October 27 – November 2: “Are you a writer who loves or loathes revisions?”

thriller-roundtable-logo5This week we’re talking revisions. ITW Members Rob Brunet, Alex Shaw, Terry Shames, L.R. Nicolello, Eric Red, Mauro Azzano, Ethan Reid, C.E. Lawrence, Bob Van Laerhoven, Colin Campbell, Andrew Grant, Alan Jacobson, Andy McDermott and Margo Kelly will discuss whether they are the type of writer who loves revisions, or loathes them, and why.


Baudelaire's Revenge by Bob Van LaerhovenFlemish author Bob Van Laerhoven made his debut in 1985 with NACHTSPEL- NIGHT GAME. He writes colourful, kaleidoscopic novels in which the fate of the individual is closely related to broad social transformations. Van Laerhoven became a full-time author in 1991. As a freelance travel writer, he explored conflicts and trouble-spots across the globe from 1990 to 2004. In 2007, he won the Hercule Poirot Prize for best mystery novel of the year with DE WRAAK VAN BAUDELAIRE. The English translation BAUDELAIRE’S REVENGE was edited in the US in 2014. His novels have also been translated in French.

andrewAndrew Grant was born in Birmingham, England. He went to school in St Albans, Hertfordshire and later attended the University of Sheffield where he studied English Literature and Drama. After graduation Andrew set up and ran a small independent theatre company which showcased a range of original material to local, regional and national audiences. Following a critically successful but financially challenging appearance at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival Andrew moved into the telecommunications industry as a ‘temporary’ solution to a short-term cash crisis. Fifteen years later, after carrying out a variety of roles including several which were covered by the UK’s Official Secrets Act, Andrew became the victim / beneficiary of a widespread redundancy programme. Freed once again from the straight jacket of corporate life, he took the opportunity to answer the question, what if … ?

The Undying by Ethan ReidEthan Reid received his BA in English with Writing Emphasis from the University of Washington and his MFA from the University of Southern California’s MPW Program, where he studied under author S.L. Stebel, Oscar-nominated screenwriter Sy Gomberg, and Oscar-winning screenwriter Frank Tarloff. Ethan is a member of the HWA, the ITW and the PNWA. He currently lives in Seattle with his wife and son, where he is busy revising the sequel to The Undying (Simon451, Oct. 2014), due for a May 2015 release.


Who R U Really by Margo KellyMargo Kelly is a veteran public speaker and is now actively pursuing her love of writing. WHO R U REALLY? is her debut novel, inspired when her own daughter was nearly abducted. According to the School Library Journal, “Kelly has painted a realistic picture of how a smart girl can get caught up in something dangerous online. Guaranteed to give readers goosebumps.”


silentCarole Bugge (C.E. Lawrence) is the author of nine published novels, award-winning plays, musicals, poetry and short fiction. A two time Pushcart Poetry Prize nominee, her most recent Lee Campbell thrillers are Silent Slaughter and Silent Stalker, under the pen name C. E. Lawrence. Her short stories were selected for the two most recent Mystery Writers of America anthologies. Her Sherlock Holmes novels, The Star of India and The Haunting of Torre Abbey, have recently been reissued, along with her Claire Rawlings mystery series.


Stinking Rich by Rob BrunetRob Brunet’s award-winning short crime fiction appears and is forthcoming in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, Thuglit, Shotgun Honey, and Out of the Gutter. Before writing noir, Brunet produced award-winning Web presence for film and TV, including LOST, Frank Miller’s Sin City, and the cult series Alias. He lives in Toronto and loves beaches, the bush, and bonfires.


Dead Broke in Jarrett Creek by Terry ShamesTerry Shames is the author of the best selling Samuel Craddock series, set in the fictitious town of Jarrett Creek, Texas. Terry grew up in Texas and has great affection for the town where her grandparents lived, the model for Jarrett Creek. She lives in Berkeley, California with her husband and two rowdy terriers. Find out more about A KILLING AT COTTON HILL (nominated for the Strand Critics award), THE LAST DEATH OF JACK HARBIN, and DEAD BROKE IN JARRETT CREEK on Terry’s website.


Spectrum_v2_72dpi_smNational bestselling author Alan Jacobson’s twenty years of research and training with the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit, DEA, US Marshals Service, SWAT, NYPD, Scotland Yard, and the US military bring unparalleled realism to his stories and characters. Jacobson’s thrillers have made numerous “Best Books of the Year” lists, they’ve been published in a dozen countries, five have been optioned by Hollywood…and James Patterson, Nelson DeMille, and Michael Connelly have called series protagonist FBI profiler Karen Vail one of the most compelling heroes in suspense fiction. Visit him on Facebook and Twitter: @JacobsonAlan

The Valhalla Prophecy by Andy McDermottAndy McDermott is the New York Times bestselling author of the Nina Wilde & Eddie Chase series of adventure thrillers: THE HUNT FOR ATLANTIS, THE TOMB OF HERCULES, THE SECRET OF EXCALIBUR, THE COVENANT OF GENESIS, THE CULT OF OSIRIS (aka THE PYRAMID OF DOOM), THE SACRED VAULT, EMPIRE OF GOLD, TEMPLE OF THE GODS (aka RETURN TO ATLANTIS) and now THE VALHALLA PROPHECY. He has also written the high-tech spy thriller THE PERSONA PROTOCOL (aka THE SHADOW PROTOCOL).


