Judith came out of nowhere. She called one evening and asked if I'd like to write something for the Reader. I'd read the Reader enough to feel flattered, since the writers I'd encountered in it were, at least to my taste, way above most journalists.
But I was a novelist and a sometime writer of short stories. I said, "Do you want fiction?"
She replied that fiction might work later, but now the Reader wanted nonfiction feature stories. I told her the only nonfiction I had written besides college papers was book reviews. Then she mentioned what the Reader could pay. She knew one way to my heart.
Judith convinced me I could write these features. And though I pitched her some ideas, the ideas for the stories that have meant the most to me came from Judith. She seemed to know more about me than I knew about myself.
She sent me to Tijuana to gather the story of Mother Teresa's seminary students who live in a compound near the bus station at the foot of Otay Mesa. She gave me the arduous task of hanging out with ballplayers in Peoria, Arizona, during spring training and writing about the Major League Baseball strike. And she suggested I'd be the guy to write a column about people and their cars, though I still have no idea what clued her to my love/hate affair with cars.
Best of all, she was willing to bawl me out. On one such occasion, I'd sent her a draft of a story about a church in the wake of the Dale Akiki scandal. Akiki had gotten accused of molesting kids in this church's nursery. On account of bizarre tales worthy of Tolkien, which kids had told therapists and which got repeated at the trial, the church suffered daily ridicule on talk shows, in newspapers, and no doubt in saloons, cafés, and locker rooms all over the city.
My cousin belonged to that church. I started attending. I met parents, pastors, friends of the accused and accusers, and observed that these people, whom local media painted as demon-chasing fruitcakes, were no crazier than anybody.
While researching and writing the article, I became ever more furious. At defense attorneys for portraying the church as a haven for loonies. At therapists for allowing kids' fantasies, such as the ritual slaughtering of elephants, to get publicly aired.
The draft I sent Judith had many vehement pages.
Judith phoned. All she had to say was "Ken, you don't do anger."
I'll remember that line as long as I write, maybe longer.
The best a writer could hope for is an editor like Judith.