Wednesday, August 17, 2011

the final cut

Publishers live in the future. Books I am writing at the present time are scheduled for release in 2013. Books I wrote last year or early this year are coming out in 2012. If I pen anything this fall it will come out in 2013 or 2014 if I get a contract. Anything written in 2012 and picked up by a publishing house won't be released until 2013, 2014 or even 2015, depending.

So this month I am doing the final editing on two books for US publishers. I worked with a freelance editor for the Barbour book and that final cut is done and delivered. Now Barbour is fine-tuning the covers and asking what I think. Also asking if I can suggest endorsers. I start the Harvest House edit, with a senior editor from the firm, in about a week, next Tuesday.

The funny thing about the Barbour edit is I wrote the book as a kind of lark more than two years ago in the winter of 2009. By the time it comes out on January 1st, 2012, it will be one month shy of three years since I sat down to accept the challenge of writing a good genre piece: one that engaged the reader, entertained the reader and enlightened the reader. Bear in mind this is in the footsteps not of Harlequin romances or Grave Livingstone Hill but of writers like Jane Austen, Arthur Conan Doyle, Charles Dickens, H.G. Wells, Mary Shelley and Bram Stoker. Mary and Bram wrote in the Gothic horror genre, Jane in the pastoral romance genre that ended happily with women being wedded to wealthy men, Conan Doyle wrote in the detective/mystery genre of Sherlock Holmes, Dickens the comic or tragic stories written in serial format in magazines that were published week after week after week, and Wells published in the sci-fi genre. My genre? Historical fiction romance. The trick is to play the genre game well so that it truly is an interesting tale, and perhaps a bit of a page-turner, but also has many layers of plot and story and character development so that it begins to actually transcend the genre. I have no idea if I have pulled that off but it is what I wanted to do. Readers will let me know to what degree I may have succeeded.

Of course I'm a different person in some ways than I was when I sat down to the keyboard in February, 2009 to produce the book that Barbour decided to publish on January 1st of 2012. And I've moved on to other different stories (I've written four other novels since then). So it was almost archaeological to go back to that first book and edit it two weeks ago. I still like the story and its characters but now my head is full of many other people who have come to life in my imagination whereas back then I had only a couple of novels out and comparatively few heroes and heroines bumping into one another in my head. When you help the editor make the final cut you are not doing it as the person who wrote it two or three years before. You are older now, you have written more things, so you approach the edit as a writer older and with more experience. So parts of the original story get changed because of that.

On the other hand, not much got changed in the Barbour book, not really. The story is substantially the same as what I produced in 2009. I did add a whole new chapter and that is the biggest alteration. An addition, not a deletion. I find that interesting - just because we're older doesn't mean something we created when we were younger needs to be treated as something less or inferior or substandard or in great need of extensive revision.

At any stage in our life things we do can have lasting significance, not just the stuff we do when we are older and perhaps wiser (or perhaps not). Youth has its own wisdom and courage as do projects we complete sooner in our earthly journey rather than later.

Despise nothing good you have done. Examine all. Weigh it against the balance of truth and depth and integrity. You will soon see how much of the core ought to be retained. You may be surprised at how much you knew once that you have since forgotten. But the words, spoken or written, are still weighted with the force they once had and are not lost. You may come to something you wrote once and say: "Oh, is that what I put in the young hero's mouth? How did I come up with that? Not a bad line of dialog. Hmm. I wonder if I would have had the same ability to write that today as I did then?"

At every stage of our life, we are somebody. And we have things to say that matter.

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