Add in the emotional baggage, and I knew that e-publishing this massive opus would be my personal Belmont.
(For those of you not raised by racing fans: The track at Belmont is considered the true test of champions, demanding stamina, strategy, and true grit.) The books in question had started off as a very promising new career direction. But things soon spiraled into disappointment and frustration, followed by rage, despair, depression, and a bevy of stress-induced illnesses.
I was a bad fit with the publishing house and a terrible fit with the editor, both of which were chosen by my then-agent—who repeatedly dismissed my requests to be reassigned to a different editor and/or marketed to another house. Ever since proofreading the galleys on the final book to get it into production back then, I never again wanted to look at these novels. This was the track where I had sustained severe injuries, and I was spooked about going back over that ground.
As it turned out, though, this trip into the worst part of my professional past was healing and cleansing (two words I rarely use). Free of the former professional associations which had made these novels such a nightmarish experience for me, I discovered something I’d totally forgotten (in part because it was certainly never acknowledged to me by anyone I was working with back then): These are, in fact, really good books.
In a distant, objective way, I had known that. Despite the absence of enthusiasm (or even civility) from agent, editor, and publisher, these books earned out well, received starred reviews, and made “Year’s Best” lists. But having seen this material consistently treated as an albatross rather than an asset by my various professional associates...ensured that the unmitigated misery of the publishing process was all I could recall, for years afterwards, when thinking of these novels.
So giving the MSs a line-edit for reissue, writing all-new front- and end-matter for the books, and repackaging them made them mine again, and finally liberated them from those destructively negative memories.
Meanwhile, I have found that editing my earliest books (12 category romance novels) has been an educational visit to my younger self. For example, years later, I can see clearly how unsuited I was to writing category romance and why I eventually got dumped by the publisher. At the time, though, I couldn’t understand why so many of my proposals were rejected by the house or why my sales were flat. But it’s so obvious to me now, in revisiting these forgotten manuscripts, that I was very interested in writing comedy, action, plot, big multi-character scenes, familial conflict, ambition, and friendship...and only marginally interested in writing romance and sex. In my old Silhouettes, the romance often reads like a subplot taking up too much space, rather than being the driving force of the story.
I can also see now that I mostly chose to write heroes and heroines who would go on to have fruitful, fulfilling lives whether or not they got together with each other. But “they’ll both be okay even if this relationship doesn’t work out” wasn’t the emotional experience that most readers were seeking in this subgenre.
Moreover, most of my love scenes and sexual tension moments in these old romances read to me now like paint-by-numbers stuff. I was writing what was required in those scenes and including them as frequently as I was told to include them, but it wasn’t what I was focused on or really interested in.
The two editorial notes I got over and over, on every single manuscript, during my dozen books in category romance were, “Add more sex,” and “Add more sexual tension.” To me, it always seemed the books were already so chock full of longing gazes, aroused hormones, and sexual consummation that there was hardly any room left for the story—so how could the manuscripts always need still more of that stuff?
On the basis of that previous sentence, I assume you can see—more clearly than I did at the time, certainly— that I was in the wrong place as a writer and not destined to remain there for long. I was dumped after my twelfth category romance, sporadically managed to sell a couple of single-title romances, and moved into the fantasy genre before long—where I have stayed ever since, being much better suited to it.
However, my old category novels are cute books, even if they miss hitting the “sweet spot” of romance fiction, and I’ve been enjoying this trip down Memory Lane—where I often, upon opening one of these manuscript files, have no real idea what the plot is or how the conflict will be resolved.
What I particularly see in this progression of my earliest books is that I was gradually starting to grow into the writer I would later become—in much the way that (I hope) I will look back on my current work, 20 years from now, and see how I am now gradually growing into the writer I will become by then. Visiting my past via these old romance manuscripts, I observe my former self increasingly experimenting with the