The Facts of Fiction: a Conversation Between Novelist Mesha Maren and Copy Editor Jude GrantBy Mesha Maren
February 09, 2022
Below is a conversation between novelist Mesha Maren and copy editor Jude Grant–the copy editor Maren worked with on her first novel, Sugar Run, and her new novel, Perpetual West. You can order a copy of Perpetual West right here.
Mesha Maren: Before working with you on my first novel, Sugar Run, I had no real sense of what copyediting a work of fiction entailed. I was surprised and very delighted to learn that you would point out more than just my horrific misuse of commas. In that novel, I remember specifically being pleased at how well you kept track of physical descriptions of my characters. At one point in the book I described a woman’s breasts as “full” and at another point “perky” and you asked me if I felt that these descriptions were compatible. I was delighted and shocked at that level of specificity and it made me wonder about how you go about keeping track of details about fictional characters that even the author has not been able to manage?
Jude Grant: Note-taking, note-taking, note-taking. One of my weaknesses as a reader, especially when reading for pleasure, is that a character’s physical attributes just aren’t that interesting to me. Black hair? Blond hair? Don’t really care. (If pressed, I’ll champion “perky” over “full” breasts, but that is strictly personal preference and is an opinion without literary merit.) So my style sheets tend to be detailed, especially when it comes to characters’ physical traits, not because I think the proofreader will necessarily benefit from having that information but because those are the kind of details that are less likely to stick in my head. What characters say (content and language used) and how they behave are a different matter—all that deeply resonates and imprints on me. If characters were nothing but talking heads, I’d be happy (there are reasons I’m not a writer).
Once, I accepted a novel that was part of a long series, which I had not previously worked on. This kind of project is particularly tricky because you have to rely on style sheets from previous copyeditors, and those style sheets tend not to be cumulative; that is, they’re book specific, not series specific. So I was quite surprised to get a cover memo noting in bold caps that the protagonist’s name was Diane, not Diana. This was a character who’d appeared in all books in the series, yet at some point both the author and the copyeditor got her name wrong, and in more than one book, and it was readers of the author’s blog who pointed out the error and were (rightfully) not happy.