blogged 12-17 March 2003 - edited May 2014 & Dec. 2018
* * *
Here's the short version, through the lens of typography.
In Autumn of 1985 I was looking through the library of a local community college in New Jersey.
I'd resolved to at least glance through every book on every shelf, so had gone in Dewey-decimal order and hit philosophy and philosophy-psychology. A slightly tattered paperback titled The Inner World of Mental Illness, edited by one Bert Kaplan - I picked it up and leafed through: first-hand accounts of not just mental illness but altered states of consciousness - such classics as De Quincy's Confessions along with familiar mental-illness memoirs like Ellery's The Locomotive-God.
So it was that I scanned the index and happened on a brief quote of one of those excerpted - someone named M.M., of whom I'd never heard.
The quote was: "I have in me a quite unusual intensity of life."
I turned to the excerpt: strikingly sympathetic intro by Kaplan, shockingly mentioned this unknown in the same breath as Sartre, Nietzsche, Lawrence, Dostoevsky. A nineteen year old girl from Butte, Montana writes a book in 1901, and she's compared to these?
I finished the introduction and began to read.
I skimmed the opening of The Story of M.M. It was fine, sharp, nothing special. Then my eye hit two paragraphs.
I have attained an egotism that is rare indeed.
I have gone into the deep shadows.
A shock ran through me.
I felt her.
I went to the first of her words and read every one that followed.
When finished, I was shaking.
I'd never felt such electrifying presence from a writer, not even those to whom Kaplan had compared her. It was like touching an open electrical line. I left the stacks behind to learn about her.
I went downstairs to Reference. As I rounded the mid-floor turn, my eye fell on an item in a new-buys cart - Mabel Dodge Luhan: New Woman, New Worlds by Lois Palken Rudnick. Ah - Luhan - Lawrence and she'd had a love-hate thing in Taos.
For no reason, I thought there might be something on her. The index showed there was: M. had written a book in 1917 - I, M.M. Luhan had reviewed it negatively, accusing her in so many words of solipsistic disregard for interaction, the outer world.
I'd no hint that this was one of the very few 1980s' references to M.M.
It only whetted my appetite. I went to dictionaries, encyclopedias.
Nothing. She seemed to be in utter obscurity.
If she'd had recognition at all, I reasoned, her death would have made the New York Times. I hauled out the Obituary Index - there: died in August 1929. About 48 - young, even for then. A memorial editorial, the day after her death.
I brought microfilm requests to the librarian.
As she went away, I wondered why I was sweating in the cold air.
She returned. I went to the readers, opened the little box, threaded the film. I pushed a button and images flowed by.
Early August. I slowed and slowed, until the date.
The sense came this was terribly important.
I got pencil and paper to take notes.
My heart began to pound.
* * *
I wondered what she'd gone on to be.
She'd been striking at nineteen, unique. It felt crucial, somehow, that she hadn't left it behind for an ordinary, unrecorded life.
I read the obituary in what became shock.
The Story of M.M. had been only a beginning. It'd brought her national fame. She'd left Butte, written more books, been a newspaperwoman, then gone into the silent movies.
I felt - knew - this was a literary, more than literary, genius.
I scoured that library - all encyclopedias, feminist histories, literary collections.
Several days later, in a library several towns away, I found a Who's Who index, cumulative back to inception. There she was, starting in 1902 at age twenty.
In time I took the train in to New York City, walked to the Public Library. She was in the cards: three books - The Story of M.M. from 1902, My Friend Annabel Lee from 1903, and I, M.M. of 1917. No others. (What had she done 1904-1917? And after 1917?) I filled out the slip and up came the three boxes.
I loaded the first reel and the opening came that'd haunted me:
January 13, 1901
I, of womankind and of nineteen years, will now begin to set down as full and frank a portrayal as I am able of myself, M.M., for whom the world contains not a parallel.
I am convinced of this, for I am odd.
I am distinctly original innately and in development.
I have in me a quite unusual intensity of life.
I can feel.
I have a marvelous capacity for misery and for happiness.
I am broad-minded.
I am a genius.
I am a philosopher of my own good peripatetic school.
I care neither for right nor for wrong - my conscience is nil.
My brain is a conglomeration of aggressive versatility.
I have reached a truly wonderful state of miserable morbid unhappiness.
I know myself, oh, very well.
I have attained an egotism that is rare indeed.
I have gone into the deep shadows.
All this constitutes oddity. I find therefore that I am quite, quite odd.
I read on and found parts Kaplan had not excerpted, all in that same style: absolute assurance in saying the absolutely unique. I couldn't ken its source. She used antique capitals and locutions but held to no rules. All was in the service of expression.
There was too much - I couldn't grasp it. I could only copy snippets that caught me at the chest.
"I loved madly," said my friend A.L. "There came one down out of the north country that was dark and strong and full of life's fire."
From I, M.M.:
I never knew real passion, passion-meanings, till I reached thirty. It's now I'm at life's storm-center, youth's climax, the high-pulsed orgasmic moment of being alive.
From the same book, what seemed her late credo:
It is not happiness I want - nothing like it: its like never existed since this world began.
I want to feel one big hot red bloody kiss-of-life placed square and strong on my mouth and shot straight into me to the back wall of my heart.
I write this book for my own reading.
It is my postulate to myself.
