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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: The Editor (05/27/10)

TITLE: Can One Edit a Bad Hair Day?
By Kate Oliver Webb


“I suggest we take the next six months off,” Jennifer was saying as I walked in the door. Actually the idea sounded good to me, too, but this was my company, and I had responsibilities, deadlines to meet, people to see to, money to make. That’s right, money to make.

It had been six months since I’d hung out my shingle as a freelance editor. Having had ten years experience working for a small, family-owned publishing house, I figured I’d do well enough on my own. Not to mention the extremely messy breakup of my engagement to the owner’s son made it impossible not only to continue on with that company, but to live in the same town. Or the same state. Or the same continent—but that might be overdoing it.

So I moved the next state over; it wasn’t a big change from eastern Oregon to western Idaho. It seemed like even the same people lived there…they just went by different names.

“Have the first six months been that hard, Jen?” I asked my assistant. Tom, the bookkeeper Jen had addressed her remarks to simply dropped his head and got very interested in the form he had on his desk.

“Oh, Mags,” Jennifer wailed when she saw me. “It was awful; just awful!”

Jennifer had a gift for drama, but this time I actually saw the tears in her eyes, so I motioned her to follow me into my office, and shut the door behind her. I sat behind my desk and tried to look professional.

“What’s going on?”

“Gavin Miller and his wife were here again. If I hadn’t blocked your office door, they’d have grabbed his manuscript from your desk and taken off with it.” Jen’s tears were falling in earnest now.

I tossed her the tissue box, and let her blow. And waited.

“I explained—again—the procedure we have for going through a manuscript. You know, the read-throughs, the edits for facts, the edits for language and grammar and all that, then the re-writes; I went through the whole thing. Then Mrs. Miller—the walking peroxide bottle—said we were just rip-offs, that you’d had his ‘book’ (Jen made air-quotes here) too long, that they wanted it back to take it some place else.” She paused to blow again.

I took the opportunity to interject, “Well, all that’s their right, of course.”

“I told them that. But Mr. Miller said he didn’t feel the same way his wife did, but because it was her money financing it, he had to go along. I’m sorry, Margaret; I think I just lost it.” She ducked her head and cried harder.

“What’d you do?”

“I told him to take himself and the bad-hair-day he brought in with him and get out of our office, that we’d send him back his manuscript when you were through with it.”

“Oh Jen, you didn’t.” I had to hide my grin, because it was funny. What wasn’t funny was that Gavin Miller was right: I knew Marissa Miller not only was paying for the production of Gavin’s “book,” but had done a considerable amount of the writing herself, even though the premise was Gavin’s, as was the research and development of the project.

The manuscript was a marvelous treatise on the treasures of living in a small town. Oh, I know, that’s been done to death, you’re thinking. But his angle was unusual: he was born and bred a New Yorker; met Marissa there. Their families for generations were “city folk.” He wrote simply about his love for small town life, and the “treasures” he referred to were not just material, but spiritual.

Marissa’s spin on the book was more sophisticated, and totally messed up the charming flavor her husband exuded on the written page. I had been trying to deal with the pair for weeks, but as Gavin said, when Marissa’s paying the bills, Marissa’s calling the shots.

“Did you really call Marissa a ‘bad-hair-day’?” I was snickering a bit, under my breath.

Jen gulped in some air, looked up at me from under her bangs, and burst out giggling. Soon we were both mopping the glee from our eyes.

“I’ll fix it,” I told her. “But we can’t take the next six months off; if Gavin really takes his manuscript, we’ll really need more work, meaning more. . . ” I rubbed my fingers together in international sign language for cash.

I sighed. Did I really want to be a freelance editor?

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Member Comments
Member Date
Phee Paradise 06/09/10
I like your editor. She's realistic with a sense of humor and seems to really know people. I'd like working for her and I think I'd trust my WIP to her.
Gregory Kane06/09/10
Definitely a sympathetic editor! I notice that your story interweaves dialogue and monologue, two very different styles of expression. At a couple of points I felt that the two became a little muddled. It was strange for example to have the editor suddenly talking to herself while still in conversation with her assistant.
But you certainly conveyed the frustrations of working with writers with egos and who of us doesn't struggle with ego?!