Thursday, April 09, 2009

Whadayaknow! I'm about to become an actual published author.

I'm beginning to get antsy waiting for the spring issue of the quarterly journal, The California Historian to hit the stands.

I think I mentioned some months ago that our chief of interpretation stopped by my desk one day with a stack of the magazines in hand and a request that I heard as something being assigned as "busy work" since I appeared to be at loose ends. "Betty, do you suppose you could write a piece for this magazine? You're a good writer and it might serve to spur interest in their upcoming annual meeting that will be held in June." We will be hosting one day of that weekend gathering. Historians will be coming from all over the state.

This would be the first time I've been asked (formally) to submit a piece for publication and for a minute there I hesitated. Then I agreed to take a crack at it, but asked Naomi if she'd provide some guidelines (number of words, etc.) but she had no idea what was required. "Take a look at these earlier issues and maybe you'll get some guidance from that." Okay.

Over the next several weeks I wrote and rewrote, copied and pasted, tried to edit for length (it really did get away from me for a while there) but was unsuccessful. As an untrained writer, I discovered how hard it is to try to edit content without finding the edits taking you completely off course with no way to tie the new parts back into the body of the article. It was crazy-making! I finally asked if someone would read what I'd put together and take a first cut at editing. Ours is a busy and small staff so finding a volunteer with the time to devote proved futile. Besides, I'd fallen in love with every word and couldn't possibly make the necessary cuts myself. I had no idea how to shrink what had by that time become at least 6 pages of single-spaced type with no end in sight!

Somewhat embarrassed, I submitted the final draft to Naomi hoping that she would take a red pencil to the entire mess and save me the pain of editing my priceless piece. She looked pained as she handed it back to me unchanged. I took this to mean that she a) hadn't found the time to read it; b) had been intimidated by its length, and was returning it with an unspoken apology. I explained that I'd looked carefully at the back editions and that there were articles at least as long as mine and that I'd failed to find any criteria or guidelines to work from. We eventually decided to simply submit it as an attachment with an email giving their managing editor the freedom to edit however she wished based upon available space. I thought little more about it, once released. There was no expectation of acceptance. It was enough to have fulfilled my responsibility for delivering on schedule.

Weeks later while we were intensely involved in an all-day meeting involving the Visitor's Center an email arrived from the Editor. "We loved your writings and will be using it as the cover article in the spring edition and would like to arrange a visit to Rosie the Riveter Park to select about 5 photos to accompany it."

Panic time! I'm (of course) flattered beyond all reason, but since I'd written my article based upon my memories of the WWII era, and, since no one other than Naomi had even read the piece -- how on earth would it stand up being released under the aegis of the National Park Service to a reading audience of historians? It had to be accurate. It might even be quoted from at some future time -- and neither Naomi nor I had dreamed it would be accepted for publication so no one from our staff had actually fact-checked a word of it. What to do?

Took it to Martha with an urgent plea that someone (anyone) please take some time to carefully read the work for factual accuracy before it was submitted. It went then to our cultural resources manager who went over the entire lengthy document carefully and changed almost nothing -- just one sentence for clarification. "Looks good to me," says Ric. Then he added, "it will take at least 3 years for my scholarship to catch up with your memory!" I could feel myself grow at least an eighth of an inch.

Still not quite satisfied, I drove to the Richmond Museum of History to hand the article to curator Donald Bastin with the words, "please critique this, Don, and return it to me right away. The journal editor will be stopping in tomorrow to select the photos from your archives." He agreed. He is meticulous in his own work and could be counted on to be demanding in his criticism. He was familiar with and respectful of the publication. Also, in the past we'd had some fairly heated disagreements on issues involving my remembrances vs. his research findings of the era. This is precisely the kind of hard scrutiny needed here. I could trust Don's judgment, completely.

Imagine my surprise when -- upon arrival the next day he gave it back to me with the words. "Found one error. You state twice, Betty, that Henry J. Kaiser and his band of amateur ship builders built and launched 747 ships in 4 years and 7 months. It was actually 3 years and 8 months!" I'd actually understated this incredible feat! His correction added strength to the narrative. The entire article passed muster with the curator. I'd done it! My memory proved to be dependable and accurate (if dramatically overactive), and sometime next week the article will be published for the readership of the California Historical Societies throughout the State of California.

It's quite possible that one day we'll hear some unwitting soul state, "I know its true because I read it in the California Historian." And who's the authority?