My parents recently sold our family home. Perched on a hill in a small Nova Scotia town, the house was the backdrop to my childhood and school years. While I hadn’t lived there for ages, it was the place I always went back to. I could navigate my way in the dark, identify family members’ steps on floors and stairs, and recognize the wind’s noises depending on the kind of storm outside.
There were many incremental changes throughout our time there. Rolling fields were replaced by a subdivision, our view obstructed by a monster house with surly neighbours. The inside changed too as colours and furniture were updated. But at its core, the house was the same. The gradual shifts let me adapt my mental picture of home when I spent long stretches away.
While I’ve had Zoom tours and know where things are in my parents’ new place, I haven’t yet visited. Seeing the old house’s furniture in new configurations in a different home makes the space feel both familiar and foreign. I’ve always been a visual thinker: I picture people and their environments when they tell me what they’re doing. What’s jarring in this new home set-up is that the whole foundation of a big part of my life has shifted. When I speak to my parents about their days, I picture them in our former home. Then I course correct and acknowledge that I can’t quite picture the details anymore.
My experience has underlined the importance of fiction editors and their role in making sure a story’s backdrop is part of a cohesive, consistent whole. Details such as objects being out of place or incorrect weather can shake the reader beyond the boundaries of a book and leave them wondering why something isn’t sitting quite right. Without the editors, the story falls apart.
Fiction and fact-checking
Thanks to COVID-19, and more recently the U.S. wildfires that have left Vancouver under a smoky blanket, I’ve been spending a lot of time reading inside. And I’ve been surprised to find a similar sense of disconnection when I read books about pre-COVID times — the story just doesn’t feel quite right. Descriptions of gatherings with friends, crowded trains or drinks at bars leave me thinking, “Well, that could never happen” or “Why didn’t she sanitize after touching that doorknob?” Clearly, this is not the editor’s fault but is a result of our climate: daily lives having changed so quickly that some aspects of life before are unrecognizable.
I’ve written of my own COVID-19 life edit, and I now acknowledge that these changes go far beyond our daily life experiences. How will they impact the future of books and writing? Will editors need to be mindful of a line dividing pre- and post-COVID behaviours, and add a new list to fact-checking? Or will this time be a period in writing that we look back on as monumental at the time, but a passing phase in our lives? I’m curious to see what the future brings and what creative endeavours come out of this large-scale edit our lives are moving through.
Previous post from Marianne Grier: My COVID-19 Life Edit
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