I'm a hillbilly, and some things that sound right to me are very, very wrong and probably come close to illiterate. :D

I'm going over my copyedited manuscript and keep coming across an editorial correction that I know is right, but I wonder if my way isn't more accepted even though it's really incorrect.

I say:

that's what he smelled

that's what he did

that's what he wanted to know

so that's how it was done

it's been changed to:

that was what he smelled
that was what he did
that was what he wanted to know
so that was how it was done

now i realize it's a tense issue, and the copy editor is correcting my mistake, but to my hillbilly ear the correction is jarring. opinions out there? (now that i read her correction here, it no longer seems that jarring.)

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STET all those, I think. "That's" is the proper contraction for both "that is" and "that was," so it's not a question of tense at all, AND not a mistake on your part.

The copy editor is messing with your style/voice, here, not to mention that the way you had these originally is both fully accepted, proper usage and far better writing.
thanks so much, Cornelia! it seemed like something a copy editor should know, so I assumed I was wrong and it was one of those things I'd had wrong my whole life.
Patrick, from this day forward I will embrace my inner hick. :)
Lord, don't get me started on copy editors. For the next book I'm going to request one who speaks redneck.
if that job opens up, I'm applying. oh, and what about a hillbilly/redneck publishing house? we need one of those too. :D Redneck Publishing, where editors chew Skoal and every other Friday is Casual Kegger.
Ugh. What is with editors and contractions? Slap him.
Like the others, I think you should stick to your guns. If you break down the "that's" construction, you get:

he smelled that.
he did that
he wanted to know that
it was done that way

So in fact you were using the proper past tense. The corrections stray more into the passive voice, which sounds less like real speech to me.
Gerald, thanks so much for breaking that down. Sometimes it's hard for me to think I might actually be right once confronted with those red pencil marks -- I think it goes back to school days. Plus the copy editor is supposed to be the expert!
Expert in what? When it comes to the story and your character, you're the expert. Sounds like your copy editor should understand boundaries. Then send'm a video collection of Larry the Cable Guy.
Cornelia's right. No need for the changes. Unless you're three words short of your contractual obligation...


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