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Is You Is or Is You Ain't My Editor?


The email read:

You missed two.
Will you, please, fix?
Jean Marie




The cryptic, two sentence memo I've shared above subtly touches on the main bane of my existence. Okay, so it has only been the bane of my existence since the day Jean Marie and I looked at each other and, much in the vein of Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland, decided to put on the show called Crescent Blues.

[Editor's note: In fact, that particular discussion involved several people, most of them shouting, not to mention an accidentally acquired year's lease on five MGs of commercial space which we needed to use. Speaking of which, who does she think plays Mickey Rooney in this gig?]

[Asst. Editor's note: Not me, shorty.]

And what is this horror that stalks my every writing?


[Editor's note: Your horror? Obviously, the plaint of a woman never afflicted with editing herself. (The much afflicted editor sighs.)]

[Asst. Editor's note: She probably rolled her eyes too.]

Yes, that's right -- "is" and all its various connotations. You see, my senior editor, who also moonlights as my writing buddy and best friend, hates the word "is." Loathes it. Absolutely despises it. At the first sight of an "is" (or was, were, have has, etc.) in a book or movie review, Jean Marie pulls out her dreaded red pen with all the panache and enthusiasm of a first year Musketeer sighting the Cardinal's guards, and immediately sets out to eradicate the world of these desperate menaces.

Who knew such a little word would be so…well…nasty?

[(The much afflicted editor shakes her head.) I never called the verb -- or any of the other words associated with passive construction "nasty." They do, however, stop the action of a non-fiction narrative dead in its tracks. Very, very few writers possess the panache to overcome a dead stop. Almost without fail, the inability to find better, more active verbs in a 500-word review shows a lack of imagination and vocabulary. Obviously, this doesn't apply to dialogue or fiction. People often speak in passive voice. Regrettable, but true.]

[Asst. Editor's note: Read the above paragraph, those of you who wish to write for Crescent Blues. Embrace those words. Make them your mantra. Carve them on the wall next to your computer. Tattoo them on your arm. Because if you don't, Jean Marie or I will send you a very polite rejection notice. All kidding aside.]

I sure didn't. Not until I wrote my first piece for the lady that those of us on the Crescent Blues staff fondly call "The Spider". It truly pains me to relate that Jean Marie's friendship and mine was severely tested those first few months of opening our electronic magazine.

While Jean Marie, seasoned professional writer and author of many, many official government documents…

[Editor's note: Hellooooooo. I worked as a journalist before joining the Fed, and even afterwards, I wrote, edited and published government newspapers, magazines and other periodicals. "Government documents" indeed. (Editor sniffs and begins plotting revenge. Editor does not get mad; editor gets even.)]

[Asst. Editor's note: Long-winded, ain't she?]

[Editor's note to Webmaster: delete "long-winded," substitute "prolix." Please, do not drag your marriage vows into a business operation. You know Teri will still respect you in the morning.]

[Webmaster's note: As long as she can keep the whip and chains....]

…knew exactly what she wanted to see in Crescent Blues reviews and articles, I -- struggling fantasy author -- did not. But I was about to learn. The hard way.

I still have nightmares about that poor little 400-word book review. My very first review -- what I thought was a rather amusing paean of praise to the latest Nora Roberts novel -- was serenely typed and emailed within a span of thirty minutes or so. This review writing stuff isn't so hard, I told myself. Ten minutes later my email program burped at me. Aha! Jean Marie had obviously read my humorous nugget and was emailing me back to shower me with her praises.

Boy, did I have a lot to learn.

Unaware of the horrors that waited within, I blithely opened the document file attached to the email. At once my vision swam, awash in a sea of crimson. No, I hadn't contracted a virus -- I'd come down with a severe case of Editor. Rivers of red poured over the page. I couldn't believe the carnage. Not only herds of words, but heaps of sentences -- and, god help me -- one whole pitiful paragraph, lay butchered upon the once pristine page. I was horrified. I was shocked. I was pissed. I reached for the phone.

"What's wrong with my review?" I demanded.

"I knew you wouldn't like it," Jean Marie murmured in my ear. "Let me explain, one more time, what will set our reviews apart from the pack. People don't know us. We aren't names -- yet. Therefore, people need a reason to read us. We'll give them two: content and style. On the style front, that means vivid, muscular writing that compels the reader to scroll down the page. Stopping every other sentence dead in its tracks with an "is" or a "has" won't cut it. Even if readers don't perceive it consciously, they react to it. So, unless the writing proves exceptionally strong, I won't post a review or feature that uses a present or past form of "is" or "have" more than twice per 500 words."

An hour later I (sort of) understood what she wanted and (sort of) promised to adhere to her vision. That still didn't stop me from going into the bathroom to cover myself with Band-Aids and seriously consider a trip to the hospital for a blood transfusion. But my beloved hubby -- who's been on the business end of Jean Marie's editing pen, himself -- persuaded me to take a few aspirin and lie down instead. It almost helped.

Now, if you've been following my sad and sordid little tale, you should be, at about this moment, going back over my editorial and thinking, "Hey! She put in an awful lot of "is," "was," "were," "has," and whatnot." What gives? Isn't that against Jean Marie's rules?"

Yep. It is. But my reason is very simple. While I may, overall, follow the rules, step to the beat of my senior editor's drum and generally, almost always, act as a shining example to our staff, there are times when my very DNA structure demands that I color outside the box. Draw mustaches on posters. Send hideous puns to all my friends and family.

Why do I do this?

Because I is good at it.

[Editor's note: She thinks. But since Teri wrote this editorial under imminent threat of the surgeon's knife, I'll let it pass. Besides, I gave him a discount on the scalpels. Notched blades make such interesting incisions, don't you think?]

[Asst. Editor sighs. Where do you think she gets her red ink?]

Teri Smith

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