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 On the Death of Foul Matter

     I am about to ramble about things I find interesting.
     I have no illusion that anyone else will, or does, find these things interesting. But hope is what hope is. For some reason this version of my rambling includes an inordinate number of phrases and sentences that are parenthetical (unfortunately including parentheticals within parentheticals.) If you are here looking for news about the new book, and have no interest in my ramble, or if you are self-aware enough to know you are likely to be aggravated by a plethora of probably preventable punctuation (or by gratuitous alliteration), don't despair. There is some hard news to be had.
     Skip to the end.

     Early in my career they were called long galleys (they were actually long.) Then, later on, just galleys (they had ceased being long.) Now they are called first pass pages (why "pass"?—just replace it with "attempt" or "try") though some people in book publishing call them merely "pages." [Although it is but publishing lexicon, that particular shorthand is, in my mind, magical thinking. Calling them simply pages presumes that they will exist in isolation, that there will be no second pass pages to follow the first. (Hint: There are always second pass pages. That's a given.) But there can also be third pass pages. Or fourth, or . . .  Well, you get the idea.] Calling them only pages presumes things will go well in the subsequent stages of production. I've been alive too long to presume that about book production. Or about most other things. One of my books had actual fourth pass pages. It was not a fun time for either the production editor or for me. And no, I will never tell which book.
     For purposes of clarity, I will use pages in a sentence. As in a sentence I received in a recent email, "The pages will arrive at your home on December XXth. They are due back in our offices on January Xth." The pages—actual printed representations of how pages will look in the future physical (but not digital; that's a different ramble) book—did arrive, as promised. They surround me now, as I work on this ramble. (Yes, I should be proofing said pages right now, not rambling, but . . .) This is the first time in memory that I will have custody of first pass pages (or galleys, long or not) over the holiday season. Is that a good thing? I haven't decided. But holidays or no holidays, I am indeed expected to do what I'm expected to do and to return these first page pages to the production editor, having fulfilled my authorly proofreading expectations, in early January.

     Here comes a digression from my ramble: It's been my experience that writers take editorial deadlines with a grain of salt. Contractual obligations notwithstanding, writers consider their editors to be flexible people (I know I do, as that consideration assists me with all manner of rationalization.) My editors are willing co-conspirators in the creation of art, or something like that.
     Editors have to be flexible, right? I mean, editors work directly with writers. Like, every day. Editors know all too well that writers approach required tasks the same way squirrels cross streets, in fits and starts, one moment screeching to a stop to avoid an imaginary obstacle, the next instant darting in front of a speeding bus. We get distracted by miasma and by mirage on our random traverse from curb to curb. To writers, useless tangents have the allure of treasure maps. Road kill is but an occupational hazard.
     Have you ever tried to hazard an estimate about when, or if, a squirrel is actually going to arrive at that tree on the other side of the road?
     That's how I imagine editors feel about writers, and deadlines.
     But production editors? I take their deadlines more seriously. Why? I think it's because in twenty years in this business I have never actually met a production editor. To me, they are mythical creatures, like gryphons.
     Not having seen one in the wild I am left to imagine, and I imagine them (no doubt unfairly) to be inflexible people. I compare them to Sister Shevaun, the nun I had in the fifth grade. They don't want to hear excuses. They don't suffer jaywalking squirrels. They believe in crosswalks the way Sister Shevaun believed in catechism and in diagramming sentences.
     If I ever go back into therapy, I will work on it. It has to be transferential.
     Okay, digression over.

