Monday, April 20, 2015

Reading Myself

I've always made it a practice to never read my own books after they're published.

I still remember the rapture of receiving the very first copy of my very first published book, Night in Eden, nearly 20 years ago now. Bubbling over with excitement, I opened it, and my eye immediately fell on a typo. Eek! Then I flipped a few pages and found a mistake inserted by some well-meaning person after I'd seen the galleys (they italicized First Fleet, evidently thinking it was the name of a ship). I slapped the book closed, and that was it.

As a result, I haven't read What Angels Fear since I read the galleys back in 2004. And when you're writing a series, that's not a good idea. So a few weeks ago, I took a deep breath and sat down to start reading my own series, from book one on through.

In some ways, it's been fun. But in other ways, it's painful. There are things I know now that I didn't know I didn't know ten years ago. (It's the things you don't know you don't know that get you every time; if I know I don't know something, I look it up.) Those mistakes make me cringe.  And while I started out keeping continuity notes, I've since realized I didn't write down everything I should have, and I haven't been very good about keeping them up, either. It's one of those things I tell myself I'll do later, except by then I'm deep into the next book. (Yes, I'm doing it now.)

The one thing that made me laugh is a change my editor requested in the first book. You have to understand that I had been thinking about the backstory and personal story arc of this series for years before I ever started writing it. As originally envisioned, Sebastian fell in love with Kat when he was 21 and just down from Oxford, and Kat was 16. He was in the army six years, and by the beginning of Angels had been back in England since the previous spring, making it seven years since he'd first fallen in love with her. Well, my editor wanted me to make Kat seventeen, because while sixteen would have been just fine back in the nineteenth century, she (or perhaps someone else in the publishing house) worried that it might offend modern sensibilities. So I changed it, although I wasn't happy about it, and it messed things up a bit, reducing the time he was in the army to five years, and requiring him to have been down from Oxford a year before he met her, which didn't work so well, either.

And then, obviously because I had always thought of the story my way, I promptly forgot the changes. (I also never changed the continuity notes I'd already made on that book.) I found one place in the middle of When Gods Die that is consistent with the years given in Angels (that's probably where I was in the manuscript when she asked me to make Kat older). But in every book I've read since (I'm just starting Maidens), I slid back into the timetable I originally envisioned. It was a serious shock to be reading Angels and see seventeen... five years....  I literally said out loud, "Oh, hell! How did I forget we did that?"

Which leaves me with something of a quandary. Because the lovely thing about modern publishing is that you can change a book after it's published. True, you can't change the ones that are already out there in print, but you can change the ebook. Any subsequent editions can also be changed (Angels has gone back to press half a dozen times or more). Obviously, my preference is to change the timeline in Angels back to what it originally was, rather than change all the books since then. Of course, my editor might not like that (I've yet to point out the shift to her). But given that she slid right over the sixteen in all the later books, it must not have offended her after all?


JustWingingIt said...

Huh. To be honest, I never noticed the discrepancy. I admit though that it's been quite awhile since I've read the first book. Kat has never been my favorite character, even way back before I knew that Sebastian's love life was going to take a turn, so now when I re-read the books I always start with book four. So your unintentional return to your original timeline is what has stuck in my head. I say make the changes to the first book as it seems the most logical.


Anonymous said...

I agree with Veronica - change it. I'm not such a stickler on details that I don't notice it all that much. I say do it. Sabena

cs harris said...

Veronica, that's funny that you start with #4!

Sabena, thanks.

Lynne said...

I'm on the same page as Veronica. I never noticed the change, perhaps because I wasn't a Kat fan either. But change it if you like, Candy - even if the rest of us just dusted right over it. I'd be more inclined to notice name discrepancies but to be honest, with a year between each book, even an error like that could be missed. There's always a danger in reading a series marathon style - little things just pop out.

Barbara Butler McCoy said...

Count me in with Veronica and Lynne. I think I was focused more on the dynamic of Sebastian's relationship with Kat, rather than the minutiae of their histories. You've done a marvelous job, so stick with your instincts. Before I close I must tell you, however belatedly, that "Who Buries the Dead" is absolutely another home run. I feel each story becoming tighter and tighter, more breathtaking. Paul Gibson is breaking my heart and I would Love it if Stephanie would stand up to her mother and defend Sebastian. Amanda and Jarvis ... two people who make me shudder!

Anonymous said...

Candy, i think i mentioned in my last message that i really need to re-read the series from the beginning - i have not done it in awhile. when a new book is coming out i usually go back 2 or 3 books. to put myself back in the picture - so to speak. But i'm with the crowd here - i never noticed the age difference with Kat. and you should do what makes you happy. they are your books after all. and even though she was not my favorite character - i did like and admire her. she had some guts. and i have to admit i still like the idea of Hero (not Sebastian) rescuing her from Jarvis evil clutches. now i think i will start reading book 1! best, ali

Charles Gramlich said...

