OK, tangent time…

This morning I was looking up “backyard” in my Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary to see whether it’s one word or two. (It’s one.) On the same page I found “badass,” and I couldn’t have been more delighted to see that the example given (“pretending to be a ~ gunslinger”) was from my favorite writer, Larry L. King.

Several years ago, following one of his readings at the Texas Book Festival, I asked King what made a good editor, figuring he would probably take the opportunity to talk about his friend (and another of my favorite writers), former Harper’s editor Willie Morris. And he did.

King replied that a good editor — like Morris — does three things: 1) Changes only what he has to, 2) strokes the writer’s ego when he thinks he needs it, and 3) tells the writer the truth when he thinks he can take it.

At the time, I myself was an editor, and not a writer. Deep down, I wanted to write, but I had no idea what I would write about. (I blame heavy saturation in pop trivia during my late teens and early 20s — it ate my brain.) Still, I took considerable pleasure in my salaried job at the time of helping writers research what they needed to know and say what they were trying to say.

Now, with more ideas than I can find time to write about, and as the Day-Glo revisions proceed, I happily find myself back on the writer’s side of the equation. At an Austin SCBWI conference a few years ago I watched with writerly envy as Vivian Vande Velde and Michael Stearns discussed their writer-editor relationship. “I want me one of them,” I remember thinking.

But I still get a charge out of working with other folks’ manuscripts. So, if this writer thing doesn’t work out…