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On Writing #5: Redux

I’m bringing my novel Say Uncle back into print!
I’m going to try my hand at digital publishing. Then, maybe I’ll publish it in traditional print form, too. If that goes well, maybe I’ll bring out the sequel that I wrote but which my turncoat publisher refused to release. We’ll see. It’s all very new and exciting and I hope I can count on your support.
It’s also presented me with one of my most interesting exercises ever.
Say Uncle was published back in ancient times – 1994. The process of publishing simply bears no resemblance to those primitive earlier days. I’m not sure I could have been a writer before there were computers. The prospect of retyping an entire manuscript every time I had to edit it, well, I simply could not have faced it.
And I wrote this, my first book, in long hand, as I did everything back in the before times. But I then typed it up on a 300 pound “portable” Compaq and saved it on giant, actually, floppy disks. Then I printed it out. The last time was at a HUD office in East L.A. where I was temping. It shut their network down and took all day to print out.
Once printed the hard copy was sent to agents and later publishers. Each edit was done by hand, on paper. I then made the changes, reprinted and sent another paper copy. Finally, the publisher typeset the book, which involved someone there typing the whole manuscript over again. Then they sent me a paper copy. I marked changes and sent it back. This happened a few more times. Finally, the book itself was printed.
Today, things I write might not be printed on paper until they are published. I guess, with digital everything and Kindles, iPads, Nooks and eReaders eventually books will only ever be printed as collector’s items. Who knows?
The point is, the only final copy I have of Say Uncle is the book.
Hence, my interesting exercise. I have to retype the whole novel in order to publish it digitally. Alas, no file I have is final.
I love Say Uncle. It has a special place in my heart. It’s my first and so it will always mean something more to me. But I wrote it in the early 80’s. I would not be much of an artist if my writing style and skills had not changed and grown in 25 years.
Picasso’s early rose and blue periods hardly hinted at the cubism that he came to be known for. Da Vinci apparently kept the Mona Lisa with him all of his life. I wonder if he kept working on it? Perhaps that’s why it is considered such a masterwork. Or did he simply say one day, “That’s it. All through,” and hang it over the sofa?
So here I am, faced with retyping words chosen 25 years ago to describe emotions and events by a twenty-five-year-old. I am committed to preserving the original, to recreating exactly the book that’s in the Library of Congress. On the other hand, I don’t write this way anymore. I don’t even feel this way anymore.
That is to say, I feel the same things, but I feel them differently.
I’ve always thought reading was an incredibly intimate process. When I read your words, I’m actually having the thoughts that you had in the order and evolution that you had them. Through reading I get to experience personally the greatest thoughts of the greatest minds that ever were. Nothing is more intimate than that.
If you know me you’ve probably heard me say that or something like it at least once and, forgive me, probably more often. But it never occurred to me that I could have that experience with my younger self. This book was always very personal to me. It isn’t autobiographical in that I’ve never raised a child. It is in that it’s as close as I’ve gotten so far in life. It was my best imagining of what sort of parent I would have been at that point in time.
I started retyping after I exhausted every other conceivable option. I’ve only just resigned myself to the task.
It’s jarring. My first impulse, as is so often the case with youth, is to “correct.” There’s some insight in that for me. I really just want to change it. Whether that would be an improvement is debatable. I hope I’m more flexible than that with young people or just other people.
Not far along, I’m taken with the intensity of everything. I suppose since the feelings were new, they felt stronger. How intriguing to taste the salty tears of my youth on a palate jaded by experience and the knowledge of how much worse it can be.
I don’t know yet if this will be my Julie and Julia exercise – and dear god help me to be a better human being than that woman – but I’ll keep you posted. I’ll certainly let you know when it’s done and the book is again available!
Meanwhile, the thought that comes to me most comes from the original Peter Pan, J. M. Barrie: God gave us memory so we might have roses in December.
I don’t know if I’m quite at December yet, but I do want to say to that twenty-five-year-old me scratching on yellow pads at the kitchen table: “Thanks for the memories.”

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