I’ve read some books lately in which writers give credit to their editors. In his new book, “Home Game,” Michael Lewis acknowledges his Slate editors Michael Kinsley and Jacob Weisberg. In “America’s Prophet: Moses and the American Story,” Bruce Feiler thanks a host of editors at HarperCollins, starting with Brian Murray and Michael Morrison.
All this literary gratitude got me thinking about the editors I’ve had in my own writing career. And the truth is I often tell people that the editor who most influenced my idea of what a story is and how you get it is U.S. 1’s Richard K. Rein.
In my early years of freelancing, I had oodles of experience as an editor but little as a writer. I’d just left my job editing the Wall Street Journal for a Dow Jones database and thought I knew everything about journalism. So, I called Rein.
Sure, you can write for us, Rein said. But first, you need to take a delivery route. Whoa. Not the answer I was looking for.
But here’s where my story really begins. I draw the downtown Princeton route and hop in my trusty little ‘82 Subaru hatchback. On my rounds, I begin to meet scores of people as I drop off their papers. They’re getting to know me, and they’re giving me news leads.
Pretty soon, I’m turning out Fast Lane columns. And, just as quickly Rein is hacking away at my copy, extracting the news hook that I’ve buried in the 10th paragraph. Before long, I’m a writer. A writer with an editor.
In a Salon piece titled “Let Us Now Praise Editors,” Gary Kamiya characterizes editors like this:
Editors are craftsmen, ghosts, psychiatrists, bullies, sparring partners, experts, enablers, ignoramuses, translators, writers, goalies, friends, foremen, wimps, ditch diggers, mind readers, coaches, bomb throwers, muses, and spittoons — sometimes all while working on the same piece.
You can see from this that some writers aren’t entirely sentimental about their editors. So now let me tell you what I really learned from Rich Rein. First, I learned how to parallel park. More essentially, I learned where to find a bathroom in Princeton.
My delivery route was grueling. I’d drive to the paper’s old offices on Mapleton Road and heave the bundles of papers into the back of my car. In Princeton, I’d park and fling bundles around, re-park, and fling more bundles. It was an all-day affair. A woman needs a bathroom.
I could count on my friends Dale and Marian to let me use the staff facilities at the Lamplighter Bookstore. But they weren’t always open. I knew there must be accessible bathrooms somewhere on the Princeton campus, but that involved wasting precious time.
After a few weeks, solutions appeared. For example, I found you can get to a bathroom inside Firestone Library even if you haven’t got a pass. And, if you time it right, a student will leave the Lewis Center for the Arts by the side door, and you can dart in and find your haven.
At office stops, I knew there were bathrooms but I was too shy to ask. I made friends with the receptionist at Pullman’s offices, and I’m sure she would have granted me this favor. But when we first met, she had exclaimed that I looked exactly like Dana Delany (in her China Beach days).
Once someone has told you that you look like Dana Delany, you can’t just go inquiring about restrooms. Dana Delany would be asking directions to makeup. Though, in an interesting twist, the Delany family actually made its fortune in bathroom fixtures — her great-grandfather John started the company that makes the Delany flush valve. Maybe I could have asked.
I also could have had lunch somewhere and become a legitimate bathroom customer. J.B. Winberie’s would have made a good stop on the other end of town. On our first date, my future husband and I went there after a concert by the folk group the Roches. After being seated, John took my hand, looked intently into my eyes, and crooned, “I’m going to do something I’ve wanted to do for a long time.” Then he stood up, laughed, and said, “Where’s the bathroom, do you know?”
But I was a freelance writer. I didn’t have money for lunch. So my quest for bathrooms continued. One day, I’ll compile my secrets into a book. My friend Mary McCormack once wrote a book titled “Princeton for Under Fives,” a guidebook of places to visit with a toddler. My book would be a companion volume. After all, parents of young children are often the ones frantically looking for a bathroom.
Now, Rein’s tip for parallel parking. The trick is to pull up next to the parked car ahead of the open space — leaving only a few inches between cars — until the back of your car is flush with the back end of the parked car. Shift into reverse, turn the wheel sharply, and curve past the back edge of the car, again leaving only a few inches between you. When your back tire is almost at the curb, turn the wheel the other way and glide into the spot.
Inevitably, after you complete this maneuver, your passenger has gone completely white and desperately needs to find the nearest bathroom. And, thanks to my old U.S. 1 editor, I know just where to find it.