Thursday, September 9, 2010

Manuscript, the face you put on a story

A favored trope making the rounds at several levels of sophistication is the observation that one achieves at age fifty the face one deserves.  Particularly since in recent years you find yourself observing the presence of your father in the mirror on those occasions when you shave, you have no quarrel and great acceptance for the equation.  This leaves you the audacity and perhaps mischief to set forth an even more telling observation:  Any page of a writer's manuscript is the earned face the writer's work deserves.

More than ever, particularly with so many emerging writers submitting manuscripts in various degrees of completeness and in such variety of format, a page is in its way a calling card, a resume, a measure of the writer's competence and regard for a work in question.  One of the requirements for a book proposal, particularly if the work is nonfiction, is a demonstration of Why me? as in why am I the person to write this book?

And yet.

Considering all the manuscripts you have had presented you in your role as editor and as instructor, adding to those the many you have submitted of your own work, you properly ought to have a sense of how you wish a manuscript to appear--particularly your own.  Although you cringe at manuscripts submitted in the Times Roman font, you are as relatively tolerant of it as you are of, say, races other than your own, willing to look past the tint of a particular skin, the sag or arch of an epicanthal fold, the jut of a jaw to peer into the individual behind them, often thinking of them as manuscripts, stories out in submission, having great appeal to those who take the time and make the effort to know them.  Your bigotry begins to manifest itself at the careless use of homophone, where it's and its are used interchangeably to convey either verb in contracted form or pronoun, for the merest instance.  Because spelling was never a thing you could take for granted within your own writing, you begin to exhibit the resentment of entitlement you associate with those who have come by accuracy in their spelling with relative ease.  Do you not fucking spell-check your manuscript? you think when you see such egregious abandon.  It is one thing to be flippant about it, as in "I have trouble trusting a person who has only one way of spelling a word." but something entirely other when the periods and punctuation marks as well as the chips are down.

An early test of the dust jacket of a book is its potential to lure a prospective reader to pick up the book for a closer examination.  Your own standard of aesthetics dictates that you would not pick up a book designed to look like or remind you of something you would not pick up.  Subjective, but effective as a bottom line.  An early test of a manuscript is its clear unmistakable authority as represented by type face (you prefer and use American Typewriter), legibility, generosity of margins and proportion of text to white space.  There was a time in your writing life when typewriter ribbons were an issue to the point where the newer ribbons were saved for submissions, the well-worn ones or those embellished with black shoe polish (liquid, from the bottle) or laundry blueing (still available, by the way) used for beginning and intermediate drafts.  This makes you sensitive to the degree of blackness on the page.

Of course you want the senses engaged as you succumb to the invitation to read the page as transmitted by the previous page and the inherent sincerity and presence you are made to feel from the successive paragraphs.  You want every word, space, line, and margin to count for something; you are fucking Odysseus, on his way home to Ithaca, or so you say, and the Sirens are singing to you, trying to seduce you away from thoughts of Penelope and that kid, Telemachus, whom you already wish would get out and find some kind of a job whereby he could take care of himself and not be causing you to trip all over him.

You have tried any number of things with your face including mustaches, beards, goatees, and side burns extending down to a level with the corner creases of your lips, thinking variously to look older, attract sophisticated women, attract unsophisticated women, look more dignified.  None of it worked to any notable result, leaving you with embellishments to manage instead of merely shutting up and shaving.  You did try similar approaches with your approach to manuscript preparation to the point where you were spending more time with that aspect of presentation than you were with storytelling.

Back in the day, when you were assigned to a copyediting mentor who asked you if you were religious then told you that henceforth you would turn to a new Bible, The University of Chicago Manual of Style, you were also told of another book, the title of which will readily suggest how far back in the day back in the day was:  Words into Type.  Turn to page 45, you were instructed with the severity you might have been directed had Words into Type been a burning bush.  The heading is in bold:  Special Responsibilities of the Book Writer.  These are set forth in the following nine pages.  It is easy to be dismissive of a book about publishing that has the word "type" in its title, equally easy to thumb through the pages of CMOS, then ask with a patronizing air, "Don't they have people who, you know, do this sort of work?"

Yes, "they" most definitely have people who, you know, do this sort of work.  "They" are called authors.

No comments: