Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Questions, Questions

First, this Public Service Announcement.

Anybody who works the thriller genre should take note of the multi-part series of articles focusing on the world of anti-terrorism forces in America now being published by the Washington Post. If you don't take the Post, check it out at The series has been two years in the making and while the complicated intertwining connections may be too dry for most thriller readers, any writer worth his salt needs to know this information. Yes, you are writing fiction, but you'd better get the underpinnings right if you want Thriller Guy to not come down hard on your mistakes.

Now back to our regular blather, where TG is working with his alter ego, Allen Appel, on an extensive project. After being hounded by his writer pal, Larry, Appel has decided to put the first of his renowned time travel novels starring Alex Balfour up as a Kindle edition. First published back in the Paleolithic era (1985) there is no handy Word file (who knows what computer, if any, he was using in those days: Eagle? Atari?) so Appel is having to scan in the original hardback and use an OCR program to turn it into an editable file. What a pain in the ass. A competent typist could probably retype the book in less time than the scanning takes, but Appel is a two-finger man who can't touch-type so that option is off the table.

But here's the interesting point, which leads to a question, or rather several questions. In the course of scanning the material and fixing the inevitable flubs that the OCR process produces, it quickly became evident that Appel is a better writer now than he was those many years ago. The book is good, but here we find the author making many of the same mistakes that he rails about on this very blogsite: The use of the various forms of get/got, words repeated within a paragraph, to name just a few. These are sins we all commit, but these shortcomings should be taken care of in the rewrite process. Here's the question, or one of the questions: Should Appel bother to rewrite the manuscript for this version? Who knows what he might start changing if he dives into the pages and begins tinkering? Where does it end? Thoughts, anyone? And this is not strictly confined to Appel, as the questions will apply to other authors as they turn to the task of putting up e-editions and the like.

More interesting, though, are two other concerns. When writing a first draft, Appel just plows along, not bothering with writerly niceties, which leads to blank spaces left to be filled in later and sections marked FIX!. Also of concern are cliches. Appel believes they are fine in first drafts when he doesn't want to take the time to come up with an original way of description; he marks these offending passages and goes back in the first rewrite to fix them. (Appel does seven complete rewrites on every novel.) But, as we all know, errors will be made, resulting in the following paragraph in Time After Time:

Alex jammed his hands into his pockets and found a surprise. Gloves. A pair of leather fur-lined gloves. Alex held them to his face, smelling the leather and feeling the smooth softness of the high-quality hide; imagining the former owner, some dissolute younger member of the pridvorny who had pawned his coat before heading off to an evening of vodka, women, wild Gypsy singing, and then later perhaps flinging himself off one of the many bridges of the city onto the frozen Neva. Alex sighed for his imaginary doomed young Russian as he slipped on the gloves. They fit like a glove.”

While Appel was writing the para the first time, he came to the end and thought about the last could he describe how well the gloves fit? Like a second skin? Nope. Like they were made for him? God, no. So he just wrote, They fit like a glove. and appended a note. Cliché! Fix!

Who knows where that note went? Through rewrite after rewrite the sentence hung in there, somehow passing unnoticed, hiding, probably snickering to itself behind its gloved hand, and sure enough, it made it into print. Small matter, you might think. Think again. The book was extensively reviewed from the New York Times on down, and all of the reviews were pretty much glowing, except 85% of them, or so, had a line something like...”The writing is solid, except for the occasional cliché. At one point Appel's hero slips on a pair of gloves and remarks, “They fit like a glove.”

Oh, the horror.

So this time through, Appel was going to fix the damn line. He sat and thought, and thought and you know what? He still couldn't come up with anything good. So he simply wrote:

They fit perfectly.”

OK, not fabulous, but it gets the job done. In fact, TG himself is unable to come up with anything better. So here's what we'll do, all you hot-shot writers out there. See if you can come up with something better. TG will run the best of the entries and he will have Appel send the winner a previously owned, personally autographed paperback copy of this fine book.

And stay tuned, in the next installment regarding this scanning/OCR process, Appel will discuss a HUGE, TOTALLY EMBARRASSING MISTAKE he made in this novel which he will fix...or perhaps not. No one has ever caught this goof, and Appel has sworn to go to his grave with the offending error unrevealed. But here is an opportunity to right this grievous wrong. But should it be fixed?

Or should it remain, a mystery for the ages...