Adobe Flats by Colin CampbellEx-policeman. Ex-soldier. International tennis player. And full-time crime novelist. Colin Campbell is a retired police officer in West Yorkshire, having tackled crime in one of the UK’s busiest cities for 30 years. He is the author of UK crime novels, BLUE KNIGHT WHITE CROSS and NORTHERN EX, and US thrillers JAMAICA PLAIN and MONTECITO HEIGHTS featuring rogue Yorkshire cop Jim Grant. He counts Lee Child and Matt Hilton among his fans.


IT WAITS BELOW book coverEric Red is a Los Angeles based motion picture screenwriter, director and author. His films include The Hitcher, Near Dark, Blue Steel, Cohen And Tate, Body Parts, Bad Moon and 100 Fee. His first novel, Don’t Stand So Close, is available from SST Publications. His second and third novels, The Guns Of Santa Sangre and It Waits Below, are available from Samhain Publishing. His fourth novel, White Knuckle, will be published by Samhain in 2015.


Death Works at Night by Mauro AzzanoMauro Azzano was born in Italy, north of Venice. He grew up in Italy, Australia and finally Canada, settling with his family on the west coast outside Vancouver, Canada. He has a broad experience to call on as a writer, having worked as a college instructor, commercial pilot, IT specialist and a number of other unusual occupations. Currently, he is writing the Ian McBriar Murder Mystery series and training as a distance runner.

Cold Black ENDEAVOURlowresAlex Shaw spent the second half of the 1990s in Kyiv, Ukraine, teaching and running his own business consultancy before being head-hunted for a division of Siemens. The next few years saw him doing business across the former USSR, the Middle East, and Africa. He is a member of the International Thriller Writers organisation, the Crime Writers Association and the author of the Aidan Snow SAS thrillers. Alex, his wife and their two sons divide their time between homes in Kyiv, Ukraine and Worthing, England.


Dead Don't Lie by L.R. NicolelloL. R. Nicolello has had an obsession with all things suspense since she was old enough to pick out her own books. She decided to combine that passion with her love of action flicks and strong female protagonists in DEAD DON’T LIE, her debut romantic suspense novel. She, her amazing partner in crime and their ninety-pound “dog child” reside in Texas, where she is working on her next project.


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  1. Although I might feel initial despair and irritation at editor’s suggestions – especially if they’re lengthy – I do enjoy rewrites and revision. Once a first draft is done, I feel HUGE relief. There’s something terrifying about an unfinished manuscript, but a finished one, even if it needs revision, is far less nerve wracking.

    I’m also a tinkerer, and can dig in endlessly to fix the smallest detail, then go back the next day and the next day, etc. Even once a book is in print my fingers itch to fix little things. I often wonder if my painter friends have that impulse?

  2. I agree with C.E. about the HUGE feeling of relief after finishing a first draft. A recent margin note from my editor on the manuscript I’m currently revising — a sequel to “The Undying,” due out in May — was something close to, “I feel like we need to get here earlier. If you can, please condense.”

    But everything I wrote before that is pure awesomeness, right?

    Joke aside, I love the revision process. I feel like I’m always revising in some aspect during creation. Whether its crafting a chapter for the first time and then jumping back in later that same day, or having a gotcha moment over dinner and hastily scribbling a note on how to make that little nugget better, be it characterization or a plot point, and then fixing it the next morning.

    For me, the more I write and revise, the easier it becomes. I learn from the writing pitfalls I create, like I did horribly in my first and second novels. Now I revise on the fly. Sure, I’m a bit obsessive about the revision process. But isn’t this about getting better as we go? Making the next thriller harder for the reader to put down?

    Then the MS goes to the agent, and the editor, and the next level begins. Sure, I don’t always agree. But in the end our editorial staffs are a real gift. Yes, I’m a stickler when my manuscript goes into production, pour over the line editor’s notes, drink in the proofreader’s observations. Argue a little. Scour when they’re right. But it’s all to make the book really sharp, so what’s not to love? Sounds silly, but I love the fact I hear my editor’s voice in my head as I type, reminding me of a certain tic she’s trying to dissuade me from (See Sarah, I listen…).

    So when I saw the question, “Do I love or loathe revisions”, I knew the answer right off. Because without the process, “The Undying” would have been good. But the revisions made it better.

