“At least I was able to penetrate into the mysterious and magical belly of a movie star”
As a novel about sexuality, told in what Mailer had thought was a style imbued with sexual energy, The Deer Park had offended his original publisher, who dropped it in page proofs; ironically, Mailer found himself changing some of the phrases to which the publisher had objected, not on moral but on aesthetic grounds. “Fount of power” for female genitalia became “thumb of power.”
In “The Last Draft of The Deer Park,” in Advertisements for Myself, Mailer offers a comparison between the first three pages of the page proofs and the published version, five pages in the middle, and part of a later page.
Even so, the stylistic changes did not make a style most critics could praise. Some thought the style was terrible, a “blistering” criticism. “Having reshaped my words with an intensity of feeling I had not known before,” write Mailer, “I could not understand why others were not overcome with my sense of life, of sex, and of sadness.”
—Revising Fiction: A Handbook for Writers by David Madden (The book is sadly out of print, but can be found cheap used. This is the rare craft book that should be of use to both traditional and unconventional writers. I originally found out about it from Jeff Vandermeer’s blog.)
With so many of the people that read this blog being interested in less traditional forms of writing, I’m sure this is a kind of problem we’ve all had. It’s happened often enough to me, most recently with the novella I’ve spent the bulk of the second half of this year writing. I used a large amount of several kinds of repetition through the manuscript, and some of the early readers of the book absolutely hated it. It was a complicated balancing act in revision to see where in the book they were right—and they were right a lot, especially since, like any stylistic move, repetition can be used as a crutch to avoid writing hard parts of fictions—but there are also places where I’m sure that I’ve made the appropriate choices, and I’ve left those mostly be. It might take a long time to know for sure, but in the end I believe in what I’ve done so far, trusting that my own intense revision process will keep leading me toward the best choices.
What about you? Ever have an experience like Mailer had with The Deer Park, where the stylistic or technical devices you used fails to convey to readers your own “sense of life, of sex, and of sadness?” If it happened before publication, did you revise away from the aesthetic choices you’d made for the story, or did you stick with them? If it was a published work, do you think it was a problem of your own failed authorship or of publishing in a place that got you the wrong readership? Or both? What then?