Revisiting Old Friends

Diana Pharaoh FrancisDiana Pharaoh Francis
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As I mentioned previously, The Cipher is going to be reissued and I’m getting a chance to look it over again and make changes. This is something most writers don’t get to do. Or rather, this is something that we didn’t used to get to do. Before the rise of self-publishing (as well as small press publishing), once a book went out of print, it wasn’t all that feasible for a writer to republish her novels. Most publishers weren’t willing to reprint books without some major impetus–like the writer’s more recent books had hit big, for instance. So older books languished and writers didn’t have a reason to revisit them. I never thought I would revisit The Cipher with an eye toward revising. I thought it was a good book, so even with the reissue, I didn’t really think about it a lot until my editor suggested that if could if I wanted to.

I really liked The Cipher, as I’ve mentioned before. But I cracked it open and pretty quick found little things here and there I could tweak. My editor had taken a look at reader comments concerning Marten in particular, and suggested that I see if I could find ways to make him more accessible to readers–make him more likeable. The trouble is that Marten is one of my favorite characters because he is so dreadfully flawed, and then he

obligatory and updated author photo

obligatory and updated author photo

manages to redeem himself. He doesn’t screw up just once or even just twice. He digs a big hole and it takes awhile to get out of it. It’s his journey that I like, especially the way he backslides every time he plans to do better.

As I was doing the revision on the book, I began to realize that a lot of what I felt about Marten hadn’t made it to the page. I didn’t capture as well as I wanted to his struggles and failures with himself, and then his turn-around. I also made him weak in ways that didn’t fit. I found instance where he made a choice that totally undermined his character and made him much less than he was. It was a relatively minor moment, but it struck a strong sour note for me and I think it really tainted how readers could relate to him. It’s gone now.

Revisiting him meant also revisiting Lucy. A lot of their interactions needed tweaking. I decided she came off as too cold, too brittle, when really she felt more trapped inside a the rules of her life. She loved her life, but also felt angry and abused by the rules she had to live by and her family’s lack of belief in her. She was in want of being, as Lacan would say. She had wants that even she couldn’t identify and that drove her to do things. Some of those things were self-destructive. I would say that Marten was similarly driven. What he wanted, he couldn’t get. He couldn’t know it to speak it, so he chased it and couldn’t get it.

Of course, at the end, both get to their desires, which turn out to be far more complex than simply saying that they found this thing, this macguffin, that they wanted or needed. It was self-discovery and finding a way of living, a way of being, that made sense to them. A way of living in the world that made them feel needed and fulfilled and anchored.

Revisiting helped me to cement more of what I’d been trying to do. I could see little tweaks that would make enormous difference, and I added bigger bits to flesh them out. In the end, I’m very please, and yet terrified that I did it poorly and that readers will throw bricks at me. I can’t wait to find out which it will be. In the meantime, I’ll be chomping my fingernails to the bloody quicks. 

I also rediscovered (as if I didn’t know), that I have something of a bloodthirsty streak when it comes to my writing. I apparently like my characters to suffer.

I feel I’ve been a little bit vague here, not offering specifics. I’m a little afraid of spoilerage. I’ll leave it to you to ask questions so I can get more specific. So . .  . Questions?

 

The Biography of Me: I didn’t start out to be a writer. I was a storyteller from as far back as I can remember, and a daydreamer of epic stories, but it never occurred to me to write anything down. I read voraciously, but I wasn’t one of those people who said–hey! I could do this! Or even, this is so awful I could do better. I marveled at writers and thought of writing as something other people did. I did try my hand at some really horrible poetry in my senior year of high school. It was dramatic and bleak and world-tiltingly awful. When I got to college, I did poorly in my freshman comp class. I wrote in purple prose and use twenty words for what I could say in two. I loved language, but I didn’t really have much control over it. Then I took a creative writing class. It was awful. Total slaughter. I had caught the bug, though, and from there on out, I wrote. Eventually I wrote a really bad romance and finished it. I finished it! I could do that! And then I went to graduate school and another graduate school, got married, had dogs, had kids, went to work professing, and kept writing. Finally I had my first book accepted and I’ve been writing ever since.

As far as the prosaic stuff goes, I like to crochet, bake bread, spoil corgis, eat chocolate, sing to the radio, pretend to play tennis, geocache, crochet, and garden. Though I really hate weeding. I also like to make my hair purple with some frequency. You can find me on twitter as @dianapfrancis and my website at www.dianapfrancis.com or on facebook.

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7 comments to Revisiting Old Friends

  • Di, I love going back and redoing some books. I (okay, Gwen) did a fairly major rewrite of Betrayal when it came back out, and it was lovely to change a few things. The book is 20 years old, and I had to decide if I was going to upgrade or tech-asize it (as in making it modern day). I decided to leave that part out, and just worked on other aspects of the novel, but it was fun, though sales haven’t been huge.

    I hope The Cipher does much better than mine, and makes big waves for you!

  • We have the rights to my LonTobyn Chronicle back and at some point in the near future I want to get the books out again. But I have been debating whether to do only a line edit, to get rid of the most egregious writing problems from that first effort, or to really delve into it and do major revisions. Hard to say what I’ll decide until I sit down with the books again. The prospect is both daunting and exciting. Thanks for sharing this with us, Di.

  • Every time I look at a work even a couple years behind, I see how far I’ve come and marvel at what I missed in those earlier works. It’s why I’ll always keep my earliest pieces. Just to show the difference between then and now. I still have all the stuff I wrote back when I was maybe 15/16 in high school. I’m 42 now. I still keep examples of my progress. It’s helped me better myself every time. And you’d be surprised how much just a couple years difference can make in your skill. And then there’s always those little nuggets from your past you can mine for inspiration. Keep moving forward, but don’t forget what brought you there.

  • The Cipher sounds intriguing and it’s now in my queue. Hopefully it’s timed well and reaches the top just as the revisions are published.

    When you go back and look at something like this, do you ever think “oh god, I actually wrote this?” or is it more like reminiscing with a friend?

  • quillet

    I’m looking forward to The Cipher too; what you’ve told us so far (in this and a previous post) sounds like exactly my cup of tea!

    My question is similar to Dave’s, in that I’m wondering how you feel about your older work. Do you think you’ve reached a level of distance that gives you more objectivity now? Or is it more a case of having developed in your craft, or possibly in your own maturity or life-experience? All of the above? Something else? Just curious. And I’m wondering how hard it is to make the changes. Sounds like you’re having fun, but does it ever feel like you’re killing your darlings? Or does it feel right? Or a bit of both…? (Okay I’ll shut up now.)

  • Faith: I’m not sure about big waves, but I will be really curious as to what readers think. Tech would be the hardest thing to update, I think. Plus you update it knowing that in just a little while you’ll be out of date.

    David: It is crazy thing to do. I was thinking that it wouldn’t be much, and then the writer brain took over. It still doesn’t seem like that much, and yet at the same time it feels like a huge shift in the book.

    Daniel: Exactly so. I don’t often look back without cringing, but this time, I still love a lot of the book. More wincing and fixing for those moments.

    Dave: You’re awesome! There were moments where I got caught up in the story and forgot I wrote it and kept wondering what would happen next (yeah, it’s a bit insane of me, I know) and then moments where I had to wince and fix and thought, damn, I wrote that? EW.

    Quillet: Awesome again! Definitely there’s more objectivity, but also a lot of knew knowledge and skills. I’ve learned more on a lot of levels including life-experience, but I’ve also learned more about story and writing and how to get onto the page the thing that I’m looking for. The changes are fairly easy to do in terms of I see the need, but I definitely cut some bits that I loved. They weren’t necessary to the story, just color, but I still loved them. Made for a better story. I am still terrified that I’m totally wrong in my changes. Ulp.

  • It does seem like a great opportunity to revisit old work and (hopefully) get paid for it. Do you think the changes you’ve made have drastically affected the overarching series arc? Do the changes make new storylines possible that weren’t before? Can’t wait to check out The Cipher when it’s out!