Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Beginnings a la Yogi Berra


Beginnings have become old friends to you in the sense that you have begun more projects over the years than you have any hope of recalling.  There were times when it seemed your special talent was beginning things. Never mind getting to the middle and the resolution.

In the sense of completion, time has been good to you.  Any number of things you’ve begun have found themselves with middles and endings to the point where you no longer have the fears you once had about whether something that seemed so exciting one week would end up a pile of marked-up pages, handwritten notes, and no printer’s mark # on the last page.

All this is prologue to the fact that you have officially begun something today, a project that you’ve actually wanted to do for about fifteen years.  Although you’ve wanted to undertake the project, by the nature of its title, you forbore, considering the title a prime example of egotism.

In your bookshelf is a copy of a book published by St. Martins Press, Stein on Writing, arguably one of if not the better book on how to invent, compose, and prepare fiction.  The flyleaf contains a generous inscription from the author: “To the editor who edits editors, with affection, Sol Stein.”

You have indeed edited him, taught with him, broken bread on many occasions to the point where once, while making a presentation, you made what you considered a cogent observation, which you attributed as having come from him. During the Q & A, his hand shot up, whereupon he not only disclaimed the observation, which he nevertheless agreed with, he attributed it to you.

You continue to admire and respect him, thus there is no sense of that kind of competitive atmosphere.  Rather, you’ve had enough evidences—right and wrong—to convince you of the rightness of putting your name not only in the by-line of a book on writing, as your most recent one, but in the title as well.  Your agent has reminded you that Stein’s publisher had made an offer for your current book, which you saw fit to decline in favor of an upstart new kid on the block.

As the table of contents began to make itself known to you, the familiar beginning rumbles started.  You began to sketch in the parameters of the vision, seeing how the final product might appear.  Pleased by that vision, you also know how things tend to change once they are begun, how the energy of beginning produces a kind of vapor of vision and concentration that attracts seemingly random or unimaginable notions from the outside, which is to say from the universe outside your current concept of the project.

You may not be asked this question, although your agent will likely ask you to prepare a prospectus for the project after you’ve done the first two or three chapters, so that once again you’ll have the opportunity to consider a contract with a so-called legacy publisher or a new-kid-on-the-block publisher.

At the moment, you’re more than happy with your current publisher, who has done more in the service of your project than you might with reason expect from a New York publisher such as St. Martins.

There are three other projects past the beginning stage, one you were to do in collaboration with your great late pal, Digby Wolfe, and two novels about a series character.  There is yet another you burn to do that also has you thoughtful about words such as ego and hubris in that the work is in effect volume two of D.H. Lawrence’s Studies in Classic American Literature.  It will be a series of essays about twentieth- and twenty-first century writers you believe have shaped the modern landscape.  Thus in these paragraphs of less than a thousand words you’ll have taken on two individuals of some stature, individuals you greatly admire and respect.

There is a curious admixture of comfort, excitement, and awe in the atmosphere of forthcoming projects.  For the moment, these are what beginnings mean to you.

Surely you will use this space as you used it for the project whose publication date has been set for November 10, and for which you have already been booked into Vroman’s in Pasadena, one of the major independent bookstores of your youth, your literary coming of age, and your entry into publishing as an editor.   How splendid it felt to stroll unobserved by the staff into Vroman’s some years back, there to see a book you’d acquired, edited, and seen through production.

As Yogi Berra might put the matter, Beginnings are not begun until they are over.


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