The Final Edits!
It almost feels like this is really going to happen now. :)
This morning I received the editor's annotation of The Just Beyond manuscript. The changes are extensive by count--I believe there is at least one change on every single page. :) But the vast majority are minor, tidying up a word or phrase here and there or correcting a few typos I and my Readers Group somehow missed. I haven't gotten through the whole thing, but what I've seen so far is mostly small improvements.
They do have some changes for me to make on top of the ones done by the editor. For the most part the purpose is to clarify things for the reader or to more prominently emphasize key elements. They certainly don't change the story in any substantial way, they simply make the delivery better.
The instructions from the publisher are to go through the editor's work carefully, make the suggested changes where acceptable, and for anything that doesn't look right to me, give an explanation of my objection. So they are not simply telling me "all of this has to be done", they are allowing me to participate meaningfully in the final decisions. I have to tell you, I'm not inclined to challenge the suggestions of an experienced fiction editor and I expect to raise a handful of points at most. But it's nice to feel respected in this way.
Surprisingly, they don't seem to have made, or directed me to do, the kind of wholesale trimming I expected from their initial comment that overall the book was too long. I can only assume that upon careful inspection, the editor felt that the length was necessary after all to tell the story properly. While I was fully prepared for extensive pruning, I do think the basic length concern that publishers have has more to do with business risk than with serving the reader. It's completely understandable that a publisher wants to minimize their costs in introducing a new author with no track record of sales assuring them of profitability on the release. From a reader's perspective, I invariably prefer long books to short ones. (Provided, of course, that they're well written. The Land of Painted Caves by Jean Auel, which takes up something like 50 CDs of unabridged audio, I found to be an excrutiating bore that begs the question why it was written at all unless the sole purpose was to bilk revenue from unsuspecting fans of Clan of the Cave Bear.) For me, a good, long book creates a nice, deep immersion and a kind of emotional investment and satisfaction that a short novel doesn't have time to build. And, of course, it's nice that the published version won't be so different from the story and pacing I felt was appropriate while writing it.
I expect to have my review and revisions done by the end of this weekend, and barring anything I do that fails to satisfy the publisher, that should be the last step before the physical publication process. I still haven't seen anything on the cover art but it looks like things are finally coming together. I'm very excited. It almost feels like this is really going to happen now. :)
By the way, the image above is just a prospective "back cover" I did when consulting with the publisher on cover ideas. It's not the art that will appear on the actual book, but something close to the description of the story it includes probably will.
I'll post an update here as soon as I've finished my work on the edits--look for it. :) - Mark
Where Things Stand
I can't expect friends and followers of the trilogy to maintain my level of excitement during a period when nothing visible seems to be happening
It's been two weeks since I posted a fresh Blog post, and the main site hasn't been updated since then either. Peope who followed these pages faithfully are no doubt wondering what's going on, and here I'm going to explain.
First, rest assured nothing has gone wrong with the project. The Just Beyond is still scheduled to publish later this year, and The Far Beyond is coming along nicely. I haven't lost my dedication to either, nor for this website. Far from it--I'm extremely anxious to see the first book's cover art, to get my hands on the publisher's editing results, and foremost of course, to see The Just Beyond available for sale.
While the support and enthusiasm has been humbling, I can't expect friends and followers of the trilogy to maintain my level of excitement during a period when nothing visible seems to be happening. It's important to build a buzz for the books, even prior to publication, maybe more so if the premise is that upon release the novels will speak for themselves. But the last thing I want to do is build that fan presence and then seem not to deliver.
So I've suspended daily updates to this site until there is tangible news to report. I don't want to blow all that interest now and risk it not being there when The Just Beyond actually comes out.
The cover art was expected to be done by mid-January, but as of the first of February it hadn't yet been commissioned. It has been conceptualized and assigned to an artist now, but I don't have a new delivery date. Two weeks from the commission (about now) is a logical target given that it's the timespan originally projected. But I can't say it still applies for sure.
