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A Tale of Two Copyeditors
This might surprise you, but my grasp of English grammar and punctuation is foggy at best. Think of it like this: I can see, but I need glasses for 20/20 vision. While all authors go through the copyedit process as their books are being finalized for publication, I fear that mine might have a bit more work in store than, say, the copyeditor for Jonathan Franzen (I bet he’s got this shit down).
To spare all people involved in early reads of my book, I have in the past few years employed David Hayward (my virtually unknown coauthor) as a preliminary proofreader.
However, this was a few years after I had already established a solid working relationship with Jonathan Evans, my publisher’s production editor (overseer of all things related to copy, consistency, and standards). I believe he’s worked on all Spellman books to date. While both men have great minds and 20/20 copyediting vision, the comparison ends there. Whenever I’m apologetic to Jonathan about my sloppy style and misuse of commas, he bats the comment aside and reminds me that it’s job security.
Dave, on the other hand, mocks and belittles me. Even when I get something right. For example, right now Dave is proofing a rough draft of Trail of the Spellmans. Please see his notes in the text below.
Sometimes a window is ajar (he is on the fourth floor, so I’m not exactly sure what he’s worried about—flies?); [CORRECT SEMICOLON USAGE!!!] sometimes the bathtub might be overflowing.
One is a family matter; [BRAVISSIMA!] the other is harassment.
Honestly, I didn’t study up on semicolons at all. So this was just blind luck. But then it occurred to me that the semicolon is a kind of awesome bit of punctuation. I asked the brilliant and kind Jonathan for thoughts and I got this lovely response:
The semicolon is the most human of punctuation marks, precisely because it’s inherently ambiguous and complicated: it can join two independent clauses that don’t relate, or two independent clauses that closely relate. Its very use is a signifier of the complexity of human thought, of our knack for making connections, right or wrong, between ideas and impressions. It’s messy but it’s democratic. (Probably why Cormac McCarthy hates it.) Sure, it interrupts the rhythm sometimes, but human consciousness doesn’t always unfold with flawless cadence; it’s a reminder that we’re not always as clever as we think we are.
The semicolon also occupies a place of tremendous peril because it’s not as terminal as the period, which is the universal sign of THE END, nor is it the slight breath of a comma, a piece of punctuation that provides only the merest of interruptions, and almost seems to be saying, “carry on.” In this respect, the semicolon occupies an area somewhere between the living and the dead; its suggestion of finality, like a brush with death, will get you to pay attention to what follows a little more closely than if a mere comma were standing in your way.
Response from David:
Anyone who helps Lisa navigate her native language is a brother in arms. I loved Jonathan's note, and I salute his patience and insight. On a gloomier note, I’m sorry to report that Lisa's thrilling streak of acceptable semicolon usage ended with the threepeat shown here. But I’ll never forget it. Thanks, Lisa; it was a hell of a ride.
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