The “Memories of a Forty-Niner” manuscript came to me through my friend Chip Barker: 1912 newspaper clippings from articles originally published in the Newtown Bee in Connecticut. Here’s a quick look at how this text became Journey Into Gold Country.
Ralph Buckingham was Chip’s great-great-grandfather. His grandmother passed the manuscript to Chip, as a responsibility to take as oldest son in his generation. The text had been sorta kinda transcribed as a typescript on a manual typewriter, derived from some kind of photostat of the original clippings, then OCR’d into a flat ASCII file.
I took this book on as a learning project: What does it take to spiff up a nearly unreadable text, research the footnotes, and find suitable graphics?
The part I thought would be easy—proofreading—turned out to be unreasonably tricky. First: the filter of bad photocopy, transcribed by a bad typist, OCR scanning resulted in a series of textual puzzled. If the OCR guess was meaningless in context, it also turned out that this human couldn’t read the words on the newspaper photocopy. The choices for solution were: Guess the author’s original intent intelligently? Omit?
This wasn’t not like the technical manuscripts I work on, where I can query the original author via email. I’d need a séance to query Mr. Buckingham: What the heck did you mean here, sir?
After my initial text proof, it was time for copyediting. Again, I applied a professional rule of thumb: ~100 pages, no advanced mathematics or technical jargon, so the appropriate copyediting estimate would be 30 pages a day. As it turned out, the original columns don’t appear to have been edited. The Newtown Bee has been an important community newspaper for many generations. In the case of the garrulous Ralph Buckingham, they went to straight to type from his manuscript. So, again, this time the puzzles to unwind were archaic word choices and tangled syntax. Ralph was 85, and he had a Victorian writing style that seemed at some times to break down into an after-midnight ramble.
Then the “developmental editor” at the core of my being had to make decisions about what was “historical” (requiring preservation) versus content not useful to modern readers. I excised some of the free-floating sermons that passed judgment on members of the local city council. (There was no history in the content, just axe-grinding.) In terms of other “not related to the Gold Rush” content, I added a note in the text: If any true historian needs the full text, together with Ralph’s midnight rants, I can provide a fourth-generation PDF of 1912 newspaper clippings.
Meanwhile, what kept me focused on the project was the personality telling his story. Ralph was, if not erudite, well-read. Ralph tossed off literary quotes on every other page. He clearly assumed that every reader was familiar with the source. Thanks to Google Books, it took me only 15 to 30 minutes per quote to find what text and what author he was quoting.
Then it turned out that for half the colorful characters Ralph describes, he also cites their later history in the Civil War or in the establishment of law and governance in California. He seemed to have kept assiduous track of people he met—the ones that didn’t disappear into the Australian Good Rush, or who wander off the trail and out of history. He also devoted a lot of attention to natural history and geography. Fun to edit, but I had to research to reconcile his spelling variations.
The rest of the project—formatting for ebook and print—were straightforward, since I’ve been doing those tasks for a while. I expect the Jugum Press will do one of these a quarter—maybe less if the forensic editing takes as much time as this one did.
The cover, by the way, is another LisaTiltonDesign effort. The instructions for this one: simple, nature in the artwork, traditional layout and type.
Journey Into Gold Country is available on Amazon as an ebook now.
Print will be available in a week or so.
I had a similar experience publishing an ebook. In my case the manuscript was a poor scan of a poor xerox of the journal of a forty-niner who sailed from Boston in 1849. I certainly can relate to your wish for a seance. Hard work but enjoyable.
Hi Carl – have you published your manuscript? I’d like to link to it from the Journey web page!