Leah Wilson (Editor of Neptune Noir)
Pages: 1 and comments. (May 20, 2007)
Leah Wilson, editor of Ben Bella books, talks about the Veronica Mars anthology Neptune Noir.
MI.net: Why did you decide to do a book about Veronica Mars? Are you a fan?
Leah: Part of my job is to try and watch all the new television shows every fall, and figure out which ones to keep an eye on — which ones are high quality and likely to attract a smart fan base. In the process, though, I ended up falling in love with Veronica Mars. My boss wasn't immediately convinced — I spent almost a year arguing how we needed to do a Smart Pop book, until he finally gave in.
MI.net: What made you think that VM's audience is a good target audience for Smart Pop book?
Leah: The audience is smart and tends toward the obsessive (qualities I appreciate both professionally and personally!). The online fans in particular took analysis of the show, and its themes, and its mysteries seriously, which is also a pretty good indicator that it's a property ripe for this kind of book.
MI.net: What took your boss so long to come around?
Leah: I think he wasn't convinced the fanbase was big enough for us to do a profitable book. But I think any size issues are more than made up for in passion. Plus, he hadn't yet seen the show. So I lent him the DVDs.
MI.net: So you got one convert. Congrats!
Leah: I think I have three in office — we only have one hold-out, but I figure its only a matter of time. Clearly, we're a small in-house staff.
MI.net: If you were a big company, you guys probably wouldn't take a risk on doing a book about such a small show.
Leah: It's true — we might not. I wish I could make a good "We're like the Veronica Mars of publishing!" comparison about now, but I don't think we're quite sassy enough. Working on it.
MI.net: You know there is a ton of fan posts about the show. What new insight are you hoping to bring with the book? Was there a central theme that you were aiming for?
Leah: Oh, good question! Fandom, sometimes, I think, is a little like how "they" say if you give an infinite number of monkeys typewriters and let 'em go at it for an infinite amount of time, you'll end up with Shakespeare — except in this case the monkeys are super-smart and super-committed. And as pleased as I am with how this book came out, it's not Shakespeare! So I have to assume that a lot of the ideas in here have been touched on before, by someone, somewhere. I do hope that Neptune Noir is talking about those ideas in a way that's as fresh as possible — and that's funny, or deep, or particularly quirky.
We also have a couple of professional writers that write about Veronica Mars a lot — TWoP's Couch Baron, for instance — who found yet more new, interesting things to say even as they were writing their essays. The change in form, doing something a little more formal than an average blog post, can let you get more in-depth, maybe pull something out of the material you wouldn't have otherwise. Plus, we were fortunate enough to get Rob Thomas's take on our writers' thoughts.
Central theme-wise...there's a loose focus on "noir," we have a couple of essays that take on the connection in some really interesting ways (Lani Diane Rich's essay, for instance — she talks about VM as camp noir, which turned the way I viewed the show inside out a little), but it's not quite strong enough for me to call it a theme.
Can "Veronica Mars rocks!" count as a theme?
MI.net: That should be the title.
Leah: I'll look into changing it for the next printing.
MI.net: Awesome. Also should change the cover art to unicorns.
Leah: I'll talk to our art director. Maybe she can do some sort of "noir unicorn" thing.
MI.net: Given the fact that young kids and teenyboppers make up a good portion of the audience, where you concerned about going too in-depth? Are are you writing the book for more mature something out audiences?
Leah: The book requires a certain reading level, for sure — it's not for kids — but anyone who can appreciate the show (and engages with it enough to be interested in a book like this) can, I think, appreciate the book. Some essays might strike some readers as too in-depth, or not to their taste in some other way, but that's the great part about an essay collection — if one essay isn't your cup of tea, the next one will probably (to stretch the metaphor painfully) have a better flavor.
MI.net: How did Rob get involved with the book?
