I know some of the other Wenches have talked here about the process of re-releasing some of their earlier books in digital e-book format, but be that as it may, I thought I’d share some of my thoughts on the subject too, especially as the titles I’ve been working on are the first books I ever wrote.
It’s been a fascinating—and sometimes painful!—experience to re-read my beginning forays into creating stories and characters. Perhaps I shouldn’t admit it here, but when I began, I really knew none of the rules. I had never heard of RWA, had never taken a writing workshop, had never belonged to a critique group. I was an avid reader, and had loved creating stories when I was little—my mother preserved some of those carefully crafted booklets, lavishly illustrated with colored pencil drawings. As you can see, at age five, my first love was Westerns. Ah, but luckily, my mother handed me a copy of Pride and Prejudice when I was in junior high school—and I came to adore a different sort of Men in Boots.
In college I decided to pursue art instead of English, and that led to a career in publication design as an Art Director, which was all about combining words and images. (I guess you could say I’ve had a left brain-right brain love affair with books and magazines for most of my life.) The urge to write again came about in one of those serendipitous moments we all experience in life. I passed an elderly man on the street in New York City who was selling paperback books. There was a stack of Georgette Heyer novels. (Another confession—I hadn’t discovered her yet.) I bought a few—and promptly went to the library and checked out every other one. When I finished, I found the Signet Regency line—oh, joy! It was then that I determined I wanted to write a Regency romance.
As I said, I was totally clueless as to craft, but I was too stupid to let that stop me. I simply sat down at my desk and started to write . . .
That first try ended up, by a huge stroke of luck, being sold to Signet and was published as The Defiant Governess. As it happens, that’s one of the titles I just re-released last week with a fresh new packaging and a careful line edit to correct some of the rookie mistakes that made it into the paperback original. (I totally mangled the forms of address, calling my heroine Miss Jane in many places instead of Lady Jane. I’m surprised I wasn’t raked over the coals by knowledgeable readers.)
The Defiant Governess and two other titles have been grouped into the “Lessons In Love” trilogy (a clever marketing idea, I hope!) as they all feature governesses. Second Chances was my fourth book, and The Storybook Hero, which was a RITA finalist, was my eight book.
In re-reading the manuscripts to correct any factual errors and clean up any really egregiously awkward language, I made a number of discoveries—herewith, The Good, The Bad and The Ugly:
1. For some reason, when I started out I seemed to like a strangely passive sentence structure. “His hand moved to pick up the glass.” I did that a lot. And trust me, I had to slap my own hand to keep from doing to extensive a job of rewriting . . .though I couldn’t refrain from making some changes. Thank Goodness I grew out of that phase fairly quickly.
2. I really seemed to keep mangling forms of addresses for the aristocracy. (It took a gentle chiding from Mary Jo to realize I better keep a chart of correct forms of address for first sons, second sons, etc. right at my fingertips. I think I’ve gotten better at it. (The original errors should now be corrected!)
3. It was a bit heartening to see that my skill with language and sentence structure got better as I went along. Flow, cadence, word choice—I slowly began to develop a style. In re-reading, I still saw a lot of rough edges that made me wince, but I also saw things that made me smile and say, “hey, that wasn’t half bad.”
But perhaps the most interesting discovery was how the essential qualities of my heroines were evident right from the start. They are strong-willed, independent, and willing to take risks to defy convention. They’re vulnerable, but they have the courage to keep going, even when they are buffeted by pain and doubts. I still write the same sort of women . . . a bit more nuanced and layered, I hope. And with enough variation to keep a reader interested. Yes, it’s still a journey, and I hope I keep learning how to make those heroines richer, and more nuanced. However, I like that my rookie self knew where I wanted to go.
How about you? Have you ever looked back at your first attempts at something, be it painting, writing, gardening, scrapbooking or whatever. What were your reactions? Love? Hate? Or something in between?