Nineteenth Century Continuity Problems

I have a bone to pick with Herman Melville. A whale bone.

Keeping continuity straight in your stories and novels can be tough. The longer the work, the harder it gets. Series are especially brutal. It’s why, for instance, Harry Harrison started writing prequels to his Stainless Steel Rat books. Less continuity to remember.

Continuity seems to have become more of a concern for recent generations. Now that we have superfans tracking everything, and a World Wide Web to complain about each inconsistency uncovered, it’s become ever more important for writers to remember what they wrote (typically on a whim, often drunk, with little consideration beyond getting through the current paragraph).

Nineteenth Century authors got to be exceptionally lax about their continuity. I’m looking at you Sir Arthur Conan Doyle! Yeah, I see you, playing havoc with my pastiches of your work based around a child character who, apparently, didn’t age at all between the years 1881 and 1888.

Even when I’m not playing in the public-domain sandboxes created by writers of eras gone by, they can still screw up my own, original work.

I’m finally finishing the fine-tuning edit of Epitaph (yes, it’s been long and drawn out and I’ll probably complain about that in a future post). This final edit is all about catching micro errors, tiny typos that everyone missed thus far, and second guessing myself about certain word choices that most readers will never give a shit about. One of the biggest points of contention between myself and my lead copy editor is the spelling of Moby-Dick.

Or is it Moby Dick? No hyphen.

Necropolis fans will remember the harbinger, a lesser demon, who got trapped inside the remains of a reanimated goldfish and became a pivotal prop in a regurgitator act. It’s complicated. Anyway, he’s back in the sequel, and he’s still being snidely referred to as “Moby-Dick” by Rip Eulogy, professional necromancer and unprofessional asshole protagonist.

I hyphenated the name in the first book of the series, and will continue to do so in the second, just to remain consistent. But it’s been a hot debate (admittedly over unimportant minutiae). It would be great to go to the source to get a definitive answer, but Melville himself is the reason there are two versions of his white whale’s name.

I opted to use “Moby-Dick” as it appears in the title, right there on the cover. It is, after all, what he named his damn book. But then Melville went on to consistently use “Moby Dick” in the actual text. So which one is it? Does it even matter? Probably not, but it keeps me up at night.

Meanwhile, on the Conan Doyle front, the latest MX collection of Sherlock Holmes stories is out, with my own “The Adventure of the Ambulatory Cadaver” featured. Remember when these books were supposed to be a trilogy ten volumes ago? Neither do I.

The proceeds still go to charity. Not so for another Sherlock Holmes story I wrote that got accepted into a forthcoming anthology. That one I was going to get paid for.

I say “was going to” because I’ve already withdrawn the story. It was the first Holmes short I wrote, originally for a totally different collection. Even though it didn’t get in that book, it drew the attention of David Marcum and MX Publishing, and the rest of my contribution to the genre is history.

I’d been looking to make a clean sweep of my Sherlock Holmes adventures, landing them all in solid publications. This early attempt was the sole loose end, and I was pleased to find it an appropriate home. But then I saw the contract…with more publisher shenanigans, the likes of which I’ve complained about here before. For what amounted to a token fee, they wanted rights to the story that would echo into perpetuity, with the publishing house claiming a piece of the pie for anything and everything that might one day be derived from my concept.

I would have told them to fuck off if they were paying a hundred times what they were offering. I might have tried negotiating, but this sort of crap littered clause after clause after clause. When someone is trying so hard to screw you, don’t waste your time trying to spot and counter all the points where they’re being a bad actor. Just get out.

Back to my personal slush pile of unsold and uncollected stories it goes. Thankfully, I’m a publisher myself, so nothing I write has to wither and die in a drawer if I don’t want it to. I’m pretty sure, when the time comes to sign that contract, I’ll let myself keep all the rights to my work.