As I finished draft 2 of the book this week, I had been planning to do a few blogs more blogs on the revision process. But then I realized that this book has not simply been revised. This book is actually a complete and utter re-write of the first book I ever wrote. Yes, I have been revising it. But… I also scrapped an entire book, including major pieces of the world, certain character aspects, and all of the plot. The only things that are the same between this book and the first book are the character names, the place names, and the “hook” (my main character is an artist can paint or draw pieces of the truth.)
So, there may be a few blogs about revising. But, first: What made me decide to toss out an entire (decent) book and re-write it?
1. The market has changed. When I started writing a young adult book, almost ten years ago, ‘young adult’ meant almost the same thing that ‘middle grade/young reader’ does right now. I was writing about teenaged characters, but the book needed to be something that schools and libraries would buy for both high school and middle school. I might be able to thank Twilight for changing the young adult market. Or, preferably, Hunger Games. But there is no arguing that the young adult genre has changed. Characters face more adult choices, darker worlds, and complicated ethical decisions. And you know what?
2. I have changed, too. My preferences had always run toward the sweet fairytale retellings. My original book was not a fairytale, but it had a lot of that sweetness to it. It wasn’t a bad story, but… as I have changed, my tastes have changed. I like the darker, the more complicated, the frightening. The stuff that reflects all the things I have learned about myself in the last ten years. Could I write the type of book I admired most? (The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner; Star-Crossed by Elizabeth Bunce, Blackbringer by Laini Taylor…) It was time to find out.
3. The book was good, but not good enough. During the years I was actively trying to sell it, I got a lot of positive attention. Editors liked it, but not enough to buy it. Agents requested it, but ultimately decided it was ‘too literary to sell’. I was told over and over, “You’re a good writer, and there are a lot of things I like about this book. But it’s just not quite right.” After a series of rejections from agents, and upon giving up on ever hearing back from a publisher who had requested the full manuscript, I decided that the book had some serious flaws that no amount of editing would solve. But why did I choose to re-write the book instead of start a new one?
4. I loved the premise. An artist who can paint or draw the truth? That premise could float a lot of stories. I knew I wanted to salvage it. What story did I really want to tell? What would raise the stakes? What would let me use this premise more fully?
Here are the catalyst of questions that grew a new book: What if the main character’s father was murdered when she was very young, and the murderer was never caught? What if she’d spent her life trying to become an artist who can paint the truth so that she can find out what really happened? What would turn her personal vendetta into a quest to save the entire kingdom?
And so, Painting Shadows was born from the ashes of the sweet fairytale of a fantasy that was my first book.