Leah: Well...we asked him. Which, I'm still kind of shocked that it worked. We usually try to get someone with appropriate expertise or experience to work with us on our Smart Pop books (we just put out Psychology of Harry Potter, where we worked with a psychologist that actually uses Harry Potter in his therapy sessions with kids), and I thought, hey, who better than Rob Thomas, right? So I sent his agent a letter, his agent passed it on to Rob, and Rob ended up being totally into the project.
MI.net: Did the writers know that Rob would be reading their essays?
Leah: They did, but not 'til they were almost done with them. Everyone was, naturally, thrilled.
MI.net: Knowing that Rob was going to edit the book, were you worried that some writers would say something that would offend Rob? On the flip-side, were you worried that some writers wouldn't be honest because they knew Rob was reading?
Leah: First of all, Rob is awesome — he was as great to work with as you'd hope the creator of your favorite show would be. And all of our writers are VM fans, so they were, by nature, going to be positive. So I wasn't worried, but was still very conscious of it. I think our writers were more concerned than I was about giving offense, honestly...but I think everyone was still very honest. Maybe they chose their words a little more carefully and respectfully — which I honestly believe is something you should think about no matter who's going to be reading your work — but the underlying ideas and intentions were the same.
MI.net: How did you select who would write the essays? Did the writers pick their own topics or did you assign them? Were there any ideas or writers that you turned down?
Leah: Some of the contributors were people we've had do amazing essays for us in the past (Lani Diane Rich, Evelyn Vaughn, Joyce Millman); some of them were new writers I'd found that I'd been wanting to try out (Geoff Klock, Amanda Ann Klein); some were professional writers I knew loved VM (Heather Havrilesky, Couch Baron/John Ramos). It's always a mix — who do we think is going to have something new and interesting to say, and say it well?
The writers generally pick their own topics, but it's a process — they'll come to us with what they're thinking, and we'll work with them to refine it, and also to make sure they aren't doing anything too similar to any other contributors' topic. There were some things we wanted to see covered, but our writers are also fans, and so what interests them is usually going to interest the book's audience.
MI.net: When we read the book, there were some essays that we liked better than others. I'm assuming you felt the same way. As an editor, what do you do with an essay that isn't as good as you had hoped? Rewrite or trash the thing? How do you tell a writer that rewrites are needed without saying, "Your essay sucks!! Fix it or you're fired!"
Leah: [laughs] Very gently? Seriously, though — yeah, sometimes essays come in and you're not as crazy about them as you want to be. Part of the job is figuring out where a rewrite (or two, or three — I've had fantastic essays that took more rewrites than I like to think about, but were completely worth the effort) will help, and where there's no hope. And there's always the tricky thing where the essays that I don't love, but that are done well enough, maybe the essays that someone else thinks the book would have been worthless without.
We often try to have a few fans read through, and send comments our way — and it's nearly always the case where one reader will rave about an essay another reader wished they hadn't wasted time on. So — tricky. Mostly, you just do your best to work with and respect the author — they want their essay to be the best it can possibly be, too.
MI.net: Of all the fansites in all the world, why did you choose our site to proofread the book?
Leah: 'Cause you guys, like VM, rock? The site's great — it's complete, it has great attention to detail, and it shows a lot of passion...which is exactly what we needed. Sure, I own all the DVDs and don't like to talk in public about how many times I've watched them, but I'm human. I could tell from the site that you guys would do a great job catching anything I missed.
MI.net: When we were editing the book, it was kinda fun to catch the various factual mistakes. (OMG, Veronica never had chili on the show!) Were you amused about how picky some or our edits were? (People, the writer wasn't being literal about the can of chili.)
Leah: [grins] Amused, and also appreciative. Because those details matter. If we want fans to pick up Neptune Noir and take it seriously, we have to take it seriously too. I ended up not changing a fair number of things, which you'll see if you go through this final version, but I considered every single one carefully. It's worth the time and the attention. And of course, I take full responsibility for any mistakes remaining (and am happy to hear about any errors, because we'll be able to fix them in subsequent printings).
MI.net: How do readers contact you guys for any factual errors?
