From the time he began writing in earnest—sometime in 1959—until his quasi-retirement from writing in 1987, Lafferty wrote two hours a day, every day, almost without fail. (The only exceptions were time for travel, and times of particularly poor health.) Even after he retired from his day job in the early 70s to concentrate more on writing, he found he could still only devote 2 or 3 hours a day to actual production. So, how did he spend that time?
A word first on writing environment: if you’ve seen pictures of Lafferty amidst ceiling-high stacks of books, then you’ve seen the office he occupied in the house he shared with his sister and, until her death, his mother. One alcove of that space was given over to one of a series of Mexican knockoff-brand manual typewriters, and it was on these that he produced a number of pages and words nearly unimaginable outside the world of pulp genre fiction. (Bear this in mind when reading stories like “Been a Long, Long Time”!)
Before reaching the typewriter though, his stories went through a phase of handwriting on scrap paper, where he would jot down character names, basic plot elements, quotations he wished to incorporate (whether his own or others’), themes, setting, so on; often, he would handwrite out the first few pages as well before moving to typescript. This was the pre-draft or “notes” phase of his stories; very few examples survive, because Ray tended to destroy these notes once they were incorporated into a fuller draft.
Next, he would move to the typewriter for a first or “original” draft. This would be done single spaced on lined notebook paper, and would often end in handwritten passages that fleshed out or finished the draft he was transcribing from hand or typing fresh onto the page. This draft would then be heavily marked up in pen, with deletions and corrections made on the page, and large additions indicated on the back of the previous page. Again, few of these drafts survive.
Following this, he would make a full typed draft on carbon paper, the “first carbon”. Corrections would be entered in hand on both top and carbon sheets, and again, large insertions would be indicated on the previous page. This stage marks the point at which he considered drafts worth saving.
This was followed by the “second carbon” (third draft), incorporating all previous changes, and again making small-scale corrections on both top and carbon sheets. At this point, large-scale changes are rare, and are made not in pen as before, but by the production of completely new pages to replace existing ones, or to be tipped in between, such as a page 128-A to go between 128 and 129, etc. This marks the final manuscript phase for the majority of his works.
For multi-volume novels such as In a Green Tree or the Coscuin Chronicles, or for works that had undergone a great deal of revisions such as Annals of Klepsis, Ray would then produce a final, clean working draft or “third carbon” that incorporated all changes, and which was repaginated in accordance with them. No full-scale revisions are made at this point; any small-scale changes are made either by retyping whole sheets, or by X’ing out words and typing replacements directly above them.
He would save the carbon copy of this text and send the original directly to the editor, or, after he signed on with her agency, to Virginia Kidd. Thus he could retype the story from the carbon if need be. However, if an editor bought the story but requested changes larger than just a few words here and there, he would make them as part of a “fourth carbon” (provided a previous “third” had already been made). Relatively few of these survive.
Given the disorder of his later years, and the condition in which his papers were found, it’s a huge testament to the University of Tulsa’s archival staff not just that so many of the documents survived, but also that this sort of textual history can be pieced together.
More to follow…