I was just going to tweak it a little . . .

Kaitlyn Dunnett/Kathy Lynn Emerson here, with a cautionary tale for writers. As I’ve mentioned on this blog before, I am in the process of creating omnibus editions of some of my backlist books. The Face Down series is now out in three volumes and the Diana Spaulding 1888 Mysteries in one. The current project was supposed to be a read through/minor revising of the three historical romantic suspense novels I wrote for the Harper Monogram line back in the 1990s.

That was the plan. Then I started rereading Winter Tapestry, the earliest of the three and the one with the most checkered history. It started out as a mystery novel, but it hadn’t sold to any house publishing that genre by the time I was at a mystery conference and ran into an editor I’d worked with before, when she was at Silhouette. She mentioned that she’d been working at St. Martin’s when my manuscript was submitted there and that she’d wanted to buy it, but she’d been overruled by a senior editor. She asked if it had found a home and when I told her it had not, she suggested that if I revised it to heighten the romance elements (and to bring the word count up to 100,000 words) she could publish it as part of a new imprint she was editing at Harper Collins. I did and she did, which was great at the time. Winter Tapestry became my first published historical novel written for adults rather than middle-grades readers.

There was only one problem. The paperback original was labeled “historical romance” on the spine when, really, it was not your typical historical romance novel. Neither could it any longer be categorized as historical mystery. The front cover called it “a romantic adventure in Tudor England,” which was closer to the reality, but still not quite right. It did okay. It earned back the advance and a bit more and apparently had Spanish and Italian editions, although I never received copies of those. In 2003, after the rights were returned to me, I did a bit of tweaking to produce an e-book edition. One of the tweaks was to put back a couple of scenes that had been cut out of the expanded Harper version—scenes that elaborated on a subplot that had to do with spies and rebellions in England in 1553-4.

cover for the first ebook edition

So, back to the present. I expected all I’d have to do was a quick proofread, maybe eliminating some of those instances of ’tis and ’twas that I used to think gave my character’s dialogue the “flavor” of the language but that, these days, I just find annoying. I was about halfway through the second of twelve chapters when it struck me that there was a lot more I could do to make the book better.

I’m a much better writer now than I was thirty-plus years ago. Passages that seemed essential back then now screamed “information dump” and “wordy.” To be honest, although no one thought my writing needed self-editing at the time, rereading this book felt like going through one of my manuscripts at the second or third (of four or five) draft stage. I even found several instances of head-hopping, something I knew, even back in the 1990s, should be avoided at all costs! There was a lot of repetition, too, probably because I was following something called the “rule of three”—anything important for the reader to remember should be mentioned three times at various points in the text.

typical “improvements”

It didn’t take me too long to realize that, instead of combining three slightly edited older novels into an omnibus edition, I needed to do a complete rewrite of Winter Tapestry. The plot and characters would remain the same, but the text would be “substantially different”—enough to allow me to bring it out under a new title. My original title was The Die is Cast after the code words used to identify conspirators (the good guys) in the plot. The heroine’s murdered father is deeply involved in spying on those plotting rebellion against the English Crown. A quick check of titles on Amazon, however, showed me there are way too many books out there with that same title. That’s probably why my editor insisted on changing it back in 1991. I decided to go with, tentatively, After the Die Was Cast and started going through a printout to cut passages, substitute better word choices, and occasionally move scenes around for better flow, while also improving the pacing and emphasizing the mystery elements.

The new plan was to self-publish the novel as a single title but to keep the original e-book version available as well. If nothing else, that would provide a study in contrasts for those interested in such things.

Onward I went, producing page after page that look like the ones illustrating this post. And then, partway through revising and cutting a lot of excess, I realized that the real problem with the original was a divided focus, compounded by multiple point-of-view characters. Yes, there can be a rebellion/spy aspect to the story, but it needs to be a subplot. To return the emphasis to the mystery, I needed to make more cuts. A lot more cuts. And cutting was probably a good idea anyway—let my readers make discoveries at the same time as my protagonist.

So, it was back to the drawing board. Main plot: who killed a former royal mapmaker and why? Subplot One: his daughter’s certainty that the motive has to do with her father’s secret mission, a mission she’s determined to complete. Subplot Two: her efforts to avoid being married off to someone who appears to have an agenda of his own. You’ll notice I’ve avoided naming the characters. I’m torn between leaving them the same and changing them to further make this a “new” book.

I’ve actually written some new material—the first new writing I’ve done in a couple of years. I’m putting everything in the daughter’s POV, so there’s a lot to redo to give the reader information that used to be included in scenes that took place when she wasn’t present. I’m trying to condense the historical stuff to what’s absolutely necessary and not get bogged down in excess details. Some of the secondary characters are real people, so it’s always a challenge to keep them true to what’s known about them. In some cases, I know a lot more about them now than I did when I wrote Winter Tapestry, so there are some changes to make there, too.

What started out to be a fairly simple if time-consuming project has turned into much more. I have no idea how long it will take me to finish. Both the advantage and the disadvantage of not having a deadline is that I don’t have to rush. It will be done when it’s done. In the meantime, it’s good to have a goal. And, of course, after that’s met, I still have two more historical romantic suspense novels to take a look at. Will they be combined into a two-book omnibus? Or will they, too, demand a total rewrite?

Stay tuned.

Kathy Lynn Emerson/Kaitlyn Dunnett has had sixty-four books traditionally published and has self published others, including several children’s books. She won the Agatha Award and was an Anthony and Macavity finalist for best mystery nonfiction of 2008 for How to Write Killer Historical Mysteries and was an Agatha Award finalist in 2015 in the best mystery short story category. She was the Malice Domestic Guest of Honor in 2014. Her most recent publications are The Valentine Veilleux Mysteries (a collection of three short stories and a novella, written as Kaitlyn) and I Kill People for a Living: A Collection of Essays by a Writer of Cozy Mysteries (written as Kathy). She maintains websites at www.KaitlynDunnett.com and www.KathyLynnEmerson.com.

 

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2 Responses to I was just going to tweak it a little . . .

  1. maggierobinsonwriter says:

    Oh my. This is why I hardly ever look at any book I’ve written after it gets published. I know I’d be redpenning everything. Good luck–I’m sure it was great before and will be even better when you’re done!

  2. John Clark says:

    This is why I need to get off my backside and do something with the four books I wrote to follow The Wizard of Simonton Pond. They have languished for ages AND, like you, I’m a better writer. I certainly don’t want to have them haunt me in the afterlife.

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