In Praise of Drew Blankman

I first met Drew Blankman when I was interviewing for my first real editing job. Drew was interviewing for the same job. Seriously, our interviewer introduced us to each other. I was wearing a suit; Drew was wearing, as I recall, a Hawaiian shirt. Drew got the job, I didn't.

I got a similar job a couple of weeks later at the same place. Another editor had announced she was leaving, and I had proved that I was a good speller (and a sharp dresser, I might add). So I moved into an office down the hall from Drew, and gradually we became friends.

Drew is a few years older than I am, and he recently texted me to let me know he's retiring this year. It's a big deal to me, because Drew shaped me as an editor probably more than any other person.

Among other things, Drew helped me not to approach an author with starry eyes. It's a big deal to write a book, but to write a book doesn't make a person a big deal. As important as platform (or celebrity, let's be honest) has become in deciding what books to publish, content rightly belongs at the center of any book: attention to craft, credibility in relation to topic, struggle credentials, passion and vision are the true difference makers in a book. Especially for the task of editing, celebrity is a distraction, and the best editors (I learned from Drew) don't allow themselves to be distracted by it.

Drew also helped me to be a believer in what I was editing. If the first lesson was to not drink the Kool-aid, the second lesson was to catch the vision. As my work gradually moved from copyediting (the line-by-line effort to bring a manuscript to internal coherence and stylistic consistency) to acquisitions (the author-by-author effort to bring books into a publishing program that contribute to a coherent publishing identity), a willingness to be moved by a book became incredibly formative not only in my work but in my life. Over the years I've come to greater clarity about my convictions book by book by book, and Drew was a catalyst for me to take the books I edited as seriously as a serious book should be taken.

Drew and I once set out to write a book together. We grabbed lunch on the regular to talk about how such a book might take shape, how we might divide the labor, that sort of thing. I think the working title was The Unsettled Life or somesuch. We never wrote the book together - I think we both realized that we didn't have the platform to pull it off - but if there has been any slowing in my life of the entropy that tends to settle in on us as we move through adulthood, it's probably largely due to those regular conversations with Drew.

Drew and I also wrote an editorial style manual together. For people of our craft, that's roughly equivalent to building your own light saber. I can't tell you how long our style guide guided the style of our publishing house, but I can tell you that it's guided my own thinking about what is (or ought to be) normal in a manuscript ever since. And when I think of that style manual, I think of an old bit by comedian Colin Quinn (at the time the "Weekend Update" anchor on Saturday Night Live) in which he compares Matt Damon to Hitler:

You have the two best friends, Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, you know, they wrote the movie together, Good Will Hunting, but you know it was Ben Affleck that did all the typing, you know, while Matt Damon was on the bed doing hammer curls.

In this scenario, Drew was Ben Affleck, and I was Matt Damon. I mean that as a compliment. Put another way, Drew is Batman, and I bought a zoo.

All this to say, I'm glad I got to work with Drew along the way, and I for one am sad for Christian publishing that we are now entering its post-Drew-Blankman era. I hope we all remember and are regularly reminded to never drink the Kool-aid but to always be open to catching the vision, to always resist the temptation to settle into an unexamined life, and to always strive for coherence in our words and our thoughts. I hope we'll work hard and enjoy ourselves, and someday retire with a consciousness that we made a real and concrete contribution to our craft. I hope, in other words, we all get the experience that I had so many years ago: the opportunity to ride in Drew's wake.

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