Monday, 22 April 2013

Meet the Editors - Charles Blass

Charles Blass

How did you become an editor?

I always loved to write and had great English teachers, but the trade of editing started from proofreading. I‘m from New York but also grew up in California. In NY, my profession was legal proofreading and paralegal editing in the corporate legal environment, document production, working long hours and often through the night.

What kind of editing do you do?

Still legal editing and proofing, some fiction, some non. It’s whatever is needed for the author – that might be radical surgery and always within the proper context of voice. Context is everything. Fine details and bigger picture, adjusting as needed within the tolerance of the situation.

Let’s talk about fiction. When working with a client where do you begin?

Depends on the relationship, the situation, the material and always respectful of their needs and their audience. The heart of it is the message, what the author’s trying to convey. And obviously, deadline, rate, focus.

So you start with a lot of questions.

If it’s not already clear, it has to be. I need to know the main message, purpose, theme, and who’s receiving it. We need to be on the same page. Methodology, mode of communication, specific about details such as working in WORD with Track Changes. I offer comments and suggestions more than making decisions, other than clear corrections. There’s a kind of intimacy between an author and an editor – the author has invited the editor inside their mind, with the aim of perfecting their message. Perfection is a funny term, but I do strive for excellence. This includes, form, content, rhythm, tone, language, texture and so forth. I’m interested in a wide range of composition and creativity and I bring this to my editing work as well. I shift between the micro and the macro – the big picture and each pixel.

What’s a successful author/editor relationship?

It comes down to communication in both directions. If it’s positive and clear, the work has the best chance of being useful and efficient. If the author is clear about what they need from you, and secure enough to open themselves to criticism, and ideally, trusting and respecting my experience. Feedback is a dialogue and can be delicate, so sometimes a phone call works better than email.

Does the process differ much when editing non-fiction?

Not really. It’s back to the author and the nature of their work. Context, format and timing tend to be more of a consideration in the business environment, but supporting the author in terms of message and voice and audience, my approach is pretty similar. Maybe there are particular practice areas including precise terminology that I need to become familiar with. Especially at the beginning, there’s a learning curve.

Do you have a preferred genre?

I’d say I’m genre-agnostic, with the caveat that if it’s offensive, I don’t want to deal with it. I’ve only had one case where I turned a manuscript down because it was offensive.

Because it was poor writing or offensive subject matter?

Both. I prefer to work with writers that I like, either for craft or ability, but that’s not essential.

How do you immerse yourself in the writer’s voice?

I love this question. I have no magic formula, I have many years’ experience and I love language, art and science. I’m continually growing as a human being and this comes into who we are as human beings. I feel I’ve lived enough to have some terms of reference in both knowledge and language, cultures, characters, situations, attitudes, motivations and mentalities. It’s about tuning in and drawing on experience. Talent is a part of it, and I give great credit to my parents and teachers. Voice, words, rhythm, they’re all essential and work together in a grand choreography. Punctuation ... I’m a huge fan. It’s microsurgery, but the slightest fixes can do wonders.

Keeping the author’s voice is fundamental, but it’s back to the dance. It can be quite a fine line, but if you’re tuned in, it happens. As soon as the ego comes in, you’ve crossed the line. Maintain a sense of perspective as to why you’re doing the work and for whom.

Robert Gottlieb said the role of an editor should be invisible.

Yes, on the face of it, in the final product. But in terms of collections and compilations, the editor does have a presence and in a way, a voice. For example, one of my favourite projects I’ve worked on was a collection of the writings of Jimi Hendrix, and my editorial presence was a part of that.

Will the rise of indie publishing benefit people like you?

I hope so. I’m a fan of self-publishing. A similar kind of explosion has been happening in the music world. So the answer is yes, surely, but how can we make the connections? All authors need an editor, if only for a second opinion, so I’m interested in the framework which brings the two together. I’m a teacher and a cheerleader for good language so I encourage any author to seek an experienced editor. Excellence is closer than you think.

Writers agonise over blurbs and synopses. Could you help with that?

Yes, I like that process. It’s not easy and can be quite painstaking. My main tool in terms of technique is mind-mapping, and that’s how I approach it.

Do you write?

Yes. A wide range of things, but probably the most consistent would be poetry and lyrics. I’ve done a lot of business-related writing, and also liner notes for music projects. I also come up with titles – for example, I have a huge collection of band names, but I have no idea what to do with them.

What’s your view on editors appropriate to nationality? Is it better for an American to edit a US author’s book? Would you feel confident about tackling a British writer’s work?

I think it depends on the editor. Personally I would feel confident − due to my experience with England and the range of patois and cultures I encountered for decades in New York − in tackling most material, but I think the most important thing is that the author feels comfortable.

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