Making it Better

Kathy Lynn Emerson/Kaitlyn Dunnett here, today as Kathy. As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve been doing a complete rewrite of one of my earliest published books, Winter Tapestry (1991), switching from multiple points of view to just one and emphasizing the murder mystery over the elements of romance and espionage. No scene has been left unchanged, although obviously some things stayed the same.

Wolfsbane, the poison used to murder Cordell’s father

Since readers of this blog may be interested in the process, I’ve decided to share a sample of what I’m doing to improve on the original. This is a brief scene in which Cordell, the protagonist, makes her escape from the free city of Strasbourg, where she and her father joined other English exiles after Mary Tudor became queen. I won’t get into all the ins and outs of the historical background. Suffice it to say that it’s 1553/4 and plots, counterplots, and spies abound. Cordell’s father has been murdered, possibly by the very person in whose house they’ve been living (Matthew Wood in the original; now renamed Francis Roydon). She is desperate to return to England and also to escape being married off to Roger Allington, a young man she fears may be in league with the conspirators. The arrival of her father’s steward (Tom in the original and Simon in the new version) gives her a way out.

Here’s the Winter Tapestry version from a little over a third of the way through a 90,000 word book:

As soon as Cordell came down the household left for the wedding. She hung back as much as she dared, but it was not until the doors of the church gaped wide in front of them that Cordell and Tom were out of sight of the others. Staring into the dark interior, Cordell knew a moment of blind panic, a failing of her trust. If Tom had changed his mind . . .

But Tom, as soon as the back of Mistress Ponet’s rustling skirts disappeared completely within, caught Cordell’s elbow and propelled her rapidly back down the stone steps and into the street. They ran together, heedless of curious stares, into a dark alley, then out onto another narrow lane. Tom’s two horses were tethered and waiting for them.

Breathless, Cordell kilted up her skirts and mounted, not caring what any thought of the display of leg. She was doing it. She was getting away. She barely felt the hard little saddle slamming into her seat, or the rough stirrups rubbing against her wool stockings. She dug her heels into the horse’s flanks to urge him to greater speed. Moving as quickly as they dared through the twisting, cobbled streets of Strasbourg, they fled toward the riverbank.

“I’ve a barge waiting,” Tom called over his shoulder. “We’ll head south in case any think to follow. They’ll not expect that.”

Cordell laughed aloud. It was appropriate, and not without irony, that they should head in the wrong direction. Everything seemed turned around since Sir Anthony’s death, so much so that she wondered if it would ever be right again.

They boarded without challenge and as the watercraft slipped away from shore, Cordell looked for the last time upon Strasbourg. Was justice slipping away, too? She knew there was no more she could do to gather evidence if she stayed, that her continued presence only endangered the success of her father’s mission, and yet she felt uneasy, as if she had missed something important, some clue so obvious that she’d discounted it.

“I’ll see to the horses,” Tom said, giving her elbow an encouraging squeeze before he left.

Dear Tom, she thought as she watched him move away. She was taking advantage of his loyalty shamefully, even shamelessly. Her smile turned wry. She could imagine what they were saying back at the church. She wondered, too, if they had really meant to let her leave with Roger. It depended, she supposed, upon how deeply involved he was in their treasonous plans. It scarcely mattered now. Tom had freed her from all of them.

But even as the thought passed through her mind, she saw the arm uplifted in the water below. A swimmer was approaching the barge, and when his head lifted, briefly, above the river’s surface, she had to stifle a cry of dismay.

His strength was failing. She sensed it even as she realized no one else had seen the lone figure following them. She could turn away, and be safe, but if she did, Martin would surely drown. With an anguished sound, she flung herself flat at the edge of the splinter‑laden wooden surface and stretched out her hands. Seconds later she had his wrists in her grasp. Another moment and he was scrambling up beside her, dripping like a drowned rat and smelling worse, and offering her a hand to help her back to her feet.

“I will not go back, Martin,” she told him firmly.

And here’s the current version, about a third of the way through a 73,000 word manuscript:

A short time later, the Roydons and the Ponets left for the small stone church the English exiles shared with a French‑speaking Calvinist congregation. Roger had already gone ahead. They would expect the bride, since she had convinced them she was resigned to the marriage, to set out in that direction a few minutes later, escorted by Simon Fuller. Instead, Simon and Cordell turned the opposite way, heading for the narrow lane where Simon had tethered two horses.

As soon as they were out of sight of Roydon’s house, Cordell ripped the garland from her hair and tossed it away.

