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.

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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?

Even more busts of Roman emperors (and others)

For some reason one of my most popular posts was about busts of Roman emperors at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts. Turns out the place that has even more busts of Roman emperors is Italy — specifically, the Uffizi in Florence. Here are a few.

Here’s Claudius, not looking very happy:

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Here’s Domitian, who was awful:

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Here’s Marcus Aurelius, who wasn’t awful:

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Here’s Caligula. Does he look like he’s insane?

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Here’s Tiberius, who was a perv:

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Here’s Julius Caesar, who wasn’t an emperor, but c’mon, this is a pretty interesting bust. I wouldn’t want to mess with this guy:

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And Cicero, who also wasn’t an emperor:

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I don’t know how lifelike these busts are, of course, but they sure seem lifelike. These are real people, staring out at us across 2000 years of history.

This Living Hand

When we think of Rome, the first thing that comes to mind, of course, is the English poet John Keats, who died there in 1821 of tuberculosis at the age of 25. Here is his grave in the Protestant cemetery in Rome, with the epitaph he wrote for himself:

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Odd that the gravestone doesn’t even mention his name. On a wall next to the grave we see this:

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Next to Keats’s grave is that of his friend Joseph Severn, who accompanied him to Rome, since Keats was too sick to travel by himself:

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There are worse things to be remembered for, I suppose, than being the friend of John Keats.

A couple hundred yards away from Keats are interred the ashes of Percy Bysshe Shelley, who died in a boating accident in Italy at the age of 29:

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The quotation is from The Tempest.

Here is a painting of Shelley’s funeral pyre:

Many of the details of the painting are apparently made up. For one thing, Shelley’s body was in bad shape by the time he washed up on shore. (The only way they recognized him was his clothing and the copy of Keats’s poems in his back pocket.)

Keats died in a tiny apartment at the foot of the Spanish Steps in Rome. This is now the site of the Keats-Shelley Memorial House, which contains letters, books, and other memorabilia of English poets. Via Wikipedia, here’s what happened to the contents of the House during World War 2:

During World War II, the Keats–Shelley House went “underground”, especially after 1943, in order to preserve its invaluable contents from falling into the hands of, and most likely being deliberately destroyed by, Nazi Germany. External markings relating to the museum were removed from the building. Although the library’s 10,000 volumes were not removed, two boxes of artifacts were sent to the Abbey of Monte Cassino in December 1942 for safekeeping. In October 1943, the abbey’s archivist placed the two unlabelled boxes of Keats–Shelley memorabilia with his personal possessions so that they could be removed during the abbey’s evacuation and not fall into the hands of the Germans. The items were reclaimed by the museum’s curator and returned to the Keats–Shelley House, where the boxes were reopened in June 1944 upon the arrival of the Allied forces in Rome.

I didn’t have time to visit the Keats-Shelley House, but here’s what it looked like at 23:00 on a Roman night:

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And this gives me a chance to reprint this final fragment by Keats, written as he confronted the certainty of his coming death.

This living hand, now warm and capable
Of earnest grasping, would, if it were cold
And in the icy silence of the tomb,
So haunt thy days and chill thy dreaming nights
That thou would wish thine own heart dry of blood
So in my veins red life might stream again,
And thou be conscience-calm’d–see here it is–
I hold it towards you.
I find these eight short lines utterly terrifying.