Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Mining Your Unpublished Novels

By Steve Weddle

We're talking about THE LAST KIND WORDS in the DSD book club. Pop over and join in. Feel free to start your own thread, too.

Oh, and here's a cool interview with Julian Barnes. I just read THE SENSE OF AN ENDING and quite dug it. The interview is from a decade or so ago, but still has great insight into reading and writing.

Of course, some novelists have produced only one great book—Dr. Zhivago, The Leopard. In fact, should one be a sort of jobbing novelist and produce lots of books at regular intervals? Why shouldn’t one great book suffice?
Absolutely right. No reason at all why one should go on writing just for the sake of it. I think it is very important to stop when you haven’t got anything to say. But novelists sometimes stop for the wrong reasons—Barbara Pym gave up because she was discouraged by her publisher, who said that her books had become flat. I’m not much of an E. M. Forster fan, but he stopped when he thought he had nothing more to say. That is admirable. Perhaps he should have stopped even earlier. 

Also, PULP INK is free for now. The book has all your favorite authors, so go grab a free copy.

And I've started a thing for your phone/mobile/tablet that I call Shorts2Go in response to friends who've said they like to read stories on their phones. I looked for decent sites that collected stories I liked and wanted to share with folks. Some were cool. None were formatted to work cleanly on your phone. Or my phone. So I started Shorts2Go. For you people. Because I love you. Dave says I should Kickstart it for $100,000 so I can buy copies of WITNESS TO DEATH.

So, anyhoo, I've been working on the next big project.

I have two novels in the drawer. They're the first and second of a series. The first one set things up fairly well, but, for whatever reason, we never closed the deal on it. The second one takes most of the same characters and throws them into another disaster.

You know how this works, so why am I explaining it to you?

Well, I went back to the first novel to streamline it. Keep in mind, this is a novel I started nearly a decade ago. I don't write the same way anymore. I don't have the same, well, whatever it is real writers call "style." My writing is different and I write differently.

So revisiting the first novel is weird as hell.

Anyhoo, I figured I'd take some of what I liked from the first one and some of what I liked from the second one and see could I work something out. They both have similar themes, though the second one is considerably darker than the first.

But they both have good writing in them. I say that with very little pride. I'm just telling you. There's good writing in there. And there's writing that's not so awesome. So, I don't want to just let the characters in there die, never to exist, suffocated in some .rtf file on a hard drive I won't be able to find in a few years.

Have you ever mined earlier works for pieces? I mean, extensive mining? Not running down there and grabbing a scene, but really devoting a year to digging about?

Did it work? Is there a trick to doing it well?


Dana King said...

I have four PI novels that never sold, though one came close. They've been in the drawer for five-to-ten years and i moved on to other things, one of which included using the PI hero as a guest star.

I finished only the other day re-reading them all, figuring, what the hell, I can put them out for Kindle and see what happens. As you mentioned, my writing has changed a lot. I think they're good stories, though, so I'll probably take my time and go through them all, tidying things, updating the style, cutting things I don't like as much as I used to, and adding one small detail about the detective I hadn't thought of before.

I figure, what the hell? I also have an aborted volume of the same series ready to be cannibalized should the need arise. It's one of the great virtues of writing on a computer. Nothing should ever be wasted.

Steve Weddle said...

Dana, You have brought up an interesting side to this I hadn't considered -- whether being able to publish novels ourselves means there's less reason to rework these into something we think is more 'mainstream' publishable.
I may not have said that right.

Writing on computers makes cannibalizing easier, as you say. I wonder if Kindle publishing changes that in terms of deciding whether to pillage or publish.

Bill Cameron said...

In the 80s and 90s, I spent nearly 10 years working on an epic fantasy novel—epic in the sense that if you dropped the manuscript on your foot, your next stop would be the emergency room. In many ways the novel wasn't bad, and even had some flashes of nearly good. But after a while I came to accept it would never be publishable and moved on.

But there were two aspects of it that worked well, both characters. I kept wishing there was a way to turn the damn thing around, because I really loved those two. Then, as I was noodling ideas for my follow up to Chasing Smoke, it hit me. One of those characters, Ellie Spaneker, could serve as the foundation for the story. There were changes necessary, of course. The fantasy had a contemporary U.S. setting, so at least she could fit naturally into Skin Kadash's world. But I had to get rid of her ability to do magic, of course. There were other changes as well, but at her core, she was the same Ellie. Two chapters from the original made the trip, as well as a few secondary characters.

There were two benefits to doing this. Simply using a character I loved was its own reward, but perhaps the most important benefit is I put that damn fantasy novel behind me forever. Over the years, I'd been tempted again and again to tear into it, bring it up to snuff. Friends even asked about it. It was just good enough that the allure lingered. But once Ellie found a new home in Day One, that temptation died.

Was I ever grateful.

Since, I've pulled the second character I liked from the fantasy to serve as the main character of the YA mystery I've been working on the last year+. Got rid of his magic too, as well as recast much of his back story. No chapters came along for the ride with this one, and his backstory has changed considerably, but the guy is my original guy. And with him, I'm done mining the fantasy novel.

Joelle Charbonneau said...

I wrote 4 novels before writing SKATING AROUND THE LAW. Everyone keeps telling me that I should put those novels up on Amazon and see what happens. I have to admit, I was curious to reread them and yeah - no. Not to say there weren't good moments in some of them. The last one was actually pretty good. But my writing has changed a lot. I've changed a lot. The more novels I've written, the more I know about constructing sentences and pacing and...well, all that writerly stuff. So, the amount of work it would take to "fix" those novels so I could be proud of my name being on them is extreme. And maybe I'm lazy to not try. But I'm not. And for that reason, I tend not to use any of the prose from those books in others. I might borrow a few of the themes that I thought we interesting or snag a fun backstory for a side character, but typically what ended up in the draw stays in the draw because...well...for me, at least, it was in the drawer for a reason.

Steve Weddle said...

That's great. I think taking the characters out is kinda what appeals to me about this project. I hate to see them just never exist.

Yeah. Backstories and side characters.

Maybe what is worth mining from the earlier books is the characters created.

Jane Hammons said...

I have 3 unpublished novels that I've mined for short stories that have been published. Which is great. But then I have to wonder--maybe they were meant to be short stories all along. Maybe I am a short story writer and not a novelist? This doesn't keep me from writing unpublished novels . . . if only to mine for short stories!

Nick said...

I say writers put whatever they want on kindle or like yesterday kickstarter.

Let readers decide if it is any good and they can buy what they like.

Why would you want to do all that work and have nothing to show for it?

It is like building a house and not letting anyone live in it.