(This is an essay I wrote for Rachel Holbrook's online literary journal that's dedicated to women's issues. She calls it The Same, tagline: "The more things change, the more they stay the same." It's URL is: https://thesame.blog/submissions)
From the mid-1950s through the late 1960s, my mother worked for a Chicago-area publisher as an editor of Young-Adult Christian fiction, and as a managing editor of two trade periodicals.
When I was a young child, she would often read to me from the fiction galleys she brought home to work on. These readings were more instructional than entertaining for me as she’d edit the text as she went along. With her ubiquitous blue pencil in hand, she’d start reading and stop in mid-sentence to make emphatic proofreading marks and scribble notes in the margins. Continuing, she’d come to a passage she’d reread, and then suggest a rewording, asking for my opinion. I’d always agree with her rewrite that sounded better to me. I made more of a contribution to the dialogue of children who were supposed to be not much older than me. Mom would read a few lines of conversation, sigh audibly, put down the manuscript and look over at me. “This doesn’t sound natural,” she’d say. “Is this how your friends would say this?” I’d shake my head no, and translate the meaning into my own childish speech. She’d nod emphatically, scratch out the text, and do a rewrite in the margin she’d encircle with a bubble. Reading on, she’d sometimes point out examples of smooth phrasing and good word choices, and then stop again at a clumsy phrase she’d have to rework. With all the pauses and rewriting, I’m sure I lost track of the story, but I learned a lot about the craft of writing from these sessions.
At one point, the publishing house where my mother worked hired a younger man named John to be my mother’s assistant to help with her heavy workload. Since John didn’t have much experience, Mom had to teach him the job. She didn’t mind as she said he was nice and willing to learn.