Here’s a great site on the comma and comma usage(,) if you are interested in that sort of thing.
Something to keep in mind when you’re wondering if your current WIP might not offend someone. Offense cannot be avoided. Be honest to yourself and the story.
For years a debate has gone on in the shadows of Raymond Carver’s short story collection, “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.” The debate goes like this:
First Lit Geek: Raymond Carver became the poster-boy for the minimalist style with the collection.
Second Lit Geek: No, he was hijacked by his editor, Gordon Lish.
Yeah, it’s not a huge debate, but in academic circles, look out. Now there’s an interesting New York Times article discussing Carver’s widow’s attempt to publish the original version of his stories. Her hope is to “reclaim” his legacy as the author of the stories. Lish, it is reported, slashed entire sections and even rewrote endings. Carver even wrote Lish, begging him to halt publication. Now everyone from widow to publisher to the estate’s new agent is weighing in on the legality of the attempt.
“I would rather dig my friend Ray Carver out of the ground,” [Carver’s later editor, Gary Fisketjon of Knopf, which holds the copyright to “What We Talk About,”] said. “I don’t understand what Tess’s interest in doing this is except to rewrite history. I am appalled by it.”
I recently gave a friend some advice: write as if you were already dead. I can’t take credit for inventing the saying, but do take credit for thinking it is excellent advice. You can’t worry about your readers or critics, you have to do what’s right for the story. That means you can’t worry that your mother might be offended by some sex scene, or that your father-in-law doesn’t think the word “F@(c)K” has any place in a short story.
Now, after reading about the Carver debate, and his widow’s attempts to republish early versions of his work, and thinking about early versions of my work, I have more advice.
Publish as if you’re already dead.
The New York Times review of “Schulz and Peanuts” by David Michaelis makes the book sound not only like a brilliant read, but has some analysis that is, I think, useful for writers. Notice the way that Schulz’s fracturing of his own personality is described as the seeds of his character’s personalities:
The ever hopeful, ever rejected Charlie Brown; his cynical, rage-filled nemesis, Lucy Van Pelt; the philosophical and self-possessed Linus; the fanatic pianist Schroeder; and Snoopy, that bumptious beagle with the extraordinary fantasy life: these were characters who resonated with a generation that came of age during that perplexing period of transition as the country lurched from the somnolent ’50s into the psychedelic ’60s and ’70s. And they were characters, as David Michaelis observes in his revealing new biography, deeply rooted in their creator’s own life. It’s not just that Charlie Brown embodied Schulz’s own melancholy temperament and insecurities; it’s not just that Lucy represented his first wife’s bossy impatience. It’s that all the characters represented aspects of the deeply conflicted artist himself. As Mr. Michaelis writes, Schulz “gave his wishy-washiness and determination to Charlie Brown,” his sarcasm to Lucy, “his dignity and ‘weird little thoughts'” to Linus, his “perfectionism and devotion to his art to Schroeder,” his sense of “being talented and unappreciated to Snoopy.”
It is Mr. Michaelis’s achievement in these pages that he leaves us with both a shrewd appreciation of Schulz’s minimalist art and a sympathetic understanding of Schulz the man. He shows us how Schulz’s sense of vocation as a young child, fueled by a fierce ambition, led him to the career he’d always wanted, and how he gradually assimilated a host of influences to find a voice that was inimitably his own. He also shows us how Schulz constructed an anomalous fictional world that captured the public imagination, eventually reaching readers in some 75 countries, 2,600 newspapers and 21 languages.
If the goal of writing, or more accurately – art, is to self-examine (and I find that more and more that’s exactly what mine is) then it seems that for many decades we were blessed with a cartoon philosopher/psychologist who was brave enough to share himself with his readers, and we didn’t even know it. It’s a bravery I don’t know that I have, but to which I aspire.
There goes my newest WIP title: Remember the Smoke Filled Revelation I Had at Work with Grace, Waiting for the Insomnia Voyeur to Release Notes on the Butterfly Reunion.”
TVQR: top ten titles submitted