Editing NealNov 01, 2021 08:00AM ● By Gayle Morrow
One of the last email conversations I had with Cornelius O’Donnell was about British TV shows. Neal had mentioned that he liked such programs as Midsomer Murders and Vicar of Dibley. I recommended he watch Pie in the Sky—I thought it would be his cuppa, so to speak, as the premise was a trying-hard-to-be-retired British detective whose desire to leave policing and focus on his newly opened restaurant (and a menu including his otherworldly steak and kidney pie) was constantly being foiled by his superiors.
I hope Neal had the opportunity to enjoy an episode or two—we didn’t talk about Pie in the Sky again, so I don’t know.
We talked occasionally about other things, but never once about how I edited his columns. Sometimes there isn’t much love lost between writers and editors; that didn’t seem to be the case with us.
As a writer, you hope that whoever edits your “stuff” takes what you turned in and makes it better. Writers hate to think that an editor is making changes just for the sake of making changes. Some do. I had an editor once who admitted that “I had to change something...” when I asked why a passage had been altered; when I’m wearing my editor hat, I don’t have the time or inclination to play that game.
As an editor, correcting grammar and punctuation should be easy peasy, do-it-with-one-hand-tied-behind-your-back kind of work. It’s the subtleties that can be confounding. What did he mean by that? Is that really what he wanted to say? When I first started editing Neal’s columns, I asked myself those questions often. But after a while, I found that I knew. I knew the point he was trying to make. I could fill in a missing word or adjust sentence construction in Neal’s voice. I could kind of channel him.
I only met Neal face to face a couple of times—once when he came to Wellsboro to write a story about West End Market Café (I was working there at the time), and once when he was a chili judge at Second Chance Animal Sanctuaries’ annual chili cook-off/fundraiser (I was helping out as a volunteer/board member) at Rockwell’s Feed, Farm and Pet Supply. Some months ago, I mentioned to him in an email that I would be passing through Corning/Horseheads on such and such a date. I should stop and see him, he said, and he proceeded to give me directions.
“I’m as easy as pie to find,” he assured me. His directions were somewhat convoluted, however, not as straightforward as the recipes he shared with us, and I confess that I did not take the time to figure out where he was and how to get there. I regret that now. I imagine it would have been a “most genial respite” (isn’t that a Nealism?), probably with good food and wine (fresh and local, of course, as Neal was a proponent of both), likely served on or in something made by Corning, and accompanied by interesting conversation. My loss.
Easy as pie, pie in the sky...I know where to find you these days, Neal.