Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Twinkle, twinkle...

I have a super-secret work IM account that I only use for conversing with colleagues and my husband. I try not to use it much for things other than planning and work-related stuff, but occasionally I just have to IM Josh and complain about something so I can blow off steam and get back to work.

You might be surprised at what I have to complain about.

[Me]: goddammit, i just got another starred review in
[Me]: people are going to think i'm a soft touch
[Josh]: Hmm. Not after they meet you

I actually cracked up laughing at my desk. It's certainly true that upon meeting me, people are far more likely to think I'm a harsh critic than to think that I have to restrain myself from scattering stars hither and yon with abandon.

Star recommendations always make me happy, though, even when we have "too many": it means that good books are being written and published, and that I'm picking the right books to review and the right reviewers for the books. Occasionally I have to override an overzealous star-giver, but for the most part I'm happy to take my reviewers' recommendations. Otherwise, why would I want them reviewing for me? And at a glance, this particular book seems to deserve it.

[Me]: actually, i think i might put it in this week's drop
[Me]: as i suspect the new [author name redacted] will also get a star
[Me]: and that's slated for next week
[Me]: and we already have a star for next week
[Josh]: Well, it is christmas
[Me]: that's not a good reason!
[Me]: are there no remainder bins? are there no street vendors?
[Josh]: Ahaha
[Josh]: You will be visited by three critics....

Monday, December 17, 2007

How I do PW stuff, part 1: "When will my book be reviewed?"

A brief preamble: please to note that these posts are about how I do PW stuff. Other editors may work very differently.

One of the most common questions we get from publishers is "When will my book be reviewed?". I hate this question. I get it all the time and even when I know the answer--which I don't, always, as things frequently get shuffled around--it's a pain to look it up for every query and then send a reply.

There are plenty of reasons a review might be pushed forward or back at the last minute. We might find out in proofs that we have too many reviews, or too few. We might have three starred reviews slated for this week and none for next week, or vice versa. I might realize that three of the six reviews slated for this week come from the same publisher, and choose either to include a seventh review from another publisher or move one of the three to a different drop. A usually punctual reviewer might be late just this once. I can tell you which reviews I expect to publish in all four January issues, but I can pretty much guarantee that at least one of those drops will be rearranged between now and then.

I do understand that some publishers may find this frustrating. Fortunately, with a bit of calculation, it's easy enough to figure out approximately when a review will appear (A), based on when the galleys were sent (S) and the book's publication date (D):

S + 60 days < A < D - 35 days

That is to say, the review is unlikely to appear fewer than 60 days after the galleys were sent, or fewer than 35 days before the publication date. There are always exceptions, of course, but that's a good rule of thumb. As an example, today (December 17th) we received galleys for a book that will be published on April 15th. Since we got the galley today, let's assume it was sent December 14th.

12/14/07 + 60 < A < 4/15/08 - 35
2/12/08 < A < 3/10/08

Of course, since it's an April book, A has to be less than 3/1/08, and A is always a Monday, which further narrows it down; but still, that gives us plenty of time to have the review published on 2/18 or 2/25, and if the reviewer is quick I could even get it into the 2/11 issue. That's a pretty comfortable window.

60 days may seem like a long time. I was a little startled the first time I worked out that number, but it's pretty accurate. Here's where it comes from: the life cycle of the average PW review.

Day 0: Two galleys of a title are shipped to PW.
Day 1: Galleys arrive at PW. Bookroom staff open the envelope and shelve the galleys in the appropriate section of the bookroom.
Day 4: I go to the bookroom and see the galleys on my shelf. I decide whether the title is worth reviewing. If it isn't, I put it on our reject shelf and pretty much forget about it. (I don't log or track my rejects or inform publishers that their books have been rejected; don't have the time for it. I keep them until the pub date is past and then they go on the Free to a Good Home cart outside the bookroom.) If it is, I choose a reviewer.

This is the first major possible delay point. If I think a particular reviewer is just right for a book, but they're already working on something else for me or they're on vacation or whatever, I will wait to send it to them until they're ready to get it. I try not to keep galleys around for more than a week, but it can go as long as two or three if we get the galleys far enough in advance of the title's publication date. More on that below. At any rate, let's say that this time we only waited two days for the right reviewer to become available.

Day 6: One galley is mailed to the reviewer. The other is put in a pile on my desk.
Day 8: The reviewer receives the galley.

Here's the second major delay point. Most of our reviewers can review a book in about two weeks, but some take as long as three or four. Let's assume this one takes two weeks.

Day 22: The reviewer sends me the review.

Here's the third major delay point. I often get reviews weeks in advance of when they'll be published. Today I received the review for a title that's not slated to appear in the magazine until our third January issue. I schedule things this way so that if someone fails to make a deadline, I have plenty of backup material. Let's say this review is slated for the drop that's due two weeks after I receive it; that's about average.

Day 33: I edit the review, using the duplicate galley for fact-checking.
Day 34: I realize that it's a starred review and I already have two starred reviews for this drop. I don't like including more than two stars per week--it makes us look like we give them out too freely--and all three titles really deserve their stars, so I bump this title to next week's drop.
Day 43: I turn in the drop that the title appears in.
Day 46: I answer copyediting queries for that drop.
Day 50: I go over the page proofs and make final corrections.
Day 60: The issue appears.

I didn't fudge those numbers even a tiny bit, by the way. They came out to 60 all by themselves!

Not every title takes two months from receipt to review--it's conceivable that I could get something in today, give it to one of our super-fast last-minute reviewers, get the review Wednesday, and put it in Friday's drop--but I'd say that's about average. Now factor in that we review books at least two calendar months ahead of publication (which in practice means at least five weeks, as e.g. an early March book could be reviewed in the last January issue), and you can see why we request that publishers send us books at least three and preferably four months in advance of the pub date. To go back to that formula (S + 60 < A < D - 35), it's in the publisher's best interests to make sure that the set of possible dates for A is as large as possible. If S + 60 = D - 35, I'll have to rush to fit a review in; you don't want a rushed review, or a rushed editing job on that review. If S + 60 > D - 35, we may not be able to review the book in the magazine at all.

Stay tuned for our next installment: starred reviews. I may also expand on earlier discussions of galleys and editing to PW's very tight wordcounts. Suggestions for other posts in this vein are very welcome.

Pardon, come again?

From an author profile in this week's PW:
A Village Voice writer once called Russell Banks "the most important living white male American on the official literary map." Flattering, but as Banks sees it, a bit off the mark.

"As a writer I don't have a nationality," he says. "As a writer I don't have a race. As a writer I don't have a gender."

...When I visit the 67-year-old writer on a recent fall afternoon in his home in the Adirondack Mountains of upstate New York, he is wearing jeans, a flannel shirt and a fleece vest. With his close-cropped gray hair and a neatly trimmed beard, he looks every bit the white American male. But he resists thinking of himself that way, he says, because "then I would only be able to write about living, white American men and I would rather not limit myself that way."

This week's PW also includes a Q&A with Ben Peek. My goal is to do at least one SF/F/H-related Q&A, profile, or signature review per month, so keep an eye out! And we have reviews of the following: Tangled Webs: A Black Jewels Novel by Anne Bishop (starred), In the Courts of the Crimson Kings by S.M. Stirling, Waking Brigid by Francis Clark, Victory Conditions by Elizabeth Moon, and Got to Kill them All by Dennis Etchison.

Friday, December 14, 2007

The genre ghetto

I just finished my preliminary look through the Lambda Award SF/F/H nominees*. Lots of vampire stuff, unsurprisingly. Less kink than I remember from last year. Very heavy on the fantasy. Very, very heavy.

* See nomination guidelines here.

Total books received: 22.

Books from imprints that I recognize as being primarily F&SF-oriented: three (two from Haworth Positronic, one from Tor).

My reaction to this is complex. There's the good old-fashioned kick in the gut that comes from remembering that despite all the personal acceptance I get from others in the F&SF field, when it comes to the actual text of genre books, I'm a member of a thoroughly marginalized minority. There's the irritation over the award being basically ignored in genre circles, which means we get hardly any books from genre publishers, which means the award usually goes to queer books with genre content instead of genre books with queer content, which means it's basically ignored in genre circles. (I was looking up editions of China Mountain Zhang today and was startled to see its Lambda win mentioned in the same sentence as its Hugo and Nebula nods.) There's the frustrated certainty that several really good books that should have been in the box were not, including another title from Tor that arguably has more queer content than the one we got.

I really don't get the sense that authors of queer fiction need to be encouraged to write more spec fic. Authors of queer fiction seem very happy to include speculative elements, as evinced by this Lambda category even existing. I do get the sense that many authors of genre fiction could use some encouragement in the direction of including queer characters and queer themes. In my ideal world, the Lambda SF/F/H award would serve this purpose. To do that, it would need to go to books that are both excellent examples of queer fiction and excellent examples of speculative fiction, and that means getting nominees from the spec fic side of the fence as well as the queer side. According to the judging guidelines, queer themes and skillful handling of genre elements are of equal importance. I want to see that reflected in the books we get.

I note that this is my ideal world; my fellow judges and the folks at Lambda Literary may disagree. I will also note that the folks at Lambda Literary know I feel this way--I laid it out for them in no uncertain terms--and they know I come much more from a genre background than from a queer lit background and they still made me a judge for a second year running, so presumably they at least don't disagree too violently. Honestly, I don't think anyone benefits from the perception that the Lammies are just a bunch of queers congratulating each other on our queerness, nor do I think we need some sort of queer awards ghetto. I say, bring on the books from the big mainstream presses by the big mainstream authors! Send us more Spin Controls and Privilege of the Swords! This is not about drowning out queer authors. This is about recognizing people whose work excels in two genres simultaneously, no matter which one is their "native language", and about encouraging more people in both those worlds to aim as high as the best of either.

The deadline for this year is past, of course, but authors and publishers, if you think any of your 2008 titles might qualify, send 'em in during next year's nomination phase, which I believe is September 1 through December 1. It costs you four copies and twenty bucks; that's not a lot. (Readers, if you see something you like, encourage the author and publisher to nominate it, as they're the only ones who can.) At this point, I figure anyone who writes good queer genre fiction wants to see more of it, and wants to see what's already out there get some recognition. We can't recognize it if you don't send it to us! So please, send it in, and encourage others to do the same.

Maybe it's folly to think that broader recognition of the SF/F/H Lambda Award will encourage even one non-queer genre author to include queer characters and themes in their next book, but stranger things have happened. I think it's more realistic to hope that it will encourage queer authors to let their writing reflect that part of their lives. Either would be a really wonderful thing, a step away from the marginalization of this particular minority, and--I think--well worth rewarding.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

My theory, which is mine

I'm told Library Journal is looking for science fiction and fantasy reviewers. Pro: reviews are bylined. Con: you don't get paid. For those of you who are looking to pad (or start) your reviewing résumés before moving on to paying gigs*, this might be a good way to go. Send cover letters and clips/links (if you don't have clips or links, whip up a review in Library Journal style and send that) to and I'll forward them on to the appropriate person.

* My standard advice to people who want to break into editing, reviewing, or other journalistic pursuits: do it for non-paying publications for precisely as long as you need to build your résumé and get paying gigs, and then stop. I love me some non-paying venues, and you can find plenty of them on my client list; they absolutely helped me get started as a journalist, and it feels great to work on free and donation-only publications and know you're helping to support the writers whose stories they buy. If you're considering this as a career, however, you probably can't afford to give your time away once there are people who are willing to pay for it.

We finished up the last real December issue today. It was a big push to get it all done; the last issue of the month includes notes as well as full reviews, and I had to reorganize my drop at the last minute because I wanted to include a starred review (I try for one per week) and none of the books I had planned to include turned out to be star-worthy. Fortunately, I got in two starred reviews over the last few days, so I swapped one of them in. Unfortunately, I was swapping it with a review I'd already edited, which meant more work to get the drop ready. Fortunately, that means next week I'll start out with one review done. All in all, a good deal, and I managed to get it done by 5 today, which is what I needed to do.

I continue to fuss with organizing my workspace. Last week I went to my mother's place and noticed that she'd acquired an old-fashioned perpetual calendar, the sort with dials you turn to display the day, month, and weekday. Aha, I thought, and after some rummaging around, found a couple I liked on eBay and bid on them. They arrived on Wednesday and I brought them in to work yesterday. Now my drop stacks have little brass perpetual calendars on them, and the drop that's due on December 14th will always be the drop that's due December 14th, so as I move the stack of books along my desk (from the TWO WEEKS position to the NEXT WEEK position to the THIS WEEK position, because redundancy is your friend**), the label on it will stay the same and I'll be able to tell the due date at a glance. It also adds a little retro touch to the décor, which I quite like.

