The following interview appeared in a newsletter published by a small press.
Have you ever wondered what an editor really thinks about literature today? When Lynda Lotman (Book Editing Associates) agreed to be interviewed for our Fall newsletter, I knew this edition would be one of the most beneficial to our writers. Read further to find out what she feels young writers are missing in their work. – Trina S. Bernard
Q: Tell us a little about your background. How did you end up an editor?
A: Genetics. Seriously, I call it the “elusive editing gene.” My cousins are writers/editors. From the time I could read, I always had a pen/pencil in hand when I read. I was called “the little editor.” In high school, the school office had me proofing internal documents. I had amazing English teachers who challenged me by giving me additional assignments.
I minored in English in college because I wanted to major in something more challenging, and because a minor would give me more leeway in the courses I could choose. I also kept a journal of “English rules” that I wanted to remember (e.g., when to use peak v. pique). When my career in medicine didn’t materialize because I couldn’t handle math, I went with what came naturally.
Since 2nd grade I’ve kept a list of books read. It started out as a way for my teacher to monitor my unusual reading habits (books way above my grade level). In 4th grade I started grading the books I read (A-F). In 6th grade I started writing critiques of each book. I still do this. I’m not sure how many book journals I have in the “big box of journals.” It’s in my “important things to grab in case of a fire” closet.
My aunt worked for McGraw-Hill (told you it was genetic), so I received first printings of beautifully illustrated fairytale books. Unfortunately, I “edited” all of them with a red pen.
Q: What do you love most about being an editor?
A: After making my own work hours, finding talent. I love being surprised by a new twist on an old theme (e.g., vampires). And I love instructing a new writer and seeing an amazing rewrite.
Q: Is there anything you would like to see more of in writing today?
A: Education. In other words, aspiring writers should read books about writing. Sol Stein’s books are a great place to start. Only a select few have the talent to sit down and write a readable book. For most, it involves learning the craft.
Q: What do you feel young writers need to pay more attention to in their work?
A: Characterization. I’ve been using TV series as examples (e.g., the Battlestar Galactica remake, This Is Us, Game of Thrones). So many writers use TELL rather than SHOW. I tell young/new writers to make sure that every scene engages the reader’s senses: evokes emotion, contains a visual, has a conflict.
Q: What mistakes do you see most frequently in manuscripts submitted to you?
A: Starting out with the weather report (e.g., “crisp leaves fell from the black sky as the wind hurled them about”).
Telling rather than showing.
Chronology. Concurrent events make for better drama. They should start off with the drama (e.g., explosion, murder) and not bury the hook because they’re telling the story chronologically.
Putting the mundane into dialogue (e.g., “Hello, how are you?”)
Baaaaad love scenes.
Q: If stranded on a deserted island, what would be the one literary work you would want with you?
A: The Bible.
Q: Who is your favorite author?
A: I don’t have a single favorite.
Greg Bear & Michael Crichton: Plain ol’ good writing.
Frank Herbert: I actually prefer White Plague over the Dune series.
Ursula Le Guin, Connie Willis, Octavia Butler & Sheri S. Tepper: My urban/feminist/utopian side.
Loved Dean Koontz until I tired of his “formula” (helpless woman, child, dog).
Early Anne Rice, before the porn.
Q: Who’s your least favorite author?
A: Stephen King. Uber-verbose. Skim . . . skim . . . skim.
Q: What author influenced your love of literature the most?
A: In the 1970s I was into historical romance and paranormal romance: Madelaine L’Engle, Victoria Holt, Mary Stewart, Phyllis Whitney (formula). As an adult: Elie Wiesel, Ursula Le Guin, Toni Morrison.
2019 update —
My favorite read recently was Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger.
And a new take on aliens harveting humans. The Prisoner by Arlene Robbins. A WOW ending that had me rereading immediately.