Monday, October 13, 2008

one of my authors has passed.

This is such a strange feeling.

This particular author was not young, and this death was not a tragic surprise. He was a recent backlist (but nevertheless backlist) author with whom I hadn't corresponded with, even casually, in at least several months. Yet I am truly shaken by this.

I am saddened to hear he has passed. I, like others who were not his editor, wonder what else he might have produced. But unlike others who were not his editor (at least, I don't think there are other people who feel this way), I have to wonder if I wasn't partially responsible for his death.

You can probably imagine my reasons, but I'll go ahead and elaborate on my thought process in that over-literal manner of mine. My editorial relationship with the author, which started when I inherited his project from a predecessor who had inherited it from a predecessor, was stormy. I had been warned that the book needed tons of work, and that he could be prickly about changes. I persevered with my indefatigable niceness, and eventually we came to agreements on the manuscript, but not without some certain amount of screaming, strongly-worded emails, and, even once, with me putting down the phone mid-conversation and having to take a walk to cool off from some of the things he said to me.

The thing is, I *am* sympathetic to authors who take every word of their content seriously. I regret that he felt the need to be mean to me and tell me I was stupid for making suggestions, but intuitively I understand his gut reaction. At the time, I was frustrated with him, and angry at him for making me upset. Now, I wonder if our interaction didn't take years off his life.

It is strange--to me--to have these feelings of sadness, guilt, and (fight it, Moonrat!) residual frustration. I feel like I never got to show him how much we could have accomplished together. If he had listened to me about this or that, maybe his reviews would have been better. If his reviews had been better, maybe he would have had the inspiration for his next project. If I hadn't made him sad and angry, maybe he wouldn't have died.

This is the first time this has ever happened to me, so maybe these feelings wouldn't come as a surprise to other people who've been in the trenches awhile longer. I am pretty young and have been blessed with a life that has included few funerals. So yes, perhaps my naivete is talking here. But still.

RIP, Mr. Author. May I have contributed more good than bad to your last two years on earth.

37 comments:

Lisa said...

Here's my feeling. If he had this type of 'stormy' interaction with you, then this must have been a pattern throughout his life - people don't just act that way once and be done with it. In other words, I don't think you contributed to anything as far as his passing goes.

Jena said...

My father died recently and my brother is experiencing the same kind of feelings you are - sadness, guilt, and residual frustration. And, I expect, neither of you deserves any of these feelings.

People are often very unhappy and frustrated and take their frustration out on the people they live or work with. There is often nothing - *nothing* - you could have done to change their situation or ease their frustration and sadness. You have no reason to feel guilty.

I understand, though, how hard this must be for you, even if you weren't working closely with the author at the time. There was something left ... I don't know, undone, perhaps, would be the best word. I have a feeling that at some point in the future you'll deal with another author who takes his/her work and your criticism too personally, but this time, it will work out better.

Susan said...

Regret is so natural, it happens often after someone dies. We often think we could have done better, even after doing our best.

I worked in public service for years, and discovered that some people just thrive on being contentious, it's their nature. Maybe it was his.

Wishing you both peace, Moonie. Don't you worry about it.

Sarah Laurenson said...

I'd rather like to think that his expressing his frustration, rather than stuffing it, actually helped him live longer. Letting go of the feelings is better for us in general, though it does sound as if he didn't express them in a PC 'healthy' manner.

I went through a lot of weird feelings when I was younger as my friends were dropping dead around me from AIDS. There is an element of powerlessness there that is hard to deal with. And dealing with mortality at a younger age has different ramifications.

Let's hope you come out of it with a more carpe diem attitude and gratitude for all you do have. Life's too short not to be grateful and living it to the fullest.

ggwritespoetry said...

Moonrat,
I too have recently been in your shoes. A relative who was not always too nice to me has passed. But I have been trying to work through the sadness by acknowleding those good moments we did share.
You and this author did manage to come to terms and put out a final product that presented the best that you and he could put together. Products are a great thing because they represent not one but all of the people who worked on it. Close the book on this one, put it aside, and open up another one with the same love, hope, and devotion that you have when you open up a new book. It is what you are meant to do... draw the best in your authors. Mission accomplished. God Bless.

The Anti-Wife said...

Shake it off, Moonie. You didn't take years off his life - he did. And I'm sure you weren't the only person with whom he had a stormy relationship.

SAVanVleck said...

You really cannot take this kind of guilt on. It will affect your health in the long run.

First, he had a whole personal life, you probably knew little about.

As much as we all like to feel we affect the rest of our world; you should not try to put his demise on your shoulders. He would not listen to the advice of a person who is in business to make his product a success. His failure or success in his novel rested on his shoulders for not working with you. You did the best you could.