The editing was supposed to conclude around the current time frame, so I'm not concerned that it hasn't come yet--that tells me the editor is doing detailed, quality work, and how could I oppose that? :) But I won't be posting as often as before until those processes have produced results worth sharing. It's mainly out of respect for the readers' investment in emotion and time, a principle expressed in my earliest blogs. As soon as there's something to report that I'm confident will interest you, it will appear here without delay. And I will be posting here sporadically when I have something substantive to say.
Keep checking here from time to time--I suggest at least once a week. When there are concrete developments your devotion will be rewarded, and it is appreciated immensely. - Mark
The Challenge of Originality
108 billion humans have lived since 50,000 BC
The details of the overall plot for the Beyond trilogy are reaching critical mass. Yes, I should be focusing mainly on the book I'm writing, the second volume in the set called The Far Beyond. And I am. But as that part of the story fleshes out, it necessarily creates ties to The Just Beyond and implications for the final book. And this is important, because it helps assure two things: 1) that the narrative will maintain an intimate, logical, and consistent flow, and 2) that I'll finish writing it. :) Even with publication of the first book, writing the other two is a daunting challenge. Writing is a struggle for me to begin with, and on top of that I am perpetually aware that one well-received book is no guarantee for the others, even as they follow the over-arching theme begun in the first.
With regard to The Far Beyond specifically, the middle book of a trilogy is often the weakest, and I'm consciously working to overcome that phenomenon. I mean, The Two Towers is entertaining and critical to Lord of the Rings, but it certainly lacks the excitement of The Fellowship of the Ring or the satisfaction of Return of the King.
Which brings me to a point about writing. Lord of the Rings is my unqualified favorite work of fiction, and its appeal sets the standard to which I aspire. An unfortunate side effect, at least for me, is a tendency to write something that parallels LOTR to an uncomfortable degree.
According to a calculation by Google, the total number of books ever published (mostly in the modern era) is around 130 million. The Population Reference Bureau calculates that a total of 108 billion humans have lived since 50,000 BC (equating to one book per every 831 people, which doesn't account for writers who produce multiple books). The arbitrary starting point makes this a dicey statistic, though: somthing like modern civilization is said to have commenced only about
10,000 years ago when the last great Ice Age ended, or even later with the Ancient Egyptians around 5,000 BC. On the other end of the spectrum, human ancestry can be traced to around 100,000 years back or as far as 2 million, depending on how you define human.
Which is a tedious and twisting setup for the statement that it's devilishly hard to come up with an original story. At the archetype level, every conceivable scenario has been written about over and over and over, and probably better than I could hope to do. How can one writer among a world population of 7 million generate something, if not a completely untried premise then at least a distinctive variation, that hasn't been done before? Even in heavily trodden, formulaic genres like Western and Romance, publishers want to know what makes your book stand out. And as a first-time author, you'd better have an answer.
When that question came, I told publishers that what distinguished The Just Beyond and its successors was a fearless depiction of the Afterlife. As noted on this site's home page, I aimed to transcend the prevailing approach of leaving the nature of the world beyond death "to the imagination". Nothing in fiction is more disappointing than a story that leads you down the garden path only to invoke this cop-out at the end. I've never read another book that handles this subject quite as I did, and my research didn't turn up anything too dangerously close...but how can you know for sure?
And in spite of my good intentions, that old compulsion to ape my favorite material seems to have slipped in while I wasn't looking. I began this posted not intendng to compare the Beyond books with Lord of the Rings. Yet as I consider it, some parallels pop out. In both sets the protagonist is an unassuming personality with empathetic and courageous tendencies, capable of extraordinary feats when called upon. Both tales begin with some necessary background and then launch a desperate, stealthy flight hounded by ghoulish enemies. Upon reaching a safe haven more of the plot is revealed, sending the hero on an even more harrowing path that results in a critical death. Powerful truths are revealed, unlikely allies emerge, formidable enemies are bested, and the most fearsome foe of all is finally confronted in an epic battle involving a sword of immense power. Prominent side characters are wed to their loves, and our hero sails off to a surprising but well-deserved reward. I never intended nor even recognized these shared elements; obviously my subconscious had the upper hand.