** In engineering, that is. Less so in writing.

Sadly, month paperweights don't seem to exist--which baffles me! Doesn't anyone else in the world have piles of papers or books organized by month that need to be clearly labeled?--so I continue to use colored stickers and folded paper "paperweights" for the stacks of books not yet assigned to drops. Anyone who can find me simple, inexpensive paperweights displaying the names of months in some reasonably legible font will be my friend forever. I'm really about ready to go dig up some rocks of about the right size and write month names on them with a Sharpie.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007


There are few things that will make my day like casually asking Bill Schafer of Subterranean Press whether he might someday do a snazzy boxed set of one of my favorite trilogies, and being told it's already in contract. I wrote back "You just made me squee like a Japanese fangirl!" and belatedly thought that perhaps that wouldn't do very much for my professional image... but here I am bouncing at my desk and very quietly going "eeee!" so as not to bother my cube-neighbors, so I might as well be honest about it.

(It hasn't been formally announced yet, so I can't divulge titles. But trust me, it's awesome.)

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Everything in its place

I'm getting a real sense of my new work routine. Last week's schedule was all messed up because of Thanksgiving, but now I have regular hours--1 to 5 p.m. every day--and I'm getting settled in to the best way to spend that time. I have a good organization system in place, too: different colored stickers for different publication months (Mar/Apr/May are blue/green/red and then it repeats, since I rarely have four months' worth of books to deal with at once) so that I can tell when a book is coming out and make sure my drops* are sorted by pub month without having to open each book and check, yellow stickers for "review received", checkmarks in the yellow stickers when I've edited the review, little folded paperweights with month names written on them for the stacks of books sent out for review, more little folded paperweights that say THIS WEEK and NEXT WEEK and TWO WEEKS for future drops, a shelf for the drops from last week (now being edited onscreen) and the week before (now in layout), and a spreadsheet that runs my life tracks which reviews are out and when they're due and which reviewers don't have any assignments right now and also archives the year's drops in a convenient format so that I can easily copy and paste them into the magazine-wide weekly archive of copyright data. It all works very smoothly and makes me happy.

* Drop == the week's batch of reviews. No more than 10, no fewer than five. This time of year, a drop is usually six reviews; not much coming out in Feburary.

Next week I have five meetings in four days, which will make things interesting; I'll have to edit at a slightly faster pace than I did this week. I finished this week's drop today, and it's unofficially not due until tomorrow and officially not due until Monday, so I'm ahead of the game; but next week I have another six-book drop plus two or three notes about interesting January publications that don't get full reviews for whatever reason--things like major new editions of classics, or biographies of SF/F/H authors, or reader's guides--and I'm trying to give my reviewers line-by-line breakdowns of my edits so that they understand why I make the choices I do and can write reviews that need less editing, so I may have to push a bit to make it all happen. That's okay, though. I thrive on deadline pressure. *grin*

Some week when I have a little more free time, I should write up a post or three about how the PW system works, in general. I'm always surprised by how little people know about it. It's not like it's a big secret. I mean, yes, we try to maintain an aura of Olympian aloofness, but I think it's to our benefit--or to mine, anyway--if publishers and authors and agents know what goes on here and what to expect.

It feels very good to be regaining my mental equilibrium. My manager may make fun of me because I'm so enthusiastic about getting to be in the office every day**, but really, it's doing wonders for my state of mind.

** Excerpt from yesterday's department meeting:

Me: Mm... I don't really like that idea.
Boss: Well, I'm sorry, Rose, but people who enjoy being in the office five days a week don't get to state their opinions.


Other editor: I think they're hoping--
Boss: How do you know?
Other editor: Because I know everyone's hopes and dreams. It's my job. Associate Hopes and Dreams Editor.

I love working here, have I mentioned? The kidding is enough to keep people on their toes, but there's never any animosity under it. We just don't see any reason to be serious all the time.

Friday, November 16, 2007

A winnar is me!

Ooh, ooh, now that it's Friday I can finally post about this! I have been biting my tongue until everything was sorted out and official and all, but now everything is sorted out and official and all, so finally I get to announce:

As of Monday I will be in charge of science fiction, fantasy, and horror book reviews at Publishers Weekly. Peter Cannon, who has handled the section brilliantly for the last several years, will be shifting his focus to mystery and thriller reviews. He's left me a tremendous legacy, and I'm still floored that he's supported me so enthusiastically and been so willing to hand the section over to me.

I will be bringing on some new reviewers, so if you've been dying to write for PW, now's your chance to send me your resume and clips. I'm specifically looking for people who read and write quickly--our deadlines can get very tight--and who have had their work published in some fashion. Fiction or non, online or off, doesn't matter, as long as you've gone through some sort of acceptance and editorial process. Unfortunately, company rules limit me to hiring people who live in the U.S.

How the hell I dropped out of college three times, started at least four different careers over the course of a decade, and still managed to acquire my dream job at the age of 29, I have no idea. I'm just thrilled beyond words, and deeply grateful to everyone who's supported my writing and editing and otherwise helped me to get here.

No raise, sadly, and I'll still be part-time for the nonce, but as of either this week or next, you'll be able to pick up a copy of PW and see my name in the masthead. That's good enough for me.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

I know that you believe that you understood what you think I said

I have six reviews to edit in the next three hours. I've already done three today. It's making me a bit punchy.

Best sentence so far:

"[The author] discusses the characters that separate our species from other extinct hominids"

It's going to be a long day.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Letter from the editor

Dear publicists:

When you send us galleys, please include the book's ISBN, price, and publication date. If I can't find that information on your website or on Amazon, I will assume the book has been removed from your line-up, and I will toss it.

If you do include that information on your galleys, please do not then cover it up with a sticker bearing the publicist's name and phone number. While it's useful to be able to call the publicist and say "Why does the back cover of the galley say this is $16.95 when the publicity materials say it's $13.95?", it would be even more useful to be able to see that under the sticker, the galley says "$13.95 / Canada " right before it says "$16.95".

Many thanks,
your tired, congested, easily irritated PW reviews editor

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Come one, come all

Publishers Weekly needs people to help judge a manuscript contest. The task is to read 10 manuscripts (which I suspect will be straight out of a slushpile) and write a 150-word PW-style review of each. (I'm happy to supply some info on what "PW-style" means, but it would be best for you to pick up a copy of the magazine and read the reviews.) Most of the mss are F&SF, mystery, thriller, or romance; you would get a random selection. Pay is $400 and deadline is December 14th. If you're interested, have some vaguely relevant experience, and can realistically make that deadline, send a letter of interest/resume/clips to We need 100 reviewers total and only have about 25 right now, so please spread the word around!