Her passion inspired me. I wanted to find where her path had gone and to where it had led. But facts were scant, avenues to more were unknown. How did one reconstruct a forgotten life?
Who's Who said she was writing feature articles for the New York World in late 1902. I found no trace in the Annex's microfilms.
The card catalog suggested she'd been out of print many years. It didn't take long to think of reviving her work. But what? The first book? All? Extracts? What about the feature articles? How to get people interested?
I talked to my designer friend Kelly about doing cover art - then let it sit. I met and married Beth - a writer - in 1988 and introduced her to M.M. Through my notes, after initial reluctance, she came to love her.
It was time to begin.
I called the research desk at Butte's Public Library.
"I'm calling about a long-ago Butte authoress. Have you ever heard of M.M.?"
The voice turned weary. "Oh, yes, I get a call every six months or so."
"I'm interested in bringing her back into print -"
Irked. "Yes, I hear that from many of them. Nobody ever gets anything done."
My hackles rose. "Well, sir, I'm not everyone."
"I'll call back when I have some more information."
I rang them.
"Oh, yes, they're both well-known around here, probably her father more so. He platted part of this town - still called 'M.'s Addition' after him. They called him 'Flatboat M.' for all the boats he owned on the river. She was born in Winnipeg - is buried here, you know."
My heart stood still.
I had the frame of her life. Now to fill it in.
"You know, a woman named Finnerty contacted us a while ago. She wanted a picture of her grave. We don't do that sort of thing, but I think she has quite a bit of information. She's over in Denver, and her number ... wait a minute ..."
I called Denver. A voice soft as orchid-petals - I introduced myself, and her voice brightened.
"Well, hello, Michael. I'm Martha Finnerty. I - don't get out much, I've had health problems since my twenties, but I have some articles on M.M. to mail to you."
Martha and I talked for a long time. She had terrible back problems and hadn't worked in a long while. She wrote poetry and tried to get through the days. One reason she liked M.M. was a sense that M. understood pain and the necessity of getting through.
As we talked, a gentle line of caring ran between the two of us. It was as though this gentle being had put a small hand in my palm for a time, and we could be easy together.
A few weeks later, a packet from Denver: thicker than I'd dared hope.
I opened, fingers shaking again.
* * *
They were photocopies of two lengthy articles from a 1970s magazine of American western history: the first a full biographical portrait, the second, in a following issue, a feminist analysis.
After almost half-a-decade, I was immersed in her life.
Her first book had been a scandal, her name on every tongue - popular songs about her, newspapermen shadowing her, headlines speaking only of "Mary." She'd written of bisexuality and gotten it published in that age. She'd written and starred in her own silent movie, released in 1918: an account of six affairs with men - in each of which she emerged triumphant.
This woman was forgotten? I'd found a calling.
I called Martha to thank her. We talked happily, Beth took the phone, and, after, Martha said she might come to Philadelphia next year. I said we'd have to meet. She paused, and nothing needed to fill it up. There was a lingeringness, as if the faint breath of romance passed us. It came from nowhere, went nowhere further. Like air, it was simply there.
In 1989 Beth and I moved to California.
It was time to research in earnest.
I'd begun researching my interests in my mid-teens - The Reader's Guide to Periodical Literature was a good friend and taught the value of research hopscotch: each item a locus-point radiating lines to new potentials.
I called the Annex in New York and asked if they could copy their microfilms of the New York World. They could. I asked for all 1902: a host paper might tell of her success.
I called the Library of Congress for other books by her. None on deposit. Any books about her? Yes, a 1903 parody: The Devil's Letters to M.M They could send a copy. The silent movie? The Film Department said it might not have survived but would send their whole file. They sent me to a New York museum who said they'd send their file.
And so, by the dozens. Slowly, pictures developed.
I ambled along, working a day job in mortgage banking, researching M.M. in off-times.
The pace changed on a day in 1991. Leafing through Books in Print - someone else reprinting M.M.'s books. A shock went through. I looked closer and saw the company, Reprint Services, had priced each book near $100. Page counts hinted they'd photoduplicated original editions, bound in generic hardcover to pick up library orders. I relaxed. Still, a wake-up call.
I began to dig deeper.
I contacted Montana's state historical society. A trove of articles would come. Had I heard, the librarian asked, of a woman named Ada McAllister? She'd written a play on M.M., had a pile of information and photos. I was given her number.
I called Ada and we had a long talk. She'd discovered M.M. years before and written a Strindbergian dream-play about her. Her pal Philip Lipson worked for a spiritualist library and had done much research into M.M. in obscure newspapers and magazines. Ada was mailing me her play and in the meantime gave me Philip's number.
I called him. He would mail his M.M. bibliography - the first and only - and many articles. Did I know M.'s high school graduation speech, published several years before The Story? That was in the bibliography too.
One article in the Montana trove referred to M.M.'s private letters in a Midwest library. I called the library. Copies would be sent, and they referred me to a university, who said they would send still more.
Microfilm copies of her three books arrived; I printed them on a library's microfilm printer and began hand-punching into my personal computer. Only then, typing each word as if in her stead, did I come to know her style from the inside.
Soon, almost a hundred personal letters - almost all to two people: M. Elijah Stone, Jr., who worked with M.'s first publisher - his brother - and a woman who seemed to have been her unrequited love: Harriet Monroe, editor and poet.
I wondered at the road from a 1960s paperback's words to the perfect hand on the page before me.
