Ten-ish Years Later
It’s 2007. I’ve written and (self–sigh, and that’s a saga all on its own) published* a novel (note: I don’t exactly regret self-publishing The Voyage to Ruin, except for the part where I kinda do. I have a tendency to jump the gun on things, and I wonder if maybe it would’ve been a better book if I had waited), and I’m in a bit of a lull. Hey, I say to myself, what about that old story..? It wasn’t all that bad; maybe I should pull it out, give it a polish, and try again to get it published.
*Actually, the self-publishing of VtR might not have happened until 2009? I am bad with dates.
So, the plan. The plan was to look it over and give it a polish where needed, right?
Well. Yeah. Look, when you’re relatively young-ish, ten years is a long freaking time. The gap between nineteen and twenty-nine is incalculably huge, especially when you’ve gone from being a free-spirited wanderer who thinks rather too well of herself and has plenty of disposable income but not very much life experience, to a married woman trying to hack it as a freelance artist, who meanwhile has read not only the Western canon and a ton of bad fantasy, but also finally encountered her One True Literary Love, the great and inimitable Patrick O’Brian (heart). Put it another way: I learned a lot in ten years, and I didn’t even realize it.
Or, to put it a third, more succinct way: my beloved first novel sucked beyond my ability to describe.
I found an old journal I wrote back in ’07 about my discovery; here’s what I said:
What was wrong with it? Everything! The language alternated between Pompous and Stilted and much too casual: Behold, for verily I say unto thee, I am like totally writing a Great Epic Fantasy Novel! The tone was that of an obnoxious would-be auteur who thinks having read Homer and Dante, Plato and Aristotle, are by themselves qualifications for superior wisdom. “Hey,” I wanted to say to my younger self. “Get over it! Other people in the world have read the great works of Western literature! And they’re probably less stuck-up about it!”
Of course, she didn’t really need my advice, I guess. She got over it on her own, or I wouldn’t be sitting here writing this.
The story itself was fine–is still fine, I think. I mean the bones of the tale underneath all the flab and fat and junk. Maybe a bit too meandery, and don’t get me started on the generic fantasy setting and the cheesy dialogue. But! After my initial despair, I thought, “Okay, we can work with this. There’s just going to be extra steps.”
Of course, the “extra steps” basically boiled down to TOTAL REWRITE.
(Interestingly–to me–at least, I just listened to an interview with N.K. Jemisin, who it turns out had a very similar experience with her epic novel The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. It makes me feel a little better, less stuck-in-the-past-y, to know that an Actual Published Author–award-winning!–went through the same thing. When your abilities aren’t up to the story you want to tell, tell it again and again until you get it right, I guess.)
So by the end of ’07 I had a good chunk rewritten, and I was feeling pretty good about it. Yet here we are in 2011 and the book’s not done; what happened?