Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Always Room for Improvement

Like any author, especially in the digital age when making changes is not impossible, at the point that I finally saw my book in a print proof, there were certain things I considered changing. In fact, there is always a temptation to keep on making refinements and improvements ad infinitum. But changing a pdf file, which is how the book was submitted, is not actually all that easy and my going back and forth with Amazon publishing staff would have meant additional delays.
What were some potential changes? TJ, my resident design consultant and I would have preferred a less glossy cover and one a slightly paler shade of blue, closer to the actual color of the Honduran flag. In fact, we printed out such a cover ourselves at Kinko’s, but duplicating it was hard to convey to the Amazon folks. I also realized that I had not taken sufficient care with the photo captions. The caption for the photo of my dad assembling the maize god statue in 1941 starts “Father Leonard,” which might seem to identify him as a priest, hardly the case. Likewise, the photo of me with that same statue could have used the explanatory phrase “more than 60 years later.” However, the text does give a fuller explanation. So it wasn’t worth going through the machinations of changing those captions. I also debated whether to include a photo of a latrine (not one in use), but thought that might have been too crude.

Finally, there are items I edited out of the current version, originally twice as long. Agents told me to “cut,” and I did so with a vengeance, perhaps too aggressively. I would never restore the book to that excessive length, but I have had second thoughts about eliminating a conversation I had with one of my late foster son’s sisters, a physician in Cuba whom I had imagined to be somewhat sophisticated. When she asked me how her brother could possibly have gotten AIDS, I said, “Well, of course, he was gay.” She took immediate offense, “He was never gay here—if he became gay, that was the fault of the decadent USA.” At that point, obviously, I shut up and said no more. And there was the sad coincidence that my older son died on my daughter Melanie’s birthday, always making that a bittersweet occasion. If I should ever decide on a second edition, some of these changes and additions could be made. For now, they are not crucial and I’m quite satisfied with the book as-is.

While popular authors like Augusten Burroughs and David Sedaris admit that their so-called non-fiction is only about 90 or 95% true (what are the untrue parts?), I can vouchsafe that my book is all true. Maybe I didn’t include every detail and caveat, but neither did I exaggerate or add items to enhance it.

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