Uncaring that she displayed her legs to the curious stares of passers-by, Cordell kilted up her skirts and mounted a placid bay mare. Taking only time enough to pull the hood of her cloak up over her head, she dug her heels into her mount’s flanks and followed Simon’s larger horse, a dappled gelding, to ride as fast as they dared through the twisting, cobbled streets of Strasbourg toward the river.

Their destination was a passenger barge bound for the quiet Alsatian town of Colmar. Once aboard, Simon left her standing near several large bales of trade goods while he saw to securing the horses.

Dear Simon, she thought as she watched him move away. He had not hesitated to help her escape and she knew she could count on him to keep her safe on the long journey ahead.

By now everyone waiting at the church would know she and Simon had disappeared. They would search for them, she supposed, but by the time they thought to visit the waterfront, the barge would be long gone. That thought had no sooner passed through her mind than she caught sight of a familiar face.

Just as the barge began to move away from the dock, a gangly figure launched itself toward the deck. For a moment, Cordell thought he would end up in the river and likely drown, but by some miracle he succeeded in making the jump. He was breathing hard when he trotted up to her but his face wore a triumphant grin.

“I will not go back, Martin.”

Not so different, you say? Well, no. Is it better written? I think so. And there was a good reason for having Martin make the leap to the barge instead of swimming after it. Following the publication of Winter Tapestry, someone who had actually been to Strasbourg informed me that any attempt at such a feat would have been fatal. Poor Martin would have drowned.

Scenes Cordell wasn’t in are gone, of course, although some of the information in them had to be presented elsewhere (clues, you know!). I’ve also added to some scenes, fleshing out secondary characters and adding dialogue and descriptive details. I switched the order of paragraphs around in a great many places, since the original order didn’t always make sense. In real life, jumping from subject to subject and back again during a conversation isn’t unusual, but in written dialogue it can be confusing.

I’m sure there will be those who think I’ve been wasting my time rewriting a perfectly good book, especially one that I already reissued as an e-book back in 2003. But aside from the fact that some of the clunky sentences in the old version literally made me cringe, there’s been another benefit for me in tackling this project. I’m enjoying writing again. I’m actually having fun making it better.

cover of the currently available e-book

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 and


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13 Responses to Making it Better

  1. Cathy Counts says:

    Kaitlin, reading your original manuscript selection from way back when and then reading your recent revision was a highly pleasing exercise. The changes you made gave much more information and the situation was so much more plausible, I could relax and enjoy the story. Thanks for sharing this revision.

  2. Fewer words, deftly employed. The image of her tearing the flowers from her hair! Isn’t it great that we do improve over time? Very encouraging to read this post.

  3. maggierobinsonwriter says:

    Most excellent! I’d be afraid to look at earlier books–I don’t think I’d ever stop editing them! And they probably need it too, LOL.

    • kaitlynkathy says:

      Thanks, Maggie. That IS the hard part. Every time I start a read-through, just looking for typos, I catch myself starting to fiddle with the words again. It’s a wonder anything is ever “finished”

  4. Julianne Spreng says:

    When you mentioned moving paragraphs around for better understanding, I can so relate. There are cover letters and instruction sheets used in my business that cause a tingle or an itch each time I read them. Then all of a sudden I realize that the order of certain paragraphs or words in the paragraphs are wrong. After a quick rearrangement the feeling of wrongness is corrected and the piece is better for it.

  5. kaitcarson says:

    Fabulous, love the changes.

  6. jselbo says:

    I think it’s changed a LOT. So immediate now – it was interesting the first 90,000 book read of course, I was worried. But in the 73,000 version – my heart started beating a bit faster as I read – I was “in” it. So glad you shared this – so fascinating!

    I just re-worked a play that I had written 20 years ago! It’s a wild comedy farce about a character named Enoch who is, in present day, working with Thomas Edison – they are collaborating through an airwave to a parallel planes – it’s all about energy/layers of love and daring to move forward. I knew I had never “cracked” it back then, and when a theater asked to do a reading of one of my plays – I decided not to “play it safe” and have them read one that I was confident in – that “worked”. I went back in and “cracked” the wild play and wow – it made me feel great. Of course it could bomb and people may think it’s too silly or too “out there” – but it can now be put into my “finished” (at least for now) pile.

    • Cathy Counts says:

      I’d like to read your revised play when it’s done. Is it a Maine or NewHampshir theater company that might be producing it, or at least doing a staged reading of it?

    • kaitlynkathy says:

      Thanks, Jule. Here’s hoping your revised play is a huge success.

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