Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Editor's Tip - And Now for Something Completely Different

Here's another great article by Barbara Ardinger, freelance editor. Barbara is an experienced editor who has worked with many authors. If you have questions about your book and/or need an editor, contact Barbara at You can also visit her website at

… and a dead parrot to the first reader who identifies this phrase. Of course! It’s from Monty Python’s Flying Circus, which was absurdist television at its best. I liked Monty Python a lot, and when I saw Spamalot last year, I’m pretty sure I got most of the jokes. I also believe that John Cleese, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, Terry Gilliam, Michael Palin, and Graham Chapman are geniuses, not only for their Python work but for their later work, too. Chapman, alas, is dead; not much later work. But Idle played Koko in my favorite version of The Mikado.

But why, you ask, “something complete different”? Here’s why. This month I’ve been editing two enormously abstruse works written by women neither of whose first language is English. I needed a break. One project is a Ph.D. thesis written by a Greek woman living in the north of England, the other, a New Age book by a woman who lived for awhile in Los Angeles but is currently back home in Austria. With both of these projects, I’ll be reading along and all of a sudden I come to a sentence that is composed of English words all in a row, but it’s just not English. Whoa—read it again. And again. Take it a phrase or a word at a time. Find the subject and the verb and see if they agree. See if the modifiers modify the words they’re supposed to modify. Decode the “technical” nomenclature. Figure out what’s going on in the sentence. Make a stab at rewriting it. Write a note to the author explaining what the sentence means as written. Is that what she intended? Ask for clarification. Take another best guess at meaning. Read it again to see if it makes sense yet. I’m not complaining. I love my work, but, yeah, I needed a break.

So—and now I’m getting to the point—I wrote a play. It’s only sixteen pages long and it’s so full of nonsense one might think I got bitten (swallowed?) by a Python. It’s an anodyne to my highly serious work. I wrote the play for a group with whom I’ve been celebrating the solstices, equinoxes, and other festivals of the wheel of the year for a decade. They asked me to design the spring equinox ritual. So I did: it’s a ritual inside a play. I’ve written this kind of play before, most recently for the fiftieth birthday of a good friend. I fill these silly little plays with private jokes and puns and (because I was an English major and love musical theater, too) copious allusions to literature and musicals. Then I print up enough copies for everyone and ask for volunteers for the speaking (or singing) parts, and we all read it together. Totally unrehearsed. It becomes awfully Pythonesque, doncha know.

My play about the spring equinox features retired Latin gods, including Saturn (king of the golden age), Mars (originally an agricultural god), and Ceres (the grain goddess). (The word “Latin” comes from the area in Italy once called Latium.) The spring equinox is partly about the return of plant life as mythologized by the return of Ceres (aka Demeter) and her daughter Proserpina (aka Persephone) to our world, so when Ceres and Prossie come on stage, Ceres is carrying boxes of breakfast cereals (Cheerios and Froot Loops). We also know that a major mythological figure associated with the spring equinox and its signal holiday, Easter, is the Easter Bunny. In my play, that’s Harvey, the six foot-seven inch pooka from the famous 1951 movie written by Mary Chase and starring James Stewart and Josephine Hull. Well, actually, there’s a small forest god named Cocky who is transmogrified into Harvey. As Harvey, he recites a couple of Shakespearean verses about springtime and the sun.

Also in the play are Dorothy (yes, that one) and Elphaba, the green girl from Wicked. Get it? Green? Vegetation? Somehow Dorothy and Elphaba have become friends. Dorothy is trying to buy a replacement balloon:

“Hey!” she calls out, “can I please have another balloon? You know, like, a bigger one? The first one, like, got away, and … and it, like, it took that dumb old man with it, too. I don’t know where he went. Some other geographical location, I guess. And, like, these shoes are too damn tight, and they’re really, you know, like majorly ugly. I hate sparkles. They reflect your underpants and, like, boys can see…. And I, like, really do not, like, want to totally walk everywhere I’m going. I keep tripping over those damn yellow bricks. You know?”

To which Cocky exclaims, “Dudette! You’re not in Kansas anymore!” and the Disneyesque chorus of exceedingly cute forest animals sings, “Somewhe-e-e-e-e-r-r-r-re over the rainbow, good girls fly….”

"And, you know, all those nice friendly flying monkeys?” Dorothy goes on. “They, like, talk so much, Elphie and I, we like totally can’t get a word in edgewise. And those three guys I was traveling with? They’ve, like, turned into, you know, politicians and they’re, like, totally giving speeches and making gestures all the time.” A minute later, she tells Elphaba that if they can get the broom started, “We’ll, like, find a nice castle to live in and we’ll totally live happily ever after. After all, There’s No Place Like, you know, like, totally Like Home!”

Yes, it’s total nonsense. But, hey, I live near L.A. I’ve heard Valley Girls talk. And, like I said, I’ve been working too hard and I needed a break. And I haven’t even mentioned Jane Austen, who is also in the play because Masterpiece Theatre was broadcasting a dramatization of one of her novels the night I thought this nonsense up. My Jane is a little confused, though:

“Oh! My stars and garters! I need to finish this novel! Goddess knows when I’ll find time to write another! I’ve got to figure out how to get Mr. Darcy to propose to Emma. Get those foolish Bennett sisters away from Northanger Abbey before Varney the Vampire—or is it Wallace the Wererabbit?—well, whoever—before someone scares them to death. Get Captain Wentworth to rescue Jane Eyre from the Phantom of Mansfield Park—or do I mean that crazy man who lives under the Paris Opera—”

So … what is the take-away message of this blog? If you’re working too hard, take a break. Don’t be afraid to let your mind wander. Get bitten by Pythons and write some nonsense. You’ll come back to your real (presumably serious) writing refreshed. Have fun! Totally!


  1. Luv it - yes, take a break now and then!

  2. I'd need a break after editing those two books as well! That must be quite challenging.
    I'm all for the Monty Phython! "And Now For Something Completely Different" is the title for my regular Friday blog post and I always kick off with a quote. Been doing it so long though, getting tougher not to repeat!

  3. My, you've had your hands full! Shrubbery, indeed!

  4. What a great idea! I love the concept of just doing silly writing for awhile. Laughing at myself so to speak. Thanks!