Sorry about the protracted silence.
This year has been kind of busy for me, and I've been head-down in a mountain of work rather than keeping up the blog. First on the agenda was my space opera for 2018, Ghost Engine, which is still not finished; it just keeps on growing. I'd been aiming to finish it before the new year, but a chest infection and some unforseen plot recomplications have kept it in play. And I was still writing when the copy edits for "The Delirium Brief" landed in my inbox for checking.
Copy editing is the process whereby a copy editor goes through an author's manuscript and turns it into something that might, once typeset, pass inspection as a book. A lot of this process is normalization and regularization of usage and grammar and spelling. Does the author write seventeen in one place or 17 in another? (Pick one.) Is the formatting of chapter titles consistent? Do they use the serial or Oxford comma convention, or not, and if not, is it needed? (And so on.) The copy editor does the heavy legwork of changing the manuscript, and the author then gets to go over it to review and approve their work.
Normally this is straightforward enough (although there are horror stories about CE's trying to rewrite a novel instead of just fixing it for grammatical consistency). However, this time I hit a speed bump. This was the first time I'd worked with this particular publisher on production, and somewhere between me submitting the manuscript and them sending it off to the copy editor (who is an external freelancer), all the italics went missing. One of the things about the business of writing trade fiction for a traditional publisher is that authors are expected to submit a manuscript in something approximating "standard manuscript format", a hold-over from the days of typewriters and carbon paper -- you use 10 point Courier monospace typeface, double-spaced, two inch margins all round, paragraphs start with a tab, two spaces after every period, and italics are indicated by underlining. And of course, someone ran a conversion macro or a filter or an inadvisable global search/replace, and ...
Have I explained recently why I hate Microsoft Word?
Given a manuscript containing no italics, my copy editor did the right thing: he italicised those things that needed it, per the style sheet (such as some quotations and the titles of newspapers), and nothing else. (I want to emphasize that he did a good job of copy-editing. But then, I expected him to: he's the guy who's checked all the previous Laundry Files novels.) But in the process of fixing my admittedly-sloppy grammar and inconsistent usage he made a huge number of individually-trivial tweaks to the change-tracked Word document. And by the time I got a chance to discover the missing italics, it was no longer possible to undo everything -- not without re-doing approximately 3000 minor edits and 200 comments. Nor was it possible to compare/merge the submitted draft with the copy-edited draft. I had to crawl on hands and knees through an entire 450-page novel, putting back all the dropped italics in dialog (and because it's a Bob novel, he waxes sarcastic in the direction of the reader a lot).
This isn't Word's fault. What I blame Microsoft for is that Word 15.22.1 for Mac is still not fit for purpose in reviewing change-tracked documents of any length. Selecting and italicising a single word using direct formatting should not cause a quad-core i7 Macbook Pro with 16Gb of RAM to freeze on me for 30-60 seconds every time. I suppose it's an improvement over last summer's experience reviewing the CEM for Empire Games, when Word 15 reliably crashed on me instead of merely twiddling its thumbs for a minute until it was ready for new input, but it's still unacceptable in a commercial product, especially a year after it went on sale, with updates applied.
Luckily Word 14.6.4 for Mac -- from Office 2011 -- did the job without freezes or crashes. Looks horrendous on a retina screen, is going to stop working sooner or later ... but I got the job done and only lost one working week to someone else's search/replace screwup.
However, I'm still grinding away at the closing chapters of Ghost Engine and now I'm nearing two other deadlines.
First of all, as you might have noticed, Empire Games comes out in the USA next Tuesday, and in the UK nine days later. For obvious reasons, my publishers have been encouraging me to shout about it from the rooftops; so over the next week or so you're going to see loads of essays by me in various places on the SF-related internet. All of this comes at a price, and the price is the equivalent of me emitting the equivalent of a lengthy blog article every day for the past week ... only queueing it up to be published somewhere else.
And secondly ... Empire Games is book one of a trilogy. Book two, Dark State, is due out in January 2018, and you will be unsurprised (by now) to learn as the usual production cycle for a book is 12 months, the final deadline for the manuscript comes the week after Empire Games is published. The book is, fortunately, written: however, I have a bunch of edits to apply to it before it goes into the sausage machine--minor tweaks, but no less time-consuming for all that.
So this is my excuse to you, for not blogging enough this year (so far): I'm wrestling with three novels in various stages of production (Ghost Engine still in the writing stage, The Delirium Brief in copyediting/typesetting, and Dark State in final submission stage) and one in the throes of publication (read: lots of guest appearances all over the net). Don't even get me started on the schedule for Invisible Sun, the third and final book in the Empire Games trilogy (I'm due to rewrite the second half of it some time later this year)! I normally max out at two books at a time, and right now it feels like I'm juggling three chainsaws.
I just hope you enjoy the results (and don't mind me taking a holiday some time in, oh, late 2018).