  3. The answer is—Yes! Both!

    For me, this is a classic “Heart vs Head” situation. After spending months and months slaving to make your manuscript as good as you can, I think it’s natural to feel a little disappointment when you’re confronted by swathes of red ink. But once the emotion dies down and your brain kicks in, you appreciate that your editor’s comments exist for only one reason—to help make your book even better. So you take a little time to absorb them, then roll up your sleeves and wade back into the fray…

  4. I am one of those authors who is constantly revising whilst they are writing so that my first draft may actually be my third or fourth. I am very keen on having the correct information in my thrillers with regards to technical details and places so if an error I have made is pointed out to me I am extremely happy to make the necessary revision. Of course receiving feedback from editors is always harder but as they are more objective it is usually correct. The hardest revision I was asked to make was to add five thousand words to a short story in order to turn it into a novella, but it was a challenge I relished.

  5. Oh, I love revisions. That is where the magic happens! I love to work puzzles, and revising is part of putting those puzzle pieces in the place they belong. When I’m revising on my own, I’m working to make the manuscript as polished as possible. When I’m revising based on my agent’s or editor’s suggestions, I’m still working to make the manuscript as polished as possible.

    Like Ethan said above, “isn’t this about getting better as we go? Making the next thriller harder for the reader to put down?” … YES!! Yes, that’s exactly how I feel. I want each book to be better than the last. I want my readers to be excited for the next paragraph, the next page, the next chapter, and the next book.

    I also love great books on the craft of writing. These have been so helpful to me as I’ve gone through the revision phases: THE FIRE IN FICTION by Donald Maass, SAVE THE CAT by Blake Snyder, and THE STORY BOOK by David Baboulene.

    Do you have a favorite book, trick, or technique that helps you with the revision process?

  6. Ha! How about both? Well, loathe is perhaps too strong a word. I love the writing part…creating, spending time with my family of characters who are fun to spend time with. So when the writing part ends, I’m sad. It also means I have to begin the much less appealing editing and revision phase. I love and respect my editor and we’ve worked together on eight novels, so we understand what we’re each looking for. The goal of the editing and copyediting process is to improve and polish. In that sense, I enjoy it because it gives me a chance to find all the “echoes” (repeated words), hone the dialogue, clarify something, add in a paragraph that turns up the tension a bit…all the things a writer misses when he/she is “in the moment” and writing that first draft.

    So—love or loathe revisions? I don’t enjoy them because you’re scrutinizing every word, every sentence, every paragraph. That said, I respect the process and recognize the importance of a good edit. The thing is, I’m already thinking about my next book and ideas are flowing. I write them down but have to keep my focus because the editing and copyediting phases take three and a half months. Three and a half months of going through the same thing, over and over.

    After having gone through the manuscript a few times, however, I allow myself to just sit back and read what I’ve written. This is an entirely different phase of the revision process that’s very enjoyable because I love my stories and my characters. I laugh along with them, cry along with them. I feel their pain and their frustration. That’s probably the only time when the revision phase fit’s the “love it” category. But when I’m parsing every word, phrase, paragraph…well, like those old bumper stickers that read, “I’d rather be flying,” my mantra during the editing phase is “I’d rather be writing.”


    Over here, in Belgium, my editor calls me “Mr. Revision” and he claims that, over the years, I have become the source of his balding spot spreading like crazy, which is an incredible lie anyway.

    But I admit: I love revisions. Being “catalogued” in the Low Lands (Holland and Belgium) as a writer of cross-over novels between literature and the crime novel, my biggest concern is style.
    So I polish. And then I polish again. And then, because of the polishing, I notice a small flaw in the story and I must polish further. But then, having changed something, there are repercussions further on in the story. So I polish anew. And then….

    In my view, style isn’t only about the eloquence of words and sentences. It is about the rhythm and the “flavor” of the sentences coming together and delivering an atmosphere that fits the theme(s) of the novel and graces the story.

    One particular revision took me 23 years. “The Stone Sentinel”, my third novel that came out in Holland and Belgium, was set in País, a fictitious South-American country in the eighties, governed by a junta led by general Pélaron. It was a love story and a political thriller combined, clearly inspired by Chile under the reign of general Pinochet in the seventies.

    Because of the setting, I used what I considered a “typical South-American style” à la Isabel Allende for “The Stone Sentinel” – lyrical and colorful. It was only after publication of the novel – as always, revised by me at least four times – that I began to doubt my choice. I hadn’t used my own “voice” and the result was overblown in my eyes. The style wasn’t authentic. I received good reviews though, but the feeling still irked me.

    “The Stone Sentinel” was published in 1990. For 23 years, the novel harassed me like a Tasmanian devil. Each year, I vowed to rewrite it. But new novels demanded to be written, so each year I had to postpone my intention. The disaffection with “The Stone Sentinel” remained, nagging/nagging/nagging.

