play background music, don’t play background music;
do your edits onscreen, do your edits on hardcopy;
write the whole book before you edit, edit after every chapter;
write linear, write random scenes then tie it all together;
spelling & punctuation count, don’t worry the small stuff - that’s what
copy editors are for.
This post is the tale of how a highly experienced author and editor got caught in the meat-grinder of inserting a vague long-time idea, called “Jack’s Book” into an already finished novel with an entirely different hero. With nearly catastrophic results. I’m reeling, and I’m only on the revision of Chapter 7. My advice: don’t try it!
Background: My first book destined for publication was The Sometime Bride, which sparked the idea for Tarleton’s Wife, which won RWA’s Golden Heart contest. Tarleton's Wife ended up being published first (1999), at the request of a newly founded e-book company, Starlight Writer Publications. Even my elderly mother, the author of c. 50 children’s books, had recognized the potential of e-pub and handed me an article about it when it was in its infancy. So I was receptive to the offer from Starlight and became an early advocate of e-books. I went on to write a mass market paperback love story for Kensington, followed by a number of Regency paperbacks for Signet. But when Kensington closed Precious Gems and Signet closed their Regency line (and refused to look at Historical Romances by their “trad” authors), I found myself pounding my head against the wall, although I still kept writing. And then came indie publishing. Yay, hurray! Fortunately, I scrambled around and got my rights back before NY publishers decided to be difficult about it!
So, finally, earlier this year, I uploaded O’Rourke’s Heiress, the third book in my Regency Historical series, containing characters from both The Sometime Bride and Tarleton’s Wife. But for fifteen or twenty years I’d had a folder marked “Jack’s book.” Poor Jack who never got the girl. Nor the book he so richly deserved. I toyed with a number of ideas for him, but none seemed quite right. Until - hallelujah! - I recalled a book I’d written shortly after moving to Orlando, which remained in the cyber drawer because no one should ever write a book while moving or within six months after moving. Particularly after leaving a house in which you’ve spent twenty-five years and which contains not only all the possessions of someone who writes, sews, knits, crochets, and reads excessively, but also all the accumulations of an equally pack-rat elder son and a deceased spouse, plus all the “extras” of three grown children (including a huge carton of all my daughter’s stuffed animals, which she had absolutely refused to give up).
But somehow I suddenly realized that not-so-great tale, written under extreme stress, contained a heroine worthy of Jack. Why hadn’t I realized it at the time? (See above paragraph.) So when I finished Lady of the Lock, I turned to Shadows Rising. (Yes, I agree, the title wasn’t so hot either.) Before cracking a page, I put some thought into the necessary major changes: I had to delete the heroine’s brother, a half-Abenaki who was so dynamic he refused to stay in Quebec and crossed the Atlantic to become a much too important character. And I had to switch the classic hero, a cavalry colonel and younger son of an earl, to a man who worked for a living. (Oh horrors!) To Jack, a man who was nearly hanged in Tarleton’s Wife and became a confidant of the young heroine in O’Rourke’s Heiress. To Jack who has loved two women and lost them both to best friends. (He did have one similarity to the original hero—Jack is the son of an earl, but on the wrong side of the blanket)
I also had to eliminate a number of the “shadows” from Shadows Rising. (And I’d spent a lot of time developing physical descriptions and individual personalities for each one of them. Sigh.) But good romance demands an emphasis on the Hero and Heroine. Too many charming young cavalrymen can be almost as distracting as a striking Big Brother. Out! All but two had to go.
To make matters even worse, I decided the beginning of the new book should overlap the ending of O'Rourke's Heiress, making it necessary to write new scenes with coordinated timelines.
And then . . . near the end of Chapter 7, I ran into a sub-plot that was a bit doubtful the first time around and blatantly wrong for Jack. Oops! So I had to sit down and make a list of crimes heinous enough to force the villain, a high-ranking nobleman, to go into exile. Hm-m, I just may choose four out of five things on the list. Nothing like overkill to get rid of the Bad Guy. Only all these new threads have to be woven into fabric which already exists. Double, maybe triple, Oops.
Oh joy, I still have c. twenty chapters to go . . .
Advice: Do not attempt this method of writing a book!
Alas, I liked Alain, the brother. He was a great character. Too great. He overshadowed my original hero. He might even have overshadowed Jack, although that’s debatable. But what do you have left after you’ve eliminated all that clever dialogue between the heroine and her now deleted brother? Pages and pages of narrative, that’s what. Ugh! And then there’s the matter of eliminating every reference to “Alain,” “her brother,” even “they” and “them,” which now had to be “she” and “her.”
As for Jack the bastard. . . he, as leader of a private army known as Harding’s Hellions, has to take over the hero position from a man who was a legitimate “gentleman,” a heroic cavalry colonel who fought against Napoleon. Again, poor Jack. But since he no longer lacks for money, the switch ought to work, I thought. Except I had to eliminate every “colonel,” switch every reference to his “officers” to men who served with Jack's brother Avery (a character in both Tarleton’s Wife and O’Rourke’s Heiress). And I had to make sure every word of "salvaged" dialogue was something that would come out of Jack's mouth, not the colonel's.
Chapter 7 was such a mix of usable bits and pieces, interspersed with long passages that had to be deleted, that I went through the hardcopy armed with yellow and pink highlighters and a red pen, as well as scribbling side notes in pencil. Will it make sense when I’m finished with it? I can only hope so. Astonishingly, when I read through Chapters 1-5 a few days ago, the story actually seemed flow with some normalcy. So I’m keeping my fingers crossed.
Repeat: I strongly advise against ever trying this method of writing a book!
Then again, it really sharpens the wits.
Tentative title for the finished result: Rogue's Destiny - if poor Jack doesn't implode somewhere during the transition from gentleman colonel to bastard rogue.
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Thanks for stopping by. Next blog will likely be "Holiday Greetings."