[c. August 1902]
[To Harriet Monroe]
My love reaches out to you. My love reaches you through distance and silence and mystery, and through the inevitable things.
And my love reaches out to you in your dark or your light.
If there is a little dark about you my love will shine clearer to you, but if your light is bright and so fades my love in its reflection, still you will know that it is there. - -
Your friend -
I could not call it love, but something had reached me from this strange spirit.
* * *
Microfilms of The World arrived, and the feature articles came in view as the reels turned - near-perfect writing, better than the books. She'd left Butte a success from her debut, detrained in Chicago, been mobbed by reporters, met her lady-love poetess, then off to New York. So great was public interest that Pulitzer's World hired her to write impressions of, as she called it, "the Mysterious East."
I looked at her articles, forgotten for almost a century.
M.M.'d been sent to Newport, and for the first time had seen the sea.
I had fancied the sea, and here is it. And the sea has a sister in Newport - a fascinating seductive sloe-eyed sister with soft long hair and magic finger-tips. She is the Air, and she is incomparable. After the first look into the sloe-eyes you close your own and lift your face and feel the sweep of the long soft locks of hair upon your chin and forehead. You feel the touch of those finger-tips upon your shoulder-blades, and straightaway you give your quiet heart into her hands to keep for a season.
She was a maze I wanted to be lost in to find deeper life.
At the same time, a book had to be published.
I'd had the idea of a publishing company for a while, before anything to publish. Before Beth I'd mused on "The Einzige Press," after Stirner. I imagined a suitably Romantic name for M.M. - "The Forgotten Press." Beth convinced me it'd keep her forgotten.
For the book to have a hope of being taken seriously, it had to be professional. A starting model was the Dovers, with the sewn binding even in the cheapest numbers. "This is a permanent book," they said proudly. So, too, would be mine.
To have a book designed and printed at the proper level would cost tens of thousands. I could not manage that - would have to do it myself.
I knew nothing of typesetting.
Off to Barnes & Noble's typography row. One stood out: The Form of The Book: Essays on the Morality of Good Design by Jan Tschichold. Not only was it the condensed wisdom of a life's focus on craft, it was one of the most beautiful I'd touched - set in Sabon, one of his own faces. Whole book, said the colophon, had been designed to his principles.
It showed much on how to design the book.
But how get to print, to market?
The public library had books on that.
One writer stood out there: a generous soul named Dan Poynter. Not only did he give beginners absolutely specific advice - avoid any hint of the one-book-press or self-publisher by gaining Library of Congress CIP status, register an ISBN number, have terminology down pat if talking to printers - "If you sound like an ignoramus, you and your project are dead" - he supported neophytes by faxing back, free on request, pages upon pages of production and marketing wisdom. One needed only dial his automated bulletin board, punch in a fax number, and choose as many document sets as you liked.
Beth and I pored over the writing to select what would show M. off. Ever since seeing her words on microfilm I'd wanted to anthologize her. I proposed the strikingest passages from the three books and all the features and letters. I wanted to dazzle the eye of anyone who read a single page, just as I'd been.
Beth convinced me it'd achieve the opposite. "If you want to persuade someone," she said, "don't yell. People resist being dominated. The first book was her calling card. That's how she broke through, and that's what's going to bring her back. First book first, then some of the features."
I resisted for a while, unwilling to give up a vision. Then I saw that Beth's was better.
We read through the features, found the best - ones that best showed her writing and life.
I keypunched them, too, to begin actually turning it all into type.
* * *
I worked to translate Tschichold's esoteric injunctions into Ventura's style settings.
"The first obligation of a good typesetter is to achieve a compact line image, something best accomplished by using three-to-em or three-space word spacing. In former times even roman was set much tighter than we do it today; the specimen sheet that contains the original of Garamond's roman of 1592, printed in 14-point, shows a word spacing in all lines of 2 points only, which is one-seventh of an em! This means that we cannot call three-to-em word spacing particularly tight."
"The reasons for tight typesetting are based on the optical experience that the older en quad (half em) spacing tends to tear the words of a sentence apart and make comprehension difficult. It results in a page that is agitated, nervous, flecked with snow."
"Genuine small capitals in sizes 6, 8, 9, and 10 give a typesetter additional advantages that may be important."
I'd loved books almost all my life but never realized how much went into their making. I'd gone straight to feelings and facts but was learning aesthetic form. My head danced with picas and points and inches and centimeters and standard paper sizes, all needing interconversion. A sudden history emerged, with names like Garamond and Bodoni and Rogers of sudden meaning. A new vocabulary: swashes, widows and orphans, en-dashes (and the longer unspaced em-dashes Tschichold forbade), small capitals, letterspacing uppercase words, paper bleaching.
Who knew that proportions mattered? Yet Tschichold wrote deeply about the aesthetics of mathematic proportion, as with harmony in music. What proportion for the paper page? For the textblock? Where was block to be set on page? What font? What size type?
And how, without going broke? With so many variables to balance, how could an amateur plan out and produce a professional job? How to experiment on a whole book?
Therefore, no action, yet. More observation.
I realized each book had a feel, and to know it was to enter the realm of typographic aesthetics. Before I could create, I had to cultivate taste. Tschichold said to find examples of past typographical excellence, said to handle and measure them - but I'd no such opportunity and no time. It would have to be introspection, self-experimentation.
