“Editing requires a neurotic head” | International

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Editor Carolina López, pictured at her home in Bogotá, Colombia, in April 2022.Camilo Rozo

Carolina López (Bogotá, 42 years old) was not very clear at twenty what to do with her life. University was unbearable for her, it was not for her. Weaving looms in an inland town was fun until she got fed up with life hippy. She went to work as a waitress in a restaurant, where she amazed everyone with the exact way she arranged the tables. Salt on this side, pepper on this side. With any slight variation she burned inside. Her supervisor noticed this perfectionist reflex and invited her to work in her off hours as a copy editor for a publishing house. Over time she discovered, like a shocking revelation, that this was her place in this world, something that many people fail to find in a lifetime. López is now, almost two decades later, the director of the literary line of Penguin Random House Colombia. Some of the best writers in this country pass through her hands.

Ask. Does psychorigidity help publishers?

Response. Editing requires a neurotic head. I think that an editor at heart cannot see something out of place, impossible. That helps to find loose ends, unnecessary repetitions, inconsistencies in the plots, broken promises throughout the text. That mental order orders your work.

P. What do you do when the book is better than the author?

R. It doesn’t usually happen. It is strange that there are no signs of where things are going to go. It is difficult for you to say: “Wow, I did not expect this from the author”. Quite the contrary.

P. That the texts are worse than those who write them.

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R. That is more common. You try to tell him in the best way. But our intuition can fail. I remember once I was convinced that a book was out of the natural place of the author and that it was going to be a failure. In the end he came out and it didn’t go bad, he didn’t succeed, but it didn’t generate the negative reaction I expected or ruin his name.

P. Can you learn to write?

R. Yes, you can, but I am one of those who believe that there are people who have natural talent and who will surely need less effort both for learning and for the long-term exercise of writing.

P. How do you conceive of being an editor and sometimes a friend?

R. It is a swampy land. You connect better with some writers than others. With some you have more empathy, you have more points in common. That happens very naturally, without forcing anything, although to some extent friendship makes the job easier.

P. What book from the past has not been surpassed yet?

R. What question! (She goes to the kitchen repeating it out loud). I would say that in our literature it is One hundred years of solitude.

P. Do you dream of publishing a masterpiece?

R. It’s not something I think about too much. Although I think some of them have passed through my hands, like certain books by Tomás González.

P. Does it continue to be the best kept secret in Colombian literature?

R. That has been said for a long time, which is beginning to be a real shame for those who have not read it.

P. He is not seen at book fairs and hardly gives interviews.

R. He is reserved and let’s say that he is very careful about what to spend his time on.

P. You also worked on the edition of What has no name, the book by the poet Piedad Bonnett about the death of her son.

R. This is a very important book in our literature.

P. Very cerebral given the topic.

R. It is a particularity that this book has, which also having written it so close to the facts is a virtue that makes it more impressive.

P. Speaking of fathers and sons, Juan Álvarez is preparing a book about his father, a politician who was in prison for a crime that, according to Álvarez, he did not commit.

R. He has sent me a part and it could be a very important book for Juan. He really liked what he showed me. It is a very ambitious book, but he is very laborious, he is one of those obsessive authors, who works in detail. He reads aloud, he records himself, he listens to his own texts…

P. And at the same time he turns out to be a dandy. It’s good to be neat and not look like it.

R. That is a virtue.

P. It also publishes Juan Gabriel Vásquez, perhaps the most important Colombian writer. What is the power of his work?

R. The consistency of his books, they are all very solid and at the same time very different. He has found a way to unravel the drama of this country.

P. What about the myth of fragile writers, afraid of criticism or what the neighbor says about their book?

R. It is easy to see why there is fragility: it is a job that involves putting a lot of personal issues in public. If you’re a dentist, you don’t risk it like that.

P. Is it about exposing yourself to ridicule?

R. To be exposed in general. It is a job that requires the personal to be authentic. It is difficult to put distance with the trade.

P. And is it true that they are self-centered?

R. They are everywhere, dentists too. But the writer’s ego is involved in his work, it’s part of the exercise. That’s why it stands out so much.

P. Would she edit a book herself?

R. Never.

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