Friday, April 16, 2010
Living In the Real World
I am an editor for MLR Press. As part of my duties as a substantive editor is making decisions on submitted manuscripts as to whether or not they are right for MLR to publish. The senior editor forwards stories to me that are in the consideration hopper and I give a thumbs up (or regrattably) down. Recently, she sent me a book that was very historical with some fantasy elements.
While the book in question was well-written and seemed to be very well thought out, I hated it. Not because it was a bad book or not the right genre, but simply because it was not my cup of tea. Now, I didn't think it was fair for me to give a negative assessment of the book just because it was not the sort of thing I'd choose to read on my personal time. So I sent it back to the senior editor, telling her of my quandry and asking that someone else assess if it was right for the house.
Fortunately, she was understanding and did not give me hell for not performing a task that editors all over the place perform every day. She was very understanding, which lead me to a small, but significant, revelation about my own tastes. To avoid further confusion, I sent her the following e-mail, outlining which books would be good for me to consider or not:
"And just to be clear on what I like and don't like, I submit the list below. I'm not trying to be difficult or a prima donna, but I also don't want to be put in the position of evaluating something that's in a genre I really don't like--that's not fair to me or the submitting author.
Fantasy (dragons, wizards, etc)
And when I wrote the e-mail it dawned on me that I really don't like most books that fall into the "dislike" categories above. Of course, there are exceptions, and good books are good books, regardless of their genre. But the point I'm trying to make here is that when it comes to my reading tastes (as well as my taste in theater, movies, and TV), I'm a realist.
It's simply hard for me to get involved in a story that's not set in the "real" world with characters whom I feel I have known or could come to know. No offense against any of you who like swords and sorcerers, spaceships, or historical dramas set in Edwardian England, but those types of books simply do not engage me. The only exception is, of course, when it comes to horror. I love most things paranormal: zombies, vampires, werewolves, and ghosts, but even then I like the people experiencing those things to be real folks, which may be the reason I have always like Stephen King so much. He sets real people down in bizarre or supernatural situations and I get caught up in their tales.
I mention this only because my life has become, like many of yours, I suspect, increasingly scattered as more and more demands are made on my time.
It's good to know what you like and what you don't like...and not wasting time on the things that don't do it for you.
My senior editor was completely understanding. And I hope you are too.