bad monkeys

Carving up the English-speaking world

This week I signed and sent off the contract for the U.K. edition of Bad Monkeys, which will be published by Bloomsbury. The most interesting part of the document, as usual, is the territory schedule listing every place in the world where English-language novels are or conceivably could be sold, and specifying which ones are reserved for Bloomsbury, which are reserved for HarperCollins, and which ones are open to competition. Some of it is obvious—the American publisher gets exclusive marketing rights in the U.S., Canada, Guam, and American Samoa, while the Brits get the United Kingdom, South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand—but some of it is eye-opening or amusing, at least to me.

Markets reserved exclusively for sales of the U.K. edition:
British Antarctic Territory

Markets open, at least in principle, to both the American and U.K. editions:
Saudi Arabia
North Korea
“Ex-Yugoslavia” (Yes, that’s literally what it says)

One big change from previous contracts is that India is now open territory. It used to be the exclusive domain of the Brits, but apparently the market got juicy enough that the Americans demanded in (the Brits still have a lock on Pakistan, though—we’re hoping for double-digit sales in Islamabad).

Oh, and if you’re wondering how we can divvy up the marketplace like this without violating anti-trust statutes, the answer, of course, is that copyright is a legal form of monopoly. Remember that the next time you hear a professional writer complaining about Big Oil or the De Beers cartel.

I can relate

David Moles’ Chrononautic Log has an amusing William Gibson anecdote, about how Gibson, as he nears the end of a novel, invariably becomes convinced that it is not only the worst book that he’s ever written, but the worst book that anyone has ever written. When he announces this to his wife, she smiles, because she knows from experience that it means he’s almost finished.

For the past two weeks, I’ve been going over the Bad Monkeys galleys, making a final round of corrections. The productive part of this process took all of two days—aside from a few lingering typographical errors, there’s nothing left to fix. I am now into the nonproductive, anxiety-ridden phase, where even though I know intellectually that the editing is complete, emotionally I remain concerned that there’s something I’ve missed, something that, while it may not ruin the novel, will at least mar it.

This is the kind of thing I’ve been obsessing about: at one point in the story, my protagonist enters the San Francisco Panhandle—a thin strip of greenery extending east from Golden Gate Park—and encounters a young man sitting under a statue. A couple days ago it suddenly occurred to me that I’d never bothered to check whether there are any statues in the Panhandle. Now, to fully appreciate my current mental state, you have to understand that I am not the sort of author who demands strict geographical accuracy. If I knew for a fact that there were no statues in this park, but I needed one to be there for the sake of the story, I’d have no problem conjuring one into being. What was bugging me was not the possibility that I’d written about a statue that didn’t exist, but that I had done so without realizing that that was what I was doing.

So I fired up Google Earth, and took a look at the Panhandle from orbit. Sure enough, there was a circular structure at the east end of the park that looked very much like a statue, and some additional square objects scattered through the rest of the park that might also have been statues. Then I did a regular Google search, and found written references to a statue in the Panhandle… So, issue resolved, right? Well, not quite.

Cue the following exchange with my ever-so-patient wife, Lisa:

ME: Maybe I should have the guy sitting under a tree, instead.
LISA: What’s wrong with the statue?
ME: I’m not sure there is a statue.
LISA: Yes you are. You said you found it on Google.
ME: Well yeah, but that may not be my statue. The statue I had in mind was a small, anonymous-type statue; but the Google references make it sound more like a big, landmark-type statue.
LISA: Couldn’t there be a second statue?
ME: There could be, but the resolution on the satellite photos isn’t good enough for me to determine that… But there are definitely plenty of trees.
LISA: But if there’s a statue, why would the guy sit under a tree?
ME: What do you mean?
LISA: It’s dirty under a tree. Why would he sit in dirt when he could sit under a nice clean statue?
ME: Lisa, the guy’s a street kid out getting stoned. He’s not going to care about a little dirt… Why are you smiling?
LISA: If you’re taking this conversation seriously it means the book is done.

And so it is.

Monkey news

Over the weekend, I received the preliminary cover art for the Bad Monkeys dustjacket. Ain’t he pretty?

