This month’s topic: knowing what I know now, what would I change in my first book?
Hemingway-esque answer: Not a damn thing. (Mostly.)
My first published book, coincidentally, is the very first manuscript I wrote: Cooper’s Folly. I started writing it during maternity leave in 2000 (because what else are you supposed to do during maternity leave, right?) and entered it in RWA’s Golden Heart contest four months later. I was practicing law at the time, and four months seemed like a good deadline for writing a book.
(I’m no longer practicing law, but I still think deadlines are fun. Sick, I know.)
That manuscript won the Golden Heart. I knew I’d undoubtedly sell the book immediately and soon be on my way to fame, glory, and untold riches.
Ha ha ha ha ha.
Twelve years later, thanks to a conversation at an RWA conference, I dusted off that (unsold) manuscript, shrieking at my inability in 200o to speak or write using contractions. (While practicing law, you DO NOT use contractions in documents, and I spoke like I wrote. I recently found out that I’m still more geeky and anal-compulsive with language than most people. Oooops.)
BUT I revised the manuscript and threw in some contractions and more cell phones and made it sound like a somewhat normal person had written it. More precisely, it sounded how I wrote in 2012 as opposed to 2000, but the book itself was essentially unchanged in plot, structure, etc., from my 2000 version. I submitted it to Bell Bridge Books. They bought it. It came out in 2014.
So I’ve already had the chance to go back, knowing what I know now (or at least knowing what I knew 12 years after first writing a book), and see what I’d change.
Yeah, I fiddle around with word choices. (Who doesn’t?) But every book I’ve written since I started writing in 2000 remains the book I was supposed to write at that time. I don’t think a book needs “fixing” in a fundamental way (unless an editor thinks so; ha ha), because it’s a portrait of who I was at the moment I wrote it.
I’ve had bad hair decades (in the case of the Perm Years) and octagon glasses and freckles and broken noses and ugly scars and heartbreak and all sorts of things that are not the envy of anyone. But all of that is part of me. (Alas! lol.) In the same way, each of my manuscripts is part of me. I don’t apologize for who I am or who I’ve been. (Okay, except maybe the Perm Years.) For better or worse, I’m me.
I write different types of stories now from the ones I wrote years ago. Five or ten years from now, I’ll undoubtedly write different stories from what I’m writing now. And that’s great. But each of them is part of me, and I like every part of me.
No major additions or deletions for me, thanks. Unless you’re my editor. J
Mary Strand is the author of Pride, Prejudice, and Push-Up Bras and three other novels in the Bennet Sisters YA series. You can find out more about her at marystrand.com.