Q. Are you really a Doctor?
I got my Ph.D. in English from the University of Pennsylvania, back in
the Dark Ages 1981. My primary field was Old English, and my cognate field was Old Icelandic, which makes me the sort of person who once stayed up until 2 in the morning reading a book on historical linguistics for fun. Old Icelandic is a great language – we get “to egg (somebody) on” from there, as well as “ransack”, plus a wonderful verb that we don’t have in English but sometimes I wish we did, ydda (“to show the point [of something] on the other side [of something]”; as, for instance, a sword and someone else’s back.)†
Q. What on earth are you doing here, then? Shouldn’t you be off in an ivory tower someplace, instead of writing fiction and editing other people’s novels for pay?
A. Hah. Don’t I wish.
I finished my degree at about the same time as Academia started devouring its own young. The need to hire lots of new-minted scholars every year to teach the glut of baby-boomers and draft-avoiders was coming to its end, and colleges were starting to use spreadsheets and do the math and figure out that they could hire adjunct faculty (aka “temps with doctorates”) and avoid the extra cost of insurance and other perks, and tenure-track positions got scarcer and scarcer. (Also, colleges realized that you could dangle the prospect of tenure in front of a new hire, and they’d run after it like a greyhound after a mechanical rabbit for five or six years of high toil and low pay, and then you could turn them down for tenure and start the whole process up again with the next victim.)
So I became one of the science fiction and fantasy field’s renegade medievalists, instead.
Q. Well, that explains the writing, I guess. What about the editing?
Money, at least in part. Writing can pay well, but it always pays irregularly, and almost all the writers I know do a lot of other different things to fill in the gaps.
As for why this, in particular: Teaching (and marking up essays) was something I learned how to do as a grad student and teaching fellow at Penn, and while at the time I thought I didn’t like doing it very much, I eventually figured out that what I actually didn’t like was working on stuff written by people who didn’t want to be writing it. (I’ve graded freshman essays, and I’ve read slush – unsolicited manuscripts, for those not conversant with the lingo of the trade – and I’m here to tell you that as bad as slush can get, at least it’s all written by people who are willingly putting words onto paper or pixels onto screen.)
Working with people who are actually interested in improving what they’re doing is, on the other hand, fun.
Q. Do you only work with established writers and self-publishers?
A. Heavens, no. I’m just as happy to work with writers who are at an earlier stage of their development. As I say on my “about” page, I can’t promise that their work will publishable when we’re finished, but I can promise that it will be better than when we started.
Back when I was laboring the the fields of freshman composition, under whatever name it was being called at the time – Introduction to Rhetoric, Expository Writing, or plain old English 101 – I often found that while working with the one or two natural A-level students in the class was easy and refreshing, at the end of the semester I got more satisfaction from having helped a high-B+ student move on up into the A range, or from helping someone who started out as a C- lift themselves up to a good solid B.
†I’ll freely admit that I picked Old Icelandic for my cognate field because I liked all the bloodshed and violence in the great sagas. But my geekhood is safe – my other big interest was subordinate clauses in Anglo-Saxon poetry.