Saturday, April 11, 2009

Open questions about the author-editor relationship

I read a New York Times article about a new collection of stories today, and one of the anecdotes somewhat alarmed me. Now the question is whether the anecdote is balanced and accurate. The author Wells Tower has just published a book. Here are the paragraphs in Eric Konigsberg's piece about it that gave me pause:

The book is a lot of things, in other words, but, given the subject matter of the stories, which range from marital infidelity to a boy’s mistreatment at the hands of his stepfather to the dismemberment of a moose to Viking mutilation, you would not expect anybody to call it cute. Yet when Mr. Tower submitted the finished manuscript to Courtney Hodell, his editor at Farrar, Straus & Giroux, the words “too adorable” were among those she wrote most frequently in the margins. And she didn’t mean it as a compliment.

“Initially, there was a lot more corn-pone-ing and self-consciously vernacular language, cute little moments,” Mr. Tower said in an interview the other day, adding that he reined all that in upon revision. “So I actually didn’t sit down to write a bleak collection. When I look back at the early stories, it seemed much more like a ‘Hee Haw’ episode.”

So now (again, if this story is accurate), because an editor apparently thought it best, an author's voice has been irrevocably changed? Is this an editor's job?

So often "self-consciously vernacular language" and those "too adorable" moments are the very aspects that make a collection worth reading. Is the bleak vision of an editor in New York appropriate to paint onto the more humorous one of an author from Chapel Hill, North Carolina?

I encourage responses on this, especially from the parties involved. What really happened? And how does the author feel about his art being changed in this way? How does the editor feel? Is this necessary? Is this right?

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