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marthawells

Martha Wells

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marthawells

Re-Post from 2011: Don't Let Then Take Your Reynards

I'm going to be re-posting some old Night Bazaar posts I originally wrote and posted in 2011. Here's the first one:

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 sent 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 someone 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 sent 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. And they really don't want a copyeditor to tell you to do it.) There were a lot of seemingly random deletions of descriptions, 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.

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Well done indeed. I loved that book, and I'm very pleased you stood up for what you wanted and that it all worked out.

Thanks. I really think the editor would have stopped it once she saw what had happened but yeah, I'm glad it turned out the way it did.

As a copyeditor myself, I cringe SO HARD when a copyeditor does some damn fool thing like this. I am personally embarrassed. It's. Not. Your. Writing. Point out the egregious, query the rest, use a modicum of logic, and then go put whatever you like in your own book!

(The example that always comes to me is the time a colleague wanted to change "Always wear clothes you are comfortable in" to "Always wear comfortable clothing" when 1. The first phrase was not grammatically incorrect in any way and 2. The first phrase had entirely different connotations than the second. This is not helping; this is just changing stuff because you have a pen.)

(Granted, under some types of supervisors one does get the fear that if one is not changing enough stuff, one will be accused of not doing one's job.)

(Then again, I stopped doing this a year and a half ago and should probably not take it so seriously...)

This is not helping; this is just changing stuff because you have a pen

Yes, that's it exactly!

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"

Seriously? ::headdesk::

I'm glad you got to keep him the way he is. Reynard is a great character!

I remember reading this the first time you posted it, and I'm still so glad he got left in :)

I read this only last week and loved it. I had read many others but not 'this' one and was so glad I did. Sometimes kindle is sooo good. Glad you stuck to your guns. I know, it is hard sometimes to know what to do.

Thank you! And glad you enjoyed it!

Forgive me if you're sick of answering this question, but is there going to be a Kindle release of the English version of _Death of the Necromancer_ any time soon? It only seems to be available in German.

I have it in HC, but I'd really like to have it as an ebook for travel.

Yes, there is. I'm co-releasing it with Black Gate probably this summer. It'll be serialized free on their site and then available as a cheap ebook at all the usual retailers.

Hurray! Thanks very much for the update.

i reread _death of the necromancer_ recently--it's the first book of yours that i ever read--i still love it. and i love reynard--i got a little thrill when he showed up in...well i won't spoil it for other people by saying where else he shows up!

Thank you very much! I love Reynard a lot, too. :)

"Death of the Necromancer" is the first book of yours I read. In many ways it is still my favorite. I'm glad you stood up for what you believe in. I am especially glad you created a decent and realistic gay male character rather than going the Mercedes Lackey route of killing them off.

Though this does remind me of something I encountered in my (still unfinished) novel... in which one of the people I let read/edit it told me outright "you can't have the main character thank the faerie for his help - faeries NEVER accept debts and it turns out bad! Everyone knows that!" (to which I shrugged, excised the one "thank you," and proceeded to hit writer's block for the significant rewrite that WAS needed.

I must say... sometimes it's easier writing something completely from the imagination rather than needing to conform with fanboys' and fangirls' preconceptions on how something "should" be.

Some (Many, admittedly) versions of faerie have them having issues with debts and especially with verbal thanks. But not all. Most also have them hating to be called faerie (my take is it's the name of their country, so calling a fey a faerie is like calling me, "Hey, Canada!"). But not all.

If anyone insists it must be one particular way, ask them which of the fey they know so well can talk to you, and attest to the rules in person. Because otherwise, it is, as you say, your own damn imagination.

Thank you!

And I don't think you should worry about fanpeople's preconceptions. It's your book, and your imaginary beings, and informing your world with your own spin is what is going to make it different and worth reading.

That copyeditor must have been working for Count Montesq. No other explanation makes sense.

Considering what else she did, that explanation makes a lot of sense!

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It really was crazy. I'm glad I didn't run into this person on my first novel.

This isn't the first time I've read about a copyeditor who loved the sight of their own handwriting on manuscripts just a little too much, though I'm sure I've read this piece before too.

I'm glad that you stood up for Reynard... we need more Reynards out there in literature.

Thank you! Yeah, there are a few copyeditors like this running around, causing a disproportionate amount of trouble.

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