Garment of Shadows

March 4, 2012. I open a FedEx envelope from my publishers and find this:

It is accompanied by a letter, giving a deadline:

So I get to work, reading the manuscript aloud, using a red pen to correct spelling errors, change punctuation oddities, and make small corrections to smooth and clarify the story.  I find far, far too many repeats, which only crop up when the manuscript is read aloud.  And that is why a piece must always be read aloud:

Anything that requires more thought, or comparison with other sections of the text, I flag.  By March 8th, there are a depressing number of flags:

I am glad I’m not the typesetter. Or the poor woman who has to go through and transfer all my notes onto a master for the typesetter.

But I get to work, and sort our the kinds of problems that drive readers nuts: sand in Russell’s pockets after she’s changed her garments; half a dozen unclear sequences of events; a motive that’s a bit fuzzy; a missing reference to previous events; a scar on the wrong arm; a weapon that drifts in and out of reality; and several slight changes in emphases that transform scenes. And eventually, it’s clean:

So today, March 16, I put it back in a FedEx envelope along with a heartfelt note of abject apology, and on Monday my editor will get it and her Copy Chief Kelly will despair, and it will go on to the typesetter and in September, readers will open the covers (or click the link) and begin to uncover a whole set of undiscovered errors.

But there will be fewer of them, and I have done what I could to make the reading experience a happy one.

(And incidentally, the above is an illustration of why the Advanced Reading Copy is not the novel: what reviewers read in their ARCs is the manuscript before I have spent two solid weeks hammering away at the flaws.  If you’re tempted to buy an ARC when they appear on eBay next month, You Have Been Warned.)

Next stage: cover art.

Comments

  1. I never fail to be amazed at how many authors still opt to edit their own manuscripts. I guess that is why I am not seeing much work come my way lately. 🙁 It is a lot of work to get a manusript publishing-ready. I am really looking forward to reading your latest Mary Russell. I adore the whole series. You certainly are one of the best authors around, especially in the mystery genre. Keep up the excellent work!

  2. Melody Kitchens says:

    I would read it happily before you ever did a thing to it. As they say “warts and all” and I know from all your others that it would be GREAT. Thank you for giving me the world of Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes they make my world a more interesting place.

  3. Victoria Taylor says:

    Thanks for sharing part of your process. I love the idea of the multi-colored flags. And I cannot wait to read Garment of Shadows!

  4. I run a ballroom in Bellevue, WA and write on the side. THANK YOU for your wonderful novels and for letting us onto the secret that they’re not actually pristine perfect from the get-go. (I was pretty sure they were, you know!) I love the mound of flags–it gives me hope! (especially since you apparently managed to resolve them in relatively short order!)

    And it was such a pleasure hearing you speak at the Seattle Library in the U-District before God of the Hive came out. Your books and your observations are such a welcome intellectual adventure when my feet and heart are sore from teaching beginning dancers and from trying to encourage otherwise-competent adults to do something scary and unfamiliar– but there must be dancing! And thank heavens, Folly, Keeping Watch, Mary Russell & the rest are all waiting for me at home at the end of each long night. Bless you & thank you for continuing to write!

  5. How exciting. And fascinating. (By the way, is that ‘our’ in paragraph 6 a deliberate error or in need of correction? 😉

  6. Interesting about the reading out loud — I think that that is the single most repeated comment I make on the papers my students submit. Most of the awkward sentences or … bizarre paragraphs would be remedied if they read it out loud before declaring it finished. Huge difference between “hearing” your mistakes and proofreading!!

  7. Lucy Elizabeth says:

    I have just recently discovered this series, and after two weeks of reading all of the Mary Russell books, I must say that I have an extreme amount of respect for what you do. I can understand that the process to compose and publish one of these books is long and sometimes tedious, but I can tell you from a reader’s point of view that it is certianly worth it. Your books are not just the adventures of Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes, but pieces of art; the words flow smoothyl from page to page, creating vivd images in the reader’s mind and instilling feeling and emotions towards the characters so that these people are not fictional characters, but real people with personalities and lives that captivate everyone who picks up one of these spectacular books. Your work is truly inspiring and has influenced many who have read your books. I truly hope that you will continue writing, even if it is just short stories because if you truly stop writing, the world will be losing the creative mind of one brilliant author.

