Cover for my new novel

. . . which is called Terra, you will recall.  Subject to further fiddling.  Comments are welcome.  You will notice that we’re looking for a parallel universe vibe here.  What is that ray gun doing against the backdrop of a bas-relief from ancient Rome?  Guess you’ll have to read the novel to find out.

Terra cover

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So what’s that new novel of yours about, anyway?

I’m glad you asked.  It’s called Terra — have I mentioned that?  And it’s the follow-up to The Portal.  Here’s the marketing blurb I wrote for it yesterday:

Larry Barnes thinks he’ll never use the portal again.  The strange device that took him to a parallel universe has disappeared, and he is back living his normal life — until one day a beautiful woman appears and begs for his help.  She tells him that the mysterious preacher he met in his travels is in trouble on another world, and only Larry can save him.  Against his better judgment Larry enters the portal with her, and soon he finds himself in a desperate battle against a secret priesthood that wants to kill the preacher – and Larry.  As he struggles to defeat the priests and return home, Larry begins to sense he may have powers that he never dreamed of, and he begins to understand that his fate is inextricably linked to that of the preacher . . . and the portal.

I don’t like these sorts of blurbs; they seem to suck everything that’s interesting or different out of a book in order to fit it comfortably into its genre.  Maybe I can do better.  Should I bring in the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics?  That would probably help sell some copies, don’t you think?

Did I really write that sentence?

I have finished the third draft of my novel.  It’s now five thousand words longer and considerably better.  I think I’m pretty close to being done.  Here is how this works, in my experience:

  • First draft — I figure out what I want to say.
  • Second draft — I say it.
  • Third draft — I clean up the mess.

Here’s an example of the mess.  I came across this sentence the other morning: “After a few hours we stopped to eat and feed the horses.”  Wait, what?  How can you feed the horses after you have eaten them?  I guess maybe that wasn’t what I had in mind.

Was I asleep when I wrote that sentence?  Drunk?  No, I was just working through the action and not paying enough attention to the style.  So that sentence is fixed.

Now I need to read through the whole thing again.  You know, just in case.

“So, have you finished that novel of yours yet?”

Shut up.  Really, just shut up.

The plan was to get the sequel to The Portal done in 2015, but 2016 finds me about three-quarters of the way through the second draft.  This isn’t like a George R.R. Martin delay, and I don’t have editors and publishers and translators and millions of readers waiting on me.  It’s just a personal thing.  But still.

What I don’t want to do (and I’m sure Martin doesn’t want to do) is to publish the thing before it’s ready.  I can feel the temptation to declare victory and move on.  But the list of things I want to tweak in the next draft is growing….

So I’ll get there–maybe by March.  Maybe before George R.R. Martin.

What I read in 2015

Highlights, anyway.  Much of it listened to, rather than read.  Listed more or less in order of enjoyment.

H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald.  An English woman takes up hawking to get over the death of her father.  She tells the story of training the hawk, interspersed with a psychobiography of T.E. White, the author of The Once and Future King.  Well, that doesn’t sound promising, does it?  But it’s glorious.  I felt like I was entering deeply into a wondrous world I never knew existed.  And Macdonald’s narration is also glorious.

Being Mortal by Atul Gawande.  This book, about how we deal with the end of life, has gotten a lot of praise, and it deserves every bit of it.

The Iliad.  Narrated by Dan Stevens.  I talk about it here.

SPQR by Mary Beard.  A history of ancient Rome up to the early 200’s.  I love this kind of book.

Middlemarch by George Eliot.  It still works.

Fore! The Best of Wodehouse on Golf.  I don’t know a mashie from a niblick, but Wodehouse on anything is great.  I was trying to read The Kreutzer Sonata by Tolstoy and kept switching back to this book so I could feel good about life.

CivilWarLand in Bad Decline by George Saunders.  Weird, wonderful stories about weird, wonderful people.  With a lovely afterword about how Saunders finally found his voice and his success.

The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat by Oliver Sacks.  Finally got around to reading this.  Lovely, illuminating stories.

