Saturday, February 11, 2023

Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda: My Book Projects

When I retired, I could have stopped working. I probably should have stopped working.

But you know me! Despite my complaints about being overwhelmed, I rarely slow down. Finish one thing, start another. 

I just finished editing a fifth book. Yes, five jobs since retiring 10 years ago, from four decades in a writing career. The first three books were for pay; low pay because the authors were friends. The last two, also for friends, were the hardest -- years of consulting throughout the writing process, then months of substantive editing (and grueling negotiation), copyediting, proofreading. 

They were voluntary.

The first editing job was for my dear friend Dan Smith, who died at age 90 just as his book went to the printer. At least he knew it was actually going to be published. What a relief that must have been!

My regular blog readers have already heard about this book project. Dan hand-wrote hundreds of pages in longhand, on yellow legal pads, later typed by his wife and a hired typist. Dan and I spent hours on the patio of Busboys & Poets in Takoma Park, hashing out content, shaping the format, selecting and discarding stories and photos. He told me dozens of stories that didn't make it into the manuscript.

Then the editing began. Then the exhaustive negotiations with Dan and his "executive" editor--his wife. My own hand-written notes ran to a dozen pages.

Dan was likely the last living child of someone born into slavery during the American Civil War. His 387-page memoir, "Son of a Slave," recounts his hardships and encounters with racism, and is a heartfelt tribute to those he cared about and those who supported him during his trials and tribulations.

The second editing job was for my partner, Pope. Yes, Pope wrote a book! His second, actually. This was a memoir: entertaining stories of a life lived hard and with great risks and hair-raising adventures. His theme? How much fun one man can have without killing himself.

His title? "I Should Have Been More Careful." (I should have stopped working...)

This time, the collaboration began with Pope telling me the stories, over the past 20+ years. His friends have been hearing them for much, much longer. Finally, the stories got onto paper (actually, a computer) and after months of re-hashing and hand-wringing, and checking and re-checking, into 202 printed pages.

And me? Two more friends immediately asked me to edit their books. Although the topics are intriguing -- rock stars and Shakespeare -- alas, I must say no and take a well-deserved break. READ a book. Ride a bike. Resume blogging. Go to Italy for some pasta, prosecco, and parmigiano-reggiano.

Book-length manuscripts are considerably more demanding than the intelligence reports, newsletters, scientific papers, speeches, and other materials I wrote, edited, and produced on a moderate government salary. For a book, I think asking for $$$$ -- a few thousand dollars, perhaps? -- would not be out of line! 

Also, I admit, I've gotten a bit rusty on grammar and style. I frequently had to consult a dictionary, grammar books, and a style manual checked out of the library. This took lots of time.

It was hard work that left me exhausted.

When I retired, I could have stopped working. I probably should have stopped working. When will I ever learn? When will I slow down?