Anyone who is aware of Peter David and his vast catalog of work should not be surprised to know he describes himself as a writer of stuff.
Stuff indeed. His more than twenty-year writing career includes a critically acclaimed twelve-year run on The Incredible Hulk and work in comics that include Supergirl, Aquaman, Spider-Man, Spider-Man 2099, X-Factor, Wolverine, The Phantom, and more; his But I Digress column that appears in Comics Buyer’s Guide; the beloved Sir Apropos of Nothing, which is the first novel in a hilarious trilogy that continues to make many, including RPGers, laugh until they cry; and several Star Trek novels that include Q-Squared, The Siege, Q-in-Law, Vendetta, A Rock and a Hard Place, and one of the most bestselling Trek novels of all time, Imzadi.
With a body of work like his, it would not be completely unfounded to assume David is a bit of an unapproachable diva. However, nothing could be further from the truth. Perhaps it’s because David has not forgotten his roots, that is, when he was an aspiring writer who had primarily churned out fanfic. It was Stephen King who autographed a copy of Danse Macabre for David and wished him luck in his writing career. It’s not surprising to learn that David now inscribes the same well wishes to his own fans who tell him they, too, are aspiring writers. While I suspect that gratitude has played a part in David’s being so open to his fans, I also suspect that he’s just a genuinely good guy and that his writing successfully reaches his fans because his sensitivity is sincere.
Take one of my favorite But I Digress columns, for example. After the September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States, David wrote a poignant article where he showed not so much his pain (though it was certainly there) but also his vulnerability. For me, it was one of the few pieces of literature published in the wake of the attacks that did not seek to capitalize on the tragedy and instead sought to share in that desire to heal and expressed authentically and with dignity the frustration of not having been able to stop it or make it all go away. Having reread the article the other day helped me put into clearer perspective David’s ability to tackle difficult subject matters in what he writes, such as the manner in which he fleshed out the themes initiated by Bill Mantlo for The Incredible Hulk, where Bruce Banner deals with memories of abuse at his father’s hands. David manages to tackle such subjects in a sensitive manner that at the same time doesn’t make his readership uncomfortable.
Despite knowing about David’s approachability, when I was tapped to copyedit his most recent Star Trek novel, I was a little nervous. The production editor (a friend and colleague) hired me and informed me the manuscript was by a big-name author so I should be light-handed and particularly sensitive with any queries and notes, especially regarding plot. Once I started work, however, I decided the right thing to do was to treat the manuscript no differently from any other on which I work. That is, I kept the tone of my queries polite, but made edits as necessary and explained my reasoning in the margins. I admit that when I returned the project, I fretted that perhaps my edits were more than David and his editor were expecting to see. Further, I hoped he wouldn’t be offended by my notes and questions regarding a few plot points I felt required clarification or revisiting.
I heard from the production editor a couple weeks later, after David and his editor had assessed my work. David took the time to express gratitude for the edits and comments and even rewrote some passages as a result of my questions and comments. It’s always nice to hear that authors aren’t upset by the hard work copyeditors do, but David went that extra mile and took the time to write a nice note to the production editor. It’s refreshing to work with big-name authors who don’t make you feel like you can’t touch them editorially for fear of tantrums. It’s even more rewarding when they prove with a few lines that they are, in fact, down-to-earth and, well, approachable.
No, after twenty years, it’s clear that David doesn’t need any luck. Here’s to twenty more years, Mr. David. I for one look forward to working with him again, even if indirectly as a freelance copyeditor.