Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Editing The Mirror Empire by Kameron Hurley

In the acquisitions meeting for The Mirror Empire, I argued very strongly for us to take on Kameron’s novel. I thought it was incredibly clever, complex and challenging to the reader. And I also thought, “Good luck to the person who is editing the novel!” Then I found out it was me...

The reason I wished good luck to the editor? Because of the task involved in ensuring that The Mirror Empire was not *too* challenging, while still retaining all of the flavour and the authorial voice, and allowing Kameron’s ambitious vision to be realised.

Because I am the editor of this novel, I cannot provide a review of The Mirror Empire, so instead I am going to tell you about the experience of editing it.

On a personal level, I would say sincerely that, were it not for my experience with analysing the Malazan series for, I would not have been able to edit The Mirror Empire. That series taught me patience in waiting for reveals, trusting the author to know where they were taking plotlines, and recognising that every now and then we, as readers, do need to be faced by a work that makes us think and expands our horizons.

On another personal level, I had edited YA novels mostly to this point and the idea of tackling well over 700 Word pages of manuscript was like a personal Everest!

And finally on yet another personal level, I was starstruck. Yep, I still get this way with authors I admire. How can I possibly tell an author who is such an effective wordsmith that they can improve their work?

Well, that is the role of an editor! To take the novel in front of you and consider what is going to make it better. How is the pacing? Is the author effectively carrying their reader with them? Is every scene necessary to drive forward the plot?

With The Mirror Empire, I felt that, in the form it originally came to me, the start of the novel was confusing in how each storyline related to each other, and the timeline involved. So my first request was to have some scenes switched around in order to have the reader invested from the word go, and not to spend too much time asking questions like ‘How, why, who?’

My next key issue was with the agency of the character Lilia. Although she was a young character, and therefore probably more inclined to follow adult reasoning and decisions rather than making up her own mind, I felt that she was incredibly passive. She needed more agency and work on her storyline to ensure that readers would engage with her.

It didn’t take me more than a few pages before I wanted a map. And, when Kameron suggested the idea of a glossary, I leapt all over that as well. It IS a hard novel, and anything that assists the reader in understanding locations and terms rather than having to spend time puzzling them out, hence removing them from their immersion in the novel, is welcome.

The gender aspect of The Mirror Empire is obviously a key part of what makes it so seminal in the fantasy genre – the understanding that characters do not fit into boxes, or onto a very black and white spectrum. I had dual concerns about this that I felt Kameron should address. One was that it felt as though the gender aspect was rather dropped in after a number of chapters, so felt a little bit whiplash. I wanted to see it introduced more gracefully and gradually. The second point was ensuring that, at no point, did it feel as though the genders/relationships described were there simply to play with gender – they had to feel organic within the world.

My key style of editing is to always try and approach a novel as though I were a fresh reader – someone who has no idea of the ultimate direction of the story, and who is starting this novel with absolutely no preconceptions. Because of this, the manuscript that I returned to Kameron had lots of questions: ‘I don’t understand why this character is acting in this way?’, ‘How would we know that this had occurred without seeing more of it at an earlier stage?’ I acted like a reader who needed to have a really good grasp on all the world and the characters in order to enjoy the novel, and so asked the questions I felt needed answering in order to improve the experience.

I also suggested gently that Kameron reduce the novel by between 10,000 and 20,000 words. It is a beast of a novel, and was even longer when I received it. Some scenes felt a little filler, so I marked out what I felt could be removed and still keep the novel focused.

I guess every editor is apprehensive when they send their editorial letter and the marked-up manuscript to their author. Obviously, WE think that we are making good suggestions, but there is always a fear that the author may disagree, or feels as though you are changing the ultimate nature of the novel. I think that we just have to be as diplomatic as possible, and always let the author know that we are editing the novel because we acquired it, which means we LOVE it. All of the suggestions come from a position of partnership, rather than criticism.

My final point is to refer to the reviews that I read of The Mirror Empire. Yes, I’ve been reading them! I’m so very glad that people are enjoying this novel and, indeed, finding it clever, complex and challenging. But please do not fool yourself that when I read something that suggests this section is too difficult, or that scene feels surplus, or this, or that, or the other, that I don’t kick myself and wonder if it’s something that I should have picked up as Kameron’s editor. I wanted this novel to be the very best it could be, and I think I helped somewhat, so it feels like a personal failure if readers then fail to engage. Even when it is just one reader. Editors, as well as authors, sometimes read reviews and have to bite their tongue or take a deep breath and accept valid criticism!

