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For those of you who’ve been wondering – I hope – the re-release of Say Uncle progresses.

Just for the record, on the overwhelming advice of those who had an opinion the last time I wrote about this here, I did not re-type the book.

For those who don’t remember or didn’t read the previous post:

Say Uncle, my first novel is no longer in print thanks to the evil machinations of publishing.  That is, the original editor moved to a different house.  His replacement, to prove that his was longer, cut my novel in favor of the nonfiction work of someone in the, at the time, unheard of profession of blogging! There was some pretense that they wanted to avoid “conflicting” titles on the same topic, but my editor’s replacement eventually manned up and alluded to things and staff changing.

Fast forward to today.  I’m experimenting with the emerging new world of electronic publishing.  Traditional publishing seems increasingly interested in only publishing books that relate to movies, TV, reactionary right wing politics or Oprah.  These subjects employ the strange modern technique called advertising as yet untried in the publishing field.  I mean, why try promoting your product when you can add sea monsters and zombies to the well known works of authors dead so long you don’t have to pay them? Right?

Since I’m still alive – just barely – and hope one day to be paid so I can eat and stuff, I’m striking out on my own and testing the ePublishing waters by re-releasing Say Uncle as an eBook.  The advantage is that Say Uncle is out of print and I’ve already written the sequel that my replacement editor passed on when he dumped me in favor of that blogger! Sniff. Sob.

The only problem with the Say Uncle Redux was that it was written in the before times way back in the 90’s and I have no final digital file.  I was planning to re-type it and said so here to the hue and cry of those who thought the endeavor madness.

“Scan, scan, you fool.  Have you not heard of OCR?” or words to that effect met my sentimental rhapsodizing over the experience of revisiting my own words from long ago Eric.  Well I’m nothing, if not lazy, so I figured what the hell, right?

My computer genius Brett could not cause the scanner I actually own to work with my computer despite the fact that both are manufactured by the same company.  Don’t computer and software companies just make you want to get some pitchforks, torches and villagers together for a little rampage?

Brett, or Sir Brett as he shall be heretofore known, pulled a Galahad and took a copy to some undisclosed scanner.  He returned in less than a day with the whole thing on a thumbnail drive.  And poof, my troubles began.

Delighted as I am that I did not have to re-type the bloody manuscript, scanning is not quite the miracle labor saving device it might at first appear.  True, the book is scanned.  Sadly, none of the formatting scanned with it.  No paragraph returns, no quote marks, and if e looks too much like c then Sean becomes Scan, and let’s not talk about seat.  Spell check can only go so far and it becomes all about editing.  But I didn’t have to re-type!

I’m working with an expert on formatting books for ePublication.   Next week I should have Say Uncle in a form that I can edit before I convert it to the form it needs to be in order to translate successfully to the eFormat.  Whew.

So, new book soon.  I’ll let you know.

 

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My favorite part of writing is editing.

I love the writing part.  Once I’m into a story, the words just pour out.  Writing offers me an escape from reality into a world of my own making; a world where I am in control.  It is an escape that no naturally occurring or man-made substance can enable – just take my word for it.

But editing is to writing what sculpting is to marble.

Writing is essential.  I cannot begin the work until the words and the story are on the page.  But it is editing that reveals the work.

My first book, Say Uncle, was just a little over three hundred pages when it was first published.  When it first arrived at the my publishers it weighed in at well over five hundred.  There was a part of the book that wasn’t working for me, somehow, but I couldn’t say why.  My wonderful editor Peter saw the problem at once.

The book is about the relationship between two members of a two member family.  In the part of the book that wasn’t working for me one of those two people was missing.  When Peter pointed it out, it was like a door being thrown open in a dark room.  Two hundred and fifty pages vanished.  They were fun and well written, they just didn’t belong in that book.  Under my editor’s watchful eye, I retold those excised aspects of the story.  I wrote a couple of the book’s best chapters and completely changed the ending.

Say Uncle was better and stronger than before.  Like Michelangelo, I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.

That’s editing.

I mourn the increasing loss of this relationship.  I feel the absence in the hollow and incomplete works that are published more and more.  Most novels are all marble and no angel.

