Thirty years ago, I wrote a book called “On a Shoreless Sea.”
It was a fantastic novel, or so I thought at the time – a clever blending of sci-fi and fantasy set on a generation ship. This was the one that would launch me to sci-fi writer fame and fortune.
I printed out ten copies (yes, those were the days of the paper submission – so sorry for the grove of “copier paper” trees I slaughtered) and UPS’d them to the largest publishers in the biz.
Then I waited.
One by one, they came back, the last one arriving almost a year to the day from when I sent it:
- “We are no longer accepting unsolicited unagented material.”
- “We do not feel this material is really suited to Avon’s current list.”
- “We are not in the market for this kind of book at this time.”
Um, what kind of book, exactly? The awesome kind?
Sadly, all the responses were all like that, except for two:
- “The work is unusually promising, as the care you [sic] given to your characters and language is evident.” (still a no)
- “The story is told with a lot of craft and skill.” (also, still no)
Looking at those last two, I wish they had made more of an impression on me at the time. But in spite of the careful language in all the others, the message I heard, loud and clear, was “you suck.” And being young and foolish, I thought I had all the time in the world to try again.
My long-term readers know what happened next. I gave up and stopped writing, and it took me almost twenty years to try again.
I never fell out of love with that story, though, and when I did come back to writing in a serious way, I started by creating that tale’s origin story. I wrote a novella called Seedling that became the first part of my book “The Stark Divide,” which has sold more than 5,500 copies to date. My point being not to brag, but to say that my original assumption that I wasn’t a good writer was wrong.
I even re-used part of the title for book three in that trilogy (the Ariadne Cycle), “The Shoreless Sea,” though to be clear, that’s an entirely different tale.
I also wrote a second series, set in that same universe. “The Oberon Cycle” takes place some 1500 years later, and I always wondered what happened in-between.
Flash forward to today.
Rewriting an existing story is always a dicey proposition. Do you stick with the original manuscript and give it a fresh coat of paint and some new floors? Do you save some parts of it, tearing down to the foundation and gutted walls? Or do you build something brand new, inspired by the original but hopefully without its flaws, and with a different view?
I chose the latter. I’m now rewriting that original book from scratch. The general idea is the same, as are many of the character names. But having logged some 300,000+ words in this world before this story starts, many things have changed by necessity.
In the original, the main characters were a young brother and sister, departing from home – an estate outside the city of Thyre. In the new version, the Estate has a long history of its own – while it once was someone’s home, it’s now a place of learning, a college where young people from all over Forever come to learn. Thalisa is now forty, and the dean of the Estate.
Oh, and did I mention that Talis is gay? The original book was largely written before I came out, and was, shall we say, rather lacking in queer diversity.
Also, in the original, everyone lived on the outside of the generation ship, which in retrospect created all kinds of scientific problems, from withstanding hard radioactivity to dealing with gravity (and why everyone doesn’t simply get flung off the surface).
But my other concern is that the original three published books already told a similar story to the “missing novel.” So I’m having to find ways to make this tale fresh and new. What direction can I take this that I haven’t already tried in the previous books?
On the balance, it’s exciting to be writing again in this world that I love, to have a second chance to tell the tale that I thought was going to be my ticket to fame. And this time, I’ll bringing all of my new world-building and character skills that I’ve picked up overthe years to bear, along with all the beautiful history I’ve created. I think I’ve grown as a writer, and I can’t wait to flesh out this story in a way I never could have told it when I was twenty-five.
I hope you’ll enjoy the results!
To my writer friends, have you ever tackled a story for a second time? Did you work with your original manuscript, or tear it down to brass tacks? How did it go?