I got a ruler and put it on some of my books, figured out font-names where possible, ran endless laser-printed pages to test which variables did what. At each step I asked, "How does this make me feel? Why?" When I'd the answer, I'd change a variable - and repeat.
We finalized our choice of articles and I ran them all together in Ventura. Poynter stressed that page-count strongly affected cost - not linearly. Ideal page count was an even multiple of two - 128, 256, 512 ... - so the most pages could be set up at one time to reduce press time.
I tried to remember not only Tschichold's words but their sense, and the feel of the book with his words. Still, adjusting a booksworth of lines without handling the final result was like ice-skating in the dark. I settled on a 12-point size and the Baskerville font: assertive American type, praised by Ben Franklin, saved space on the final page-count.
I laser-printed test pages and Scotch-taped a dummy together. It seemed to add up, but with coarseness was impossible to know. Each day brought worry someone else would make a splash. This was my history-place, and I wanted it for myself alone.
I did a brief bibliography at the end and a lengthy high-flown introduction. Beth signed on as editor.
Poynter'd given a major money-saver: don't mail finished books for review - print cheap, wrap in cheap paper, have a stamper made reading "Uncorrected Proof," stamp covers thus, and get books in line for review.
I found a local printer to make a palletful of proofs. I chose a title from one of M.M.'s striking phrases, devised a pro forma cover with image from a Dover clip-art book, saved the file as Ventura .c00 PostScript, and Beth and I drove over. We chose a paper-wrapper stock, wrote the check, and went home.
A few days later, ready.
I drove on my lunch hour and picked up boxes.
We stamped wrappers "Uncorrected Proof," mailed first-class to reviewers and periodicals gleaned from library weekends, from the national to the obscure, then waited the weeks.
Then the months.
It had fallen dead from our hands.
I picked up Tschichold, felt the texture, looked at the beauty of the black type on the warmly natural unbleached white paper, the ampleness of proportions, the aesthetic effects I'd not realized a book could have.
I looked at what we'd sent out.
My introduction was a liability. I'd no distance from M.M. What I'd thought creative and interesting was eccentric and shrill.
The book itself was as bad. Page proportions elegant enough - 5.5" x 8.375" - but inner textblock large and bulky, the type ugly and earthbound.
No lightness, no movement.
It felt heavy and dead, and it marked us as amateurs.
Abandoning the project was no option.
I'd made a monstrosity?
Then turn it into the best learning tool and create from it a beautiful book.
* * *
Back to Barnes & Noble's typography row. Brushing my finger along books, I saw a name: Bringhurst. He'd edited the Tschichold book, wrote an introduction compact yet expressive. This book's dust jacket called him a writer on typography and prize-winning Canadian poet. He'd won me at start: "Typography, in the Newtonian view, is nothing very interesting or mysterious; it is simply mechanized writing."
I picked it up. The Elements of Typographic Style. Curiously long and thin - sat so easily in the hand. A book yet also truly a manual. Paperback, but cover flexibly strong. I opened at random - paper unbleached.
The text had Tschichold all over - but where the master'd handed principles from on high - distilled, austere - the disciple built from ground up: discursive, friendly. He interpreted, made implementable.
I bought and read. Here were the needed specifics - arcana of optimum line-length and font-size combination, line spacing, font pedigrees and their emotional qualities, historical gestures implicit in design choices.
How, then, to bring M.M. to a new reader? Who was she, really?
One reason to bring her back was the intensity.
Her feature articles were dry, jocose, at points hilarious. I wanted to show, with the Amazonian fist-raise of the book, the warmer side of the articles.
What designing could show both?
My heavy page-smear had doomed poor Uncorrected Proof. Out, and my crappy introduction. Bibliography too brief - didn't substantiate the impact we counted on to spark interest. Not enough articles.
I began to compile a comprehensive bibliography. Beth would do a shorter, light-touch introduction.
Reading Bringhurst and Tschichold in alternation brought a focus on Renaissance typography and book design. Further and further back one went, the better. Mastery greatest, earliest. I saw later deterioration, beauty-loss.
"Why?" I asked.
The roots were in typographic prehistory. Medieval scribes'd held pens perpendicular to paper and used stiff up/down strokes. Results'd fit the square books of religion and politics. The Renaissance revolution had touched writing, too: pen at 45 degrees, gentler wrist-motions made modulated stroke. From royal-ecclesiastical to humane. Grounded in comfortable movements of our bodies, it paralleled changes in figural representing: from saints and gargoyles to Michelangelo's David and Da Vinci's women.
The Renaissance typographers operated on an organic basis.
This became attenuated after. The link to the body went fainter until the early 19th century's most influential designer, Bodoni, purged the last remnants of the hand and reconstituted letter-forms on a simple geometric basis. Letter-axis returned to vertical. Thin and thick strokes set far apart. Paper's warm glow turned bleached hard-white. Typography was again on medieval principles.
Bringhurst narrated that from the Renaissance on, humanistic books suited the hand - tall and narrow - while legal works and Bibles tended square: immobile, unhandleable. Freedom against authority, movement versus weight, celeritas versus gravitas. Post-Bodoni, book proportions had begun to go square.
This decided me. We'd work on a Renaissance basis.
Uncorrected Proof's 5.5" x 8.375" was elegant, but 12-point Baskerville left no room for enough feature articles.
