A while back, I had some interesting email exchanges with Anne Zanoni, the copy editor who worked on my single-title novella Love in the Time of Metal and Flesh for publisher Prime Books. (The book is due for release in July.)
Love in the Time of Metal and Flesh is a difficult piece. It’s about cutting, and extreme body modification, and an underground scene bordering on the criminal which leverages those kinks. In my view, the story is a Bildungsroman of sorts, about someone who is and remains profoundly innocent in a spiritual and social sense even amid extremes of sexuality and society. My goal when writing it had been to make the protagonist as genuine as I could, to be true to his internal perspective as a cutter and a body modifier. Not to sensationalize or moralize, but simply see the world from his perspective. I had a friend who is a cutter read an early draft, to try to make sure I wasn’t skewing the voice with my own heterornomativity and relative lack of kink.
In other words, I was working very hard at writing the Other.
Quoting with permission, here’s what Anne wrote to me and to publisher Sean Wallace:
This was the hardest story I ever worked on, novel, novella, or short fiction.
Going by the length, it shouldn’t have been. I expected to get done a lot sooner than I did. Then I read it.
The reason it was so hard is because of the subject matter.
Jay, thank you for being such a great writer. If you hadn’t been, if I’d had lots of writing problems to deal with, then this would have been much harder on me.
I read lots of dark fiction, and I work on it too — like the novels for Angry Robot. This story was more sick to me than “I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream” melded with a lot of other squicky things. It hit many of my squick buttons (except for inside the organs, those sections were pretty neat).
So, just thought I’d tell you both that.
After I did the first pass, I kept having to force myself back to work. I work on projects that I like and those that I don’t like, and some projects are a lot of stress and ones aren’t; and they’re all work. Some are more fun than others.
This isn’t a complaint. It was a learning experience. I’ve had fiction that I loved working on and which required more concentration because it was such fun.
I’m not sure if completely repelling the copy editor is a milestone or not, but it’s certainly new in my experience.
I never expected to find a story that I wanted to scrub from my brain every time I walked away from my work. And I wanted to run away, actually.
I was fascinated by this. My story had reached her, almost exactly in the way I intended. I replied to Anne:
Thank you. I think. 🙂
I’ll take that as a comment on the quality of the writing rather than a comment on the quality of my character.
=grins= I suspect that almost breaking your copy editor ranks somewhere up there with distracting her so much she can’t work.
If I could make every cutter read your story, I would. Possibly runaways also.
Sometimes you reach people despite their professional filters. I have no idea how this story will be received critically or by the general audience. Given some of the reactions to my piece “The Goat Cutter”, I’m actually a bit nervous. But it’s the story I wanted to tell, told in the fashion I wanted to tell it.
So, thank you Anne.