Life's hard in some ways, though, so despite the good vibe, it takes me a little while to edit the manuscript (yes, even love-at-first-sight things get all scuffed up in the margins, at least the ones I edit), so now I've read it, close, two times. I call her up, tell her all over again how great the book is, that the ms. is on its way, just a few minor things. She says great, look forward to seeing your comments.
Yesterday, 6:07 p.m., I realize I've got a phone message from herself, this writer I mentioned earlier. I call her; she's gone through the manuscript now, has some questions. We talk through a couple of points, then we get to this one note I scribbled up the side of a page. She says, I have no idea what you're talking about here. I laugh, I re-read it, re-orient myself, finally figure it out. Oh, OK, I say, she can't do it that way because back here on page...
...and suddenly it occurs to us--her first, then me--that even though I'd given this book two pretty close readings, and knew it to be a thing of genius, there was one thing I didn't know: what the book meant. Turns out that I'd totally misread something really important--which meant two things at once. First, yes, that I'm a dumb-ass; but second, that maybe she hadn't built her scaffolding quite so cleanly as she needed to to avoid dumb-asses like me from maybe missing something really important.
OK, I can hear you writer-folk out there: OUCH! You wanna know how bad things are in publishing? An editor, and a supposedly stand-up guy too, buys a book HE DOESN'T EVEN UNDERSTAND! The only thing that could be worse is if he then tried to get her to change it to fit how he'd (mis-)read it in the first place--Oh, please God don't tell me he...
Well, OK, it does sound bad, I admit it. Especially since about 30 minutes of our one-hour conversation was, indeed, spent on my trying to sell her a line of bullshit about how, even though it wasn't the ending she intended, she should give her subconscious the benefit of the doubt, one knows not how worketh the creative process, et cetera.
Yeah: sounds really bad. But--know what? It was actually fantastic. Two pros, a writer and her editor, working together on a thing they're both profoundly invested in. You wanna talk creative brainstorming? What's that old-saw college textbook essay about the writing process, the one that includes the actual marginal doodles, and the doodling reveals a moth, and thus Annie Dillard wrote "The Death of The Moth"--remember that one? Well, let me tell you: we had a whole goddamn room full of moths. Except they're not moths, thank God, they're bricks, and we're figuring out how to build a house, from scratch, just the two of us.
And, sure--say what you will about how this whole thing started with some dumb-ass editor misreading the work of an author he supposedly admires utterly--but as the dumb-ass editor in question, I'm here to testify that for the hour we were on the phone, dropping our plumb-lines and positioning our cinder-blocks, I was the happiest man alive. Because we were in it together. GOD what a great job I have sometimes, to crawl inside with the master crafters; and not just watching, either: for some inexplicable reason, I'm afforded the opportunity now and again to work alongside...
We knew we'd had a productive session--easy for me to say, because all I did was say, "What if?"; when we get off the phone at about 7:00 last night, I get to go home; she's the one who has to do the actual work. I tell her to give a yell when she's ready, figuring it'll be a couple of weeks, maybe more.
Tonight--the time-stamp reads 10:17 p.m.--she emails me back. Here's a new crack at the ending, she says. When you get a chance, she says. "It's still a little rough," she says. "But you'll get the general idea."
So I open the attachment and start to read, and it's l.a.f.s. all over again. In one try, she nailed it--solved not just the problem of, shall we say, my little misunderstanding, but in twenty pages (and 27 hours, no less) she amplified and intensified all of the central emotional currents. I was stunned, elated--moved nearly to tears a couple of times. In my reply (time-stamp: 11:36) I told her (in not quite these words) the simple truth, which is that she's a genius, and that she's turned a brilliant book into a masterpiece.
And then I wrote "this is what makes it all worth while." And then I hit "send." And then I felt so god-damn good that I sat down here to tell you all about my incredible good fortune. To give an example, in case anyone ever asks, of why someone might ever want to be an editor.
Time-stamp: 12:46 a.m.
"Writing is considered a profession, and I don't think it is a profession. I think that everyone who does not need to be a writer, who thinks he can do something else, ought to do something else. Writing is not a profession but a vocation of unhappiness. I don't think an artist can ever be happy."
PRACTICAL MARKETING [Courtesy Zornhau, 2005]
"They should put the 1st couple of pages up in subway adverts. Having read them several times, you'd feel compelled to try the book - if it was any good."
PLATE OF SHRIMP [Courtesy Alex Cox’s REPO MAN, circa 1984]
"A lot of people don't realize what's really going on. They view life as a bunch of unconnected incidences and things. They don't realize that there's this like lattice of coincidence that lays on top of everything. I'll give you an example, show you what I mean. Suppose you're thinking about a plate of shrimp. Suddenly somebody will say like "plate" or "shrimp" or "plate of shrimp" out of the blue, no explanation. No point in looking for one either. It's all part of a cosmic unconsciousness."
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