Sometimes it’s holidays like St. Patrick’s Day that remind me why I love being a nonfiction editor. On a daily basis I find that simple research often leads down unexpected paths toward interconnected discoveries. Let me show you what I mean.
As I began thinking about what topic to focus on for today’s blog, I couldn’t ignore the fact that today is Monday, March 17—the greenest of holidays. Perhaps it’s easier to miss St. Paddy’s where you live, but here in Chicago the festivities typically take a firm hold of the city. As usual, this past weekend saw the Chicago River dyed green and masses of beaded, emerald-clad people gathered for parades, revelry, and general merriment. But none of that comes as a surprise. I wanted to discover a few fresh St. Patrick’s Day facts. So I did what any respectable editor would do in such a situation. I turned to Google.
First I read a few articles about the history of the holiday and the saint for whom it is named. Based more in tradition than cold, verifiable facts, Saint Patrick is said to have brought Christianity to Ireland in the fourth century AD. In the seventeenth century the holiday was named an official feast day by the Catholic Church. Combine feasting with a break from Lenten alcohol abstinence, and you’ve got a foundation for the revelry I mentioned earlier.
My desire to find out more about unique local celebrations here in the United States led me to discover that St. Patrick’s Day is legally recognized as a holiday in two U.S. counties: Chatham County, Georgia, and Suffolk County, Massachusetts. Suffolk County made March 17 a legal holiday in 1941, and though the law did not mention Saint Patrick explicitly, the bill was signed in green ink by then-Governor Leverett Saltonstall.
I recognized the name Saltonstall and looked up the family. The Saltonstalls are an upper-class Massachusetts family who have sent a member of every generation to Harvard University since Nathaniel Saltonstall (class of 1659). Nathaniel is remembered for being a judge during the Salem Witch Trials, then resigning from the court out of disgust at the proceedings.
I’d recently learned about Nathaniel while editing Arrested for Witchcraft!: Nickolas Flux and the Salem Witch Trials. At this point I decided that the informational rabbit hole had reached a natural conclusion.
I hope this window into my process has given you some insight on what makes nonfiction editing so much fun. If not, well, I recommend picking a topic (preferably at random), typing it into your nearest search engine, and seeing where it takes you!
-Adrian Vigliano, Editorial