Nick Grabbe is a former colleague of mine, from our newspaper days. Nick was the editor of the Amherst Bulletin, and I was an editor at a partner paper owned by the same publishers. Recently, I had the privilege of editing Nick’s memoir, “Print and Privilege,” which takes a look at the privilege he experienced as a child, the setbacks he had finding independence and a rewarding career, and his forty years as a journalist. When Nick was contemplating working with me, he posed the below questions to a client of mine. Recently, I turned the questions back to him.
What prompted you to write a book? And why?
I was in a writing group convened by Nancy Rose Weeber at Grace Episcopal Church in Amherst in 2019, and our assignment was to write our own obituaries. When I wrote mine and read it aloud to the group, I realized that I had had an unusual life, and that motivated me to write a book about it. Nancy was the first person to read it and offer suggestions. I had excellent primary sources, chiefly the album my father made of my childhood, and the 60-plus notebooks I filled as an adult.
How much of your book was written when you contacted Janice?
I had written the first draft by the time I started working with Janice in September 2020. The book went through major revisions, with many additions and deletions. Every writer, no matter how capable, can benefit from a good editor.
How did she help you complete your project?
Janice helped me clarify my goals in a phone call, then read the draft and offered suggestions. She picked out the title from among the many that I was considering (“Lucky Man,” “Up from Privilege,” “Headlines and Heartlines,” “All the Days of My Life,” “Privileged Information,” “His Story,” “My Front Pages,” “It’s a Privilege,” “Late Boomer,” etc.) and designed the cover. She designed the inside pages and was a liaison with Off the Common Books, the printer.
What did you consider the most valuable part of working with Janice on your book?
I threw away the introduction and wrote a prologue that was much better, and also wrote an epilogue at her suggestion. She encouraged me to write more about my wife and spread it through the narrative. She helped me through the copyright process. When I was stuck trying to find the right word to summarize my life experiences in the prologue (I considered “extraordinary,” “unusual,” “interesting,” “idiosyncratic,” “distinctive,” and “eventful,”) she nailed it by suggesting “uncommon.” But perhaps the most valuable part of working with Janice was the feeling we were a team.
What kinds of suggestions did Janice make? Did you act on all of them? If you had differences, how did you resolve them?
I started this relationship with the hope that I could accept 80 percent of Janice’s suggestions. I logged 76 substantive points she made after her first reading (plus many other, more trivial suggestions), and I accepted 61 of them, exactly 80 percent. Janice and I were both familiar with the writer/editor relationship at newspapers, in which the editor always has the last word. That was reversed here, because in a memoir, the writer should make the final decisions. I seriously considered every suggestion Janice made, and she was gracious when we didn’t agree. I never had a feeling of conflict. I didn’t always feel that way with newspaper editors.
In what way did your book turn out differently from what it would have been if you had not worked with Janice on it?
The cover would have been too busy. The introduction would have been solipsistic and wouldn’t have developed the “privilege” angle. My 40 years working on newspapers would not have been emphasized. I never would have gotten through the copyright process. I could go on.
How are you feeling, now that the book is nearly out?
I’m feeling good about the book, but also vulnerable, because it contains a lot of personal revelations about my erratic (wayward? dissolute?) twenties. I worry that readers and reviewers will focus on the confessional aspects of the book. I got a lot of perspective on my life from writing this book and forced myself to distinguish between what I know happened and what I imagined, i.e., stories I told myself.
Anything else you want readers of Janice’s blog to know?
Yes. Before I teamed up with Janice, I had an email dialogue with the Pioneer Valley Writers’ Workshop about editing my manuscript. I considered several possible editors and discussed costs, and ultimately did not go with them. Now I can see that the services that Janice provided were much more extensive and at a lower cost! Plus, it helped that she was familiar with the regional newspaper scene.