  8. Elizabeth Rose says:

    Are the flags colour coded for different types of correction?
    Liz

    • Laurie King says:

      Do I strike you as that organized a writer?
      No, they’re what I had in the dispenser. Hence the preponderance of one color, then another.

  9. Good point about reading aloud – especially dialogue. Writing technical prose for magazines is fraught with other potential pitfalls – beware the sub (editor) who inadvertently changes the meaning of a complicated technical process or the nomenclature of the equipment then does not check back with the author!

    Well done on the aircraft element of God of the Hive – as I read it from the local Library, I don’t have instant recall of the type BUT I checked it out at the time and you did well. By the way, to offer a pedantic general observation, the word “airplane” is pure American – as my old mentor at the Royal Aeronautical Society always explained, it’s an “aeroplane” or an “aircraft” but I do understand the changing nature of the vocabulary, especially when divided by the Atlantic Ocean.

    Mike the TBFO

  10. I’m also impressed by the fact that not only did you meet the deadline but you did it in plenty of time! So, yes Laurie, that suggests an organised writer!

  11. Victoria Taylor says:

    After seeing this post I remembered a previous post about a writer’s tools, where you spoke about using fountain pens, and then the computer to write. My question is, do you use specific writing software, or just word processing like MS Word? Anyone out there have any recommendations?

  12. Jim Wyche says:

    Ms. King, I want to thank you for the way your Mary Russell work has inspired me to study the time periods in which she lives. It takes me a long time to finish a book because almost every page drives me to Google images and to historical sources to understand the issues and photos of the era. You and Mary Russell are a real part of my continuing education. I’m in your debt.
    JW

    • Laurie King says:

      What a lovely idea, Russell’s memoirs as a format for history studies. Thanks for this, Jim.

  13. I have recently discovered Mary Russell and became an instant fan. One of the things that impresses me most, besides the felicity of Ms. King’s prose, is the care taken to avoid anachronisms and out-of-place speech mannerisms (contrast A. Horowitz’s “The House of Silk”). However, exaggerated use of Britishisms can lead to trouble. For example. the following passage on page 169 of “A Monstrous Regiment of Women,” in which Mary takes a haughty attitude with a police functionary, gave me a laugh, and my Oxford-born Summerville educated girlfriend was also amused:

    “Young man, if you wish to attain higher rank in your chosen profession, might I suggest that you learn to kerb what is obviously a deep-seated tendency towards ill manners?”

    “Kerb” is the correct British spelling for the margin of a sidewalk. It does not mean “restrain”; that is “curb” in England as well in the States.

  14. I ALWAYS read your books aloud so my husband and I can share the mystery (he cooks dinner meanwhile) – and we try to solve it first! It’s so much fun to share Russell and Holmes with him, and tour the locations together in our minds.

    And yes, one does notice repeats reading aloud.. Thank you for all your work. And try not to let the publisher make you go too fast!

  15. A fan of deduction says:

    I just did a writing assignment about the San Fransisco earthquake of 1906. And the book locked rooms is a key motivator for my whole powerpoint. and my grade was a good one too!

  16. Sorry friends, it’ll take me a while to catch up on these comments. But to begin:

    Kate: oh, absolutely the our is a deliberate test of your eyes and acumen. Completely. No typos here.

    Mike the TBFO: Did I use the word airplane in the book? I generally use aeroplane. Or was it when an American was speaking?

    Victoria: No, I just use Word. I have Scrivener, paid for it because other writers said it was so great, but I’ve never been able to figure it out.

    Larry: Sorry, yes I was aware of Kerb and curb, but clearly my fingers forgot, my eyes went past it, and as for the spell check (or, cheque…)

    And F of D: glad to provide inspiration–but never forget, novelists lie for their living!

    Laurie

  17. “Justice Hall” p.111: “It was peaceful in that lonely place populated only by a stand of gnarled stones and abandoned trees.” Are the adjectives reversed? Surely, “abandoned stones and gnarled trees” makes rather more sense.

  18. I have a copy of “Locked Rooms” published by Bantam, print 2 4 6 8 9 7 5 3 1. On p.76 there appears to be an abrupt change of scene from a bookstore in Chinatown to a street where “Another waiter” passes. As there was no waiter in the bookstore, I wonder if I have a misprinted copy.

