"Don't fall for all the commerical hype purporting that this book is the new fantasy. The only fantasy was in the author's head and he was not able to communicate that well at all. Which is too bad because some of the images are stark and clear and riveting and drew me deeper and deeper into the book.....against my will. The book is arrogant, clumsy, baffling, and too cute, too ingeneous, too contrived for words. The best bits were never developed. The best characters are the vicious sharks of Camorr and I wish they had eaten my copy."
That's my all-time favorite anonymous Barnes & Noble review of TLOLL. Especially the last sentence. If you're going to trash my work, aim for a memorable closer. It's so much more fun than mere petulance.
Honest dislike of my work has become a very easy thing for me to live with (as differentiated from dishonest/incomplete readings of a text and false/stupid personal accusations, which will always hit my small thermal exhaust port) because I have embraced a little magic spell that goes like this: De gustibus non est disputandum. Nothing in the history of human art has been universally popular or acclaimed. Nothing. Educated people of good faith and taste are still arguing the merits of War and Peace, for crying out loud. You think it shocks or offends me to discover that not everyone adores The Lies of Locke Lamora? Fucking get real.
Naturally, a certain percentage of the book's critics are barely capable of using flush toilets and shouldn't be allowed out in public unless rolled in three layers of Nerf for their own safety. Another portion are the sorts of narcissists who are genuinely shocked each time someone else writes a book without their permission and oversight. And yet I think the vast majority of the book's critics are probably on to something... either sincerely incapable of interfacing with the work or accurately noting certain defects that preclude their enjoyment. Accurately? Yes indeed. Over the years I've come to strongly agree on several points with many critics of TLOLL.
It's only natural to look back at something written seven-odd years ago in the light of how I'd write it now (or, no doubt, years from now). That isn't to say I'll ever do so. I happen to think that's another crippling variety of auctorial insanity. The Lies of Locke Lamora reflects the state of my craft and my person in 2004-5, and for better or for worse, it always shall. Much as I'd love to smooth it out, rewrite some of the rougher patches, clarify certain things, and slightly adjust a few of the characters, I think actually engaging in that sort of behavior is a trap. It's not my fucking job (and it shouldn't be my privilege) to keep old books in a state of perpetual revision. They're out! The children have left home. The text has been read. You've seen it, readers, and you can't un-see it. George Lucas is clearly going to be changing piddly, trivial, ridiculous shit in the original Star Wars films until he drops dead... and while I'd love those piles of money, I don't want that baggage. That myopia.
So The Lies of Locke Lamora is going to look as it does now... forever. There will never be an Author's New and Amended Edition, reflecting how I write and feel when I'm 35 or 40 or 96, if I still have a pulse when those milestones roll past. Only in the most extreme circumstances would I consider that sort of thing, for a work that I considered fundamentally damaged or published contrary to my vision. "In the Stacks," for example, will be given a revision and an expansion, due to the fact that it was composed during the very darkest days of my untreated depression. As lovely as the response to it has been, I think it deserves better than I was able to give it (and meant to give it). The Lies of Locke Lamora, on the other hand, suffered from no lack of enthusiasm or energy during its composition. Its failures are honest and unmitigated ones.
Let me share a few of my thoughts on the defects of my work with you:
I think the most obvious structural incongruity in The Lies of Locke Lamora is that the interlude chapters, which start out as fully-developed narrative episodes, inelegantly transition to historical lectures and omniscient anecdotes. While I'd argue that most of them are still very relevant, and a couple are even essential, there's really no reason I couldn't (with a little more reflection) have made them in-universe infodumps rather than Voice of God. They could have easily been stories or lessons from Father Chains; a little diligent framing on my part and the incongruity would have been ironed smooth. Alas.
Several astute readers have pointed out that what transpires between Locke and Felice is technically an abrogation of Felice's duties as a prostitute; that she swapped the terms of their encounter from foreplay to platonic massage awfully quick for someone who might want to stay employed. All of this is true. My excuse is that there is as-yet unrevealed backstory between some of the Bastards and some of the Guilded Lilies (and thus she had more liberty than a stranger), going back to when Chains did them a big favor years before Locke was born. However, I catastrophically failed to allude to this in the actual text. Pleading apocrypha when the apocrypha is still secret is not the equivalent of having written well.
