The Mirage: قَدْ أُكْمِلَ

These are the corrected first-pass galleys, just moments before we packed them into a box for return to the publisher last Friday. I’ll get second-pass galleys later this month, and no doubt find one last punctuation mark or variant word spelling to angst over, but really, it’s done.

Even in this pass I was scraping to find things to fix. Because I keep a master list of changes, I know there were only 56 corrections in 415 pages, almost all of them involving either minor formatting issues (at one point, the word “TransArabia” is broken between two lines, and the line break was between the “n” and the “s” instead of between the “s” and the “A”) or single word substitutions (at another place, I had written “change to world” where I meant “change the world,” the sort of error that’s easily missed in copyediting, because your brain fills in the correct word automatically; I only finally noticed it because the galleys are in a different font than the manuscript I’ve been working with for the past four years).

As with Bad Monkeys, I did manage to find a statue to obsess over. There’s a scene in The Mirage where my protagonist Mustafa al Baghdadi pays a visit to one of Saddam Hussein’s mansions. Saddam’s son Qusay leads Mustafa down a long hall lined with statues depicting Saddam in the guise of various historical figures, such as Hammurabi and Ramesses the Great. The hall ends in a domed chamber at the center of which is a two-story-tall statue of Saddam-as-Nebuchadnezzar; in a deliberate allusion to the Book of Daniel, sunlight shining through windows in the dome makes the statue’s head glister like gold. Qusay instructs Mustafa to wait in this chamber, and leaves him standing “in Nebuchadnezzar’s shadow.”

This is the part my brain decided to fixate on. Because it is morning — early morning — the sunlight would be entering the dome at a shallow angle, so would there really be a shadow on the chamber floor for Mustafa to stand in? Also, Qusay and Mustafa are walking towards the west end of the house, and since I don’t describe Mustafa passing the statue, that would put him still on the east side of it. Even if there is a shadow, would it be on the east side of the statue?

Yeah, I know: Nobody but me and maybe two other guys with OCD or Asperger’s would ever even think to care about this, so it doesn’t matter. But that didn’t stop me from standing in front of a window one morning last week, pretending to be a statue of Nebuchadnezzar, and sighing with relief when I saw that I actually cast two shadows: one to the west, caused by the direct light of the sun, and another to the east, caused by the sun reflecting off the wall behind me.

And yeah, I know: It still doesn’t matter. But after that, I was able to let it go. !قَدْ أُكْمِلَ

P.S. Now that it is finished, I hope to have cover art and a description of what the novel is actually about up on my website fairly shortly. Sorry I’ve been so cryptic up to now, but I didn’t want to jinx it.

P.P.S. The tentative pub. date is January 17, 2012.

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And now we wait…

I spent the weekend going over the second-pass Bad Monkeys galleys, making sure all my corrections to the first pass made it in. I also did some touch-ups to the dust-jacket copy. And that’s pretty much it for me until the finished books come back from the printers later this year.

I have gotten a look at a bound galley, and they’re neat. At first I wasn’t sure about all that yellow on the cover, but it stands out nicely on a display table. Also, as you can kind of see from this scan, they’ve gone with an unusually narrow page size—the bound galleys measure 9″ x 5″, where a more typical hardcover would be 9″ x 6″. It’s different, in a way that makes you want to pick it up and take a closer look at it.

So, just six more months, and we’ll see how it plays in the bookstores…

And now we wait… Read More »

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.

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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.

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