EDIT, 1/29/08: Looks like this post is getting very popular all of a sudden. Before I write further, let me reiterate that I am not a PW spokesperson, and this is not an official PW blog. I speak only from my own knowledge and experience, which in this case is very much not the whole story. My involvement with this contest was entirely peripheral, and there's still a lot I don't know about how it was run. All I can tell you about is the extent to which I participated in finding reviewers.

My criteria for recommending reviewers for the contest were not the same as the criteria used for approving those reviewers. Many of the reviewers I recommended (and I didn't recommend everyone who asked) were turned down due to not having sufficient reviewing experience. I wasn't in charge of that and don't know the full details; I was just asked to recruit applications as widely as possible.

The top 16% of 5000 entries is far more manuscripts than all our regular reviewers could possibly review in the time allotted, which is why we went looking for other reviewers to participate.

As for the uneven quality of reviews, I can only assure you that I recommended reviewers who I know to be good writers and thoughtful readers, and they had to pass a fairly stringent application in addition to my recommendation. In any situation where you have 80 people writing reviews, there's going to be some variation. This is why I frequently mention the need to choose the right reviewer for a book, something that simply wasn't possible in the setting of the contest.

A final summary:

1) The screening process for PW reviewers, in general, is that PW editors think they'll be good reviewers. We look at their clips and ask them to write a sample review, and if they look good, they're hired. This is exactly what I did for the prospective reviewers who emailed me after I made this post.

2) I passed on the names of all the people who passed the above requirements to the folks running the contest. They then put the prospective reviewers through a second screening process, about which I don't know anything except that one of the criteria was a lot of reviewing experience (something I don't demand from my reviewers if they can demonstrate sufficient skill right off the bat).

So the people who passed both those tests and reviewed the manuscripts were actually more thoroughly screened for experience and skill than many of the people who regularly review for PW. I certainly apologize for any concern caused by the cavalier tone of the post, but I can assure you that the contest submissions were indeed reviewed by experienced processionals, any of whom we'd be happy to use as a regular PW reviewer if we had room on our reviewing staff (and in fact, I hired a couple of people based on the clips they sent when applying for the contest reviewing gig, and have many more applications squirreled away for future hiring needs).

I'm happy to discuss this with anyone who leaves a signed comment. Anonymous comments will be ignored, and if I get enough of them, I will disable anonymous commenting.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

An abundance of commas

Today's words that are not the same:


Today's punctuation marks that are not the same:


Today's words that are not words:


Spellcheck is not by any means a replacement for editing (as the first entry in this post makes clear), but there's a lot to be said for using it to at least give things a once-over and draw your eye to typos. And seriously, what is it with the commas? There are many punctuation marks that can be used to conclude sentences, but commas are not on the list.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

A good man, Truman Capote

Ha! Truman Capote backs me up:
Most of all, I believe in hardening yourself against opinion. I’ve had, and continue to receive, my full share of abuse, some of it extremely personal, but it doesn’t faze me any more. I can read the most outrageous libel about myself and never skip a pulse-beat. And in this connection there is one piece of advice I strongly urge: Never demean yourself by talking back to a critic, never. Write those letters to the editor in your head, but don’t put them on paper.
Obviously this doesn't apply to needing to correct a factual error, but for any other circumstance where a writer wants to argue with a review of their writing, I'd say it's spot-on.

I do somewhat disagree with the rest of what he had to say, as I've had authors thank me for my criticism after the fact and tell me they'd keep it in mind for future efforts (usually about general things like "Why are all the female characters in all your books little more than plot points?" rather than specific issues with a particular work) and I don't think I'm one of the more perceptive, eloquent, or knowledgeable reviewers out there. I agree, though, that a lot of what passes for reviewing is little more than "prissy carpings and condescensions". Another recent post at Critical Mass suggested limiting reviews to 1000 or even (shock!) 800 words, because if we have to read blowhards, at least then we wouldn't have to read them at length. I skimmed that post because it was too long and the author sounded like a blowhard, which is to say I agree with his thesis, if not his defense. Even better, let's fire the blowhards--the only people that Critical Mass has yet to blame for the recent demise of several newspaper review sections are the reviewers themselves, which I think is a grievous oversight--and hire people who write thoughtful reviews and know how to express themselves succinctly and with grace.

At any rate, props to Capote's interviewer for asking directly whether reviews are useful. It's a good question and I think it should always be kept in mind when reviewing.

(Incidentally, I didn't know "faze" was in use in 1957. I take this opportunity to thumb my nose at anyone who spells it "phase".)

Monday, September 10, 2007

Around the globe

Hm, been a while since I complained about work*. Time to fix that!

Today's word that is only technically a word and not actually fit for human consumption:


Amazingly enough, Word's spellcheck didn't flag "bestriding". I guess it's not actually wrong, just remarkably awkward.

I changed it to "globe-straddling" for now. The whole sentence will likely be rewritten once I finish my first pass (error correction) and start on the second (condensing for word count).

* Actually, I'm not complaining about work. I'm complaining about the ridiculous things people put in their writing. I love my work because it means I can keep some of those ridiculous things from ever seeing the light of day.

EDIT: Yep, took it out altogether. I feel better now.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Is there a logic course that one of us could enroll in?

I've been following the debate over the cover of the new anthology coming out from Night Shade, but I haven't said much. It's a big topic and there's a lot to think about.

A lot of the problems I see in the ensuing debate are problems of language, and of familiarity with the situation. The people who are used to writing and reading blog entries about racism and sexism start out weary. They've seen it all before. They have their bingo cards ready. The people who are not used to online discussion of these issues have no idea that the phrases that come to mind as perfectly reasonable responses are not only unoriginal but also rife with unintentional prejudice. The experienced -ism bloggers are outraged (understandably) and say "You should know better!" and the inexperienced ones feel insulted (understandably) and blow their tops, lather rinse repeat. It is all very predictable, like watching two people play chess when one is an old hand who can see several moves ahead and the other learned yesterday and is still trying to remember which way the knight moves. Being able to beat someone at chess under those circumstances says nothing about skill or intelligence or righteousness. It's just about training. Using that training to grind someone into the dirt is, shall we say, less than sportsmanlike.

