Sure Thing wrote:
I love when authors reread their own work. I wonder, does it feel like catching up with old friends or looking through an old picture album? Slap a bold on this and call it a questionable if you like.
It feels like rereading a book by somebody else.
Keep in mind, both the books I reread are about twenty years old, so it’s been awhile. The biggest factor is that distance; I can see flaws pretty clearly and also see why those parts didn’t work. That’s helpful, but I think the most telling was the comparison of what I wrote then and what’s being published now. I used to catch a lot of flack about being too explicit in the sex scenes, for example, but compared to what’s published now, my books are pretty vanilla. The tropes are still the same–marriage of convenience/fake dating, friends-to-lovers, enemies-to-lovers, etc.–but the way they’re interpreted because of social changes are different.
I also went back and read the Amazon reviews for those books to see what people cited as reasons for liking or not liking, and that was illuminating, too. A lot of the people who gave the books one stars said to read Janet Evanovitch instead. The thing about Evanovitch is that she writes very differently from me; not worse, not better, just a very different voice and approach to story. So while we both write romcoms, we’re not at all alike, which means the people who prefer her are just Not My Readers. Nothing wrong with them or Evanovitch, but nothing wrong with me, either. They were also the readers most likely to cite too many characters as a flaw, which I think is also a reflection of a way of reading, again, not good or bad, just reading style.
The helpful criticisms were about specific things like slow starts (Faking It definitely starts in the wrong place). I tend to spend too much time setting up the protagonist and the love interest. It’s really better in a romance to get the lovers together in the first scene, and I generally wait until later in the first chapter, so I needed to look at that and, yep, Nita and Lily take forever to set up. