editing, Writers Co-op Anthology

Thoughts on Editing and Rabbit Hole V?

By Tom ‘DocTom’ Wolosz

How often we recall, with regret, that Napoleon once shot at a…editor and missed him and killed a publisher. But we remember, with charity, that his intentions were good.

-Mark Twain. Letter to Henry Alden, 11 November 1906.

First you have the writer who can write but can’t spell. Then you have the editor who can spell but can’t write.

-anonymous

Well folks, Curtis Bausse is currently putting the finishing touches on Rabbit Hole IV, and we hope to have it published in October.  Since this was the first time I’ve ever edited an anthology, I thought I might offer some thoughts on the experience. Especially since this will all lead to the question: “Will there be a Rabbit Hole V?”

           Let me start by thanking Curtis and Atthys Gage for all their help and hard work on RH IV.  They read through close to a hundred submissions, helping with the accept/reject decisions, and also were kind enough to edit some of the accepted stories.  I definitely learned one thing from them — it is very important to have feedback from multiple sources in making these decisions.

            Why? Well, each reader sees stories in their own unique way.  I can say that among the stories included in RH IV those we all agreed on initially constitute a distinct minority.  But there’s nothing wrong with that! With the publication of an anthology, we seek to engage a diverse readership, and you can’t do that when only one editor makes all the decisions.  I’d say that each of us saw stories we liked go to the reject bin, just as each of us got some of our choices approved (I should also point out that there were no intense disputes — we discussed, agreed, and moved on). The result is like a candy sampler, lots of delicious variety. It’d be a pretty poor sampler if all the candies were the same, eh?

            Another reason for multiple input is we are all apt to look at different aspects of writing. I, for instance, tend to read the story for plot, for ideas.  The result is that I end up ignoring a lot of the mechanicals of writing on a first run through.  In at least a couple of cases I was all in favor of a story based on concept, only to be alerted to the fact that the writing was particularly sloppy, or the overall structure was poor.  After re-reading I came to agree that the amount of line editing required would be enormous, so into the reject bin it went.  On the other hand, there are stories that are quite nicely written, but go nowhere, or are simply stories you’ve read a thousand times before with nothing special about them.  Again, these get weeded out when a few people are contributing to the decisions.

            So having three editors working on the decisions makes a big difference.

            Some other thoughts on editing:

            I am mainly a line editor. If a story has major structural flaws, has pages of extraneous material, etc. I just vote to reject it.  My guiding principle is that it is the author’s story, not mine.  I try, in small ways, to help make it better, to make it as presentable and polished a work as possible, but I don’t try to rewrite it.  I have some small experience with editing extremes, both from reading through stories by friends that appeared in independently published anthologies like ours but where no actual editing appears to have occurred (typos, etc., by the dozen), to dealing with an editor so impressed with their own credentials that their orders to rewrite character, plot, etc. where like bolts tossed from on high by Zeus himself.  Let’s just say I find it best to be in the middle.  Offer helpful advice, but if it’s rejected just remember that my name isn’t under the title of the story. Also, never demand, and never, ever argue with the writer (it’s their story!).

            Let me end this by just stating that the above is my personal philosophy. There were no bad experiences editing RH IV. Working with my co-editors and all the writers involved was a real pleasure.

            Last thought (I can hear your sighs of relief!). If there is an RH V, a theme is okay, but it shouldn’t be too restrictive.  While it might sound cool, a very, very, specific theme is literally asking writers to come up with a story specifically for this anthology — which basically pays nothing.  I think the result is fewer submissions than might otherwise be received, with many of them ignoring the theme totally.  Remember, a broader net catches more fish.

            Okay, so think about it. Should there be a Rabbit Hole V?  If so, I’ll be happy to take on the editing chores again, but I will definitely need two volunteers to read submissions and help make decisions.  Also, they should each expect to be asked to edit three or four of the accepted stories (the anthology generally contains about thirty stories, so I’d be doing twenty-two to twenty-four of them). 

