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What I'm Giving | December 12, 2013 1 comment
In this special series, we asked writers we admire to share a book they're giving to their friends and family this holiday season. Check back daily... Continue »
Two How-tos to Bow Toby Phineas Mollod and Jason Tesauro
Ah, the dynamics of collaboration. The craft of writing is intensely liberating, creatively rewarding and, at times, especially lonely after midnight when the world is asleep and it's you versus the blinking cursor, channeling the quiet. Not so with collaboration, whereby there's a taskmaster to set the tempo and an optimistic partner to coax forth your best work. In a clear case of 1 + 1 = 3, two brains on one task of creativity engender richer, more evolved inspiration than the solitary pen. For us, this is the space of Yes: we never say no to new ideas, outlandish concepts, or wildly-flung sentences they're either given support by the majority after some lobbying or allowed to die in committee and banished to the recycle bin.
Then, the tasks are handed out: the Bricklayer (in charge of organizing sentences from the mishmash of fragments) and the Polisher (the closer who smoothes the rough paragraphs and seasons them with the research and zing that separates our writing from a dry textbook). Collaboration isn't about punching the time clock or meticulously recording how many lines each coauthor has logged. When equanimity is reduced to word count, that partnership is likely stressed and tenuous and primed for a blowup. The key to any collaborative success is the mutual faith that, no matter how difficult the editorial mess or creative logjam, your partner will find the right word, phrase, or initiative to finish the chapter. Often, one hits a hot streak and carries more of the load for a stretch, but knows that the favor will be returned when the motor cools. Moreover, some jobs (final editing) might be more suited to one partner's strengths than others (marketing). In the ideal arrangement, on any given deadline, either author swears that the other is the better writer.
You don't have to be in the same room to proofread punctuation or fact-check references, but joint idea generation is a must. Our first book, The Modern Gentleman: A Guide to Essential Manners, Savvy and Vice, was characterized by trips between New York and Atlanta for long weekends of sustained effort that sent us back home reinvigorated and steps ahead. Three and a half years of field research, abandoned legal jobs, borrowed office copiers, Fed Ex'ed cheesecakes, and massive editing sessions (from 125,000 words to a svelte 80,000 in fourteen days) finally led to box office success, but what was next?
Since 2003, we've both been taking Human Prose Hormone. With the help of our publisher's Bay Area connections, we secreted most of our advance to BALCO in return for poetic "supplements" that were promised to jumpstart our creative and editing acumen. Indeed, with Phineas on "the cream" and Tesauro on "the clear," we were able to finish The Modern Lover with panache and strength, and on top of that, we slyly passed all drug screenings and testing jointly run by Publishers Weekly and Major League Baseball. Certainly, even when writing a guidebook, there's no reason why the language can't be both informative and full of jazzy turns of phrase. After a Nag's Head beach weekend getaway with tiki drinks and barbecue, the I-95 traffic gave rise to The Modern Lover: A Playbook for Suitors, Spouses and Ringless Carousers. The original outline, comprising 75% of the eventual table of contents, was scribbled out in forty-five minutes in Phineas's nearly illegible griffonage while leaning on a sandy copy of the New Yorker.
Our writing and topics cover the breadth of the modern gentleman himself. In between a spattering of racy pages, some silly paragraphs, a host of serious issues, and more than a few clever turns of phrase and original snippets of vocabulary and language, we also encourage the reader forth: in the first book, it was jazz, literature, and classical music, and the second, wine cellaring, chocolate, cheese, pearls, and champagne sabering. Like a superb film where you don't know exactly what's going on until thirty minutes in, our two volumes require the reader to wade into the thick of it and revel in the prose and the philosophy. Hoary conventions like condolence cards and taking audience with the Pope still have their place, but our manners and love-speak are built for the social lady and gent who want to experience juicy life and take trusting others along for the ride. Shouldn't today's chaps be more concerned with their woo, wine, apologies, and fiction shelf rather than shrimp fork placement at a banquet?
Why us to update the codes of manners? One Northerner and one Southerner by marriage found themselves constantly in the gray areas between formal manners and street-smart civility. We're not PhDs (though Phineas has a JD and Tesauro once narrowly sidestepped VD) harping on the magic of communication as a panacea for love's ills. Yet, we have a rich history of amour, and while we haven't spilled a martini in years romantic slip-ups still land us in the doghouse on occasion. So why not update refinement? In the post-grunge dawn of see-thru clothes and drive-thru weddings, the rules of society demand retooling. No longer is a dandy armed with escargot-tongs and a black tie ready to tackle the dinner party circuit. What about a working knowledge of vice? Instead of table-seating charts, today he must negotiate same-sex couples, skinny-dipping, and rolling papers. We merged codes of conduct with witty writing and a contemporary eye. We see the modern lover as a hero beyond the bedroom, a lothario who also trysts with Armagnac and dark chocolate.
You've got a choice to make. Are you content to fudge your way with "idiot's guides," or are you interested in some extra-credit work to earn advanced degrees in charm, panache, and savoir faire? Before television, the real reality show was the dinner party whence guests exercised nimble conversational skills and entertained the hostess with piano playing and parlor games after taking a snifter and a robusto with the host. We aren't looking to roll back time to the era of starched dickies and horse-drawn carriages, but shouldn't we preserve the best of vintage culture and marry it with the speed of Now and its faxable customs? The age of social diversity is nigh and your all-purpose Leatherman tool is a fast-acting, all-season sense of timing and appropriateness from country club to strip club. Formal laws are long established and we're here to make sure there's room in the gentleman's constitution for a few modern amendments. So whether you fancy yourself a Gentleman or a Lover (or both), make room on your nightstand for two how-tos to bow to.