I was sent the first proofs for THE POISONED PAWN, which will be the second in the Inspector Ramirez series last week for what’s called the author’s first pass.
This is when I get to go through a formatted version of copy edits and make any changes that we missed during the copy-editing process, correct any last minute errors, etc. It’s the stage of this process I like best, in some ways, because the heavy lifting is over: we’re almost ready to produce a book.
It reminds me of when I used to carve decorative duck decoys, many years ago. I hated the carving part. It was difficult and tedious and took weeks of intense effort. I had to first carve a block of wood into rough shapes (head and body are done separately and later attached). I would cut away at it with pull knives until it resembled a duck, and then use a belt sander to get the shape right. From there, I could count on weeks of working away with Dremel tools until I finally had the fine details right; then came the burning and etching in of lines on the beak, the feathers.
It was a real slog, but I loved the very last stage: painting it. And that’s kind of what this is like too.
The proofs are set out in justified type. They have line breaks, chapter numbers and headers that alternate between “Peggy Blair” and The Poisoned Pawn, so the printed pages resemble what the final book will look like. They come as loose pages on regular 8.5″ x 11″ paper but they have the publication information, epigraph, acknowledgements and so on.
I think what always surprises me in the first author’s pass is how many errors there still are. You do your best to catch redundancies in the copy-edits but it’s only when you read through the penultimate book the way any reader would that you catch the mistakes, the repetitions, the over-use of certain words.
“Here” seemed to be mine this time, perhaps because one character has travelled from Cuba to Canada. For some reason I felt the need to situate him here over and over again.
There were also times when things that didn’t need to be italicized had been, and words that should have been hadn’t. There was also one paragraph where Alex (my copy editor) had agreed we should move a line and ended up with both of them.
Then there were mistakes I’d made that required further research. For example, a reference to “poisonous” snakes appears in one part of the book: as soon as I saw it again, I realized I wasn’t sure if Cuba even had poisonous snakes. Turns out they don’t, just the biting kind.
As I worked through the pages, I thought I was over-doing it, making too many changes. Then I re-read the whole thing again and felt pretty good about them. The words flowed smoothly, the story unfolded the way I’d wanted, and I sent it back to Penguin feeling like I’d written a reasonably good book.
Is it as good as The Beggar’s Opera? I’ll leave that up to readers, but there are some things in this book I like as much or more, and even reading it for the umpteenth time left me teary-eyed in some parts (in a good way). I think for sure that readers who liked the characters will find out more about each of them: we learn more about Ramirez and Apiro and get introduced to a new character, Charlie Pike, who could end up with his own series.
What happens next is that my changes will be made and then a proofreader will go over it (possibly an external freelance editor as well). Then I’ll be sent a copy for a second pass. And that’s it — we should have the galleys soon after, although there’s still no news on the cover. I’ll keep you posted!
THE POISONED PAWN will be in bookstores by the end of February, if all goes well: I’ll let you know the exact date as soon as I have it.