Scholar tells funny, frustrating stories of editors and writers
Dec. 1, 2011 at 6:01 a.m.
Updated Dec. 2, 2011 at 6:02 a.m.
Editors - you can't live with them, can't live without them.
So it is with clichés, at least according to an editor who once told author John Tytell that his language was "too fastidious because it failed to employ any clichés."
Tytell, an academic and preeminent scholar on the Beat Generation writers, shared his experiences with editors - the funny, the frustrating, the failures and the triumphs - at the American Book Review's reading series Thursday at the University of Houston-Victoria.
Tytell read from a 5,000-word piece that will be part of his seventh book. The book will examine the relationship between writers and editors - and, if the past is any indication, it will undergo its own set of sordid tales on the way from the editor's desk to publication.
As a friend of beat writers and an eyeful historian of their work, Tytell had plenty of tales from the cutting room floor to draw from. In the post-World War II era, the beats were known for their non-conformity, whose works sometimes sprang from drug experimentation and an alternative sexual lifestyle.
While Tytell spoke of the attempts - and sometimes successes - to censor the beat writers' works, he also offered up his own stories of battling on behalf of his words to make it to print.
For example, a magazine once refused to publish a story about a polyamorous woman in Paris as Tytell had written it, with accurate - if risqué - prose.
The editor "wanted to poach my chicken in cream sauce, when I had already deep fried it," Tytell put it.
Tytell refused to cave to censorship for the sake of publication in that case, and eventually the story published as he'd written it.
He won out on another of his books, "Ezra Pound: The Solitary Volcano," which took him a decade to publish while dealing with four editors.
Besides Tytell's mother - "the primal editor" - Tytell worked on his Pulitzer Prize-nominated book with an editor who told him to bury the book, one who told him to fabricate juicy conversations and another who was a cookbook editor, "with the girth to prove it."
With quick prose that didn't pause for pieces of dry humor, Tytell ventured into sincerity when acknowledging the role of editors.
For example, it was an editor who had encouraged Tytell to follow through on his first project about the Beat Generation, the 1976 book "Naked Angels," which is still in print in several languages.
An editor had told him he was too rambunctious, too fascinated with his own linguistic overreaching.
Eventually, Tytell came around to the editor's criticisms.
"Charged language is not always convincing. That avalanche of anger does not itself persuade," he said.
Tytell had questioned whether Moses, when God was dictating to him his commandments, would ask him for a word substitute or perhaps recommend a semicolon.
But Tytell rested with saying the writer needs an editor - someone to provide writers with a belief in their own capabilities.
"An editor's different point of view can have intrinsic value, serving to sharpen an argument or clarify its clause. An editor can sometimes see a logical flaw of which you were unaware," he said.
And that's the way the ball bounces, right Tytell?