Hello, good morning, and welcome to another Thursday. Welcome, also, to August.
Something has happened to me that’s happened to greater and finer authors than I: my new book, Unanimity, was too big/long to be published in the format I had chosen. This was initially spotted by an automated system but was confirmed by human double-checking. It was frustrating, of course, but not entirely unexpected.
Though I had been more or less emotionally prepared for such an eventuality, I still wasn’t sure what I should do. I could reduce the type size, and that might be effective, but I feared it would make at least the print version of the book difficult for many people to read. I could just make the book bigger, but again, I thought that might make it less likely that people would read the print version. A big volume is simply less wieldy than a smaller one.
I certainly wasn’t going to do what Stephen King was originally forced to do with The Stand and cut out large chunks of the novel. I’ve just spent months and months, possibly a year, pruning the story as much as I could while still leaving it in the form in which I conceived it. It is one of my rare—or not so rare—points of egotism, but I like my stories the way I write them. If their form is unsatisfactory to some, that’s fine. There are plenty of popular and high-quality books that I find mind-numbing, and some books that I love that others might consider crap. There’s nothing wrong with that. Some people love mushrooms and eggplant, while I find them literally nauseating. I don’t hold this against those who like them; in fact, I rather envy them the pleasure that’s available to them that’s not available to me. Ditto for shrimp and lobster.
Culinary considerations aside, I needed to decide how I was going to proceed. The only other person in the office at the time (I had stayed late to start working on publication), my friend Bill*, listened to my tale of woe (of inconvenience, really…I took the setback with good humor, knowing only too well that I’ve written a great book in the quasi-archaic literal sense if not the literary sense). He then said words along the lines of, “Well, didn’t your buddy have to break his book up into parts to have it published because it was so long?”
I didn’t know to which buddy he was referring at first. I couldn’t think of anyone I knew who’d been in a similar situation. So, he said, roughly, “You know, he wrote the…the books that they made into those movies.” I gradually caught on that he was referring to J. R. R. Tolkien and The Lord of the Rings. I’d never thought of Tolkien as “my buddy” before, but it was quite a pleasing thought. And Bill was right, of course. LotR was originally written as one long book (in six parts, also called books by Tolkien), but was much too long to be published in one ordinary volume. I don’t know for sure, but I think I’ve heard that George R. R. Martin had similar issues with Game of Thrones**.
Not completely convinced, despite the comparison to Tolkien, I also texted my sister, presenting several options, including the one Bill had suggested. She texted back that she wasn’t sure, but that her knee-jerk was to split it into two books.
When two people whose opinions I respect came to the same conclusion rapidly and rather strongly, all while reminding me of the history of my single favorite work of literature, I became convinced. Well, okay, it took a little more thinking about possibilities and new opportunities to cement the decision, but by morning I was there.
So, now, Unanimity is going to be published as two books—I like the irony—the first to be sometime within the next week-ish, and the second to be released on September 22nd. Doing this gave me the opportunity to adjust the cover art between the two, making the second a more intense, or advanced, stage of the first, if you will. This is quite pleasing, if rather frivolous. Also, after I’d already decided what to do, I went to look at where the break in books would come, and I realized that book one would end on a heck of a cliffhanger. Now that is almost enough to make a die-hard skeptic like me believe in fate. Not quite, but I’m happy to embrace the feeling.
You see, I don’t tend to write in chapters. Even The Chasm and the Collision, which has traditional, named chapters, was originally written as a continuous story. There are scene breaks, of course, as I write, and some of these end up becoming chapter breaks, but I don’t write with that in mind. Chapter division, in my writing, tends to come after the fact, as a way to break things up for the reader. It’s just psychological, but I absolutely get it. I also broke Unanimity up into four “parts”, because it is quite long, and would benefit from the additional psychological meta-commas provided.
This division is semi-arbitrary…but not completely so. I choose my breaks with care; I just do it after the fact. And when splitting the book into its parts, I had chosen to end the second part, the rough mid-point of the story, at a point of dramatic shock. And that’s going to work beautifully for the two-book form. I don’t quite have goosebumps about it, but it’s close. If I had a long moustache, I’d twirl it.
Of course, being who I am, I can’t just call the books Unanimity Book One and Unanimity Book Two. There must be titles, of sorts, for the individual volumes. Unanimity will still be the overarching title, but I want to give something of the character of the story in the two halves. This is slightly tricky. I’m almost completely decided on calling Book One Contagion, because I like the metaphor of disease…not just because of the current pandemic, but also because it’s how some characters eventually think of the threat faced in the story.
I particularly like a cancer metaphor, with the notion of Charley Banks as a transformed cell, no longer healthy or appropriately restrained, capable of uncontrollable spreading and invasion of the previously “healthy” tissues of society. In fact, I thought of titling the second book Metastasis, but when I bounced that title off a number of people, all of whom are reasonably well-educated and informed, I got a lot of blank stares. So, I may go with Malignancy, which I think is a more universally known term, one nevertheless fraught with horror.
I actually have some little bit of uncertainty about Contagion as the first title, and not just because it’s been a book title before. Contagion and Malignancy are slightly divergent metaphors, related to different disease processes. Perhaps I’m worrying too much about that, but it does eat at me***. I think maybe calling Book One Mutation or Transformation might be better and more consistent. But “mutation” might be a misleading term, and “transformation”, though a technical term in oncology, can have entirely benign connotations. Well, so can “mutation”, really. Actually, so can “unanimity”, when you get right down to it.
Maybe I’m overthinking things. Probably I’m overthinking things. Maybe I should just go with Book One and Book Two.
In any case, before long I’ll pull the trigger and you’ll see the result. For now, you can look forward to two books, each one easier to carry than the whole would have been. I think you’ll like them. I like them…and I’ve read Unanimity over and over and over and over and over and over and over. I’m not bored yet. Hopefully, that’s a good sign.
Do please let me know, when the time comes.
*Bill is a coworker with whom I get along partly because we have similar work ethics, and partly because of music. He also plays guitar, actually quite a lot better than I do, and has been playing for a lot longer. Some years ago, he recorded a personal CD of original songs, folk/rock style, just him singing along with acoustic guitar. He let me borrow (and rip) the CD. It’s very good. For a muscular guy who could easily pass for a construction worker/foreman, and who once had a bit part as a body-guard for a bad guy in an episode of Miami Vice, he’s got a real artistic, moving, sentimental quality to his music. I’ll try to get him to publish the CD, and if he does, I will give you all links to it.
**I think the broad title is A Song of Ice and Fire, but I’ve not read the books nor seen the show, so I could be wrong about this.
***Like a parasite. I tried to find good terms related to the field of parasitology, but nothing I’ve found works. It’s too bad, really.