Today, I'm interviewing Tanja Cilia. First of all, Tanja, thank you for being here today.
It’s a combination of things – an eye for detail; the ability to enhance a writer’s voice rather than stifle it; an extensive vocabulary; General Knowledge; a reasonably good memory; a sound knowledge of syntax… and practice, practice, practice.
2. All of that is very important. I know you work for MuseItUp Publishing. Tell us, how much input do you have in accepting a story that’s submitted to MuseItUp Publishing?
Manuscripts are placed in a loop and we editors each give our points of view about them. What is interesting is that something that screamsyes! to me may be inane or a total loss to someone else. It may need a total change of point of view, or a drastic re-write and re-submission, according to someone else.
3. Who decides which editor gets which story?
Again, it’s a combination of things. If it’s YA or MG Science Fiction, I will ask for it upfront – other editors have their own preferences. Sometimes, writers have their preferred editors, and vice-versa. However, Lea sometimes says “You’ll love this!” to one of us.
4. What do you like best about being an editor?
The fact that I get to read both the raw book and the finished version; the friendships I have forged with writers over the years; and that I learn new things from my authors all the time.
5. How do you handle a situation where you suggest a change and the author refuses?
If it’s a question of coherence, logic, anachronism, flow or unity, a regional or time-restricted word, the writer usually concedes the point. Sometimes, my suggestions would be at odds with the universe (in Science Fiction) in which the story is set; so minute details to clarify this would have to be inserted elsewhere into the story. If it’s a deadlock, Lea gets the last word.
6. Do you have a particular genre you prefer editing?
Definitely – it’s Science Fiction. I was weaned on the Gollancz Yellow Jacket series, you know! The fact that the Public Library was ten minutes away from my childhood home was a bonus.
7. What’s the one thing you wish authors would avoid?
Some authors think that writing a book is just like writing a long essay – that a beginning, a body, and a conclusion to tidy up loose ends ought to do it. So they jump through loops to make sure that stock characters behave according to (what they think is) type, and woe betide anyone who dares point out that deep sea divers, for instance, do not necessarily pepper their speech with puns about salt and fish and seas non-stop. Murderers do not consider each person they meet a potential victim. I also wish authors would stop relying on spell-check.
8. Do you have a job other than editing? If so, what do you do?
Since I was 14 years old, I have been writing for Allied Newspapers (Malta). Apart from that [see elsewhere in this interview] I do several other writing-related matters, in Maltese and English, online and in print.
9. What do you like about editing? What don’t you like about editing?
It’s nice when an author says “Good catch!” or “I never thought of that!” I like it even more when they say I helped them polish their book to as near enough perfection as does not matter. I do not like it when they sleep on the edits although they know that a deadline is looming, in the hope of panicking me into letting awkward bits in the manuscript through because time is short.
10. What’s the difference between a content editor and line editor? Which would you rather do?
This is a tricky question – for me, at least, when I do content edits. Since I am also a proofreader for magazines, a translator (Maltese to English, English to Maltese), a ghost-writer and a journalist, I tend to tweak language, offer suggestions, check for redundancy and repetition, correct grammatical errors, punctuation and spellings, and point out inconsistencies (including indicating whether the reading level is readership-appropriate) as I go along with content editing – which I prefer. I know that strictly speaking, some of these are the province of line editors. When I do line edits, on the other hand, I cannot resist pointing out some things that are content editor territory.
The Stranger at The Crossroad
You know what they say about truth being stranger than fiction? Well, you can believe it’s true.
So there I was, convalescing in Rome, reading Murder on the Orient Express, while on one of those buses that have the middle like an accordion so they can go round corners. Bendy buses, I think they call them.
I was thinking that this would have been the ideal vehicle on which to kill someone – you just sit at the back, with a potential victim, when all the people are in the front half, and do the deed. Then you alight from the door serving the hind part of the vehicle, and Bob’s your uncle.
And then it happened. You know how in another book - or was it another film? - Miss Marple saw a man strangle a woman on another train, and since a body was not found the police assumed she was rambling, what with being old and all? We were just nearing Le Quattro Fontane (the Four Fountains) – that group of four Late Renaissance fountains located at the intersection of Via delle Quattro Fontane and Via del Quirinale, the most famous crossroads of the world – or so the Italians say.
Well – I happened to look out of the window and I saw a bus coming the other way, and – suddenly – I saw a woman stand up thump a man on the head with what looked like a frying pan, and then, she just rolled him out of the emergency door. I gasped, and followed the body with my eyes.Suddenly, from behind the sill of the Fountain of Diana (the only one of the four, as I recall, designed by the painter and architect Pietro da Cortona, for the rest were the work of the fortuitously-named Domenico Fontana), up jumped a man dressed in black from head to toe. He sneezed, and put his little fingers to his lips – I am assuming he whistled in that shrill chav ways I hate so much. A Black Maria-like car drew up, the driver hopped out, and together they half-pulled, half-lifted the man into the back. Hecate would have been proud of them.
Our bus rounded a corner - I rang the bell but the driver did not stop. I ran to the front of the bus, but I could not make the driver understand what I wanted him to do. My Italian is patchy at the best of times, and he kept saying something like “Espresso, diretta, non posso fermarmi”. I couldn’t have cared less about his offer of coffee when we got to the terminus - I just wanted him to stop, so I said “Polizia” and he said something that sounded like “My my my!” and I thought he was telling me I was making a fuss.
Of course, the nuns at the Convent of Saint Elisabeth, at whom I was staying, saw how shaken I was, and they understood what I was saying because a couple of them spoke almost perfect English. They explained that I had inadvertently caught the direct line that did not stop. What the driver had really said was “Mai!” which means “never”.
So they drove me to the police station where I made a report about what I had seen. They found the body a week later, when they dredged the section of the Tiber nearest the place I indicated, weighted and dumped. Later on, the full story was splashed across the papers, on all three RAI television stations and on the Mediaset ones too. The woman was an Albanian hooker, and the man she attacked had been her pimp. The man at the crossroad was her boyfriend – an ex-client who wanted to give her a better life and had hatched the plan. The pimp had been threatening to have her deported, because she was not earning him enough money, and she did not want to go back home.
I had to stay in Italy longer than I planned, but since I was a key witness I was given free board and lodging for the extra fortnight I remained; and of course, my Italian improved no end, in that short period. For a time, I was quite the media star.
This is weird, considering that I am a Maltese nun.