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Posts Tagged ‘editing’

Finishing Carpenter

April 14, 2014 | by

Editing Don Carpenter’s final manuscript.

don carpenter

Photo via doncarpenterpage.com

Part of my job as a clerk at Berkeley’s great used bookstore Moe’s, in the early nineties, was to scour the massive wall of fiction and confront the books that weren’t selling. Out of all the staff I claimed this task because it interested me the most, and because it suited my vanity to be able to claim that “I run the lit section.” Codes, written in pencil, and discretely tucked into the corner opposite the asking price, revealed when a given title had hit the shelf. After six or eight months you reduced the price. Once it had been knocked down a couple of times, two options remained: chuck the book into the pile of discards under the staircase, or take it home and read it.

A Couple of Comedians, with its great title and Norman Mailer blurb, got me to flip it open. When right there in the stacks I was met with Don Carpenter’s punchy prose, and with his grabby, wry, and humane outlook, I took the book home. I read it. I loved it. I looked downstairs, in our pocket-size paperback stacks, and found a copy of Hard Rain Falling, Carpenter’s first novel, repackaged with a Tom of Finland–style painting and corresponding jacket copy to sell as “gay lit” (“The hard-hitting novel of a young street tough and his inevitable journey toward prison—and self-knowledge …”). I read Hard Rain Falling and thought it made two masterpieces in a row. The suggestion given by the dust jackets of the two books—and the move from the Northern California bildungsroman of Hard Rain Falling to the entertainment industry hijinks of comedians—was of a writer who, failing to sustain a literary career, had migrated to Hollywood and was, all too typically, never heard from again. Read More »

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That’s Material: An Interview with Daniel Menaker

January 21, 2014 | by

my mistake

Daniel Menaker doesn’t waste time in signaling his penchant for self-deprecation. The title of his wise, playful, deeply felt new memoir is My Mistake. And the memoirist, no mere tease, is happy to detail the errors he’s made during his life and his celebrated career as fiction editor of The New Yorker, publisher at Random House, and author of novels, stories, and essays.

Most of the blunders recounted by Menaker aren’t too dire, but he remains haunted by the inadvertent role he played in his only sibling’s untimely death. During a game of touch football in 1967, he challenged his older brother, Mike, to play backfield despite Mike’s bad knees, and from there everything went horribly amiss: Mike, then twenty-nine, sustained an injury that led to knee surgery, and this surgery led to a fatal blood infection called septicemia.

For all of Menaker’s mistakes, great and small, readers of My Mistake will likely feel that he got a lot more right than wrong. His memoir takes us from a red-diaper childhood in Greenwich Village through teenage summers on a colorful uncle’s Berkshires guest camp and an education at Swarthmore in the early sixties; it recounts his professional mentoring by the legendary William Maxwell and William Shawn, his office politics with Tina Brown and Harry Evans, and the editing of some of the great authors of our age. Menaker, who, at seventy-two, has written five other books, is an expert at turning those proverbial life-lemons into lemonades; his description of his protracted recent struggle with lung cancer, for example, winds up being one of the memoir’s most inspiring and invigorating sections.

Since finishing My Mistake, Menaker has been working on a series of thematically linked stories, and during an early December break in his current “self-financed” book tour, he answered each question I catapulted at him by telephone.

In My Mistake you say that writing a memoir was a means for you to take stock of your life while facing possible death, pondering what you call “the Great Temporariness.”

The book came about through a really weird route. The proposal for it was vastly different from the finished product. Fourteen people rejected it. I posted the rejections on the Huffington Post, and got in terrible trouble for that with my agent. I didn’t care—I’m too old to care about that shit. I just thought it was funny. And then somebody made an offer, but he was let go from the publishing house, or left, shortly after he acquired my book. I like to think there was no causal connection!

I’m not a big fan of the present tense, but it functions well in My Mistake.

Memoir is such a vexed form and category, for any number of reasons. I can’t even count how many reasons there are for not writing a memoir. People are not in it, or they are in it, they’re pissed off, your memory is wrong—there are all sorts of land mines. With a book that doesn’t have anything truly remarkable in it—I wasn’t captured and sexually violated for ten years, I wasn’t a jihadist, I didn’t go into outer space—I had to figure out how I could make this more immediate. It’s a kind of gadget to use the present tense, but it felt right. And it helped me to put myself—or pretend to myself that I was putting myself—back in the moment. It was a sort of shoehorn back into the past. Read More »

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Joshua Cohen and Gemma Sieff Answer Your Questions

August 17, 2012 | by

This week, we are joined by our friends the novelist Joshua Cohen and the writer and editor Gemma Sieff, who lent us their wit and wisdom in service of your queries.

I want to be a writer—one of those who can make enough money to write all the time. I should be writing every day, shouldn't I?

Ken

Gemma: You don’t have to do a huge amount; just get into a rhythm of sitting down at the desk and getting up again when you have more money.

Joshua: Pay no attention to Gemma. She has it all backward. Just get into a rhythm of earning every day until you have enough to rent a chair and desk for the weekends. Alternately, you can just get a job in publishing, where every intern keeps a Microsoft Word window minimized below the work e-mail and manages a comma deletion or synonym for bored between “refreshments.” Call the .doc “Fall_Schedule.” You might not have an office that locks, but you might produce a roman à clef.

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Dr. Collier

August 1, 2012 | by

My novel, Balls, is a book in which the protagonist contracts testicular cancer. I'd done an extensive amount of research, but I still wasn’t an expert. I needed one, lest I publish a work that didn’t get it all right. The fear of this had me up at night and fretting during the day.