Publishing is floundering.  There are a lot of theories.  Most blame technology.  I think it’s because little or no value has been placed on writers by publishers.  Magazines, newspapers and books may or may not survive this technological tipping point that is upon us.  But the creators of content will be the same as always.  The writers, the storytellers, will endure as they did even before the written word, certainly before the printed one.  It seems to me that those trying to preserve publishing in its present form may have missed that.

I wrote a book for a famous person in the last few years.  She didn’t write a single word of it, beyond those of hers that I quoted.  That was the deal.  She was the selling point, but there was no book before there was me.  Still, I wasn’t kidding myself.  The crowds that were lining the streets days in advance of our signings were coming to see her.

Our first signing though was a private one, at the publisher.  I fully expected to be ignored at most of our signings, but this one I thought would be a little different.  These were publishers.  These people knew I had written the book.  This skyscraper had been built by writers.  I still didn’t expect to be the center of attention, but I was surprised that only one person present asked me to sign his book or expressed any interest in meeting me.

I’m still writing.  My “co-author”? Not so much.  Probably most of the people in attendance that day have been laid off since.

Publishing as we know it will not survive if it does not provide a place to nurture writers and to allow their work to flourish.  The environment has never been more hostile to writers than it is today.  Editing and the relationship between editors and writers seems lost.

But it is not my job to save publishing.  They’ve had a great run.  It’s been 570 years since the technological revolution brought about by the printing press.

Perhaps it’s time for the immediacy of the digital world to come to writing.  I celebrate that this new medium may at last empower writers.  I worry though about the loss of editing.  In our rush to get the work into the hands of consumers and our hands into their wallets, what is lost?

What of all those angels, trapped in the marble, never to be set free.

 

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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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I wrote my first book on Saturday mornings.

Between the job I had at the ad agency, the one I had writing a column for a local alternative newspaper and the job I had shooting, writing, producing and hosting my weekly television gig, Saturday morning was all I had left.  But above and beyond the tight schedule, there was a nearly insurmountable obstacle to my novel.  I was new and naive and had no idea what I was facing.  As time has passed though, I’ve come to understand a truth that all successful authors have mastered.

Writing is really boring.  No, that’s not it exactly.  EVERYTHING else is more interesting than writing.  That’s the only way I can explain it.

In order to write on those long ago Saturday mornings, I had to complete a vast and intricate ritual to make it possible.  The apartment had to be clean.  And I don’t just mean the bed was made  and the books were all shelved.  I mean it had to be photo shoot ready.  The floor waxed, the furniture polished, the laundry done, the dry cleaning delivered/picked up, the sock drawer sorted, the grout bleached, the porcelain gleaming and the dishes washed and put away.  Otherwise, disaster.

Here’s how Not Writing happens.  You sit down at the table with your coffee to write.  You light a cigarette (I used to).  You open the pen.  You leaf through your most recent scratchings.   You take a contemplative sip.  You review any notes you’ve made and begin to ask yourself “What’s next?”

As you stare thoughtfully into the middle distance, you see a dust bunny peeking playfully out at you from under the sofa.  And you’re done.  You don’t realize it yet, but your work day has ended before you’ve committed a single word to the page.

With the intention of getting right back to what you were doing, you go get the vacuum cleaner to chase that pesty bunny away.  You discover what a state the hall closet is in.  You take everything out of the hall closet to reorganize it, as you’ve been meaning to.  Amidst the detritus, you discover that iron you had meant to give your sister.  You call your sister to see if she indeed wants the iron.  You’ve never once used it yourself and can’t recommend it, but she did that time she visited and you remember she really seemed to like it.  She has no recollection of the incident but did you hear what happened last night at the Astor Bar? We should meet. Why not there?

When you finally get home, the guts of the closet are still spilled all over the floor and “What are all these papers doing on the kitchen table?”  The dust bunny, long forgotten, haunts the recesses beneath the love seat, poised to destroy another Saturday morning’s writing.

I never stood a chance.

Before I could write the book I had to master Not Writing.  The first step is admitting that Not Writing is infinitely more fascinating, seductive and satisfying than the Pulitzer, the Man Booker and making the Times best seller list all rolled into one.  Those things are great but they only might happen.  Once the socks are paired and sorted by color you will know peace and satisfaction every time you open that drawer.  Well, the first couple of times anyway.

