I’m struggling to remember some light, amusing incidents from an editorial perspective, but continuing personal struggles keep getting in the way, and I really don’t want to go there.
Hmm. Oh, wait, here’s one example I used just last weekend, when I was on a panel about writing erotica at a science fiction/fantasy convention in Boston. In this case I didn’t choose my battle so much as limit my attack.
A very famous writer/publisher in the lesbian fiction genre had sent me a story for an anthology, at the request of my co-editor at the time. This writer/publisher’s name would certainly be an asset to our book, and the story was okay, but there was one notable phrase she used three times, which in itself would have been cause for raised editorial eyebrows. Not only that, but I had recently seen a discussion on a private web site focused on that genre where several people whose opinions I valued were taking exception—okay, jeering—at that writer’s use of that very same phrase in another book. Time for a bit of editorial diplomacy. I had a casual professional relationship with this writer, nothing personal; she’d used my work in anthologies several times, we’d met briefly at conventions, I’d arranged a couple of readings for a few of our anthologies combined, and she’d participated (staying only long enough to read her own pieces,) and we’d been finalists for a few literary awards (she’d won, I hadn’t, yet.) In any case, I didn’t come down hard and ask her not to use that phrase at all. I chose a semi-battle. “This image is so striking that it shouldn’t be used more than once in a short story. Repetition in this case would diminish any positive effect. Let’s just stick with the first reference.” She acceded, rather grumpily. That particular anthology did go on to win the Lambda Award for lesbian erotica, beating one of hers. I wonder, did her book also used her apparent trademark phrase, “milking her clit?”
Still in a literary context, I think I’ve already mentioned (too often) that I’m in the throes of trying to write a novel, my first attempt, and finding being severely edited by someone else to be hard to take. On the whole I’ve chosen to accede to almost every demand and comment, with a few exceptions, and even to ignore the multitude of deletions, although I do insist on revising the remarkable number of her insertions to phrase them in my own style, even when that fails the “pulp fiction” requirement. My characters don’t roll that way. But instead of agonizing over most of the edits, when a section is done, including the requested re-writes, I copy it, mark the copy “accept all,” and then read through to see what I absolutely have to fix. Never mind what’s been deleted unless it clearly makes the document make no sense.
I’ll just touch briefly on the personal side of my battles, which is where “battling my choices” comes in. The thing is, I can almost never be sure that my choices were right, or, in fact, that there were (and are) any right choices. I’ve mentioned before, I think, that one of my sons has been diagnosed as having Asperger’s Syndrome. Raising any child involves a great deal of choosing your battles, and with neuro-atypical children the battles can expand beyond the child to include educational bureaucracies, etc. The hardest times were when there seemed to be only battles and no real choices. Now things are at a liveable equilibrium, but I’ll always be second-guessing myself, never knowing whether different choices would have made things better or worse, or even been possible.
Now I’m faced with choices that may not be choices at all with regard to my 98-year-old father, who has finally reached the stage where he can’t care for himself and needs more care than I can give—or could I if I really tried? A week and a half ago we moved my father to a nursing home near me, a choice he doesn’t want but accepts because it makes things easier for me. Meanwhile I battle with the choice I’ve made, even though it’s as much a decree from the doctors and physical therapists as a choice.
Kind of makes choosing battles in a literary context seem like a picnic in the park.