The seeming unreconcilables were: narrow the textblock, double the number of articles, expand the bibliography, stay at 208 pages for cost, make elegant in design and material to place as quality paperback priced to suit - which required high-quality paper, type, and printing!
I looked at my computer, whirring away with Ventura waiting for me onscreen.
I got out Cartesian-plane-ruled paper and began to do proportion math again.
* * *
We agreed the introduction and acknowledgments should take three pages at most. Each day's mail brought new things, but I could guess bibliography's final size.
I combined into one all the various text files, with three blank pages for Beth's introduction. I stripped out Uncorrected Proof's typesetting codes and loaded it into Ventura. The computer crawled. I'd never dealt with a file so large. In coming weeks slowness would be so extreme, crashes so common, that I cut the file into about seven sections - which brought new troubles of integration. For now, though, and often enough later, there was no way around working with the entire text - all 240 kilobytes of it.
I'd kept Ventura on Uncorrected Proof's settings to see the new page count.
The new draft came out at 238 pages - 30 too many.
U.P.'d been set at 4" x 7.44" block. Not only were margins tiny, especially upper and lower, but block'd been page-centered. I could feel Tschichold's wrath. Had he not told of generous Renaissance margins, in mathahematic harmony with block and page? Inner margins half of outer?
I measured U.P. and saw the problem on another level: page/block dissonance. Page proportion was 1:1.558 - midway between canonical 1:1.5 and magical "Golden Section" 1:1.618. But on a mellowly vertical page I'd dropped a big - taller, narrower - block at 1:1.86.
What to do? Cutting text was a no go. A wider block'd look squat - a shorter block'd push to 250 pages or more and bust the budget.
I stared at the block. There were no answers there. I had to start with the picture-frame: the page itself.
Tschichold and Bringhurst praised the classic width/height of 1:1.5. I drew rectangles on the paper - shaped my hand to them, imagined heft and three-dimensionality: an actual book. I concluded 6" x 9" was the largest I could get away with elegantly. It was 1:1.5 - not Golden Section, certainly nor the narrower High Renaissance (as with Bringhurst's) - but it'd do.
I began to play with the block, setting it in "Golden Section" - but no headway. Page count was too high, and making decisions on Baskerville had no point: I'd no sooner set in it than in Times or Bodoni, and each font besides had spacing vagaries. Ceteris paribus, Baskerville yielded 238 pages, Times 227, Bodoni 246.
I read Tschichold and Bringhurst aimlessly. The answer was there somewhere. I had to follow the right threads to the right intersections, and the book'd be there. I could almost feel it waiting for me.
I went over typographic history and mapped it to cultural history of the time. The Renaissance was a glow in my mind, a place of the best books, of naturally-toned paper and typography close to the moving of the free body. I remembered Tschichold's words about Bodoni in an essay decrying bleached-white paper.
"The Bodoni roman alone ..., in large sizes and on large pages only, can stand 'stark white' paper. This is because Bodoni deliberately cultivated the extreme contrast between the agitated black-and-white type on the one hand, and the white, fairly smooth paper - an effect, by the way, that makes pleasant reading difficult."
I remembered that bleached paper deteriorated rapidly. The paper Renaissance typographers had used, I mused, sleepy, was in better condition than Bodoni's, though two hundred years older. Bodoni's paper'd yellowed and crumbled. That wouldn't happen to this book. This was going to last.
If I used unbleached, PH-balanced paper, it'd have to be a specifically Renaissance font. Nothing else'd match.
Bits of typographic history flowed into my mind, seeming aimless. I sat at my desk, almost yawning, letting my unconscious flow.
Fonts'd grown squatter as Renaissance aesthetics succeeded to Baskerville's Age-of-Reason forms and finally Bodoni's Romantic (yet ironically starkly geometric) chiaroscuro.
A Renaissance font'd mean taller, narrower letterforms.
Humanistic: just right for M.M. - and consonant with tall block.
The narrowness, letter by letter across the whole book, would save space ...
My head snapped up.
I was sleepy no longer.
All the pieces had crashed into place.
I had the answer.
* * *
My mind had run in two separated streams toward the book.
The first - quantitative. The rolling river of quantities - page-size, page count, press run, sales price - amid which I'd been trying to find a way was controlled by one invariant: money. A few thousand dollars, no more.
I'd planned a printing of 1,000 disposed 450 to critics and periodicals and teachers, 50 to friends and to institutions and individuals who'd assisted us, 500 for sale. Fewer reviews meant less publicity; fewer gifted meant ingratitude; fewer held for sale cut income. I was determined it'd be no vanity book - profitable from the start. We couldn't succeed on a first run of fewer than 1,000.
Generic printers' price-sheets showed that to pack in more content it was cheaper to increase paper-size than page count. A bit more to the page added up over several hundred. But I couldn't make page-size ungainly-large. I could increase page count - say, the good multiple 256 - but cost went over-budget. And the press run couldn't be made smaller without killing profitability.
Given the emerging set of constraints - run of 1,000, trim size 6" x 9", 208 pages, PH-balanced natural-tone paper - I'd sent bid requests to printers across the country. One local shop came back quickly: over $8,000.
I'd surveyed the quality-paperback market. Aside from specialty volumes, it priced $9.95 to $12.95.
