Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Where to Go from Here

I had mentioned in an earlier post that I had some book ideas I wanted to pursue. Actually, I have three:

(1) Writing and Living Well - a book that argues if you know how to write, then you know how to live a happier and more successful life.
(2) Ever Jewish - A collection of essays from ordinary people about topics in modern Jewish life and the Jewish experience.
(3) A novel (or novella) about an interfaith family with a son who must decide whether to be bar mitzvah-ed. The mother becomes very devout, the older daughter almost more evangelical, and the father becomes almost completely orthodox Jew.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Free at Last

I submitted a complete book manuscript to my author friend: over 89,000 words. I am very happy to have this part of the project more or less wrapped up, but I am also a bit disappointed. I wish that the relationship with my author friend had worked out better. I also wish I'd been able to clear up some of the gaps and discrepancies that I know remain in the text. I was hoping that this work would possibly lead to my doing more in writing and publishing. Now, I am highly doubtful that the book will ever be published. Already, I have emailed my friend and his secretary to get acknowledgment for having received the manuscript, but none has come.

This is the cover note I sent with the manuscript:
Hi Author Friend,

Attached is the single file with the complete draft of the manuscript, sections one through seven. Please let me know that the file has come through OK and that you can open it. If everything meets with your approval, then I hope we can consider my part of the agreement fulfilled regarding the completion of the manuscript draft. Section 6, Chapter 39 needs your wisdom.

As I indicated earlier, 2009 is 150 years on from Darwin's Origin of Species. That's why I like the title and why I think we want to push publication in 2009.

I have appreciated working with you and am very grateful for this opportunity. Although the current manuscript has much that can be improved, it also has much to recommend it. I firmly believe that if we continue to work together, you will be able to sell the manuscript and have the book make a nice impact in the market. I hope that you and I can continue working together on this manuscript to polish it, add more examples and concrete details, and connect all the key threads.

I have some expectations as to what happens from this point onward, and I would appreciate it if you would correct anything I say now that is in error:
(1) You will now go through the manuscript, section by section. You will re-write some parts to match your style. You will add material based on your unique store of knowledge and insight. You will revise and edit as you feel necessary.
(2) If you choose, you may send revised versions of sections or chapters to me, and I will happily review and provide feedback.
(3) You will work to sell the manuscript to publishers. Although you have no obligation to keep me informed of your activities, I hope you will let me know of significant meetings you have upcoming or recently passed. I want you to know that I would like to support your efforts to sell the manuscript. Although my schedule is incredibly hectic, I will strive to make time to help you, as needed.
(4) If you sell the manuscript, you will promptly inform me of the details and what it means for the completion of the payment part of our contractual agreement.
(5) If outside parties ask for substantial edits or re-writes, you may ask me to do them. I cannot promise availability, but I do want to help and I will certainly try to work with you on this.
(6) If you sell the manuscript, you will provide me with updates on an ongoing basis so that I will know about key milestones (esp. the official publication date). Post-publication, you will share any reviews or sales information you receive, if any.
(7) In advance of publication, you will, if you choose, allow me at least to be informed of any marketing or publicity related to the book. As I have said, if there is anything I can do to help, I want to try and be available for you.
I know how busy you are, but please let me know if anything above is incorrect or misguided. Otherwise, I’ll simply consider it agreed between us.

To conclude the draft part of this project, let me again thank you for the opportunity to work with you. Although in the book we state many things diplomatically, some of the ideas and phrasings should generate some attention and make for a fun reaction in the market. The book lays out solid arguments and approaches that you could bring to a new series of debates and lectures. Several topics we touch upon could themselves develop into whole book projects.

I would suggest that you and I find a way to work together on new projects. I have several ideas that could make viable projects for a popular book or book series. Perhaps these could be projects under the JVN imprint that include a preface or introduction from you. If you wish, we can discuss.

I wish you and yours the very best as you begin the next phase of this book project. As I have said, if I am able, I will provide any further help you want. Please let me know about the items above, and let’s continue to talk to each other.

