“Editing: A Professional’s Job” by Alexander Watson


“Editing: A Professional’s Job”

My editor, John Baskin, and I sit in the dining room of the General Denver Hotel, Wilmington, Ohio, at one-ish in the afternoon; he orders chicken noodle soup with a side of broccoli, an iced tea with a splash of cranberry juice; I, fish and chips with a Diet Coke—all of which are rituals of what will become quasi-monthly meetings. A manuscript, mine, representing five years’ work, off and on, sits to his right, opened to page one. The margins are a regimen of ordered notes.

“But, before we get into these,” he says, looking over glasses tinted against the light like Anne Sullivan’s. “Let’s agree that the story is here. It’s all just a matter of mathematics.”


He uses words of which I am fully aware but in contexts with which I am completely unfamiliar.

Parallel constructions?

“The transitions are abrupt.”

In media res I had learned in writers’ group and believed it a dynamic way to begin. He does not.

“We need to orient the reader well in place before launching off into story,” he says. “And one more thing. Nobody cares about two guys in a boat. We must make the reader care about the two guys.”

Narrative drive.

I take stabs, mere guesses, at his meaning. I throw out the entire manuscript and start again with a blank screen. Other projects distract Mr. Baskin while I rewrite from June to August, but just before Labor Day, an email breaks the radio silence which has settled in between us.

“I’m packing for vacation,” Mr. Baskin writes. “Send me some stuff.”

“Sending you all new.”

“All new?”



SEND is the last thing I do before catching a flight to Manchester where my wedded partner, Dale Harris, and I spend a week narrowboating the canals between Shropshire and Wales. Afterwards, we land in Boston to begin a week at Cape Cod. A voicemail comes in, disconcerting because Mr. Baskin and I communicate via email or in the dining room of the General Denver Hotel, never by telephone.

“Call me,” it says.

I dial the number.

“Can we have lunch?”

His voice is relaxed; ebullient is more my style than his.

“Certainly, but I’m in P’town.”

He is on the Cape, too.

“Perfect. I’m in Truro. One-ish?”

The man I meet wears not the professional guise I am used to, a stoic façade breaking only for the oops! malaprop or pop-up ambiguity. He is aglow, almost giddy, and reaches across the table to land a jocular slap on my shoulder, rare physical contact, and says, “Now, this a is book, my boy. It needs work, mind you, but this is a book.”

The work as it turns out, is another year of him, the professional editor, honed in his craft, drawing the best out of me, the author, until it is right.

“And that has made all the difference.” [—Robert Frost, “The Road Not Taken”]

—Alexander Watson, author of River Queens: Saucy boat, stout mates, spotted dog, America for Review Tales by Jeyran Main.

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