I'd no idea how many direct-consumer sales we'd make, but I knew from Poynter and others that bookstores demanded 40-45% off cover for any quantity beyond one or two. 500 books cover-priced at $12.95 and discounted 45% to bookstores would net $3,561.25 - less than half that printer's bid! With all respect to the trade, I hoped for many consumer orders. Which meant ads, since reviews were unsure: so, additional expense.
Additional conflict, then: printing cost to be deeply dropped - cover price to go up - book-quality on each axis to be highest-possible to justify above-market price.
The second thought-stream had been wider and deeper.
I'd thought of beauty. The more Tschichold and Bringhurst I'd read, the more musical book-design became. I wanted to make something truly beautiful, in this new-discovering field, and go far back beyond the nadir of Bodoni.
And from the beginning I'd wanted to bring M.M. back to living eyes in as alive a way as I could.
Now it seemed simple.
Renaissance letters were tallest - distinct serifs actually helped reading-comprehension - best tolerated setting at smaller sizes. It also tolerated, indeed demanded, the tightest letter- and word-spacing of all.
Renaissance design - the whole combine - wasn't some lost ideal: it was the key to making this real.
Tschichold's words flew before me again.
"In former times even roman was set much tighter than we do it today; the specimen sheet that contains the original of Garamond's roman of 1592, printed in 14-point, shows a word spacing in all lines of 2 points only, which is one-seventh of an em! This means that we cannot call three-to-em word spacing particularly tight."
With a Renaissance font I could reduce point size, set letter and word spacings tightly as possible. With the narrower letter-forms, this would yield the 208 pages, justify quality-paperback appellation, justify commensurate price - and be beautiful.
It'd be financial and aesthetic success together.
The two streams were one. Beauty turned out not to be dispensable, nor separate from the quantitative, but the light in which everything fused.
It was going to happen.
I grabbed Bringhurst again.
* * *
Of the fonts Bringhurst discussed, two - both Renaissance - were immediately intriguing: Bruce Rogers' Centaur - designed c. 1914 to revive Jenson's early Venetian types of the 1460s - and Claude Garamond's Parisian typefaces of the 1540s.
I looked over Centaur. Here was Renaissance type at its finest: vertical lofting, soft contrast and modulation (so different to Bodoni's sturm und drang), 45-degree axis return to earth-life - hand-drawn tie to the alive body. Yet, to my eye, slighty ghostly on the page. Too ethereal.
Garamond - not the fake modern versions Bringhurst warned against but the actual 16th century original - was right in all ways. Heavenly and earthly proportions were one.
Bringhurst gave samples of three modern revivals "worthy of serious consideration."
Linotype Granjon was innocuously acceptable, but no more.
Abobe Garamond, specially crafted for digital, was more authentic - but thick, a bit squat. The hand-drawn elements to be savored in Renaissance - "a" and "e", particular - were smoothed. Crispness lost.
And there was Stempel Garamond - the longest and crispest of all.
This was it.
I called Adobe, ordered Stempel Garamond in roman, italic, the matching small caps and text figures Tschichold and Bringhurst insisted upon, and fleurons - one would be the book's ornament and find use as a space-organizing element and further Renaissance indicator.
A few days later, the floppies arrived. This has to work, I thought as I inserted the first disk: after several hundred dollars, no budget for more.
All installed, I brought up Ventura then opened the book file. The computer almost halted.
I tightened letter and word spacing as my masters enjoined, set the new font for all paragraphs, did basic respace so titles were at heads instead of feet, widows and orphans mostly out, all tidy as possible, saved a last time, and pressed the "end" key.
The page-count slowly increased: 50 - 100 - 150 - 200 - came to rest at 212.
I could hand-set every possible line tighter, could drop notes and bibliography type a point down, and it'd come out at 208.
I had a book.
There was something to be done. I went to the very end and typeset a sentence.
I signed with the fleuron - little stylized heart-apple with a curving stem on top.
* * *
Daily came items from libraries and newspaper morgues - thousands remained to seek, for years. I compiled what we had and closed out the biblio.
A printer in the Midwest quoted under $3,000. Fed Ex brought two sample quality paperbacks: one by J.K. Galbraith for a university, the other a self-published conservative screed - Collision With Reality, evidently directed against the U.S. Congress.
Both good. I had a printer.
I reviewed each line: tightened everything possible, risked adding extra line to a few pages. I peered at the VGA monitor, speculating how much tightness could pass. I didn't want letters to run together, particularly for modern eyes, yet every line saved brought closer the magical 208.
This book was being born as all of us are: in crisis.
In June of 1993, major research nearly done, Beth was diagnosed with advanced breast cancer. Prognosis was guarded - tumor was large and of a particularly aggressive type. Chemotherapy and radiation regimens were identical to those for the terminally ill.
We'd no idea what the future held. We vowed that our life together, and the book, would go on.
She'd come home from hospital surgery with a vacuum bag attached to a needle draining what'd been the lymph ducts beneath her right arm. She lay in bed one day - computer was in our book-cramped bedroom - and said: "Ready for the introduction?" I got out paper and pen for her, but she waved at the desk. "Just type. I'll dictate."
I brought up the text files, she looked at the ceiling for a moment, then began to speak.
