Four on the Floor with Monica J. O’Rourke


Four on the Floor with Monica J. O’Rourke

Monica J. O’Rourke, whom celebrated horror author Brian Keene called “probably the best copyeditor currently in the business,” is both a horror author and copyeditor. Pretty damn cool.

Enjoy the interview below and then go check out her work. And who knows? Her editorial fingerprints may already be all over some of your favorite novels.

Bio: Monica J. O’Rourke has published more than 100 short stories and is the author of Poisoning Eros I and II (with Wrath James White), Suffer the FleshIn the End (collection), Only Darkness, and What Happens in the Darkness. Monica also works as a freelance editor, proofreader, and book coach. 

Gallagher: Tone and atmosphere are especially important in horror, and dread is one of the most difficult things an author can invoke. How does a good copyeditor contribute to cultivating the spell a reader must fall under?

O’Rourke: If I’m copyediting (as opposed to line or content editing), it usually means the author has a decent handle on his or her work. I look for the author’s voice and decide how to move from there. If I feel something is lacking throughout, that’s obviously more of a problem, and I’ll tag through comments where I feel emotion or atmosphere is lacking and try to coax it out of the author.

Sometimes it works … sometimes the author thinks he did a good enough job. And hey, ultimately, it’s not my book. But it’s frustrating when an author thinks it’s “good enough” when it could be great. The sign of a rookie is an author looking for praise, not proper edits. I think we’ve all been there, in the beginning …

Gallagher: How does being a writer help you as a copyeditor? Does it present any challenges?

O’Rourke: To be honest, being an editor has made me a better writer. I see the mistakes others make, which I often missed in my own writing. I see my impartial edits of their work—how much easier it is for me to “kill their darlings” (advice often attributed to William Faulkner, Oscar Wilde, G. K. Chesterton, Anton Chekhov, and Eudora Welty).

Even Stephen King wrote, “Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings”—and I know I can’t do my own work editing justice. Everyone needs an editor, including editors (which I admit I learned the hard way with the publication of my last novel). Writers are too close to their work, so they easily miss the mistakes and the opportunities to make their prose sing off the page.

Gallagher: What are the challenges and rewards of editing an author for the first time?

O’Rourke: Learning a new (new to me, anyway) author’s style is a challenge and a reward. Sometimes you find that crazy diamond … and sometimes you’re ripping every hair out of your head. It’s a crapshoot.

I once had a writer thank me for my edit and say, “I agreed with 80 percent of what you suggested!” And I thought, Wait—80 percent? Is that all? It’s a bit of an ego bust if someone doesn’t think my editing is brilliant and they don’t accept 100 percent of my changes. (Yes, I’m kidding!)

I may argue rules of grammar, but much of editing is also opinion—I might suggest a rewrite of a paragraph, for example, but the writer may have intentionally written something a certain way. Sometimes they’re stylistic choices, and as long as they’re intentional, I can respect that. Like Picasso said, “Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.” Or was it the Dalai Lama? “Know the rules well, so you can break them effectively.” There’s a big difference between stylistic choices and sloppy prose.

Gallagher: What’s the last book that made you want to scream from the rooftops that everyone needs to read it? Is there a movie or series that you’re currently obsessing over?

O’Rourke: Funny, I was just thinking how it’s a crying shame that Rick McCammon’s Swan Song hasn’t yet been made into a movie. Travesty! If you haven’t read it, run, run to your nearest bookstore and correct this egregious error!

My latest obsession is Criminal Minds. I didn’t start watching until a few months ago, so I had 12 seasons to catch up on. And with my TV marathoning, I’m just about caught up!

Leave a Comment