            Thoughts? Comments? Volunteers?

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32 thoughts on “Thoughts on Editing and Rabbit Hole V?

  1. YaY DocTom! Thank you and Curtis and Atthys for rescuing “The Rabbit Hole” anthologies. I’d love to see a volume 5 come out. But I’m really not an editor.

    I’m just a reader who has been allowed to edit because some people think I’m an editor. If I like a story, I read it and put it in the “Yes” folder. If I don’t, I stop reading and toss it into “No.” The “Maybe” folder is for well written stories I don’t like, put there so someone with different tastes can rescue them. I call this Gestalt editing because I’m looking for a story that on the whole is more than the sum of it’s parts. If it ain’t, it’s dead to me.

    Along the way, I make detailed notes of any mechanical errors but that’s just vanity. I can’t stand the thought of an error I missed being published.

    I have done some editing on “The Rabbit Hole” volumes 1, 2 & 3. “A Celebration of Storytelling” claims “Editing by GD Deckard” on it’s cover and the whackos at Sci-Fi Lampoon Magazine chortle their own spit listing me on the masthead as “GD ‘Goddam’ Deckard, Editor.” These calumnies begat one another. I’m just a reader who loves a good story.

    Liked by 7 people

  2. Thanks to Tom for getting this project done. I helped edit one of these anthologies and it really is very time consuming. Just being part of the selection team took a lot more time than I was anticipating. Frankly, I don’t think I’d choose to participate again (at least not in the near future), but it was a worthwhile experience and I’m glad I took part, though Tom did (by far) the lion’s share of the work.

    Hope you are all well. I know I’ve been largely absent from these pages (though I often read them without commenting). I’m just in a very reclusive place right now. I’ve pretty much given up on every aspect of writing except the writing itself, and I’m okay with that. Maybe time will change my mind and I’ll start trying to promote and interact and all of that business, but I’m just not feeling the impetus.. I’m actually finding some satisfaction with the writing-for-writing’s-sake life. I’m fortunate not to require an income from writing, especially since I never made an income from it even when I was trying. But I’ll be around, lurking in the shadows.

    Cheers

    Liked by 7 people

    • ” I’m fortunate not to require an income from writing, especially since I never made an income from it even when I was trying.”
      Reminds me of a line from “The Big Chill.” “Ah, so we’re telling the truth now.”
      I feel good when I get a double digit “royalty” from Amazon.

      Liked by 5 people

  3. mimispeike says:

    Thanks Tom and Atthys. Yes, I would like to see Rabbit Hole V.

    My entry for RH IV is my first chapter of Maisie in Hollywood, with small changes, pushing toward the theme of mental illness. My entry for another RH was a newly created episode from Sly’s childhood. I may never use it, but it was a valuable exercise in developing characterization.

    If we get a topic way out of my field of operation, I’ll have to think hard about striking out in a whole new direction. But chances are I’ll be able to do something with just about anything.

    Maybe not space aliens though. But you never know.

    Liked by 6 people

  4. @Tom: Thanks for shepherding this project to completion! Fascinating background details re: the interaction amongst the editors. I am thrilled to have two short stories appearing in RH IV: “Night Terror” and “Haunted House”.

    Also: Very grateful to you for your editorial acumen re: pointing out a couple of instances where the writing could be improved. That got done, thanks to you. (You also recently suggested a couple of tweaks to a story S. T. Joshi has accepted for Penumbra #3. You’re a damn fine editor, Tom.)

    Lotta good, strong stories in this one! (Including your own.) Congrats to all contributing writers, and the other unsung behind-the-scenes editors who helped make this happen.

    PS. I could never be an editor. All I know how to do is make a story sound like I’d written it; writers would be demanding my home address to hunt me down and wild-eyed, pinwheeled-arm remonstrate with me. . . .

