Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Finishing my book

Some readers will thrill at the title of this post--and maybe add a deep sigh of relief. People ask me, "How long have you been working on this book?" That depends on what you mean. If you mean this particular book, it's been something like 22 months. But I've been doing related work for much of my life. I must have hit upon the topic of family life in Shakespeare almost 30 years ago. It was the topic of my doctoral thesis at Harvard, finished in 1983. I proceeded to research aspects of the topic more deeply, especially parental blessings in the plays and in daily life of the time--publishing a couple of articles on that subject in 1992. I had become aware at some point in the 1980s that Shakespearean studies had undergone a profound change, affected by the new streams of critical theory, including feminism, new historicism, and poststructuralism, and the changes required me to rethink my work and find ways to communicate what I had to say. I presented frequently at Shakespeare Association of America meetings on topics related to gender and family life, incorporated the topics into several of the classes I taught, published additional articles, and worked year after year on a book on the subject--finally completing it in March of 2002 (I remember because of the Olympics) and sending it to Routledge, a publishing house that had agreed to review the manuscript. Nine months later they returned it with reports from two readers, both of whom had some criticisms, but with one recommending publication and the other recommending against it. A split decision like this almost always means a "No" from the publisher, and so it was in this case.

But then, in August (I think) of 2006, I received an e-mail from an editor at Greenwood Press inviting me to write a book to be titled Family Life in the Age of Shakespeare. I was hesitant since it would mean writing a book somewhat different from the one I had already completed. But the editor said somebody was going to write it and suggested that if I undertook the project, I'd have more control over maintaining a distinction between the two books. So I agreed to do it.

The project was much more arduous than I had anticipated. Chapter 1 is on "Background"--i.e., family life from ancient times through the Middle Ages, not just in England but in the various cultures (Greek, Roman, Hebrew, Christian) that helped shape family life in the Western world through that period. I've spent so much time criticizing others who have more or less made up their account of family life in the past (or at least generalized from inadequate evidence) that I felt I really needed to know the subject. And so I gave myself an education--which took a lot of time and effort, even with time off from teaching the first part of 2007. Chapter 2 ("Family Life in Shakespeare's World") was easier to write since I had really already done the research for this topic and mainly had to reshape what I had written before, fill in some holes, etc. Then I went to England in July 2007 and did intensive research for Chapter 4 ("Family in Shakespearean Performance"). I spent time at the Shakespeare Centre Library in Stratford and the British Film Institute in London and got to know about 80 productions (mainly by skimming through film and TV versions and through videotapes of Royal Shakespeare Company performances over the past 20 years). I also went to some live performances in Stratford and London, including a wonderful Merchant of Venice at the reconstructed Globe Theatre. Back in America, I wrote the chapter.

With teaching (Fall Semester 2007), a calling at the MTC, and other responsibilities, I found it very difficult to make progress quickly, even with many evenings at my office. With my wife's encouragement, starting in October, I was often in my office on Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday evenings--but with some Wednesday evenings devoted to welcoming new missionaries to the MTC and all Tuesday evenings taken up with MTC devotional and district meetings. One thing we learned is that it really is better for me to spend more time at home--despite the fact that three of our kids are supposedly on their own and one is sixteen and reasonably independent. Spending so much time in my office was unspeakably dreary for me, but it was also more of a strain on Margaret and even the kids than I realized.

A further complication came when I realized--in November, I think--that the publisher expected me not only to select the illustrations for the book but to obtain high resolution electronic images of them and the rights to use them. That meant many hours of searching, deciding, communicating, and negotiating with lots of interesting people and institutions, including a theater producer in India, a photographer in London, the Bodleian Library, the Huntington Library, the Pepys Library at Magdalene College (Cambridge University), the National Portrait Gallery in London, the Shakespeare Centre Library in Stratford, and several agencies that handle rights and reproductions for illustrations. (This is not by any means a complete list.) Anyway, this process along with bouts of discouragement stalled me further, into Winter Semester 2008. At some point that semester, my son Rob helped pull me out of the doldrums by agreeing to let me report to him regularly by e-mail on my progress and also by cheerfully encouraging me.

An original deadline of October 2007 had been extended to December and then March. By May or early June I had pretty much completed everything except chapters 3 and 5--and that included not only the chapters already mentioned but a glossary, a comprehensive bibliography, and a section of primary documents that amounted to over 100 double spaced pages of excerpts from fifteenth- and sixteenth-century sources, each preceded by an explanatory headnote. With these last three items especially, I had the invaluable help of a couple of research assistants. One of them, for instance, typed up the "primary documents" that I had selected in modernized form. I meanwhile had written the headnotes and then read through what she had typed up to catch any errors and to add "explanatory glosses" (explanations of words and phrases that modern readers might not understand). There were lots of other tasks, including finding and checking sources, proofreading, and revising, with tasks I could delegate done by the assistants but much done and all organized and supervised by me. I don't know if my description adequately conveys the work involved in all of this. But it was tough--especially since I was also teaching Spring Term (mostly May-June 2008).

