She Hated Adverbs

And she didn't suffer fools gladly.

I knew Judith Moore only through her voice: a baritone with a slight Southern accent. And I knew her writing.

The first time I spoke to Judith -- in early 1997 -- she called me because she was reviewing my second novel, which she liked enough that she asked me, a month or so later, if I would be interested in writing for the Reader. (My book was about scientists in a rock band in New York City.) I started with the Reader's "event highlight" and moved on to music.

Judith liked the story I had on my website about my pet pig Sporky. I had tried to sell this to the Reader six years before, but not knowing much about getting published, I had sent it to a Reader writer who sent me back a letter that read, "There is no way my boss would ever run a story about someone's pet." This was handwritten in thick felt pen; the two-inch-high letters took the entire eight-and-a-half-by-eleven-inch page. "Ever" was underlined.

Six years later, however, Judith was asking me if the Reader could publish my Sporky story. I said of course, but she could tell there was something hesitant in my voice. She asked, "You sent this to us before, didn't you?" I admitted I had and told her about the letter. Judith sighed a deep, drawling sigh. She even apologized, though she hadn't known anything about it. She didn't suffer fools gladly, and she hated adverbs. That was the first instruction that I remember her telling me: get rid of them. I thought it seemed severe, but the Reader paid well, so what did I care about words ending in "-ly"?

When I moved to the Bay Area two years ago, after working for the Reader nearly eight years -- seven and a half as the music editor -- I was looking forward to meeting Judith and taking her to lunch in Berkeley, where she lived. I wanted to thank her for giving me a career in journalism. (Makes me cry for a moment as I write this because it's so true.)

But she declined. I didn't know she was sick. I was shocked when I saw the obituary on the front of the "Datebook" section of the San Francisco Chronicle. (They ran another long one a few days later by a different writer.) Reading the eulogies, I learned about a woman I had never met, a woman who had made me a pithier writer. Now that I've been an editor and been trained in the constant search for redundancy, I wish I could go back and reedit my novels. Instead, I'm working on a new one and trying to make it lean. I would have welcomed Judith's input.

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