Thank you for reading this insight into how I edited The Mirror Empire, and I sincerely hope that you enjoy the novel when you choose to read it.

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Top Ten Tuesday - the Authors for Which I Own the Most Books

Hmm, that's a clumsy title, non? But this week's Top Ten Tuesday is really to list the authors I support the most, I guess!

1. Charles de Lint

I now own forty-seven books by this gentleman - novels, novellas, limited editions, story collections, picture books. One day I'll own them all! I have really had to make an effort to collect his books, since they need to be imported, or found on rare book sites (since quite a few of them were produced by Subterranean Press in the US). Every time I travel to the States I go in search of more of them.

Now the more shameful part - how many have I actually read? Three. Yep. Woeful. Do you know why? I have Charles de Lint as my rainy day author, the person I know I can go to in order to read stunning stories and beautiful prose. But those rainy days are too far apart, it seems.

2. David Gemmell

I own thirty-one novels by this author, which is pretty much all of them, I believe! And, amazingly, I have read all of them too. And reread most of them at least once. Most of this reading happened in my teens, when I first discovered Gemmell - my first novel of his was Knights of Dark Renown. Despite my efforts, I've not yet found heroic fantasy that entertains me as much as these books do.

3. Fiona Walker

This delightful chick lit/bonkbuster author has penned fourteen awesome and clever novels. Of them, I have read nine, so I am due a big catch up!

4. Sharon Shinn

I own fifteen novels by Shinn, which is far from all the work she has produced. Of them, my favourites are still her Samaria series about the Archangels, but I am coming to love her other novels as well. I own fifteen novels, but still need to read nine of them!

5. Sharon Penman

This wonderful historical novelist has penned thirteen novels. I own all but the latest, which is King's Ransom (published this year). I have read seven and cannot wait to dive into the ones that I haven't tackled yet. I often say that The Sunne in Splendour is my favourite novel of all time, and this is a great showcase of her talents.

6. Tamora Pierce

I own sixteen novels by this fantastically prolific YA author. I've been reading her since I was twelve years old and have, without exception, loved all her books. I haven't yet read any of the novels featuring the Circle of Magic series - I've been a devotee of Tortall and Alanna.

7. Freya North

I own twelve and have read seven. I first read this author in my early twenties, and liked her style then, but have reread some of the novels lately and find them less appealing. She does have a warm chatty style of writing that definitely isn't for everyone!

8. David Eddings

Another big hitter on the fantasy scene, and I own a massive twenty-six novels by this author, even some of his non-fantasy works like High Hunt and Regina's Song. I found that Eddings worked to the law of diminishing returns - his earlier novels were his best, and the latter felt more like rehashed efforts - but nostalgia has me owning most of those he published.

9. Maeve Binchy

I own twenty books by this warm-hearted author, most of those she has published. I like to save her novels for when I need comfort reading, because it's like sitting in a huge armchair with a hot chocolate, getting to know her characters.

10. The Malazan novels

I own the ten novels in the main Malazan series, the six published by Ian Cameron Esslemont, the five novellas in the Bauchelain and Korbal Broach series, and new start of the Kharkanas work. Plus, I have the three stunning special editions from Subterranean Press that have been published so far. I only wish I had the money to carry on buying these!

Over to you now - which authors are those that you own the most books for?

Monday, 28 July 2014

How much is too much for an event?

On 19th August two rather famous authors are having an evening chatting to each other in the Freemasons' Hall in London. These authors are George R R Martin and Robin Hobb, two authors who I have read and absolutely loved. All sound good so far? Did to me as well, until I realised that the event was being charged at £45. On a personal level, I cannot afford that amount, but I know that that isn't going to worry the publisher or authors, considering that my Twitter timeline is full of people stating that they've already brought their tickets.

I think that £45 is too much for an author event, no matter how famous the authors are or how many spoilers George *might* reveal about The Winds of Winter. I had a look and, for the same price, you can get a day pass to Nine Worlds, which would allow you to see many authors in conversation - and, I'm sure, if you take along books by those authors, you would be able to get them signed.

For absolute free, Fantasy Faction are hosting the Grim Gathering, an evening with Peter V Brett, Joe Abercrombie, Mark Lawrence and Myke Cole. For free! Why, therefore, are we being charged to see £45 to see two authors?

One person suggested that this is now how publishers/authors will make their money - like bands now have to tour in order to make money because they are certainly not making money from selling music in these days of downloading and piracy. We've often asked how exactly authors make any money, and maybe now we have the answer.

