“I Don’t Think it Means What You Think it Means”

Final-CoverThe pre-publication prep on Yamada Monogatari: Demon Hunter is drawing to a close. So far the manuscript has been proofread by two people other than myself, and if any typos remain it wasn’t for lack of effort in hunting them down. It’s always best to have a pair of eyes other than your own when cleaning up a book—it’s far too easy to read what you expect to be there and what should be there rather than what actually is there. And no matter how long a manuscript sits, you’re never going to be able to review it with the objectivity that someone from the outside brings. That’s just the way it is.

Speaking of the way things are, the book already has its first review. From a reviewer who couldn’t finish it. You see, all the chapters “read like short stories.”

I know I heard a few of you snorting your coffee, or whatever beverage of choice, just now. “There’s a reason for that,” you might say, as did I when I first read the review. And it would be easy enough to slag on a reviewer who massively missed the point, but that itself would be missing the point. See, this is the exact opposite of the problem above. The book/story whatever it is, it’s your baby. You know it better than anyone. So well, so involved that you can never be completely objective about it. That’s when you’re trying to make it presentable to show the world, but then comes the next step—you show the world. And not anyone out there is going to know, to the core of their beings, as you do—just what is in front of them. Sure, it’ll look like a book, and have pages and words and things like, you know, a book. After that you’re into the realm of interpretation. Inevitable, completely out of your control, interpretation. Your book has left your world, where it was cherished and understood, and gone out into a world that, frankly, isn’t inclined to cut it any slack at all. They might read the cover copy about what your or another reader might have believed the book was about, but everyone knows that this much of it is hype and pitch. They will make up their own minds, thank you very much.

Here’s the thing—whatever your intention in creating it, you don’t get to decide what the book is. People who are not you are going to read the book (or attempt to). More to the point, they’ll compare it to their inner framework that tells them what a book is. Maybe that inner framework can’t take into account the fact that the book is a collection of short stories. Maybe they never read short stories. Maybe they don’t even know magazines and short stories exist. Don’t laugh, I’ve come across a few readers like that. Or they know about them but never read them. A book of fiction is a novel, and that’s how they’ll read your work, and find it lacking because it’s not a very good novel. Saying “It’s not a novel!” won’t melt any ice, because what you say the book is has no framework in their world, and you’re not going to be there to explain it anyway and it wouldn’t matter if you were.

I learned a long time ago that what I wrote wasn’t always what people read. Listening to reader interpretations of a story or book of mine over the years has been–and I hope continues to be–fascinating. If you’re a writer, you’ll probably see the same thing. There’s no point griping about it because, even though people will always read the book they think they’re reading and seldom the one you wrote, they’re not wrong. They decide what your work is for them: joyous or depressing, deep or ordinary. That’s their right.

What matters is that, now and then, you connect with a reader or two who is ready to read the book or story you actually wrote. They’re the ones you’re really writing for, and all you can hope for is that you find them.

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Yamada Monogatari: Demon Hunter — Update

We’re still on track for a February release, and so far everything’s looking great. I’ve been in the loop on the cover design progress, and we’re close to having a final. When that’s done I plan to post some of the preliminary images to show what changes/refinements a cover might go through before it’s ready for–pardon the expression–Prime time. But we’re not quite there.

For now, and knowing that there will be readers who haven’t a clue who Lord Yamada is, this is a working draft of a proposed introduction. It may and likely will change a bit before it goes live, but this is the gist:

“This book is about a man named Yamada no Goji and set during a time in ancient Japan now known as the Heian period. Although the term is derived from the capital city during the era—Heian-kyō (modern Kyōto)—the word heian simply means means “peace and tranquility.” In comparison to the later feudal era of Japan, when the rise of the samurai class meant every two-bit lording and their armies were at each others’ throats, the word is probably appropriate.

A time of learning, great poetry, and literature, the Heian period (794 – 1185) is rightly considered Japan’s Golden Age, at least for the upper classes, but they had their problems:

Demons. Ghosts. Monsters.

While the political situation was relatively stable, the spiritual universe of Heian Japan was in the grip of powerful supernatural forces, most of them malicious and all extremely dangerous. That’s where Yamada no Goji comes in. A minor aristocrat from a nearly extinct clan, he has no property and no family connections. What he does have is a sharp sword, an even sharper mind, and a willingness—if the price is right—to use both to take on any monster the Heian underworld can throw at him.

“Monogatari” just means “story” and this is Yamada’s story, or at least part of it. I originally envisioned him as a sort of Japanese Sam Spade. That original tone is clearest in the first section, “Fox Tails.” But, as characters often do, Yamada had his own ideas about that. Still, that’s where it all started, and that’s where this book starts. Where it ends…well, I hope you’ll enjoy finding that out for yourself.

—Richard Parks”

Bits of Pieces

This is going to be a sort of general update post. It’s not that a lot is happening, but some things are happening, things that, for a change, don’t have a lot to do with the daily grind of getting all the things done that I have to get done before I can do the things that I wanted to do in the first place. If you understand that—and I’m betting that most of you do—you’ll get how even a few changes can nudge the needle past So? all the way to Hey! Worth Noting.

First of all, after floundering for a bit (okay, five months), I’m starting to make some headway on the sequel to Black Kath’s Daughter. I still have a long way to go, but forward motion, believe you me, is an improvement. And if everything works out the way I think it’s going to, I’ll finally make a proper connection between the Amaet who was the bane of Tymon’s existence in The Long Look with the Amaet who is the creator of The Arrow Path and the bane of Marta’s existence in Black Kath’s Daughter. And vice versa, truth be told. The working title is: Power’s Shadow. Subject to change, being a working title and all.

The Yamada novel (To Break the Demon Gate) is still on track at PS Publishing for release early next year. So is the Prime Books collection of Yamada stories, Yamada Monogatari: Demon Hunter. One interesting thing when working with a smaller publisher is that sometimes you actually have some input into the cover design. Not always, but sometimes. I found the image we used for the first mockup of the Yamada collection, but the consensus (and I agree with it) was that it was both too modern and too “horror.” Yes, there are demons in the Yamada stories (and ghosts, and youkai, and…well, lots of such things, and anyone who’s read them knows that already) and they can be dark at times, but definitely not horror, so that’s not going to work. We’re still looking for something with the right atmosphere, and finding just the perfect thing is going to be tricky. When the cover is set I’ll put it up here as soon as the publisher okays it.

A couple of final notes—“In the Palace of the Jade Lion” from Beneath Ceaseless Skies #100 got a Recommended from Rich Horton in the October  Locus Magazine. It’s not as if that’s the first time I’ve gotten one, but it’s always cool. And the most recent Yamada story, “Three Little Foxes,” is due to go live up at BCS in the next few days. I’ll post a link here when that happens.