Gregor Samsa
Leaping Man

The Insect dialogues

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 Back around the turn of the century, I submitted a 900-page manuscript called Gregor Samsa: A Life, to a new Penguin Putnam imprint, BlueHen, suggested by my then agent. I got back from Fred Ramey the following gnomic message: “We love your ms, but we are not going to publish it”, or something very like that. When I asked why, Fred wrote, “Because you are not going to want to make the changes we want you to make.” Perhaps this was a phone conversation.  I figured thus: “What do I have to lose? I’ll let him make the changes he wants, and if I don’t like the result, I don’t have to sign the contract.” What did I know? We tromped off together on the conversion of Gregor Samsa: A Life into Insect Dreams: The Half Life of Gregor Samsa. (That title, BTW, was arrived at in actual committee, giving the lie to the truth that committees can never come up with anything snazzy.) And on the way, the manuscript lost 300 of its 900 pages. My first experience with editing.
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        in early summer of 2016, Marc Estrin — who now curates the list for his own publishing house — asked what I would think if he were to publish the complete original manuscript of what under my edits in 2002 became Insect Dreams: The Half Life of Gregor Samsa. His email (we always communicate via email) threw me into a whirlwind of conversations with my friends and colleagues.         Insect Dreams had been Marc’s debut as a novelist and had garnered a great many laurels when it appeared from BlueHen Books, the imprint I co-operated on the Putnam side of what was then Penguin/Putnam. What caused the whirlwind in my life was that before entering on the edit of that novel, I had asked Marc to cut the manuscript by about 30%. So what would the publication of the complete manuscript say about the often merciless aspect of editing? What would it say about my processes or my sensibilities — or at least about what I was up to as an editor in the world of corporate publishing?
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It was a book quite different from the one I had written.  My original model had been Thomas Mann's Doctor Faustus, "the life of XXX, as told by a friend." My XXX was not Adam Leverkuhn, the demon-affected composer, but Gregor Samsa, the cockroach, also inexplicably poisoned.  The brilliance of Mann's book lives in the contrast between the narrator, a mild-mannered academic, and his in-all-ways contrasting friend, the manic, dirven, tortured composer, that dialectic being also a deep, extended metaphor for Germany, the land of genius and satanic savagery. For various reasons, Fred thought it best to convert my biography into a "novel", told not by a friend, but by an omniscient narrator. Much of the same historical and characterological content remains in there, but the narrator was skillfully extracted, the tone of the book changed, and it was that book found which created the success we both thought it deserved.
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        when I finally got back to him, I told Marc that I don’t believe it would be ethical for me to stand in the way of what he so much wanted to do. But I said that because of its potential impact on me personally and its reflection on the profession of editor, I wanted my story told. The solution we struck upon was to resume — or rather reboot — a project we’d begun a few years earlier an email colloquy about our particular editor/author relationship. We had abandoned that earlier project because Marc and I don’t always see things the same way and our relationship has been important to us both. ​        For a visceral while, I’ve wanted to step out from the anonymous wings of publishing, in part because my career has been so obstreperous, if not perverse. The result of that wish and of all this discomfort is a printed and bound volume: The Insect Dialogues. ​​Frederick Ramey
 
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In 1996, after a night of disturbing phone calls, Marc Estrin awoke, and thought he might try writing a novel. Of this effort, Notes from the Underground, unpublished and unmourned, Fred Ramey was later to write, “You have created a monumental literary figure, but he is so disgusting, no one will read past page 3. But unlike the shortening he did to create Insect Dreams from Gregor Samsa: A Life, Fred helped Marc build up his third novel, Golem Song, and to create a signature (less disgusting) character, Alan Krieger. Marc went on to write more novels, and with his wife, Donna, to found Fomite Press, about which, more within the pages of The Insect Dialogues. He will not be offering a director’s cutback of Notes.
 
An editor by all the requisite inclinations, Frederick Ramey is one of two owner-publishers of Unbridled Books, an independent press specializing in commercial literature and a member of the board of Colophon Literary Center. At the most recent millennium, he was a founding editor of BlueHen Books—Putnam’s erstwhile literary imprint—and through the 1990s was Publisher and Executive Editor of MacMurray & Beck, an award-winning Colorado press. That was not his first publishing endeavor.

The authors are donating all royalties from The Insect Dialogues to future Leaping Man projects.

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The Insect Dialogues

Marc Estrin

Frederick Ramey

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