JOHN MEANEY

8.10.04

EDITORS, GAWD BLESS 'EM... (PLUS A WORLDCON REPORT AND A MU-SPACE CHRONOLOGY)

No deep thoughts from the Labyrinth tonight... Just thought I'd say hi, Pilots. No, wait. A topic occurs to me. Maybe more than one topic.

The countdown is on... Resolution will be appearing in the UK in January, in hardcover. I had a chance to work on the typescript after the copy-editor, Elizabeth Dobson, had done a fine job on the submitted version. It meant a couple of hectic days before jetting off to Boston for Worldcon, but writing is an adrenaline rush, always. (And it means the galley proofs should be well-nigh perfect, with a bit of luck.) One reason I know my copy-editor's name (she's freelance) is that Elizabeth did the same job on Context, and I was hugely impressed. I made sure that those nice people at Transworld (Bantam) knew that I'd be pleased and honoured if she could work on Resolution.

If you're interested in what these editor folks do -- you're visiting a writer's website, so perhaps you've got that writing bug yourself -- let me tell you. You submit a version (which for most writers means third draft at least, and maybe twentieth draft) to be read by the editor who commissioned the book. Soon, or perhaps a while later, a marked-up version (hardcopy) of your manuscript (more properly, typescript) will come back, along with a letter explaining more general concerns and highlighting the major strengths.

In Paradox, near the beginning, Tom's mother runs away with the Oracle. It's essential to Tom's story, and yet Ranvera's actions were unconvincing in the version I first submitted. My editor, Simon Taylor, was good enough to tell me so. (My agent, John Parker, said the same -- but not all agents perform an editorial role.) What I did was, I wrote a novelette detailing Ranvera's early life (just so I could get to know her), and then made small but effective changes in Paradox to reflect what I knew of her character and history. It worked.

That novelette exists only in handwritten first draft in one of my notebooks, but perhaps I'll dig it up and polish it enough for appearance on the website one of these days.

But we were discussing editors (and editrices... pardon me, but doesn't anyone learn Latin any more?). The point is, you may have to make sweeping changes. I cut three whole chapters from Resolution (as part of rewriting a third of the book -- John Jarrold's comment that it chopped around a bit was exactly correct but far too polite: it simply sucked) before resubmitting it. If you find it tough... well, that's part of the discipline. Just do it.

Only time and love matter. If you're writing a story, it's from love. You owe it to the story to get it right.

(A businessperson might think you owe it to the reader, and that's part of it. Perhaps this is a worthwhile digression... I don't think of pleasing critics -- no offence -- but I imagine the stressed-out commuter who buys a novel to accompany him/her on the journey home. That's money earned by hard graft and hours that cannot be revisited; those readers deserve a fine book to take them to another world. Yet deeper than that, a writer's responsibility is to the story, the work itself.

I'm going to try to remember that, next time I start hoping for a bigger advance. How venal! I'm a long way from perfection, still.)

So, the typescript... The version you get back might contain suggested changes to yer actual words, as well as 'higher-level' suggestions. Not too many, with luck. That's a form of copy-editing, of course, but just the first go at it. Once you've performed your miraculous changes (with steely self-discipline, not wincing when you excise prose that you once thought was wonderful, no more than you would grimace if you cut off your finger to appease a yakuza boss) you send the typescript back. That's where the real copy-editing comes in.

They have to perform a very close reading. If you think spell-checking through MS Word is all it takes, then think again -- and I'm not just talking about miss steaks that are reel words. (Ha!) For instance, do you write 'realize' or 'realise'? Your word processor will think that the first version is American, and the second is British; but the more 'literary' British spelling is also 'realize'. Yet 'analyze' is only valid in the US.

There are little bits of grammar which secretaries learn, and writers need to know. In particular, know that there are three styles of dash -- a hyphen, an en-dash and an em-dash. Using MS Word, I disable all check-as-you-type features except the auto-replace function that turns two hyphens into the appropriate type of dash. (No wp software can cope with the grammatical rules of broken-off sentences in dialogue. Even if it could, I'd keep the facility turned off: I don't want annoying interruptions when I'm writing. I keep the phone unplugged, too. And the music turned up loud.)

So, copy-editing... Some of this boils down to a preferred style when there are multiple correct choices. Not every writer wants to nitpick, but I find it interesting. I use italicized sentences sometimes. Correctly, in the Resolution typescript, Elizabeth had marked them so that remembered dialogue also had italicized apostrophes, whereas as italicized speech happening 'now', as in words coming out of a loudspeaker, would be in plain-style apostrophes. Neat, eh?

