A Celebration of Judy Doyle, aka Judy Curbstone
In my last blog I did my own riff of an obit on Sandy Taylor, the co-founder of Curbstone Press who died last Friday morning. As my wife noted, some of my statements are in fact misstatements, mostly because in my haste to celebrate my friend’s life, I did not fully recognize Judy Doyle his long-time partner, in all senses of that word. She was there at the beginning, plotting and planning into the night, smoking cigarettes, stapling books together, designing them, selling them.
But a common error on all of our part. What is so often not said and recognized outside the Curbstone circle of close friends is that Judy was an equal partner in all that is Curbstone. Or to say it another way, Curbstone would not exist without Judy Doyle. Sandy was the loudmouth, the guy with the quick wit and the hilarious stories and the out-front leftwing politics. He was a vibrant guy and his noise overshadowed the role Judy played in the Curbstone story. Her job description at Curbstone, an operation of four people and a non-profit board, is “Do Everything.” She oversees all the daily operations of Curbstone—supported in her duties by longtime associate Robert Smith and now Jantje Tielken—from the editing to the production to the Public Relations and Sale to buying materials to managing the money. Etcetera. My wife Lee knows full well how a loudmouth can overshadow the person who is actually responsible to get the book out the door. Lee’s mantra is that the process of a book is COLLABORATION. Yes, Lee will grudgingly allow, the noise-maker needs to be there, but he shouldn’t hog all the attention. Sandy tried to make sure that the mantle didn’t rest solely on his shoulders, but we always didn’t pay attention.
Since Sandy’s death, Lee has been re-membering Judy Doyle, her role in Sandy’s life as a full-partner in the cornucopia of books that Curbstone has given us over the years. After reading my blog, Lee poured this out one night—
Well, hey, it’s a collaboration, the whole thing, isn’t it? Publishing—that joyful, terrible, dreadful, miraculous, business—is just that: a collaboration. The author writes the book, and of course the author thinks the book is “his” or “hers,” but all of us who are publishers know different. Especially small press, seat-of-the-pants-publishers like Curbstone.
There’s the acquiring of the book which takes a certain vision, a certain understanding, and it’s not always just one person acquiring, it’s not always a simple decision, sometimes you have to talk a lot and then you have to talk some more, and then maybe you have to cajole and convince the other people who are part of your business—this is important, don’t you get it?
And there’s the editing which is sometimes easy and sometimes not, and the editing makes all the difference, it gives the book a shape that may or may not have been there before. And then there’s the designer, the one you choose by instinct, or because they have more time, or because you owe them less, and that designer gives their own particular spin to the book. And there’s the printer and the distributor, and the guy or gal in the warehouse, and everyone is a collaborator in this incredible business of getting a book out into the world. And don’t forget the stream of other books by other authors, the publisher’s backlist, that provides the money to invest in a new book.
A new book! It’s like a boatload of mothers and fathers giving birth. Or if you’re small, like Curbstone and Cinco Puntos and so many of our colleagues, it’s maybe one, two, three, four people midwife-ing a book—such satisfaction in the delivery, so much angst—will anyone like it as much as we do? Or better, or worse, will anyone buy it?
Oh, godfrey, please buy it!
And so by the end, when the book finally comes from the printer, and you hold it in your hand, you can’t exactly be sure who did what or who said what or whose vision it was. Because it was a collaboration, the best of things. And that’s what Sandy and Judy Curbstone did, made publishing a true collaboration, so that, in the end, the book belonged to everyone.
And we smile (to ourselves) when the author says, “Look at my book.” Well, the author is right. It is her book, it is his book. But it is also our book. That’s what makes independent publishing such a miracle, so satisfying to both the intellect and the imagination.
Yes, celebrate Alexander Sandy Taylor, but also celebrate Judy Doyle—Sandy’s equal partner in business, spirit, imagination, intellect and, of course, the bedroom.
Note: Sandy was always making plans for books and adventures and jokes and fundraisers. Last year he told me, “My funeral will be the greatest fundraiser ever!”
And another note: For a fine interview with Sandy, I recommend Justice, Love, Death and Literature by our friend and former colleague Jessica Powers which appeared in the online alternative lit magazine New Pages.