Thursday, September 16, 2010

Chapter 15: Look Ma, no table on contents!

It was right after I read at Balticon, when I was catching up with my good friend, the poet Henry Mills. Henry looked over my book. The first words out of his mouth were "Wow, no table of contents?"

Up until that point, it never occurred to me that the book has no table of contents. To be fair, the first edition also has no credit for the cover artist. Some stuff just gets overlooked. However, while forgetting to credit Dan was a really uncool move and the first thing I corrected for the second edition, the table of contents thing can stay as is.

Its one of those things that people probably don't think too much about when they see it in a short story collection, but I guess its noticeable when in absentia. They're certainly useful. I love flipping open one of those huge Hans Christian Andersen collections, finding the page for the "The Snow Queen" or "The Ice Maiden" and diving in. Or, just picking any random story and enjoying the hell out of it. But when it came time to do my own book, making the table never crossed my mind.

Part of it has to do with the approach I took in editing. A table is obviously the last part of the book you do, because who knows what the final page count will be? My book was getting edited up until the last minute. I'm doing edits again, and from what it looks like the book might be 3-5 pages longer just to make the font size consistent. With the length shifting ever so often, I never thought of a table.

The other part has to do with my approach to arranging the stories. There are five of them; that's not a lot, and they're easy to navigate. An illustration marks where each one starts. More important, I didn't approach the material like a collection. I approached it like a suite. "Safe Space" is first because it serves as a good intro, a key theme being the shift from the real to the fantastic. "Assistant" is last because it is the longest, with the greatest stakes. In between, I tried to arrange the stories so that they flowed harmoniously from humorous to serious, modern to folkloric, from tales of youth to middle age and back again. And I think I did a damn good job. Looking at the book as one complete work, I felt less inclined to point out how the stories start on separate pages. Its best to read it all the way through.

Coming back to the illustrations. Rachel Dorrett's work is gorgeous. I like the idea that, instead of having some boring page at the front, you have a drawing telling you where each story starts.

I'm starting to think the next book should have no table of contents. Yes, no table of contents until I have a huge body of stories like Neil Gaiman, and can use it as an excuse to write the story names with funky fonts.

Did I mention this 2nd edition has me hyped?

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