JES said...

feelings of sadness, guilt, and (fight it, Moonrat!) residual frustration

Oh, Moonie. The only thing wrong with that is the parenthesis, which I think properly goes before the word "guilt" rather than before "residual frustration."

Which is to say, sadness and frustration are (as the prayer/creed? used to say) truly meet, right, and salutary. But the guilt presupposes you had 100% responsibility for the course of your relationship with Mr. Author. If you are satisfied that you didn't outright hound the guy, then you did the adult thing of assuming responsibility for your own behavior.

And, ultimately, you really can have no idea, ever, how much (if at all) you contributed to his death. For all you know, you prolonged his life by putting the phone down that time -- thereby delaying his daily constitutional by five minutes and thus missing the collision with the maddened cabdriver who'd just been stiffed for yet another tip.

Or whatever.

You're fine. You did fine. Please don't shorten your OWN life by lugging around such baggage. (To do so puts a lot of future authors at risk -- the risk of being ripped off NOT to have the chance to work with you.)

Tracy Marchini said...

This was so sad to read.

I think there's always residual frustration with death... but I agree with Lisa. He probably displayed these traits with everyone. I'm sure there was nothing you did to push him one way or the other.

And, he must have valued your opinion (despite what he actually said) because otherwise he would have requested a new editor. In a weird way, maybe your tumultuous interactions actually kept him motivated?

Nacie said...

It is really odd when someone you know better than an acquaintance yet not good enough to be a true friend is gone, especially someone you had an up and down relationship with.

I know how you feel to a certain extent - over the summer one of the girls I had waitressed with for years and years died of a lung clot...she was only 19. We had worked together, and - in the great tradition of restaurant relationships - had some fights, had some static, but also had some great times together as well. She was a casual friend, but her death touched me significantly.

Perhaps what you are feeling in addition to all the emotions you mentioned in your post is just the shock and awe of death hitting someone you know - it doesn't have to be someone close to you, but when someone you know dies it makes you aware of death in ways we are blissfully ignorant of in our day to day life.

Best of luck working through it.

ChrisEldin said...

I guess I'm the only one who thinks this is funny.

*Imagining this poor author, being carted away on a stretcher, gasping his final words in a Charlton Heston imitation from Planet of the Apes: "Take your stinking paws off my manuscript, you damn dirty ratty." *

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZJT2vJMsYc4

Moonie!
Okay, condolences. I think....
But no worries on your part. His personality was years in the making.

Anonymous said...

This is so not in your control, Moonie. A person decides how they are going to be, how they are going to view the world. Please do not feel responsible. You did nothing wrong. You were doing your job and we all know you are respectful of people, very kind and considerate.

cindy said...

wow. i'm sorry, moonie. and believe me when i say his death had nothing to do with you or your relationship as editor / writer. it still must be shocking and sobering. *hugs*

Steph said...

I think I understand how you feel. It's very kind and compassionate of you, and I admire that.

At the same time, just as you have a choice now in how you react to his death, he made his choices to treat you the way he did. You wanted nothing but the best for him. He chose to berate you, discredit you, and mistrust you, as well as let his authorial ego get in the way.

As an editor, I too respect the author's natural instinct to protect their work. At the same time, when they choose to do it to their obvious detriment, when they choose to remain stubborn and not even open to professional perspective (let alone being open to advice but then refusing to change), it can be very frustrating and insulting and disheartening and disillusioning as well.

Sometimes we just aren't a good match for the client; they aren't a good match for us. There's no fault in that, just as however you may have reacted to his rudeness and belligerence cannot ultimately be the cause of his death: how he reacted to your reactions was entirely up to him.

Mary said...

Lots of good comments above. I'd also like to point out--have you remember--that this happened while you were helping save another life. A seemingly precarious balance, perhaps, but balance at a deeply human, deep heart level.

moonrat said...

thanks, guys. all these things are, you know, true. but knowing something's true and convincing your subconscious of it... two different matters. sigh.

Ello said...

You are a warm, generous and kind person and you did not shave any years off of his life. Only he had the power to do it to himself. But I applaud your guilt because it is a sign of your caring and your humanity. It is ok to feel that way for a little while, then move on knowing that you did no harm, meant only good and you are a good person.

Anonymous said...

You know, I think what you are feeling is an opportunity. Not to overreact with guilt, not to blame yourself for things you have no blame in, but to all the people saying "Don't worry about it"? Wrong. Worry about it. Think about it. It may serve you well in a future interaction. Kudos to you for even pondering the question.

Kim Kasch said...

When we suffer loss we always wonder what we could have done differently and guilt comes easy - but my Mom used to always say, "This too will pass."

Wishing you peace.

James Klousia said...

