Kicking and screaming and rereading my babies

For some time, one of my good writer friends has been threatening to drag me kicking and screaming into the 21st century.  It’s a joke between us, but it really did take some dragging to persuade me to turn my published mysteries, at least the five to which I have all the rights, into electronic books for Kindles, Nooks, and all those other gizmos.  My friend is right, of course.  With Her Brother’s Keeper coming out in April, it makes sense to help readers find the earlier books in the series, and it certainly makes sense to sell them to a new audience.  But the process of getting from here to there flummoxed me.                      

 Little by little, I learned enough to face it.  These books have already had the benefit of editors and copy editors and proofreaders in their original editions.  My agent, who’s been nothing but honorable for years and will take the agency’s usual reasonable percentage of whatever I earn, arranged for the books to be scanned and will upload them to all the various platforms.  (I almost know what I’m talking about.)  And I persuaded the friend who got me into this business to design covers for them (dragging kicking and screaming works both ways).

It turns out there’s an art to that.  Unlike regular book covers, the ones for ebooks have to be effective when they’re seen thumbnail size—only about an inch tall–by people who might consider buying them.  You’d be amazed how hard it is to get the title and the author’s name legible in such a small space and still have any design.

 The first one, Murder in C Major, was relatively easy.  Poisoned Pen Press, which still has it in print, kindly allowed me to use their cover art, and we messed around with the lettering to make my long name legible.  I hunted up the actual music for the solo the oboe player is beginning to play when he keels over–why not?  It will be fun for musicians who know Schubert’s Great C Major symphony, and it will just look like music to anyone else.

But we didn’t have cover art for Buried in Quilts, or any of the others.  After persuading a friend to let us photograph her “buried” under some of my quilts, we first decided to use a rumpled one with nobody actually under it.

 Here’s an early version that doesn’t work at all,.

 And here’s an almost-final version of what I thought we were going to use.  The quilt is mine–the sad iron an image we bought from an online source, where we’ll probably buy a violin for The Vanishing Violinist.  I don’t have the skills to do this kind of work, but that doesn’t keep me from kibitzing.

My real job is to proof the scanned texts. I know how to do that, but it has hit me in a way I didn’t expect.  This series takes place over a very few years in the lives of the characters, but the first one came out in 1986, and I hadn’t gone back and read any of them straight through for years.  Oh, sure, I remembered what they were about enough to talk about them occasionally, but not all the details that make them come alive, much less the words my characters speak or think.

 It’s a very different experience from writing, or rewriting, or even proofing something I’ve written recently.  Even writing this informal blog, I think about word choices and whatever else matters to me as a writer.  But rereading these books is more like reading mysteries by someone else.  By now I’m so far removed from them I don’t remember which sentences came easily and which were a struggle.  I find I’m reading for the story, even while watching for possible scanning errors.  I smile at the funny bits.  Over and over I catch myself thinking, “I wrote that?  Really?”  Or “I did that much research?” Or every once in a while, “That’s pretty good.”  And so help me, the other night I read Witness in Bishop Hill much too late–because I couldn’t remember whodunit!

Before I started, I wondered whether I’d be tempted to change the words.  I’ve caught a few typos and a speck on the page that turned into a period, but that’s all.  These books are what they are.  I’m not even messing with a date that makes it obvious that the children in Murder & Sullivan could be middle-aged parents in Her Brother’s Keeper, when in fact they’ve aged only about four years in all this time.  I can only hope that today’s readers will tolerate the disconnect.   My aging babies have to stand on their own two e-feet.

 And it turns out my friend may yet show up buried in quilts after all.