Then magic happens, you walk into a bookstore, and see your book on the shelf. Oh, yes.

I'll have to make sure I'm back in the US in the Spring, when Paradox appears in hardcover under the new Pyr imprint: one of their first bunch of books. The schedule's not chiselled in stone yet, but the intention is to bring out Context and Resolution in a short timeframe: months rather than years. I'm awed by the number (and stupendous quality and fine taste!) of American readers who already like my books. Now they'll be able to just walk into Borders or Barnes & Noble and see 'em on the shelf.

Have I ever mentioned that one of America's great contributions to civilization is 7-days-a-week, open-till-11pm bookstores with coffee shops inside? I mean it. (On the other hand, how many people know where civilization began, five and a half thousand years ago? In a place the Greeks once called Mesopotamia, which we would call southern Iraq. Hmm.)

Oh, a tiny regret. Robert B Parker was signing in Barnes & Noble in Boston on the day I flew out, so I didn't get a chance to see him. I've been a fan since The Godwulf Manuscript came out... And apparently Stephen King was in town for a Red Sox game, but not for Worldcon. Oh, well. (For the unpublished writers out there: read Mr King's book, On Writing. Even if you hate horror fiction, read that book.)

Strange thing, this business with signatures. I hang around with fellow writers at conventions, of course. (With my missus Yvonne, and my bro Colm, I hung around with Justina Robson in Boston, had lunch with a lean-looking Rob Sawyer, partied with Charlie Stross... It was fun.) I try not to make 'em sign books, cos one reason we hang around together is for protection. We know the Secret Of Writing that hungry citizens are after. (And we know that the Secret is, there is no Secret.) No, not protection. More a kind of humility which we recognize in each other as being real.

On the other hand, when Bill Gibson was signing in Forbidden Planet in London, back when Pattern Recognition came out, was I in the queue for signatures? You bet I was.

At this point, let me mention the wonderful time I had at the Borderlands Books stall in Worldcon, signing books. A million thanks to Jude the Jewel and Lisa the Lovely, and Six-Shots Eric(that's espressos) and Roger, and to the chief, Alan Beatts. I chatted to some good folk. Hope to see you in Glasgow for the 2005 Worldcon.

A hint... If you're coming next year, book your hotel right now. The two hotels nearest the Glasgow convention centre were already fully booked by the end of this year's Worldcon. (The hotels are smaller than you'd find in the US.)

Other good people I hung around with in Boston: Lou (Spider-Man) Anders and the marvellous Xin; John Parker and Harriet and Olivia (and Pooh Bear and Nemo); Jim Minz (plus the other folk at Tor I met later in NY); a little chat with Laura Resnick, who's way cool; Steve Saffel (talked about Marvel comics again); Chris Roberson who set the world right; Andrew (we talked software design over breakfast -- how geeky is that?); and the fabulous HUGO PRIZE-WINNING Cheryl Morgan; and the lean and moody Sean McMullen. Spent too little time with Farah Mendelsohn and Liz Williams and Louise Marley. Chatted about stuff with John Douglas and Ginjer Buchanan. Talked to Nick Sagan, who's a gentleman and a fine writer. (If you haven't read Idlewild or Edenborn, you're missing out.)

I seem to recall demonstrating a shotokan kata in the bookdealers' hall, then watching Lori Anne White perform a five animals shaolin form -- we were comparing notes on martial arts lineage. Walter Jon Wiliams then did a kenpo form (in return for which I took out a year's subscription to Asimov's mag). Trust me, it's all literary stuff.

Worldcon was fun.

All right. If you're with me this far, you're interested in what I'm up to next... I hope. The fifth book is well underway, to the extent of about a hundred and thirty thousand words so far. It's an alternate history set in the 1960s, and the premise may be controversial. I'll let other people judge that.

The title is...

Well, perhaps that should wait. (Again.) It might give the game away.

I know the title of the sixth novel, too. I'll hang onto that as well, not teasing, but as part of the necessarily private process of letting a story grow naturally. It's a Pilots book, I know that much. Resolution, by the way, takes the Pilots' story a long way further than the previous books. (Although it builds on something I hinted at a long time back, in To Hold Infinity. My Toronto-based buddy Marcel Gagne once remarked on a certain dangling hook I'd left in there... He's an astute guy. Congratulations to him and the wonderful Sally, by the way, on the arrival of the next generation, Sebastian Phillip. If I remember correctly, Sebastian's destined to discover FTL travel as well as the secret of immortality.)