Leah: If you go to our Smart Pop site (www.smartpopbooks.com), there's an email address at the bottom of the page — firstname.lastname@example.org. It'll get to me.
MI.net: One thing that surprised me about the book was that there was only one Logan and Veronica essay. Considering that they are the most popular aspect of the show, why not have multiple LoVe essays?
Leah: You know, as I was putting the book together, I was worried we'd have too many people scrambling to talk about LoVe, and that I'd have to turn people down, have them write about their second choice...but in the end, I shouldn't have bothered. There's so much to talk about with VM that everyone had plenty of ideas. Plus, heck, a lot of that fandom writing we talked about earlier was pretty LoVe-centric, and so it was an area where I don't think we necessarily would have had a lot that was new to offer. The LoVe essay we've got, it's done by a professional psychologist, and she has some interesting insights about body language and interaction that I'd never read before. I didn't want anything that had gotten to the point of being "obvious" to LoVe fans. Whether we succeeded or not is for readers to judge.
MI.net: Are you a LoVe, VD, or Pizeronica fan?
Leah: Ohhh man, LoVe all the way. I liked Duncan (I thought it was totally right that they tried to make a go of it beginning of season two, but I think that it would have failed on its own had Duncan not had to skip town), and I like Piz a lot, but I don't think either of them is as good a match.
MI.net: Another LoVe shipper.
Leah: But, yeah, book-wise — the goal was also to be inclusive, not to alienate. Too many LoVe essays would bore the heck out of someone who watches the show for entirely different reasons.
MI.net: There is one essay about the cars that characters drive. When you saw that the LeBaron and Xterra were replaced by some product-placement cars, did you think, "Oh dear, time for an addendum"? Were there any essays that you had to update once season 3 started?
Leah: Doing TV essay anthologies, these sorts of things come up all the time — the only way around it is to finish a book up after the season finale and make sure it's out before the next season's premiere, and while that works with one book, maybe two, more than that and you're in trouble schedule-wise. Generally I try to give a cut-off ("Essays should take into account all information up to the season two finale," for instance, which was what we used for this book) and have the authors make clear what point they're writing from. We did a book on Alias a few years back, which is where that cut-off rule really came from, in my mind — because Sydney's mother kept dying and turning up alive again, and we kept having to go back for edits, and eventually it just became ridiculous!
MI.net: How did you get started in the publishing world?
Leah: Accidentally. I was planning on applying to grad school to get an MFA in creative writing, and figured doing an internship in the meantime would be both fun and helpful to my future dream of being a writer. But then I discovered I loved what I was doing (and, okay, it was nice getting money instead of having to pay it to other people), so I just stuck with it. Plus, I've learned more about writing from working with other people's than I can imagine any class or program teaching me.
MI.net: When you tell people you do books about TV, do they go "You write about TV — that's my dream job!" or "You write about TV — TV is such a waste of time!"
Leah: I get both — and not always from the people you'd expect, either. Last year I went to a wedding where I ended up sitting at a table full of Harvard- and Yale-educated economists...who talked my ear off about Harry Potter, and the Gilmore Girls book we were planning. I believe that pop culture is an entirely respectable, valid, and valuable medium, but the people I find who agree with me is always surprising.
MI.net: How much taller are you than 5' 1-3/4" Kristen Bell?
Leah: 7 and 3/4 inches. Ish.
MI.net: In honor of the misspellings we caught in the rough draft. Hey, no cheating.
What is the correct spelling of the Kane girl that murdered?
What is the correct spelling of Clarence's last name?
Leah: Gah! If you'd asked me this when I was in the middle of the book, I'd probably have passed, but right now I only know how to spell Firefly and Batman characters. Um...Lily, and Weidman?
[MI.net: Yikes. Correct answers are Lilly and Wiedman.]
MI.net: Any favorite charities that you would like to mention?
Leah: I should have a favorite charity! I don't. My own charitable contributions go to NPR, and whatever charity my grocery store and pet store are giving my extra dollar to.
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