     Although I am not a fan of what I must do with these first pass pages (it can be mind-numbing; I'll get to that soon enough) I enjoy being around them. Seeing them. Holding them. I even enjoy it more today than I did twenty years ago. Why? In contemporary publishing, which has evolved to become an almost entirely digital endeavor, the first pass pages are now the initial time in the long book production journey that I get to see and to hold a physical mass of paper that represents my new book (in this case, Line of Fire.)
     That didn't use to be true. In the old days, at the very beginning of the creative process, we had these things called manuscripts, and . . .
     I won't go there. Instead, I will go here:
     Digital publishing has now progressed to this point: with Line of Fire, for the first time in my career, I did not even print out a paper copy of the (virtual) manuscript I sent to my publisher when I submitted it for editorial approval many months ago.
     Instead, the submission of Line of Fire was done via an email with a Word attachment. It took Gmail a few seconds to send the file from Colorado to New York City. Poof. My editor(s) probably turned the Word .doc into a .pdf with a few mouse clicks and then read the thing on an iPad during his, and her, commute.
     No paper to be found. Anywhere.
     The virtual manuscript was then edited in Word using a series of Track Changes versions that were sent back and forth, digitally of course, between my editor(s) and me. The copyediting was done in the same manner, with the final editorial version repeatedly modified while being shuffled around between an associate editor, the production editor, the copyeditor, and me, each of us leaving a Track Changes trail in our own distinctive color. (For the record, for a brief period Track Changes assigned me pink. I found it distracting.)
     It was the production editor who had ultimate responsibility for approving the final Track Changes edition of the manuscript, the one that was used to "set" the type of the first pass pages. There is no actual type involved in typesetting anymore, but the romantic in me likes to pretend there is. I'm a novelist; I do a lot of pretending. People, by and large, encourage it.
     What is absent from the above progression? (Okay, other than a point.) Can anyone guess?
     The answer: what is missing is only one of my favorite (physical) relics of the (historical) publishing process.
     I'm talking foul matter.
     Qu'est-ce que c'est "foul matter?"
     Back in the day, after the final book was published (actually printed on paper and sewn and bound, as in old-school published) the marked-to-death final paper copy of the manuscript [the one that was copyedited and proofed (at least twice) before the production editor did his or her thing and turned it over to the typesetter (not really, no actual type, not even then) to prepare what were once called long galleys and are now called first pass pages] was no longer an essential part of the process. (I dare Sister Shevaun to diagram that sentence.) By then, my once pristine, post-editorial manuscript—beaten to near death by editors, copyeditors, designers, production editors, proofreaders, and by me—was superfluous.
     Each new book generated only one precious physical manuscript copy that contained all the necessary editorial and authorial scrawls and copyedited corrections and proofreaders marks and design notes and indecipherable directions to the typesetter. It was that copy, that well loved and well-abused, disease-infested Velveteen Rabbit of a manuscript, that would be returned to me unceremoniously months, sometimes well over a year, after the publication of the book. That copy of my work, forlorn after an extended exile in some windowless office on Hudson Street in the West Village, was considered so pathetic that it was deemed foul matter.
     Foul as in trash, or detritus. Matter as in doesn't.
     So foul, in fact, that it was actually offered back to the writer for free.
     I know, I know. You probably don't know what I'm talking about. My tangent is getting too obtuse; I am discussing detritus, for God's sake. So what the hell am I talking about? Here is when you imagine me going to my storage locker and sifting through boxes of crap I've saved, including quite a few boxes of foul matter. Good. The errand happened just the way you're imagining it. (Actually it was worse. A big pile of book boxes had fallen over in the storage locker. Yikes.)
     And here, as evidence and example, are two pages from the foul matter of Kill Me

Compound Fractures by Stephen White

In Stores Now

Line of Fire by Stephen White

In Stores Now

Kill Me foul matter page 1
Kill Me foul matter page 2

     The foul matter of Kill Me is nearly 450 pages long. A few are as lovely as the first example above; most are more spare, like the second.  
     Isn't foul matter grand?
     I have boxes of these things. I cherish them, and what they say about the process of collaboration involved in turning writers' work into books.
     This particular ramble has now officially become a too-long (and way too parenthetical) love letter to foul matter. (A year from now—or two, or three, or five—when publishing's revolution is near complete and physical books are the exception, first pass pages will have gone the way of foul matter. The last version of my work I will see in that future will be a digital, pre-formatted, virtual set of . . . Well, I don't know what they will be called.)
     As you can hopefully tell, I am lamenting the fact that for the first time in nineteen books, and probably forevermore, I am not able to look forward to the day I will get to open an envelope containing the foul matter of any more of my books.
     Because for me, with the publication of Line of Fire, foul matter no longer exists. Not in paper form. It's been digitized.
     Foul matter is dead. Long live foul matter.
     I will miss it.
     I am thinking maybe they'll send me a thumb drive instead. I'll let you know.

Line of Fire
Here's the new book news: Publication of Line of Fire has been set for August, 2012. Why so late? I'm guessing, but since my books have had summer pub dates for a while I suspect that the publisher decided to stick with the plan.
     Jane and I hope to be able to post an excerpt from the book in the near(er) future.
     But before we can excerpt, I must complete my proofreading (a sophisticated version of first pass page spelunking for a) typos, and b) evidence of my ignorance) of the first pass pages that surround me. Presuming that goes well, I will not be required to also proof the second pass pages. Or the third . . .
     I wish you all a contented and healthy New Year.
     As always, with my thanks.

— Stephen White