The Lighthouse

the lighthouse

11 July 2014

In which I ask a question

Where are the editors?

It used to be unusual to find typos (a technical term for spelling mistakes) in a published book. It used to be that once a book reached the shelf-in-a-bookstore stage, it had been vetted and perfected in style and substance.
Not so today.  Today it could be a fun, bookish (yes, it is possible to partner those two terms) drinking game: spot the errors.  One shot of whatever's going - Lady Grey Tea if that's your thing - for every abused apostrophe, forgotten comma, plot hole, and instance of mangled grammar.
Sadly, episodes of egregious editing are not limited to an excusable one now and then, but are populating books by the handfuls, scattered like seeds between the covers of a single book.  It's sad!
(A good editor would rebuke me and reign in my runaway alliteration)
The book I am currently reading - half-heartedly - is an example: The Beekeeper's Ball by Susan Wiggs. I've not read anything by her before, but it tempted me as it sat in the new book display at the library when I returned what was a really good read, The Loveliest Chocolate Shop in Paris. I wanted another delightfully light but satisfying book and thought this would hit the spot.  It's about a beekeeper, or so you would think. It promised to tell about a cookery school in the Napa Valley surrounded by orchards and gardens and beehives, with a dash of romance thrown in. I was up for that.
Instead, the story is skimming over those elements, focusing more on another character's backstory about being a resistance fighter in Copenhagen during WWII. There are so many secondary characters involved in the plot but who are not actually present during the events of this book that a big chunk of the story falls flat through lack of their support. The author focuses on some minute details while conflictingly overlooking others: for example, Isabel (owner of cookery school) and her beekeeper (who is pregnant) are folding laundry one morning (details about this being a new, industrially fitted-out facility are provided). Isabel talks the girl into visiting the doctor for a prenatal checkup, then they go to see an adoption counselor. When they return, Isabel's sister is in the renovated barn with her mother and grandmother (neither of whom are related to Isabel - it's a complicated family) discussing plans for the sister's wedding. After a brief conversation, Isabel goes to the kitchen to prepare supper by drizzling cheese with honey (the book is chock full of honey recipes and every mention of food involves honey). Then - and this is the bit that got me - she stirs a sauce for the roast pork!  Grand.  I have no objection to either the sauce or the pork. I'm glad to know they are there, as Isabel is meant to be a good cook, what with the immanent cookery school and all, but if you're going to account for every moment of her day, you can't have her suddenly pulling out a roast pork to follow the cheese she just drizzled with the ever present honey!
The pregnant beekeeper was hired just a few days ago, and yet talks about making changes to the hives as she'd planned a month ago.
Isabel is described as being shy and uncertain, over-protected by her grandmother, and yet she's charging ahead making bold decisions and organizing everyone's life.
The cooking school is supposed to be a risky endeavor, a last shot sort of deal to save the estate, yet she decides on a whim to have a big swimming pool installed amidst all the other renovations.
She has an unhappy romantic past involving a traumatic assault and admits to another character that she's had no significant relationships. She meets a man at the beginning of this story, and not a handful of days later she goes skinny dipping with him.  This of course is the shy and uncertain lady mentioned above. He is crude and talks constantly about how he wants to go to bed with her - totally out of keeping with the tone of the rest of the book.
The grandfather's story about his boyhood in Denmark is told in snatches as flashbacks so his and Isabel's plot interrupt each other.  Sometimes this device works, and sometimes it doesn't.  Sometimes the reader takes a shine to one character over another and then might be tempted to skip the other bits. Two interwoven stories don't always enhance each other. It didn't work for me in this case.
This is part of a series that I'm sure tells each character's stories in turn, so that as a whole we have a complete picture of the family, but as a one-off I'm finding it weak. I think the weaknesses could have been fixed by a good editor.


  1. Wow - there is a lot I could say, but it's too long for a comment.

    Books like that get out there because of reviews like this (from Amazon's editorial reviews) and many 5-star reader reviews.

    "Wiggs’ carefully detailed plotlines, one contemporary and one historical, with their candid look at relationships and their long-term effects, are sure to captivate readers. The second of Wiggs’ Bella Vista Chronicles, after The Apple Orchard (2013), features a nice bonus: a delightfully unique boy-meets-girl opening. Librarians will want to stay with this entire series. --Shelley Mosley"

    In movies and TV shows there is, or was, a person in charge of "continuity." They made sure everything went together and made sense. A good editor would help, but if people keep saying it's wonderful the way it is, the author doesn't have much incentive to change.

    I do have a lot to say about this, but I've already gone on long enough! Perhaps an e-mail at some point might be better. Or a blog post.

  2. I used to think writers had the rough deal among all the creative arts, because our work is given over to someone else to poke and change as they see fit. Now I think it's not a bad idea really, if it means better quality control!

    Looking forward to the rest of your thoughts.