    In 2012, spurred by an invisible power – no doubt, an angelic being that wanted to save me from my inner quibble – I began to rewrite the novel, which, by the way, had been in the top-10 in Belgium for months in 1990.

    And yes, by rewriting the style I also changed the story. First only here and there. Then more. And then….At the end I had rewritten the novel In such a way that it became different, better, and at last felt to me like the story I wanted to tell. The changes were so far-reaching that my publisher decided to publish this new version under a different title – “Alejandro’s Lie.”

    “Alejandro’s Lie” was published in March 2013 and enjoyed great critical acclaim and nice sales in Holland and Belgium. Sales so big that a French and a French-Canadian publisher have released the French translation “Le Mensonge d’Alejandro” in May 2014.
    Now that the deed is done, at last I have inner peace.

    But that small sentence on page 334…..Mmmm……Shouldn’t I have….

  8. Planning and writing the first draft is the fun part of being a novelist. Revising it… that’s when the actual hard work starts! Self-reflection, self-criticism and self-doubt all come into play when I sit down with a big stack of freshly-printed pages and a red pen and start to cross things out.

    Every writer has their own way of working: mine is to power through the entire first draft without ever looking back at a single word I’ve written, then fix any problems in the edit. And there are always problems. Duplicated exposition, sidelined characters, personal moments that were specifically flagged in the outline yet somehow skipped over in the rush to reach the next scene – these and many more leap out and slap my face with each turn of the page.

    But that’s when the red pen comes in. A paragraph deleted here, an asterisk to mark a vital addition there, plot holes filled in, and suddenly the next draft takes shape. Second time around, the focus is on polishing rather than patching up. After that, individual words are scrutinised. By the time I get to the final revision before submission, it becomes almost a game: can I cut at least 50 words from each single-spaced page of A4? Because if I can, the book will be 10,000 words shorter overall while still telling the same story.

    So I don’t *like* revisions, in the same way that I don’t *like* going to the dentist for a check-up – but I know that they’re both necessary and beneficial. And it’s worth it for “The Moment”, when I’m supposed to be reading a draft critically… and I end up engrossed by the story and forget that I’m holding the red pen. That’s when I know the hard work’s paid off.

  9. I think first of all we have to define revisions. First port of call is the self-revision, when you’ve finished your first draft and go through it from beginning to end for your first edit. Second is when your editor asks for revisions for whatever reason.
    So my answer to the first is, yes I love it. This will be the first time I’ve read the story in its entirety and discovered if it hangs together. I am usually amazed that I wrote the damned thing and it is a real pleasure to see my creation. There are occasional mistakes in continuity and minor details, and the inevitable typos that evaded spellchecker but otherwise I am very happy at this stage.
    Second is, yes I love it. Because my editor sometimes picks up on little things I missed because I’ve read it so many times. Woods and trees syndrome. Fingers crossed, so far revisions have been minor and often down to house style or my Englishness.
    Bottom line. Revising is easier than creating. You’re simply correcting mistakes. So, what’s not to like?

    1. Oh for me – it’s the other way around. Creating that first draft is easy, because I’m just putting words down on paper. Revising is harder than creating for me, because that’s when I make the magic happen. That’s when I deepen the plot, develop the characters, and make every word matter. I love both sides of writing, because the approach and process differ greatly for me.

  10. My editor claims to love me because I don’t need much in the way of revisions. So how come in my last book, which came out of weeks ago, he said, “I LOVE this book”, and then proceeded to give me pages and pages of revisions. Turns out they were minor, but I had to laugh. No matter how complete I think a manuscript is, a good editor can turn good into sparkling (or fair into good). That’s why it worries me that so many publishers don’t give authors much in the way of editorial feedback. And so many independently published authors haven’t gotten the word that professional editing is at least a good idea and in most cases mandatory?

    As for may own process, I love revising. Every step of first draft feels like a race against…what? I don’t know exactly. Against my own fear that the book won’t come to an end? That I’ll get to the end and realize what I’ve written is a mess? Whatever keeps my heart in my throat, as soon as I type “The End,” I feel enormous joy and relief. And then I think that at last I can get down to work. Margo say the edit process is where “the magic happens.” And I have to agree. Little pieces of story line that seemed extraneous when I wrote them suddenly take on their rightful place. And others actually are extraneous–jettisoning them feels great.

    One thing no one has mentioned is that final editing time, when you’re looking for things even the proofreader missed. For that, I read backwards. One page at a time. When I first tried it on the advice of another writer, I felt like an idiot. A proofreader had already signed off on it. How many errors could I find? Turns out it was almost 100. My editor was mortified and swore it would never happen again. Next time there were only 20–that is 20 missing quotes, periods, or commas, misspelled words, etc. My publisher does better than most at providing good editing. But in the end, it’s my work that goes out to readers–and I want to make sure it’s the best it can be. So I edit. Again.

