Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Comforted by F. Scott Fitzgerald!

Carol Tanzman checking in!

I recently read a post on the Letters of Note site (via the awesome Alice Marvels—if you don’t receive her e-newsletter on just about everything YA, you should), showing the very first correspondence exchanges between F. Scott Fitzgerald and his editor Maxwell Perkins regarding his new novel The Great Gatsby.

I loved reading the back and forth between the two of them. Catching a glimpse into their process. Just before Fitzgerald closes the first letter, in which he tell Perkins that he’s sending him his new manuscript under separate cover, he writes,

“Naturally I won't get a nights sleep until I hear from you…”

Sound familiar, writers? The question that haunts us all: in spite of all our hard work, is this manuscript any good?

In the next letter, Fitzgerald writes, “There are things in it I'm not satisfied with in the middle of the book—Chapters 6 & 7.”

Perkins writes back after reading the manuscript twice. He makes sure to give Fitzgerald very effusive, and deserved, praise, before he says, “I think you are right in feeling a certain slight sagging in chapters six and seven, and I don't know how to suggest a remedy.”

I can almost see Fitzgerald taking a puff of his cigarette or downing a shot of whiskey: “Damn, I was hoping he’d tell me it was fine.” Because this means Fitzgerald must rewrite, of course. I imagine him trying all sorts of things to find that remedy himself: long walks, drinking extra booze, staying up late, waking up earlier, thinking about the problem, NOT thinking about the problem, working on another note…

Except for the cigarette-smoking, I’m actually projecting a bit of what happened after I read a few of my editor’s notes for the upcoming Circle of Silence. The acknowledgment that, yes, something’s not quite right in a certain section. The awareness that, oops, I’m not quite sure what to do about it. There has to be a way to solve the problem, I think, and I go through all those steps until, at last, the “Aha” moment appears.

 “I know how to fix this!” I think.

Lo and behold, in Fitzgerald’s very next letter to Perkins, he makes this list:

“(b) Chapters VI & VII I know how to fix” (emphasis mine). I hear Fitzgerald’s quiet triumph, his palpable relief that he can finally make those chapters work.

“(c) Gatsby's business affairs
I can fix. I get your point about them.” (Again, the quiet nod—you’re right about this, Perkins old chap and I will make it better.)

“(d) His vagueness I can repair by making more pointed—this doesn't sound good but wait and see. It'll make him clear.

LOL! “This doesn’t sound good but wait and see…”  I just love that. How many times have I said something similar to an editor? Since I am not F. Scott Fitzgerald, however, I always add, “If you don't think it works, I’ll cut/change/rewrite.”

Reading these exchanges made me inordinately happy. Through the wonders of the Internet, I'm able to cross time and space and meet F. Scott Fitzgerald in the place all writers wish to find: the magical ground that allows us to make every book the best we can.

For the full Letters of Note post, click here

For more information on Circle of Silence, which will be published by Harlequin Teen in exactly two weeks (7/24/12), click here.


Jordan Dane said...

Great post, Carol. Drawing a connection to Fitzgerald through his letters & his insecurities as an author is definitely comforting. Genius!

Carol Tanzman said...

LOL, Jordan. Leave it to you to tell me what I'm writing about. xo.