This is escalated in the SF community, because we all know one another personally, and as hard as it is to critique someone's behavior when you don't have a personal connection, it's much harder when there's history between you, whether friendship or rivalry or mutual dislike. The worst thing that can happen in this kind of discussion is for someone to make it personal--whether by taking critique of behavior to equal critique of self or by turning critique into insult and ad hominem attack or even, in many cases, by saying "I'm telling you this as someone who cares about you"--and with this set-up it's pretty much inevitable.

I don't think efforts to uproot entrenched -isms are doomed to fail, but I do think all these factors need to be taken into consideration if conversations on these topics are going to be productive. I'm serious about phrasing critique as a response to a manuscript submission; it puts it in a familiar framework that in our community specifically indicates a critique of product rather than a critique of person, and there's plenty of room for personal nuance ("It's a fine story, but it just didn't grab me") and indicating where further discussion might occur ("I'd be happy to see other submissions from you/look this over after extensive revision"). It also makes the power relationship clear. Just as editors get to accept or reject manuscripts, consumers get to accept or reject finished books. While someone receiving multiple rejections would be perfectly within their rights to say that their unique artistic vision cannot be compromised by the sneers of the ignorant, they might also start considering whether perhaps some revisions are in order.

As for the specific topic at hand, my opinion is divided. On the one hand, Maureen McHugh's name on a cover excites me as a reader far more than Bruce Sterling's. On the other hand, when I'm urging my boss at PW to send a small press anthology out for review, I point to big names in the table of contents as evidence that it's likely worth paying attention to. (PW has no policy against reviewing terrible books and calling them out as terrible, but we do unofficially prefer to review good books rather than bad ones if we're given the choice.) On the gripping hand, the consumer side is what pays attention to the cover and the reviewer side is what looks at the TOC. Covers are meant to appeal to consumers. Maybe there's even market research out there showing that consumers prefer anthology covers with no more than five names on them, though I kind of doubt it.

So I think the cover should have six names on it: four big-name authors, two lesser-known authors with small but dedicated followings. I think that accurately reflects the TOC, and I suspect the gender split among those names would also be representative. I'm no fan of quotas or tokenism and wouldn't presume to suggest what the gender split should be, but if it's not reflective of the TOC, I'd see that as a flag of possible unconscious bias that might be worth consciously correcting. I was a little shocked to see comments from the folks at Night Shade that seemed to amount to "We don't intend the front cover to be representative of the book". That sounds to me like a betrayal of the reader's trust that can only reflect negatively on the publisher. People who pick up an anthology promoted by five male BNA names may not want an anthology with a TOC like Eclipse's. Why not promote it as the well-balanced book that it apparently is? If the idea is to hitch all those other authors to the BNA coattails, to subversively get their names and work in front of readers who would otherwise pass them by... honestly, that seems a little insulting to both the authors and the reader. Truth in advertising seems to me a pretty laudable goal here. If Night Shade's business model depends on deceiving readers, I think that's a problem with their business model, not a problem with the market.

Does the market need to be changed? That's not clear to me. A big part of the issue in the case of Eclipse was that all the BNAs in it happened to be men, or perhaps that all the women in it happened to not be BNAs. That's one anthology. That doesn't mean that all BNAs are male, or that all male writers are BNAs. It may well be that fewer women are offered the big advances or get the big sales numbers or have the household name recognition or get first novel contracts or appear in small press anthologies or however you want to quantify success and achievement in this field, but this particular incident doesn't prove any of that. I haven't seen any data on those things. If anyone has it, I'd love to know. If not, I'd love to see someone with more readership than I have collecting that information (and please, not via LJ poll; limiting poll-takers to LJ account users automatically skews the data). The publishing industry's apathy towards market research never fails to amaze me. I hope that apathy won't be matched by people on the consumer end of things. Let's get some hard data here and see where it takes us.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Just like a man

Today's phrases that are not the same:

her man fans
her many fans

Boy, am I glad I caught that one before it went off for copyediting. I'd never have lived it down.

Makes the world go 'round

Article is done. No more medical writing until early September. As always, I like doing it and I'm looking forward to the next assignment, but I'm happy to get a break.

With Josh's new job, we're doing pretty well financially. In fact, I think we just about break even on our salaries alone. That's a good thing, because from June through August, I've only invoiced an average of $1760 a month for freelance work. $1760 is nothing to sneeze at--it quite literally pays the rent, and is letting me slowly pay down credit card debt--but it's a far cry from my $11K of invoices in March. I mean, yes, that was fairly stressful, and there's no way I could have done it had I not been freelancing full-time, but I'm only in the office part-time now. I think I could probably push myself up to about $3000 worth of freelance work a month without too much trouble. At my usual rate of 80 cents a word, that's only 3750 words, or about four or five articles' worth. The only snag is getting the assignments. I've been waiting for them to come to me, and they almost always do... but only to the tune of about $1760 a month.

Just as I was starting to think I should be doing more to scare up new work, two new clients were dropped in my lap, and now I have this conference gig from a third new client, which should net me somewhere between $3500 and $6500 depending on article length and per-word rate. (The former assumes 7 * 700 @ $.70 and the latter assumes 8 * 1000 @ $.80, plus a per diem around $150 or $200.) Even better, the conference client is one I'd been thinking of querying. Now I don't have to! And the editor who wrote to me says he's heard really excellent things about my work, which is always a wonderful thing to be told. I think I can justify being a little lazy, at least until the conference articles are in.

Maybe one of these days I'll be bold enough to raise my rates. An extra five cents a word never hurts.

For new readers wondering why I get so specific when I talk about my freelance income, it's my version of Nick Mamatas exhorting writers to submit outside the usual genre publications. From the perspective of most people selling short fiction to genre markets--or even selling novels to major publishers--the idea of making seventy or eighty cents a word is a pipe dream. I frequently point out that medical journalism routinely pays at that level, not to elevate myself above the poor scrabbling fictionauts but rather to offer it as a very viable career choice to those who think it might suit them. Having been doing this for a year and change, I can write a 700-word story in two hours (including time spent on research, interviews, and transcribing) and charge $560 for it. That's $280 an hour. If I wanted to try to make a career as a fiction writer, I'd quit my office job and aim to pull in around $5000 worth of medical writing a month. That's about 20 to 25 hours' worth. In the remaining four weeks of the month, I'd work on novels and stories. That sounds like a pretty good deal to me.