    Oh, and by the way, Go Giants!

    1. Final edits! Oh, my debut released last month, and when I had the opportunity to take “one last look” at those pages before they left my hands forever … I looked VERY CAREFULLY. I too was assured that a proofreader was going through it and that he would catch the little things, but I went through it anyhow. And I was surprised at the length of the list I sent back. How many times had I, and others, gone through this manuscript … and I was just noticing for the first time that I had parent’s instead of parents’ MORE THAN ONCE? Ack. Seriously. Final edits are so important (just like every other step in the process)!!

  11. I love revisions.

    Never thought I’d say that, though. While I hammered away at the “first” draft of STINKING RICH, I scoffed at the idea that my words could be improved all that much. The grammar worked. The story was funny. My beta readers patted me on the back. What more could I ask for?

    Don’t get me wrong. I revised constantly. It took ages–we’re talking years–for me to learn that reworking five pages so I could write one and a half more was a lousy way to complete a novel. But once I reached the end, I thought I was done.

    What ensued was more ripping and tearing than I thought possible. I slashed characters slashed, and added others. In at least one instance, two characters became one. All in an effort to fit the story into a neat package.

    I messed with chronology. Working with multiple POVs on tight parallel timelines, I needed to make sense of where people were in relation to each other so my reader wouldn’t wonder why some guy kept stalling for time. (Yawn.)

    The single biggest change I made was to take the start of the story and move it to the middle of the book. It meant unpacking flashbacks and rewriting for verb tense. It took me deeper inside characters’ heads to make sense of their motivations. And it produced a better story.

    And with every pass, I worked the words. I agree with Bob about rhythm. I hear words aloud when I read them–yeah, sometimes I move my lips, too–so their cadence needs to make sense. Especially with dialogue. I read it out loud. I read it in character. I tweak it until it feels natural. Then I let it sit and come back at it later.

    Bottom line, I lost track of the number of rewrites somewhere after seven. And I never stopped enjoying them, as hard work as it was.

    And the last thing I did? With galley in hand? I read the sucker out loud start to finish. Took three afternoons and listened to me read my own book. (Keeping in mind, I’d done that to many chapters before.) I caught maybe a half dozen typos that had slipped through everyone’s hands. And I begged my publisher to let me make about forty changes I’ll call vain. Sentences that still clunked. A good word used twice in two different chapters. A contraction missed in dialogue.

    Call me obsessive, or worse. But when the book left my hands, I knew it was as good as I could make it. Without rewriting it, of course.

    1. I agree with Rob about the rhythm. I’ve heard it called part of a writer’s “ear” for writing, much like musicians have an ear for melody, etc. We hear it when the words are not yet right.

      After I hammer out a manuscript and it feels like it’s nearly ready to be shown, I also read the whole thing aloud. Pace around the house, sometimes with noise cancelling headphones on, reading every chapter until nothing in that chapter “bumps” me.

      If a single word caused me to be pushed off the page, I revise it, then read the chapter out loud again until I can read the entire thing. When I get through chapter after chapter, I then read straight through until I can complete the entire MS without being jolted.

      Then it’s off to the agent, or editor. Rinse and repeat.

  12. When I wrote “The Dead Don’t Dream”, in the first four rewrites a different person was guilty, and the ending was changed completely.
    As I told my publisher, three more people died, and two fewer got pregnant. In the end, the sixth and final rewrite FELT right. It had the humor, banter and dark passages it needed to have but the story flowed much better.
    When I wrote the sequel, “Death Works at Night”, I used the ‘spaghetti agianst a wall’ school of first drafts. I put everything in there, then in edits and rewrites took out the trash.
    Also, my wife was instrumental in helping me sort out the witty from the smart-ass in the second book. A different pair of eyes is definitely a huge help.
    When I wrote the first book, nobody in my family knew I was writing it, and I borrowed a trick I’m told Stephen King uses.
    I finished the first draft and ignored it for six weeks.
    Then I read it; sure enough, passages that sounded brilliant and made perfect sense when I wrote them were complete gibberish when I reread them.
    Do I enjoy editing? No, but like mowing the lawn or doing laundry, it’s a necessary task.

  13. Every author obviously has a different process, all of which are valid. For me, the first draft of the most inspired and creative part of the process, because that’s the purest, untampered version of the book. I try not to edit myself when I’m writing the first draft and let my mojo take over, following whatever ideas come into my head. In fact, it’s all about getting out of my head, and letting the unconscious take over, so I keep a discipline of a word count of a certain number of pages every day until the first draft is done to keep the momentum of nervous energy getting it down. Once the words are on the page, there’s a tangible sense of relief for me that the book “exists” in the world. I’ve mined an uncut diamond. But the first draft is raw.

