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By Alex Carrigan
The last decade of my life was spent realizing that I wanted to be an editor. I got a real taste for it when I began journalism school and worked on a literary magazine in my spare time, but as time passed, I found myself taking on more and more editing projects. I soon began editing for literary organizations, had my first real career editing news articles, and am currently editing a magazine for a non-profit. The more I drifted into editing nonfiction and news content, the more I started to miss editing literature and other literary projects. The opportunities to do so were limited in my area, but in 2019, I started to search for more literary editing opportunities to hopefully segue into a career at a publisher or something related.
That's when Christine Stoddard reached out for additional proofers and copy editors for Quail Bell's newest anthology. Her Plumage: An Anthology of Women's Writings from Quail Bell Magazine was something that instantly attracted me. I had been writing on-and-off for Quail Bell for about five years, having joined in 2014 when Kristen Rebelo asked me to contribute film reviews to the website. I hadn't taken on any large scale editing projects with the organization, but had always hoped to find the chance to do something for it. Her Plumage was exactly what I was looking for, and I gladly put my name forward as a proofer.
When I was handed the Her Plumage manuscript, I was immediately gripped by the content in the manuscript. I hadn't read any of the essays, poems, and short stories included in the anthology before agreeing to proof, which allowed me to look at them with a fresh eye. What I did find was an eclectic mix of personal stories and creative writing that really challenged me. I had had my share of challenging editorial work before (You try working in a news room when a celebrity is first reported dead. Everything in the world comes to a grinding halt.), but this was challenging in a different way.
I knew going into this anthology that, as a cisgender male, my editorial expertise and preconceptions were going to be challenged and that I would have to approach this from a different perspective. At the time, I also knew I was the only male reviewing the work, and that my comments would have to come from a place that completely excluded any male privilege I have. This was especially true in some of the nonfiction pieces. Pieces like Christine Sloan Stoddard's "A Night in San Juan" and Gretchen Gales' fiction piece "Dear John Letter on the Metro" were going to be about experiences I couldn't imagine happening, but I'd have to remove all my notions and thoughts and accept theirs.
Fortunately, I was only proofing and copy editing this anthology, so there wasn't going to be a need for me to input my own experiences and point of view into any of the pieces. I had to take these as they were, trusting that the women featured in this anthology were bringing forward their most raw and personal feelings to discuss these matters. I had been making an effort in the last few years to read books written by women, people of color, LGBT+ individuals, and basically anyone who was not a white male, and that meant that, when reading this anthology, I was going to be confronted with views and experiences that were going to be largely different than what I was used to reading.
Reading Her Plumage was a great task, particularly because the women in the anthology had contributed such engaging and fascinating pieces. Luna Lark's "Victorian Time Travel is for White Men" made me think about how much of a crapshoot traveling to the past really is, especially if you would be considered a second-class citizen. Mari Pack's "The Cost of Things: On Illness and Privilege" spoke about the challenges with chronic illnesses that made me feel glad to have had very few health issues in my life. Even Gales' "A Complicated Apology" really struck me with realizing how damning the R. Kelly controversy was (beyond, you know, everything about it already) and how the collaboration with Lady Gaga for "Do What You Want" created one of the most problematic songs of the decade.
As an editor, I had very little issues going over the manuscript. If anything, I was able to apply my news and non-profit editorial background to a lot of the manuscript that made me realize how much I had learned in those jobs. These included things like adding original publication dates for pieces that were more timely, as well as researching copyright rules for poetry when trying to use lines from Mary Oliver in Mari Pack's "Mary Oliver Was Good." Even my film knowledge helped when figuring out if a film was Oscar-winning or Oscar-nominated. I could feel my confidence in editing grow and grow as I went further along, and that made me think that I could edit manuscripts for a living someday.
What I took away from proofing this anthology was an appreciation for the Quail Bell community and a thankfulness for the opportunities it presents to its writers. Quail Bell has been a home for me and dozens of contributors over the years, and its fairy punk nature has allowed people of all different backgrounds and experiences to come together and produce the sort of content they may not be able to find a home to anywhere else. I think Her Plumage is a culmination of that freedom and that creativity, and I hope followers of Quail Bell will give it a chance. It's the sort of publication that will only get better as time passes and the incredible women featured develop as writers, and it's the sort of publication that almost demands follow-ups and additional volumes. If that happens, I would love to continue to be available as an editor and a proofer, and I hope that, when the time comes, I'll be able to bring even bigger contributions from an editorial standpoint.
Her Plumage is available on Blurb.
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