This review of three books of surreal, magical, bizarre short short stories (aka flash fiction) never made it into the SF Chronicle, though the editor honorably sent me a kill fee when he realized it was long past timely to publish this piece. So I published it on Medium instead. Enjoy!
I see teaching and editing as drawing on the same set of skills and, more importantly, the same mission. In teaching, you are dedicated to improving the mind, literacy, skills, and knowledge of students. You have to encourage, critique, and engage the student slouching in the back of the classroom, texting under his desk and worrying about his bio final. You are tasked with helping them see how they can improve, and with sharing your experience and knowledge in order to raise them up.
Teaching is a helping profession. So is editing. Editing should feel like being subsumed in the writer's vision. Like teaching, you can't just impose your will and structure on someone else's ideas. Ideally, as an editor, you guide them to a better understanding of their own story, and help them see how outsiders are reacting to it. Editors have many different roles in publishing, and acquisition editors don't often have the time to engage deeply with every page of a manuscript they want to publish. But they are still the first best reader and champion of the book. As a developmental editor, I use my understanding of writing that I've built up through teaching, reading, research, and working in publishing to help authors recognize what is special and strong in their book, and what needs shoring up.
Teaching and tutoring students in the art and craft of writing is what allowed me to become an editor, because I had to think about and explain my instinctual reader's reaction to stories and essays and then also had to explain why and how a student's effort succeeded and when it failed, why. So did teaching literature, since I had to show students how novels and poems were structured, and how the authors evoked reactions that my students just felt. Understanding the architecture, the beams and the rafters, of literature and argument, is step one for teachers and editors.
Teachers and editors can also both lift the curtain -- or they can continue to be gatekeepers, blocking access and making students feel excluded and writers feel uncertain. Teaching college students gives you a chance to share information, to share enthusiasm, and to make students feel their voices are valuable. Or you can blockade and deride, and emphasize their inability to ever reach your own level of mastery (a hollow, false claim). Editors too -- we can help authors understand why and how contemporary publishing works the way it does, or we can keep cleverly throwing shadows and obfuscation, frustrating writers who don't know why they just don't fit. This might mean confessing our own limits of imagination, or the way we capitulate to the market even as we swear to hold up art. Or it might mean being a little more brutal and just telling authors they can't write as well as they hoped. Not yet anyway.