Familiar Strangers

Back when I acquired and edited books on staff at Simon & Schuster, I was frequently struck by how different the reading experience was, going from manuscript to galley pages. Seeing the text designed and formatted, as it would look to paying readers, was always sobering. It crystallized the book, giving permanence to what had previously been fluid.

Flash forward to today, when I face the same experience, squared: The first-pass pages for Vanguard: Declassified are in, and here before me, currently spanning pages 187-277, is the story I wrote, The Ruins of Noble Men, as it will look when (hopefully) others read it.

It’s been a long time since I’ve seen my own words make this sort of journey. Yes, I’ve written plenty of back cover copy that was published, and every six weeks I still get to see the pieces I write for Star Trek Magazine make it into print. But this is different. Crafting fiction is an act of intimacy, and what comes of it is at once revelatory and misleading. Stories are reflections of their tellers, to varying degrees, but what readers may infer from one about the other is anyone’s guess.

But that’s not really what this is about. My thoughts as I revisit Ruins with fresh eyes have less to do with what the reactions to my novella may be than with managing my instinct to pick nits…and just how odd my story now looks.

In pages, Ruins suddenly seems both familiar and very strange. I know I wrote the words, but they’ve taken on new dimension. It’s a little like seeing my kids today and recalling what they were like when they were much younger, and realizing that while I take joy in how they’ve grown, part of me wonders if I’ve shaped them as well as I could have. Intellectually, I know those doubts are natural, and second-guessing my choices at this stage—well, that way lies madness. Still, I wonder.

Then again, maybe that’s the point. It’s not about what I may have done right or wrong in writing The Ruins of Noble Men, but how that experience has affected me. I’m the familiar stranger…standing on the other side the editorial divide with a renewed appreciation for what storytellers go through in trying to spin tales they’re proud to put their names on.

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One response

  1. Marco, well said. Take your observations even a step further. Every now and then over the years, it has become necessary for me to reread something I’ve had published, and my reaction has almost always been: who wrote this? It’s not that I can’t recall actually sitting down and committing the words to paper (or more aptly, pixels to screen), but that I lack an emotional remembrance of having done so. ‘Tis a strange feeling, but one I attribute to that of which you speak. The very act of penning fiction changes the storyteller in certain ways. To some degree, the person I am now did not write whatever work of mine I’m rereading; an earlier version of me did, one who hadn’t yet created that particular piece. They say that no two siblings have the same parents; in a very real way, no two works with the same credit have the same writer.

    March 4, 2011 at 2:19 pm

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