    Revisions to me are largely problem fixing—tightening the narrative, making cuts, adding dialogue, sometimes writing new scenes that suggest themselves. It’s polishing the diamond. I feel less pressure in revisions than a first draft, because it’s more of a mechanic’s mindset. Usually it takes me one draft to write a book, one or two drafts to fix it where it’s ready to go out.

    The worst part of a book for me are the copy edits, or proofing, where grammatical errors and typos are fixed, and the final tweaking to the prose is done. Rereading the book five to ten times, going through it word by word, is Chinese water torture—tedious and grueling, but necessary. I literally lose every grain of enthusiasm I ever had for the material. But you have to do it. Particularly these days where large and small publishers often do not have the quality professional copy editors they used to and typos and errors slip through, so it’s up the author to check the copy editor’s work. That’s hell.

    1. It’s *always* worth double-checking the copy-editor’s work; I just finished reading through the US proofs of my latest novel, and found that the copy-editor had been a bit over-enthusiastic with the spellcheck and changed the “Alborz” mountains (in Iran) to “Labors” throughout!

      1. Exactly, Andy. That’s not a mistake that professional copy editors on a publisher’s staff would have made in the past. I suspect that interns are sometimes used as copy editors these days to save money. I’m shocked by the typos that show up in books put out by major houses. On a recent book of mine, I found and corrected thirty typos and missing words in the copy edited manuscript. Absolutely, authors must check a copy editor’s manuscript in this environment, or else live with the consequences.

    2. With this topic on my mind … and thinking about first drafts and revisions … I thought of this quote from Stephen King’s ON WRITING: A MEMOIR OF THE CRAFT, where John Gould said, “When you write a story, you’re telling yourself the story. When you rewrite, your main job is taking out all the things that are not the story.”

  14. Wow, amazing how all over the map we all are! But nobody beats Bob, with his 23 year revision…. I want to see the movie version of that. I hear Nicholas Cage is free these days.

    1. Heheh, I would want to see the movie version of “Alejandro’s Lie” too…:-) And Cage would be ideal to play the hyper-nervous guitarist Alejandro Juron trying to rebuild his life after having spent ten years in a brutal junta prison….But first I’ll have to coax my Dutch publisher to translate the novel from Dutch to English…11000 euro…He’s getting balder with the minute 🙂 Thank you for your comment! Made me grin…. 🙂

  15. Rob, your description of your process for Stinking Rich sounds exhausting. Can’t wait to read it. It’s sitting right on my desk ready to go as soon as I finish the one I’m reading now.

    Regarding the revision process, the book I just turned in to my editor was the first one that I turned in knowing it had a big problem. But I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what to do with it. The end just lay there limp and unresponsive. I’d poke it with my toe, and it didn’t move. My editor was soothing. He said to do the edits he suggested and something would come to me. I sent it to my wonderful agent, and she spotted the problem right away! As soon as she identified the place where I’d run off the rails, it all came clear to me. I had known what happened in the scene for so long that I had failed to let everyone else know what happened. Bam! Started writing like crazy. The new version led to some new insights and a new ending. Sent to my editor. He said, “Nailed it!” Maybe it takes a village…

    Sheesh these math problems are a bit of challenge when we try to submit something.

    1. It sounds like you’ve got great people around you, Terry. Mauro, Colin, and others also touched on the importance of feedback from agents, editors, etc.

      I’m curious how many of you wait for a completed draft (first or other) before sharing anything. Do you have someone you use as a sounding board on the way through?

      1. I give my editor and agent an outline of the novel before I start writing; occasionally my editor will make suggestions or question certain points, but she trusts me to have worked out the details by that stage. After that, though, I usually don’t show what I’ve written to anyone until at least the second draft.

      2. I usually send my editor the first 50 pages or so, just to make sure that what I think she’s expecting is what she’s actually expecting. Assuming all is well, I then power on through to the end. When the first draft is finished I ask my wife to read it, and if she doesn’t collapse with horror, I email the manuscript to my agent and editor.

  16. I agree with Mauro on the importance of putting a manuscript down for a period of time to gain perspective. One of the intangible difficulties of the revision process is time. Sometimes I have to step away from a book for weeks, months, or even years before the “fix” that pulls the story together presents itself for the revision.

    The first draft of my underwater sci-fi novel IT WAITS BELOW was all set with with the three-man crew of a DSV at the bottom of the ocean confronting an extraterrestrial being. The story ended with a lone surviver getting safely back to the surface. The whole idea was to create claustrophobic suspense, so that was a contained and logical story approach, but something was missing and I felt the reader would want more. A month or two later, I realized what was missing was surface action, and added an second and third climax above the ocean. One of the toughest parts of revising for me is being unable to force the time is takes to iidentify the problem and come up with the solution.

