Oh, the joys of copyediting

A Day at the Zoo is a thriller, with the added fillip of having a narrator who in inside-out English speaks because any which way you can make a sentence in Yiddish.

Initial versions were so densely twisted that it impacted its readability for some early readers. I made edits, then more edits. And, finally, realized that I needed professional help (aside from the psychological variety). I engaged with Robin, an editor in England, to give the manuscript a crisp shaking out and cleaning.

Robin’s not Jewish, nor someone who’s familiar with, as my readers call it, Shmuley-speak. But he read a snippet, and took it on anyway. The joy of a good editor is how they do when presented with strange words and contexts. Here’s a bit from an email from him:

The word shabbes appears regularly with that spelling, in italics, and not capitalised. (Sometimes it has a capital, but I’m tempted to retain the lower case because that seems to be the majority default rendering.) What, then, is Shabbat, which presumably means the same thing, but has a different ending and a capital? I can’t imagine it’s all that difference as a concept, but what would you prefer? Leave the discrepancy aziz, or render Jewish sabbath and Shabbat consistently as shabbes? (Such things get noticed – Chapter 2/19 is actually called Shabbat, but the first word in the text is Shabbes.

Elsewhere I am trying to make sensible decisions as to what to capitalise and what, not. Generally, if a word is familiar enough to Western ears I leave it in roman (eg bar mitzvah). If it is less part of the mainstream, I retain the foreignness in italics (eg, goyim). BTW, I thoroughly agree with your practice of immediately providing a translation of each new term as it occurs. Our narrator is steeped in his own culture and history, but he doesn’t want to estrange anyone. This is a neat and economical way of indicating that character trait.

Meanwhile the intrigue continues. Who would want to poison a tiger? And why was this particular woman the victim? And what a dangerous game Shmuley is playing with the fugitives. There’s a lot going on and it’s all moving forwards nicely. But do let me know about the shabbes thing.

So… fun times for me. I had final say, and it was quite the process going through all the nits as well as the larger issues. Authors editing their own manuscripts only gets someone so far. Robin’s been awesome, and hopefully he’ll be able to take on the coming manuscripts from the series.

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