Thursday, January 13, 2011
On the Loss of Ruth Cavin
Ruth has often been described as an “icon” in the mystery world. And, of course, she was. But “icon” is a cold and aloof word, and Ruth was neither of these. She was warm and down-to-earth and funny, as well as an expert editor. She was my first editor and my only editor. She guided me through eight books so smoothly I hardly knew they were being edited.
She had a knack for ferreting out those nasty weak parts that every author knows are there but tries to ignore or cover up. Ruth zeroed in on every one of them, drawn to them like a magnet, and wrote in the margin something such as: “This doesn’t seem to be working.” or “Better look at this scene again.” or “You might want to say this another way.”
Once she wrote, “When are these two going to get together?” referring to my hero and heroine. To my chagrin, they had gotten together in the previous book, but she hadn’t noticed. (So much for my skills at writing sex scenes!)
The wonderful thing about Ruth was, she rarely told you how to fix the problem. She merely drew it to your attention and left the solution up to you. Usually this was enough, but if you needed help, she was more than willing to make suggestions. She viewed her role as a sympathetic guide rather than an all-knowing dictator.
She was also a great friend. I have emails in which we talked about everything from “The Peterkin Papers” (a book we both loved) to pirates and Lenape pow-wows. Once I dropped off a manuscript at her office and she invited me to stay and chat. That afternoon I discovered she liked trolley cars. The next Christmas I gave her a framed print of an old trolley car that I’d found in a used bookstore. You would have thought I’d given her the Crown Jewels!
Ruth was sympathetic and kind, but she also demanded your best work. And, because of her skills as an editor, she usually got it.
I will always miss her.