noun

1. a person who is in charge of and determines the content of a text

Mid 17th cent.: from Latin, ‘producer (of games), publisher,’ from edit- ‘produced, put forth,’ from the verb edere.

 

This is me,

sitting at the table where I work with writers. It is a vintage table— funny looking– but when I see it in this picture I think of things that have gone on here over the years. Here I started VCW working with a journalist who’d had an eleven year writing block. Down the road, she began writing and publishing poetry, her first collection a Gival prize winner. I think of my first sessions coaching another writer who was trying to start up again after a long illness and the emergence of her gift for metaphor. This gift would lead from one publication to another over a period of fifteen plus years with me as her editor/coach.

 

I’m not sure if my best moments with writers have been the days of their first acceptances or the ones when the books or journals arrived– or earlier during the writing of these works when we found one of those tiny, hidden- picture type mistakes that showed up out of nowhere and sent us to our knees laughing.
Many stories have come across this table:  of convoluted love triangles, alcoholic Christmases, and fathers with shotguns. The story of a self-starvation, of love for a vet with PTSD, of an exhumed relative (something about a contested inheritance), a mystery woman on Upper Captiva, a child’s gradual mental erasure of a horrific bike accident, the chronicle of a food inspector observing daytime talk shows, the backstory of Degas’s “The Bather”, and of a long-loved but supposedly dead collie who visited the bedside of a dying mother. I remember another about a young man’s first artificial insemination of a cow and one about a drunken father drawing spots on the dog with a magic marker.  I’ve worked with a writers on stories about nursing in a NICU, the identity crisis of a Korean/American woman in advancing pregnancy, about crazy-ass girlfriends, iguanas, turtles, parrots and dogs (I remember all their names). Lighter stuff, too:   cowboys in travels to Cuba, drones saving the day (before that technology was more than an idea), the smell of summer fishing on an inland New Jersey lake, and travel stories from Havana to Budapest to Siem Reap.  Seeing each story, it was my job to help the writer who had drafted it make it into a piece of fiction or nonfiction worthy of publication.

 

Here at this table, I’ve coached tearful and sometimes inebriated doctoral candidates as they untangled their dissertations, as well as professors in women’s studies, Shakespeare, history, psychiatry, business, urban studies, and nursing. I’ve also coached a writer of historical fiction who panicked when her galleys arrived with an undoable deadline and rescued several poets from publisher scams. There has been a good share of straight nonfiction writing here, too: scientific and social studies, articles on pets, self-help, psychotherapy and biography.

 

I’ve seen manuscripts circulate for years without a nibble and then get three acceptances in the same week. There were at least two OCD writers who learned to step away from researching into infinity and put words on paper. VCW has provided editing and critique for writers in Mississippi, Illinois, Wisconsin, Ohio, Minnesota, Colorado, Florida and Iowa. One man sent me a ten pound cheesecake while I was doing a manuscript critique for him (not afterward!). Another paid me in a dramatic display of hundred dollar bills (tossed across this table). Again to send me a message before his critique!

 

Before I worked at this table, when I was coming up, I worked as a nurse’s aide in what used to be called a state asylum, lifeguarded in freezing Minnesota lakes, and waitressed dressed as a cowgirl and a German milkmaid. I was Supervisor of the Foster Grandparent and Senior Companion programs in St. Paul, and when I first came to Milwaukee, a diagnostic case worker for the Treatment Alternatives to Street Crime Program (TASC) a couple years. In those days, my job meant a lot of hours spent in jails and courtrooms.

Later, I taught composition, creative writing, literature, and film at UW-Milwaukee. While I was there, I was Editor-in-Chief of Cream City Review for some years, and then Consulting Editor and member of its Advisory Board. It was my amazing good luck to publish some of the earliest work of Kyoko Mori, Henri Cole, Kenneth Pobo, Susan Firer, Phil Dacey and David Citino. I also did features and reviews (and some consulting) for Art Muscle (magazine). I’ve taught both undergrad and graduate courses at the Union Institute, Ottawa University, Cardinal Stritch University, Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design, and Woodland Pattern. This variety of employments and my own writing life have prepared me to help writers get stories– like the ones I’ve just mentioned—told (in a variety of literary genres). And told well.

 

At the same table where I will sit with you and your writing, I have interviewed Derek Walcott, had a lunch and critique with Lisel Mueller, hosted a reception for Eve Shelnutt, eaten Thanksgiving dinner with William Harrold  and had my first  conversation with a then struggling genius by the name of Maurice Kilwein Guevera. All this may sound like pure name dropping, but it’s more:  These experiences have taught me about writers and the writing life. Some have become pieces I’ve published, some have helped me write and publish better, and others have opened my eyes about what makes an editor/coach generous. (Once when Amy Clampitt visited she invited my entire creative writing class to send her poems for her critique. Many did and she answered them all.)

Of course, I’ve learned quite a bit about how an editor can lead a writer to the brink of despair—but that’s easier than good editing. I’ve had a chance to study under writers whose work will last. I know what it looks like! There are no guarantees in this business, but it helps to connect with an editor who has your back.

 

I have also spent long hours correcting galleys of my own work at this same table. I am that writer publishers dread–and generally forbid–who tries to revise her work further on the galleys!
I hope to see you across my table someday soon.

 

Debra

 

Debra Kay Vest is a professional developmental editor. She has received Pushcart Prize nominations in both poetry and fiction and is a former Editor-in-Chief of the Cream City Review. She is the author of Children of the Glassblower—winner of the Walt Cieszynski Memorial Prize (in TROIKA I, Thorntree Press) and has a PhD in creative writing and literature from the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee. She also holds degrees in psychology and theater. She has received awards from The Academy of American Poets, and The Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets, among others.  Her work has been published in many journals and anthologies including Stickman ReviewHayden’s Ferry Review, Another Chicago Magazine, Porcupine Literary Arts Magazine, Cream City Review, Dreams and Secrets (Woodland Pattern Book Center) and Third Stream: Writing across the Boundaries between Poetry and Prose (Lonesome Traveler Press).

 

Debra has read her work at numerous venues and been interviewed on Milwaukee and Wisconsin Public Radio, Milwaukee Public Television and reviewed on NPR. She has been a feature writer for Art Muscle magazine, panelist for the Wisconsin Arts Board and co-coordinator of the Writers-in-Residence Program for the (then) Center for Twentieth Century Studies.

 

Debra has seventeen years of university teaching experience at the graduate and undergraduate levels and founded the Vest Conservatory for Writers (then Personal Writing Coach Services) in 1993. She is completing a new collection of poetry and experimental fiction and at work on a memoir.

 

Among  former and current writers who have worked at VCW are William Mulcahy, John Sierpinski, Judith Ford, Peggy Hong, Greg Grummer, Paula Goldman, Sue Blaustein , Sara McGaughy, Marianna Wright, Loundry Berry, Jr., W.A. Reed, Debra J. Kane, Ashok Bedi and Eloisa Gomez.

 

Debra lives with her husband, photographer Tim R. Holte, and a Great Pyrenees dog named Luka in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. She is an orthodox-minded Catholic and reads classic as well as contemporary literature.  She is also an open water swimmer, gardener, singer (former member of the Bach Chamber Choir), and dog lover. To check out her work, CLICK HERE.

The Vest Conservatory for Writers
2125 N. Newhall St.
Milwaukee, WI 53202
414-278-8933