Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Savage Blue Pencil: James J. Patterson

Part II of the ASP (www.alansquirepublishing.com) series on First Person Plural, which will be all this week. James J. Patterson is the publisher and co-founder of Alan Squire Publishers. You can find him at www.jamesjpatterson.com and join him for the ASP book launch event at The Writer’s Center this Friday, October 22. For more details on the event, visit Writer.org.

“But you already have a book, right here,” editor/publisher Rose Solari said as she finished plowing through a stack of essays with the working title Bermuda Shorts.

“I do?”

“Certainly, there’s a strong narrative thread, a consistency of voice, it’s a little uneven here and there but you can correct that.”

You see I had big plans, oh yes I did. Five or six more chapters worth of plans, which would expand the arc of the narrative to a dizzying apogee, before plunging with literary certitude to land the reader gently, back upon his or her feet after having been on a spectacular ride.

When she laid the essays end to end, I was shocked, if not a little horrified. Taking a few hours or a day here and there whenever possible over the course of twenty and more years to write down some ideas, place them within a narrative scenario, find a hook, so to speak, to hang them on, etc., hadn’t informed me that I was writing stories that were essentially autobiographical. Really, it hadn’t crossed my mind. I wanted to save the planet from toxic waste by launching our nukes and poisons at the sun. I wanted to share what I had learned visiting colleges and universities playing music, visiting a hundred or more campuses a year for over a decade. I was mad at the arms industry for siphoning away funds that would have made our society truly great, prosperous, and admirable over the course of my lifetime. I was talking about my ideas, not the wonder of being me.

In a literary sense, I wanted to play with time, I wanted to find a way around time so each event could be somehow positioned in the now, so that the narrative could strike out in any direction and return safely without notice. I wanted to do my part in defeating what I call “The tyranny of the personal pronoun, ‘I,’ ” by letting persons, places and things offer up the content of the stories I would write.

At any rate, as soon as the preliminary stage of actually getting the stories down on paper was over, there then was deployed on my behalf, what I refer to as “The Savage Blue Pencil.” In a word, editing.

Get any couple of editors together, turn yourself into a fly and light upon the nearest wall, and the horror stories begin.

EDITOR1: Did you hear? So-and-so’s new book just came out and guess what? That’s right, they spelled her name wrong on the cover!
EDITOR2: No kidding? Typical, so-and so’s book has a typo on the first page!
EDITOR1: Not to mention so-and so, poor dear, her latest came out and somehow all the text is triple spaced!
EDITOR2: Oh, and listen to this, so-and-so opened his new book and when he began to read he could tell something was wrong. Oh yes, they printed his second draft, not the edited final draft we spent six months revising!
EDITOR1: And don’t get me started about Amazon!

Then overhear them getting down to cases on my own book!

EDITOR1: He alternately has reasoned arguments that are interesting and fun to follow and then he, well…
EDITOR2: …he launches into a harangue!
EDITOR1: Yes! He goes into a harangue, not crazy but he definitely leaves his feet for a few moments here and there. He knows he’s doing it too…what t’do?
EDITOR2: We’ll tag the arguments, arguments, and the harangues, harangues, then create categories for them in the index.

Truly great editors, like Rose Solari and Nita Congress, know that they should sing gentle praises into your heart as they draw the bright blue squiggle announcing the deletion of an entire page of text you’ve spent many hours if not days attempting to perfect.

If one is honest, one looks upon the edited text and asks the ultimate question, “does it sing?” If the answer is no, well, it’s back to the drawing board.

And it is in this final return where the magic happens. It is when the last bit of dust and clutter is swept from the page, where the once tangled yarns are now shown to have a pattern. And oddly enough, you realize all at once, as you turn to the next edit, that there is no next edit, which means, it’s finished. It is real.

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