Or perhaps the high fee is to pay for the location which is, frankly, gorgeous:

Just to add in another book event for discussion (one that is much cheaper), let's look at the Gollancz Festival. Here we have authorial powerhouses such as Joe Hill and Patrick Rothfuss. The cost? £6. For a whole evening of fun, and several organised panels.

So, I do ask, would you pay £45? Why? What makes this event so special, compared to the others I mention? Just the presence of GRRM?

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Covet by Tracey Garvis Graves

What if the life you wanted, and the woman you fell in love with, belonged to someone else?

Chris and Claire Canton’s marriage is on life support. Downsized during the recession and out of work for a year, Chris copes by retreating to a dark place where no one can reach him, not even Claire. When he’s offered a position that will keep him away from home four nights a week, he dismisses Claire’s concern that time apart could be the one thing their fragile union can’t weather. Their suburban life may look idyllic on the outside, but Claire has never felt so disconnected from Chris, or so lonely.

Local police officer Daniel Rush used to have it all, but now he goes home to an empty house every night. He pulls Claire over during a routine traffic stop, and they run into each other again at the 4th of July parade. When Claire is hired to do some graphic design work for the police department, her friendship with Daniel grows, and soon they’re spending hours together.

Claire loves the way Daniel makes her feel, and the way his face lights up when she walks into the room. Daniel knows that Claire’s marital status means their relationship will never be anything other than platonic. But it doesn’t take long before Claire and Daniel are in way over their heads, and skating close to the line that Claire has sworn she’ll never cross.

Tracey Garvis Graves shows us in her second novel that On the Island was no fluke, and she knows how to write a good story about love and relationships. Covet is a quiet examination of suburban life, with a wife who feels lonely enough to make friends with a man who is not her husband.

I particularly liked the different storytelling techniques that were demonstrated here - multiple viewpoints, short chapters, and flashbacks that enabled us to see the relationship between Claire and Chris before they were afflicted by difficult life situations.

What I liked less is that this was a very slight book, considering the interesting characters that moved through Claire's life with their own troubles and subplots. I would have liked more character development - people like Elisa and Julia were paper-thin, presented like sweeping watercolour snapshots rather than carefully inked-in portraits. We were given enough to be intrigued about them, but never enough to be truly drawn in.

In addition to this, Tracey Garvis Graves has an 'and then' style of writing, where everything is described - even a stomach bug suffered by three members of the family where we got to see each vomiting episode. It's too much, and leads to more telling, and less showing.

In conclusion, a read that entertained but didn't ultimately satisfy and will be forgotten within a month or so. Unlike On the Island, which stayed in the mind because of the controversial and provocative subject matter, Covet is a light read that is good for the beach in the summer.

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Son of the Morning - Mark Alder

Edward the Third stands in the burnt ruin of an English church. He is beset on all sides. He needs a victory against the French to rescue his Kingship. Or he will die trying.

Philip of Valois can put 50,000 men in the field. He has sent his priests to summon the very Angels themselves to fight for France. Edward could call on God for aid but he is an usurper. What if God truly is on the side of the French?

But for a price, Edward could open the gates of Hell and take an unholy war to France...

I have now read three novels by this author - Girlfriend 44 by Mark Barrowcliffe, Wolfsangel by M D Lachlan, and now this, Son of the Morning by Mark Alder (I don't think he'll mind the reveal of his pseudonyms - he's pretty open about it!) Out of the three, this is undisputedly, and by a long way, the best.

It is a fantasy novel embedded within historical events and, while I've seen this done before, I don't think I've seen a world built so realistically within fantastical terms. Honestly, it makes you believe that angels did indeed fight on the side of righteous kings. Although I sometimes got my devils and demons mixed up - they are very different entities in this novel - I was gripped from the beginning and found myself utterly engrossed in the world of high and lowborn men, affected by their worship of either God, Lucifer or Satan.

With astonishing battle scenes and some truly lovely prose - especially during the materialisation of the angels into their chapels - Mark Alder has achieved a rich tapestry of a novel. So why not a five star read?

For me personally, I find that Mark (in all his authorial guises) writes very entertaining and three dimensional characters, and yet somehow I'm not drawn to them. I feel as though there is a veil between the reader and the character that prevents them being completely engaging. They are rather clinical instead of being warm, and I felt the lack. Although Montagu, Edward, Osbert, Charles and Dowzabel had moments of dignity and honour, ridicule and humour, there was little of the emotion behind the character, in my opinion.

Despite this, I eagerly read to the end of this beast of a novel, and would very much welcome more in this world. Definitely recommended.