Editor Extraordinaire and Author of Found Objects
On the challenges of being an editor, the balance between editing and writing and what matters in writing today.
Peter Gelfan is the kind of editor every writer wants. He has the courage to tell you everything that's wrong with your work while also pointing you in the right direction. He's also a writer, the author of Found Objects, an intriguing new novel about love, loss and acceptance that showcases crisp, powerful writing while challenging our conventional views on love. Finally, Peter is a great teacher. He always asks the right question, but he'll never give you the answer. And that's how you develop good writing, folks.
What's the best part of your job as an editor? The worst?
The best part is reading the next draft of manuscript I’ve edited and seeing that not only did the writer understand the problems I brought up, but also solved them in a creative way that enhanced the rest of the work. The worst is the rare occasion when the next draft isn't much better and the problems remain unsolved and apparently not understood.
How do you balance your job as an editor and your job as a writer? Are your best moments as an editor really different from your best moments as a published author?
I find I have to do one or the other. I can’t write in the mornings and edit in the afternoons. For that matter, I only edit one manuscript at a time. The shift of gears takes up too much time and is frustrating.
The best moments of each are quite different. Writing, the pleasure comes from dreaming up a great idea for the book and making it work well, even better than expected. When editing, to some degree I have to set aside my own creativity as a writer. If I don’t, it’s all too easy to take the client’s idea, run away with it, and start rewriting the manuscript as my own—hey, how about turning your old-man hero into a young woman and setting the novel in modern-day Cleveland rather than Roman Carthage? So I have to always keep in mind what the author wants, and come up with creative ways to deal with whatever stands in his way.
Do you use an editor when you write?
Yes, mostly in the early stages, when I want input on the general idea, characters, and so on.
How did you come up with the idea for Found Objects?
I could give you a raconteur-worthy explanation, but it probably wouldn’t be true. I don’t know where story ideas come from. It’s like falling in love, we have no idea why we fall for this person instead of that one, but after we do, we come up with all sorts of handy reasons, both plausible and not so.
The general question—why do people pair up romantically, sexually, and domestically instead of coming to a more interesting and useful configuration of three or four or more—has knocked around my brain since puberty. But such arrangements rarely last long. How come? Even from close up, or especially so, it’s hard to fathom. The question had prompted a couple of starts earlier that never bore fruit, but then the central premise of Found Objects popped into being and began to grow.
What are the most common issues that you find when editing fantasy?
Some writers become so fascinated by the fantasy world they have thought up that they think it’s their story, and so the novel consists mostly of a guided tour. We get exotic lands, strange creatures, different forms of magic, lots of special effects, intricately designed backstory, but too often little real plot. In fantasy, it’s easy to forget that the world the writer, godlike, has created is, in the universe of the novel, mere setting. In fantasy, setting is often more important than in an earthbound novel, but it’s still just a stage upon which a story of characters in conflict will unfold.
What matters in writing today?
The same as always. Having something to say that could be of value to someone else, and saying it well.
The novel is still evolving, and it’s hard if not impossible to predict where it’s going. But I have a theory, not about where’s it’s headed but why it continues to thrive in whatever form. A novel allows and invites readers to live a life and even its death as if it were their own. Humans may be the only creature that can learn from others’ experiences without directly witnessing them. Stories expand a thousandfold the scope of our innate self-education process of trial and error while avoiding its frequent real-life consequences of injury, death, or wasted years. We absorb those lessons not as dry information but as ersatz experience that, like real life, engages not only the intellect but all our faculties. It’s easy to brush off fiction as entertainment or artsy diversion, but in fact it’s a vital element in our personal and cultural advancement.
Thank you so much for sharing your insights with us, Peter. It's been a pleasure talking to you.
Peter Gelfan has been editing and ghostwriting both fiction and nonfiction for the past 20 years. His clients range from beginners to published and bestselling authors and celebrities. He also edits screenplays and has sold two he wrote under his own name, one of which was produced and recently released in France. His novel Found Objects was published in May 2013.
Author contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
Author site: http://petergelfan.com/
Dora Machado is the award-winning author of the epic fantasy Stonewiser series and her newest novel, The Curse Giver, available from Twilight Times Books. She grew up in the Dominican Republic, where she developed a fascination for writing and a taste for Merengue. After a lifetime of straddling such compelling but different worlds, fantasy is a natural fit to her stories. She lives in Florida with her indulgent husband and three very opinionated cats.
When she is not writing novels, Dora also writes features for Murder By Four, an award-winning blog for people interested in reading and writing, and Savvy Authors, where writers help writers.