When I started writing books 4 and 5 in the Talera series I went back and read the first three. Although I liked them pretty well as stories, I found many of the same kinds of issues, most of which I couldn't correct even for the ebook, which was already out. And you just know some readers' memory is going to be better than yours

cs harris said...

Lynne, yes, I noticed some name repeats that you wouldn't notice a couple of years apart, but when it's only a couple of days....

Barbara, thank you. That's good to hear because the newer books are so fresh in my memory that I can't judge them. And Stephanie will play a part in #12, and then a huge part in #15 (which is tentatively entitled WHO SLAYS THE WICKED).

Ali, I honestly found it fun to reread the entire series. My husband, who reads each book at about page 100 and then again before I turn it in, has never reread them and has now embarked on a read of the entire series, too. I have boxes and boxes of these things stacked up, and he buys the Kindle versions!

cs harris said...

Charles, I remind myself that J K Rowling had someone whose ONLY JOB was to keep up with her Harry Potter continuity issues.

Anonymous said...

Who Slays the Wicked. I LOVE it!!! I can't wait to hear more about Stephanie. Let us know when you can share anything else about the next one. You know how we are...always scrapping around for any little detail. Sabena

Anonymous said...

candy - its funny but when you said your husband reads on his kindle - i decided to check mine and sure enough - i was missing When Gods Die. yikes. so i made a quick trip to amazon and now im good for the series in all its forms! and you cant beat the kindle for,ali

RevMelinda said...

I never noticed the age discrepancy either. . . but I guess I'm the outlier in this group because I think you shouldn't bother to change it, just let it be. I guess I'm more of a "what's past is past, put it behind you and move on" kind of person. However, as Ali said above, really you should just do what makes you happy (and what lets you sleep at night!).

Lynne said...

"Who Slays the Wicked"? Terrific! Does that spell the demise of Jarvis? Just kidding...

Barbara, you said what crossed my mind, too. I have liked Paul Gibson since the beginning and just want him to stop trying to destroy himself. Devlin needs his help, after all. I'm already ready for the next book!

cs harris said...

Sabena, have I talked much about #11 yet? We're finalizing the cover copy right now, so I should be able to post it soon. I haven't wanted to say to much about it, since it involves what happens at the end of #10.

Ali, I still can't believe he downloaded it!

RevMelinda, I need to cultivate that attitude. This is probably my greatest fault--fretting over things that can't be changed.

Lynne, Sebastian did say Gibson was looking a little better!

Suzanne said...

Before Why Kings Confess came out I re-read books 1-9 one after the other and I didn't notice the date discrepancy you mentioned. My advice would be to forget about it. And I have good news! In Australia Amazon have released What Angels Fear and When Gods Die on kindle. Hopefully that will generate some more sales over here for you. Get people hooked on the first two and they will go looking for the others.

Suzanne said...

Sorry, I did a typo. That should read books 1-8.

Sisker said...

I totally sympathize with losing track of what's going on in your series. I have a series of 6, but it started out as a single title. Then the editor asked for the story of the hero's twin brother. No problem. I had left a jilted lover from book one, so I did book three and gave him a story. Again, no problem.

Problems started with 4-6 because I'd waited a few years before writing them. One character totally disappeared! Another was renamed! Yikes! Since getting my rights back, I've shortened the books, made sure the characters are consistent, and e-published.


cs harris said...

Suzanne, oh, that is good news. They had said they were going to after we nudged them, but I've learned to take things with a grain of salt in this business.

Sisker, my sympathies! I think I also changed someone's eye color. The only sure road to sanity is to write them ALL before they're published, but of course that is impossible.

Helena said...

I suspect the only way to do continuity properly is to keep an electronic document into which you enter any character detail *as you write them*. Otherwise, it will always look like too much work which isn't fun.

I think you should change the first book so that all the others are correct. This is the sort of detail I notice, because I work out the timeline and ages in books when I read them, and this is an easy opportunity to put it right.

I can understand why you acceded to your editor's request when you did, since it was the first book, but I do hope you wouldn't do so now. Modern attitudes shouldn't dictate content in historical novels!

cs harris said...

Helena, I suspect entering snippets in an electronic database as an author writes would interfere with the creative process. Short of being J K Rowling and having a minion whose only job is to ensure continuity, I guess I'll just have to accept that these things are going to happen. And you're right; there was so much about Sebastian's time that would upset our modern sensibilities. The fact that my editor wasn't bothered by Kat's age in later books suggests that it was someone else in the house who objected to it when they were buying the first book.

Susan J. said...

I think your books have far fewer typos and errors than many others I've been reading lately. I also think that with each book your Regency English dialogue is getting more and more realistic.

cs harris said...

Susan, I just found a howler in the one I'm reading now--WHEN MAIDENS MOURN. The problem with authors reading their proofs is they see what they expect to see, not what is there. After a few years, that blindness goes away.

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When proofing my first manuscript, my editor kept a sheet of paper with a list of characteristics of each of the characters including age to keep everything consistent. There were many instances of him reminding me throughout the pages of consistent errors I had made. I never really connected until I saw his typed comments.

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