I have been "orphaned."
At least that's the word people are using. Last week as part of the consolidation of two large publishing companies, in which employees considered "redundant" were being let go (a polite term for an impolite act), the Haunted Guesthouse series (written, for the terminally naïve among you, by E.J. Copperman) lost its editor, Shannon Jamieson Vazquez who, if there is any justice, will be running a whole publishing company by the end of this week.
I have extolled Shannon's enormous contributions to the Guesthouse series and the Double Feature series which preceded it, more than once before. But since we will not be working together on Guesthouse #8, which I'll start toiling away at this autumn, this seems the time to offer some valedictory thanks.
Shannon bought the first Double Feature novel Some Like It Hot-Buttered when I was almost universally unknown even by some members of my own family. She reminded me--assuming I actually had known this before--last week that it was the first book she bought after joining Berkley Publishing. I can't speak for her reasoning, but from the author's point of view, she just responded to it, knew it wasn't going to be an easy sell (male protagonist in a "cozy", movie theater setting, more comedy than murder) and recommended it to the editorial board anyway.
We got three books out of that, which is three more than I would have expected. And if I were brave enough to look over the original draft versus the finished book today (which I'm not by any measure) I would undoubtedly be appalled at the version she had purchased. But by the time we got done working on it together, it was something that I remain proud of to this day.
She's that good.
Shannon doesn't pass over the material, look for bad grammar or obvious mistakes and simply assume the author must know his/her business and let everything else go. Some editors might, and some authors might very well want them to--it makes the process easier and is arguably truer to the author's original intention. What I can tell you is that her attention to story structure and logic issues made each and every book we worked on together at least 30 percent better than what I emailed to her thinking it was ready for publication. Shannon knows when I'm having an off day and just mailing it in (writing is a fine profession but it can also be a grind) and she doesn't let me get away with it (one note in the margin of a manuscript read, "Jeff is in a bad mood"), which is worth every dime of salary she made at the company in the time she edited my work.
When Elliot Freed and his pals had run their course, I wasn't sure I had another workable idea for a series in me. Elliot was, after all, a permutation of my original protagonist Aaron Tucker and now he had been told to go shuffle off to the Crime Fiction Discarded Character's Home. I didn't really know what I'd be doing next, and thought maybe this whole book thing had played out and I'd go back to not selling the screenplays I wrote.
But my agent of the time and Shannon had a couple of conversations and there was the germ of an idea: A woman raising a daughter who was fixing up houses and selling them. It wasn't much (and thank goodness it didn't proceed because the housing crash of 2008 pretty much put an end to "flipping" houses) but it was something, so Shannon and I met for dinner at Bouchercon in Baltimore that year.
By the time we probably skipped dessert (I was doing the weight loss thing then too, except more successfully), the woman had stopped flipping houses and was running a guesthouse, and it had gained itself a couple of resident dead people who were going to gum up the works sometimes and come to the rescue others.
The Haunted Guesthouse series was born, and I honestly can't tell you which parts of the idea are mine and which ones are Shannon's.
Oddly, once my name was replaced on the cover of the novel and ghosts in a Jersey Shore inn were introduced, people started liking my writing a whole lot more. Within the past couple of weeks Shannon and I got through the heavy lifting on Guesthouse #7, GHOST IN THE WIND, due in a bookstore or handheld device near you this December. If you include the two Guesthouse novellas we did for e-books and audiobooks alone, Shannon and I will have worked on an even dozen 12 stories together (Yes, Shannon, I know "even dozen 12" is redundant).
I can tell you that she had much more of a hand in the creation of those books than the casual observer might believe, and her touch was never anything but beneficial to the stories. She let me be myself (even when I was being someone else) and didn't try to stomp on the jokes. When she would raise a question about one (there was a comment about Judge Reinhold she was concerned might be too obscure, for example) and I replied that the joke was needed, it stayed. When she brought up a story point that made no sense and it meant I'd have to do a good deal of rewriting I didn't want to do, I trusted her judgment because she's always--ALWAYS--right about that stuff, and I did the revisions. I have never regretted doing them, as soon as I was finished.
Thank you, Shannon Jamieson Vazquez. You unleashed me on an unsuspecting world and made me look good. Okay, you made my work look good--even you can't perform miracles. You were never once unappreciated by this author and you'll be missed by the writer and readers of the Haunted Guesthouse mysteries.
I really do hope we'll be working together again--on something--soon.