Sunday, November 30, 2008

My Life in Publishing Hell, Part IV

Frosted Glass

The Editor-Go-Round

Dead End Street signed me up for my next novel, Frosted Glass - about a down-on-her-luck marketing executive who falls for a beachcombing eccentric on the Oregon coast - and we immediately ran into problems. The novel is narrated by the protagonist, Sandra Lowiltry, and my editor, Christine Mrazovich, hated her. She also didn't like the style, which was much more "unreined" than Gabriella's Voice. In a way, I could understand Christine's feelings. From what I knew of her, she was a divorced mother, and Sandra's profile - a self-involved businesswoman who desperately wants a baby, and who acts like a complete twit when it comes to her personal life - would not be someone Christine would be fond of. Nonetheless, I had the ultimate faith in Frosted Glass, and it was clear that I couldn't work with an editor who would prefer to rewrite the whole thing. So I asked my publisher, John Rutledge, to assign another editor to the project.

The next editor was an absolute train wreck. He had a PhD in Creative Writing (a degree which I've always viewed with great suspicion), and he seemed intent on completely rewriting Glass in his own style, in accord with many great theories of literature that he had picked up in college. When I protested his machete style of editing on my first chapter, he responded, "No author has been allowed to have a personal style since John Updike." Excuse me? I decided to use some of the cache I had earned with Gabriella's Voice, and asked John to dismiss this editor, too.

Then a rather marvelous thing happened. Running out of options (and editors), John decided to take on the project himself - and became the best editor I've ever had. John Rutledge's "day job" is as an intellectual properties lawyer. At the time, he was working for a firm in Marin County that represented the Grateful Dead and many other Bay Area artists. I teased John one day when he mentioned a conversation with "Carlos." I said, "Come on, I know you're trying really hard not to name-drop, but I know who 'Carlos' is, pal." In any case, John's life mission, it seems, is to cut the unnecessary verbiage from traditionally overwritten legal documents (I noticed this with DES's author contracts, which were actually understandable!). I had come to understand that I had intentionally overwritten Frosted Glass, and that it did need some hacking and slashing. The difference with John was that, while he was tough on me, he let me be a part of the process, and allowed me to review and rewrite changes that he suggested. This removed many of the adverserial feelings that can creep into an author-editor relationship. Not that we didn't argue - boy did we argue! - but he was nice enough to let me have my say. In the end, once we whittled the excess away from Glass, we had ourselves a beautifully crafted novel, one that I still consider my best.

I learned so much about the editing process from the Frosted Glass experience that I soon became one of DES's editors, and it has always been my hallmark to include the authors in on the process - and, in fact, to give them final say over all changes, thereby gaining their trust. I received excellent reviews from my authors, because I gave them the same consideration that John gave to me.

The cover design for Glass was a marvel of synchronicity. In researching the image, my designer, Holly Smith, had gone to websites featuring the finds of beach glass aficionados. She chose to use as her subject a gorgeous piece of cobalt blue with a faint star at its center, and framed it with bits of seaweed, sand and foam. The piece she chose is perfect for the story, which features a large piece of the "rare and lovely blue" as a pivotal sign of affection between the beachcomber and Sandra. It turns out, however, that Holly had not read that far into the story - had simply picked the blue piece because she found it to be the most stunning piece on the website.

The book came out in July 2002, and I managed to assemble a Northwest tour - including a stop in Lincoln City, OR, very near the novel's setting, and other appearances in Washington, Montana, Colorado and Nevada. After a memorable stop in Great Falls, Montana, I drove head-on into a blizzard, and spent the night stopping every few miles to chip the ice from my windshield. (My brother-in-law, Rick, had graciously loaned me his 4WD truck for the trip, and I needed every of its power to make it.) I called it a night in Casper, Wyoming, and had to cancel my Colorado appearances when they closed down I-80 due to all the ice on the freeway.

During the planning of this trip, an unsettling trend began to appear: bookstore managers began to balk at arranging appearances for POD authors, citing distribution problems and returnability issues (DES's guaranteed return policy did not seem to impress them). These issues would intensify in later years.

As a side note, John asked me to write screenplay adaptations for Gabriella's Voice and Frosted Glass. Unlike many authors, I very much enjoyed the opportunity to adapt these stories to a visual medium, and hacked and slashed wherever needed. DES eventually published both adaptations in soft-cover. We received some notable interest from John's Hollywood mailing list - especially Sam Waterston of Law and Order fame - but failed to land a contract. A small indie company in New York made a play for Gabriella, but John turned it down, citing indications that the company didn't really have its act together. With perfect hindsight, I wish we had signed them up, anyway, because I'm not exactly Michael Crichton, and why not take a chance?

Next: The Legendary Barons and the Autobiography Bug
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