How much do you care about a question mark (?)

Ah, the best laid plans. I am sitting at my desk and working, and sat and worked most of yesterday too, but I’m not writing reams of words into a new book; instead I’m going over the final copy edits for The Juliet Stories, which arrived on Wednesday afternoon. I was almost afraid to open the file. When Hair Hat was being published, lo these many years ago, I enjoyed every stage of the editing process … right up until we got to the copy editing. Suddenly, I disagreed with the editor, and strongly. You’ll remember that my one real job was at a newspaper where I worked my way up to being a copy editor. So I was feeling pretty confident that I’d turned in a clean manuscript to my publisher.

But the copy editor didn’t think so.

And, listen, she was right and I was right. We were both right. The copy editor’s job is to use a fine-toothed comb and to insist on grammatical correctness and stylistic consistency, by which I mean adherence to the style guide used by the publisher, and not style as in stylish. And that was where we disagreed. I wrote Hair Hat in a deliberately flat and uninflected (stylish) style. I didn’t even use question marks. I wanted the reader to arrive at conclusions without being dragged there by me, the author. The copy editor wanted all questions to end with a question mark.

I just couldn’t do it. It sounds ridiculous to get upset over punctuation, but by God, I just could not compromise. And it pained me. I like to make people happy (even more so at the time than I do now.)

So when the copy edits landed on Wednesday afternoon accompanied by a long message from my editor explaining the process, I went all fear and trembling. It’s been a fabulous editing process up until now. Would the copy edits do me in? Well, I’m only about halfway through them now, but the answer so far has been a gentle, no. These copy edits will not do me in. Am I a more relaxed person, now, than I was before? Is my (stylish) style in The Juliet Stories more compatible with traditional grammar? Or have I just accepted that some disagreement will be part of the process, and conflict doesn’t upset my stomach in the same way that it once did?

I have to go with door number three. I’m still a pretty finicky person. I can get very excited over a semi-colon, let me tell you. And my (stylish) style in The Juliet Stories, though different from Hair Hat, is unique, and sometimes idiomatic rather than grammatically correct. I don’t always agree with what the copy editor has suggested, but I’m okay with that; we don’t have to agree about everything, and I get that this time around. She’s done a bang-up job on this book. The fact checking is amazing. And I’m taking notes on her highly effective use of italics.

I’m back at it again today. Thankfully without dread.

Where does that leave my ambitions for a November writing month? I’m sticking with the original plan, just pushing the start date back by a few days. The copy edits are due back at the publisher on Tuesday morning. The amazing thing is that the builders say my new office will be DONE by Wednesday. In some strange confluence of otherwise unconnected endings and beginnings, that means that I will start my new book in my new office, having dotted all i’s and crossed all t’s on this one.

It’s too much to think about. So I’m off to think about italics instead.

A checklist of housecleaning chores ... prepare yourselves for a thrill-a-minute post

4 Comments

  1. I care very much, but not excessively.

    Also, once again – yay for this book getting so close to seeing the light of day. Remember when you thought it wouldn’t?

    Reply
  2. Susan, I remember often. And oftener and oftener as I attempt to start a new book, knowing what a leap of faith it is.

    I like that: “I care very much, but not excessively.”

    It’s such a fine line. It can be quite crazy-making, I’m finding, as I sound things out in my head listening for the subtle differences, hoping to get it right. But it’s the very impossiblity of getting it right that makes it such an interesting pursuit, I think.

    Reply
  3. I, too, care very much, but not excessively; also, I love me a semicolon.

    And I really can’t wait to read The Juliet Stories! YAY!

    Reply
  4. Apparently, I love me a semicolon way too much, Marita …

    Reply

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