    1. I wish I could find the time, because I think Mauro and Eric are both right. But for me, I’ve found what gets in the way of setting the manuscript down and walking a way for a bit is the need from the agent (and the publisher) to keep the ball rolling. As I have a trilogy going, there was pressure to see book two in a shorter period of time than I would prefer. That said, one simply learns to get away and gain perspective in a shorter period of time. Or to shift the minutiae aside, the smaller bits of fine-tuning the MS may need that bothers my ear but maybe not my editor’s, to later on in the revision process.

  17. Hi Rob and Eric:
    To respond to your questions and comments;
    Rob, I went through the complete writing process before telling those who matter in my life that I’d written “A BOOK”.
    My wife, when she found out, was flabbergasted. My children were incredulous. My mother said ‘oh, that’s nice, but why didn’t you write about us instead?’
    The good people in my marathon training group knew, though, and their persistence in ensuring that I finish the book was acknowledged in my dedications page.
    Although the final result was, if I say so myself, quite good, I know that I would not have received a very positive response if I’d said ‘hey, I’m going to write about a Native seminary student from Saskatchewan who goes to Toronto and becomes a cop.’
    Three of the lovely ladies with whom I run are nurses. When I needed specific information on how to poison my victims in “Death Works at Night” they were invaluable, if a little perturbed.
    Leaving the story alone for a while also let me see where I’d done stupid things- having someone leave the room, then leave the room again- the typical mechanical oopsies.
    Rereading what sounded like brilliant dialog a month ago also let me see where I wasn’t putting all the words in my head down on paper- again, only time away from the page can fix that.
    Same technique, different solution. Like you, I also went through a bunch of rewrites for the ending of “The Dead Don’t Dream”. From a Mickey Spillane-style shootout to the final cool, dispassionate resolution, the process needed me to step back and rethink how the storyline moved along, so that it could be both entertaining and believable.
    Like you, I also had to add a coda, an afterglow scene where the characters let each other know that they agreed on the actions taken (without giving too much away).
    I agree that the process is idiosyncratic- everyone odes it their own way, and each is right. I do not make notes, or log things down, or do storyboards or flow charts. I have tried, and it just doesn’t work for me.
    I suppose that part of the creative process is being able to organize how we write and how we edit in a way that works uniquely for us. If we lose that latitude, then we could be replaced by a phone app.

    1. Mauro, more than a few people who I’d told along the way that I was writing were flat out surprised when I told them the book was being published. They’d assumed it was a lark…perhaps because it’s something many people want to do and think they’ll do, until they set about it.

      A big part of the hurdle–beyond reaching “The End”–is, of course, the revision process we’re talking about here. As creative as it may be, there’s no avoiding the fact it’s very real work.

      I love your mother’s response. Of course, had you written about your family, perhaps her enthusiasm may have been different.

      In my case, when my mother had an opportunity to read an early draft, she gasped at the language and subject matter. (Which to me only meant I had been true to the essence of the backwoods bikers and petty criminals populating my story.) It was only after it came out last month that she read the whole thing and found herself laughing out loud. Now she’s got to find a way to get her “proper” friends past the opening pages so they can get a kick out of this thing her son did! Yep, Mom’s still my biggest supporter!

  18. Rob:
    I just had to share with the group the ENTIRE conversation with my parents about writing.
    I call them every week (they are back in Italy, as is my sister and her family)and on the week that I’d received the galley of “The Dead Don’t Dream” I called, excited, and let them know I’d written a book. My mother responded with the aforementioned ‘oh, that’s nice’.
    A few days later I called my sister to share the news. She informed me that mom had already told her, saying that I’d written ‘a twenty page computer repair manual’.
    I corrected her misapprehension- I have no idea where that came from, I told her, and no, it was a murder mystery.
    “Wow,” my sister said, “What did that cost you to publish?”
    “Nothing.” I responded icily. “They gave me an advance.”
    Following week I called mom again, and reiterated the subject matter of the book.
    “Why would you write about that?” She asked. “Why not write about something nice, like our family?”
    “Well,” I answered. “I wanted to write something people would want to read.”
    “You could tell people about growing up in Australia,” she said.
    “How the dog used to walk you to school every morning, and walk to school to get you every afternoon.”
    “That never happened!” I said. “That was on ‘Lassie’. Besides, I already write fiction.”
    Needless to say, I have been less effusive about “Death Works at Night.” And when “Death By Deceit” comes out, I will have to decide how to break the news to her that people actually want to read my work, and it’s not about them.

    1. Ha! Laughed out loud at how your novel became a television installation manual! 😉 Nevermind the rest of it. Now, as a mangia cake married to an Italian, I must ask, which part of Italy?

  19. Rob,
    Great question – I have sometimes shared work in progress with people and found great direction on where to go and what to avoid. Thanks for asking!

