Saturday, October 16, 2021

Eine Kleine Nacht Music

 In your long history of attempts to put words on the page with meaningful outcome, you've had numerous encounters with the necessary element in the publishing equation, the editor.  One of the earliest editorial comments on your work you remember--after all these years--came after you'd turned in copy on schedule for a regular column in the now defunct Citizen-News, a newspaper circulated through the western segment of the Los Angeles of your upbringing.

The editorial comment: a diagonal line running through each of the four pages you submitted. No other words were necessary. You understood their meaning. The editor who drew these diagonals took added moments of his time to write these words "Too long. Too wordy. Cut."

Between that editorial experience and the present moment in which you compose this, you have experienced more encounters with the editorial process than you can remember. Indeed, you cannot say except to make wild guesses about the numbers of essays, reviews, short stories, and novels you have published.

In the space between that early memory, you have another, at least five years later. Another kind editor at a now defunct publication in the so-called confessions magazine category wrote you a note accepting a "confessional" you wrote, telling you a check was enclosed in keeping with the five-cents-a-word pay rate. She went on to remind you that she'd rejected nearly four-fifths of the submissions you sent her because, among other things, they were too funny. She reminded you that most of her regular authors had a much higher rate of acceptance.  "You don't write to confess," she wrote, "you write to laugh. Think how much happier you'd be if you wrote for publications where laughter had greater value than confession."

Between that note and the most recent note from a personediting you, circumstances have changed. You've been editor in chief of five different book publishers, an executive editor of at least three literary journals, and even now are the poetry editor of a literary journal.

In more recent years, a collection of your short stories found its way into publication. In an exchange with the publisher, you gave reluctant agreement to the translation of the title used for this blog post into its English translation, "A Little Night Music."  That story concerns a troubled musician in the midst of his discovery of love, appreciation, and acceptance. The location is quite specific, the bed of the person with whom he encounters these valuable conditions.  In the background, he hears what at first sounds like a large, wounded animal.  He later discovers the sound is his host's ex-husband, whom she had to rid herself because of, among other things, his tendency to violence. Hence the title, made even more ironic, to your sensitivity, with the Mozartian title and subsequent publication in German.  You have a cultural DNA that renders you uncomfortable even at this remove when you hear German being spoken.  All the more reason to use the Mozart title rather than the English title.

At the moment you write this, a novel is due in a matter of weeks, an editor has just sent you a setof page proofs for one last chance at changes or finding typos. Indeed, you found a typo in the spelling of the publisher's name. Your goal is to make the novel under way the best thing you've written.  You have the equivalent of the most recent novel in page proofs as an example of something you hope to improve upon.

All these years, your nature has never been one project at a time. Thus this project you work on in odd moments while reading final proof on a recent novel and working on what you hope to make the best outcome yet.  This "other" project is a short story, "La Fie aux Cheval du Lin," clearly French, its title the exact title of the French composer, Claude Debussy.  French is by no means whatsoever your native language or any language over which you have some control.  To the extent that you might be able to play "Chopsticks" on a piano, you have some awareness of French words.  So why not call the story "The Maid with the Flaxen Hair"?  There is a maid with flaxen hair in the story. Her effect on the protagonist and hison her are heavy.

You first became aware of the song when you were wildly in love with a maid with flaxen hair, hoped to marry her, hoped to exchange effects for the remainder of your lives.  The song was introduced to you by a piano player who used the French title. You'd never heard of the title or the melody. Nevertheless, it evoked a vision of the maid with flaxen hair of whom you write here.

You wish this story to become the most insightful, evocative, and memorable of your long career. You are already at work, arguing with an unseen editor, determined to keep this title in French.

All you have as a consequence of the seventy-odd years you've spent trying to get things down on the page in some meaningful way is the notion that each thing you attempt must be approached with the goal of making it your best yet.

You are fortunate in your literary agent; she is a gifted editor. You've only moments ago looked at her "suggestions" on the first five chapters of your work in progress. The editor who sent you page proofs of the last completed novel has had reasons to show exasperation with you--as well, you have reasons to show exasperation with some of her suggestions.

You still have, working on your behalf, over a span approximating seventy years, that generous man who drew diagonal lines--delete lines--through your copy.

And you have yourself, with a greater sense of what to do and what not to do when you begin to compose.

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