Lovecraft Country PREVIEW

by Matt Ruff on January 26, 2016

LCproofThree weeks to publication! For the impatient and the curious, here’s a preview to whet your appetite: a PDF of the first 23 pages of the novel.

And for the still-curious, here’s a post-preview FAQ:

Are there fantasy or supernatural aspects to the story?

Yes. The fantastical elements ramp up slowly, but part of the conceit of Lovecraft Country is that Atticus and George get to star in real-life versions of their favorite weird tales. Each of the novel’s chapters, in addition to advancing the main plot, has a mini-adventure focused on a different member of Atticus’s extended family. I won’t spoil it, but the chapter titles hint at what you’re in for: “Dreams of the Which House”; “Abdullah’s Book”; “Hippolyta Disturbs the Universe”; “Jekyll in Hyde Park”; “The Narrow House”; “Horace and the Devil Doll”; and “The Mark of Cain.”

Are any of the main characters women?

Yes. Atticus’ aunt Hippolyta, his childhood friend Letitia Dandridge, and Letitia’s sister Ruby are all major characters with their own subplots.

Does Cthulhu make an appearance?

In the novel, the Cthulhu Mythos is fiction, but the characters encounter a number of real-world analogues to Lovecraft’s creations. For example, in “Abdullah’s Book,” George and the members of his Freemasons’ lodge sneak into a museum after hours to steal a copy of what is essentially the Necronomicon. Oh, and that big thing busting branches in the woods is… well, you’ll find out.

I’ve never read any Lovecraft. Will the story still make sense to me?

Yes. You may miss the odd allusion, but the novel is self-contained and tells you everything you need to know.

Sounds awesome! When can I read the whole thing?

The novel’s on-sale date is February 16th, but you can preorder it right now from your local indie bookstore, or through the links on the Lovecraft Country page of my website.

What if I want a signed copy?

Check the appearances tab for the current schedule of where I’ll be reading and signing books. I’ll also be signing stock at other bookstores and will post on the blog when I’ve done so. Finally, you can always order signed copies of my books from Secret Garden Bookshop (phone 206-789-5006 or drop them an email)—they ship anywhere, including internationally.

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Proofreading Fool on the Hill, 28 years later

by Matt Ruff on January 21, 2016

fool2016cov

cover illustration by Dietrich Ebert

This spring, Grove Press will be publishing a new edition of Fool on the Hill, with a new design, layout, and cover art.

The redesign meant that the book had to go through copy editing and proofreading again, which meant that I had to reread it. In the past, revisiting Fool has always been a bit weird for me. Since it is a first novel, and one I wrote more than half a lifetime ago, I’ve generally compared it to looking at my old high school yearbook: there’s a pleasant sense of nostalgia undercut by a tendency to wince at my younger self’s lifestyle choices (that hair? really?).

This time was different, though. Maybe it’s turning 50, but I found I was able to appreciate the book entirely on its own terms for the first time in decades. I really liked it.

There were a lot of little bits of business that I’d completely forgotten. For example, I was amused to realize that one of the talking dogs in the novel—Bucklette, the evil Republican Collie—was almost certainly inspired by Ann Coulter, who was a student at Cornell at the same time I was. (We only met once that I can recall, but she was already infamous as a co-founder of the liberal-baiting Cornell Review. Some things haven’t changed.)

About the copy editing: I mentioned this in a previous post, but just to reassure longtime fans, there have been no alterations to the original text, beyond the correction of some very old spelling and punctuation errors. I even rejected a number of suggested grammar fixes, on the grounds that 22-year-0ld me knew when he wanted to use an unorthodox verb tense. But Gnossos Pappadopoulis’s name is finally spelled correctly.

The new edition should be available sometime in May, and an updated version of the ebook, free of the OCR errors that plagued the original, should come online at around the same time. I’ll post again when I have a more exact date.

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It’s (really!) a book

by Matt Ruff on January 19, 2016

LovecraftCountryHC

cover design and illustration by Jarrod Taylor

Last Friday the mailman brought me the first copy of the finished Lovecraft Country. This photo doesn’t do it full justice, but it’s a thing of beauty. Hardcover, with paper pasted over boards, like the Hardy Boy books I had as a kid. The aging effect that was used on the ARCs has been amped up even further, so that it looks and feels as if it really could be that old. Very cool, like an artifact from an imaginary past.

The official publication date, February 16, is just four weeks away now. I’ll be reading and signing books that evening at 7 PM at Elliott Bay Book Company; in the following days and weeks I’ll be doing additional readings in Seattle, Portland (OR), Sunriver, Wenatchee, Leavenworth (WA), and Vancouver, BC. Hope to see you there!

 

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Greetings, 2016

by Matt Ruff on January 1, 2016

2016

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Star Wars (SPOILERS!)

by Matt Ruff on December 22, 2015

SWtfaI saw it with Lisa over the weekend and we did enjoy ourselves. The Force Awakens benefits enormously by comparison to the prequels, and we’d made a conscious decision to not think too hard and just have fun, so long as it didn’t totally suck, which it didn’t. But afterwards, when we switched our brains back on and started talking about it, we realized there was a lot of stuff that either didn’t work for us or should have been better.