  1. I found your series, as a reader, to be excellent - and noticed nothing to detract from the reading experience or the suspension of disbelief. I bet your huge embarassing mistake was overlooked because reviewers and readers alike were too engrossed in the story to catch anything but glaringly obvious errors.

    How about this:

    "Alex sighed for his imaginary doomed young Russian as he slipped on the gloves and found them to be a perfect fit."


    "Alex sighed for his imaginary doomed young Russian as he slipped on the gloves. They fit perfectly - he smiled at his next thought - like a glove."

  2. TG

    On the glove problem, I would think maybe have them either be too small or too large and then have Alex have to deal with this small problem for at least a couple of chapters.
    Just to be different. (After all, isn’t it standard for all heroes to have to overcome problems? No matter how large or small?)

    On the rewrite for Kindle publication problem, I would say DO IT. Who knows what little tweaks or additions you might find or decide to place in there that might make the book even better than it is? (I read all three and they are worth reading)

    Point is…if your going to go Kindle, you may as well go all the way with Book 1 and retype it. (Once you have the readers hooked, they’ll more than likely forgive you copying the pages of the other two books in the series. This one, BOOK I , will kind of be a premiere introduction to the series and like any important event, you’d want to dress up in the finest tux to impress. The Alex Balfour series is brand new to this e-book generation and having sampled the current crop of “Anyone who knows how to poke a finger on the keyboard can write a book” drivel, they will certainly appreciate a well written blast from the past.

    As for answers to a multitude of questions you (and fans of your blog) may have about Kindle publishing, I’d suggest the kindleboards. It’s a group of writers AND readers of Kindle who are very friendly and open to questions and issues a writer new to e-books might have.

    Good luck!

  3. A slippery slope, revision of a published text. Fowles did it with THE MAGUS, and I am not sure it made for a better book. You had different juices going then, it was a different book than you would write now, most likely. I would stick with the obvious howlers, typos, wordiness, that sort of thing. Total revision? I wouldn't go there unless I was really in love with the book and had specific aspects of it I wanted to change.

    But as Frank mentions, if you are hoping for another life for the series on Kindle, maybe you need whole hog.

  4. If I may tag onto Syd's reply a moment, I agree with what he says in regards to "hoping for another life for the series in Kindle"...

    I can appreciate the fact that retyping them all (including the previously unpublished fourth book that features the Titanic (which by the way the hundred year anniversary is April 2012) ) is a pretty large commitment of time, but there is an additional outlet called Smashwords that gives your book(s) access to many other e-reading formats beyond Kindle. This gives you an even larger potential audience ( $$$ ) beyond Kindle

    BUT...the books MUST be formatted correctly when they go into the Smashwords submission process or the books won't be accepted (this happened to me)

    It might be worth the effort to find an eager college kid willing to do the typing for you for a few bucks (which would save you a certain amount of time- save for proofreading. In addition, while the college kid is retyping, this would free you up for a new book you might happen to think up)

    And hell, maybe the kid can retype it 'as is' without changes which would save even MORE time. (maybe even let it slip that there IS a huge mistake within the story and maybe people will buy it just to search for the age old mistake that has YET to be discovered)

    At least get Book 1 out there and see what happens. If you actually make a few hundred bucks then you can start up on the other ones.
    (You can also rework Book 1 while it's still selling if it turns out to be very successful and then resubmit it-- most e-books CAN be tweaked and resubmitted)

    But you'll never know what might have been if you don't try.

  5. .. fit as if tailored just for him.


  6. TG: I loved all three of the books in the series as written(and thoroughly enjoyed the fourth, which you so kindly sent to me). Perfect? Of course not since they were written by a human. But as Mr. Lovell said, I enjoyed the story so much I didn't notice, or if I noticed didn't mind, the small stuff. I'd say revise only the parts with which YOU are unhappy enough to take the time to fix them. Then again, if you re-wrote it, I'd buy it instead of reading my old copy again some day.
    As to the glove: "They fit as though he had just found a pair of his own gloves, in a coat he'd not worn for so long he'd forgotten they were there." See, that's why you're the writer and I'm a lawyer.

  7. If you have to change it, go with Mr. Lovell's second suggestion - the way it reads originally sounds like you are making a joke anyway, so adding ``he smiled at the thought'' just clarifies it for people (or you could make another joke about the gloves fitting a lot better than OJ's did! :-) Never mind...) Better yet, take that writing energy and give us another in the series!