The whole process of publishing The Reapers has stepped up a gear, as it usually does at this time of year. The first version of the UK cover has been presented and, apart from a minor problem with one of the illustrations that can easily be solved, it looks good. I think I present some difficulties for my publishers as I deliver my books a little later than they might ideally like, and therefore they have to base their initial cover designs on whatever I tell them the book is about rather than the book itself. There is always time to tweak once the manuscript is delivered, but I feel certain that, in their hearts of hearts, the good people in the design department spend a lot of time cursing me.
I do try to help by suggesting potential themes, but I suspect that such abstractions only hinder them further. They really are a very tolerant bunch, as it's not like they don't have other titles to worry about. In fact, given the number of books published by both Hodder & Stoughton, my UK publishers, and Atria, my US publishers, every year, it's amazing just how many fine cover designs their respective designers manage to come up with. The pressure on them must be quite intense. After all, they are the publishers' first line of attack in the bookstores: bad books can probably sell more on the basis of a good cover, but the sales of a good book will suffer if its cover can't quite live up to the contents.
In the meantime, another draft of the book itself has been completed as of today. It's still some way from finished, but in theory it could now be read from beginning to end while making some kind of sense, if the reader could find a way to forgive assorted inconsistencies, wrenching shifts in tone, and characters whose names change for no apparent reason halfway through the plot. I suppose that may be why the odd error seems to sneak through in each one of my books. It's a consequence of the way the books are written and the way in which I regard them: as narratives that are open to constant alteration and development. The more you rewrite, curiously, the more likely it is that mistakes will creep through. It's a Catch 22 situation with which I've had to learn to live.
Then again, I met an author during the summer who had not even begun his new book, and it was due at the start of October. I reckoned that left him with a window of four months in which to write it, which suggested a novel that would be delivered to the publishers in the form of a first draft. It's quite possible that it would be an excellent first draft, but I can't write that way. Sometimes, I wish I had that clarity of vision; that, or less of a perfectionist streak that will always, ultimately, be frustrated. As things stand, I've been working on the actual writing of The Reapers since the autumn of 2006, excluding any time spent mulling over it prior to actually typing the first words (and even they have changed in the interim). I keep thinking that there must be an easier way, but I just can't seem to find it.
Still, at least The Reapers now has a beginning, a middle, and an end that, to be honest, was a little surprising to me. Then again, that's one of the pleasures of not planning the novels down to the last detail: in the process of writing them themes begin to emerge, so that what might have begun life as an aside in the first chapter becomes, by the end, the basis for the book's defining moment. Maybe I'm a little more optimistic about the novel than I was earlier in the year. As this draft has proceeded the book, I think, has become more interesting. What began life as a light novel has assumed darker overtones. It will be an odd read, I suspect. I remember a British critic once commenting on Angel and Louis to the effect that she believed I found them funnier than they actually were. In fact, I've always been ambivalent about them, and that ambivalence finds its fullest expression in The Reapers. It becomes clear that they, along with Parker, the Fulcis, and Jackie Garner, are damaged individuals, and anyone who enters their sphere of influence believing otherwise is deluded. And so, as the book develops, their banter becomes a kind of denial of reality, a means of distancing themselves from the damage that they inflict upon others.
Then again, maybe I'm just thinking aloud here. Tomorrow, I will go back to the prologue and start rewriting again from the start, and I know that the book will change still further over the course of the new draft. By the time the novel is eventually delivered to my publishers what I have written above may have ceased to have any relevance, and may serve only as a pointer towards what might have been. Nevertheless, this is where the book currently stands, and this is how I think of it.
This week John read
Pegasus Descending by James Lee Burke
and listened to
Marry Me by St Vincent
A Walk Across the Rooftops by The Blue Nile (in preparation for a discussion of the album on RTE Radio 1 this Wednesday, September 5th, as part of "Drivetime with Dave" from 7pm. Listen live at www.rte.ie/radio/)