Sunday, August 21, 2011

Sunday Morning with Showbiz David: We Were All Young Once ...

Photo above: Paul Binder, in 1977, only days away from the first performance of his and Michael Christensen's Big Apple Circus. Photo from Big Apple Circus website.
Next photo down: John Ringling North II and his son, John Ringling North III, in 1967.

To live a long life, be prepared to embrace one newfangled technology after another, to accept an ever-changing world that refuses to stand still. I am now wondering, what will follow the cellphone? This last week, I had my own Mark Twain moment, I think. Mark Twain was one of the first writers to use a radical writing device called a "typewriter." America's greatest storyteller lived and penned in the present. The last time I used a typewriter was about two books back.

Once upon a draft, when you wrote a book, the publisher would edit your manuscript (a stack of typed pages sent by snail mail), return it for your approval or counter corrections, and so on. Two days ago, my edited "manuscript" for Inside the Changing Circus: A Critics Guide, came through e-mail on a Word attachment. This has always been the most fascinating phase of the publishing process for me -- like, I suppose, getting back an essay in college to see how covered in red ink it might be bearing an instructor's impatience.

But I can tell you, after many seasons mulling the issue over, "editing" in the book publishing world can vary from questionably severe to nearly non-existent. How important is it, really? Beyond its success in tracking down misspelled words, correcting basic grammar, and toppling typos, I'm still not sure. I won't reveal here how many misspelled words you will find in my first book, Behind the Big Top. But it should earn me a place in the Guinness Book of Unflattering Records. Possibly the Grand Prize.

Quickly, I scanned my Word document, just edited by my publisher BearManor Media, for evidence of corrections, not knowing how they might appear. Quickly, my fears were calmed. Authoritative streaks of red intersected my prose at fairly spacious intervals. The corrections struck me as sharp and savvy. And then, by accident, I discovered how, if I make any more changes of my own, they will appear in yet another color. OK, World of Now, I think I get the idea.

Here is an example of good useful editing: In my manuscript, referring to PETA I used the phrase "hot-headed activists." Now, those words are covered in yellow, and when I move the cursor over them, a tiny window pops up in which an editor's query appears: "Suggest dropping inflammatory adjectives here." Good point, editor, I agree.

Time changes our manner of communication, oh does it ever, considering the ubiquitously fluid internet. Most poignantly, time changes us. In my final reach for the ideal Paul Binder image, while surfing the Big Apple Circus website, I came upon the show's history and photos of Paul and Michael when they were once young, just starting out in Paris -- at a time when a kid with a bike might still pull up to your front door with that magical -- or feared -- telegram in hand. When the IBM Selectric was all the rage on upscale office desks. When the telephone rang out like a real telephone. How touching it is to gaze back upon the face of a young dreamer, like Paul up there, at the outset of a mission destined for great and honorable success.

Only a day before, my friend Boyi, in the photo here, came by with some home-cooked noodles to be warmed up later, and ready to take a look at some photos I intend to use in my book. I had asked him if he would give me his reaction to a few that I am still undecided about -- which image was better, for example, between two pictures of Barbette, and then between three of Steve Copeland and Ryan Combs. I welcomed Boyi's feedback, and went with it. He is not exactly a circus fan, but he has a good eye for photography. I think his picks helped me settle on the right choices.

Then we went out to lunch, and there, by surprise, Boyi referenced my birthday being so close at hand -- on a day when he had to work. He told me that the long noodles he had brought by were a way of wishing one a "long life." Boyi is still young, but age is relative, right? In not many years, he may start prematurely ruing the "good old times" when he was in his twenties ...

Back at my place, we sat in front of my PC, Boyi worked the mouse, and I was whip lashed into elements of contemporary culture that have so far eluded me, into the hyperbolic worlds of two global icons: Lady Gaga, now I know why the world has gone agog over this outrageously amusing entertainer, ingeniously packaged to advance the Madonna syndrome? Better yet, Russian troubadour Vitas who sings like a well tuned siren. Phenomenal! Fantastic! Earth shattering!

They, too, one day will join the ranks of we who were "young once."

In the meantime, until something newer comes along, here I am at my PC, typing this out, after which, I'll return to my Word document and check out the editorial corrections to my manuscript. It should be fun, though, at least the typing out of my final revisions in my favorite hue -- blue!

I wonder how long Mark Twain stuck with the typewriter?

1 comment:

Harry Kingston said...

I cannot wait to read your new book on the circus and my autographed copy.
Real smart getting Boyi's opinion on the photos from a young person that is not a circus fan like we all are.
Times have changed when the circus was a holiday in town.
We did not have tv, computers and i-pods etc.
The circuses were large and great stars you remebered.
Clyde Beatty master of the big cage, the Wallendas king of the high wire, Emmet Kelly clown, etc.
Times have changed and so have the circuses.
What the future holds time will tell and who will survive along the sawdust trail.
Thank goodness for many great memories of the way it was when we were young and every day was a holiday.
Harry in Texas