Friday, June 12, 2015

Letters From Gardner: A Writer's Odyssey, by Lou Antonelli

Merry Blacksmith Press, ISBN 9780692299425, September 2014

A Best Related Work Hugo nominee.

This is a combination short story collection, memoir, "how to get started in fiction writing," and correspondence with editor Gardner Dozois. Since it's about Antonelli's development as a writer,many of the stories, and all the early ones in the collection, are his earliest stories, the ones that got turned down by real publications and were published, if at all, in webzines that weren't going to be long for the world.

In short, it's a collection consisting substantially of work he knows is, to varying degrees, not up to professional standards. When I got to the story he himself describes, in his introduction to it, as "my first major mis-fire." I did not find this encouraging. I did resist the temptation to throw my Nook against the wall; one downside of ebooks.

Antonelli tells us that a common reaction to his early stories is that they were "old-fashioned and fun." I think he thinks those two things go together, like ham and eggs. There is certainly a distinctly old-fashioned feel to these stories--not at all a bad thing in itself. What's missing is the sense of wonder and excitement that characterized the "old-fashioned" stories of the forties, fifties, and sixties.

The memoir portions are perhaps less fascinating than Antonelli imagines. It's a bit of a slog to get to the first few little notes from Dozois, which, while obviously highly encouraging to a new writer for whom any personal comment from an editor, especially one as notable as Dozois, are in themselves very ordinary. They just do not have the  thrill for the reader that they would obviously and appropriately have had for Antonelli when he received them.

What's hard to understand here is the lack of the most basic proof-reading and copy-editing. There are errors of tense and number, but always when the error is just one letter, suggesting a typo that a spellchecker wouldn't catch, and a human eye didn't catch. There are dropped words that momentarily bounce the reader out of the narrative. And it's not just one or two instances; it keeps happening. It's as if Antonelli relied too heavily on his newspaper-honed ability to produce readable copy on short notice, and didn't think he needed an editor, or even a proofreader. The danger of that is that after you've spent too much time with your own prose, you see what you meant to type, not what you really did type. It's an unwise choice that weakens even the best work.

All in all, I can't see this book being of real interest to anyone except Lou Antonelli's devoted fans. A "Best Related Work," it is not.

Not recommended.