Ah, well. Any originality issues raised by my trilogy probably won't matter, since the first book has been judged viable enough to print. That's good, because I'm not sure I could do better. If I'm fortunate enough to develop a solid writing career, I'll certainly try. In the meantime, faintly echoing a classic is hardly the worst problem I could have. :) - Mark
Running to Cover!
should or should you not "judge a book by its cover"?
Here is the actual source image of fashion model Melissa Baker that I used to create the placeholder cover art for The Just Beyond. The particularly attentive may notice that I distorted her face slightly on that cover for compositional reasons.
She does, well, look like a model, and that's appealing enough in itself, but it's not why I chose the picture. Nor is it because she fits my mental image of Vicki, or Beth, or the apparition on the stairs, whichever the cover is supposed to depict (lol), because she doesn't. If you must know, I envision Vicki as more of a Sandra Bullock, and Beth maybe as Nicole Kidman--too bad they're both a touch too old to play those roles in the Oscar-winning movie that will no doubt be made. *cough* No, Ms. Baker appears on my cover simply because this photo is supposedly in the public domain. I sort of wonder if that's actually true, but ultimately it doesn't matter because my cover, and Melissa Baker specifically, will NOT be used with the published book. The publisher is assigning a staff artist to do that and I'll be happy with whatever they think has commercial appeal.
Which brings up an interesting question: should or should you not "judge a book by its cover"?
We all know the timeworn maxim. And it's good advice as a metaphor. But, ironically, when taken literally, the advice "don't judge a book by its cover" is ludicrous. We all judge books--actual books--by their covers. Not ultimately of course, that is if we proceed to read them, but cover art is absolutely a factor in picking up a book at all. We've all seen book covers that suck you seductively in, as well as those that leave you wondering what the publisher was thinking. :) And they can't help but color our expectations.
It's even more true in the ebook world. In a bookstore you can (and I always do) leaf through the pages and see if the writing style, content, and format appeal to you in addition to reading the blurb on the back. While it's often possible to do that online, it isn't always, and when it is, it can't be as convenient and intuitive as it is with a paper book. For myself, in a store I ALWAYS look at a few pages inside a book I'm pondering to buy, and online I NEVER do this. So the impact of the cover art, for people like me, is magnified in the electronic sphere. In fact if the cover art is bland or unappealing, I often won't give the thing a second look. It seems counterintuitive that virtual covers are more important than paper ones, but for me, they are.
And I, for one, believe this is warranted. Sumptuous, engaging cover art tells me two things completely apart from what they may reveal about the volume's content. First, it tells me the publisher felt enthusiastic enough about the book's commerical prospects to pay for a talented and probably expensive artist. Second, it tells me that the publisher, and therefore most likely the book itself, is of high quality. Now, I'm not saying a crappy book never appeared on a shelf dressed up like a lipstick-wearing pig. I'm not saying a great cover guarantees a great read. What I am saying is that cover art DOES influence the purchase decision and CAN express something meaningful about the work. If it didn't, why would publishers go to such lengths to get it right?
Which brings me to some welcome news about The Just Beyond. Initially the publisher thought the cover art would be delivered in the middle of January, but obviously that didn't happen. I spoke with them this morning and was informed it hadn't been assigned yet. They're ready to do so now, however, and wanted to know if I was partial to any particular concepts. I sent them the covers I've made and said the only element I had a real weakness for was the girl's face in the background. I'd like the rest of the image to convey a sense of otherworldliness, but I don't have a clear preference as to how that be done and I'm sure their artists will have better ideas than I would anyway.
And pleasantly, as of now, it appears that's the direction they'll go. They're on board with the faded face concept and the artist will figure out the rest. If it proceeds that way it's great, because, while I am in no way of the opinion that I should have any say in the cover art at all, I was obviously hoping they would do something I would be happy with or at least not displeased. Now it looks like they're going to preserve the concept I've had in my head all along, which is a nice and thoroughly unexpected surprise.
So things are moving slowly, but they're moving. :) It seems like a lot more than three weeks have gone by since the pre-publishing work commenced, but that's all it's been and there's absolutely no justification for anxiety or concern. But I can't help feeling some of that. At least I know intellectually that it's irrational. And honestly, as "problems" go, it's a pretty darn good one to have. :) - Mark