    PPS. Suggestions re: a possible theme for a RH V:

    1.) The World Next Door (alternate worlds; other dimensions)
    2.) New Weird Tales Inspired by the Masters (tales riffing on weird tales writers or their writings/characters/plots & themes)
    3.) Eldritch Horror (‘Nuff said)
    4.) Naked Slices of Howling Fear (tales of terror: stories that raise your pulse rate)
    5.) Transcendence & Regression (utopian and dystopian tales)
    6.) The Other Me (stories of doppelgangers or fractured personalities)
    7.) Animal Stories (weird tales in which an animal–real, mythic or imaginary–features prominently
    8.) Weird Rainbows (stories from a GLBTQ perspective)
    9.) Crimson Concrete, Shattered Steel & Cracked Asphalt (weird tales of post-apocalyptic urban horror)
    10.) Moon-lit Ruins & Shadow-Haunted Graveyards (tales of the Gothic and grotesque)

    Liked by 5 people

    • LOL! I love that idea! Only . . . humor is the hardest thing to write, GD. And people are as idiosyncratic, diverse and particular in their taste for humorous material as they are for the erotic. (Well, there’s another idea: “Loud Pants & Soft Moans: Weird Tales of the Erotic”.)

      Liked by 4 people

      • Humor can be a difficult theme for a writer. At Sci-Fi Lampoon, we regularly reject very good stories because they are not funny. But, surprisingly, we never have problems filling an issue.
        Steven Wright knows the secret to writing humor is to surprise yourself. “I don’t go off and sit down and try to write material, because then it’s contrived and forced. I just live my life, and I see things in a word or a situation or a concept, and it will create a joke for me.”
        If you laugh at it, it’s funny.

        Liked by 4 people

  5. mimispeike says:

    My first thoughts:

    > The World Next Door (alternate worlds; other dimensions) – Fair warning: any of my worlds could be the world next door.

    > The Other Me (stories of doppelgangers or fractured personalities) – and every one of my characters is heavily based on myself

    > Animal Stories (weird tales in which an animal–real, mythic or imaginary–features prominently) – I’ve got this covered, right?

    > Weird Rainbows (stories from a GLBTQ perspective) My character Bea Wanger writes lesbian schlock romance (in the nineteen thirties). That should be fun. Plenty of over-the-top period romance on guttenberg.org to study style. Guttenberg is fabulous for odd, out of print stuff.

    I like this idea. I REALLY like it. I wouldn’t even throw a mouse into it. How’s that for an offer you can’t refuse?

    Liked by 5 people

  6. victoracquista says:

    Tom, thanks for your excellent post and work in editing. I was involved in editing a previous volume of RH and realized how much work was involved and that it was not my cup of tea. It was an excellent learning experience and helped me to better understand the role of an editor. I garnered a new-found respect for editing after that experience.

    Apart from the technical aspects of editing, a good editor must simultaneously understand a story from both the writer’s and the reader’s perspectives. It’s tricky to do that well. Kudos to you and your co-op colleagues for taking it on.

    Liked by 4 people

  7. DocTom says:

    Well, since the discussion seems to have petered out I guess it’s time to throw in 2 more cents.
    First, thanks to everyone for your kind words, I really appreciate it, but again, I could not have done much without help from Atthys and Curtis.
    Now, to theme. Personally, I’d much rather go with “Just Plain Weird.” Why? Well, first off any stories that would fit any of the theme suggestions that have been proposed would be fair game, but we wouldn’t be straight-jacketed by too narrow a theme. Personally, I’d have a very hard time working on a volume strictly devoted to some of the suggested themes. For instance, horror is something I can only take in small doses. But having recently read through August Derleth’s “Travellers By Night”, I found much of it predictable and mundane, and soon became bored. Think what would happen if after reading a couple of submissions, one person involved in the decision process just lost interest. The same goes for a GLBTQ themed weird anthology. As Victor rightly notes, “…a good editor must simultaneously understand a story from both the writer’s and the reader’s perspectives.” I just don’t have the perspective to properly judge such stories. I might get away with one or two (as I did, Carl, with your story “The Candidate”), but not with an entire anthology. Finally, let me reiterate: a strict theme is basically asking writers to write a story that fits the theme for literally nothing more than a pat on the back. Note that quite a few stories which will appear in RH IV had already been published elsewhere. Nothing wrong with that, but a volume of original, first-time-published, works might be much more appealing.
    Lastly, as I said in my post: I’m willing to edit RH V, but I can’t do it alone. I need feedback from others as regards the selection process, plus doing the editing on three or four stories each (I try to assign the easy ones to the other editors). So far, folks, I haven’t seen any hands go up.