I don't think freelancers do one another any favor by hiding their incomes, and I cut-tag this discussion only out of deference to those who really couldn't care less how much I make from writing. My goal with this and other finance-related entries is to help newcomers to the field figure out whether it's right for them, and more specifically, whether it suits their budgets and schedules. I promised myself a long time ago that I'd never try to make a living writing fiction, and I stand by that. From what I can see, it's pretty much impossible. Making a living off of journalism is entirely feasible, however, and it can be an excellent complement to fiction work. I think the best thing I can do with that information is to spread it far and wide and encourage would-be journalists to give it a try.

Writers depend on the help of other writers for survival. As a successful writer--and believe me, the idea that I am a successful writer never fails to shock me--I feel a pretty strong responsibility to the writing community, and especially to those who might need a leg up. And if someone reading this is making far more money at journalism than I am, I'd love to hear what they have to say, and pay it forward when I can.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Go go go go go!

For those keeping score at home, I have 24 reviews to edit in the next two and a half days: eight each for F&SF&H, mystery, and thriller. That's doable, as long as Josh doesn't mind me working a little late today and tomorrow. I forced myself to get nine hours of sleep this morning in preparation, and have given up on vegetarianism for the nonce; I need that steady protein energy.

I also have an article to finish tonight, website graphics to create before I leave on my trip to Portland this weekend, an interview and two reviews to write by the 23rd, and a magazine to lay out (including proofing several articles) and a third review to do by the 30th. After Labor Day, I'll be covering for a vacationing PW editor for a week and then attending a conference the second weekend of September, from which I expect to be assigned seven or eight (!) articles that will occupy the rest of the month; I guess that makes up for having to miss the End of Summer Party. The third weekend of September will be spent in Boston preparing for the Ig Nobel Awards, which happen in early October. I also have a book-related art project to complete by October 1st, and given the conference assignment, I may have to either bow out of that or do something considerably less complex than what I had originally envisioned. Then I go to London for a five-day "vacation" that, knowing me and Kathleen, will be as socially busy as my usual life is work-busy (though probably even more fun). Then I come home and collapse. If I'm doing anything between mid-October and Thanksgiving, don't tell me. I don't want to think about it right now.

Somewhere in there--ha!--I also want to write about Ratatouille and spin-off thoughts about the place of critics and criticism in today's consumer culture. Working title: "Pity the Poor Reviewer, Maligned By His Critics". We'll see if I ever get around to it. In the meantime, go see the movie! I don't remember the last time I saw a movie twice in the theater (er, other than The Rocky Horror Picture Show), but I'm glad I did with this one. It's really brilliant and wonderful. You'll love it. Go enjoy it while it's still on the big screen, where it deserves to be.

Right, back on my head. More of the usual educational bitching when I resurface.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

To whom it may concern

Many publishers and publicists include letters of introduction with their galleys as a way of making it look like they're personally recommending the book to you rather than having some overworked, underpaid intern shove it in an envelope and slap on a mail merge address label. (Instead, the overworked, underpaid intern wedges a folded piece of paper into the galley before shoving it in an envelope and slapping on a mail merge address label.) I would never suspect any of our reviewers of intentionally cribbing from these letters, of course, but sometimes phrases pop up in your brain when you're writing to deadline, and it's not always easy to remember where they came from, so I always glance at them despite knowing full well that the content is full of ridiculous hype and probably factually inaccurate.

I just came across a publicity letter that begins "Dear Piblishers Weekly". I can only hope that was the fault of the above-mentioned overworked, underpaid intern and not the press's editor and publisher, whose signature--actual, not scanned-and-printed--appears at the bottom of the page. Best of all would be a mistake in their mail merge database. I'll have to see if I catch the same error on letters accompanying their future books.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Blink and you'll miss it

Today's words that are apparently the same:


I think "empathetic" sounds far too much like "pathetic", and "empathic" is nicely similar to "telepathic", but the author of the book in question uses "empathetic", so into the review it goes.

Today's words that are not the same:


That one was my fault: not so much a typo as a disconnect between my conscious mind, which was very definitely thinking "many", and the part of my brain that controls my typing, which relied a bit too heavily on the autocomplete for MA__. Oops. I think I need to get more sleep.


"Sometime" is a nice way of pushing "occasional" into the realm of "historical". I'm very fond of it. I admire the reviewer for using it, even if I did have to remove the erroneous s; it's one of those words that looks confusingly like a typo unless you're already familiar with it, so the mistake is understandable.

Today's pet peeve:

"Meticulously crafting a stark and terrifying setting, the story takes several unexpected turns..."

The story did not craft the setting. The author did. This is a dangling modifier, and I see them all the time, most commonly lauding or blaming a book for doing something that was actually done either by the author or by one of the characters. It's tricky to avoid unless you're looking for it, because we so often refer to books, stories, and plots as active entities; "the story takes several unexpected turns" is, on its own, an entirely blameless phrase, and much less awkward than "the author puts several unexpected turns into the story". (I might even let some of the borderline cases pass, like "Rarely mentioning popular series protagonist Getta Rhume, this prequel instead focuses on the adventures of her older brother, Maik." Technically, a book can't mention or focus on anything, but the meaning is clear enough.) I just keep an eye out for initial adverbial phrases with transitive verbs like "craft" and "write" and "create" that point to the author, not the story, as the one taking action.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

So many--four!

-- [Publisher] publicity, this is [name].

-- Hi, this is Rose Fox at Publishers Weekly. I'm working on our review of [title], by [author], and I was wondering if you have the final page count for the book.

-- Sure, hold on. Okay, I've got the finished book here. Do you just want the number on the last page, or do you count the blank page that comes after it?

-- ...

What I did not say: Page counts include all pages. They're always divisible by four--and usually, for trade-size books, by 16--because books are printed on large sheets that are then folded and cut. (This is, by the way, the reason for many intentionally blank pages.) The reason I called in the first place is that the page count on the book's Amazon listing was given as 275, and I knew that couldn't be right. Galley page counts often differ from those for the finished book, so I can't go by that either. This is the sort of information publicists are supposed to have at their fingertips.

What I said:

-- Don't worry about it. I'll just go by what Amazon has. Thanks.


