Life, Death and Detention
by George Ivanoff - August 7th, 2012
In my last post I told you about the journey of my YA short story collection, Life, Death and Detention, from original publication in 1999 to a new publisher in 2012. (see “The long and winding road to a new edition”) Today, I’ll tell you a little about the preparation of the new edition.
I had already completed the updating of the stories, taking them from their original 1990s setting and bringing them into the 21st Century, by the time I signed my contract with Morris Publishing Australia. In the 1990s teenagers did not carry around mobile phones, Internet access was via dial-up and not every household had it, and so email was not as common a form of communication as it is today. This was the main sort of updating that I did — inserting some current technology. I also updated some of the pop culture references, and provided reasons for the kids to be making some of the other outdated references. Finally, I took the opportunity to ‘clean up’ some unclear prose that was a result of my lack of experience (it was my first book, after all). Beyond these updates, I resisted the urge to make any other changes, as I didn’t want to alter the intent of the stories.
So then, Elaine Ouston from Morris Publishing Australia gave the manuscript another edit — going through it with a fine tooth comb and picking me up on a few points. I hadn’t realised, for instance, that I had rather over-used the word ‘momentarily’.
It was during this stage that some concern was expressed over the endings of two of the stories — “Life, Death and Detention” and “On the Edge of a Knife”. The publisher showed the manuscript to a couple of teachers and they too were a little worried that young readers might interpret the uncertain endings as an endorsement by the author of the questionable choices made by the characters. It’s an interesting reflection of our times that no such concerns were expressed during the book’s original publication. I wonder if this is because of recent suicides and violence among teenagers?
If there was a new collection with previously unpublished stories, I would have looked at rewriting those two stories. As this was a reprint, I felt strongly about not changing the endings or the intention of the stories. But I could also see my publisher’s point. I would hate to give young readers the wrong impression — especially with regards to topics such as bullying, suicide, guns and knives.
I thought long and hard about this issue and finally suggested a way of dealing with it. I’d leave the stories as they were but I would write an afterward for each of them, explaining my intentions and making it very clear that I did not condone the actions of the characters. This worked out to be the perfect solution. We decided that I would write a similar afterword for each of the stories, thus providing an extra resource for classroom study.
It was smooth sailing from there on, as the book was laid out and my wife finished designing the cover. It was released last month and is currently available in bookstores across the country — although I would recommend purchasing it right here from Boomerang Books. The book will be officially launched by Alison Goodman (author of Eon, Eona and Singing the Dogstar Blues) at Mentone Grammar on 13 August. Am I excited? You bet!
Tune in next — when I shall momentarily put aside my impulse to tell you more about Life, Death and Detention — for a post that has nothing to do with any of my books.
Catch ya later, George
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