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.