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There’s been a move lately toward publishing pre-publication drafts of famous authors’ works. One of the newsmakers in this regard is the push by the wife of the late Raymond Carver to see “original” versions of his work sent to the marketplace. Since many authors are influenced by editors, there is a fascination to see how things might have turned out if no editor had intervened (See my Thomas Wolfe Blog from Dec. 29). There’s also interest among striving writer types and MFA instructors who are always seeking help for bringing unruly manuscripts to heel.

The New Yorker recently reprinted a pre-Gordon Lish version of “Beginners,”  as “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love” was called at first, showing the revisions that were necessary to turn it into the classic Carver story. There’s still the question of how much was Lish and how much was Carver, but the results are pretty  much what you’d expect. Carver’s wonderfully revealing terseness didn’t come easily. Fully a third of the original manuscript simply disappeared in the final edition. Most of the cuts involved amplification and explanation that may have been necessary for the author to get a handle on what was going on inside his people, but would have actually hampered a reader’s experience with the story.  A short example:

“She was a bone thin woman with a pretty face, dark eyes, and brown hair that hung down her back. She liked necklaces made of turquoise and long pendant earrings. She was fifteen years younger than Herb, had suffered periods of anorexia, and during the late sixties, before she’d gone to nursing school, had been a dropout, a “street person” as she put it.”

So, there you are.  Backstory. Cut it. Most of the emendations are of this basic kind of thing that every workshop, handbook, and teacher stresses and stresses and stresses. So, all you have to do is follow directions, and you, too, can become a Raymond. Nice if it were that easy.

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