After the convention was over in Boston, Yvonne and I went to stay at Colm's place in Connecticut. There, we got to meet up with our old schoolfriend, Vikas Mathur. We hadn't met for, ahem, a mere three decades. Now he's a TV producer with a wonderful family. How did that happen? And what are the odds against him ending up only a few miles down the road from Colm? We had a fine time, catching up.

As for books, I shamefully had not yet read Justina's latest, Natural History, so that was what I read while on holiday. (Got a little writing done, too. Can't ever stop.) As for book-buying, I was remarkably restrained. I leaped straight for Barry Eisler's Rain Storm as soon as I saw it. Marvellous. His third novel. Read 'em all. And -- take my word for it -- take up the same form of calisthenics that his character John Rain performs. They'll give you determined focus like nothing else, and that's great for writers as well as martial artists.

Now, just to keep things straight in my mu-space books and short fiction, I've a little chronology that I keep pinned to the notice board in my study. Is anyone interested? Let's see if I can drop an abbreviated copy in here...


DATE EVENT(s) and Reference (novel or short fiction).
2057 Akazawa-sensei beats his son's, Tenka's, AI in a game of go. (Later, Tenka leaves Sunadomari Systems to work for UNSA.) ...Spring Rain
2061 Augusta (Gus) Calzonni discovers mu-space. ...Whisper of Disks
2100 Akazawa Chojun is born. ...Paradox
2102 First mu-space test flight to Alpha Centauri ...Whisper of Disks
2122 Karyn McNamara begins final Pilot training. ...Paradox
2123 Ro McNamara is born (in August). ...Paradox
2141 Ro McNamara arrives at PhoenixCentral ...Context
2143 Rekka Chandri is born. ...Sharp Tang
2145 Dirk and Kian McNamara are born. ...Context
2148 Height of the Changeling Plague.
2168 Rekka Chandri's first mission. ...Sharp Tang
2173 Fulgor discovered. Analysed by unmanned probe, dropped by mu-space vessel. Automatic terraforming modules are laid.
2182 Rekka Chandri discovers the balaenae of Coolth...Lost Time
2194 First colonists on Fulgor.
2197 Altair Adventurers' Combine chartered in Hargdenia Polity, which is situated on Altair II. ...To Hold Infinity
2200 Founding of Nulapeiron ...Resolution
2201 Altair Adventurers' Combine renamed: now known as LuxPrime Technologies Chrd. ...To Hold Infinity
2239 LuxPrime chartered in Alvar, situated on Fulgor. (Early days in Fulgor's exploration and settlement.) ...To Hold Infinity
2241 LuxPrime chartered on Fulgor, in globalNet. ...To Hold Infinity
2310 LuxPrime corporate HQ relocated to Fulgor. ...To Hold Infinity
2380 Luculentus social class recognised as pre-eminent in Fulgor society. ...To Hold Infinity
2410 Fulgor's globalNet replaced by the Skein. ...To Hold Infinity
2443 LuxPrime establishes sister companies on five other worlds: Terra, Finbra V, Bervikan-deux, Threvimnos Binar, and Y√ľkitran. (By this time, there are 27 colonised worlds.) ...To Hold Infinity
2471 Tetsuo Sunadomari emigrates to Fulgor. ...To Hold Infinity
2477 Yoshiko arrives on Fulgor. ...To Hold Infinity
3390 On Nulapeiron, Tom Corcorigan is born. ...Paradox
3416 Revolution breaks out on Nulapeiron. ...Paradox
3413 Elva's tragedy. Tom encounters the Seer. ...Context
3423 Eemur's Head transports Tom to hellish Siganth ...Resolution

Spring Rain was my first published short story, in Interzone. Sharp Tang also appeared there, and in the Best of Interzone anthology. Whisper of Disks, appeared in Interzone and in Year's Best SF (20th Annual Collection), ed. Gardner Dozois. Lost Time will shortly appear in an anthology edited by Chris Roberson which I'm not sure I'm supposed to talk about yet...

Keep to the true geodesic of life, Pilots. Gotta concentrate. Honour and respect from the Labyrinth.




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