Frankly, good on him. The copy editors I know are very nice people, and very good at what they do. What they do is correct errors, not edit for style, unless they have discussed it with the author first.
Since I'm never above dropping Raymond Chandler's name into an argument--and I love this line--here's what he had to say when an overzealous copy editor tinkered with something he wrote for The Atlantic:
By the way, would you convey my compliments to the purist who reads your proofs and tell him or her that I write in a sort of broken-down patois which is something like the way a Swiss-waiter talks, and that when I split an infinitive, God damn it, I split it so it will remain split, and when I interrupt the velvety smoothness of my more or less literate syntax with a few sudden words of barroom vernacular, this is done with the eyes wide open and the mind relaxed and attentive. The method may not be perfect, but it is all I have.
It's all any of us has. No offense to copy editors, who have saved all of us on multiple occasions, but if you want to get all stylistic and shit, become a writer.
Yes, but I wonder what has happened to the sort of defiance you can see in both of these examples, defiance that demands respect for the writer.
I think we've all become wimps out of fear of offending someone and not getting another contract. I'm personally pretty sick of stepping softly and accepting crap from the publishing end. I still seethe when I remember a very rude e-mail from an editor that I forced myself to answer apologetically. Never again.
My situation is quite a bit different from yours, IJ--I'm not trying to make a living as a writer--so I'm not advocating this attitude, but I think it will help to keep me writing once I get started again in a couple of weeks.
Taking some time off has reminded me why I write, and what I'm willing--and not willing--to put up with. Among the things I'm not going to put up with are agents who tell you straight up they're too busy to reply to queries unless they're interested. Fine, I'll save them even more time by not querying them at all. There are plenty of agents and small publishers who will reply.
Copy editors, same deal. Find a comma or semicolon used incorrectly, let me know. I'll be grateful for the lesson. Add an article to a character's comment because you think it sounds better, or turn a phrase in a different direction than I did, and we're probably going to have words. I'm not referring to editors who make comments about the structure of the book, or how it might be made better by cutting, or adding a subplot, etc. I'm always willing to debate ways to improve the book. I'm referring to things like Coren and Chandler were referring to.
It's not like I'll look back afterward and say, "Gee, maybe I should have kissed that copy editor's ass." I've bent over backward being patient and trying to do everything just so, and the best I've done is get close a couple of times. Now I'm just going to write the best I know how, and keep learning. Someone will publish, or they won't. I won't get too worked up about it if they do, and I'm not going to cut my wrists if I don't.
I write in a sort of broken-down patois which is something like the way a Swiss-waiter talks, and that when I split an infinitive, God damn it, I split it so it will remain split, and when I interrupt the velvety smoothness of my more or less literate syntax with a few sudden words of barroom vernacular, this is done with the eyes wide open and the mind relaxed and attentive. The method may not be perfect, but it is all I have.
Smart copy editors know that most of the "rules" that were drilled into our heads in our formative years by overbearing teachers aren't really rules. (Think about this: Who has the authority to make "rules" when it comes to language? The Federal Bureau Of Pedantry?) Split infinitives are fine. So is starting a sentence with a conjunction. So is ending sentences with prepositions. So is the use of the passive voice.
Now, these things may not necessarily be more "elegant" than other choices writers could make, but unless that's the sort of help a writer is seeking, copy editors should leave them the eff alone and stick to the nuts-and-bolts of editing: consistency, spelling, sentence structure, homonym homicide and other issues of Chicago style.
Copy editors aren't generally hired or asked to be story editors. "Style," as defined to mean the affectations of a writer's original voice, is the province of the writer and the story editor only.
I've found my copy editor's nit-pickery both welcome and and laughable on the same page. In all, she's saved me from making embarrassing mistakes more than she's annoyed me. She is maniacally thorough, I'll give her that--and occasionally writes little complimentary notes when there's something in the ms she likes. Still, she insists on calling a website a "Web site," and seems to want to clutter my prose with unnecessary "ands" and "thens." The big problem I have is that we're always so pressed for time under the "hurry up and wait" system of publishing that I never get to see the copy-edited draft before it goes to the printer. I'd like one more look, in order to clean up any odd artifacts or misunderstandings from the editing process, but so far that hasn't happened.
No, no--I see them. I just don't see what happens after I've responded to them. Sometimes their suggestions and my responses to them are pretty complicated. It's bizarre, indeed. I'm going to insist that I get a a meaningful chance--at least a couple of weeks--to proof galleys before going to print in my next contract. We've been lucky so far and nothing too dreadful has resulted, but I do feel that my prose has been compromised in small ways by the process. I'm an award-winning poet, for God's sake--stop screwing with my sentences!
Well, I have always assumed my final word is THE FINAL WORD. Actually, the galleys tend to prove that, though this last time I had a squabble over "none." The copy-editor made the verb plural and ignored my comment that Inspector Morse disagreed. :) (Which proves that one has to be plain!)
I get the galleys and have about a week. I tend to go through the track changes and making notes of my changes, then verifying them in the galleys.
You're much more organized than I am. But "none" as a singular? "None is available" vs "none are available?" I have to agree with your copy editor on that one. The singular would be less awkward as "it is not available," no?