A typical e-mail is this one, from Meghan:
I have one question for you: What kind of dog did they get? Did they get it? If not, I’ll be very grumpy.
While Jonn assumes the worst:
I notice Kate never got her puppy, you heartless sod.
For those of you who haven’t read the book, what the hell is wrong with you? No, sorry, I mean: for those of you who haven’t read the book, there’s a little throwaway scene where Jennifer promises to buy her daughter Kate a puppy. Then she gets distracted by having to save the world, as you do. There is, I think, every indication that Kate will get her puppy, but you never actually see it happen.
This is mainly because having my characters wander through a pet store hand-in-hand and fall in love with a brown-eyed Beagle named Floppy didn’t strike me as the greatest way to finish a fairly brutal thriller about corporatization. Even a line like, “Now let’s go get that puppy,” threatened to engage my gag reflex. I think most people will be with me on this one. But still, I have to admit: I have a dangling puppy reference.
Closure is very important. As Jerry Seinfeld said: “If I want a long boring story with no point to it, I have my life.” Novels have to end, and when they do they’re meant to wrap up all their loose story threads. I realize this; in fact, the main reason Miranda Hewlett-Packard disappeared between drafts three and four was that I couldn’t tie her story thread neatly enough to the others. So don’t tell me I’m not prepared to go the hard yards for closure. It’s just… well, I never thought so many people would care so much about that puppy.
I wonder if there’s some group I could join. “Hi, my name is Max and I have a dangling puppy reference.” (“Hi, Max.”) You know, that feels good. The first step is admitting you have a problem.
The Dutch edition of Jennifer Government is out, and it’s a whopper. It’s 405 pages compared to 321 in the US paperback, but because it’s been printed on paper as thick as carpet samples, it’s three times as big. I like that; it makes it seem more significant. If it were up to me, you’d have to carry my novels out of the bookstore on a forklift.
Publishers routinely alter a book’s paper thickness, font size, and spacing depending on whether they want it to appear light, fun, and fast, or weighty, serious, and important. This makes it tough to judge which are genuinely longer than others. War and Peace, for example, is really just four paragraphs printed on pages as thick as wet towels.
I always find it awkward when someone asks me how long one of my books is, because the conversation goes like this:
Me: “It’s about eighty thousand words.”
Them: “So… what’s that in pages?”
“It depends a lot on how they set it. But somewhere around three hundred.”
“Um… is that a lot?”
“So you want to know how thick it is, is that it? You want to know whether it’s a thick book?”
But then, I’m very touchy.
The other interesting thing about the Dutch edition is that they’re running some kind of barcode competition as a promotion. There’s a web site where you type in the barcode that comes with your copy of the book, and if you’re lucky you win… actually, I don’t know. They never told me that. Books, I guess. I assume that if the prize was a date with me, they’d have to notify me first. Although now that I think about it, I haven’t read my contract that closely.
There is something odd about using a barcode as a symbol of consumerism in an anti-corporate-ish novel, then having a corporation use that symbol to sell copies of the book as part of a marketing campaign. At some point there, I’m thinking, “Wait a minute… that’s not ironic. That’s just a promotion.”
I did say that people who join my site could win stuff, right? Right. So here we go. A couple of years ago my publisher made up some honest-to-God Jennifer Government barcode tattoos — the idea, I think, was that bookstore sales staff might wear them. (We’re talking stick-ons, not permanent, just in case you were wondering.) I never heard any reports of this occurring, so possibly it was one of the world’s less effective marketing stunts. But still, they’re kind of neat. If you had one, everyone would be jealous at your next anti-globalization rally. So that’s what I’m giving away today.
I couldn’t decide whether to do this randomly or based on whose quote made me laugh the most, so I’m going with one of each. The random selection is Kareem Badr of Austin, Texas, and Jamie of Auckland, New Zealand scores for tapping into one of my pet hates with this quote:
Anyone still spelling “internet” with a capital “I” is probably struggling with the complexities of their new-fangled electric typewriter.
Ahhhh, yes. Stupid dictionaries. They have words from 1682 but when I want to put down HYPERLINK in Scrabble, it’s not in there. How unfair is that? But I digress. Kareem and Jamie, e-mail me your postal address and I’ll send you some tattoos. Oh, the excitement!