Isn't it nice to see how much support you have around you?

The grieving process is different for every person and every situation, but it is always a process. It has a beginning, middle, and end. I think that every time we go through the grieving process, we have the potential to grow a little.

I'm really sorry that you are experiencing this, but I hope that in a few days or weeks you will be able to look back on it with the clarity that only hindsight can bring and see how it has helped to change you for the better.

Janet Reid said...

His behaviour is not your responsibility. You did not goad him or torment him just to see him gnash his tooth. You did not purposefully say "let me split his infinitive just to see him wail."

Guilt about something you can not control or change is self destructive. Stop it. Stop it or I shall skulk over to your office, thwap you upside the haid and give you over to the ministrations of my Herpet-American assssistant....who just LOVES rats, lunar or otherwise.

Much love,
Your devoted fans on 35th Street

Charles Gramlich said...

I'm truly sorry to hear of the author's death. Of course, ultimately, no one is responsible for another's life. We can only do what we feel best at any given moment. Nothing more can be demanded of us.

Christa said...

I'm big on individual responsibility - You can't control the way people respond. I'm constantly telling my kids that no one else "makes" them do something. The choice is theirs.

If you felt strongly about your suggestions/edits to his document, you should have expressed them as you did. Not doing so is a disservice to you and to the author.

You're an editor - it's your job to...edit! Not making suggestions in the hope that the author remains amicable not only weakens and frustrates you (you're witholding things you want to say/do), but it actually is worse for the author.

Who wants a 'yes-man' (or woman) always telling them how great their work is, how polished, how perfect...how annoying.

Give me honest feedback and I'll respect you and your opinion, whether I agree with it or not. Tell me only what I want to hear and I'll take my business elsewhere.

I think feelings of regret that your relationship couldn't have been nicer, or at least less rocky, is perfectly understandable. However, I think going so far as to feel guilt over his death is overboard.

There's no way you caused his death. Think of the amount of interaction you had with him, compared to the amount of time in a day and ALL the other people/situations he had to deal with...then multiply that times the number of years he's lived...you see where I'm heading?

Feel some regret, but don't let it fester. Appreciate the author's talent, but don't feel guilty about his death.

Precie said...

My condolences, sweet moonrat.

Everyone else has already said it better than I could...you aren't to blame. You did your best, which is exactly what you're supposed to do.

Steph said...

I really love what anonymous said about thinking about what you're feeling to learn from it. It's actually quite good advice.

Your guilt and sadness and frustration are there for two reasons: one, because you have personal beliefs that cause them, and two, because they are trying to tell you something. Instead of fighting them (and giving them something to fight against and thus continue to exist) talk to them. Find out what guilt, for example, is trying to say to you. I know it sounds a bit hokey, but it really works for me in terms of dealing with fear.

When I'm afraid of something, I try to talk to my fear instead of pushing past it or overcoming it. (Emotions aren't bad. It's what you do with them that can be. So allow yourself to have them.) I see that it's there because it wants to protect me from something, for example. If I can tell it I will be okay, that everything will work out, that I am actually strong enough to take care of me, etc., the fear is like, oh, well, okay, you don't need me anymore.

I know how this sounds, and yes, it's simplified here. Really, it's all you of course, not anything personified. But if you take the guilt and find out *truly* what the emotion is there for (just keep asking questions till the answer really feels *right* - it may be more than you feeling responsible for his death. Maybe it is actually all about you: Do you doubt what you told him was good advice, or could this perhaps be about feelings regarding what you perceive to be your own shortcomings?), you will be able to learn what you need from it and send it away, so to speak.

Jena said perhaps you'll have another author who will be like this, and you'll have a different way of handling the situation, then because of how you feel now. But I think too that it can serve you personally — so that you don't have guilt anymore in general, at least not for long — not just by perhaps altering your behaviour, but by also changing your beliefs about others' behaviour.

On another note, there were a couple of things that led me to believe you already have what you need to convince yourself otherwise:

1. He was old already, his death was not a surprise (he could have died from anything, including self-caused stress, bitterness, and difficulty in dealing with change and others in general).

2. You "persevered with [your] indefatigable niceness" — were you really as mean as you think you might have been, then? Since you're professional and also still have your job, I assume not.

(Sorry for the length of this comment!)

Anonymous said...

I think that the fact that you feel this way is perhaps a nod to the fact that you must recognize that the way you live your life affects others. That's a great quality to have.

But you cannot personally take on the negativity of the world. You did your best. Maybe you did have an affect on him- whatever, he had an affect on you. And maybe you didn't have any affect on him at all. Let it go.

Anonymous said...

