Wednesday, March 14, 2012

VISITING DIGNITARY/SENIOR EDITOR MELISSA SINGER


Ladies and gentlemen, I want to take a minute to do a bit of a special introduction for our Visiting Dignitary this week.  Melissa Singer is our editor, the editor at Tor who has worked with us for several years and gives us the kind of advice that is sometimes hard to hear but ALWAYS makes the book better.  She is a wonderful person, too, and I feel absolutely privileged to work with her.  She even took time from her hectic schedule to stop by and do a blog post.  So please give her an especially warm welcome.  I give you - Melissa Singer.

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Melissa Ann Singer is a Senior Editor at Tor/Forge Books, where she has worked for more than 25 years. She began her career in publishing at the ripe old age of 19, as an assistant in the science fiction and fantasy department at Berkley Books, and survived at least three corporate mergers before moving to Tor, where she began by editing horror and a series of nonfiction books on parenting—topics which any parent will tell you dovetail nicely. In the years since, Melissa has edited just about every category of genre fiction there is, from sf/f to westerns, from woman-and-child-in-jeopardy to disaster thrillers, from historical novels to police procedurals. She edits Tor’s monthly email newsletter, supervises the graphic fiction publishing program, occasionally acquires fiction for tor.com, and goes to far too many meetings. Melissa is a 3rd-generation native of New York City, where she is currently raising a teenage daughter. In her wild youth she studied stage combat and could periodically be seen slinging steel in Central Park, often while very oddly dressed.


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I am a lucky, lucky woman.  I grew up with parents who not only understood genre fiction; they were fans.  In my household, Star Trek was fodder for dinnertime conversation (which series? which captain? would you rather be in engineering, science, or command?); as a teenager, when I finished my weekly stack of comic books, I’d pass them to my dad; my mother still reads sf. 

So I grew up surrounded by titans of category fiction (all kinds of categories, not just sf/f).  When I was 19, I started working in publishing, first in sf/f, later in horror, and even in comics, a tiny bit.  Now I edit pretty much any category that appeals to me.  I was in my early 20s when I started meeting some of the writers who had shaped my literary life.  I am eternally grateful for their courtesy and tolerance for what I am sure was a fair amount of fangirl squee. 

Cool as meeting some of my idols was, actually working with them was utterly terrifying.  I mean, how dare I tamper with their words?  What would convince them to take editorial advice from me, snot-nosed child that I was? 

At some convention in the mid-to-late 1980s I walked up to my boss, Tom Doherty, who was chatting with an older man, and Tom introduced me to:

ROBERT BLOCH

ROBERT BLOCH!

ROBERT BLOCH!!  

I almost fell on the floor.  The man was a god.

He was also one of the nicest human beings in the entire world.  (This is true of many horror writers, btw.  Nice, nice people.  All the nasty goes into the writing, I guess.)  He and his wife invited me to their home (!!!) and introduced me to their cats, who were sweethearts too.  Bob and Ellie Bloch were completely, devotedly in love with each other; it was wonderful to see. 

And then we worked together.

I. Edited. Robert. Bloch.

I cannot tell you how terrified I was to send off my first editorial letter to Bob. I just kept thinking, Are you people all insane?  Why are you trusting me with this?

Bob was a gentleman, so even if I had sent him a letter full of twaddle, he would have found a polite way to express his displeasure. Bob had been a working writer for decades longer than I’d been alive.  I think I entertained him with my youthful enthusiasm, and once I stopped treading on eggshells around him, we developed a good relationship.

Bob really enjoyed his work.  Once we had lunch at  convention (probably the first World Horror Convention) and talked shop through most of it, working out plot details for the book he was writing and hashing over the Crippen case, which we were both fascinated with.  We were deep in discussion of various methods of disposing of bodies (quicklime, dismemberment, etc.) when the restaurant’s manager came over. 

Apparently we had terrified our waitress to the point where she refused to serve us!

We gaped at the poor man before bursting out laughing.  I reassured the manager that no actual crimes were being plotted, only fictional ones.  I gave him my business card and introduced Robert, author of Psycho, Bloch.  The manager went off to calm the waitress, who eventually returned, bringing tea and the check.  I tipped her a little extra in an attempt to compensate for the scare we’d given her. 

Bob was not-so-secretly delighted that he’d frightened the woman.  As he often said, he had “the heart of a small boy.”  (“I keep it in a jar on my desk.”)

Scaring people was what he did.  On the page, on the screen, and in real life.  I’m so happy I got to witness some of it.

I’ve been lucky to work with many authors whose writings I’ve enjoyed, but there are only two others for whom I felt similar youthful passions.  One is Kit Reed.  The first thing of hers I remember reading is the short story “Automatic Tiger,” which was published in 1964 but which I suspect I read sometime around 1971, when I had begun devouring my dad’s sf library.  Reed’s feminist and subversive sf changed the way I looked at the world.  I edited three novels of hers, and one of them, Thinner Than Thou, is a powerful and important work that I will always be proud of being associated with.

