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marthawells

Martha Wells

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marthawells

Storybundle and Reynard!

This is an old post I did back in 2011, and I wanted to repost it for the Storybundle (https://storybundle.com/fantasy) curated by Melissa Scott, which has The Death of the Necromancer and Between Worlds: the Collected Ile-Rien and Cineth Stories.

This is about when The Death of the Necromancer was first sold to a publisher, and how a rogue copyeditor tried to take out Reynard, who was gay.


Don’t Let Then Take Your Reynards

The Death of the Necromancer, published in 1998, was my third novel, and my first with a new publisher, Avon Eos. Everything went fine through the editorial process, right up until I received the copyedit, and found that one of the major supporting characters, Captain Reynard Morane, had been all but removed from the book. And it happened that Reynard was gay.

I’d worked hard on Reynard, and I liked him a lot. He had started out as a template. I wanted the main character, Nicholas Valiarde, to be Ile-Rien’s version of Moriarty, and Reynard was his Colonel Sebastian Moran. But in the writing, Reynard emerged immediately as funny and kind to his friends and deadly to his enemies. The one guy in the room that everybody knew they really didn’t want to get in a fight with. A very good soldier, a very good friend, and a very sexual person. He was kind of a weird combination of Oscar Wilde and Oliver Reed, but unlike Oscar Wilde he wasn’t going to come to a bad end because of a love affair. He was a little too old and too experienced and too much of a serial monogamist to fall too hard for anybody. I wanted him to be the polar opposite of the stereotypical gay character who suffers and dies because of his forbidden whatever, and to end the book better off than the other characters.

(One digression, for those who don’t know about the publishing process. The editor, usually the person who has acquired the book for the publisher, is the one who edits the book and suggests changes to improve plot, characterization, and other major elements. The copyeditor is the person who reads the book after it’s in its near-final form and checks for things like grammar, spelling, continuity, and style.)

By the time I got the copyedit, I had already revised The Death of the Necromancer based on the editor’s comments and things I realized I needed to fix, so the copyedit should have had only minor changes at best.

(To give you an idea how minor, back then the copyedit was handwritten marks done on the actual printed manuscript. The copyedited manuscript was shipped by mail to the author who would go through it and accept some of the copyeditor’s changes, stet others (an instruction that means the original text is supposed to be that way and to leave it alone) and handwrite additional changes on the pages. Then you ship it back and the publisher would take the whole thing and type it in, it would be printed in galley form (the actual printed pages that you see in books) and then shipped back to the author for a final proofread.)

But this copyedit came back with massive alterations handwritten on the manuscript, with bad grammar and incorrect word choices inserted, weird demands for all sorts of things to be explained that didn’t need to be explained (like the color of the tablecloth in a room description, or the main character’s choice of beverage), and odd demands for rewrites. (The copyeditor wanted me to rewrite one section because she thought it was too cold for the characters to be outside.)

(The publisher really doesn’t want you to rewrite the manuscript during the copyedit. They really, really don’t, to the point that there are sometimes clauses in the contracts stipulating what percentage of the manuscript can be changed during the copyedit. And they really don’t want a copyeditor to tell you to do rewrite.)

There were a lot of seemingly random deletions of descriptions, including whole scenes, conversations and other things you needed to understand the plot, but the thing that stood out to me was that Reynard’s dialogue had been all but excised from the book, and that the cuts to his part had started after it became apparent to the reader that Reynard was gay.

He was important to the plot in a number of ways and helped uncover some of the information that let Nicholas and Madeleine, the other viewpoint characters, solve the mystery before the Necromancer kills them. In the copyeditor’s expurgated version of the book, Reynard is still around for the first couple of chapters, but after the point where it was made clear that Reynard is gay, suddenly his dialogue was all marked as deleted.

The conclusion I instantly snapped to was that Reynard had been removed for his sexuality. Of course, I don’t know for certain if that was the case and I sure can’t prove it. I never found out why the copyeditor did what she did, or why she thought she could get away with it, if she thought it was really her job. (And some of the things she did were really strange, not like she had never read a fantasy novel before and didn’t understand the genre, but like she had never read fiction before.) But on that day, I would have sworn in court that Reynard was deleted because he was gay.

And it amounted to the same thing. He was gay and he was gone.

Would have been gone. It turned out fine. For my first two books I hadn’t encountered a problem even remotely like this, and this was my first time with this publisher, and I panicked. During a semi-hysterical sleepless night I carefully assembled a list of everything that was wrong with the copyedit, wrote down what I was going to say so I could pretend to be calm on the phone, then called my editor in the morning. I made it through maybe two items on my list before she stopped me. (Actually, she started laughing. I think it was the one where the copyeditor told me I couldn’t say that an evil sorcerer was buried in the crossroads because it was “a Christian concept.”)

The editor asked me if I could just stet everything, but I thought the book really needed a real copyedit, and it hadn’t gotten one. I sent back the mutilated manuscript and the editor ended up throwing out that copyedit entirely and having it redone, so everything was fine and my version of The Death of the Necromancer (with Reynard intact) was the one that got published. And the book ended up on the 1999 Nebula ballot.

This was an extreme case, and if I had been so dumb as to let this go by, my editor (who liked Reynard just fine) would have noticed that something had gone terribly wrong. (The copyedited expurgated version of the book was half the size it was supposed to be, for one thing.)

But I guess my point is, it’s your book, and don’t let anybody take your Reynards out of it.

(Note: Reynard appears again in "Night at the Opera," a new story in Between Worlds: the Collected Ile-Rien and Cineth Stories, and it was a lot of fun for me to make his acquaintance again. Both books are in the Storybundle (https://storybundle.com/fantasy) along with several other fabulous books, and it’s an opportunity to make a donation to Girls Write Now and Mighty Writers.)

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Wow. I've had a few copyeditor shenanigans (though most of my copyeditors were great), but nothing to compare to this. And any problem of this kind is exacerbated by the publishers' tendency to never provide enough time to really deal with the copyedits; even if the publisher has been dinking around for weeks and weeks, suddenly it's all the author's problem. I'd have panicked too. I'm glad Reynard was saved, and the rest of the book too.

P.

I love Reynard. It really wouldn't have been the same book without him.

I'm so glad that you fought to keep Reynard, and happy that it turned out not to be a hard fight after all. He's a superb character. I was elated when Podcastle ran "Night at the Opera," and talked up "Death of the Necromancer" in their forum, too.

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