I can relate

by Matt Ruff on December 10, 2006

David Moles’ Chrononautic Log has an amusing William Gibson anecdote, about how Gibson, as he nears the end of a novel, invariably becomes convinced that it is not only the worst book that he’s ever written, but the worst book that anyone has ever written. When he announces this to his wife, she smiles, because she knows from experience that it means he’s almost finished.

For the past two weeks, I’ve been going over the Bad Monkeys galleys, making a final round of corrections. The productive part of this process took all of two days—aside from a few lingering typographical errors, there’s nothing left to fix. I am now into the nonproductive, anxiety-ridden phase, where even though I know intellectually that the editing is complete, emotionally I remain concerned that there’s something I’ve missed, something that, while it may not ruin the novel, will at least mar it.

This is the kind of thing I’ve been obsessing about: at one point in the story, my protagonist enters the San Francisco Panhandle—a thin strip of greenery extending east from Golden Gate Park—and encounters a young man sitting under a statue. A couple days ago it suddenly occurred to me that I’d never bothered to check whether there are any statues in the Panhandle. Now, to fully appreciate my current mental state, you have to understand that I am not the sort of author who demands strict geographical accuracy. If I knew for a fact that there were no statues in this park, but I needed one to be there for the sake of the story, I’d have no problem conjuring one into being. What was bugging me was not the possibility that I’d written about a statue that didn’t exist, but that I had done so without realizing that that was what I was doing.

So I fired up Google Earth, and took a look at the Panhandle from orbit. Sure enough, there was a circular structure at the east end of the park that looked very much like a statue, and some additional square objects scattered through the rest of the park that might also have been statues. Then I did a regular Google search, and found written references to a statue in the Panhandle… So, issue resolved, right? Well, not quite.

Cue the following exchange with my ever-so-patient wife, Lisa:

ME: Maybe I should have the guy sitting under a tree, instead.
LISA: What’s wrong with the statue?
ME: I’m not sure there is a statue.
LISA: Yes you are. You said you found it on Google.
ME: Well yeah, but that may not be my statue. The statue I had in mind was a small, anonymous-type statue; but the Google references make it sound more like a big, landmark-type statue.
LISA: Couldn’t there be a second statue?
ME: There could be, but the resolution on the satellite photos isn’t good enough for me to determine that… But there are definitely plenty of trees.
LISA: But if there’s a statue, why would the guy sit under a tree?
ME: What do you mean?
LISA: It’s dirty under a tree. Why would he sit in dirt when he could sit under a nice clean statue?
ME: Lisa, the guy’s a street kid out getting stoned. He’s not going to care about a little dirt… Why are you smiling?
LISA: If you’re taking this conversation seriously it means the book is done.

And so it is.

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