As you may have noticed, we didn’t get around to doing MY favourite posts in our little birthday celebration, so I will now list them for you, and talk a little bit about how they came to be.
1. Knight of the Swan, by Molly Minturn:
When Molly sent this to us, I handled it like a little tiny baby bird, because it was so complete and well-written and generous, and I was so grateful that it came to us, and not somewhere else. It was the first piece on The Toast to get picked up by Longreads and Longform, which I had been gunning for (hence putting “a longread” in the title, in hopes they would notice it, you should try that!), and from an editing point of view, my job was to make sure she had talked to anyone in her family she felt should sign off on the narrative, and to do the most minor of tweaks. I think the only thing I really did was change the ending, which sounds like a much bigger deal than it is. I find that authors often have a powerful, elliptical sentence that gets to the heart of the piece, feel dorky about it, back off, and then write an extra paragraph being “so, in summation,” and as an editor, your job is to get rid of that part, and then feel secretly happy whenever anyone says “oh, that ending was so great.”
2. Texts from William Blake, by Mallory Ortberg:
I decided to only allow myself one Mallory piece in this list, because, oh, man, right? I will not get gushy about Mallory’s creativity, I just want to talk about Texts from William Blake. We’re not giving you any more Texts From for free, because you have to wait and buy the book, but this one is probably my favourite (okay, technically, my favourite is Texts From Little Women, but that’s not a Toast post.) What I love about Texts From is how devastatingly clever they are, honestly. I mean, it’s “texts,” so someone who didn’t know Mallory might be “those kids, ripping off classic works of literature with their teeny attention spans,” but LOOK at William Blake. Look at it!
I drew you something
is it horrifying?
do you promise?
do you promise me that it’s not horrifying?
i drew you something
you know what I mean
what do you mean by horrifying
is anyone being
flayed alive in it
or committing suicide
or does something have eyes that shouldn’t have eyes
you know what I mean
sorry i bothered you
Happily, Holt appreciated her vision and swallowed the whole thing as-is, like a terrifying snake in a William Blake painting. I have never edited a Texts From. There is no need. I am as excited as you are when I see one on the schedule. I am a Mallory Ortberg superfan.
3. The Stages of Being Biracial (If You’re Me), by Jaya Saxena and Matt Lubchansky:
These crazy kids! These crazy, wonderful kids. They’re so in love, they’re so talented, they make beautiful work together. Obviously, I’m crazy about Dad Magazine, and Matt is the illustrator behind the classic Street Harassment masterpiece, but this one is just so sweet and goofy, and also makes no attempt to be “This is What It Means to be Biracial,” it’s just Jaya’s own story. With that drawing of little baby Jaya.
4. When We Wore Foundation Garments, by Mary J. Breen:
Mary Mary Mary Mary J. BREEN. I would run one every week if I could. Hers is a voice I’m so proud to have on the site: smart, thoughtful, self-aware, darkly-funny, and a glimpse into a whole era of being a woman that can be tricky for us to access. And I love, too, the moment when I offhandedly said that she had called us “young ladies,” and Mary emailed me (not wanting a correction, mind you!) to say that actually, she would never say “young ladies,” because even though we all do this merry retro reclaiming thing now, which is totally fine, she and her compatriots spent years and a lot of emotional capital to be called “women,” so for her, it’s a different experience altogether. And I liked that, because it also reminds you not to go on auto-pilot with “older women relate to younger women like THIS,” there is no one thing. Her pieces have covered religion, and sexuality, and childhood, and this one (my particular favourite) is a perfect recounting of the experience of being a young girl observing your mother’s friends. What it’s like to see your mother as a person who interacts with other people, to get glimpses of what her non-motherness might be like. I love that.
5. Joanne’s Story, by Joanne McAlpine:
I’m biased here, because this is my aunt, and she is one of the best people in the world, and someone I try to emulate. I’ve never met someone who tries so hard to live up to the ideologies she preaches, and I find her generosity and tirelessness and kindness and ENERGY intensely inspiring. I also wanted to have a piece about abortion on our very first day, because being Officially Pro-Reproductive Rights is something Mallory and I put down in every checklist and Google doc and email chain when we were getting started.
This piece, and Jessica Valenti’s and Anne Helen’s (my kingdom for a post where I can discuss ALL the pieces I love), were left untouched, for the most part. I had asked my aunt to write this for us, because we had a long conversation about it on her back deck, looking at the water, and she did the dither-dither thing people who are not officially “writers” do about writing things, and I promised that I would make it publication-ready, no matter what, and then she sent it to me, apprehensively, and I moved…one comma? It didn’t need anything. It was perfect. When an author gives me a really personal piece, the only editing they tend to need is encouragement: “This will be great.” “I will block anyone who calls you a murderer.” “Women will be helped by your writing.”
Thanks, writers who have let us put your more personal work into the world. Thanks, all of our writers!
One of my favourite editing experiences was “Are You There, God? It’s Me, MacGyver”, because the writer and I wanted to make sure it could in no way be construed as trans*phobic (I mean, there are men who get their period, right, we didn’t want the joke to be “hahahahaha a man gets a period that’s funny”), but, at the same time, it’s about MacGyver, and about MacGyver getting a period, so it was vaguely surreal to be very earnestly exchanging emails about whether MacGyver is genderqueer or trans* or secretly a woman and eventually arriving where we did.
Okay! What were yours?
Nicole is an Editor of The Toast.