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 TopSecretAmerica.com. 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 sentence...how 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...