I’m not talking about Frankenstein or Catcher in the Rye, I’m talking about MY old books — books I wrote years ago and am now re-reading.
I have three side projects going right now. Yeah, I know. But I’m waiting on line edits for COMPULSION and what else do I do? Clean? Ha!
The first is taking my first six books and digitally publishing outside of the North American market. I paid to have them scanned (because I don’t have the original edited files anymore — wonder how THAT happened!) and am proofreading them primarily for scanning and formatting errors. But I really, really want to edit them. I’m resisting (for the most part) because it would take me far too long (and I’d wanted to have this done two years ago!) My goal is to have the first three proofed and sent to my ebook formatter before I get the COMPULSION edits back, which could come any day. Once the first trilogy is up, I’ll work on the next trilogy.
The problem with this first trilogy is that my writing has greatly improved since THE PREY. While I love the story and the characters, I notice I’m making amateur mistakes — mostly word choices and repetition and some cringe-worthy phrasing. But this trilogy has been published for nearly a decade, and I don’t want to deeply edit it. I had to make a conscious choice to focus on actual proofreading, and since Random House/Ballantine have great copy editors, most of the errors relate to the scanning process, not publishing. I am fixing blatant problems with sentences — things that I would not write today — and trimming some repetition. But I have to resist any re-writing. What I recognize most of all is how I’ve grown as a writer since I first wrote THE PREY in 2004. In fact, it was ten years ago this month that I turned in my revised manuscript to my editor at Ballantine. They’d bought my book in March of 2004 and Charlotte gave me some notes, most of which dealt with the last 150 pages of the book. I was scared to death I would screw everything up during revisions, but ended up with a much better book. Ten years later I recognize that THE PREY was the best I could write at the time, but today I am a tighter, cleaner, better writer. (Which gives me hope that I’ll continue to grow as a writer and storyteller.) I have the skill now that I didn’t then to rewrite this book and make it stronger … but I would need to make some story changes and I’m not willing to do that. There shouldn’t be two versions of these books out there.
But re-reading these books is certainly humbling. I never re-read my books, so this is all new to me. I know I’ve become a better writer, a better storyteller, since I started. Even my recent books I don’t want to re-read for fear I’ll hate something in them. I don’t know if other authors re-read their own books. I don’t even re-read other people’s books — once I know what happens, that’s it.
My second project is re-reading the two novellas and two books that make up my Seven Deadly Sins series because I want to write MORTAL SIN and release it late this fall. I have no traditionally published book out until January 2015 (when the Mass Market edition of NOTORIOUS will be available!) and the next Lucy book isn’t due until October. I’m giving myself until Aug 1. Then I’ll write the Lucy book (I’ve already started Lucy #9 — research, working on the opening scene which I haven’t nailed yet because I’m not 100% certain of the story … but it’ll come. It always does.) So if MORTAL SIN isn’t done and to my editor by Aug 1, it won’t be out this fall. One of the biggest problems (for me) is that I’m very deadline driven. I write better with a set date that something is due. Writing an indie book — that doesn’t have a deadline that anyone but me cares about — is hard. There are so many other distractions …
But I’ll be done reading CARNAL SIN today, and then go through all my notes. I started MORTAL SIN four years ago so I have a basic opening (though it needs major work!) It’s not like I’m starting a brand new project with new characters, so I think that I can get this done, even with everything else I need to do.What I’ve noticed, however, is that even five years ago, when I wrote ORIGINAL SIN, I made some of the same mistakes I made in THE PREY and I still make now — the difference is, I recognize them now. For example, repetition. I tend to say the same thing in a variety of different ways. But in ORIGINAL SIN in particular, I made some major mistakes. Errors that, honestly, should have been caught by the copyeditor. For example, a character dies in the ambulance en route to the hospital. Later, another character mentions his doctor did everything to save him but he died in emergency. See me hitting my head on my desk. Ultimately, those errors are my fault, but they should have been caught at some point by someone. This wasn’t an isolated mistake.
The other big problem is something that reviewers noticed and commented on — the first 100 pages of ORIGINAL SIN are slow. It’s not because of the complexity of the story or too many things going on, as some reviewers said. After re-reading it, I know EXACTLY what the problem is and I know how to fix it. It relates directly to repetition and how I reveal backstory. It wasn’t that it was backstory heavy, because as I re-read I realized everything was important for the readers to know. It was HOW I integrated it (and the fact that I revealed the same information more than once!) Plus, I would have deleted the prologue. It wasn’t necessary and I think ultimately confused readers. The same information was revealed later in the book.
Part of the problem with ORIGINAL SIN is that a large chunk of the backstory directly related to the novella I wrote “Deliver Us From Evil” in an anthology, so it felt like there was a story before the story even though most readers didn’t read that novella. This is one of the primary reasons that when I wrote the prequel for NOTORIOUS, the first book in the Max Revere series, I intentionally wrote it as a stand-alone (much easier when the book was written first.)
And finally, my third side project, directly related to an old book. A very old book — the second book I wrote that will never see the light of day. Except …
MURDER IN THE RIVER CITY is my first indie-published original work. I released it in July of 2012 and am very happy with it. It was originally a full-length book, the 3rd manuscript I’d written, that finaled in the Daphne contest, but when I went back to it, I realized it was seriously flawed so put it aside. However, when a now-defunct magazine was looking for a serialization, I pulled it out because the premise was really strong and I loved the characters. I realized what the problems were (years after I’d written it!) and so completely rewrote it … and it ended up being a 40,000 novella, not a 90K word novel. It was much neater and cleaner so I indie published it.
Recently, I found the second manuscript I ever wrote. One that, like MURDER, had a strong premise but the story fell apart in the middle. I’m writing this as a novella. One of the best things about indie publishing is that length is not really an issue — MURDER is 40,000 words. If this second story ends up 40K or 50K, that’s okay. It might even be 60K. It’s set in Sacramento, same place as MURDER, and I’ll bring in some of the same secondary characters. The hero is DA Matt Elliott, the brother of SSA Megan Elliott from SUDDEN DEATH who ended up marrying Jack Kincaid … 🙂 Matt is best friends with JT Caruso from RCK. So even though this is a completely stand-alone story … there’s some continuity with all my other books.
I also have an idea for a Lucy Kincaid novella. Well, actually, a Patrick/Lucy Kincaid novella — Patrick & Elle get in trouble and Lucy & Sean need to bail them out. I’d like to see Elle and Lucy together, because I don’t think Lucy is going to think that Elle is good enough for her brother — which will make a nice, organic conflict between them.
So that’s what I’m doing this summer, along with researching the next Lucy and Max books. It should keep me busy. But life is too short to be bored, right?
I’ll be at Thrillerfest and RWA this July as well. Fortunately, I can write at conferences and sometimes get even more work done in my hotel room than in my home office!
If you’re a writer, do you re-read your old books? As a reader, do you re-read books? Do you think most of your favorite authors have gotten better the more they’ve written? Worse? Thoughts?