On Editors, part 2

Some people appear to us with such perfect timing, and serve us in such dramatic ways, we can hardly be faulted for believing they might be something like angels.

Judith Moore was one of those people.

If you’re a writer and you ever make a lot of money, put some of it aside, as the day may arrive when the checks stop coming, for while or for good. More than a few times, I’ve gotten to the last nickel with no paycheck or windfall in sight.

During one of those times, Judith Moore called. She was the editor of the San Diego Reader. She had read my novel The Loud Adios, which led her to ask if I would write stories for the Reader.

I said, “You mean fiction?”

“Well, maybe at some point,” she said. “But mostly non-fiction. Feature articles.”

“The thing is,” I confessed, “I don’t write non-fiction. College essays, sure, and some book reviews, but not a single feature article.”

She said, “We can pay (many dollars) for an inside piece and (even more) for a cover.”

I said, “When do I start?”

“Give me an idea,” she said. Over the next several years, I wrote dozens of Reader stories.

Some of the ideas were mine, but just as often, she pitched ideas to me, and most always they engaged me in valuable ways. She sent me to meet remarkable people, such as a Tijuana nightclub singer, and into places I would never otherwise have ventured, like Mother Teresa’s seminary. Meanwhile, after I submitted stories, both her praise and criticism moved me. I became dedicated to pleasing her.

Some of us writers feel a deep need for a person whose belief in us helps us believe in ourselves. Judith believed in me. And on occasion she became my conscience.

I had written a draft about a church in which a fellow I’ll call D. had gotten charged with molesting children in the nursery. D. was a friend of my cousin, and she assured me that he was gentle and innocent. The evidence against him came from claims children made to therapists. As the trial proceeded the claims became evermore outrageous, about sacrificing large animals and impossible trips to hellish places. All this led to ridicule of the church in local media and by the prosecutors. For months, the church was portrayed as a farcical place where vigilante parishioners roamed around inspecting bathrooms and closets for demons. The draft I sent Judith was a diatribe against therapists, reporters, talk show hosts, and the district attorney.

After reading my draft, Judith called. She said, “Ken, you don’t do angry.”

If anyone ever knew more about me than I knew about myself, Judith did. I surely do miss her.