Michelle was a great editor. In many ways, I only know her through her red lines—and her emails.
A Michelle email was not something one can answer in five minutes, more like thirty.
Michelle would push me–both professionally and personally—even in her email correspondence.
My life is usually late or rushed, especially my frustratingly limited time writing, but an email from Michelle provided a stress caesura—a moment of pause where I knew I was focusing on something that really mattered.
They made me think and more important, they moved me—stoking my commitment to words, surprising me with the extent of her kindness and praise, and wrenching my emotions to hear her strife with fibromyalgia.
Michelle once wrote me that her health is forever an issue. Now it's not—sweet, black Balm in Gilead.
Emails like Michelle's are fewer and farther between, and as I notice the Gmail autoreplies now appearing on my mobile, I have a feeling the value I place on her e-missives will continue to grow.
When we'd discuss the work over whiskey, we both confided on how special Michelle was to us, how we've had a Humphreys2 or two, editors that are well-meaning and successful, but wouldn't engage the work past the waist-deep affair of publishing it.
Michelle laid back in the waters and lifted her feet up. Then dredged the dirty details with her edits.
And she developed the book as our engineer—building us up, checking tolerances (in this case my lack of, or "allergy to" articles and indefinites), and making sure the damn thing would support our weight.
Countering my "arguments" effectively, she helped me listen to a reader's understanding more than my own ear. She even got Shippy to reconsider many of his lines—no small feat as I've learned over the years.
But more than any engineer or editor, she was a poet.
This is why we trusted her.
One of my favorite lines of Michelle's is damned if I sing, damned if I don't.
We used to call each other fellow Unlikelies—given Unlikely Books brought us together and the name and concept certainly conveyed our shared aesthetic ethos.
The original plan was to release our books together and tour together. But the physical duress Michelle suffered from did not offer the chance.
Instead we had a video of her read.
Each night I watched her outperform her struggles, I knew her—the way she would have it:
In some damned heaven, singing.
Michelle, you were a dear friend; I only hope you agreed.
We will miss your emails, your verse, your edits.
1 James Buchanan Eads was a brilliant engineer of the Mississippi River who learned about the river through salvage diving; he eventually challenged the U.S. Levee Commission and Corps of Engineers and enacted and proposed some of the most effective interventions in alluvial flood management.
2 Andrew Atkinson Humphreys, authored a famous study on the Mississippi River without stepping into the field; this study rewarded him the post of the Chief of the Army Corps of Engineers. He won the contest against Eads over river management, resulting in the flawed levees-only system.