Tuesday, February 4, 2014

The Editorial Committee of the Mind

Some of the earlier assignments you had as an editor had to do with assembling anthologies.  By definition, an anthology is a collection, either of essays, poems, or short stories by different authors.  You could also add to the package a collection of poems, essays, and short stories under on cover.

You've compiled nonfiction and fiction anthologies, most of which had some overall theme such as science fiction, mystery, paranormal experiences, and omnibus.

Before you reached the position where you could undertake such ventures, you were a collector of anthologies, thinking these collections a jumping-off place to having your own stories and essays published while at the same time wondering how you would ever be able to reach the ability to write a memorable essay or short story.  The poems you wrote were short, almost epigrammatic; you could not imagine them in an anthology except as some kind of padding or space filler.

At the time you were loading up on anthologies for your personal library, you were developing a metric for judging them.  If an anthology had three or four things you valued, the entire anthology was considered worth its price.  True, you were becoming democratized, aware of the myriad of choices, aware of an even more myriad range of likes and dislikes as the readership became more diverse.

Of equal truth, the anthology was being nudged toward the rear of the line, the preferences and favors going to single author collections.  Anthologies were seen as middle-brow text books for some courses in reading, less expensive versions of huge collections, amounting to hundreds of pages of either poems or stories or essays, or in rarer occasions, a compendium of all three under the same cover.

You thought nothing of the matter when your stories or essays appeared in magazines; of course those would have a number of writers, thus a variety of voices and opinions.  You then discovered to your pleasure that sometimes a story or essay of yours would be selected for inclusion in an anthology, which meant you would be paid for the work again, and the work would be exposed to other readers, including literary agents.

Not until you were at the stage in your work for some publishers where a part of the working day was spent coping with anthologies did you begin to see the theme linking anthologies with the working process of any given writer.

The anthology is a collection of theme-related materials from various authors.  The single author collection is a group of material from, as the name implies, one writer, but that one writer is, on closer examination, a conglomerate of moods, attitudes, anomalies, even polarity.  This was demonstrated to you in your dealings with a single-author collection of your short stories, due for publication in late March or early April, a launch date and publication party already booked at the formidable Pasadena Book venue called Vroman's.

You can stipulate these definitions because you have in real life demonstrated them.  You were in effect differing personalities as you wrote each one, yet another personality as you revised and attempted to hone each story.  You became a different sort as you finished each story, submitted it, awaited its editorial fate in the hands of various readers while, at the same time, becoming intrigued by subsequent stories.

Differences proliferated as you moved on to differing projects, undershot with the sense of how these thirty-or-so stories had all appeared somewhere in print, which passed along to you a sense of satisfaction, completeness, accomplishment, nothing, pride, satisfaction, and yes, measurable concerns about your ability.  Having a good many things published can and does provoke as much self-examination as having nothing published, whence the inner argument with yourself about whether you are a writer yet.

Easy to pass off such inner wranglings after the fact, but try telling the unpublished you that you are as alert to the nuances of craft and technique as the published writer.  You in fact become passed along an inner gauntlet of defensiveness.  You imagine yourself a gifted pianist or guitarist, one who has yet to perform in public.  Are you yet a musician?

By working over a long span of time on a wide range of materials, you have given yourself a composition habit, which turns itself into an addiction as well as an anticipated sense of performance.  You have approached composition happy, angry, frustrated, fearful, comfortable, warm hearted, envious, hung over, deliriously happy, defensive, doubtful.  With the passage of time and your own assessment of your own early-draft shortcomings, habits, and tendencies, you work now to use your impressions while at the same time keeping your judgmental self out of the picture, thus none of the laundry list of feelings from above.

You write to keep yourself one way or another out of your work, your characters being the filters for bringing the work forth.  Thus most times, the reader should not be able to tell you were happy, angry, frustrated, comfortable, warm hearted, envious, hung over etc.  The reader should only be aware of the story, might perhaps have a wonder who you were, might even have some notion what you are or were like.

Both the you who writes such things and the reader or two who read them know you work to keep yourself out of the material, the characters and their readers in.

You are in a literary sense the Moses and Dr. King of Dr. King's "I have a dream" vision.  You can feel it, see it, manipulate it, even take it out for a beer or cocktails, but you cannot indulge it, cannot star in it as, say, Norman Mailer attempted to to or as Philip Roth appears to have done.  These two and several dozen others are writers you read without ever having met, except in your connections with characters.

Once, when you were driving to a lunch in Beverly Hills, you almost knocked down one of your favorite actors, Trevor Howard.  You rolled down the window,  heartsick.  "Oh, Mr. Howard.  I'm so sorry.  I was abstracted and not thinking."

"Not to worry,"  he said, "I've had a few drinks myself.  No harm done."

Good advice.  Try not to knock down your characters by driving under the influence of authorship.  Then, truly, no harm done.  

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