Many readers have issues with the swearing in TLOLL, and while I do sympathize, I have to confess to feeling completely unmoved over the matter. This is a novel in which people are drowned alive, immersed in piss, strangled, stabbed, poisoned, eaten by sharks, and viciously tortured in myriad ways. And yet they want to complain about the language? I simply do not accept the notion that loose obscenities (words not anchored in hateful attacks upon human identity) have any ethical dimension whatsoever. They're part of the great tapestry of our linguistic heritage, and if you're squeamish about them, I'm sorry... but that's your own problem. Here's another magic spell of which I'm very fond, from the old Roman poet Catullus:
Nam castum esse decet pium poetam ipsum, versiculos nihil necessest
Loosely translated: It's good and proper for a poet to be moral, but in no way necessary for his poems. Interestingly, if you read the entirety of that poem framing that sentiment, Catullus 16, you'll find that it's eye-scorchingly vulgar. Catullus, like Martial, wrote stuff that would make any latter-day moral scold have a coronary. Keep that in mind next time some self-righteous windbag starts bloviating about the upright virtues of the classical world... those old Greeks and Romans bowed to nobody when it came to blazing vulgarity.
I suppose that's much more of a self-defense than a self-criticism, so I will say that there are many places in the book where I would, with deeper reflection or more developed aesthetic sense, not have scattered obscenities quite so haphazardly, but reserved them for greater impact and more creative conjunctions.
I am not entirely happy with the way I deal with violent action in TLOLL. There is, I think, a little too much precision. Too much description of exact distances. Too little reflection of uncertainty, panic, and desperation as seen from the points of view of the participants. You can see a gradual evolution from the style of TLOLL to a more, er, "impressionistic" style in Republic. I suspect that this is because when TLOLL was written I was still a probationary firefighter, and by the time I got to Republic I'd had several years in which to experience roaring fires, claustrophobia, melting insulation, tumbling walls, hot ash burns, collapsing ceilings, and the like. My personal experience of risk and physical hardship has deepened since TLOLL, and my notion of what's important in the description of action has changed.
I am also not best pleased with my portrait of the cultural mix in Camorr. I covered the Vadrans and the Therins quite nicely, but I did not adequately follow through on my intention to describe the Okanti and the Syresti, the dark-skinned people from over the southern seas. The Okanti are a disapora people and the Syresti are a little empire that easily matches the Therins in culture, art, science, and warmaking ability. Red Seas and Republic more accurately describe their place in the scheme of things. While there is some undeniable (and humanly unavoidable, I think) racial prejudice, the Therins have never been allowed to feel anything like the unbridled contempt Europeans once nurtured for Africans. The Syresti and Okanti always enjoyed technological parity with their would-be invaders, and punched them in their faces until invasions stopped happening. The Okanti have only dispersed on account of a civil war, complicated by some Supernatural Horribleness I might describe down the line.
I give a shit about this in the context of TLOLL because it creates an incongruous visual impression of what I meant the Therin city-states to look like. There are far more dark-skinned cast members from Red Seas on, and as a result of my inattention in TLOLL, it looks like it suddenly started raining black people between books. Had I been on the ball, I would have clued readers in to the fact that they were there all along.
I am belatedly ashamed of the fact that I used crossbow "quarrel" and "bolt" as mere synonyms.
Last but not least, there is too much damned scaffolding for some of my prose in TLOLL. Too much description of meaningless character action (sighing, sighing, so much sighing!) rather than meaningful activity; far too much use of italics to emphasize when characters are saying something dramatic. All of these buttresses speak to a first-timer's lack of confidence in his work. While I certainly wouldn't just do a global excision of all the italics in the book, I bet I could find at least a hundred instances of italicization that could be thrown out without consequence. Once is happenstance; twice is coincidence; a hundred times is YOU SUCK, LYNCH.