How I Edited It: Charles Ardai, on Stephen King's "Joyland"

Charles Ardai photo - photographer Melanie King[In a twist on our semi-regular "How I Wrote It" series, we asked Charles Ardai to describe what it was like to edit one of the world's most famous--and famously prolific and voluble--authors. In his role as founder of the retro-pulp Hard Case Crime publishing house, Ardai edited King's latest novel, Joyland -- selected this week as one of Amazon's Best Books of the Year So Far selection.]

There are easy jobs in this world and there are hard jobs. On the list of hard jobs: Coal miner. Brain surgeon. Middle-East peace negotiator. On the list of easy ones: Anger management coach to the Dalai Lama. Food taster to Tom Colicchio. And being Stephen King’s editor.

That’s not just because some forty years into a stellar career, Stephen King knows damn well how to do what he does. (Though clearly he does.) It’s also because he’s an enthusiastic and willing collaborator, more willing than many authors one thousandth as successful to listen to feedback, make changes when they’re called for, work with artists to get the visuals just so, help write lurid taglines for the front cover, and just generally be part of the publishing process. Working with writers can be ten kinds of pain, and working with Stephen King is exactly none of them.

Steve would probably tell you he’s got one of the world’s easier jobs too, or at least one of its best ones. He clearly loves every minute of it--loves making up stories and getting to tell them to millions of eager listeners crowded around a campfire of global proportions, loves the hundred little details that go into making a book a thing to cherish. The latter is a big part of why he and Hard Case Crime are such a good match: we both view books not just as vehicles for the stories they contain but as physical artifacts, colorful little treasures that shimmer and gleam like prizes in a midway arcade, paper pitchmen that draw you in with a showman’s lure and a coochie-girl’s seductive dance. C’mon, cutie, they whisper from the shelf or from a drugstore’s wire rack, want to see what I’ve got between my covers?

JoylandSo Steve’s job is easy (you just have to be one of the world’s most gifted novelists to do it), and mine is even easier (you just need one of the world’s most gifted novelists to let you do it)…is there nothing hard about being Hard Case Crime?

Well, in this particular case, just one: explaining to readers who’ve gotten hooked on ebooks why this book initially isn’t available in an ebook edition. Do we hate ebooks? Of course not. Steve has done plenty of ebooks before and I’m sure he’ll do more again; so has Hard Case Crime. But JOYLAND is something special, and we wanted to give it the special treatment it deserved. It’s a book about a time long gone but not (at least by Stephen King) forgotten, a novel that reminds us that music once came on vinyl, books once came in a form that could be creased and dog-eared, and amusement parks were once family-owned and the family’s name wasn’t Disney. It’s an old-fashioned book that Steve wanted readers to experience first in the old-fashioned way.

Which kind of leaves you with the easiest job of all: sitting back in a lounge chair or a swimming pool or grassy back yard and reading a terrific new novel by Stephen King.

Tell me--how did we all get so lucky?

 (Photo by Melanie King)

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Comments (10)

Nice book advertisement. When does the article about how he actually edited it come out?


Posted by: ron | Wednesday June 26, 2013 at 10:17 AM

Never want to disappoint an interested reader -- what is it about how I actually edited the book that you'd like to know?

Posted by: Charles Ardai | Wednesday June 26, 2013 at 4:00 PM

We want to know the dirty details about editing King. Does he use a typewriter with keys made of bone? Does he stet changes with human blood? What does he really think about the Oxford comma?!

Posted by: Andrew Shaffer | Wednesday June 26, 2013 at 7:28 PM

King is the consummate professional. He checks his ego at the door and then concentrates solely on producing the best book or story he has in him. Your article speaks volumes for the kind of guy he is.

Posted by: Dave Whitehead | Thursday June 27, 2013 at 3:16 AM

Thanks, Dave. I wish I had some cool stories to share about quill pens dipped in blood and so forth, but this being the modern day, almost everything can be done via email, in a literally and figuratively bloodless fashion. Steve was a pleasure to work with. Most of our writers are, but Steve went above and beyond to make things easy. He and I did go back and forth on some items that would have been nice to include in the book but would have been anachronisms since it's set in 1973. But aside from hunting down and eliminating those, the editing process was very simple. Of course, that doesn't make for a very exciting "How I Edited It" piece, so maybe I should invent some juicy anecdotes...

