Sunday, 12 June 2011

It's Easier to Pretend in the Dark: Redux

If there's one thing your published story shouldn't do, it's surprise you.

I'd think most writers would agree it's a worry, though.  When I have a new story out, I always find myself skimming through with a mixture of pleasure and vague dread, glad to see something I laboured over out where other people get to poke at it but fearful I'll find some dumb mistake I missed - or worse, much worse, some dumb mistake an editor decided to slip in.

That second one has only happened once before.  And really, the two changes that had been made were, while both bizarre and erroneous, so subtle that I'd like to think no one else could have spotted them as mistakes.

In the case of It's Easier to Pretend in the Dark, as recently published in the Escape Velocity anthology, the changes were more drastic.  Considering that it's only a little over a thousand words, finding about a dozen significant changes I'd never agreed to was a bit of a blow.  Most of them were, in fairness, pretty minor in the scheme of things, a dash replaced with a semi-colon here and a few line breaks removed there.  None of those seemed to add much, but none of them did any significant damage either.  Stuff like that, I could live with, even if I didn't much like it.

Two, however, were a lot more significant.  One cut three lines and forty four words for no apparent reason.  The other, on first reading, seemed to break the story entirely.

I took these concerns to co-editor Geoff Nelder, who I'd met, and liked, both in person and online.  Considering we'd worked together to hammer out a redraft based on his suggestions when the story was first accepted, the changes seemed all the more strange.  We batted some e-mails back and forth.  It turned out that some of the alterations were the result of a reedit I'd never received, some were likely made by the anthology's second editor Robert Blevins.  A couple were probably just mistakes.  Geoff was very nice about it, and promised to try and fix what could be fixed.  He also pointed out that I was seeing from an author's point of view, and that readers seemed to be managing to enjoy and make sense of It's Easier to Pretend regardless.

I felt better.  A bit.  But not a whole lot.

When I first noticed the changes, my gut instinct was to wash my hands of the anthology and of the version of my work it contained, as being so far from what I'd intended that I didn't really want my name on it.  If I thought all the stories in the collection had been messed with so extensively, that's exactly what I'd have done.  But right now, based on what Geoff has said, it looks like I just got really unlucky.

Still.   It's Easier to Pretend is out there, it's a bit of a mess and as far as anyone knows, I wrote it that way.  So, what I agreed with Geoff is that I'll make the two major changes public here.  That way, when ten years from now some lunatic comes up to me raging about how my story didn't make any damn sense and starts threatening me with their Ebola-gun, I can point them to this blog post.  At which point, they'll probably shoot me anyway for referring to something as hopelessly outmoded as a "blog".

Anyway ... obviously, this won't make a heck of a lot of sense to anyone who hasn't already read It's Easier to Pretend in the Dark.  Or for that matter, to anyone who has no intention of doing, or just plain doesn't care.  To those people I say, well done for getting this far, but you might want to give up on the post at this point.

Are they gone?  Right!  Here's major change number one:

After the line, "With that realisation the illusion broke.  But by then it was already far too late", there should be a section break.  That's to say, time passes - a few hours worth.  Stuff happens.  If you were wondering why one minute they're in bed and the next minute they're fully clothed and the protagonist is mentioning how he's just been somewhere else for the last few hours and talking like he's just arrived when you know full well he hasn't - well, that's why.  It's probably not a big deal unless you really think about it.  But if you really think about it, it makes the whole first half of the story pretty damn stupid.

Secondly, the end of the middle section should read as follows.  The excised lines - the ones that were kind of intended as a coda to the entire piece - are the ones in italics.  As should be apparent, the alternate spelling of maid, which was also removed, is deliberate and also pretty crucial.  And no, I have no idea how he's managing to pronounce it like that.  Maybe in the future they have special speech organs that let them verbally distinguish consonants or something.

He struggled for something, anything, that might remove this man from his house.  "It’s my wife.  I don’t think she’d want another mAID."
"Oh?  Because we could get your appliance back on its feet if you wanted to discuss it with her?"
"No ... no, thank you."
"Well.  It will be a couple of days."
"The woman I talked to said..."
"We’re a little busier than expected."
"Oh."  Henrietta would be back tomorrow.  What could he possibly say?
"If that’s everything ...  Android Interactive Domestics thanks you for your custom."
The engineer gave him a disinterested nod, and--when Jefferson made no move to do so--let himself out.  Moments later, Jefferson heard the whirr of an engine.  Jane would be in the back: foam-packed, laid out, inactive or comatose or whatever you’d call it.  What would you call it?
What the hell word is there for that? 
He’d asked when they’d first hired her, "What does the "m" stand for?  Why is it mAID?" 
"It doesn’t stand for anything, sir.  That’s why it’s in lower case." 
Yet somehow, that letter turned a machine into something you could almost believe was human. 
What could he say to Henrietta?

Well, there we go.  Here's hoping I've saved myself from a nasty future bout of Ebola.

In fairness, I should point out that I haven't had a chance to dig too deeply into my copy of the Escape Velocity anthology, but I've enjoyed what I'd read so far, there a heck of a lot of talented authors involved, and all told, I'd hazard a bet it's a damn good read.  For that matter, it's also really bargainously priced in its e-book format.  So I hope nothing I've said here puts anyone off buying it.

Thanks once again to Geoff for treating my complaint seriously, for whatever future efforts he makes to put it right, and for agreeing for me to sum up our conversations here.

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