The movie Genius tells the story of a book editor. You’ve heard of Ernest Hemmingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Thomas Wolfe. Unlikely you know Maxwell Perkins. He’s the editor for all of these authors and the subject of the movie. Released in 2016 with top-flight stars in each role, it came and went unnoticed in the cinema. Such is the fate of the editor in real life, comes and goes unnoticed, except by the author. For the author, he or she is essential.
I have a copy of The Sun Also Rises that includes a few pages of mark-ups by Perkins on Hemingway’s manuscript. They are extensive. F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote The Great Gatsby in the third person, then Perkins advised him to rewrite it in the first person narrative of a man star-stuck by Gatsby. That person is Nick Carraway who becomes a major character as the narrator. Tom Wolfe spewed words like a machine, thousands of pages of them. Perkins worked closely with Wolfe to whittle those pages into a readable classic.
Then, there is me, an independent writer who is brazen enough to mention himself in the same article as those greats. Yet I depend on the Maxwell Perkins of our time. I mentioned his name in the plural since I depended on many editors for my first novel Leaving Lisa. First is my wife Ellen, who served as my reality check on story ideas and provided the keen eye for errors on first drafts. I was lucky in getting into a group of authors who took aim at story, plot, and continuity. In the age of the Internet, I enlisted a cadre of beta readers. All these people are acknowledge in the book.
Which comes to explaining the photo accompanying this piece. Although all comments and edits come to me in electronic form, I printed most of it out. What you see are the drafts of chapters and of the whole novel that found its way into the 365-page book I’m holding. Am I a supporter of the editor? You bet. Here’s to you, the Maxwell Perkins of today.