Trying to stay out of trouble

Monday morning I packed up the rewrite of “The Last Black Swan” and sent it off to the editor who has “The Swan Harp”. That’s packed electronically, in a nice little .doc file of 99,000 words, give or take a few. This story is about two-thirds the length of the first book – which needs significant trimming.

I’ve also been told by one reader that it is better than the first book, which is a weight off my mind. I was worried about the “sophomore curse” – the law of advanced Murphology which states that the second book will always be worse than the first.

I did some careful research for this book to make sure that a couple of incidents were true to life. It annoys me when a book presents an incident and I later find out that it couldn’t have happened due to reasons of physics, chemistry, whatever. Make your dragons any size and colour you like, but don’t let a six-foot snake eat a five-foot person.

My classic example is the weight of water; if a character in a book picks up a fish tank full of water and fish and walks it across the room, I’m going to have real trouble believing it. Usually they’re not talking about a ten-gallon tank, but something bigger. The problem is that ten gallons of water alone weighs eighty pounds. Picking up an eighty-pound box of books and carrying it is one thing, but water sloshes, fish panic and bounce off the walls and – oh, yes – that box of water is made of glass and is stiff, slippery and fragile and weighs a bit all by itself. A ten-gallon tank is tricky enough. A fifteen-gallon tank, or a twenty? Not happening, my friend.

If the writer screws up a fact I know, how can I trust what else they tell me? Yeah, yeah, I know it’s fiction, but it’s fiction set in the real world, where gravity works and the perp’s DNA sticks to things. Or does it? In a world where the average guy can lift a hundred and twenty pounds of water in a glass box, the perp might have a way to make his DNA slide off evidence like fried eggs off Teflon.

>I didn’t want to annoy my own readers, so I did some research before I wrote the incidents in question. I’m lucky that one of my readers is a doctor, and perfectly willing to tell me if I’ve made a mistake. He said I hadn’t, and so I can relax about the whole thing.

Well, that’s for a certain value of “relax”. I’m still awaiting the verdict on The Swan Harp, although I remain cautiously optimistic, and now I’ve just handed myself a second book to wait and wonder about. But that’s all part of the writing life, at least if you want to be conventionally published. I can live with it. And I’ll have the third book to distract me.

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