Around 11:10 a.m. Thursday, while I was helping a new online vendor to start selling University Press of Mississippi books, our rights manager dropped a package in a chair behind me. I knew what it was, but there was no way to get at it immediately. I had to help the kind Tennessean on the phone; he wanted to sell UPM’s music titles over the internet.
A book, once my manuscript, in first proof, one of only ten existing copies right this instant in the world before the whole first printing binds and ships. No longer “my” manuscript, but “our” book. A superb editor, descendant of Irish stone masons who built the railway station that still beautifies Hollister, Missouri, had been with me thrice through every lick of text. A designer with talent way beyond her years had taken a detail from “The Stone Breakers” by one of my favorite painters, Gustav Courbet, and created something way past postmodern, a book cover with play and verve and vision. A text designer had made the interior design fitting and lovely and swift and powerful as a gunshot. And behind all of it was the literary warrior, the acquiring editor who was crazy enough to say yes in the first place, and who was still busting tail with all the background details of signings and lectures and quantities and schedules.
No longer “my” manuscript. This is “our” book.
As the railway engineer might understand that the spike and steel beneath his hand connect his work to many elsewheres…
As the stone mason might know one stone finished and fit in a great wall defines and divides, but can beautify, can bear wails, caresses, abuses, and time…
There simply are too many metaphors running in my mind—I cannot get at the heart of this feeling. And there was much yet to do. The ironies were not lost on me. That morning’s New York Times Book Review contained an assessment of yet another literary pundit’s book-length declaration that the novel was dead and buried now, and what was sought after by the reading public was something like reality TV. And I was spending and planned to spend most of Thursday shoring up UPM’s title offerings on Amazon’s Kindle and firing up a whole new electronic books vendor, ebooks Corporation, with UPM’s many electronic books. My own book, which I could not admire and touch and oggle while I worked, was part of a revolution. Jacket hater that I am, the hardcover is a printed casebinding, similar to the way Toby Press presented the casebound hardback to Donald Harington’s great novels. Mine has no jacket, a huge savings to the environment (and the publisher), and honestly a savings to the consumer, who peels a jacket off and casts it aside anyhow. This sort of bind has become very common for scholarly books in the last eight months, but for a hardback novel, some may call it heresy, blasphemy, a frightening new trend.
This is the most beautiful, frightening new trend I have beheld in a time when “new” and “trend” swirl all around us in publishing.
My colleagues at UPM were thrilled; our amazing designers all approved. At my lunch hour, I stopped by Lemuria Bookstore here in Jackson to shower the newborn along with owner John Evans and ringmaster Joe Hickman, and they shared my giddiness. On parting, Joe said, “So, Steve, you going to celebrate wildly tonight?”
“Yeah, Joe,” I said with a wink. “I’ll be hugging the pillow by 8 p.m.”
“Classic Steve,” said my bookselling comrade.
In a few weeks, our book will become Joe and John’s book, and then, we pray, it will reach beyond.
So for the the record, I approve, the proforma an author must give to the firstborn proof.
Thank you beyond all thanks, Moon City Press. Thank you Jim, Don, Lanette, Myriam, Angelia, Eric, everybody there encamped near 900 National. Today, Morkan’s Quarry becomes our book.