    Liked by 5 people

  8. Tom has been the driving force behind this – he basically rescued the whole idea when I was ready to call it a day. And it’s a nice idea to keep going. I agree that a restrictive theme doesn’t work well. We already had fewer submissions for the Romance issue than the ones before. Like GD, I’d like to see more humour. Whether we can restrict it to that is another matter, but there may be ways of encouraging it.
    But the main stumbling block is the call for volunteers. Even if Tom did at least 80% of the work this time, doing it all alone is unfeasible, especially as regards the selection process, which can be wildly subjective. I don’t mind doing that again, along with editing three or four stories (as Tom points out, he made it easy for me). But one other person would be welcome.

    Liked by 4 people

  9. I hear ya, Tom! What would you call this proposed no-theme volume V: The Rabbit Hole: Weird Tales? Sounds a little bland. Reverse word order (with a tweak) sounds a bit better: Weird Tales of the Writers Co-Op: Down the Rabbit Hole. Or something else? The Rabbit Hole Vol. V: Dark Country. I agree a no-theme anthology allows for a greater range of stories.

    An ancillary thought: Tom, You’re too close at present to this project to have fully recovered from your editorial duties. The new book isn’t even out yet and we’re talking about a proposed next volume! I’d feel exhausted and overwhelmed, too.

    I’d consider volunteering for unpaid editorial duties but there are–as I noted–any number of reasons why I’d be a very, very bad choice for such a position. Personal life far too precarious/uncertain. My occasional blogs and continued involvement with the site are day-to-day affairs: The site would continue just fine if I were to suddenly stop posting; a Writers Co-Op WIP anthology might not survive the disappearance of a critical editor. ‘Nuff said. (I have no problems $10,000 wouldn’t solve. Potential rich patrons: take note! Heh!)

    Liked by 3 people

    • DocTom says:

      Carl, not a problem. My best wishes always go out to you, and anytime you need a story looked over just drop me a line. I might scratch my head a bit over the nuances of the plot, but your writing is definitely artful and sublime. I always enjoy reading it.

      The reason I like “Rabbit Hole V, Just Plain Weird!” is it strikes me a kind of cool. It says: here it is folks, take it or leave it! Also, it allows for just about anything to be submitted. Even “Vampire Ninja Cats on Flying Rumbas from Mars” (I get the impression that GD is already working on that one! :), ). And if you leave things open, you will get humorous stories too (we have a few in RH IV although I thought we were really stretching the theme to let them in).

      Liked by 3 people

  10. mimispeike says:

    I like Carl’s title: Dark Country. But I would say Dark Passage. As for editing, I don’t feel competent to do it. I struggle with punctuation, and I am afraid my edits would transform the stories I touch into sounding like me. I am really afraid of trying to edit.

    Liked by 3 people

  11. “Just Plain Weird” is a great theme. The imagination boggles at possibilities…
    Deranged tattoo ‘bots.
    Jesus returns to change his mind about the Resurrection, after all.
    Sci-Fi writer falls into a story he’s writing about video game characters being real.
    Aliens reveal themselves. They’re all members of Congress.
    Self-driving cars form kidnapping ring.
    Cats mounted on Roombas invade Iran.
    (…sorry. got carried away.)