Also, about a week ago I finished vetting the copyedited edition of the manuscript. For those of you not familiar with the publishing process, copyediting is the step where very meticulous people go over the text looking for grammar, usage, and spelling errors. A lot of writers hate this, but I always find it interesting. Among the highlights:

Rules changes. Since the last time I did this, the University of Chicago Press released a new edition of the copyeditor’s Bible, The Chicago Manual of Style. Among the more puzzling style changes: the abbreviations “a.m.” and “p.m.”, which used to be set in small capital letters (“A.M.” and “P.M.”), are now to be set in lowercase letters (although the C.M.o.S. does acknowledge that a lot of folks will continue to do it the old way). Who decides this stuff?

Fun with alternative spellings. Because I’m an obsessive spellchecker, I don’t have a lot of misspelled words in my manuscripts, but I do use a number of alternative spellings—spellings that, while not technically wrong, are regarded as nonstandard. For example, I used to spell “gray” with an “e,” until I got tired of copyeditors asking me if I really meant to do it that way. The big one this time was “ax,” which I’d also been spelling with an “e” — e.g., “axe-wielding clown.” I think this particular spelling is a side effect of playing lots of word games, since “axe” is a great way to get rid of a difficult consonant and/or dispose of extra vowels.

Style, meet IP law. Brand names that are registered trademarks are generally supposed to be capitalized—so it’s “a Xerox copy,” not “a xerox copy.” This particular style rule is a big deal to trademark owners, who can lose their trademark if a word falls into generic, lowercase usage. That’s how Bayer lost the exclusive rights to “aspirin” and how B.F. Goodrich lost “zipper.”

From a writer’s perspective, the rule can be somewhat annoying. I’m cool with capitalizing “Xerox,” because there’s a reasonable generic alternative, “photocopy.” This is not always the case. In Bad Monkeys, there are a number of references to “dumpsters.” It turns out “Dumpster” is a registered trademark as well, and thus in theory should be capitalized, but in this case, the trademark term is also the generic term—everyone I know uses the word “dumpster” to refer to any big wheeled metal trash bin, regardless of who manufactured it.

The French language continues to vex me. I was twenty years old before I figured out that hors d’oeuvres—a term I’d seen written many times but had never heard anyone say—and “orderbs” —a word I’d heard spoken many times but had never seen spelled out on a page—were in fact two halves of the same whole. Mind you, I’d known all along that they meant the same thing, but somehow it just never clicked that, duh, hors d’oeuvres is pronounced “orderbs” (feeling my way phonetically, I’d always thought it was “whore’s devours”).

Going over the Bad Monkeys manuscript, there was an exclamation, “Walla!”, that bothered me. The automated spellchecker passed it, but when I doublechecked the dictionary, it was listed as an alternate spelling of “wallah,” an Anglo-Indian word for “a person who performs a particular service,” which is not what I meant at all. So I thought about a while, until—voila!—the lightbulb went on.

One step closer

Yesterday I finished editing the manuscript to Bad Monkeys. Now it goes to the copyeditor and then to galleys. HarperCollins’ art department is already working on the dust jacket, so I should have a picture of what the finished book will look like soon.

Bad Monkeys update

For those who have been wondering, my next novel is scheduled for publication by HarperCollins in late July/early August of next year.

Foreign rights sales have been unusually brisk. Although I don’t have dates yet, Bad Monkeys is slated to be published in the U.K., Germany, Brazil, and the Netherlands (the Netherlands publisher is also going to do a Dutch translation of Set This House in Order; can’t wait to see that).

Bad Monkeys

Shortly before I left for WisCon, I submitted the manuscript for my new novel, Bad Monkeys, to my editor Alison Callahan at HarperCollins. Turns out she liked it enough to give a copy to her boss to read over the Memorial Day weekend. Her boss liked it too, and by the time I got home they’d already made an offer to my agent.

The moral of this story, clearly, is that giving prizes to Geoff Ryman brings good fortune.

I don’t have a publication date yet, but I am hoping that Bad Monkeys will be out sometime next summer. Who knows, we may even have advance reader’s copies to give away at next year’s WisCon.