My Editor Defictionalized (Dorrie O’Brien)
My editor has given me permission to tell you her real name. I think this might be a sign she feels my book has promise.
How I found her is a long story. It starts with my mama. She was an English teacher. I was rambunctious boy who spent whole summers sunburned, barefoot, and covered in red clay. My only possessions were a one speed bike and a baseball bat and glove.
I had two brothers. When mama put her fried chicken on the table you had to move fast or get a fork stuck in your hand by one of your brothers as they reached for a drumstick. We were rowdy, loud boys. There were never any leftovers. We didn’t have any sisters.
I didn’t pay a bit of attention in English but did okay ’cause I talked like mama in class. I got by. I didn’t realize you were supposed to take your books home, but mama made up for it. She’d take me to the library every week and I’d check out all the books they’d let me take home. They were mostly on baseball at first, but she got me in the habit of reading. I wrote some stories and got a few blue ribbons but then got interested in girls, guitars, and golf and let it go for a while. Mama raised me most of the way and my wife took over from there.
Even though I didn’t have any sisters, because of mom and my wife I had all kinds of respect for women. Even though I was amateur husband I did okay ‘cause I believed a man could have all the female friends he wanted as long as he only loved one woman.
After I got to be a doc, I was surrounded by women all day, and began to learn a lot from them. Some guys say they don’t like to work with women but I never had any problem with them. If they disagreed with you they’d tell you, but they never tried to rassle with you or punch you in the nose to settle any differences. Compared to life as a kid it seemed rather civilized to me.
I told you all that so you’d understand why when my agent decided it was time to search for an editor I told him I leaned toward it being a lady if possible. I figured me and him both knew how guys think, and it wouldn’t hurt to get a female perspective. Besides, I always like at least one female voice in a bluegrass band; just a better mix to my ear. Maybe it was ’cause mom was such a big influence.
It seemed my readers were likely to be female too. Several of them became very influential as the book developed via their comments and feedback. My daughter said this was because women read more than men. (She wrote for the Harvey Herald in high school; the kid was published before I was.)
And I would never have never made it as a doc without Lynn O’Carroll and Myrd. We have a lady doc at the office too, Dr. Lucas, and she always had insight into women’s health issues you just couldn’t get out of a text-book.
My agent went on a search and narrowed it down to ten or so, then we went over the resumes and got it to three. Then he said it was up to me. I had to interview them by phone and decide, and he wouldn’t do it for me. It had to be the one who resonated with me. They were all good. Each one had a lot of experience, and I am a first time novelist. Any of them woulda been fine.
But there something about Dorrie. I knew I was gonna marry my wife the day I met her, and I knew Dorrie was gonna be my editor after our first conversation. I guess a man of science shouldn’t make decisions from the heart like that but I often do anyway. Dorrie seemed like the literature sister I never had just like my nurses were my big and little sisters at the office.
She seemed to have her heart in the project early on, and included me in each step rather than make her recommendations and leave it to me to implement them without any further feedback. I was used to negotiating with women in the workplace and maybe she sensed I was comfortable with constructive criticism. Sometimes she would call and get inside my head about a passage before she decided on the recommendations she wanted to make.
At the same time we were in agreement she couldn’t write it for me. One thing I never wanted was a ghost writer, and I was glad she wanted no part of that. “Besides,” she said. “If I wrote any part of myself it’d stick out to your readers. You are unique and no one can fake you.”
She also was clear she wasn’t gonna be my mama. I agreed. I said right from the start if I wanted someone to tell me they loved my book, I’d get Mom to read it. I wanted Dorrie to be solid honest and tell me what parts didn’t work, and she did so. Dorrie is tough and won’t put her name on anything she doesn’t feel good about, so don’t expect a free pass.
She felt free to question anything, and I re-worked every passage she found weak. “You got to remember, Bibey. Many of your readers will know nothing about medicine, bluegrass music, or golf. It is up to show them in a way they will be comfortable in your world.” I figured she was a pro. If parts didn’t make good sense to her I could not hope it would fly with a more casual reader.
She found my punctuation atrocious but corrected it for me like a big sister would the night before a term paper was due. Also, I figured a woman might inject a bit of culture into the story. The draft I first presented to her was written up the way I heard the story, and there were a few rough spots. She took out some of the cuss words, but still left it real. It will be interesting to see if you guys can spot where the cuss words were deleted. If you do you can insert the words in your mind, but don’t say ’em out loud. Mama will like it better that way.
When we finished this last revision, I read it over one last time before I shipped it off to my agent. I realized with Dorrie’s help I had finally said what I meant to say. She made my voice stronger, but still insisted it had to my voice.
My old bluegrass buddy Darin said early on to get all the help I needed but to never forget it was my story. Dorrie saw it the same way. On my last read, I’m not ashamed to tell you I shed a few tears at the end. I felt like a painter who still had a brush in hand. As I considered one last accent, I realized it was best to put it down ’cause one more brush stroke might foul it up.
It turned out to be a fine partnership, and one I suspect we’ve just started. I told Dorrie the same thing I told my agent. “If you are fair to me it’ll be like they told Monroe when he got to the Opry. If you want to leave you’ll have to fire yourself.”
Right now she’s editing an article of mine that should be placed in a national music magazine come spring. The last time I talked to her I told her it was too bad I didn’t run into her at Harvey High. When I went out to play gigs she coulda ridden in the back seat on the way home and read ‘Wuhtering Heights’ to me like any good big sister would do. I mighta done better than the ‘A-‘ I made with the Cliff notes.
She said, “Bibey. I’m good, but not that good. You better call your mama for that.”
Oh well. You can’t blame a fellow for trying.
One disclaimer: This post was self-edited, so don’t blame Dorrie for any errors. I wanted to surprise her. Oh by the way Dorrie, is defictionalized a real word?
Here is her contact info:
Web page link: http://www.book-editing.com/bios/dorrie-obrien/index.shtml
If you e-mail her tell her Dr. B sent you and I said to give you the big sister discount. In the interest of full disclosure I should tell you I have no financial conflict of interest in her edit biz, but I do think she is a fine editor and wanted you to know of her. Also don’t forget she is an artist and doesn’t live by doctor standard time. Don’t call her too early in the morning and remember she’s on Central Time.
One last thing. My agent felt my MS was only ready for an editor after several re-writes and a test market by some very serious readers around the country. I think it’d save every writer a lot of time, trouble, effort, and money in the long run to do that kind of preparation. And don’t just have your mama read it. If she’s like mine she’ll just say she loves it.
All the best Sis,
Dr. BThe Monday Morning Post, Writing
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