Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Letter from the Editor

Well, a brief letter, anyway. Yes, I am an editor of books, but don’t hold it against me. My intention with this blog is to have a bit of an outlet from the daily grind of reading other people’s stuff and, instead, to express my own thoughts—as if mine were as worthy as someone with a publishing contract’s.

When people find out I’m an editor, they often say, “Ugh! How can you do that all day?” You’d think it was as icky as being a plumber, up to my knees is sewage all day. No, it’s not that bad. (Well, usually.) But I have to admit that one of the big challenges of the job is this: Anyone else who reads a book can just stop, if they decide they don’t like it for some reason. But an editor has to keep reading, and rereading, and fixing—basically, until the thing is good to read!

And I’d like to add that rarely do editors get to choose what they edit; people and publishers approach you with their sundry manuscripts and offer you money, and then you get to work. It’s not like going to the bookstore, heading to your favorite section (for me, that would be natural history, food writing, or regional studies), and selecting the manuscripts that look fascinating.

Instead, you wind up editing books that nobody would dream of reading (or correcting) for free. Well, it seems that way. Especially as a freelancer, when you are given manuscripts that no in-house editor wants to look at. Thank goodness there are nonalcoholic beers, or I would be in real, real trouble.

Anyway, I came to this realization because I recently had the opportunity to edit a forthcoming publication that tells the story—in words, old newspaper clippings, and photographs—of Jefferson City’s breweries, saloons, and beer gardens (particularly, though not exclusively, as a German cultural phenomenon). The tone is rather scholarly, but a spirit of nostalgia and a host of fun, cool facts give this full-bodied publication some sparkle and a frothy head. Like all good history, it evokes the feel of the time for the reader.

. . . They say that one’s “perfect job” is the one that is so interesting, and so enjoyable, and so satisfying, that it doesn’t “feel” like work. And I realize that this manuscript was so interesting to me that it didn’t feel like a job. Instead, it felt like a guilty pleasure, something fun, which was distracting me from my “real” work, the manuscripts that kill me with boredom (even if they help me pay the bills).

But if there is a way to work only, or mainly, or even fairly regularly, on books that I care about, and be paid for it, I have no idea how to make that happen. Or maybe it’s a perceptual problem; as Joni Mitchell put it, “Pleasure moves on too early; trouble leaves too slow.”

Meanwhile, as this particular book’s production schedule moves forward into design, layout, manufacturing, and finally marketing, I can be a cheerleader for it without perjuring myself in the process. I feel a sense of pride and tangential “ownership” in that I truly care about this one. (And not just because my dad wrote it.) Sometimes, indeed, work doesn’t seem like work.

Notes on the pictures: This post features some images that won’t appear in the book—we had a photo shoot one afternoon with some local brewery memorabilia, and these are some of the “outtakes,” which I mainly took for my own jollies. Harriet Waldo, here in town, has a nice collection of “breweriana” and was kind enough to allow us to take photographs for the forthcoming book. Capitol Brewery, which had previously been named Moerschel Brewery, closed in 1947; it was located on Dunklin, not very far from where I live today.

Stories abound about the old neighborhood brewery. In the early 1900s, for instance, my great-grandpa would send my grandpa and his brother—as boys—down the few blocks to Moerschel’s to “pick up a bucket of beer.” I have heard that my grandpa, as they traipsed back from Moerschel’s with the beer, was strong and flexible enough to swing the bucket of suds clear around in a vertical circle—over his head—without spilling any. (Because spilling a bucket of beer would have been rather tragic!)

(By the way, just because I love beer and its cultural history and stuff doesn’t mean I’m falling off the wagon. So don’t worry, friends!)

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