The other is Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, whose Hotel Transylvania was published in 1978.  I read it that year, shortly before I started working in publishing.  I was 18, just a few years older than the novel’s heroine, and Hotel Transylvania was the major romantic vampire story of my youth.  Quinn and I have now done ten books together and I cannot begin to tell you how much I’ve learned from her.  On every book, I try to think, what will make people feel about this novel what I felt when I first read Hotel Transylvania

Editors want to kindle passion in people.  When we get to do that with writers who inspire passion in us, it’s a huge bonus and one that we treasure.  

18 comments:

Tammy S said...

WOW!!!!

Great interview Cie, and thank you Melissa!

Coffee Time Romance and More said...

(pokes my head in from my corner of cyber space)

Just wanted to say howdy!

Karenne
Coffee Crew

Ericka Scott said...

Fantastic interview. Loved the scaring the waitress story. I write seductive suspense, and while I was dating my husband, my mother remarked that he must really love me because he wasn't scared off by all my macabre murder plots.

Karen Cote said...

Wow! What a moment to see genius at work with that waitress. It is obvious your appreciation in watching others creative works and feeling them in their writing.

Great interview and I can see what a special person you are and a champion to promote the authenticity that resides in most authors.

With pleasure and gratitude, I am grateful you took your time today to share yourself and your amazing vision of what makes a true artist.

Vanessa Devereaux said...

Great interview. I always enjoy reading posts by editors as it gives us writers a different view of the business-Vanessa D.

jackie b central texas said...

Doing a job you enjoy with passion, meeting the authors whose work entertain and give you hours of reading pleasure and getting a chance to actually be a part of something that will outlive you and give reading pleasure to others for many years is something really special Melissa.
Thank you both for sharing this small look into the "fun" side of the editing process!

Jeri said...

Awesome interview..
I would love to hear some more of Melissa's adventures with authors.. the waitress must have been a Kodak moment..

~Jane~ said...

Hi Ladies~

Awesome interview!

I would be so nervous just meeting my fave authors...I can't imagine editing for them!!

What an amazing experience!

Thanx for the interview! :)

~Jane~

hollie said...

Oh I am so jealous, editing is my dream job. I am doing a media degree at the moment and I have managed to talk an author friend into allowing me to beta read/ edit a book for her. I sent the first 3 chapters back today, you are right the idea is terrifying.
Hollie (coffee crew)

Melissa Ann Singer said...

Thanks for the kind words, everyone!

(I should point out that this wasn't an interview; Cie pointed me at a blank screen and said, "fill it.")

~Jane~: Hands down, the coolest moment in my early editing life was meeting Isaac Asimov at a Nebula Awards banquet. I was literally shaking and blathered something about having been a fan since I was 8. He wrote me a limerick on a piece of paper from a little notepad he always carried around with him, and I still have it tucked away somewhere safe.

Hollie: Editing friends is indeed terrifying because of the possible risk to the friendship. I lost a very close friend over an editorial dispute when we were in our late 20s and I regret it to this day. It is possible to work with friends--I'm in fact currently editing a manuscript by a former roommate of mine--but you need to tread carefully and stay professional, and the writer needs to understand that editorial judgment is about the text, not the person writing the text. Best of luck with it!

Tarah Scott said...

ROFLMAO. I'm dying laughing. Love the whole interview.

CJ Parker said...

Robert Block! I can't even imagine. I was tongue tied when I met Sherlyn Kenyon at RWA last year. I'm still a little giddy that I get emails from Cie. LOL

It's nice to read things like this that show editors are just regular humans like the rest of us.

Thanks for taking the time to chat with us, Melissa.
And thanks, Cie, for asking her to do it.

hollie said...

Thanks Melissa, we both know what we are taking on she knows I don't pull my punches as a reviewer, so she knows I'm going to be honest when it comes to editing. I think she is really brave agreeing to teach me how things are done lol.

Anonymous said...

lol i imagine so. the poor waitress

blkrze37

Scott Olson said...

I'm so sorry I missed yet again, another visiting dignitary! I'm hoping that once I get a J.O.B that I will be on track again...ANYWAY....I love the fact that Melissa is soooo into what she edits! I've heard many stories of editors who just don't get it! I thank her for taking care of Cie and Cathy!

As a Community theater Director/Actor...I think I wanna see what kind of reaction I can cause at a restraunt by doing something like Melissa and Robert did! That was hysterical!

Great interview and once again sorry I didn't come in when I should...but know I love ya!
Scott

~Jane~ said...

Hi Melissa~

Oh my gosh! What a great thing for him to do--and a great memory for you! :)

Next year I am planning on making it to at least one convention...I hope I can keep my cool! LOL :)

~Jane~

Melissa Singer said...

Scott:

I studied stage-fighting for about 10 years and did some very amateur theatricals, so I understand the impulse!

We went to Medieval Times once for a sales conference dinner; one of my fight-class partners was also a co-worker and we had a great time dissecting the "battles" and then re-staging one in front of the sales reps as we were heading for our bus. Our boss/publisher, Tom Doherty, was quite amused.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the posting, Melissa! It is always great to learn a little more of the world of books before they enter the store for us to read and appreciate. Your job sounds very hard, but thoroughly exciting.

Shari