Larry Tanner
Any lessons learned from all of this? I am happy that I took on this project, even though it was often ugly and stressful. I now have confidence that I could produce my own book - all I need is the same discipline and focus. I have several book ideas, and I think I should pursue them. I also see that I need to be careful about spreading myself too thin. During the 6-7 months of writing, my main work has suffered, as has my teaching. Even home life has been affected. I also see that I am not an easy person to work with. I am stubborn, inflexible, and rather selfish.

How bad was my author friend? I want to be fair in criticizing him. I found him difficult to work with because he did not focus on me and our work very well. He got very upset easily, and at times he got personal with his remarks. He was not very collaborative. I was disappointed that he didn't have more to say/contribute in individual chapters. Ultimately, neither of us communicated effectively with each other.

What happens now? On the one hand, I want him to go through the manuscript carefully and add relevant information on stuff he knows about. On the other hand, I don't want him revising out some of the key points. While I want the manuscript to be sold, I don't want it sold as-is. But I know the economy is in the tank, and publishers aren't scrambling for new manuscripts. What the manuscript really needs is a good editor, someone who can help us root out contradictions, make the prose more electric, and help us raise up the ideas that will generate publicity and notoriety for the book:
Section 1: As it has become popular at the mainstream level, the science and religion debate has become slogged down. It's become basically two defined camps lobbing grenades at each other and not seeking to work together or come to any new understanding.
Section 2: The early science and religion debates show that constructive dialogue is possible, but the debates always risk sinking down to theatrics.
Section 3: Science is itself a blind watchmaker. Science theorizes nature and physical reality as a blind watchmaker because this is what science is. Science basically projects itself onto the universe it seeks to describe.
Section 4: Reality is poetry that animates both science and religion. This means that science should seriously engage the idea of the divine and that religion should honestly and openly discuss the implications of materialism.
Section 5: Darwinian evolution contains elements that fascist ideology drew upon because without a theistic conception of morality, there are no ethical stop signs on behavior.
Section 6: Judaism is not an earlier or simpler version of Christianity. Jews do not "believe in" G-d in the way that atheists and mainstream culture usually consider.
Section 7: A rational religion can reach across the divide between belief and non-belief. A Theo Bright database can be a way forward against the "orientalizing" tendencies of atheist argumentation.
Though I'll find it difficult, I am going to try not to think about the book anymore. I'll send some tidy-up messages, but basically I hope that the next message I get from my author friend is congratulations on our having sold the manuscript, pending some changes. The ball is in his court. Good riddance.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Remember Poetry

I finally downloaded some of my old poems. Many of these are from college. Others are later add-ons. Most of them are really terrible. They all lack a point. None has any tension or real linguistic art. I suppose I can take some comfort in my ability at least to recognize this.

I kind of like one poem I wrote about
What music is –
this unordinary gift that emerges,
streams start and stops
piano figures here
double-bass comments there
the drummer with sticks and brushes
splashes not rhythm but idea.

It all mixes
but not, never, perfectly
it evokes, evolves, teases, grates,
always moving in motion –
now scales, [lift, lift; dip, dip]
then cymbal taps, [pit-tit-tit, pit-tit-tit, pit-tit-tit]
soon color. [ --- ]

The spontaneous dance continues,
improvisers translate and create the abstract terrain,
ungracefully around
more than beautiful
more than beauty
more than beats
less than tick tocks
less than universal
less than unique.

This music
as life:
its detail
simple moments unrepeatable
the players
changes –
I surround myself in it
and always am an honest person.
What I like is that it's a "smart" poem, but not too smart. Essentially, it tries both to describe the music and the experience of hearing it being played. I remember writing this poem while listening to the Keith Jarrett trio's free jazz album (one of them, anyway). In the poem, I wanted to capture the daring of the music, the blind steps the players take. Well, it's not so much blind; they see a few steps ahead, but they don't necessarily know to where they are being led. Yet they go there willingly and boldly. As a listener, I am thrilled by not knowing where they are going or how they will get there. I found that thrill and that ignorance as profoundly true, as a leveler of dishonesty.