The world for M.M. was one-half wonder, one-half adventure. She found inspiration all around her, from the great plateaus and mountains of her native Butte to the rarified gentry of Newport in its robber-baron glory days. She captured the fancy of millions in this country and abroad, was elevated to near-mythic status in her own time, and was gossiped about incessantly, imitated constantly, and condemned mercilessly. She was hailed by some of the finest authors and critics of her day as a literary genius, and was endlessly celebrated (when she was not being reviled) by the lowest of the yellow press. She was the prototype of today's media icons. And yet this unique individual - pioneering free spirit, bon vivant, gambler extraordinaire, newswoman, writer for and star of the silent screen - has somehow remained out of print and unavailable to readers in her own country for more than seventy-five years.
She wrote her first book in 1901, at the age of nineteen. It created a nationwide sensation when published a year later, sold almost 100,000 copies in its first month, and made her a rich woman. In an era in which women, like children, were to be seen and not heard, M.M. gave her sex a voice. And what a voice it was. With a frankness and sophistication far beyond her tender years, she wrote openly of such diverse things as drugs, death, the devil (whom she blithely announced she wished to marry, should he ever appear), truth, bisexuality, and beauty. Her writing rings true today, and actually says more to us now than it did to her own generation. As we approach the end of the twentieth century in America, many of us have been forced to realize that the traditional values and attitudes no longer hold true. The rules no longer apply. And M. was fighting to rewrite the entire rulebook, in the hide-bound America of 1901 - fighting to live her life, and to write about it, on her own terms.
While she was greatly misunderstood in her time, there can be no doubt that she was a figure of major importance.
She paused. She'd always called it my project and kept a certain distance. I'd no idea she'd paid such attention. I marveled again at my wife's mind. This could go straight in without edit. She asked, "What was the Chicago journal that called her 'the first of the Flappers'? Put that in."
I dug out the photocopy and handed it to her. She read from it.
The Chicagoan eloquently eulogized "this errant daughter of literature" upon her death in August 1929 as "the first of the self-expressionists, and also the first of the flappers. She represented the missing link between the shaved bare leg of the present and the bashful ankle of the past. She should be as important to any student of modern manners as the Java ape-man is to anthropologists. She throws the subject into perspective, for she broke loose upon a startled world as far back as 1902.
"How did it happen that a revolution in manners, a transvaluation of values in the female code of behavior, started, or seemed to start, with an unruly young woman who couldn't bear the sight of the tooth-brushes hanging up in the family bathroom at Butte, Montana? What seed fell upon that austere provincial soil to produce this amorous diarist with a Narcissus complex? What mystic or glandular voices spoke to M., bidding her go forth into the world as the Jeanne d'Arc of the Warm Mammas?
"The New Woman has had many famous prophets, from Susan B. Anthony to Henrik Ibsen, but the origin of her wild young sister, the New Female, has not yet been carefully traced. The career of M.M. is Chapter I in The History of Flapperism, ready-made for any ambitious sociologist. This is a work that is crying to be written - yea, crying out loud."
"Put a description of what's in the book at the end, then thank you's, and that's the introduction."
Over the next few days I pulled all correspondence and telephone notes for the thank-you's, then added a few lines in my voice to end the introduction - for litterateurs.
I typed Beth's name and, since we'd begun pre-advertising in Deneuve, backdated to June 1993.
As Poynter had counseled, I had the ISBN number and Library of Congress CIP data ready for copyright page. I put them in, then typed, above them.
Text was complete. The fleuron unified book's inside, outside, and spine. Only simples were left, like balancing space over article titles.
When all was as I wished - after I'd come home on a Friday, begun typesetting at 7pm, and worked sleepless until 10pm Saturday - I saved the file a last time, and hit "end."
Page-counter slowly ran higher - 150 - 200 - 209.
I returned to notes and bibliography and reduced size a further point. Looked better, and clearly distinguished scholarly apparatus from text.
Save - end - 150 - 200 - 208.
The book was done.
* * *
The Midwest printers asked if I'd be sending positive films for them to shoot negatives to acid-etch the litho plates. I proposed sending negatives direct, and they discounted price a few hundred. The highest-quality film image, positive or negative, I knew came from running Ventura .c00 PostScript files through a Linotronic at highest DPI.
A firm in Berkeley happened to be running a special on large Linotronic orders. One afternoon, before leaving work, I sent a fax.
For: Hunza Graphics
From: Michael Brown --- phone: 415-xxx-xxxx
Re: Linotronic order
Date: 12 October 1993
O r d e r
Please d*o n*o*t print until verifying you have Adobe Poetica Supplement font loaded - these files use that font throughout. In case you need that font, I have loaded an Abobe .PFB file I believe contains it. Please call me if there are any problems - the ornament will be a small fleuron shaped like an apple.
Multi-page order - all to be Linotronic negative films with emulsion side down. No graphics or Helvetica Narrow - no crop marks other than centered lines within pages already set up to print. (Paul asked me to check the following out: it appears that my version of Ventura does not permit any special orientation commands, so I have printed all as normal PostScript output files.)
Originated on: Ventura ver. 2.0 as .c00 PostScript output files
Computer: PC 386/25 clone
Compressed using Pkzip ver. 2.04g
Fonts: Stempel Garamond (Adobe) roman, Stempel Garamond (Adobe) small caps/oldstyle figures and Poetica 2 (Adobe) Supplement ornaments
Company (please make out billing to): Abernathy and Brown
All files in corr.zip are letter-sized, landscape-oriented negatives. Please print at 2400 DPI.