    • Laurie King says:

      At the start of the chapter, three pages earlier (73-4 in my version), she refers to “narrowly avoiding collision with a heavily laden silver tray of fragrant covered bowls…” So no, it’s not a misprint, though if you didn’t catch that brief earlier reference it would indeed appear confusing.

  19. Thank you.

  20. Twice in “Locked Rooms” you describe Holmes and Russell as having sailed down the Suez Canal and the Dead Sea to disembark at Aden. The geography makes no sense. The Dead Sea does not communicate with either the Suez Canal or Aden. It is hundreds of mile to the north in Palestine, and is probably not navigable by steamer. Surely, you mean “Red Sea.”

  21. I have just finished “The God of the Hive,” and feel a need to get something off my chest. For those who have not yet read the book, be aware that this post contains a MAJOR SPOILER.

    In the Epilogue, the author says, “The Labour government was voted out a few weeks later following a piece of highly dubious political chicanery that bore all the hallmarks of West’s office.” West was the villain of the piece, a shadowy civil servant, like Mycroft, involved in murky Intelligence operations and black ops. His motivation, beyond personal ambition, is unclear, although the author goes out of his way to say that (unlike Mycroft) he is a singularly focused anti-Bolshevik. To my mind, in 1924 (the date of the story) after the Munich Putsch had been put down, there was little else in European politics to be especially concerned about unless one had prescience bordering on the gift of prophecy.

    So, what was the “political chicanery” that brought down Ramsey Macdonald’s Socialist government? In actuality, it took comparatively little to do that, as the Labour government held only a plurality in the House of Commons and could not last long in the face of combined Tory-Liberal opposition. But Macdonald foolishly provided the cause of his own downfall:

    In the Summer of 1924, J.R. Campbell, the editor of “Workers’ Weekly,” the official organ of the Communist Party of Great Britain, published a leading article calling for all of His Majesty’s soldiers, sailors and airmen to mutiny by refusing to take up arms against enemy soldiers and, instead, turning their weapons on their “capitalist oppressors.” At the suggestion of Macdonald’s Attorney General, the independent Director of Public Prosecutions charged Campbell with sedition. That decision did not sit well with a number of radical Labour backbenchers who sympathized with Campbell’s position. They lobbied the Attorney General to drop the prosecution, possibly threatening to form a radical left-wing parliamentary party outside the governing party, which would have caused the government to crumble from within. In the event, the Attorney General succumbed to their demands and withdrew the prosecution of Campbell.

    Naturally, questions were asked, both by the press and in the House. The Government refused to admit the obvious political motivation for their decision. Instead, the Attorney General offered a variety of flimsy legalistic reasons for the decision to drop the case, none of which could be sustained as a matter of fact and which contradicted each other. For example, he said that it was doubtful that a conviction could be obtained, despite the fact that Campbell admitted what he did and offered only a defense of “justification,” which a jury with even a scintilla of patriotic spirit would find insulting. On the other hand, the AG also argued that Campbell’s conviction would turn him into a martyr. (The following year, the Tory government had no difficulty securing a conviction of Campbell and 11 other members of the Communist Party for violating the Incitement to Mutiny Act. Campbell was sentenced to six months in prison. He did not become a martyr.)

    In response to a question in the House, Prime Minister Macdonald asserted categorically that he had nothing to do with either the decision to initiate the prosecution or the decision to withdraw it; he was not even “consulted.” In a matter of days, highly credible witnesses appeared who contradicted that statement, and Macdonald was forced to appear before the House to clarify what he said. He admitted that his statement was “misleading,” but claimed that he misconceived the thrust of the question and he offered a highly technical definition of “consulted” (something like “it depends on what the definition of ‘is’ is”).

    The House of Commons overwhelmingly passed a motion censuring the Macdonald government for ITS chicanery and, accordingly, Parliament was dissolved. It is fair to note that at the same time these events were unfolding, Macdonald’s Foreign Minister was negotiating a controversial friendship treaty with the USSR and had just tacitly acquiesced in the Soviet Union’s conquest of the Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan.

    The Conservative Party won a decisive electoral victory less than three weeks later. ith

    There are obvious parallels between these events and the fall of Richard Nixon 50 years later. Both the Campbell scandal and Watergate involved executive interference for political purposes in the course of criminal prosecutions and subsequent dishonest attempts to cover it up.

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