Monday, July 30, 2007

Galley slave

I'm covering for one of the nonfiction reviews editors* this week, and it's striking to see the different ways that various nonfiction publishers do galleys. University presses and cookbook publishers make beautiful galleys, often full of color photos (which must be pretty pricy, but is extremely useful for reviewers). Self-help galleys, on the other hand, are quite likely to be manuscript pages that some intern got spiral-bound at Kinko's. If you're really lucky, they have completely blank cardboard covers.

* I hasten to note that all of our reviews are, in fact, nonfiction.

Fiction galleys run the gamut. Every house has its own style. For example, Random House helpfully stamps the imprint all over the cover like a wallpaper pattern. Less helpfully, they put a gritty B&W image of the cover on the flyleaf page, where they also put the jacket copy. This is very frustrating. I need to look at the jacket copy and cover image much more often than I need to figure out which imprint the book is under. Golden Gryphon goes one better: the covers of their galleys are entirely blank--even the spines--except for the GG logo and a number that I assume is the book's catalog number. If all the covers were identical, I would just chalk it up to having too low a budget to design and print individual ones. Given that they put a different number on each book, however, they could at least also put the author's name and the book title on the front cover and the spine.

Really, though, the best galleys are the ones that are essentially indistinguishable from the finished product except by the words "ADVANCE READING COPY" across the front (while I appreciate the compliment from galleys that call me an "advanced reader", they also make me cringe a little) and the edition and promo information on the back. Despite the brouhaha a while ago where it was suggested that sending spiffy galleys is tantamount to bribing reviewers, my preferences in this area have nothing to do with whether I want to keep the galley. It's simply easier to give an accurate review with a galley that gives you a reading experience as close as possible to the purchaser's reading experience, and it's easier to do good fact-checking if the author's name and the title are on the front and spine and the biblio data and jacket copy are on the back. For that matter, it's easier to find the book in the piles and piles and piles of books that cover every available surface in our office. We stack our books spine-out, like most people. If the spine of a galley is blank or shows nothing but the edges of manuscript pages, that makes it less memorable, and in turn less likely to be pulled out of the stack and assigned to a reviewer. I would think that publishers would want to make our job easier, not harder.

Look at any one of our reviews in the magazine or on the website and at the top you will see something that looks like this:

Title Title Title
Author Name, trans. from the language by Translator Name. Publisher/Imprint (, $XX.XX (XXXp) ISBN 978-XXXXXXXXXX

At the end of the review, you might see:

64 color and 100 b&w photos. Author tour. (Oct.)

Publishers who include all that information on the galley cover have my undying gratitude. That won't affect whether the book gets a good review, of course, but it does make it more likely that the biblio text on our review will be accurate, which is very, very important to us and to publishers. (The worst sin that I can commit, as an editor, is failing to correct an erroneous ISBN.)

At the very least, galleys in book form are really a must. I've seen "galleys" that were rubber-banded manuscripts. We like our reviewers and we want to stay on good terms with them; we're not going to send them piles of paper unless we really have to review the book for some reason, and if we do, the reviewer will approach the book with a feeling of dread and irritation even before the first word is read. I assume that's not how publishers want their books to be approached, so I have no idea why they do this. I think it reflects very poorly on the publisher, and thereby on the book. Why not send a galley that encourages the reviewer to approach it with joyful anticipation? That's not bribery; it's just good sense.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

As you are we

Tagline spotted on an NBC article:

"A Maryland couple goes the extra mile looking for their lost dog."

This awkward sentence is, of course, all the fault of "couple" and its chameleon-like ability to shift from being singular to plural in the space of five words. "A Maryland couple go the extra mile" sounds a little odd in American English (though in UK English I think it would be perfectly fine; they tend more towards treating words like "couple" and "team" and "group" as plural). "A Maryland couple... looking for its lost dog" sounds considerably odder. It's hard to rewrite the sentence to omit the word "couple", since we don't have a good synonym for this context and even poor synonyms like "pair" have the same issue. For a news site tagline spot, there's certainly an issue of word count, too.

My off-the-cuff solution would be to leave "goes" as it stands and replace "their" with "a". That makes the couple's motivation slightly ambiguous, but it can generally be assumed that they wouldn't go the extra mile for a dog they didn't have some sort of significant attachment to. In fact, the actual headline doesn't state outright that the dog is theirs, so this level of ambiguity is clearly okay with whomever is writing headlines and taglines.

I would also personally be okay with changing "goes" to "go" and leaving "their" intact, but I'm betting AP style (on which many newspaper and news site styles are based) would shoot that down. Note that the headline begins "Couple Hires Detective"; couple-as-singular is the rule here, so "their" is the one that has to go.

The actual content of the article is beyond the scope of this discussion, and a good thing too. Some people have more dollars than sense.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

A red-letter day

Dear reviewers:

Big words only make you sound smarter if you use them correctly.

When giving a page number citation, please make sure it is the right page number.

Please keep your wordcount within 10% of the limits provided with the assignment.

Thank you,

Dear authors:

No, seriously, big words only make you sound smarter if you use them correctly.

When running a character name search/replace, make it case sensitive and select "whole word only". Otherwise you end up with interesting new words like "Kateegory" and "munSteveity", which somewhat disrupts the flow of your narrative.

Please make your character and place names pronounceable. It would be nice if they had similar linguistic origins, too. Do not, however, fill your dialogue with alien jargon in italics, no matter how great the temptation.

Thank you,

Dear publishers:

Please send galleys in reusable and/or recyclable packaging. A sturdy paper envelope is fine, really. Your book is not made of glass; there is no need to pack it in bubble wrap.

Comparing your author to three famous dead authors in the same breath, or rather, in the same breathless sentence, is good for a laugh but not much else. The only reason we read the promo copy is to make sure the reviewer isn't cribbing from it. We certainly don't count on it to be accurate about the spelling of the protagonist's name, much less the quality of the writing.

Putting my name on the envelope does nothing but annoy me, since then I have to carry the books to the book room myself rather than having the nice fellow who delivers our mail do it for me. Address it to "F&SF Editor" like our publication guidelines tell you.

Thank you,

Dear fellow editors:

Thank you for making loud, hilarious phone calls during working hours. They provide welcome relief from the frustrations detailed above.

I'm really proud of all of us for how rarely we flail our arms and swear at some of the terrible books we get.

If anyone has a bottle of good whiskey hidden in a filing cabinet someplace, please let me know.

Thank you,
Third cubicle on the left

Very good, class.

Today's lesson is on the en-dash. The en-dash is the same length as a lowercase 'n', longer than a hyphen and shorter than an em-dash. It is used to hyphenate multi-word phrases.

