Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Approaching the Finish Line: Part 2


It had a garish dust jacket and I remember being embarrassed by the violence, bad taste and slippery look of it. It looked the book jacket for a book of bad science fiction.”

The quotation is from Ernest Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast. It’s about Francis Cugat’s cover for F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, and it contains one of the more enduring typographical errors in American literature.

We’ll get to the error in a moment, but first let’s talk about book covers.

As the story goes, when Fitzgerald saw Cugat’s preliminary sketches, he was so intrigued by the image of eyes in the sky that he added a new sequence in the novel. Here’s a slice of it:

[…] above the gray land and the spasms of bleak dust which drift endlessly over it, you perceive, after a moment, the eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg. The eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg are blue and gigantic--their retinas are one yard high.

Incidentally, that passage contains another one of American literature’s most enduring errors, but for the moment we’re considering the benefits of artistic collaboration. The topic of editing will come later.

As I mentioned yesterday, the illustrations that artist Gerasimos Kolokas did for my forthcoming novel Vipers helped me clarify elements of the book while I was doing my final revisions. In one instance, an illustration of a character sitting in an antique chair inspired a revealing bit of description that had not been in the novel’s first draft. I added the following after seeing the illustration:

[…] it was a heavy antique, an heirloom taken from his father’s study. He eased into it, feeling the slow wisdom of its weight, the purity of its construction. He set his hands on the armrests. The wood and leather spoke to him. We are brothers and sisters, plant and animal, children of the earth. And beneath those whispers, the deeper voice of brass accents and iron nails. We are the fathers and mothers. Iron and alloy. Ancient as the stars. Eternal.

The details are perfect for a book about temporary existence in the face of eternal forces, and yet that antique chair was not mentioned in the book’s first draft. It took an artist’s reinterpretation of the scene to show me the way.

And writers do occasionally need to be shown the way.

Vipers is being released by FE Books, a relatively new publisher headed by W. H. Horner, a young and gifted editor who would like to become known as the Maxwell Perkins of fantasy and horror. He talks about his ambitions in a recent video he made for Kickstarter, and as I work with him on the final edits of Vipers, I am more convinced than ever that he is on his way to realizing that goal. I’ve been writing for a while, and I’ve worked with some of the top editors in the business. W. H. Horner certainly ranks with the best of them.

We started this week’s series of postings by considering the element of time in the novel-writing process, but writing a novel takes more than time. It takes planning, visualizing, and careful editing. As pointed out in Monday’s post, I started work on Vipers with a detailed plan (synopsis) and a collection of rough visualizations (maps and timelines). But as I near the finish line, I’m benefitting by working with people who are helping me hone my vision. It makes the job a bit more demanding, but the results are richer for it.

The errors in the above passages? You saw them, right?

In the Hemingway quotation, the second sentence is missing the word like.

In the Fitzgerald passage, the word retinas really should be irises.

In the passage from Vipers . . . there isn’t one. It’s gone. W. H. Horner flagged it during final editing.

Back next week! See you here.

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