Adverbs by Daniel Handler.  A strange but enjoyable “novel” for adults by the author of the Lemony Snicket series.

Paris 1919 by Margaret MacMillan.  Who doesn’t want to listen to 25 hours of narration about the peace conference after World War 1?  I learned a lot.

Faith vs. Fact by Jerry Coyne.  A good summary of why science works as an explanation of the world and religion doesn’t.  Fairly familiar stuff to people who read Coyne’s web site, but worth getting down on paper.  It probably won’t change many minds, alas.

Life’s Greatest Secret by Matthew Cobb.  Tells the story of the scientific discoveries about DNA, RNA, and genetics, down to the present day.  Great, although a bit too dense for someone listening to it at rush hour.

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind  by Yuval Noah Harari.  Harari is a big, big picture kind of guy and has all kinds of provocative ideas, not all of which I agree with.  But I was entertained and educated nevertheless.

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel.  This is a novel about the world after a flu epidemic causes civilization to collapse, with lots of flashbacks to the final days of the world we knew.  It’s been a big best-seller and was nominated for the National Book Award.  I’m a big fan of dystopian novels — I’ve written a few myself!  But this one, despite being very well written, left me a bit cold.  Too many characters and too many plot strands insufficiently developed.  And I really didn’t get the Station Eleven stuff.

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates.  This book was showered with praise and awards, but it left me rather cold.  I’ve enjoyed his shorter work more.  Partly it was the author’s narration, which I thought was rushed.  And I wished he pronounced the word “asked” rather than “axed”.  But I also found it difficult to follow his argument sometimes (if there was an argument).  The centerpiece of the book is the death of one of his college friends at the hands of an out-of-control police officer.  This is a symptom of what’s wrong with America; fair enough.  But the police officer was black, working for a black-controlled police department.  I wanted Coates to connect the dots for me better than he did. Here’s a long review that says what I thought about the book better than I can.

The Six Wives of Henry VIII by Alison Weir.  More than I wanted to know about them, I guess.

I notice that several of these books came my way via BookBub.  And I notice that my Kindle is filling up with BookBub titles that I really want to read, all purchased for $1.99 or less.  Is this the future?  Do we like this future?

Amazon is purging book reviews again

This made news a few years ago.  The difference this time is now Amazon apparently may purge reviews from someone an author “knows” online.

Yes, you read that right. This can be someone who has friended you on Facebook, followed you on Twitter, or has done business with you in a way that’s detectable to the Amazon review police….

Amazon spokespeople say that anybody who knows the author might “benefit financially” from the book’s sales, and financial beneficiaries have always been forbidden to review. (I wish I knew how to benefit financially when one of my 873 Facebook friends has a bestseller, but I’m obviously not working this right.)

So how do they determine if you “know” an author, anyway?

They’re not telling.

I’m all for taking down reviews that are fake or paid for in some way (even by the promise of a free book).  But that seems, er, excessive.  The modern method of book marketing involves authors having an online presence–via a blog, Twitter, Facebook….  You’re supposed to find “friends” out there.  Why penalize someone who finds them?

If the purge ever reaches me,  I don’t think it will have much effect.  The vast majority of the reviews my books have received have been from complete strangers . . . I think.  But I don’t really know, since a user can follow my blog with one name and review one of my novels with another.  Can Amazon figure this out?

Yeah, I suppose it can.

Randall Munroe goes all Up Goer 5 on us

I’m a big fan of Randall Munroe and his xkcd strip.  I’m also a big fan of Up Goer 5.  So it was really nice of him to write a whole book called Thing Explainer in Up Goer 5, which is coming out next Tuesday.

If you can’t wait, he has an excerpt in the New Yorker. Here’s how it starts:

There once was a doctor with cool white hair. He was well known because he came up with some important ideas. He didn’t grow the cool hair until after he was done figuring that stuff out, but by the time everyone realized how good his ideas were, he had grown the hair, so that’s how everyone pictures him. He was so good at coming up with ideas that we use his name to mean “someone who’s good at thinking.”