"non-meringue fetishists" (hyphen) refers to fetishists whose fetish is not meringues.

"non–meringue fetishists" (en-dash) refers to people who are not meringue fetishists.

This is, sadly, a real-world example (not a real–world example), albeit with the fetishized noun changed to protect the writer. I will be editing it out altogether, as I feel one should do with most en-dash phrases, but figured I'd make an object lesson of it first.

The en-dash is also, more commonly and less egregiously, used inclusively between numbers, time periods, monetary amounts, etc. "The gallery is open Mon–Fri, 2–7 p.m., March–October. Admission is $15-20 sliding scale. For more information, see catalog pages 17–22."

These are the only uses that CMS14 allows, but other authorities use it to replace the word "to" in sports scores ("The Yankees beat the Red Sox 78–2"*) and other relationships ("Paris–London trip", "mother–daughter talk") as well as to connect any pair of proper nouns where both modify a following noun but do not modify each other ("McCain–Feingold bill"). I find all of that far too complicated, so I stick with the Chicago rules.

* I acknowledge that this example may be slightly gratuitous, but I couldn't resist.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Forgotten but not gone

Safely arrived in Boston.

I read Joe Hill's 20th Century Ghosts on the trip up. I'm always fascinated by the writing of writers' children. Even had I not known he was Stephen King's son, I would know at least one of his parents was a writer. His work just has that vibe about it, a blend of youthful rawness and decades of training that you only get when you start learning very, very young. It's something I try to erase from my own writing but don't really mind in others', as long as there's sufficient talent to balance out the overabundance of knowledge. Hill has talent and to spare.

Someone clearly told him "Start strong, end long", which he did, and it more or less worked. The first two stories, "Best New Horror" and "20th Century Ghosts", actually knocked the wind out of me. It's been a long time since writing left me breathless that way. Then there were a bunch of other stories, which failed to have quite the same impact, and then the final novella, "Voluntary Committal", which reminded me a great deal of Jeffrey Ford's "Botch Town", not least because 20th Century Ghosts (hereafter 20CG) tugs on many of the same heartstrings as The Empire of Ice Cream. Ford has a broader range and takes more chances; he's a fantasist who explores every nook and cranny of what that means, while Hill is a horror writer who takes occasional weekend trips to other genres. I was surprised to note a few stories in 20CG that had no fantastical component to them at all. I thought the ones that did were more successful, but Hill clearly has room to spread his wings in many different directions if he wants to. I don't get the sense that he wants to, just yet. That's the other thing that writers' children tend to have: a sense of the arc of a writer's career, an arc that often itself resembles a three-act story. Hill knows he's on the first few pages of his own arc, and he's content to be there, establishing context for himself. I hope he has as much time as he thinks he does. It will be interesting to see what his writing is like, decades down the road.

The title of 20CG is taken from a story about ghosts at the movies--Hill just loves the punning titles, sometimes to excess, as with "Pop Art", which is about an inflatable kid named Arthur who quite literally fears getting popped--but it's a highly apt description of the collection's overall vibe. I've been thinking a lot lately about the role of the naïf in fiction, especially speculative fiction, where the naïf most often is the child or stranger to whom the world is explained, a vehicle for delivering exposition to the reader without it seeming quite so much like exposition. Hill loves the naïf with a passion, and it has nothing to do with exposition at all. If slipstream is fiction that makes you feel unsettled and off-balance as the world tilts under your feet, this is anti-slipstream, where the tilting of the world underfoot is insufficient to disrupt the inner worlds of one supremely confident character after another. The narrators and main characters (who often have names like John and Jack, cipher names that also deliberately give the sense of the author's own name in a very thin disguise) are children and near-children: autists, idiots savant, grown men who live in their parents' basements. They are certain about the way the world is. They need no explanations from others. This is just as much a 20th Century feeling as slipstream's uncertainty is, the ghost of the 1950s when everyone's certainty about what went where and who was who masked tremendous unsettlement, dissatisfaction, and memories of wartime pain and atrocity and loss.

When characters in these stories do terrible things--a teenager throwing a brick off an overpass and causing a possibly fatal car accident, a mother abandoning her husband as she flees with their child--Hill repeatedly describes them being set aside and deliberately forgotten. The teenager builds a mental wall of bricks all too like the one he threw, locking away memories like his own personal casks of Amontillado. The mother suggests a fun new game called Amnesia, where they'll pretend the child's father never existed at all. The naïf must stay naïve; the world must not be allowed to tilt. It's a supremely successful formula and it works over and over and over again, because this sort of willful blindness is exactly what lets people do terrible things and survive terrible happenings in the real world. There is no need to suspend disbelief. We see it all around and within ourselves, every day. Hill adds a layer of complexity by making the terrible things uncertain (did anyone really die in that car accident? is the abandoned father really in danger or is the mother just delusional?), so that the happenings that must be forgotten or shut away are not even solidly real when faced head-on. Sometimes that makes the deliberate amnesia easier; other times, it's harder, especially when the veil is ripped away only for the character to realize that the time when any of the questions could have been answered is past.

The non-fantastical pieces don't really seem to fit with the rest, even the ones that have genre-ish settings. "Bobby Conroy Comes Back from the Dead" is about a romance on the set of Dawn of the Dead, but it's still a romance, and the blue makeup and fake blood are almost certainly just blue makeup and fake blood. "Abraham's Boys" plays a little faster and looser with the genre line: it refuses to answer the question of whether Abraham Van Helsing legitimately hunted vampires or was just a lunatic, and also has enough creepiness and gore to put it firmly in the horror camp even without any supernatural elements. "The Widow's Breakfast" is so non-genre that the little creepy twists sit oddly on it, like clothes that don't quite fit. If this were a music CD rather than a book, I'd reorder it so that those pieces came first or perhaps went off into their own little mini-album. Having them interspersed among the more powerful, kick-in-the-gut fantasies like "The Cape" (about which I will say nothing except that it should be read without preconceptions for the best effect) rings a bit of uncertainty, as though Hill worries that the reader will be overwhelmed. Personally, I'd rather be overwhelmed. I don't want to get up and stretch my legs between acts; like one of the true movie aficionados in "20th Century Ghosts", I want to have the lights stay low, to be kept in my seat for longer than I'm entirely comfortable with, to stand up and stagger out only when I'm absolutely sure it's over.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Full speed ahead... sort of

Eventually this will become some sort of official blog. Maybe.