Friday, September 23, 2011


There are fortunate and unfortunate resemblances between publishing a book and causing a child to be born into the world.

By your own choice, you have no children.  Perhaps this is because of some prescient vision of how much work is necessary to be at all close to good parenting, how much effort is required in sending a book forth, and what your own priorities were and are.  Perhaps, too, your awareness of the uncommon good fortune you experienced in your choice of parents.  You were from the get go certain you’d have to scurry about to find the patience and wisdom expended on you by them.

You’d already begun to appreciate the necessary effort in producing a book; since you hope to produce unlimited numbers, how could you take that incredible risk of parenting as well?

Some fetuses don’t make it all the way to term; they miscarry of their own volition or are aborted by their putative parents’ decision.  Some of the more tenuous pregnancies that do evolve to maturity send someone into this remarkable state called life with allergies, muscular and skeletal anomalies, and immune system deficiencies, another reminder of how specialized and tenuous our entry ticket is.

Some manuscripts don’t make it all the way; they miscarry in their own, individual misery, or they are cannibalized for some aspect that fits a new project in a manner not unlike organ donations.  Abortions are common events among writers, sometimes for reasons similar to critical decisions relative to fetuses.  What seemed a good idea at the time has produced something that no longer seems attractive.  I can’t cope with another one.  Not now. I already have my hands full.

Grimness—the essential element for humor:  Is there a Roe v. Wade for manuscripts?

You have a strong sense of wanting to have been born.  Although you’d had scant opportunity to develop your Australian crawl as you now employ it, you made sure you out swam all those other cells, got there first.  You have a similar sense that you never began a story without the intent of finishing it or investing it with attributes that would help it survive in some agreeable way after you’d told it to go out into the world on its own.

Whenever you hear stories, in particular those from the more affluent areas of Mid-Manhattan, of parents with murderous intent, wanting to get their children enrolled in re-eminent pre-schools, you think of yourself and other writers, wanting a particular story accepted by a particular publisher, be it journal or book venue.  You have learned from your own experience and your observation—sometimes hands-on—of other writers that regardless of where the work is accepted, however lofty or not, there is some irony that will surface, some monumental event seemingly designed as proof that perfection, indeed, even approximations of perfection, comes to us as an abstraction.  This is reality; there is no perfection.  If you want perfection, you should not for a moment have thought to be a writer.  In saner moments, you expand the metaphor to human; if you want perfection, you should think outside the human parameters.  You would be a chocolate pudding, a Mozart piano sonata, a bird feather, a hot pastrami sandwich, a John Coltrane solo, Louise Erdrich, reading aloud from her own work.

As there is no perfection in the transfer of the idea to the final draft of the manuscript in which it resides, there is no perfection in publisher, however much you may want a specific one.  When you were in high school, for reasons now lost to you, you wished to go to the senior prom.  You could not imagine anyone who would wish to go with you as your date, a chilling reality that nudged you into a strategy that was a cultural trap you could not see at the time.

You approached a girl you considered attractive beyond measure. Her outer features were of uniform spectacularity, but you were particularly drawn to her eyes.  Perhaps a tad of hyperthyroidism at work there; the eyes seemed to stand out in relief, convincing you that you would be able to have conversations with her in which eye contact was important.  A relief.  You would not be caught out, gaping at her other features.

“I’ll go with you,” she said.  “I’ll even show you how to dance.”  You were not sure she knew you needed instruction, but this offer impressed you with her intelligence.  “But you must promise me something.  You must cross your heart and promise me that when anyone asks you who you’re taking to the prom, you’ll tell them it’s me and the only reason I agreed to go with you is because you told me you had this enormous crush on me and that your heart would have been broken if I refused you.”

When you agreed without hesitation, she did something you remember to   this day.  She grabbed your jacket lapels and yanked you close enough for what you thought was to be a kiss.  “All right, you little fucker, how did you know I didn’t have a date?”

This incident is no mere digression.  Rather it is a metaphor for the potentials whichever publisher you chose.  You had a memorable and happy experience at your senior prom.  She did not seem to notice that her fur cape was shedding on your tux jacket.  The things amiss with your current publisher are relative nickels and dimes compared to the one- and five-dollar bills of experience with other publishers.

At one point in your youth, you were called to task by a now defunct newspaper—The Hollywood Citizen-News—for whom you covered high school sports and high school outreach.  “Listen, son,” the editor told you.  “It is not necessary to write about high school football as though the outcome had world-wide significance.”  You have never done so again, nor have you written about anything as though it did.  You might have believed in the importance of a thing, but you’d started to adhere to the notion advanced by Anton Chekhov of the writer as a witness.

You have witnessed many strange things happening to yourself and others in the steps directly after the final stages of editing, when the work went for all purposes out of your hands and into the world.

Sometimes at night, while you are courting sleep with the same kind of focus you court stories and ladies, you are kept awake by the crosstalk of projects in your brain, arguing as though renters in a tenement.  They all want out and in an irony of quasi parent who wishes for his children to be on their own, you are already trapped into that sense of adventure to come as it relates to things you can know and effect and things over which you have no effect at all.

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