/is meant to be, in transfigured/ transmogrified form, a big chapter shaft into the depths of the city in DARLINGS & MONSTERS
this was one of the three big shafts that led to the fissioning heart of
DARKNESS the city.
HANDICAPPERADVENTURES IN EDITINGWith Tay Hohoff, the editor of TO KILL A MOCKING BIRD in the news for guiding Harper Lee to the successful version, perhaps the extra-ordinary story of the editing and publication of Robert Kalich's The Handicapper -handicapping -is of interest. I rough it out below.
The story unfolds in a to be expected unusual fashion, and requires some background.One afternoon in the late 1970s, I as publis
her of the foreverimpecuniousUrizen Books
receive a call from someone who identifies himself as Dick Kalich of the Kalich Organization. Mr. Kalich tells me that he happened to read the highly favorable Publisher's Weekly reviewQUOTEof a forthcoming Urizen Books novel, Michael Brodsky's Detour, which upon its publication won P.E.N.'s Hemingway Prize for the best novel published by a new writer.This is where two important back stories need to be told to ground my tale.One late afternoon, about a year prior to the Kalich call, Michael Brodsky show
edup at Urizen Books. Michael had received my address as a possible publisher of his work via Peter Handke, whose work I introduced to this country and whose plays I translated,and it was Patricia Highsmith whom he had happened to meet in Paris who had turned him over to Handke; and he arrived in our creaky, freight-elevatored offices not with just one novel, but a maroon leather carrying case that barely heldfive manuscripts.
Upon my telling
MichaelI'd get back to him in a week or so and his leaving, I opened his weighty satchel and took a look at the first page of each of a total of these five manuscript (just the first page!) and realized: this is it, the real thing, the raison d'etre for the existence of Urizen Books, an author on the order of a Beckett, it was merely a question which m.s. to publish first, and the rest in what order.
Here I could diverge into long story about how the book then got published, what special care I took with the design, the type setting and about Michael Brodsky, but, interesting as that is, the Handicapper story would go out focus.The other important background element is how Publisher's Weekly had managed to publish such a brief glowing review of a challenging piece of writing, and the explanation for that is that P.W. had published nearly verbatim my own blurb. Now, how did I happen to know what kind of blurb P.W. might publish? The answer to that puzzle is that, upon returning broke from the year 1964 abroad, my friend theTrotzkyite novelist Daniel (Danny
)Gordon, who was in charge of the Columbia Pictures scouting office in N.Y., had given me a job as one of their outside readers of galleys that P.W. supplied. Columbia Picture's interest was to have first dibs on properties that might make interesting films - the C.P. reading office provided the home office in Hollywood with a story outline written by the likes of me, in the present movie tense, and,in exchange for the galleys,P.W. with an evaluation of the title that P.W. then boiled down a bit more into one of their all-important first reviews! Interesting and salvaging work it was for me until I managed to move out of the shoe-box I was living in at the Chelsea Hotel with a hunch it probably was time to hook up with a publisher, but no ambition to become a publisher myself.
I had no idea whether Michael Brodsky knew how to or was interested in writing screen plays or adaptations, but since he was working a lowly job for the Arthritis Foundation, he and his saintly French wife and newborn child needed the money, as did Urizen Books.Thus I assented to Dick Kalich's question whether I would take a look at a book called TheHandicapper, and within the week the Kalich Organization, in the persons of the twins, Robert & Richard Kalich
,appeared at our offices lugging the Handicappeer manuscript in a three by three feet carton, Kleenex or Kotex or Charmin? I don't recall.
We talked a bit, the Organization indicated that it would finance the book's editing and publication. I said it would take me a few weeks to work my way through what I did not yet realize were the Augean stables. The pair departed, Becky Johnson, a young East Village film maker who did the Urizen publicity, mentioned that she did not like their sinister looks. As far as I was concerned, Dick, the future author of three art novels (1), looked like a kind of eternal sophomore enthusiast for literature and very eventually turned into an excellent friend and admirable writer. Bob, indeed, looked somewhat ominous
:powerful, dark, there was someone who had seen and done things that marked him with serious experience; thus more interesting. They were not identical twins, although married as of uterus.
I looked at the many thousand pages of drafts of TheHandicapper and concluded that there was a book buried in the Charmin carton. Though the proposition to write a screenplay based on the book was years
off I introduced Michael Brodsky to the Kaliches and I think he and Dick actually hit if off - Dick then used Michael, one of Kafka's true "hunger artists," as the model for the main character in his first,the now famous and famously upsetting The Nihilsthete.
The Kalich Organization and Urizen books made a deal and I spent the summer working with Bob at his penthouse terrace overlooking Central Park. The chief work consisted in getting Bob's great tale of how he, a once degenerate gambler, became a millionaire as the handicapperfor the Jewish mob that put "nickels" (5 k) and "dimes" on weekend playtime on college basketball, to dispense with endless iterations of the side-story of his romantic fights with a woman who had been his wife (where one with a few variants did the trick) and providing the book with the spine of
asingle major conflict between two major mob figures. None of that I would say was genius on my part, sensible straight forward editing, bringing the best parts of the book to the fore. I forget how much if any re-rewriting Bob had to do. I may have written a few passages to show him what was needed - meanwhile I had had one relationship that had experienced me what male female fights could be.
What became extra-ordinary was the way the financing of my and the firm
's work was accomplished. Say the book featured a dozen gamblers whose playtime consisted of putting a "nickel" or a "dime" on a particular college basketball weekend game. Abe was the most important and he subscribed a dime, that left a dime divided between 11 other gamblers; the most interesting moment was when a Jewelry dealer from nearby Canal Street brought a thousand dollars in cash in a brown paper bag to Urizen offices at 65 West Broadway.
Matters became even more interesting when I started to be taken along to the various characters - who now stepped out of the book as living and in one instance hugely fleshly persons; and the places they hung out at...(enumerate)and my encou
ntering Abe Costello's best Jewish friend. Robbie and I took one look at each other, he cased the folks who entered his brother's eatery, I suspect for being cops, and the look from the two scalpels he had for eyes shed the lean meat of my bones, I felt skeletal. I only saw Robbie once more in my life, at the swimming pool of the Beverly Hills hotel, trying to make sure he wouldn't spot me...
Urizen turned the book into its one and only set of bound galleys and at Frankfurt Book Fair tried to an auction, that went nowhere...Advance of 3000 an amazing figure for anything but Shephard...Kaliches want out... I go crazy at Un deux troisGood cop bad cop40,000 total for Urizen
,more than for any book we actually published..
rip to bookfair sitting next to the beautiful blonde Crown editor who had taken over from me...
Kalich death threats, her husband ascertained that no one in the mob would kill anyone to get The Handicaper publ
ished - which then became a Book of the Month Club alternate, and was sold to mass paperback.
Later Bob showed me two other manuscripts that again required Augean Stable work, one of which, A Twin Life, had stretches of extra-ordinary powerful writing, but from the West Coast I was unable to
get Bob to write the kind of opening the book needed, and regret not asking him to fly me to New York to work with him at his penthouse terrace to get that book right, which was eventually published by Kodansha in