  20. Rob, I always road test a novel before starting one by writing a ten or fifteen page outline first and then showing it to a few colleagues whose opinions I respect and who always give it to me straight. These people include my agent, my editor, and my wife. My agent, a veteran lit guy, is particularly brutal and will not hesitate to shoot down an idea, which is great. My editor will tell me if it’s something they want to publish. My wife actually has one of the best story senses of anyone I know. If the outline grabs them, I’ll proceed with the book; if it doesn’t, I’ll drop that idea and come up with a better idea and write an outline of that. If the story doesn’t work as an outline it won’t work as a book. A novel is too labor intensive to undertake without having a great idea as a foundation, because the bar is set so high in the marketplace.

    I’d go as far as to say if the idea doesn’t grab people in a short paragraph, it’s not worth pursuing. It really comes down to the idea at the core of the story. From my screenwriting background, I believe if you can’t sum a story up in two or three sentences you don’t “have it.” The old Hollywood high concept trope has some value. I pitch concepts to colleagues all the time and can usually tell in a few sentences if it’s an idea worth developing. A good idea should make the listener’s eye widen and get them immediately excited at how fraught with potential it is as a story. I also find that the right idea usually gets the same immediate positive reaction from everyone across the board, as a status quo. At that point, I will go to outline and then road test that. If the outline passes muster with the people whose opinions I value, only then will I begin the book.

    As far as the novel itself, I won’t show that to anyone until I have a solid, proofed first draft. My agent is only going to read it once, so the submission has to count, because otherwise he won’t send it out. It keeps me on my toes, which is a good thing.

    1. Totally agree with what you’re saying about the story has to grab someone from the get go, Eric. To date, though, my challenge with working from an outline too early is losing my own interest. I get a real charge out of “discovering” the story.

      For a while, I thought I was nuts. Then I heard Carl Hiaasen describe how he often won’t know where he’s headed until two thirds of the way through the story. And wasn’t it Elmore Leonard who said something like, if a character isn’t working for you anymore, kill ’em off?

      Gotta say, though, if I had worked from an outline, I would have saved a lot of time in revision. No question. Just not sure I would have had the staying power to complete my debut.

      Already, with my second novel, although the first draft was once again completely seat-of-the pants, the rewriting is much more purposeful.

      1. The idea of creating a 10-15 page outline feels painful to me, but I don’t write completely by the seat of my pants either. I draft a basic roadmap of what I imagine the story might be like … but as Rob said above, I love the feeling and process of discovering the story as I travel that roadmap. As a result, I will often take detours to see what’s just beyond a certain point.

  21. Hi, Rob:
    I was born in Friuli, and went to school for a year in the town of San Vito al Tagliamento.
    If you ever get there, there is a coffee bar in the town square that sells without a doubt the best ice cream on the planet.
    As the opposite of you, my good wife is a Scot, through and through.

    1. Well, it would hard to get further from Puglia and still be in Italy! Most of my visits are to the south to see family, but I did spend a week in Lido di Jesolo nearly 30 years ago. A beautiful part of the world!

      And while in Jesolo, we went out for gelato every night, without fail, before grappa and a game of Patience.

  22. Rob:
    Regarding the ‘seat of the pants’writing, I did the same thing in my second story. I had a rough idea of where I thought the story would go, and I did a LOT of research on how to kill the victims, but as far as the whole enchilada, I was as surprised as anyone at who the killer turned out to be.
    I think that’s half the fun of writing- it’s self-discovery and entertainment all in one.
    As well, there is what was supposed to be a minor character, Detective Constable Patrick Walsh. He was written in as just a reason for the main character to say things out loud to him, but ended up taking over in a big way. He is in book three, and will play a huge part in book four.
    Again, I have tried the flow chart and outline route, and while it works well for some, it just bogs me down.
    Besides, I never drew inside the lines anyway.

  23. Bottom line. Just get on and enjoy the journey. First draft has its moments. Revisions have their place. Love it all. It beats getting stabbed bottled or petrol bombed. My keyboard’s a lot safer. Live the dream. Write it down. Live the dream again. Enough said.

  24. Just reading the last few comments, I realize I’m not using my editor very much. I never show anyone any of the manuscript before it’s gone through a couple of versions. I know without a doubt that I’ll find so many things to change that it would just be confusing to get more opinions. I think it’s because I know what I want to write, and the story flows pretty much organically. On the last book I had the devil of a time with the end, and it was actually my agent who gave me the magic words I needed to finish it. I have a writer’s group that goes over it after I feel like it’s in good enough shape to be able to make us of the comments I get.

    As for Rob’s book, the subject of several of these comments, I just read it and it’s one of the funniest, cleverest books I’ve read this year. Whatever you had to do, Rob, it was worth all the work.

  25. We’re all in agreement: revision is a necessary good. It’s an “evil” only when it isn’t employed. Somewhere a long time ago, source forgotten, I read there is a two bar passage in Beethoven’s manuscripts that is revised 39 times. Two bars! And he an acknowledged genius.

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