Last week I got a haircut; this week I got a manuscript cut. They both feel great.
I had to submit an almost-final version of my book manuscript to the publisher yesterday, so I Skyped with my amazing editor, Shannon Cain, who turned her laptop camera to show me all my stories spread out on her dining room table on the other side of the country. She had mapped the entire collection: made notes about recurring images and themes; quantified happy vs. sad endings (the sad endings win by a score of 11-3); listed the use of first/second/third-person perspectives; sorted out realist pieces from surrealist pieces from those with structural conceits; and set in place the four anchor stories that serve as the corner pieces in a jigsaw puzzle. I said she was amazing, didn’t I?
We agreed right away to go for lean and mean with the collection, and we started by cutting (hair comparison at work!) five stories. One long, one medium, and three very short. I imagine them falling in piles on the floor like all those unsettling clumps of hair at a salon. We cut because, as my editor says, there were too many stories (19!). The collection, like any head of hair, needed a shape. So we kept the stories that seemed to cohere, to hold together with one another and with the title For Sale By Owner. (The narrator of the title story is a former hair-stylist. Coincidence?)
With the first, last, and middle stories in place, we rearranged the rest according to subject matter, POV, pace, and style. Then we talked story titles and endings. We chopped the last paragraph from two stories and changed three titles. The haircut had turned into highlights and a style.
Now it just needs a dress to be ready for prom!