I want to thank upcoming debut author Raymond Bolton for his thoughts on reworking his first novel.
Considering most writers I know say, “I managed 900 words today,” “1,500,” “two complete chapters,” I am producing negative numbers. The manuscript I’m working on is the first novel I wrote. And while I understand all the flaws that led to its rejection, I still have faith in the story. So many writers disparage their early work and I hope it’s because those stories were flawed. That’s why so many things I’ve begun have never seen daylight: no heart, no soul, no guts or cajones. But while I’ve completed other works I’m pleased with, I keep returning to this one because, at its heart, something begs to be unearthed.
It began its life as a 174,000 word behemoth, years in the making because I needed to learn how to spin epic fantasy. When it was done, the ending sucked. My wife said so. I was tired of writing and just wrapped it up. I’d slaved over a gourmet dinner, then threw handfuls onto plates saying, “There. It’s done. Now eat it.” Three attempts later, my wife assured me the ending worked, but insisted I was too verbose. Nonetheless, I sent it out.
Among the “not for us” rejection slips, I did receive some praise. “Your writing is good. It moves forward.” Less strong was, “It almost knocked me out.” Bunts. No homer. Further, those who spared the time to pen a note all pointed to word count. My baby needed slimming.
I reduced it to 147K, agonizing over the disappearance of so much hard work. Then, one agent said she’d give it a look if I’d pare it to 125 thousand. To no avail, I exceeded her request. The problem was the writing. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t great. Good doesn’t cut it.
So I studied. I studied Ernest Hemmingway’s compact prose, Dean Koontz’s elegant turn of a phrase and Jacqueline Carey’s imagery knowing someday, once my skills improved, the gem within would emerge. Writing, however, takes time to mature. I shelved the project, wrote two more novels, changing genre in the process. All the while, the epic refused to remain sleeping, tugging at my consciousness, demanding my attention. It needed to be told. This is not how an inadequate story behaves.
Now, after some years’ absence, I’m back to it, tweaking and caressing. Allusion replaces declaration. One word replaces several. This weekend I stripped away more than 1,000 words by reappraising, deleting and rewriting. I believe those passages are clearer, leaner, but not sparse. They are stronger for it. I am not seeking terseness, but refinement.
When I’ve finished, I will read it again, aloud to insure it flows because the language must propel, not impede the story. I am compressing coal.
Raymond Bolton is an aspiring author living in the Pacific Northwest with his wife, Toni, and their cats, Georgie and Sophia. He has written poetry, for which he has received some recognition, and three novels. Two are explorations in other world fantasy: Renunciation, an epic, and Thought Gazer, an adventure, part of a planned trilogy and prequel to the epic. His most recent one, The Message, is a political thriller.
Until it was disbanded at the end of 2012, he was an invited, featured contributor to http://blackinkwhitepaper.wordpress.com/ , a writers’ blog showcasing, aside from himself, eleven authors, most of whom are multiply published with several awards among them. In 2010, having written only nineteen poems ever, he garnered third place for poetry in the Pacific Northwest Writers Association’s annual literary contest. In 2013, Renunciation was a finalist in that same competition and won wrtierstype.com’s June First Chapter competition.
Both Renunciation and The Message are scheduled for publication in early 2014. Thought Gazer will be released later that year, as will Fallout, a novel still in development, and sequel to The Message. The first three chapters of Mr. Bolton’s three completed novels are available for download as PDFs from his website. Should you choose sign the site’s guestbook, you will receive early notification of each work’s release date.
You can find more of Raymond at Twitter.