Thursday, May 5, 2011


You have long since reached the place where you are disabused of any notion that writing a book is a one-person activity.  While it is often true that volumes of journals or diaries or memoirs are written without much public knowledge of them being written, even those, you have come to understand, involve other individuals, persons you variously admire, love, respect, detest, and various other energizing responses because, truth be told, you do draw even in these ventures from those about you.

From your time on "the other" side of the desk, as editor in a number of book- and magazine-publishing venues, you were aware of the individuals who contribute in some way other than authorship to the making of a book.

You have one step to finish on your latest book venture before it will momentarily at least be wrenched away from your hands while others do to it.  This most recent phase is checking through the manuscript presumably for the last time to see what queries or suggestions the copyeditor has.  Almost everything a copyeditor does is mechanical in nature, looking for standardized use, consistency of use, checking for anomaly, possibly making some suggestion for a reason to deviate from CMOS--Chicago Manual of Style-suggested standardized use.

In anticipation, you have begun composing what probably will be your last text addition to The Fiction Lovers' Companion, the Acknowledgments, the first of which will be your ongoing recognition that you are not in this alone.  A longish phone conversation with the Executive Editor/Publisher had convinced you of that.  So much is at stake here, including her thoughts about what the next book project should be.

Acknowledgments extend far and wide, to friends (amazing how few friends you have outside the perimeters of publishing), family, and individuals within the publishing house who have loaned their talents to yours.  Also, you must consider a group who comprise the most significant area of surprise to you, students of yours for whom you hold no special warmth or regard.  It is nothing at all to acknowledge those men and women with whom, over the years, you have shared information, hints, tricks, and from whom you have gleaned and foraged information you have been able to put to work in your own writing.

For a time you were faculty mates with the late, fine storyteller, Richard Yates, who spoke of the dispiriting times he experienced dealing with students he knew he was not reaching.  For whatever reasons he became one, Yates was a recovering alcoholic.  He left USC to take a job with more classes and, thus, an overall larger paycheck, but after a short time was no longer in recovery, rather he was, in a succession of fatal prepositions, off the wagon, in the hospital, and out of the human condition.  Did bad writing--whatever that is--kill him?  No, it wasn't that simple or direct.  It was his own personal circuitry to the amount of unlettered work, beginning work, he could tolerate that opened the weak spots in his psyche to let the need for drink override his sure knowledge of what would happen next.

At one time, in your late teens and early twenties, you showed a remarkable aptitude for the drinking habits and attitudes that could have brought you into that scary terrain in which Yates lived.  How fortunate for you that your own misconceptions, leading you to romanticize alcoholism, did not get the opportunity to take hold.  How fortunate for you that one of your dearest mentors, herself in recovery, noted the relative work you'd have to do in order to accomplish that wretched state, allowing you to understand how easy it was for you to accept your freedom from that particular dead weight about your energies.

But you have come to think that, for all the dreadful material you read as a teacher and an editor, there is a saving grace.  Your own dreadful writing, which you had to write your way through and still, on occasion, need to write yourself well past, is in its way a light house, at least a beacon, reminding you as you consider the individuals and things you wish to cite in your Acknowledgments,to nod in recognition to those students with whom you could not connect, whose work you could not abide.  Recognize if you will what they, too, have contributed.  Wish them well, and realize now and into the future their contributions to this book.

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