Three dark themes stalk this journey into self-publishing: Bursts of tinkering, troubleshooting, and anxiety.
Of course there are luminous elements holding hands with me as we progress. But those lights shine in between and at the end of the journey.
Last Friday, I received the edited draft from the professor-editor who agreed to take a second look at the book. The following Saturday, I sat myself down at the computer, desktop opened with the original document side by side with the edited one. It began.
One revises and rereads a work, grows intimate as with a beloved, only to find out, thanks to a kind objective eye, all the scattered accidental hiccups and typos marring the good intentions of that project, itself still beloved, but brought to bear on its faults. What I mean is, hot damn, there was much left to be desired, passages that flowed yet others that tumbled. A bright glowing yellow highlighter, welded by the editor, struck those trouble passages to a jump.
To revisit each ray of neon light was a particular delight, in that focusing my eye on them straighten the knotted tumbled confusing yellow passages out, outright. Today these passages are some of the finest in the book (imo).
For example, I had previously written this passage in a paragraph where the two main characters fall apart, set in a crowded nightclub:
Rick’s stare said it all and in it was a knowing into (missing word?) what he wanted. München seemed to have reminded Rick what was at stake.
Notice the hard to read yellow by the editor, pointing out a hole that needed to get patched up. The following is what I wrote to clarify, while emphasizing the theme of the book, also underscoring the relationship between the protagonist and Rick:
Rick’s stare said it all and in it was a knowing, an understanding of what he wanted. München reminded Rick what was at stake, himself, me, us, pick your pronoun, pick your sample. We were two stakes crossed, a mirror and a razor laid crossed, Sting and Copeland crossed. Forever entwined in joy or sorrow, but forever crossed.
First comes the “two stakes crossed,” a religious allusion, which, btw, upon quick google-research, appears to be a sticky topic: was Jesus nailed to a single stake, or to two crossed stakes? “The mirror and a razor” is a Joyce reference to the opening of Ulysses, were one friend’s banters makes another insecure. The “Sting and Copeland” comparison is pretty self-explanatory, if you knew the two characters were a drummer and a bassist. Lastly, the “joy and sorrow” phrase pays homage to a chapter in Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet, excerpted as an epigraph in the beginning of my book.
Overall, a punctilious experience, working with an editor. Writers can benefit from this kind of collaboration—and that’s more than me being humble: I thought I had my book settled, sentence by sentence—always remembering something else Joyce had said: “I can defend each and every one of my sentences.” (Did he collaborate, I wonder.) I believed, before working with my editor a second time, that I could defend my sentences, too. The highlighter and crossed out typos suggested the book wasn’t perfect just yet. But I did defend them, by caring enough to work with a professional, by addressing the rougher sections. In this, the defense will not rest, nor give up.
Also worth mentioning, the suggestions to improve the book came from more than just the established writer-editor dynamic. I was also lucky enough to experiment with a new method of receiving feedback.
Sharing bits of the work through Instagram.
I have always wanted to share lines and sentences as photos on Instagram—it is a social media I really enjoy—plus Rupi Kaur does a pretty killer job of it. (Anyone notice that alternating text + image?) Naturally, a marketing question arose: How can we combine this platform, already considered a form of microblogging, with my output and my friends’/family’s social media consumption? My marketer put the question to me, when she suggested we upload excerpts of the book, in line with my long standing dream to share.
I was so excited with the prospect, and with her generous offer to organize a schedule for upload, that I flipped not at random to dozens of passages in the book, picking appropriate, exciting, bite-sized samples. Imagine how eager I was to see my first post. It came at a cost, however, which only later yielded a return. When you share you open, when you open you risk; risk can be good, but only because it can be bad.
The first quote-for-insta drew from the first page of The Summer Abroad:
Comfortably, we sat in silence, numb after having discussed what the earthrise from the point of the moon must look like; when the beat of a nearby drum solo passed by.
Notice anything funny? My father did. He called me that very day. There is no way the Earth rises from the point of the Moon, he said. I disagreed — blinded by my memory of the photo of Earth from Apollo 8, as it entered the Moon’s atmosphere, taken on Christmas Eve 1968, which inspired David Bowie’s Space Oddity, along with my novel — replying to my father, Of course the Earth doesn’t rise, in the same way the Sun doesn’t really rise. But it looks like one, right?