Then an interesting thing happened. I decided I'd better check in with the editor. I think that was very early in June. He replied that he had wondered what I was up to and said he really needed to have me submit a complete manuscript by June 23--approximately three weeks away. Oh, oh. That three week period also included the end of Spring Term (luckily I had a TA to help me--explicitly because doing everything myself plus finishing a book would have been near impossible), giving grades, and--taking a trip to San Francisco. Margaret and I had already decided on that trip; tickets had been bought. As detailed in a previous post (below), the trip may in fact have been a life saver, preserving my sanity and reviving my energy and spirits. And I did lots of work during the trip. Once back in Provo, I redoubled my efforts, finished chapter 3 and most of the fine tuning on the other materials already written, and got everything except chapter 5 sent to the editor on June 23. (I sent slightly improved versions of some of the items a few days later.) Chapter 5 followed on June 30. There were celebrations!

That doesn't mean all the work is done. I still need to prepare an index, but that's not due till September. Also, I'll need to go through the copyedited files I'll be sent in August, and after that I'll need to review the page proofs. A research assistant and I have been checking back through everything for errors and problems. And I want to improve a few parts of the book. But the project is ALMOST finished. The book is due to come out in December.

It may have been on June 30--if not, a day before or after--that I decided to do a Google search on my book title. I found that the publisher had already been marketing it for some time. (That was the main reason I needed to get the manuscript in--so it could be published before the end of this year.) That Google search was the first time I saw the book's cover. I had not been consulted, but I was very pleased. The cover is actually from a Dutch painting, but Dutch artists did a lot of the best work of the period, and Dutch and English domestic scenes would have looked much the same. The publisher also had given the book a description, as follows: "The particulars of family life in Shakespeare's plays are grounded in Elizabethan culture, a world foreign to contemporary students. This book helps students learn about family life in Shakespeare's world and works. It begins with a look at the classical and medieval background of family life in the Early Modern era. This is followed by a sustained discussion of family life in Shakespeare's world. The book then examines issues related to family life across a broad range of Shakespeare's works. Later chapters examine how productions of the plays have treated scenes concerning family life." Some while after--a couple of weeks ago, I think--I got a catalog from Greenwood that includes my book. I eagerly showed it to colleagues at a social gathering--something I'd normally be hesitant to do, but this had been such a burden, and I was so happy to have the burden almost completely lifted.

My next post will be about my mother's death. The coming together of the book deadline and my mother's illness was very difficult, as I'll describe in that forthcoming post. But I was able to show my mother the book cover, which I printed out using the image I had found online. And I told my mother that the book was dedicated to her and my dad. I even printed out the complete manuscript, with illustrations inserted, so she could see it, maybe even read it if she got well enough. As it turned out, I showed her that complete manuscript the day before she died. So she knew it existed; she knew it was dedicated to her and her husband; she had seen the cover. This was not fully the outcome I had hoped for, but it was at least a small mercy--because I know she was happy to know I had finished the project, and I'm sure she was proud of me, happy (as she often told me) that I was her son.

In case you're interested, here is the last part of the preface, as it currently stands (for the sake of space and emphasis, I'm including only the tribute to family): "Above all, I am grateful for my family—my parents, parents-in-law, children, and other relatives who have taken an interest in the project, and my wife, Margaret Blair Young, a brilliant but generous critic and a faithful friend. Without the encouragement, patience, and kindness she and others have provided, I could never have written this book."


Margaret said...

Very touching post. I'm so glad that your mother did get to see what the book would look like. I suspect that all of that (academia, promotions, books) is a bit less important to her now than it was before July 5, but the sharing of the great success while she was still on earth was indeed a tender mercy.

Alisa said...

Congratulations! Sounds like a monumental amount of work. I'm always grateful for the things I learned from your writing.

Kaila said...

Woohoo! Way to go dad.

Keith L. Brown said...

Sounds like an incredible amount of work, but no doubt, your labors were not in vain. I am sure that your mother was extremelt proud of her son and his accomplishment and even though she may never had the opportunity to read the pages of the manuscript, just being able to see the finished product must have meant the world to her. I love the portion of the preface that you shared. It was very fitting and very touching. May our Heavenly Father guide and bless you in all your efforts. I look forward to obtaining a copy of your book to read and to have as an addition to my library.