A contentious relationship such as you describe often leaves a 'sensitive' individual like yourself questioning if you may have inadvertantly contributed to that individual's death. That, and your acknowledgement that you are relatively young and have been little touched by deaths close to you, has perhaps overly sensitized you to this tragedy beyond any true culpability on your part. It is quite natural to examine and question. What you are experiencing is a double whammy: did you, through your actions, lay the final straw that broke the camel's back. And by so doing, did you also cut short a writing career of what might have been? That you grieve and feel is penance enough. It's a trite saying now, but still true: No one ever promised you a rose garden. Accept the lesson and don't forget. And honor him for what he did accomplish. Not for what could have been.

writtenwyrdd said...

You cannot take responsibility for another's state of mind. They must choose for themselves what their reaction and interaction will be. And if the bitter phleghm of his personality contributed to the poor gentleman's demise, it wasn't your fault.

Our society is a bit twisted when it comes to death. We are taught to feel guilty for the very normal gladness that we are alive that someone's death fosters. We can be both sad they died, miss them, have conflicting emotions about the deceased, and, yes, be glad it wasn't us. There is no need for guilt at having feelings like this; but our culture loves guilt, especially the sneaky kind that we don't even acknowledge.

We need to practice Irish wakes in America, I think.

Mary said...

Anon 10:19: what a great comment. The truth is we are all connected and we constantly affect each other, sometimes in a negative way, sometimes positive. We're human. We make mistakes every day, some that are easy to justify in retrospect, others that may haunt us to some degree for the rest of our lives. You summed it up perfectly: accept the lesson and don't forget.

That said, even though our actions may affect someone, believing we have control over their ultimate choices is an illusion that will never even approach a peaceful ending.

just Joan said...

Oh, that's tough. I'm sorry and I hope you find the comfort you need to get through this.

Linnea said...

If we accept the principle that 'there is a time to die' then we can accept that we have done nothing to shorten someone else's life any more than we can do anything to lengthen it.
I've been there. Sorry you're upset but those feelings will pass.

Conduit said...

Sometimes we can be surprisly affected by the passing of a person we didn't think we were close to; I know that's happened to me in the past. I have no advice to offer, other than you've absolutely no need to feel guilt about this. If the gentleman in question was generally obstreperous, then you are most likely only one of many people he argued with.

Keep your chin up.

Linda said...

Wow, Moonie... sad on so many levels. JES, Janet, and others all say really good stuff. BUT, DO allow yourself to feel the emotions - experiencing them is our body's way of catharsing them. Just like writing.

It's hard not to feel responsible for other's actions and thoughts. A natural response. It's also difficult to not wonder what MIGHT have been had circumstance been otherwise. Also a natural response. Condolences... and peace, Linda

Travis Erwin said...

I think it says a lot about you that you were troubled by his passing.

I wouldn't feel guilty as you had a job to do as did he.

Thanks for sharing some of the less common aspects of your job.

Pamala Knight said...

My condolences to you. I think that many of the posters have given sound advice--his personality was his own and not a result of any interaction with you. It is a testament to your own kind heart that you're affected by his passing in such a profound way, but really, you did nothing to contribute to his demise. Forgive yourself for not liking him very much and remember that he might be reincarnated as yet another one of your future clients. At least you'll know how to deal then.

Julie Weathers said...

Moonie, there are a lot of things in this life we have control over. Unfortunately, you don't have control over people who will not be guided.

It seems to me you did more than most would have done. At what point was he responsible for acting like an adult and working with you as a partner to make his work the best it could be. If you had to put the phone down and walk away to cool off from some things said to you, then you took more than you should have.

Would he have been happier if he had been more successful or written more? Probably.

However, I firmly believe the person responsible for a writer's success is looking back at them in the mirror. The best agent, editor or publisher in the world will not make up for dismal writing. Celebrities are exempt from this rule of course.

Years ago our first child died a day after she was born. I had been working my butt off and she was born premature and didn't make it. My mother-in-law came up to the hospital and the first words out of her mouth were, "I knew you was going to kill that baby." It didn't occur to her the reason I had been working so hard was to take care of her and my blind father-in-law while she was sick.

A parent always feels like they are to blame when a child dies. At some point in time, you need to deal with the guilt and learn what you can from it.

They will be able to give comfort to someone else who is hurting and say, "I know how you feel."

I'm sure to an extent agents and editors feel parental about their authors. It's natural to wonder if you could have done more. It's probably even natural for you to blame yourself. However, you can't. This was not something under your control.

Learn what you can from this. Examine it and then tuck it away.

One day someone else will go through something similar and you will tell them, "I know how you feel and this is how I dealt with it."

Maprilynne said...

*head-thunk* I immediately thought, "You made him an offer and he passed???" It took me two paragraphs to realize that wasn't QUITE what you meant.