Like many writers these days I am almost entirely self-published. The shorter work I submit to literary magazines and journals or, if it is a 10-minute play to a festival. Both of these are likely to pay me with copies of the journal or free tickets to the performance, always asking me to show up for the meet the greater fool part, the author. I like that. The longer work is up to me. For my effort Amazon, occasionally, drips a few bucks into my checking account; I am grateful no matter what the amount. Yes, I am a writer!
Now what talent I have runs to narrative and scene. Whatever the product, I am responsible for the content, the content editing, the book format, and the bane of all writers, the proofreading. There must be a circle in hell for writers, one overseen by teachers who fell from the way but can still spot a comma splice 1000 yards off. I work hard at editing. I even offer content editing as a service on my website, bywordsalone.com. What I do not offer is proofreading, because I will not cast the first stone when it comes to finding wrongful punctuation, misspelling, or homophones. Word spell check cannot grasp that when I wrote w h e y I meant w a y. Or, worse, when I fail to notice that while correcting one error I have made another; like deleting a word I shouldn’t have or failing to delete one I should. Much worse, though, is finding the mistake after I have published the piece. Despite my efforts, when I open the actual book the error glares like neon in the Las Vegas night. There it is. Yep. Once again, I have messed up. I see as well that I have used far too many words that end in up, another error that lashes me with sad regularity despite the banner on my bulletin board. It reads: Rog: Not every word in the English language ends with up. Your pal, Sam.
I proofread my most recent publication, Kid Golly Speaks, a tall tale about an itinerant poker player, until my eyes bled. Yet when I ordered, not just the authors proof, but the first batch of copies to sell at festivals and readings, I found an error, a minor one which I have since corrected and forgotten – which is what you should do with errors like a comma where a period should be. But I was so unhappy to find it, I yelled, “This would never happen to Donald Newlove!”
Now, Donald Newlove is an accomplished writer, with at least fourteen notches on the stock of his literary Winchester. One of which I found at a used bookstore, First Paragraphs. It is in such perfect condition; sadly, I may have been the second reader. I bought it just to have it. Who could resist a 171- page chapbook essay, where a writer analyzes the first paragraphs he finds breathtaking? His selections range from the Bard to Henry Miller. He includes Mark Twain, Sylvia Plath, Leo Tolstoy and many others you have probably read, though you may not have read Donald Newlove. This is a marvelous book. Everyone should have it. I’m sure he would be grateful if everyone did because at the end of the essay he complains about the failure of his books to sell.
“One by one your kids are pulped, your manuscript trunk feels full of anchor chain…”
Still, he exhorts himself, and the rest of us, to keep writing.
“Today’s paragraph comes, a work from the heart of the universe, and shines in the darkness, unquenched.”
The guy is a wordsmith, a beacon warning us off the rocks between our flimsy paper boats and the safe harbor. He is also backed by a commercial publisher, who presumably, in 1992, had an army of editors, sub-editors, proofreaders, page turners—all paid to see his prose is perfect. That army has gone by the wayside. Today, commercial publishers expect what an agent, and only an agent, brings them is a print ready manuscript, because editors like Maxwell Perkins, the guy who edited Hemingway, do not exist. What you have are acquisition editors, who I’m sure have a banner on their laptop reading “WILL IT SELL?” This banner is the reason books that might be pulped never see print today unless it is self-published. Imagine my joy when I found this: Donald writing about Isak Dinesen and “Out of Africa.”
“Is there some special rhythm or cadence, choice of words, heightening or pitch of language? Not for me. And yet I know this is Isak Dinesen just as I know my wife’s hand running through my hair is my wife’s.”
What? My wife’s hand running through my hair is my wife’s? No, Don, it’s hers. Just as I know my wife’s hand running through my hair is hers! Hers!
I feel a lot better now. I still admire Donald Newlove, though I believe there should be a comma after heightening to prevent misreading. I will be combing the stacks of used bookstores for his unpulped, but hopefully not unread work; especially one entitled, “Sweet Adversity,” deemed by some to be the most neglected novel ever and “Those Drinking Days/ Myself and Other Writers”.
Me and Don, we’re bros.