakes reservations ahead of my travels.) But it’s like waiting for the cable guy: there’s no real reason why knowing he might come should stop you from doing all those other chores around the house, but somehow it becomes this constant, if absent, distraction. And, to be honest, having finished marking the last of my student papers this morning, I was it finding hard to motivate myself to begin my next big task, a report I’d rather not be writing. But I got into the holiday mood listening to episodes of “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me” on my Ipod while enjoying some excellent scenery.
I eventually pulled out some of myfiction I’d been thinking about the last several weeks. For some reason a short story from the 1990s has been popping into my brain. I abandoned it back then because it was too long for short story markets, too short for novel, but now with e-publishing, length is just no longer a consideration, so idea is again worth revisiting. So I read over the original version and saw how easily my new ideas would plug into what I had from before. It’s embarrassing, but I remain my own biggest fan. I don’t know what it is about this guy, but he has exactly my sense of humor! So that got me into a writing mood, if not on the work I’m supposed to be prioritizing.
By the time I switched from the Empire Builder to the Starliner and had lunch I was prepared to settle down to work. Discovering active wifi in the parlor car on the Starliner, I was one happy camper. Catching up on work email, posting grades and so on, finishing off all the work I was supposed to have done before leaving, while they hosted a wine and cheese reception around me. (I can’t drink, but plate of cheeses was nice!) Quite productive afternoon and evening, interrupted by a steak dinner for supper. Fellow dinners were a family from Orleans, a Vice Principal and his wife --an instructor at the university--and their son in a Perry The Platypus T-shirt. A pleasant conversation, and interesting for me as the VP explained why he hated interviewing new teachers: “They all say what they think I want to hear so it’s different faces but the same speech over and over and over.” He was the VP of a Catholic school which pays new teachers about $30,000, so he knows that his applicant pool are those who couldn’t get jobs in the better paying public schools. So that was interesting for me in terms of preparing my graduates.
When I finally retired for the evening, settled down to read an SF novel from the 1980s that was one of my favorite examples of why Canadian SF is different than the American version. Not quite recreational reading--though I am thoroughly enjoying re-reading the novel--because it is one of the ones I am negotiating to republish, so and I’m editing as I go. As a novel previously published by one of the big houses, it obviously doesn’t need as much editing as most of the manuscripts that come across my desk, but it never ceases to amaze me that the previous editor let a lot more stuff go than I intend to. The lapses are all minor – some Bob and Doug dialog, a couple of momentary lapses in POV, the very occasional ambiguous sentence, but still… it’s the editor’s job to see the book is as good as it can be when it goes out.
Of course, I say that knowing that some fan is going to identify a billion minor lapses in the last manuscript I edited. Just finished editing Mik Murdoch: Boy Superhero and even on the third iteration, found stuff I had missed on the first two times through. Pretty sure I nailed all the big stuff, but there is always the occasional mistake that slips through: e.g., caught a reference to an earlier but now deleted scene, or that we forgot that we’d tied the dog to a tree at the start of a scene and need to retrieve him at the end of it. Oops. But after a while the editor becomes as intimately familiar with the novel as the novelist and consequently suffers the same kind of “see what you expect to see” blindness. When the galleys come back for Mik Murdoch I’m giving a copy to my daughter to read in hopes that her fresh--albeit untrained-- eyes can catch stuff like that….
Of course, I, the author, the publisher, and another editor will also be proofing the galleys. It’s constantly amazing how many errors can creep into even a thoroughly edited manuscript at the last second. I remember when I worked as a test developer for the provincial government, each test went through about 30 different reviews, and we still had the occasional exam go out where the typesetter (and the 11 different proof readers who subsequently reviewed it) missed an exponent on an equation, rendering the question incorrect. But at least we try, in contrast to the big houses which now seem to expect manuscripts to come in preproofed and self-publishers who just don’t see the need….