    Liked by 4 people

  12. Wiki: John Clute defines weird fiction as a term “used loosely to describe Fantasy, Supernatural Fiction and Horror tales embodying transgressive material”.[5] China Miéville defines it as “usually, roughly, conceived of as a rather breathless and generically slippery macabre fiction, a dark fantastic (‘horror’ plus ‘fantasy’) often featuring nontraditional alien monsters (thus plus ‘science fiction’)”.[1] Discussing the “Old Weird Fiction” published in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Jeffrey Andrew Weinstock says, “Old Weird fiction utilises elements of horror, science fiction and fantasy to showcase the impotence and insignificance of human beings within a much larger universe populated by often malign powers and forces that greatly exceed the human capacities to understand or control them.”[2] Jeff and Ann VanderMeer describe weird fiction as a mode of literature, usually appearing within the horror fiction genre, rather than a separate genre of fiction in its own right.

    Liked by 3 people

  13. victoracquista says:

    What weirdness lies within? Enter the Rabbit Hole and find out…if you dare. You may never come out. Perhaps worse, you may exit into worlds hitherto unknown, unexplored, full of the unexplained, the unpredictable, traversed only within the imagination of the Writers co-op. Enter at your own risk….

    Liked by 3 people

  14. DocTom says:

    Well, it looks like GD and Curtis are onboard, so we have a tentative go for RH V. I’d guess we should aim at an announcement on Duotrope sometime in November with a submission deadline of April 30, 2022. The April deadline worked well for RH IV. I’ll have the announcement posted here under submission guidelines right after RH IV becomes available on Oct. 29.

    Liked by 3 people

  15. mimispeike says:

    I guess my period-style prose (junked-up, comically overdone) trashy romance (I take my cue from Elinor Glyn and Victoria Cross) would fit in ‘Just Plain Weird’. I’ll work extra hard to meet that benchmark.

    Liked by 4 people

  16. @CARL E. REED
    Thank You, Very Much, for the effort you put into keeping the comment sections alive and sparkling. I admire the way you can get to the very heart of the original post, or add to it, or bring out the best in any other member’s comment.

    Liked by 4 people

  17. mimispeike says:

    I’m hoping the deadline for Just Plain Weird is a long way off. I am now having to do major research on the nineteen twenties from another angle. I’m a dozen pages from finishing ‘The Long Party’. I’ve marked it up to plunder for Maisie. I have to reread from the beginning with another story in mind.

    Here’s a taste of what I intend:

    Cuckoo! screamed the bird in the tree, taking to the purple-bruised sky with a joyful flapping of last-light-licked wings.

    A young man stood on a terrace overlooking a long slope of lawn, watching the sun go down. Beyond filigreed French doors, a fire burnt bright in the grate. Paul van der Vere, tall and straight and strong, as fine a figure as ever sauntered through historic halls, lounged on the puce-shadowed patio, smoking a cigar.

    In front of the hearth, stretched her full, sinuous length, reclined Theadosia de Coppet, wrapped in a clinging garment of plum crepe, its plunging neckline embroidered with gold, one white arm resting on a pile of velvet cushions.

    “Paul!” she whispered, “I am wicked to-day. The very devil is in me. Sweet Paul, you are young. You make me feel old, centuries old! But that may not be a bad thing. I can teach you . . . I will teach you . . . how to live! We put on the hat of darkness and descend into Hades. We taste the apples of the Hesperides — we rob Mercure of his sandals, and Gyges of his ring. Then, Paul — when we have fathomed the meaning of it all — what will happen then, enfant?”

    Are you ready to put on the Hat of Darkness and taste the Apples of the Hesperides?

    Hat of Darkness! I fell in love with the piece the moment I read those words, written by Victoria Cross a century ago.

    Inspirational! I’m off and running.

    Liked by 3 people

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