One tiny tidbit: As I recall, Steve hadn't had experience using Microsoft Word's "track changes" feature for editing, which is a godsend because it allows the author and editor to see at a glance what has been changed between drafts; but after I introduced him to it, he took to it like the proverbial duck to water. There was also one set of handwritten corrections exchanged the old-fashioned way, via postal mail, but mostly we worked electronically, which I suppose is some sort of irony given our position that this book warrants a very particular and old-fashioned presentation. But tools of creation and format of presentation don't necessarily have to match up. A filmmaker who shoots a movie in black-and-white today probably uses modern cameras to do so.

Anyway: it was a smooth and happy editing process; I can't remember a better one. But if it makes for better headlines, why don't we say this: We sacrificed a goat each morning over our keyboards and swept its entrails for clues about what changes we should make. A virtual goat. MS Goat 2.0. It's the latest thing, don't you know?

Posted by: Charles Ardai | Thursday June 27, 2013 at 5:10 AM

Nice article, Charles -- but I have to admit, details like the anachronism hunt you mention in the comments were what I was hoping to read when I saw the headline. Editing as a process -- and as a collaboration -- is naturally behind-the-scenes, so whenever I see a spotlight shined on it, my curiosity is piqued. Especially when the books in question are so great.

Posted by: Rob S. | Thursday June 27, 2013 at 8:41 AM

Thanks for the additional comments, Charles. Love the bit about Steve learning "track changes." Again: we appreciated the guest post. Cheers

Posted by: Neal Thompson | Thursday June 27, 2013 at 3:57 PM

I'm only up to page 65, and I've already seen some apparent discrepancies that an editor should have caught. For example, on page 33: Mrs. Shoplaw says, "You've got a carny look about you," and Devin says, "You're the second person to tell me that." The text continues: "Then I thought of my conversation with Lane Hardy in the parking lot. 'Third, actually.'" And Mrs. Shoplaw says, "And I bet I know who the other two were." Who was the first person to tell Devin he has a carny look? I count only Lane Hardy and Mrs. Shoplaw. Am I missing something?

Another example, on page 56: "We were just passing the big green [house] that looked like a castle, but there was no sign of the woman and the boy in the wheelchair that day. Annie and Mike Ross came later." This is the second time Devin has walked along the beach between Mrs. Shoplaw's boarding house and the amusement park. (The first time is indicated on page 28: "Since he'd put the idea in my head, I decided to take the beach walk to town.") But back on page 12, he says: "Although I can't be completely sure, I think the boy and the woman and their dog were there from the first time I took that walk."

Some people might think I'm nitpicking, but there needs to be internal consistency for me to completely go with the story. These apparent errors bring me up short and momentarily take me out of the story. I'm not complaining, though: Even so, "Joyland" feels like a perfect summer read so far, sort of like one of Ray Bradbury's evocations of younger days and simpler times. And for all I know, these blips will be explained as I read on (but somehow I doubt it).

Posted by: Gary | Sunday June 30, 2013 at 11:34 AM

Hi, Gary - I won't claim that no errors slipped past us in the editing (we're only human), but I don't have a problem with either of the items you bring up. Before talking to Mrs. Shoplaw, Devin interviews with Fred Dean. We don't get a transcript of every word they exchange, but we do know they talk about what carnies are all about, and we know that Fred offers Devin a job, which suggests he's pleased with what he sees. I think we can assume Fred is the other person who told Devin that he's got a carny look. As for "the boy and the woman and the dog," Devin saying "Although I can't be completely sure, I think [they] were there from the first time I took that walk" just means he thinks they were already there *in the green house* -- that they didn't move in later -- not that he actually saw them on the beach. If he meant he'd actually seen them on the beach that early, he wouldn't say "Although I can't be completely sure," would he? He'd be sure. "Although I can't be completely sure" means "I didn't see them on the beach yet, so I can't be completely sure they were already there in the house, but I *think* they were there even that early, even the first time I took that walk on the beach."

Now, depending on whether you've got a first-printing or a second-printing, you will eventually come across an actual error that did slip past us at first -- but you haven't gotten to it yet.

Posted by: Charles Ardai | Sunday June 30, 2013 at 7:15 PM

Thanks for responding. You're perfectly right about the green house passage; I should have considered it more carefully. I do think we should be told that Fred made the carny remark, but that's just my preference. I believe I do have the first edition, so I'll have my antennae up for the actual error!

Posted by: Gary | Monday July 1, 2013 at 6:12 AM

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