My father shook his head on the other line, No, the same side of the Moon always faces the Earth, which means that if you were standing on the Moon then you wouldn’t see the Earth move at all, instead it would spin on its axis with the dark endless sky of the universe as its backdrop. He didn’t mean to be rude, he merely nudged me to imagine a nerd like him regretting his decision to invest time / money reading a book whose print on page one declaimed a scientific discrepancy.
In my defense, sure, yeah, the Earth doesn’t rise, but the NASA website calls it that! (And speaking of nerds, this comment immediately reminded me of what Neil deGrasse Tyson had told the host when he was invited to the Daily Show with Jon Stewart, something about how the earth spins the wrong way during the show’s opening. Apparently the producers corrected the ill-spun Earth right after the interview.)
I nodded my head over the telephone, making a note to address the “earthrise” situation later, on the Saturday I could devote a quick burst of energy to reviewing all the edits. All last week, and every week, it’s busy school time. Weekends are the only times left to administer this undertaking in publishing.
Deep breath, ease, flow. Troubleshoot? This week, between day-jobs, we deal with .mobi files; complete the cover files; finish formatting; and make some hard last minute decisions: I’m considering dropping three of the four epigraphs in the beginning of the book, the excerpts from other books/songs/poems. A US Copyright .gov website tab waits patiently on my browser, unblinking, staring. Won’t I add the Vinicius song lyrics to the front matter of the book, even if the English translation is mine? Or won’t I add that excerpt of Spanglish, by an author who never replied to my email asking permission to use it? Why add more to my plate, shouldn’t a work stand on its own? Maybe I keep the Kahlil Gibran quote. It’s so sick. (And poignant. It only adds.) But I’m thinking the Job quote has to go, although, it couldn’t be more appropriate, for an unassuming artsy book that presumes to be about the Earth.
Job 12:8 O habla a la tierra, y ella te enseñará
Last Saturday, at last. After a dentist appointment, I figured I could spend an hour quickly reviewing the edits compiled over the weeks, including the editor’s hard work, including the Instagram comments. I arrived at my university at 4 PM. 5 PM came, 6 PM. Friends were having a dinner with family, they had invited me. I wanted to go so bad, I did. But I stayed to edit. 7 PM, 8 PM. It was taking longer than expected. The second hand ran faster than my eyes on the page. I had to fix, add, remove, every single highlighted point, why, who cares, go eat food with your friends, it is Saturday, it has been night for a while, you are starving, play music to stay awake, the Police, oh, good inspiration, type, type, type. By 9 PM I got this horrible disgusting feeling in my stomach. It reminded me of the time my father had invited my brother and I to go see Starsky and Hutch in theaters. My brother had jumped in the car, no questions asked. Whereas I had other plans. I said I would rather go to my grandparent’s house (because secretly I wanted to play video games there, in peace, away from any adult recrimination). As the addiction to violent screen-time had its way with me that night, all night, I wiped my nose with the end of my shirt sleeves, one hand on the keyboard of a stupid game, the other on my face, regretting my decision not to go to see that darn movie.
Now the metaphor was in reverse. I had stayed in to work, not to play, on a Saturday.
Not only that, but, to get personal on a personal blog, I had missed this friend’s birthday party the weekend before. And yet he and his girlfriend had invited me to this dinner. They are amazing cooks, amazing people. Why miss this dinner? An obligation to what? The little voice inside. It said keep going.
The overhead lights at the library were still on, so blinding they were blaring. At 9:59 a library employee with Che Guevara sideburns asked me to please shut down the computer, they were closing, thank you. I said, alright, and resolved to finish work, that oh so American word, on Sunday morning.
I miss my friends, I miss relaxing, I thought to myself, pacing back and forth on an L-train platform, those horrible 2-3 minutes before the train arrives and you have nothing to do but let thoughts get the best of you, as you stand kneading the lint in your pocket with your fingernails, until that crowded iron monster comes to race you away on its crooked rails underground.
Light. There was light, remember, at the end of this post, as I stepped out of the underground.
A soft drizzle, dense enough to make out even in the cool evening autumn air, even to the most nearsighted person, with drops hovering above like dancers, blessed the walk from the station to my home.
My roommates were well wined, well fed, and well jolly. They asked, as I entered, bags under my eyes, how it had gone at the library. Had I even told them I couldn’t make it? Yet they were being nice. They offered sausage, cheese, warm bread. They offered questions and stories. A total joy. I didn’t even put up my backpack. I dropped everything and sat on the floor before them, before this grizzly delectable feast of apricot sharp cheese and omg silky Malbec.
It was immaculate.