In this month’s “Tell Me About It,” I turned the spotlight on the editor who gave me my first real shot at freelancing, David Cohea. Aside from appreciating that fact (and that he continues to do so,) I was curious as to how he balances his roles as writer, poet and blogger as well as monthly magazine editor…and he didn’t disappoint.
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LW: I’ve seen a quote from you saying that “The past is my sandbox.” What draws you to an earlier time?
DC: Lots of things. I studied history in college and am a lifelong student of old stuff. So much of who we are is buried back there. The saying is the motto for ReMIND magazine, the monthly retro/puzzle mag I created and edit for NTVB Media, a brand that celebrates (and sells) the retro vibe.
LW: Tell us about how ReMIND came into being. What were and are your hopes for the magazine?
DC: My main day gig is managing King Features Weekly Service, a features service (comics, puzzles, text features) sold to about 800 weekly newspapers. We’ve been looking for various ways to repurpose the content direct to consumers. We prototyped a monthly features magazine called Pass Times four or so years ago, marketed to the senior population, but we couldn’t get the franchise concept off the ground. NTVB Media (they create and sell TV guides for daily newspapers) approached us several years later about doing a puzzle book for them, and we developed one that had lots of “retro” content, stuff pulled from King Features archives going back to 1910. We’re now headed into our third year of publication, and the jury’s out as to whether we’ve secured an audience for the magazine. We also launched social media channels on Pinterest, Facebook and a blog on WordPress, hoping to net more of the retro crowd.
LW: What’s the most difficult aspect of being an editor? The most rewarding?
DC: It’s hard trying to budget time for a varied plate of responsibilities when you love to keep hammering away on the fun stuff (like ReMIND). The most rewarding thing about being an editor is seeing the stack of issues you somehow managed to get to the printer on time, error-free and filled with fun.
LW: Years ago a freelance writer friend opined that “most editors are failed writers.” In your case this is far from true, but do you have any comment on that sentiment?
DC: Well, as the saying retorts, most writers are failed editors, too. We need both in the mix. It’s fun to wear both hats, though when you do both, you have to remember which one you’re presently wearing.
LW: Authors have notoriously sensitive egos. Have you ever found the editor/author relationship to be an adversarial one, from either side of the fence?
DC: If I paid the big bucks for contributions, such contrasts would be stronger; in my too-miserly world, they’re only fleeting….I’ve found that generally there are two [types of] writers: those who see having their work edited as helping to get it to its best draft; and those who get annoyed with such intrusion. The latter, I think, reflects immaturity, arrogance or both – many great writers suffer from these qualities.
LW: A lot of people hesitate to actually call themselves a writer, no matter how long they’ve been at it. When did you feel you could apply that term to yourself?
DC: Probably when I knew that being a writer was hopeless in so many ways and loved working in its trenches anyway.
LW: Seems to me I saw an old picture of you on stage with a guitar, reminding me that an awful lot of writers are also musicians. Coincidence, or do you think there’s a special link between the two crafts?
DC: I played loud rock ‘n’ roll for years and then it disappeared down a well inside, about the same time poems started coming up from the well. Dunno why that happened (time to grow up?) , but as you say, it’s not surprising that the poetry of music spilled into the lyricism of poetry.
LW: Do your roles of author and editor tend to balance each other, or occasionally conflict? For example, do you find yourself more prone to editing yourself as you write, or holding your work to a higher standard because you’re simultaneously seeing it through an editorial lens?
DC: Guilty! Author and editor are in rough sync when I write for my own magazine – both personas assume they know the audience they’re writing for. But since I get to play both roles I can indulge however I want. In my bigger day job, I manage an editorial function, so I’m even more distant from the writer/editor mix. My job is to figure out if our content has a market out there, and how best to profit in it. I’ve sacrificed a great column, say, for a more popular, less expensive puzzle.
LW: Some people might be surprised to learn that you’re also an award-winning poet. Tell us about what poetry means to you, and how you approach it.
DC: That award was a long time ago, when I thought Art had some kind of superior advantage over Heart…ha-ha. Let’s just say I was humbled in such ambitions. Maybe for me, Heart always occupies a somewhat greater ground than Art. I mean, you can’t pay for a mortgage and marriage (and other costly festoons of Heart, like a lot of cats) on a poet’s salary. So poetry became the underground career, indulged at the earliest hours of the day, around the margins of The Life. I’m not good enough at it, anyway.
Furthermore, I’m not sure there even are readers for poetry anymore, so I content myself with carrying on my lyric conversations with the dead. The only exception is a book I recently self-published titled Over Here, a series of narrative poems about soldiers returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan to a peace so strange it may indeed be the greater cause of PTSD. I owe it to their sacrifice and need to put those poems out into the world.
LW: You’ve written everything from poetry to political commentary, book reviews to financial advice columns…and let’s not forget about blogs. Frankly, I feel like an underachiever! What’s your secret?
DC: Outlive the competition and understand you’ll never make a dime at it.
LW: What’s the greatest writing challenge you’ve ever faced?
DC: Every next blank page is the greatest challenge… Platitudes aside, I’d say it was, for different reasons, a toss-up between writing a 750-word review of Thomas Pynchon’s Mason and Dixon (a novelist for whom breadth and depth of meaning is like naming the sea), and a speech for the president of the Orlando Sentinel in 1992, when I was the employee communications coordinator. His language had to be parsed of anything language is interesting for and still be compelling. In both cases, the editor I wrote for was unrelenting.
LW: If you weren’t a writer, what do you suppose you’d be doing right now?
DC: I’d be a manager at a media company – oops, that’s what I am.
LW: A fellow writer told me she was once quite put off when an anthology editor “chopped up” and changed her story – and not just hers! – so much that it “didn’t flow.” She asks: “What rights does the writer have before publication?”
DC: Up to signing the contract, every right. After signing the contract – read the contract. I’d say an editor is accorded reasonable right to edit, but if it’s questionable, ask someone higher up the ladder.
LW: Let’s end on a serious note. I have it on good authority that you’re a cat person. Historically, cats and authors seem to go together like peanut butter and jelly, from Edgar Allen Poe and Catalina to curmudgeon Cleveland Amory and his beloved Polar Bear. Aspiring young authors are anxious to know: is feline ownership a necessity to their craft?
DC: Absolutely. Authors say they write, when actually every word is the product of catshine. My calico, Belle, has to be within five feet of my chair or the muses have me say the dumbest stuff.