Thursday, November 01, 2007

Oh, reader, please forgive me

It's been almost two weeks since my last post.

I've realized this is such a huge component of a successful blog - regular posts. Simple point, but people who post consistently and often are more likely to have return visitors. Sadly, this is not a strong suit for me, due to various busy-ness on my end.

Alas, I wanted to link to an interesting Slate piece today about the controversy around Tess Gallagher's threat, if you will, to publish her late husband Raymond Carver's writings pre-editing, before famous - infamous? - editor Gordon Lish got ahold of them. From the above-linked NY Times article:
Tess Gallagher, the widow of Raymond Carver, one of the most celebrated American short-story writers of the 20th century, is spearheading an effort to publish a volume of 17 original Carver stories whose highly edited versions were published in “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love,” his breakout 1981 book.
Shocking stuff, with potential to set a precedent or a trend or have a ripple effect.

The Slate piece is by Gerald Howard, an editor at Doubleday who himself edited Mr. Lish on the novel, My Romance, while at Norton. Some interesting insight into the editorial process, even if in a most extreme case.

So much of publishing is based on reputation and personality. The defining paragraph in this piece makes that clear:
My wariness had to do, however, with Lish's reputation as a bit of a madman, of the sort publishing houses no longer welcome. I was at Viking in 1988 when we published his second short story collection Mourner at the Door, and I'd seen his antics up close. He'd bulldozed his editor into allowing him to write his own over-the top flap copy which ends in this way: " … no reader will go away from these pages unshaken by the force of his sentences, nor will any reader not know why it is that Gordon Lish has so powerfully and indelibly entered the literary history of this century." Don't break your arm patting yourself on the back! An office wag dropped a dime on Lish's authorship to Harper's, and they ran the jacket copy verbatim in their "Readings" section, under the heading "Enough About You." It was mean and it was funny and Lish went ballistic, stopping just short of suing.

It's amusing that Howard then bought his new novel and did not edit it at all, but maybe he's making a point by noting later that it sold 500 copies. It's not clear whether that's because Lish had so many enemies, as is noted, or a bad reputation in general. It's also useful to note that Howard was avoiding looking at the number sold for a long time - something every editor can appreciate. Sometimes you want to hope for the best and not look at that bottom line.

There could be more material here, but I thought it was a fun link nonetheless.

More on the Tess Gallagher - Carver controversy in Publishers Weekly.

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