[Slightly edited by ElshaHawk]
(Source: Journal of a Novel: The East of Eden Letters)
Notes/Letters between John Steinbeck and the many players in publishing his book, East of Eden. Pat is his editor.
The book is out of balance. The reader expects one thing and you give him something else. You have written two books and stuck them together. The reader will not understand.
No, sir. It goes together. I have written about one family and used stories about another family as—well, as counterpoint, as rest, as contrast in pace and color.
The reader won’t understand. What you call counterpoint only slows the book.
It has to be slowed—else how would you know when it goes fast?
You have stopped the book and gone into discussions of God knows what.
Yes, I have. I don’t know why. Just wanted to. Perhaps I was wrong.
You make Cathy too black. The reader won’t believe her. You make Sam Hamilton too white. The reader won’t believe him. No Irishman ever talked like that.
My grandfather did.
Who’ll believe it?
No children ever talked like that.
(Losing temper as a refuge from despair)
This is my book! I’ll make the children talk any way I want. My book is about good and evil. Maybe the theme got into the execution. Do you want to publish it or not?
Let’s see if we can’t fix it up. It won’t be much work. You want it to be good, don’t you? For instance the ending. The reader won’t understand it.
Yes, but the reader won’t.
John Steinbeck proves them wrong, too. East of Eden was and still is, literary genius. Steinbeck is essentially angry that his editor/publishing company refers to his entire reading audience as “The Reader”; all one mind, all one mentality, and John’s not happy that they think very little of “The Reader”.
So next time anyone of us writes a story and it receives multiple comments and half say they get it, and the other half does not, do we service the half that did, or cater to the half that didn’t?
It’s up to each individual to choose to edit and rewrite, or stay true to their own style.
Write with abandon. Buck the system. Don’t formulate your story in hopes that people “get it”. We, as writers, can’t follow every reader around and explain what we meant, I don’t believe that has any place in fiction.
Writing a story is like articulating a math problem, some people understand it, some don’t.This is the age of the internet, there’s an audience for all of us.
In the words of Steinbeck: “He’ll take from my book what he can bring to it. The dull witted will get dullness and the brilliant may find things in my book I didn’t know were there.”