In-house Editing Does Honor to Mica’s Story

I just finished reviewing the edited manuscript pages of Voices from the Underground, volume 2, Michael “Mica” Kindman’s story. MSU Press editors did a fine job of editing. They edited lightly, respecting Mica’s writing and my editing, in the same way they edited for volume 1, which will be out hopefully in December (but definitely in January). For that I was grateful. Mica’s story is powerful; the text is graceful. A heavy editing hand would have done the text no good and a lot of harm.

Most of what the house editors did was to insert html coding and bring our text in line with their house style in such areas as the following:

  •  Comma usage
  • Uppercasing or lowercasing
  • Spelling out or abbreviating terms
  • Spelling out or using digits for numbers.

In addition they raised questions when the text was unclear to them. This, to me, is the area where editors are most useful. If it makes sense to me, does that mean it makes sense to the reader? Usually I can pull myself back from my ego far enough to read from the reader’s perspective but not always. The editor, on the other hand, is always far enough from the writer’s ego. In some cases what I already had was correct. In others, her query and my answer will now give readers a smoother read.

Mica’s story ends with him on the cusp of death but still holding out hope for the future. The foreword by Steven Muchnick, who goes by the name of Rosemary for Remembrance within the Radical Faeries community, brings Mica’s story to a close. No one will read Mica’s story, then Steven’s afterword, then see the photo of the AIDS blanket square with Mica’s name on it and not shed a tear. Hopefully readers also will draw strength from Mica’s courage and humanity.

For me, the most powerful line was at the end of the last chapter of the main text where he wrote, “Getting to write about all of it has been a tremendously healing, and confrontational, experience for me.” I know that I was the person who asked him to tell his complete story and gave him encouragement as he wrote it. So, even though he didn’t say so directly, I took that line as his thank you to me. That was where I shed a tear. He worked on his story for two years, dying of AIDS the whole time. He finally died two months after submitting the final manuscript. I believe he lived those extra two years so he could finish his story.

It deserves a wide audience, not only in book form but on the screen as a record of a tumultuous period that covered the politics of the sixties, the cults of the seventies, and the AIDS tragedy of the eighties.

Manuscript Arrives for Life of Michael Kindman, Underground Press Legend

I got the word from MSU Press that the edited manuscript of volume 2 of the Voices from the Underground Series is ready for my review.

Volume 2 is the story of Michael Kindman, one of the legends of the Vietnam era underground press. Michael started school at Michigan State University in September 1963 as one of nearly two hundred honors students from around the country who had been awarded National Merit Scholarships, underwritten by MSU and usable only there. Together, they represented by far the largest group of Merit Scholars in any school’s freshman class.

The irony was not lost on the academic community, as MSU, the nation’s first agricultural land grant college, was busy under President John Hannah trying to shed its reputation for being a cow college. Those years immediately followed a period of tremendous expansion on the MSU campus, for reasons that became clear later. But for Michael the first two years were academically bleak for a brilliant mind that was looking to expand.

To do that he had to change his environment. So, two years after coming to MSU, he dropped out of school—despite being in line to become editor in chief of State News, MSU’s student newspaper, and instead founded The Paper, East Lansing’s first underground newspaper and one of the first five members of Underground Press Syndicate, this country’s first nationwide network of underground papers. It was The Paper that helped Ramparts magazine expose MSU’s role from the mid-fifties until 1962 as the CIA’s number one front organization for the government’s war against the people of Vietnam. CIA agents—actively training the South Vietnamese police, “pacifying” the South Vietnamese countryside by pushing peasants into the cities, instituting ID programs, and more—were all the while publicly identified as faculty members at MSU (some actually were MSU faculty even before the CIA involvement, and, in their defense, some were well intentioned and only later became disenchanted). Meanwhile, MSU was being secretly reimbursed through CIA funds that were laundered through the MSU budget.

One of the first articles I ever wrote for the underground press years later was about the return to MSU of Wesley Fishel, publicly identified during those years as an MSU assistant professor but in reality the person who introduced then-exiled Ngo Dinh Diem to powerful U.S. government officials who helped bring him back to power as prime minister of South Vietnam in 1954. Fishel became head of the MSU Group, the program that guided many of these activities. My article appeared in Joint Issue in 1971, about a campus protest that greeted Fishel’s return to the MSU campus after two years of heading the Center for Vietnamese Studies at Southern Illinois University, where he was likewise hounded by protestors.

In early 1968, Michael moved east, settled in Boston, and joined the staff of Boston’s Avatar, unaware that the large, experimental commune that controlled the paper was a charismatic cult centered on a former-musician-turned-guru named Mel Lyman, whose psychic hold over his followers was then being strengthened and intensified by means of various confrontations and loyalty tests. Five years later, Michael fled the commune’s rural outpost in Kansas and headed west, where he eventually settled in San Francisco, came out as a gay man, and changed his name to Mica. When Mica wrote this important journey into self-discovery, he was working as a home-remodeling contractor, a key activist in the gay men’s pagan spiritual network Radical Faeries, a student, and a person with AIDS. He died peacefully on November 22, 1991, two months after submitting the final draft of his story. I never met him personally but—because his underground press activity in East Lansing preceded my activity by two generations of underground papers—I considered him my spiritual grandfather.

His story is a major first-person document of the period and joins three other volumes of major first-person documents in the Voices from the Underground Series.

I received the Mica electronic files as 34 attachments—including frontmatter, backmatter, and main text—plus the style guide in four separate email messages. Not that I’m superstitious but my lucky number is 34. (That also was the number of chapters in my first published novel but the number goes back to my childhood.) My comments are due back by October 28.

On one hand, the announcement couldn’t have come at a worse time as I’m fighting about six other deadlines.

On the other, I look forward to reading the files. I’ll use my best time management skills with a major dose of hyperactivity and I’ll get the job done probably early. I’m especially pleased that MSU Press got them to me early thanks to, obviously, expert time management on the part of the MSUP editorial team. So I owe them no less.