|Using the blue pencil (and the red, and the green...)
||[May. 29th, 2011|07:05 pm]
I've finally been able to confirm that the UK rights for the Horse Lord / Book of Years series have completely reverted to me (though not yet the US ones – or the Philippines; why there, I wonder, and not, say, Puerto Rico?) and I'm prepping them for release as e-books, as Diane has been doing with her Young Wizards. It's given me a chance – as the dead-tree versions never did – to do some re-working, because I doubt there's a writer on the planet who hasn't looked at their early work and thought "migod you didn't ort to write a sentence like that molesworth!"
Or several sentences. Or a paragraph. Or a continuity blunder.
I've always been good at spotting those, though it's a talent that's most useful before something appears in print; afterwards can be annoying, especially when (in a recent example) the writer's finished work has been through a series of test-readers, an editor, a copy-editor and a final check of the galleys.
So it's a bit embarrassing to find one that's been in every single edition of The Horse Lord, especially when it doesn't even have the excuse of a chapter or so of action between setup and dénouement. On p.90 (UK trade) p.91 (US mass)
Aldric nodded, but slung Widowmaker round his shoulder nonetheless.Unfortunately on p.92 of both editions
The girl's sharp eyes had noticed a fine taiken racked on the bedroom wall…And yes, the taiken longsword is Widowmaker. In two places at once. Oops. That's going to get fixed…
There won't be massive changes; this book's been popular for 28 years, and I had evidence of that popularity a couple of days back (for which many thanks, la_marquise_de_ - gosh, I'm mentioned in some impressive company!) so if ever there was a case of Si Non Confectvs Non Reficiat, this is it. But after those 28 years I can construct a better sentence than some of those from 1982, I can certainly write better dialogue, I know not to call mail "chainmail" any more – and I can remove my own guilty example of a pet peeve from fantasy that's started creeping into supposedly historical work as well.
It's the business of a sword slung over the owner's back and drawn from that position. The question kept coming up on Swordforum and NetSword, and nobody was able to offer any historical evidence, never mind pictorial proof, that carrying a sword that way ever happened in Europe. Seeing it done in Braveheart and King Arthur is neither evidence nor historical. But in 1982, what do we find Peter writing?
Aldric unhooked the longsword's scabbard from his weaponbelt and pulled its shoulder strap across so that the sheath rose slantwise to his back, well clear of his legs...then he gripped the long hilt rearing like an adder by his head, twisted it to loose the locking-collar and drew.Once again, oops. That too is going to get fixed, because after experimenting with some of my own replicas (gosh, isn't Polyfilla spackle useful stuff?) it's clear that neither Aldric nor anyone else could perform this trick without arms like an orangutan or gibbon. What I did in later books was to have the across-the-back carry as a commonly-accepted "peace position", thus producing a useful bit of dramatic "business" where releasing the cross-strap so that it slides down to "ready position" for a fast draw is a direct threat, and possibly an insult as well.
Fast draw, with a sword? Yes indeed, like Japanese-style iaijutsu, because the first incarnation of Alban swords, culture and customs was very samurai-influenced. In the late '70s-early 80s it was unusual, and a change from the more usual Celtic/Viking/Medieval settings, which is why I did it, and there weren't many others. Without checking the bookshelves, I can think of Richard Lupoff's Sword of the Demon and Jessica Amanda Salmonson's Tomoe Gozen, C.J. Cherryh's superb Morgaine Cycle (especially Gate of Ivrel), a surprisingly small number of short stories, and of course me.
The fun part is to see how my fictional society evolved into something different; honourable suicide seems like a great device for dramatic tension. When you discover that it means your protagonist (all right, hero and favourite character) won't reach the end of the chapter, never mind the end of the book, it's not such a good idea, and you start looking for ways to keep him alive. When that attitude starts to influence the entire culture, soon you're dealing with people who've laid a thin veneer of lip-service honour over a bedrock of ruthless, scary pragmatism.
And that's much more interesting than ersatz samurai... :-)
I would be happy to see new editions, some of my copies are getting very worn and I prefer to buy ebooks these days. I would be even happier to see book five.
There'll be new e-editions of Diane's earlier Young Wizard
titles too. She posts here
about similar revision.
It's partly because like me, she feels that the writing isn't as good as in the later books, but also because the tech in those books is in the awkward position of being either non-existent rather than all-pervasive, like cellphones or so old it's dated badly, but hasn't got old enough to be historical.
In 2011, reading about a 1980s desk with a typewriter and a fountain pen on it sends a very different message than the same desk with a CRT-and-floppy computer presented as state-of-the-art at time of writing, while writing code
is so far from the experience of her modern YA target audience that it no longer works as a plot device (thought it might turn out to be a Chekhov's Skill.)
I'm in a similar though less extreme situation, trying to decide how much swordfighting terminology needs replaced. The Japanese analogues will probably go away in favour of European equivalents from Liechtenauer or dei Liberi; it was information unavailable when I first wrote the book, and in any case I was riding that samurai hobbyhorse. However I already know that overusing
them is a bad idea. It's the sword-y equivalent of getting bogged down in describing load, calibre and muzzle velocity, or horsepower, acceleration and fuel consumption, when what's needed is shooting or driving action
I once read a sword-fight example where all the names of guards and strikes were in their correct Middle German, and though I knew what they meant, visualising what was going on was very difficult. Someone who doesn't know what's meant by Zornhau
(wrath stroke) and vom Tag
(roof guard) or, from dei Liberi, posta mezzana porto di ferro
(half iron door position) and Posta di dente di cinghiale
(boar's-tooth position) is going to so completely lost that they'll just stop reading.
And that would be Bad.
As for the fifth book, I'm as keen as anyone else to find out what happens next. I have a couple of chapters already completed and a lot of fragments to be slotted into chapters yet unwritten, so I suppose I really should settle down and prepare an outline (even though Horse Lord
, Demon Lord
and Dragon Lord
were all written without one, or nothing more than a one-page premise.)
AND they were written on a typewriter, so cut-and-paste was a lot...stickier...than it is now. "Impossible to put down" was sometimes more literal fact than cover blurb. :-)