I've been incredibly fortunate to have worked with some great editors on my books. One of whom has graciously agreed to join me in this post for an interview (because what better way is there to talk about what editors do than to talk to an editor?) So please welcome Mr. RobRoy McCandless, author and editor at Ellysian Press!
Rob (who writes under the name "R.A. McCandless") was one of the first editors to work through my forthcoming historical fantasy novel, Yonder & Far. Rob is a consummate professional, an all-around great guy, and has quite an impressive bio, as you can see ....
R.A. McCandless has been a writer both professionally and creatively for over two decades. He was born under a wandering star that led to a degree in Communication and English with a focus on creative writing. He's the author of the steampunk THE CLOCKWORK DETECTIVE, winner of the 2020 IPPY bronze medal and BENEATH A FEARFUL MOON, the urban fantasy series TEARS OF HEAVEN, HELL BECOMES HER, and COMPANY OF THE DAMNED. His shorts have appeared in IN SHAMBLES with Kevin J. Anderson, HOLES, NINE HEROES, and GEARS, GADGETS AND STEAM. He continues to research and write historical and genre fiction, battle sprinklers, and play with his three boys.
In this interview, Rob reflects upon writing, explains the magic and mystery behind the editing process, and makes me laugh. Enjoy!
Matt: Tell me a little about your writing journey. How did you become an author and then an editor? What inspires you to write and what keeps you inspired when editing others' writing?
Rob: I was born under a wandering star, which led me on a convoluted path all over the western United States and eventually I landed in California. I was always reading, but also enthralled with the sights, the history, the people, and the experiences. As I turned those pages, and explored those other worlds, I wondered, "What if?" What if I could turn left in Rivendell, away from the view of Frodo and Bilbo, and see what the Elves were doing in a different direction? What if I could ride with Allanon on one of his quests that were only hinted at? What if I could carry a history of Pern to Lessa, or warn Ned Stark?
It's that excitement and journey of "what if" that intrigues me the most. You can play in other people's sandboxes, which is a lot of fun. You can also build your own and see what shape the world will take. It's a really magical time we live in, when a quick spell of WiFi will grant you access to a near endless supply of stories of daring heroes, nights of sorcery, and days of adventure.
That's the driving force behind what I read, what I write, and how I edit. I'm still in the process of finding my own author's voice, although I think I've done a good job of learning and growing as I've progressed. I'm very much interested in helping other authors find their voice, and seeing that voice heard.
Matt: Talk a little bit about your editing process at Ellysian Press. What happens "behind the curtain," so to speak, as a manuscript is transformed into a book?
Rob: First, we find the right wand that we'll wave over the manuscript. Wands are fairly important, but some people stop there. Not Ellysian. We carefully match specially harvested pixie dust with each wand to ensure the greatest magic that will morph the manuscript into a wonderful book!
Altogether, it's lots of effort, working directly with the author to balance between their voice and what a reader will expect or have trouble with. We signed authors because they bring something special to the table, and they have a story to tell. It's very important that during the process, that story and that voice remain intact. Some publishing houses aren't as respectful of their authors, and that's never good for the industry.
The important part is working with the author, making suggestions and corrections but having them ultimately responsible for the edits. They are, after all, the talent, and that's exactly what we're trying to showcase to our readers.
Matt: What are some common pitfalls newer authors sometimes fall into? Conversely, what do you think makes a story stand out?
Rob: For myself, it was thinking that I was only telling the story for me, and that my view of the world was the only one that mattered. That's fine if I was keeping the book for myself, only sharing with friends and family, with no intent for pure strangers to ever pick it up. My good friend, mentor, and editor once told me that if a reader doesn't understand, that's the writer's fault. That's a tough pill for some authors to swallow, but it's true. If you're going to be published, and push your work out for others to read, then the story needs to be understandable. Anything that breaks a reader out of your world is bad, no matter how much you love it, or how much you want to logic and handwave it away. Sometimes, that takes a lot of extra work to smooth out the rough patches.
By contrast, stories that stand out to me aren't necessarily ones with an wholly new, original premise. That's not necessarily a hard thing to do, but to sustain that premise, and make it interesting, can be really tricky. It's great that you've come up with a society of 16 different genders. That is certainly interesting. But how will your reader relate to all, or any, of that, if that's the whole of your story? What I want, as a publisher, is a good story well told. For a good, recent example, check out Amazon's "Reacher" series. Nothing new here whatsoever. But it's a solid story, well told, that is enjoyable. That doesn't mean we're looking for a paint-by-numbers carbon copy of what's already been done. The lesson of "Reacher" is an interesting character and a solid plot are good recipe for success. If you're a talented writer, with a good head for dialogue, and some fun plot-turns, that's when the hook is set and you're reeling me in!
Matt: Do you ever find that your editing work shapes your writing, or vice versa?
Rob: The worst that being an editor has done to me is that it impacts my pleasure reading. As I'm reading, I'll start to edit lines, and I have to make myself stop. It's a super annoying habit, and it's tough to let go of. I recommend a few good slaps to the cheeks, or a couple shots of whisky. Not good whisky either. Try the stuff that can also be used to remove varnish.
For myself, it's not the process of editing that impacts my writing, but the reading/experiencing of other people's works. You give 100 writers the same simple story to write, and you'll get 100 completely different versions. That's what really gets to me. The turn of a phrase, flipping of a trope, or the use of a character in an unexpected way. I LOVE that stuff.
Matt: What do you see down the road for you as a writer, as an editor, and for Ellysian Press?
Rob: Nothing but excitement. We've signed some incredibly talented authors, including yourself (Matt Lucas), and their works are amazing. I've been very privileged to read their early drafts and provide assistance through the editing process. Fantastical worlds of magic mixed with science, amazing journeys from sailing ships on the high seas to spaceships in the depths of the stars. There's so much good stuff coming down that I'm fair to bursting with all of it.
Matt: What are some tips for writers to make the editing process successful?
Rob: Embrace your editor. Give them a big ole hug and view them as your best friend in the whole world when it comes to your book. An editor's job isn't to steal your voice or make your life miserable—those are just perks. Instead, what any good editor wants is a collaborative process with their author, discussing elements, looking for all the places where a rough manuscript can be fine-tuned into a full-bore race engine of entertainment. Any editor wants the same—the writer's success. If you grasp that, throw your arms around them and just lean into the process, you'll find that the entire thing works so much better.
Many thanks to Rob for taking time out of his busy schedule. To learn more about his work, check out: