I started work on A Precarious Balance, sequel to A Lonely Magic, last week. I didn’t get very far, partially because I kept getting distracted by Grace, but also because I was flailing a bit. I’ve got lots of notes, and there were things I’d already written that I wanted to re-use, so I compiled everything into a Scrivener file and got started. But as I tried to write, I was having a tough time finding Fen’s voice.
I finally decided two days ago that I needed to re-read the book again and refresh my memory on all the details, not just the ones that I’d put into my notes.
I didn’t like it.
That was a weird experience. I don’t always like what I’ve written (understatement, yes), but I LOVED writing A Lonely Magic. It was so much fun and I liked being in Fen’s head so much, and her adventures were so surprising, and such a beautiful blend of things I enjoy, science and adventure and fantasy and romance. But four years later, I’m re-reading and I didn’t like her at all. She’s bland and a little whiny and annoying.
And then, at about the halfway mark, I read the line, “Her own reputation had been shot to hell even before she dropped out and she hadn’t given fuck one.” and the “fuck” was startlingly out-of-place. It wasn’t the first time she’d used the word, but it was pretty close. And I realized that the version I was reading — which was in Vellum, which is the software I use to create ebooks — was the version I had once-upon-a-time tried to delete all the swear words from.
I wrote about it at the time. I was tired of getting negative reviews about Fen’s swearing so I tried to edit it into a “clean” version, and I realized partway through that Fen’s cursing is part of her, that it didn’t work to clean up her language, and I stopped. It REALLY doesn’t work to clean up Fen’s language. She goes from a character who is internally tough, a fighter despite her relative level of helplessness, to a… well, leaf in the wind.
In the hotel room scene, Swearing-Fen is stuck because she’s considered her options and she can’t find a way out but you know that she’s still fighting, even if it’s only in her head. (She never swears aloud in that scene, it’s all in her inner dialogue.) In the same scene, Clean-Fen is stuck and she’s passive and helpless about it. She’s going along with what other people are deciding for her future because she’s got no choice. Losing her inner obscenities takes her from edgy and angry to blandly accepting. She is not an interesting character to me when she’s being bland.
Largely, I think, that’s a good realization to have. I can’t write a book with Clean Fen. She is not someone I want to spend the next six months with. But it was not at all a happy realization to discover that the version in Vellum was the bland version. That means that the one available online is also the bland version. I know that because I only have one Vellum file and it has the latest cover. But oh, what a screw-up. I suppose it doesn’t matter terribly if I publish another version online, but these were non-trivial edits. They changed the flavor of the story. I don’t even know how long that’s the version that’s been available. Sigh.
The good news, I guess, is that it doesn’t really sell much — 100 copies in the past 12 months — so not many readers are going to know or care. Yay for being an unsuccessful author, I guess?
It is interesting, though, as a writer, to discover how such a seemingly minor change can become so important. One of my favorite occupations is playing with ideas for book covers. I’ve got probably at least a dozen designs for A Lonely Magic that I’ve toyed with — it’s literally been published with at least five or six different covers, but I’ve got a bunch more that haven’t seen the light of day — but I’ve never been satisfied, because somehow I’ve never found one that conveys the feel of the book to me. Maybe that’s because I don’t really know how the book feels?
I do know that the last time I read the book, which was in a print edition just a few months ago, I laughed when I got to the ending. Despite all the reviews that criticized the cliffhanger ending, I never believed it ended in a cliffhanger, not once. Fen found family, she found magic, she’s in a safe place, she knows who wanted to kill her, she’s defeated the bad guy — what the hell is a cliffhanger about that? Except it’s totally a cliffhanger, because when I was reading it with the perspective of time, I ended it really, really wanting to know what happens next. Everything with Malik is interesting and even though he’s the bad guy, and his resolution technically doesn’t matter, I absolutely want Fen to figure out how he’s bound and how to get him unbound.
I love your blog. It is interesting to read your speculations about your own work!
Aw, thank you! It’s not a very organized blog — I really do write about whatever I’m thinking, so it can be very random. I pretty much do exactly the opposite of every suggestion in articles about how to have a successful blog! So I’m always glad to learn someone enjoys it!
Kyla Bendt said:
I am so glad you do the opposite of what all the articles say. I hope you don’t change! I can’t stand the blogs that do all of that stuff. They are all the same and it feels so much like they are just conforming to standards. Frankly, the things they say you’re supposed to do for successful blogs are the very things that totally turn me off from a blog.
Perhaps I’m more aware of those things after reading a few of those articles on what one is supposed to do… I don’t know how non-bloggers view those tactics.
Don’t worry, I won’t be changing! I think I measure success differently than most of those articles, anyway. For me, blog success is just as much about re-reading something I wrote and liking it as it is about an Amazon affiliate sale!
Alice Clark said:
I would love to purchase anything you’ve written, but where is A Lonely Magic? I have a nook so I went to B&N the only books are the 3 full length and 2 novellas in the Tasamarra Fla. world. Then I checked on google play books cause I’ve bought from them when I couldn’t get an author on B&N. So I just checked and yes I can buy it on Amazon however I am reluctant to add yet another reading program since I also have Libby and Overdrive (library software to check out ebooks). I hate to ask but could you put it out on nook or google? Please don’t if you have to pay them to put your book out.
Alice Clark said:
As far as covers go I haven’t read the book but I preferred the one with the dragon. The other covers were all “pretty” but seemed wishy/washy to me.
Alice Clark said:
One of the authors I read is Ilona Andrews and I subscribe to their blog. They recommended Tsumiko and the Enslaved Fox by Forthright. It was kinda pricy (11.00) for an ebook but I thought it was very good. The dragon cover choice for some reason made me think of it.
I like their blog, and I bought that book, too! It was cheaper on Amazon, though — only $5.99. I liked it, too, although I didn’t love it. It felt like everyone wound up being very nice, after a beginning that was more threatening. As for A Lonely Magic, I think I had it enrolled in Kindle Unlimited for a while, to see how I felt about that program, but it’s not in there now so I could publish it somewhere else. But I’m going to need to make a new version first. You didn’t include your email address in your comment, but send me an email to sarah at sarahwynde.com and I’ll send you a file when I’ve got one. I’ll even put the cover you like on it. 🙂
Alice Clark said:
Email address is below. And I agree with you about Tsumiko and the Enslaved Fox.
Judy, Judy, Judy said:
I have never been in a position to write full-time and just writing part-time like I do I frequently get bored with the settings and the worlds and the characters I have created before I finish the book.
Hope you can gather back to a version of Fen that is likable for you.
I just finished A Lonely Magic and have to tell you that I really enjoyed it. This is my very first contact with any author and I am a voracious reader. This is a very good book. I want to encourage you to keep writing. You are very talented. I I am looking forward to your planned sequel and will keep checking your blog.
Thank you so much! I’m really glad you enjoyed it. I loved writing it, and am really looking forward to getting back into that world for a while. I’ve been distracted by real life the past few days, but I’m hoping the writing goes much faster than my last book!
I agree with those who don’t care for the swearing Fen–but then, that really is who she is. I think cleaning up her language changes her personna, and that’s not good for the story. I hope you get it straightened out… I like Fen and I love her magic…
Fen is going to stay Swearing Fen. Maybe she’ll tone it down as she gets more comfortable with power, but one of the things about Fen that interests me is that dichotomy between looking like a good girl but being tough on the inside. And her swearing, which is mostly internal, reflects that. If people don’t like the Fen I write, that’s okay, it just means it’s not the book for them. There are lots of books to read, people should read what they love!