The Silkworm: First Thoughts on Rowling’s Latest

True confessions time! I have not yet finished reading The Silkworm. Nonetheless, I have some thoughts I want to share about the book after only reading the first 28 chapters, what I think of as the first half of the book. This preemptive posting is not standard operating procedure at HogwartsProfessor, so let me explain why I’m commenting at significant length before having read all the way through.

First, it’s a promise I made to myself after reading Casual Vacancy and again after finishing Cuckoo’s Calling. I made a commitment not to read straight through future Rowling efforts but to make notes on each chapter as I went along. I pledged to do this out of frustration and hope. The frustration was that I found it very difficult to stop and take notes through the whole book on my first second-pass because I was in speed-read mode rather than the mental framework for close-reading. I still haven’t finished the outlining of Vacancy or Calling the way I want.

My hope was to slow it down, consequently, and savor the ride and all the clues and back references being made through the Silkworm mystery. Of course, I also wanted to be as sensitive as I could be to the structural clues and Rowling signatures we know from her Hogwarts Saga and previous post Potter publications. By which I mean principally “Ring Composition” and “Literary Alchemy.”

So far, so good. I’m 28 chapters in and I have made notes on each chapter, with thoughts about what the story seems to be about. Right now, I’m thinking it’s not unlike Chamber of Secrets and Prisoner of Azkaban in several ways. More on that in a minute.

If you’re interested in what I think Ms Rowling is doing even though you’re well aware that I haven’t finished the book, take the leap over ‘the jump.’ This is almost as much fun, for me at least, as guessing the elements and plot points of the Harry Potter novels as they came out. Here, though, if I hit any bull’s eyes, readers will naturally be skeptical that I peeked at the finish or read some reviews. I’ll risk that — and the much more likely possibility that I will be miles off and embarrassed tomorrow when I try to finish my close reading.

There are spoilers below, too, but only for plot points of the first half of the book and my guesses about the end! You’ve been told, pro forma.

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Shared Text: Colbert says Amazon lead by Lord Bezos-mort

Colbert gets his biggest laugh when he calls Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos “Lord Bezos-Mort.” To risk explaining the obvious, is there any other character in fiction ever whose name could be so altered and no one would struggle to get the joke? Well, okay, the visual helped, but you get my point.

Full disclosure (or is it TMI?) — I have some skin in this game. My books are published by four different companies: Penguin, Tyndale, Zossima Press, and Unlocking Press, the last of which is my adventure in self-publishing. Though these titles are available at bricks-and-mortar stores, especially Barnes & Noble, the great majority of their sales are through, as paperbacks or e-books.

Here’s the thing. Amazon, unlike Barnes & Noble online, no longer offers discounts for any of my books, and, for titles from Zossima Press, books that are printed by Lightning Source rather than Amazon’s Create Space, the books are only available “In Two to Four Weeks” or, as with Deathly Hallows Lectures, they are listed as “Temporarily Out of Stock.”

Why? Because Amazon wants to crush Lightning Source publishers and create a ‘Create Space’ monopoly that closes off all space at their online platform for writers at LSource not willing to agree to Amazon’s much less generous terms. The absence of discounts on backlist items that sell consistently drive Amazon Marketplace used book sales from which Amazon takes a cut without having to order or move any books. Authors and publishers, of course, receive no money from used book sales on Amazon or anywhere, for that matter.

I recently learned that more than 100,000 copies of my books have been sold online and in retail outlets in the last ten years. I’ll never know how many have been purchased as gifts and never read, of course, or how many readers have shared copies with friends. I get a decent amount of mail each week and there are always notes from those who borrowed the book in question from a friend or the library. C’est la vie.

I’m with Mr Colbert, though, in lamenting that I can be confident I am losing royalty money every day because of Amazon’s discount policies and biggest-gorilla-in-the-room tactics to strong arm publishers into submission. I do not want government intervention or even your sympathy, truth be told. The market is what it is. What I’d like to see is American publishers creating an alternative online venture with which Amazon would have to compete, something more user-friendly than Please let me know if you’re aware of a venue of this kind that already exists!

Tomorrow, first thoughts on The Silkworm

More Colbert and Links to articles about this story and to book pages after the jump:
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Cormoran Strike: Silkworm Excerpts Available Online

J. K. Rowling’s detective series featuring private dick Cormoran Strike, a veteran of the Afghan waR and illegitimate son of aN aging rock star, has a new entry on 18 June, namely, The Silkworm. USA Today published an excerpt online this morning, what seems to be the first two chapters (expletives deleted), and I confess, it was good enough a tasting that I broke down and finally ordered an advance copy.

What’s it all about? From the book summary at Amazon:

When novelist Owen Quine goes missing, his wife calls in private detective Cormoran Strike. At first, Mrs. Quine just thinks her husband has gone off by himself for a few days-as he has done before-and she wants Strike to find him and bring him home.

But as Strike investigates, it becomes clear that there is more to Quine’s disappearance than his wife realizes. The novelist has just completed a manuscript featuring poisonous pen-portraits of almost everyone he knows. If the novel were to be published, it would ruin lives-meaning that there are a lot of people who might want him silenced.

When Quine is found brutally murdered under bizarre circumstances, it becomes a race against time to understand the motivation of a ruthless killer, a killer unlike any Strike has encountered before… A compulsively readable crime novel with twists at every turn, THE SILKWORM is the second in the highly acclaimed series featuring Cormoran Strike and his determined young assistant, Robin Ellacott.

Three quick notes:

(1) My advance copy was ordered at my local bricks-and-mortar bookstore. No, I haven’t suddenly become righteous about online purchases and, no, my favorite store won’t be having a Midnight Madness celebration to hand out copies to the Rowling Faithful at the strike of the hour opening the day of publication. It’s just that Amazon and the publisher are having a little disagreement. Who would have ever thought that Ms Rowling and her publisher, given their egregious history of copyright protection heavy-handedness, could play the role of David in a ‘versus Online Goliath’ story? Having been roughed up by Amazon myself as an independent publisher, I can only wish Hachete Group the best in this struggle.

(2) The Silkworm is the second of what Ms Rowling promises will be a seven book series. When do we begin to chart the ring composition echoes? Each book or in the parallel books of the series? Rhetorical question, of course.

(3) Insert obligatory observation that I wouldn’t be interested in this title almost certainly if it I didn’t know it was written by the “world’s best selling author” (c).  The voice is hers, however, and it is a delight.

Links to online stories mentioned above can be found after the jump. Hat tip to James! [Read more…]