The main issue is that the film tries to do too much: Introduce a slew of new characters, bring back the old cast for an encore, atone for the prequels, lay the groundwork for future films, deliver as much fan service as possible, etc., etc., with the result that the actual story ends up being repeatedly shortchanged. There were characters and plot points that felt more like placeholders for future development: “There’s not much here now, but come back for Episode VIII (or IX) and you’ll be amazed!”

Some thoughts:

* Lisa and I agree that Rey was the best part of the movie and the core of what could have been a much stronger film. Not surprisingly, she’s got the most complete character arc, and the stuff that’s left hanging—Is she Luke’s daughter? Why did he abandon her?—felt like it was OK left hanging.

* I liked Finn, but his back story doesn’t fit the character we see on screen. He’s way too normal and emotionally well-adjusted for someone who’s been raised since childhood to be a nameless stormtrooper. What he acts like is an ordinary guy who went through the wrong door at the military recruiting center, accidentally joined the Space Nazis, and deserted when he realized they weren’t just being ironic with the swastikas.

* One online suggestion that I liked: Instead of having Rey and Finn stumble across the Millennium Falcon and conveniently bump into Han Solo ten minutes later, Han should have been living on Tatooine 2.0 from the beginning, with Rey as his apprentice and/or foster kid. That would have linked the new and old casts from the start, brought Harrison Ford in earlier (definitely a good idea), and saved several minutes of screen time that could then have been spent on other things.

* Midway through the film, Lisa leaned over to me and whispered, “Is that the guy from Ex Machina?” Yep, Poe is played by Oscar Isaac, who was also Nathan in Ex Machina. (And General Hux is Caleb!)

Nathan Poe

He’s a great actor, but in this movie he’s playing a type—Charmingly Rogueish Space Guy of Indefinite Origin—rather than a person, and his arc is both predictable and emotionally hollow: I knew immediately that he’d survived the TIE fighter crash and that he’d show up later to save Finn, but even if I’d been wrong it wouldn’t have mattered, because I wasn’t invested enough in the character to care whether he lived or died.

* And then there’s Kylo Ren, aka Darth Vader Lite. Adam Driver is another really good actor, but an actor I associate strongly with his role on Girls, so my first thought when he took his mask off was, “You cast Hannah Horvath’s boyfriend for this? That’s… a bold choice.”

His association with Lena Dunham aside, I just didn’t find him that sinister (a problem shared by the film’s other villains). His back story—he’s Leia and Han’s son, and he was Luke’s Jedi pupil until he went Dylan Klebold on his classmates—is delivered entirely through exposition. The original Star Wars did that with Vader’s back story, too, but the difference is, Vader was fricking terrifying even before Obi-Wan explained who he was. Where Vader snapped necks and force-choked people, Kylo expresses rage by hacking up computer workstations with his light saber. Not that scary.

His best scenes are the ones where he goes up against Rey, particularly the one where he tries to Force-read her mind and instead triggers her nascent Jedi powers (which is communicated to the audience without a word of exposition—nice!). Even there, though, he comes off as more pathetic than dangerous. And giving Rey an antagonist who’s so clearly her inferior makes her story less compelling.

* The fact that we’re told about Kylo’s back story rather than shown it also made Han Solo’s death much less affecting. I should have been gutted by that scene—Han murdered! By his son!—but my actual thought process when he stepped out on the bridge was more like: “If I didn’t know any better, I’d say old Han was about to get a light saber in the chest, here… Would the Disney suits really have signed off on that?… Gosh, I guess so!”

Until he got his pink slip, Harrison Ford was great, and again, I wish he’d had more screen time. It was nice seeing Carrie Fisher again too, but she didn’t have anything to do—her main role in the film was to react passively to what other characters were doing, which struck me as a very poor storytelling choice. Why not send her with Han to try to save their kid, and let her work out her grief with a blaster?

* So the bad guys built another Death Star and the good guys blew it up. How many times have we seen that, now? Yes, it’s iconic, and if you’re doing a Star Wars remake/reboot/fan service delivery vehicle, you kind of have to include it, but… do you? Really? I mean: It’s bigger! It eats stars for fuel! It can destroy multiple planets in one shot! And I kinda didn’t care.

* Other story elements that seemed either pointless or wasted opportunities: C-3PO and his mysterious red arm; R2-D2 and R2-BB Pellet; Brienne of Stormtroopia; whatever the hell that big thing on the throne was (Snape? Snoopy?).

* It did end well: the closing scene with Rey meeting Luke Skywalker (Dad?) was genuinely affecting, and Lisa suggests that it made the whole film seem better than it was. Now that the hand-off between generations is complete, I’m hoping that the next episode—written and directed by Rian Johnson, yeah!—will be better. But even if it isn’t, of course I’ll go see it. And try not to think too hard.

