By Stephen Carter
The first day I walked into the Sunstone office as the incoming editor, Carol Quist met me at the door singing a song akin to “Hail the Conquering Hero.” She marched me through the various rooms: through publisher William Stanford’s office, around the symposium planning room where Mary Ellen Robertson, the newly hired symposium director, blinked bemusedly, through the front lobby where Carol’s own desk was located, and then into outgoing editor Dan Wotherspoon’s office.
“This is going to be an interesting place to work,” I thought.
Carol was essentially the backbone of Sunstone, having worked there longer than anyone, possessing bottomless reservoirs of institutional knowledge. There wasn’t a symposium attendee she didn’t know, a magazine subscriber she had not called, or a donor she had not handwritten a thank-you note to. The copy room was lined with filing cabinets archiving decades of Sunstone’s paper history. All organized (as far as I know) by Carol.
Her office was located in what was once the front room of Sunstone’s converted vintage house. Display copies of Sunstone back issues lined the tops of the walls, and beneath them stood a gigantic magazine rack filled with many more. During the day, as an array of suns watched over her from the south wall, Carol rolled back and forth inside a lacuna nestled between her three desks: one for paperwork and mail, another for her current computer, and one for a computer so old that it displayed its text in green on a twitching CGA monitor.
When symposium time came around, Carol was its organizational centerpiece. Stationed behind the front tables, presiding over a platoon of volunteers, Carol administered the rites of registration with solemn efficiency. She knew where each form hid, how to untangle each name badge, and how to batten down the hatches at night. If heaven is a place of order, the Salt Lake Symposium was its third degree.
But this means, of course, that she rarely made it to any sessions. The only one she insisted on attending was Frances Menlove’s devotional on Saturday morning where Carol acted as moderator. She and Frances had gone to Stanford together in the 60s.
As I found out over the years we worked together, Carol is a tuner of words, a sculptor of language. When she came upon a sentence, she saw a filament that sang its brightest when pulled to its highest tension. The shortest, most effective path from the beginning of an idea to its end was an active-voiced march free of fillers or flourishes. When she finished with a piece, its flab was flensed, muscles standing out in bas-relief: a Buddhist monk with perfect posture.
I learned a lot from watching Carol’s syntactic surgeries. I saw how logic is built, how ideas connect from sentence to sentence, how each word earns its place only by having a direct relationship to the thesis. Her approach reminded me of when my metabolism started to slow down and I sadly confronted the fact that every calorie I ate would affect my body. It had been so much fun, in writing and in eating, to do whatever I wanted, to just go for what tasted good. But that philosophy had led me to the brink of obesity and verbosity. Now I was learning to pick only the best, and to savor each morsel.
Carol also understood how important it is to read the document one more time. She knew that rogue words like to scurry through revisions, attaching their malignant husks to the undersides of phrases; that redundancies secrete themselves in line breaks; that commas will eat a sentence alive; that articles enjoy shuffling from one page to the next to see if they can escape the table of content’s notice. Words are gremlins; one must keep a hawk’s eye upon them lest the wrong ones make their way into actual print where, for many years and across generations, they will gleefully jump out and frighten unsuspecting readers. When I was certain the magazine was ready, the words having turned to Teflon, the sentences sliding past my eyes without leaving a mark, the pages mutating into cuneiform, Carol insisted on seeing the file one more time. The nights before the press deadline as we labored bleary-eyed to finish the symposium program, she kept handing us pages with red-inked corrections: one more enemy solider captured and decapitated.
I eventually developed what I called my “Carol eyes.” I’d turn them on after I’d put the article through half a dozen read-throughs for global and structural edits. As I peered more and more closely at the sentences, I would ask myself, “What would Carol do?” One of the most gratifying processes of my life was watching Carol’s edits come back with fewer and fewer suggestions as the years passed. I was learning something! Even a few years after she has left Sunstone, the editing portion of my brain still has a desk inhabited by a very helpful Carol.