Any problems, call me at 415-xxx-xxxx. Please call when job is complete to relay delivery arrangements and total cost.
Thanks - Mike Brown
I'd taken the savings of providing negatives and pushed the DPI high as budget could stand. Offset was a sensitive process, and I wanted every atom of Stempel Garamond on the page.
At home that evening, I set Ventura to PostScript output and clicked "print" for the front cover, the rear cover, then the text. The computer slowly coughed out .c00 files, one after the other, as I prayed it wouldn't crash. I compressed all files into one with magical PKZIP, dialed Hunza's electronic bulletin board, and began the transfer. It took about three hours.
We drove into Berkeley late Saturday morning, climbed the vine-roofed stairs to the cramped atelier (I thought of the phrase on Dr Bronner's soaps - "healthy Hunza-type food"), wrote a check for around $600 to the turban-wearing technician, and walked with Beth down into the sunshine with the paper-wrapped package in my hand.
We hit a Fifties diner styled in Early Ironic, ordered burgers, and as Fats Domino played I unwrapped paper and held, at very edges outside crops, the first of the negatives: cover page, with the largest type.
It was beautiful. Every delicate stroke in the forms, every modulation, was as clear and unpixeled as if perfect steel had pressed perfect ink on a perfect day.
We reswaddled the baby, shipped it to the Midwest, and waited.
One day, as we waited, I opened mail.
Uncorrected Proof hadn't fallen utterly dead. It'd made its way to the founder of a journal called The Creative Woman, and she'd come out of retirement to review. The Story of M.M., Helen E. Hughes wrote, touched her specially: she'd found herself looking out the window, remembering being not yet twenty, readying herself to launch into the world.
The Midwest printer sent drafts - light-blue ink, like an architect. I approved (and sourly noted a few typos from rushing), and printing was set for the end of December 1993.
We'd also advertised in the journal Harriet Monroe had founded, Poetry- one classic, one radical - and orders began trickling in through the 800 number and the mail-slot.
One customer asked if his daughter could get one by Christmas. By printer's timing all books would be on a truck bound to California. I told them to pull the first copy from the press and Fed Ex to her, our cost.
The book - we'd called it Tender Darkness, after a striking phrase in The Story of M.M. - began to be reviewed, and the reviewers spoke of the power of her writing and its relevance to life today.
One meant much to me. An English professor at Oklahoma State, in the university's literary journal, ended:
Tender Darkness from now on must take a prominent place in any discussions of American women's writing and the literature of the West.
Months later, Harper's called. They wanted to excerpt - and did, devoting two pages they called "Girl Wonder." The Harper's person wrote me happily that M.M. "is my new hero."
Beth thought to send not so many copies to reviewers but to women's studies and English teachers. "M.'s an acquired taste. If you can get her into the literature," she'd said one night, "she'll sell forever."
So, hundreds, out - and over the next two years, it entered the secondary literature and was put on curricula.
We were the first. No one beat our action.
After ours came other reprintings, from other publishers.
M. was back, and others took torches and ran in their own directions.
Of the letters we received, what made me smile best was from a New York magazine publisher: "Thank you for sending this book to me. What beautiful book production! What else do you have in your catalogue?"
I left it diplomatically unanswered!
* * *
Beth, having seen the success of Tender Darkness and believing M.M.'s real recognition was still to come, died in 1998 at forty. She was writing to within a few days of her death.
Martha Finnerty lived to get her copy of the book. She never made it to Philadelphia, and we never did meet, but we stayed in touch to the end. She died in 1996.
Philip Lipson is still researching M.M., finding new things.
Ada McAllister moved into watercolor pet portraits, done with the same sharp dash as her play.
In April 1994, Beth and I visited Butte on the way back from Fergus Falls to visit M.M.'s grave.
We found the house where she wrote The Story - abandoned, dilapidated. We broke in to walk through the rooms and up the stairs, marveling that we were looking out her second-story bedroom window at the hills and brick buildings of Butte.
We went to the Public Library. I asked for the man I'd talked to in 1988 and was directed upstairs.
I stood above his desk - he had yellow-white hair, and a stern look like one of the miners M.'d written of - and silently laid Tender Darkness before John Hughes.
He picked it up, and his eyes grew wide. He half got-up, shook my hand, grinning - it was like sun beneath the yellow-white clouds - and said "I never thought you'd do it. But you did."
I left his copy with him. He died a few years later.
As for M.M. herself - I feel much as I did the first day.
Once a week or so I'll pick up one of the anthologies, mine or another's, or one of the original volumes I found since - and look at those first words, and again feel the thrill.
January 13, 1901
I, of womankind and of nineteen years, will now begin to set down as full and frank a portrayal as I am able of myself, M.M., for whom the world contains not a parallel.
I am convinced of this, for I am odd.
I am distinctly original innately and in development.
I have in me a quite unusual intensity of life.
That first day, I felt her desperate sense of the importance of this life, the drive to write to touch others on the inside, the thrust to make the inner reality last so it doesn't wink out at death.
So I continue the research. Her letters, her books, photographs, reminiscences of her, are all about this room in which I do my life-works.
In one of the Chicago obituaries, the reporter wrote that of fifty-five people at the funeral service, all but five had been women.
The five men were asked by reporters if they'd been M.'s lovers.
They had refused to answer.
This has been my story.
I, the last lover of Mary MacLane.
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