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76 days and counting

by Matt Ruff on December 2, 2015

lovecraftblogcovShortly before Thanksgiving I signed off on the final version of the Lovecraft Country cover, so the novel is now locked and on its way to the printers.

In the meantime, the book tour is starting to come together. The launch event will be at Elliott Bay Book Company on February 16, starting at 7 PM. Paul Constant of the Seattle Review of Books has graciously agreed to come interview me onstage; I’ll also be reading, taking questions from the audience, and of course signing books. For other confirmed events, check my appearances page.

I’ve also gotten some nice blurbs from fellow authors and a couple of good advance reviews from Publishers Weekly and Kirkus Reviews.

More news soon!

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It’s (almost) a book

by Matt Ruff on September 28, 2015

LCgalley
LCproof

Last week I finished looking over the galley proofs for Lovecraft Country—my last chance to catch typos and other mistakes before the novel goes to press. Per my usual m.o., I spent some time fretting that I’d missed some minor factual error that would ruin everything, but there really wasn’t much to fix, mostly just punctuation issues that survived copyediting.

Anyway, after rereading the entire text more times than was strictly necessary, I sent off my handful of corrections, and as a reward got my first look at the bound galleys. I really love the design (those wear marks you see are simulated, as if the book were an old pulp novel you found in grandma’s attic). I think it’ll be even prettier as a hardcover. Soon.

In other news:

* I’m still 50 years old.

* I have a new editor. Maya Ziv, who saw Lovecraft Country safely through copyediting, has left HarperCollins to go work for the Dutton imprint at Random Penguin. From here on out, I’ll be in the capable hands of Jennifer Brehl.

* There will be a new edition of Fool on the Hill soon. For a while now I’ve been getting emails complaining that the ebook edition of Fool is riddled with typos. Because the original novel was published back when the state-of-the-art computer was a Macintosh IIx, there were no electronic files to convert, and the ebook had to be generated by scanning physical pages. It turns out that even in this century, OCR technology is not perfect, hence the typos. It’s taken me way too long to deal with this, and I apologize, but I finally got in touch with Grove/Atlantic about fixing the ebook, and they figured as long as we were doing that, we might as well reset the print edition as well. There won’t be any changes to the text (other than fixing a couple of 30-year-old spelling errors), but it’ll have new fonts and a new layout. I’ll post a notice here once the new edition goes to press—and, more importantly, when the corrected version of the ebook is available for download.

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50

by Matt Ruff on September 8, 2015

Mattat15
I’m a half century old today. I was going to add a joke about how I was a teenager only yesterday, but it’s not true. When I look at the above photo—that’s me at 15, in my bedroom in Queens with my old IBM Selectric typewriter—it feels like a long time ago. It sounds weird to say I’m 50 but I can’t say I didn’t earn it.

One way you know you’re getting older is you start noticing more and more what a different world the current generation is coming of age in. I feel like I have an advantage over my parents in that I expected this to happen. My dad, born in 1922, was amazed and a little dismayed by how much American society had transformed during his lifetime, and for my mother—born in Brazil, raised in Argentina, emigrated to the U.S. at age 23—life was one long culture shock. I grew up knowing the future would be different in ways I couldn’t predict, so I’ve found the changes more fascinating than anything else. And I’m looking forward to seeing what happens next.

fifty

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Ltracks

Yesterday I got back the copyedited manuscript for Lovecraft Country. Most of the corrections are straightforward, but one of my copyeditor’s notes has raised the question of how to properly refer to Chicago’s elevated transit system.

I know that Chicagoans traditionally call it the L, not the El, but what I’m having a harder time deciding is whether “L” needs to have quotation marks around it, and if so, whether they should be double- or single-quotes. My instinct is to omit the quotes, as I think L tracks looks cleaner than ‘L’ tracks or “L” tracks, but then again, as a native New Yorker, my instinct would be to call it the El. A survey of the CTA website, the Encyclopedia of Chicago, and various other sources suggests that L-with-quotes is more common but not universal, while the choice between single- and double-quotes is largely a matter of personal preference.

Any fans from Chicago want to weigh in, or better yet, point me to a definitive monograph on the subject? Note that the novel is set in the mid-1950s, if that matters.

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Mirage German paperbackWhile I was finishing up Lovecraft Country, Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag released the paperback edition of the German translation of The Mirage. I got my complimentary author’s copies in the mail yesterday, and they look great. (The cover design, by Michał Pawłowski, was also used on the Polish-language edition.)

In other news:

* Paul Constant, who used to write roughly half the content of the Seattle Stranger, has teamed up with novelist Martin McClellan to found The Seattle Review of Books.

* Ex Machina is out on DVD. If you missed it in the theater, it’s a really clever and thought-provoking A.I.-meets-Bluebeard’s-Wives story.

* It’s not as good as Ex Machina, but It Follows is an entertainingly creepy horror film that reminded me a lot of a recurring nightmare I used to have as a kid.

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