Cover for my new novel

Something like this? By the great Jim McManus.

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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

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?

One space or two?

Between the first draft of my novel and the second I went cold turkey and switched from two spaces after a sentence (which I’ve been doing for half a century or so) to one space. I did a global search-and-replace through my manuscript and changed all eleventy-billion occurrences of “period-space-space” to “period-space”.  I typed all my new sentences with one space between them. I switched over to single spaces in my emails as well. And I will never look back.

Yes, I know, this was an amazing achievement. Appreciate the congrats. I did it mainly because those extra spaces were going away when the document was prepared for publication. Also, at work I work on a lot of documents with multiple authors, and it is moderately important to be consistent. Also, I just wanted to show myself what I was capable of.

Anyway, here’s a study that purports to show a slight benefit to two spaces after a period. This gets the authors a feature article in the Washington Post, but the study has lots of issues, as this wonderful article in Lifehacker points out. The key issue is that the study uses a monospace font. But nobody nowadays uses a monospace font, except for showing computer code or the like!

[R]eading a proportional font and a monospace font are two completely different scenarios. The study even acknowledges this: “It is possible that the effects of punctuation spacing seen in the current experiment may differ when presented in other font conditions.” Of course it’s possible—that’s what the whole debate is about! Why would you use Courier New!

So the study is pretty bogus, but I suppose the money from the two-space lobby will continue to roll in, and the researchers will go on speaking tours, write best-selling books, appear on major talk shows, etc. Good for them. But I will have the quiet satisfaction of having done the right thing by switching to one space, even at enormous personal cost. Not all heroes wear capes.

Second draft of the novel is done

Appreciate the congrats, as our president would say.

It clocks in at 112K words, down about ten percent from the first draft. Yay! Lots of little stuff to take care of, but I think it’s about where it needs to be.

Its name, by the way, is Home.

In celebration, here is video of David Pastrnak’s hat trick against the Maple Leafs last night. That third goal is simply amazing.