Friday, August 21, 2009

The Music of a Book

For three days, my Muse and I have been obsessing on the individual essays and poetry in the Punk Anthology, listening to the quality of the words to find its unique note, its tone, its melody... Every piece is different, but they must all flow together harmoniously within one larger work: the book.

As the publisher and Medusa's Muse "big-picture" editor, this is my job.

"There are too many short pieces clumped together at the end," I said, growling and rubbing my fingers through my hair furiously.

My Muse slapped my hands. "Stop that. You'll go bald."

"They all share a similar tone and flow together well, but it feels boring. We can't have everything clumped together like that."

"So pull them out one at a time and try inserting them in different places." Muse lifted a short, moment-in-time essay from the stack of contributions and studied it. "Like this one. It's lovely. It's a snapshot of a time and place rather than a manifesto. Could we move it up in the order of the book? I think something like this, which is well written and moody, would create a nice break next to a longer piece more focused on the person's history."

I took the story and studied it. "I see what you mean. What if we put it after Chestnut's story. He talks about community and this story shows that community." On my lap top, I find the story, then cut and paste it to its new position. I study how the one story ends and flows into the next. "Yeah. I like it. This could work."

We read and re-read the anthology, moving stories, reading the manuscript again, swapping position of one with another, then changing our minds and putting them back. One day passes, then another. I begin to see the stories clearly when I close my eyes at night and rearrange them in my dreams. I'm not even sure what I'm looking for. I don't know how the book should flow yet. When it happens, I'll feel it.

One day I discover that I'd put all the "jail stories" together. I moved those, then realized the first poem didn't ring true with the first essay. Not that the stories have to agree, but the tone needs to be complimentary. It's like trying to use snippets of Mozart with Motorhead. They may both work together in a piece (just ask a Mashup artist), but probably not directly next to each other. You need to find the common note, the thread of the story, to tie it all together one at a time. The first story may have nothing in common with the fourth story, but they are tied together by what they share with story number two and three. I need to find the threads to tie everything up.

Muse asked, "If this is a punk book, does it have to flow harmoniously? Aren't you working with a music that enjoys jarring people out of any sense of calm?"

"Musically, yes. But this is a book of personal stories and there is a pattern to them. They don't have to tie together as neatly as a different type of book, but they should still work together to tell the larger tale."

Late into the night, while Muse listened to Exene on her Ipod, I switched two storie's positions and suddenly felt it. The threads were tied and the story flowed easily from one piece to the next. It was done.

I leaned back in my chair and motioned for Muse to join me. We read the book again from beginning to end and when we finished we looked at each other and smiled. Even her snakes grinned and I thought I heard one whisper, "Yes!"

Muse stood tall before me and announced, "You are a genius."


"Yes. You discovered the music of this book. Not everyone can do that."

I shrugged. "I'm the big picture girl. I can't find spelling errors but I can find a plot."

1 comment:

CC said...

I'm the opposite. ;)