So I called my uncle, who was a doctor and knew many urologists. He gave me the number of a Dr. William Collier, whom he described as a fine man, with a passion for literature.

“He likes books then?” I asked.

“Yes.”

“Well, that’s great.”

Asking anything of a stranger excites the nerves. You’ve got to dial him, introduce yourself, tell him what you’re after, and hope, in the end, that you haven’t offended his ego by requesting that he use his precious time on the likes of you. But knowing Dr. Collier affirmed the written word did take some of the pressure off.

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Work Frustrations; Social Climbing

November 11, 2011 | by

Okay, I have a question about the ideal sort of job for a young writer. If not ideal, then certainly better. I am a gallery manager in Manhattan. It is an exhausting, constantly detail-oriented job that does not pay especially well. Work frustrations and a first novel that is still in progress but progressing despite the less than ideal amount of time I can devote. I am wondering whether I should quit this “career” and become a bartender. I would have more hours to write, and my hands wouldn’t be typing for eleven to twelve hours a day. So what jobs do you recommend?

You mention bartending. I’ve known several writer-bartenders over the years. The job, they tell me, comes with perils of its own. In the good old days, the easiest thing was to get a gig proofreading at night for some giant consultancy or law firm (like the title character of Mary Gaitskill’s Veronica). The pay was good, and when you punched out, you punched out. Those jobs are hard to find now (proofreading’s the first thing to go), but since you’re in New York, it’s worth signing up with a temp agency. I temped once, for a business-to-business advertising firm, and on my very first afternoon found myself writing slogans for a revolutionary new water-efficient toilet. At least, I tried. (It was also my last afternoon.)

I have always thought dog walking would be a good job for a writer, if you’re the sort of person who thinks while you walk. But perhaps one of our readers will have a better suggestion ... or a position to fill?

I’m enjoying The Way of All Flesh. Can you suggest some novels about social climbing by cultural or racial outsiders?

If Ernest Pontifex counts as a cultural outsider—or a social climber—then who among us is safe from either charge? Not Becky Sharpe, in Vanity Fair, or Lucien de Rubempré, in Lost Illusions. And certainly not Georges Duroy, the gutter-bred antihero of Bel Ami, or David Copperfield or Gatsby or Tim Ripley or—to choose a more recent example—slick Nick Guest in The Line of Beauty. But neither, I suppose, is Lucy, the title character of Jamaica Kincaid’s first novel, an Antiguan making her way in New York, or Pronek, the immigrant hero of Aleksandar Hemon’s Nowhere Man, lost in Chicago. After all, if you’re not from around here, there is a fine line between climbing and getting by. (Is Ellison’s Invisible Man a climber?) Leonard Bast tries to better himself, disastrously enough, in Howard’s End, and who can blame him? Creepy Jasper Milvain does a much better job in New Grub Street. The black shipbuilder Bob Jones doesn’t climb, exactly—but he gets promoted, and all hell breaks loose among his white coworkers, whom he secretly loathes—in Chester Himes’s If He Hollers Let Him Go. There is always, of course, Augie March, taking goyish America by storm. And—my own favorite—the reckless, charming Irish hero of Phineas Finn and Phineas Redux, cutting a swathe through Disraeli-era London. Speaking of outsiders who make it. Read More »

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Daydream Trouble; Oxford Commas

March 4, 2011 | by

Hello! I am a student. During my study time I should put my concentration to to study. But I can’t do it cuz of daydream. What should I do? —Anik Khan

Hello there, my distant twin! Isn’t daydreaming insidious? For you it’s study time. For me it’s worst in the mornings. As you get older, everybody tells you, time speeds up; what they don’t tell you is that the time before you get out of bed speeds up to a whiplash-inducing blur, and that your daydreams grow longer and more consuming, like those giant worms in Dune, devouring minutes and hours like so much sand. Sometimes I try to snap out of it by thinking of Marcus Aurelius. He had the same problem we do, two thousand years ago, and would remind himself that dancers and craftsmen lived for their work and “choose neither to eat nor to sleep rather than to perfect the things they care for”; the point being, why should he lie there staring at the ceiling (he was emperor of Rome) ... but for me this doesn’t usually work. Proust, in his big novel, stands up for the habit of daydreaming: Marcel spends all morning, every morning, just lying there, letting his mind wander from the dreams he had the night before. Few of us have this luxury, at school or afterward. Besides, it can be terrible to feel that you are, in the words of that sad song, dreaming your life away. Just this morning on the way to work, I realized I was talking to myself, daydreaming a conversation with someone who wasn’t there.

(I’m telling you, it gets worse.)

A friend of mine advises Zen meditation. Several writers I know use stimulants. The trouble is, these tend, very quickly, to make you pretty crazy. In his recent Paris Review interview, Jonathan Franzen talks about his own struggles with distraction: “Cigarettes had always been the way I snapped myself to attention ... I’d quit because I’d decided that they were getting in the way of feeling.” There are, of course, other things to be said against cigarette smoking, but I like the way Franzen puts it, because he suggests that distraction, or daydreaming, is part of what it means to have emotions. Your daydreaming self is your feeling self, your passive self. The self that things happen to.

Of course you need to make time for your studies. If you catch yourself staring at the wall and dreaming of something you’d like to see happen, or someone you miss, or the way things might turn out, someday, make yourself go back to the book—but my advice is that you not let it worry you too much. Don’t punish yourself. This is one of those cases, I think, in which it is better to negotiate a shaky truce than hope for any kind of lasting victory.

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