I have been thinking about changes I’ve gone through since I decided to follow(far, far behind) in my brother Jann’s footsteps and become a published writer. Part of the impetus was my move to Calgary to help care for my mother, but a larger consideration was the fact that I was fast approaching retirement and wanted something that would keep me busy and generate extra income. Jann had been writing for a few years and his choice had brought him success, so I thought I would do the same. After all, I had been a voracious reader since grade school and assumed this gave me a figurative leg up in the process of crafting stories. Boy was I wrong.
I cheated on my first release, The Parson’s Rescue, which I offered as an Amazon eBook. What I mean by that is Jann, through the goodness of his heart, read it through and suggested numerous changes, which I made before publishing. It did not sell as well as I hoped, but I was a new author who hadn’t established himself, in this or any other genre, so I didn’t worry too much about the lack of sales. This is where hubris stepped in and beat the crap out of me.
With one book under my belt, I foolishly convinced myself that what I had learned in the writing and publishing of my first story was sufficient to take me through the process of creating something with a little more depth, and length. Now to confess, without trying to tar anyone with the same brush as me, I did ask Jann’s opinion on my outline, but there was only so much he could do. With his assistance I fixed some, not all, of the issues he identified and set about writing the next great novel, which I titled Hidden Desires.
The reviews were, shall we say, unkind? I was excoriated for plot holes I failed to see, geographic mistakes, etc., but the criticism I found hardest to swallow was about the dialogue. People found it pretentious and wooden, or worse, stilted, and the presentation of my characters, especially ODC, unbelievable. At first I was mad, but then I began to compare what the reviews were saying with what I had written, and they were in almost every instance correct. In fact, I found the book so bad I pulled it from Amazon. One of these days I intend to go through it from cover to cover, addressing all of the valid concerns. I’ll then redesign the cover and republish it, but that is in the future, and I have other issues to fix first.
Since that first story, and especially since Hidden Desires, I have worked hard at improving my craft. I focused first on my dialogue, and with a lot of helpful advice managed to improve it tremendously, if subsequent reviews are reliable, and I choose to believe they are, darn it! People are actually complimenting that part of my writing in their reviews, and it makes me happy to know my efforts are paying off. I make no claims about completely solving the issue, but I watch what I write, and Jann introduced me to an app that helps by reading everything back to me, with an English accent, no less.
The further I go on this sometimes amazing but ofttimes frustrating journey, the more I recognize my shortcomings as an author. I tend to drone on when describing anything, from scenery to characters’ thoughts and everything in between. It is something I am working on, but habits don’t change just because we want them to. It takes persistence above all, and the humility to accept our faults, which includes the ones we find as well as those others bring to our attention.
I try to make each story better than the one preceding it. I read the reviews, paying close attention to the readers who have taken the time to offer opinions about where they believe I am falling short. If suggestions are a part of the review, so much the better. Honest criticism helps us grow as authors, and that is what we are striving for, is it not?
I tend to ignore those reviews that only want to denigrate my efforts. The ones I get a laugh from are those who pick apart a story, set in the late eighteenth or early nineteenth century, by applying twenty-first century morals or methods. A review for Disgraceful Conduct raked me over the coals for not having the police come out to investigate the attack on Georgiana. A minute or two of research would have informed them there was at best a rudimentary judicial system, and no constabulary to speak of, so it was up to the victim to find the criminal and bring them to justice, including prosecuting them in what passed for a court of law. I am the first to admit that not everything I put on the page is completely accurate, but I do my best to research my subject before including it in the story. As any author staging their tales in the Regency era can attest, there are times when you have to wing it, and take your best guess because you have been stymied at finding what you need.
All I will claim is that improvement is for me a continual process, one I will assuredly never finish.
As a final note, the first draft of Lady Catherine’s Regret is finished and I am moving into my favorite part of writing, the editing(NOT), after which it will go to my editor and my beta readers. I refuse to guess when it will be published, because I am consistently out to lunch when I do. My hope is that those who choose to take another chance on me feel my skill as a storyteller is growing.