They say nobody edits anymore in American publishing. I beg to differ. One of the extraordinary experiences of preparing “Gutenberg’s Apprentice” for publication was working closely with the marvelous editor who acquired it, Terry Karten.
As a journalist, I’ve been edited all my life. It has helped me develop thick skin and a merciless approach to favorite (and probably overwrought) phrases. Having one of the best editors in the business take her red pen to my first novel was of another order entirely. Certainly, she line-edited with a vengeance. But far more importantly, she entered into the heart and soul of the novel, taking its shape and rhythm and intentions as seriously as I did myself.
It is axiomatic that in the bidding process a novel will be praised effusively, and only “minor changes” deemed necessary. A month later, those minor changes were a major restructuring of the end of the novel. I might have been crushed, or daunted, as I had been each time I offered a draft to my writing group to have it shredded. But long talks on the telephone with Terry about my hero, Peter Schoeffer, led me to implicitly trust my vastly more experienced editor’s judgment. She loved the book as I did; the difference was that she could see a shape I couldn’t. We spoke about Peter’s character, his goals, his fears; the exchange was a true exchange, in which new ideas and understandings emerged organically as we spoke. It was the kind of insight and questioning that every author longs for.
I returned to my revision, and re-visioned it, re-saw. The book evolved. We spoke again, took up anew the man who tells his story, examining his wounded, grieving heart. The ending flickered into view. The story took its form, solidifying slowly; I was, like Peter, an apprentice, taking shape beneath a master’s hand.