Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Proofreading The Catch Trap



Book View Café  is a publishing cooperative, both in the business and the friendly sense of the word. We offer one another all the services a traditional publisher would normally provide, everything from editing a previously-unpublished work to formatting and cover design, as well as the technical skills necessary to operate the bookstore and website. Not all of us have such specialized knowledge, but just about all of us can proofread a manuscript for another editor.

I recently “carried my fair share” by proofreading the BVC ebook edition of Marion Zimmer Bradley’s novel, The Catch Trap. (Actually, I was one of two proofreaders, so you can pick which one of us to blame for any typos you find!) The Catch Trap one of those richly layered books that is “about” a lot of different things. It’s a gay love story, sure, but it’s also about life in a traveling circus at the twilight of that life, and it’s about all the ways families destroy and save us. It’s about that rare bond of a shared vocation, a calling, the thing that makes us most fully alive. Not just sex, but flying, and more about that later.


One recommended study techniques for newer writers is to type out a paragraph, a page, a chapter by a favorite author. Putting the words down on paper helps you to perceive and understand what the writer did, how he put together that scene. Proofreading and copy-editing are a little like that because of the attention to detail – grammar, spelling, punctuation, incorrect word choice. In this case, the file was from a scan of a print edition, and the OCR software had added some odd glitches. I also had to read for homonyms and typos that are still words, things a spell-checker wouldn’t catch. That meant I had to pay attention not just to punctuation and oddly placed spaces, but to the sense of the sentence. This required a different sort of attention than ordinary pleasure reading or even editorial reading. The combination put me “inside” the story, as if I were looking over Marion’s shoulder as she constructed it. I say “constructed” because proofreading it was in some ways like moving, slowly and carefully, through a hologram that contained not only three-dimensional blueprints, but all the finishing touches.

When I first read The Catch Trap several decades ago, I had no expectations beyond that it was a novel by Marion Zimmer Bradley. I was only mildly curious about circus life. The story greeted me where I was and led me into a world I knew very little about, feeding me what I needed to know to appreciate what was going on. There was a lot of information to transmit: not only the characters but their family connections, the various jobs and training required, the color and atmosphere of a traveling circus in the mid 1940s and all the ways in which it was a life apart. On the first page, I met Tommy Zane, a kid from a lion-tamer family, and on the second page, I watched Tommy and Mario Santelli, a brilliant trapeze flyer, begin their friendship. The third page told me of Tommy’s longing to not follow in his father’s  footsteps as a “cat man”, but to soar on the trapeze, which Mario then begins teaching him. So in the space of the very beginning of the first chapter, Bradley set up the entire 600 page novel. There was no “shooting the sheriff on the first page,” nor huge chunk of bewildering exposition, nor wandering characters who have nothing to do with the central plot. Bradley told me up front what the story was going to be: two men, their families, circus life, and most of all, their shared passion for trapeze work.

Tommy’s admiration for Mario becomes interwoven with his adolescent sexual awakening. The story could have unfolded without the sexual relationship, with all the plot points being roughly the same. I can’t speculate why Bradley chose to weave in a gay love story when an intense working friendship might have sufficed; I can only look at the result. The Catch Trap was first published in 1979, hardly the heyday of tolerance, and the story takes place from 1944 to 1953, when there were very few places where open homosexuality did not carry significant risk, often deadly. While I image that many readers in 1979 reacted to the gay element for one reason or another, it seemed to me as I proofread the book that it was only one of many interwoven themes. Bradley used it to contrast and highlight the many repeated instances of alienation, privacy, and secrets – between the circus and the mundane world, between various traditions and circuses, between and within families. She uses the word “passion” to mean not only sexual desire but fervor and longing for a rare and fleeting experience – flying through the air in perfect timing and harmony with another person. Tommy and Mario hold each other’s lives in their hands, not just in terms of how dangerous it was to be gay at that time, and not just how deeply each could wound the other, but their very lives.

In the end, as in the beginning, the story is not about sex, it’s about a shared dream:


"Flying is supposed to look like one of those flight dreams, so simple that people can’t believe they can’t do it themselves...Just pure, simple, perfect. So everybody watching will want to cry, because they know somewhere inside, in their guts, that they had wings and could fly once but they just forgot how.”


By the end of the book, I shared that dream, too.

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