Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Role of Editor

The Role of Editor
Carolyn Haines

I’ve been a writer for over twenty years now. And for the past seven, I’ve been a teacher at the University of South Alabama. But for the past year, I’ve been the editor of an anthology, DELTA BLUES, which will launch March 27 with a party in Clarksdale, Mississippi.

Every new challenge brings a shift in perspective, and I want to talk a little about what I’ve learned in the last year as editor.

First, it was with complete humility that I accepted the “title” of editor for DELTA BLUES, when Ben LeRoy of Tyrus Books offered it to me. We were at the Emerald Coast Writers Conference, and I’d heard of Ben and his partner Alison Janssen and the wonderful crime fiction they were publishing. When he asked if I’d consider editing an anthology of stories centered around the Mississippi Delta blues and a crime or noir element, I didn’t even have to think it over. “Yes!”

But I’d failed to take into account what the job of editor completely entailed. It is far more than making phone calls and soliciting stories (this was the fun part!). One of the best things about this experience was working with some writers I’ve admired for years—but also working with new voices, seeing stories snap into focus and new writers hitting their stride.

Because fools rush in where angels fear to tread, I brazenly asked John Grisham and James Lee Burke for a short story. I’d admired these writers for years. And while I was at it, I asked Morgan Freeman for a foreword. When I got a yes, I think I fully realized what I was undertaking. Charlaine Harris also said yes, as did Bill Fitzhugh, Les Standiford, Ace Atkins, Nathan Singer, Michael Lister, Tommy Franklin and his wife Beth Ann Fennelly, Dean James, Toni L.P.Kelner, Suzanne Hudson, Suzann Ellingsworth and Lynne Barrett. New writers—at least to the world of fiction—David Sheffield, Alice Jackson and Daniel Martine, gave me the honor of being their first editor.

These people trusted me with their stories. I’m still amazed. And gathering the stories was probably the easiest part.

What I wasn’t prepared for was the need for such extreme organization. Oh, my, goodness! This is such a weak spot for me. And to have 20 writers, each with his own way of working—and deadlines and contracts and…oh, my, goodness. I was terrified I would screw something up.

Yet we have come through that part,too. The book is edited and is at the printer now, and we will launch it with the party of the decade and the debut of our band, the Blues Muse, comprised of contributors to the book. We’ll play at 6 p.m., March 27, at Ground Zero blues club in Clarksdale, Mississippi. What a night that’s going to be!

I’m nervous about the launch. I have no musical talent, but I am driven, like a salmon pushing upstream, to be in the backup singers of the Blues Muse. For those who can attend the launch, be tolerant of a wannabe musician. Most of the band has real talent.

I have learned (or re-learned) some important lessons in this whole experience. I’ll pass a few tips along. Working with writers who take their writing seriously but not themselves is a joy. “I can do that” are the four most inspiring words in the English language. “I’ll help with that” are the second best.

While I am generally awful at attending to business details, I vow never to procrastinate about turning in paperwork again. Writers who attend to such make an editor’s life much more enjoyable.

Writers who take editing as a collaborative effort (and I have to say, I had such pros on this collection) are a jo
y. The quest for the best possible story, when shared with a talented writer, is a real high.

The contributors to DELTA BLUES have become a tiny community. We’ve shared a lot, and soon the book will be out and we’ll meet up at some booksignings along with way. I can only say that this entire experience has been a real honor for me. It’s made me a better writer, and I have a new perspective on a business that I love.

Learn more about the contributors by reading the interviews done by Priya Bhakta and Emily Bingham posted at

Carolyn Haines has been named the 2010 recipient of the Harper Lee Award. Her latest book,DELTA BLUES, is a compilation of stories which she edited, and will be published in March of 2010. Haines is an avid animal activist and cares for 22 animals: horses, cats, and dogs. Visit her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/Carolyn.Haines.of.the.Delta and check out her website at http://www.carolynhaines.com/. and be sure to sign up for her newsletter.


Unknown said...

Very proud of you and really looking forward to this book.
(Hoping to make the party too)

JournoMich said...

Congratulations on this accomplishment. This will leave a mark in history and bring together voices that should not be forgotten.


Anonymous said...

I'm looking forward to this one.

judi said...

what an incredible accomplishment, sorry i won't make the signing

Shellie Tomlinson said...

You should be proud. That's an amazing accomplishment. I'll be looking forward to the debut of Delta Blues.

Daniel Martine said...

Couldn't have done it without you Carolyn. Writing short stories is extremely difficult, as I found out. Your help, ideas and encouragement saw me safely through the process. You're the best!


Carolyn said...

If I survive this launch, I'm going to hide in the woods at Semmes for a couple of weeks. It's going to be great fun, but what a lot of work! Thank goodness my co-conspirators have been so great.

Les Standiford said...

Carolyn, you did one fine job of putting this collection together and of helping find its place in the world. You deserve many kudos...it was a pleasure working with you.

As Always,

Les Standiford