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The Swords of Wicked Men: Final Chapter?


When I first set up my blog during the summer of 2011, I promised that it would “detail my efforts to research, write, edit, and publish my work. Sometimes I succeed, and the results are magical. Sometimes I fail, and the process is sheer hell. Anyway, I will discuss the good, the bad, and the ugly.”

In this posting, I want to discuss the ugly.

The last time I blogged about my terrorism book The Swords of Wicked Men on July 1, 2012, I outlined all the compromises and aggravations I had endured as I readied the manuscript for publication. I ended the blog by writing that the book “is scheduled to appear in November 2012, assuming the date does not change, as it already has several times. I will provide details in a blog posting closer to publication time. Thus endeth the sad, sorry lesson on compromise.”

I must now report that the book will not be published this year — if ever. The sad, sorry lesson on compromise has not yet ended.

Let me say at the outset that while I am disappointed about the book, in no way am I demoralized. I have two other books in the works and I am excited about both. This situation represents a temporary setback, and nothing more. My mother used to say that I should not get my hopes up; otherwise, I might get hurt. As I told her at the time, what is the point of having hopes if you can’t get them up upon occasion? I refuse to play it safe owing to a fear of disappointment. Life is a messy business, and I am in it to the hilt.

So here’s the scoop: As my new editor and I started working through the changes recommended by previous editors and by peer reviewers, I grew increasingly irked. I had already changed the title, the cover, and extensively edited the chapters. In some cases, the suggestions improved the book, but in many cases they did not.

Finally, I had reached my limit.

“Look,” I told the editor. “You have cut and edited so much of the book that it’s no longer what I intended. You have changed my vision.”

“I’m making it better,” he explained.

“No, we have moved beyond that,” I replied. “You are now cutting the manuscript in such a way that the book is unrecognizable. I won’t make any more changes.”

He seemed startled. “If that’s your position, you realize that we won’t publish it as it now stands. Your contract requires you to submit a manuscript that is publishable according to the publisher’s standards.”

“I think it is publishable as it reads now.”

“I disagree.”

“We have reached an impasse then.”

He sighed. “Okay, I will recommend that we place an indefinite hold on the book.”

“That’s fine,” I said. I meant it, too. I was not bluffing. The nice thing about working on multiple book projects is that if one falls through, others can take its place.

Then the editor pissed me off with an ill-considered bluff.

“You realize you might be facing a lawsuit for breach of contract,” said the non-lawyer to the lawyer.

“Oh, yeah,” I said as I felt my temper slip. “I didn’t accept an advance on royalties, so what are the damages?”

“The press has invested time and money in getting this book ready for publication. You may have to pay for those costs.”

“And where exactly in the contract does it say that?”

A long pause ensued. “Let me get back with you.”

“Yes. Do that.”

Our telephone conversation occurred in mid-October. I have heard nothing so far. I noticed the book was pulled off the publisher’s website, so that may be a sign of things to come.

Faithful readers of my blog might wonder whether I am a hypocrite. I often counsel writers that “half a loaf is better than no loaf.” If compromises get the book into print, then compromise away.

Yes, that is my general advice. I stick by it.

One reaches a point, however, where the compromises pile up. Eventually, the manuscript becomes an alien, unfamiliar thing, its pages no longer reflective of the writer’s efforts.

That is what happened here. The latest editorial changes involved wholesale rewrites by someone (or several someones) who gutted my prose. The manuscript was no longer my work. Admittedly, it was not my best work in the first place, but if it was so wretched that it required a major rewrite, I should have rewritten it or the press should have released me from the contract.

I assume a contract release is in the offing. I hope it is in the offing. If it is, I can revisit the book at a later time after I have finished my current projects. I can submit it to other publishers if this publisher allows all parties to walk away from the deal.

Anyway, that is where we are at the moment.

I will provide future updates, if any. For now, the book may not be dead exactly, but it is moribund.

Them’s the breaks, folks. No one said writing books would be easy. It’s not always fun, either.

As Harry Truman once remarked, “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.” The kitchen in this instance is the editorial process. A person must have a healthy ego to work in this kitchen. I do. I can stand the heat. To continue the temperature metaphor, I have many other irons in the fire. And maybe one day I will return to the terrorism topic and see if I can restart the fire.

Until that day, I plan to move onward and upward.


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