About Richard Bowker

Author of Senator, The Portal series, and The Last P.I. series.

Cover for my new novel

Something like this? By the great Jim McManus.

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So how’s the piano playing going?

Thanks for asking.

It’s going great! Wish I could practice more. Here’s what I’ve found:

  • Memorizing is harder than when I was a kid but not impossible. If I practiced more, I’d have a lot more stuff memorized.
  • I don’t have the attention span to work on long, difficult pieces. If I had more time…
  • Balancing between mastering pieces and sight-reading is my biggest challenge. I could spend a lifetime just working my way through this book:

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  • Nobody cares that I play, and that’s fine. It’s not like every house I visit has a piano, and people are dying to hear a little Bach. That might have been the case 80 years ago when Cooke wrote Playing the Piano for Pleasure, but not anymore.
  • I’m definitely expanding my repertoire — more Brahms, more Schubert, more Debussy, more Lennon & McCartney.
  • I bought a book of scales and chords with a firm purpose of improving my technique and my music theory. Can’t say I’ve made much progress, though.

Two books to avoid

I used to read a lot; now I don’t. Writing gets in the way. (Also working for a living.) And when I read nowadays, I often get cranky. Here are two very different books that made me cranky recently.

The Outsider is the first Stephen King book I’ve read in decades. He just wrote too damn much, and I couldn’t keep up, so I stopped trying. King has his strengths and his weaknesses, but I always thought the strengths outweighed the weaknesses. But I didn’t enjoy The Outsider. The setup annoyed me: It’s structured as a police procedural, but the police procedures don’t work because the actual perp happens to be some kind of shape-shifting life-force-sucking evil monster, not the poor suspect whose body and DNA he replicated. So all the police work falls apart. Then everyone goes into monster-hunting mode, and King expends a lot of effort setting up the ground-rules about what powers the monster has. These ground-rules seemed utterly arbitrary to me–put in place so he could give us a thrilling climax. I wasn’t thrilled. Meh.

On the other end of the spectrum is Wuthering Heights, which is one of those novels that any self-respecting English major should have read before graduating from college. But I didn’t get around to it till last month. Here’s a list of the 100 greatest novels of all time where it shows up at #46; this seems pretty typical. If I’d been younger when I read it, I probably would have contemplated Bronte’s depth of characterization and reinvention of the novel’s form and maybe ignored the fact that everyone in this novel is freaking insane. The me who read the book on his well-earned vacation got increasingly annoyed at this fact.

Maybe it’s just me.

Boxed sets

I’m pondering creating a “boxed set” of the ebooks for The Last P.I. series; it would sell for less than the three books sold individually.The mechanism is fairly straightforward; the only real extra work (and expense) is to create a new cover. There’s lots of this going on nowadays. My publisher says that it would make the series more attractive to Bookbub, which is the main advertising channel for ebooks nowadays. One more way to get the word out.

Let me know what you think!

Finishing a novel

I read through my third draft, picking up more stuff along the way. The stuff keeps getting more and more trivial, but it’s real. Why did I type “here” instead of “hear” in one place? Why did I add the “ue” to “Epilogue” but not to “Prolog”? Why did I refer to the city as “Roma” everywhere but in one place, where I used “Rome”? Why did I waver between “goodbye” and “good-bye”?

More important, reading straight through let me spot places where I repeated a point I’d already made and places where I failed to make a point I wanted to make. The text feels smoother now. Somehow I managed to add another thousand words. Well, I guess I needed them.

Most important, I made final decisions about a few niggling issues that were bothering me. In a large, multi-viewpoint novel, you wonder if you have too many viewpoints, or not enough. Does the story hang together as you shift and shift and shift between viewpoints? In a novel that carries the story forward from two previous novels, have you resolved enough of the questions, have you provided satisfactory resolutions for enough of the characters?

Well, you’re never certain, but I’m pretty sure I’m done with this novel, except for a final proofing. Which means I now leave the characters, and the world, behind.

I’ll miss them.

Third draft is done

It mainly involved cleanup of the significant changes I made in the second draft. The biggest change was choosing a different point-of-view character for a chapter. Not too bad. Except…

There’s one thing about the novel that bugs me. Is it a problem or not? I can’t quite decide. Fixing it (if it needs fixing) would require a bit of rejiggering. I may need to put this to a vote of my writing group. We live in a democracy, after all.

Third draft

After leaving the novel to simmer for a while while I stared at busts of Roman emperors, I’ve finally started the third draft. So far, it’s going quickly–nothing like the second draft. I think that I’ve basically gotten it right.

We’re also making progress on cover designs.

So, maybe this fall?