Monthly Archives: December 2015

Book Review: “The Girl in the Spider’s Web,” by David Lagercrantz

Swedish journalist David Lagercrantz’s authorized sequel to Stieg Larsson’s Millennium series raises the age-old question of who owns an author’s characters and stories. Ian Fleming’s James Bond lives on after his creator’s death, as does Bourne and the Marvel comics characters, who are in vogue today.

Breathing new life into another writer’s creation requires great skill and an acute understanding of the characters’ habits, motivations, manner of speaking, and psyche. It’s not a job for amateurs. Larsson’s legal heirs authorized the sequel over the strong objections of Eva Gabrielsson, his long-time partner. While Lagercrantz makes an admirable attempt to recreate the Stieg Larsson legacy, this book, in my view, falls short.

Lagercrantz spins an overly complex plot that centers on cyber-theft on a grand scale. This complicated web involves the National Security Agency, high-tech companies, and Russian mobsters. On top of the tangled plot, Lagercrantz weighs down the pacing with lengthy character introductions and explanations of arcane technology.

The story doesn’t take off until Professor Franz Balder, a leading authority on Artificial Intelligence and a brilliant computer scientist, contacts journalist Mikael Blomkvist. Balder fears for his life as he suspects powerful forces are scheming to steal ground-breaking technology he is developing for a high-tech Silicon Valley company. Balder returns to Sweden to care for his severely autistic eight-year-old son, August, and he is convinced his life is in danger.

Meanwhile, Blomkvist fears he is washed up as a journalist. Millennium, the magazine where he made his mark as an investigative journalist, has been sold to a corporate giant bent on cutting costs. Blomkvist is desperate for a story to save his career when he meets with a young hacker who tells a tale about a cyber theft conspiracy. The story doesn’t interest Blomkvist until the young man mentions that Balder sought help from Lisbeth Salander, the vigilante hero of Larsson’s earlier work and Blomkvist’s sometimes accomplice. 

Concerned about his safety, Balder reaches out to Swedish law enforcement and also contacts Blomkvist. Summoned to the professor’s home, Blomkvist arrives on a cold November night when the murder of Balder is in progress. Balder’s autistic son witnesses the murder, but is unable to speak about it.

Blomkvist confirms  Balder had hired Salander to confirm and investigate the theft of Balder’s technological breakthrough. Salander was working at the time on a side project for a group called the Hacker Republic, which sought to gain access to the NSA’s top secret servers.

The key to unlocking the identity of the murderer, the child August is returned to the custody of her mother, Hanna, a down and out actress, and her abusive boyfriend. The child begins drawing pictures of the murder scene, but Hanna doesn’t realize what he is trying to communicate and she eventually commits him to a psychiatric facility.  The mobsters find out where the boy is staying at the same time as Salander, which provides one of the best dramatic scenes as Salander rushes frantically to rescue the boy before he is killed.

This is where the story gains steam and the pacing of the second half of the book is much better than that of the first half. The pacing improves because Lagercrantz actively involves Salander in the story.

While Salander is protecting the boy and coaxing him to solve his father’s murder, Blomkvist and Swedish law enforcement agencies are unraveling a series of corrupt activities that include corporate cyber theft, organized crime, and the U.S. government’s role in selling technology secrets.   

One of the flaws of this story is that Blomkvist and Salander barely appear together or speak to each other through large sections of the story. When a writer has powerful assets like Bloomkvist and Salander at his disposal, he must use them. 

At times, Lagercrantz was able to achieve the page-turning qualities of Larsson’s earlier work. The problem is that it didn’t happen often enough.

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How to Treat Your Book Editor

In my most recent post, I discussed how to find and hire a qualified book editor to edit a writer’s manuscript. Assuming a writer has hired a book editor and sent off her manuscript, what should she expect?

The writer should have worked out in advance with the editor when she should expect to receive the edited manuscript. Four weeks is a reasonable time, but the timing will depend on the editor’s workload. At any rate, the deadline should be agreed to in advance by both parties.

The focus of this post is how the writer should communicate with the editor once she has received the edited manuscript. First, the writer should send the editor a brief email to acknowledge receipt of the manuscript, thank the editor, and let the editor know she will get back to the editor with questions and other feedback. This is not the time for the writer to pepper the editor with questions, such as: “What did you think of the story?”, “Can I sell this to an agent?”, or, “Did the main character work for you?”

At this point the writer hasn’t even read the edited manuscript. Which brings me to my second point. The writer must read the entire manuscript before communicating with the editor. When the writer sees a comment she doesn’t understand or agree with, she may be tempted to fire off an email to the editor. The writer must resist this urge.

I made the mistake of sending my editor an email when I was about three-quarters of the way through my edited manuscript. It had become apparent to me that there were major elements of the plot that did not work. I had received similar feedback from my writer’s group colleagues. So I emailed my editor and told her I was considering a major plot reboot and I described my new idea for the plot. While her response was encouraging, she urged me to read through the entire manuscript before doing any rewriting. The reason was that there would be other comments and insights that might have an impact on the new direction of the story. And I needed to get her entire body of feedback before rushing to any decisions.

Based on my experiences, here is a list of “do’s” and “don’t’s” in post- manuscript communications between writer and editor:

DO

  • Acknowledge receipt of the manuscript and thank the editor. She has put a lot of time and effort into reviewing your work. Editing other writers’ work is not an easy task. It is an arduous challenge to read through and thoughtfully analyze a manuscript of 80,000 words.
  • Review the entire manuscript before communicating any further with the editor. Respect your editor’s time.
  • Make a note of “big picture” problems the editor has identified with the story and carefully assess how to deal with them. For example, the editor may advise that a secondary character who is key to the story doesn’t work. Don’t dismiss that out of hand because it will be too much work to change the story or the character.
  • Take the editor’s feedback seriously. Writers pay good money for a professional edit. The purpose is not to reaffirm how great the writer is and how perfect the manuscript is. The purpose is to improve the manuscript and make the story the best it can be.

DON’T

  • Email the editor every time the writer has a question about an edit or a comment. Again, respect the editor’s time. Like the writer, the editor has other projects and responsibilities.
  • Argue with the editor. This is a big one. If the writer has done her due diligence, she has hired a professional editor and she needs to respect that editor’s judgment and experience. Having said that, it doesn’t mean the writer should blindly accept every suggestion. If the writer truly disagrees with the editor, the writer should initiate an honest and open discussion.
  • Get angry over comments or criticism. My edited manuscript looked like the proverbial term paper laden with red ink from the professor. I could have been hurt, but the editor was doing her job and the “sea of red ink” meant she had done her job well. Better to have a lot of criticism than pristine white pages, which should make the writer wonder if the editor even read the manuscript.

I view the writer-editor relationship as a partnership. I am grateful to have found an editor who is talented, insightful, thorough, and committed to my success. The pointed criticism didn’t hurt. It meant she did her job.

Your turn. Share any “do’s” and “don’t’s” in your experiences with editors.

 

 

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