Once I had made this admission the only possible solution was abject surrender.

Of course, all work on the three other jobs had to be completed and filed and the next week fully scheduled.  I did the marketing.  I repainted the living room.  The plants on the balcony thrived for all the attention.  There was no dust in the crevices in the base boards or under any of the furniture.  I retiled the entire apartment, even the closets.  I covered each and every dingy yellow tile in the bathroom with a gleaming square of malachite vinyl and carpeted the matching dingy yellow floor.   Everything that could be framed was hanging.  Every DIY scheme I ever had for the house was completed.

I spent large blocks of time thinking of all the Not Writing tasks I could imagine and got them all done by Friday night at bedtime.  It was even necessary to act preemptively.  I made plans for Saturday evening and booked Sunday so that I would not have a reason to pick up the phone.

Saturdays I got up, put on the coffee and hit the shower.

Breakfast was coffee and cigarettes in those days.  Since that was also the first step in my writing process, they happened simultaneously.  I sat down before the yellow pad I had placed on the table the night before – looking for things is a very dangerous prelude that can easily lead to Not Writing.  I unsealed the Pilot Razor Point, one of a multitude I had stolen from work for just this purpose and placed within arm’s reach well in advance.  (I’m certain any number of pre-laptop manuscripts languish in dusty, forgotten drawers around the world for want of ink in the favorite pen.)  At last, with a self-satisfied sigh and a desperate glance around the apartment for a loose thread or wilted leaf, I touched pen to paper and began.

And that’s how I came to write my first novel.

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“How do I get an agent?”  It’s probably the number one question I get asked about writing and publishing.

There are a lot questions about publishing.  Like, how is it that these multi-national, multi-million dollar manufacturing concerns still, in the 21st century, do not advertise their products? Why are business decisions in publishing largely made by people hired for their aesthetic judgment and no business training? Why is there no Billboard-like public accounting of actual book sales? Why is it that no writers actually work at the publishers, as such, despite the fact that they generate all the product the company sells? (Imagine a car company that didn’t advertise, who kept sales a secret, whose business decisions were made by the administrative staff and no one who actually made cars worked there.)

Questions about publishing go on and on and my answer to most of them is:  I have no idea.

I do know however how to get, or rather how I got my first, literary agent representation.

I moved to Los Angeles in the mid-nineties after my life had been leveled by a homophobic co-worker at the ad agency where I’d worked in South Carolina.  With nothing to lose I thought, what the hell? I hadn’t actually intended to be in advertising anyway. What to do? Well, Thelma and Louise came out that summer and I already had a convertible.  I didn’t have anyone to ride with and I skipped their Grand Canyon detour.  I got behind the wheel and drove.  The 20 starts in Florence, South Carolina, merges with the 10 in Texas and ends at the Pacific Ocean in Santa Monica on the west side of LA.

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The hardest part of writing is believing in yourself.

Writing is very solitary.  Alone you create a world, a universe, that exists nowhere outside your head.  Without validation or any other human interaction, cruel or kind, you create beauty, tragedy, joy, love, terror, all the colors that seem to you to make up the cosmos you have yourself divined.  With no authorization and no special powers, you play God.

It’s a bit of a high wire act and it keeps me in a state of duality.  Because I earn my living as a writer, there is the flight or fight anxiety of wondering whether a book will “sell” or if I’m just kidding myself about whatever I’m writing about or being a writer at all.  But there is also an incredibly seductive quality.  Spending time in a world of my own choosing, where things work out the way I want is irresistible.

There is a point a few weeks short of the ending of whatever book I’m writing where I probably shouldn’t drive or operate heavy machinery.  I get behind the wheel, sing along with Duffy or Michael Buble on the CD player and wonder idly about a scene I’m planning or a character I’m in the process of discovering.  Suddenly, the CD is repeating and I’m miles from where I started, occasionally not even where I’d intended to go.  The experience is that intense and complete for me.

To be fair, I can also lose an entire afternoon to updating my Netflix Queue.  Perhaps that’s just the way I think and possibly it’s thinking that way that makes me a writer.  I don’t know.  I do know that once I’ve discovered that place, the more I long to be there.

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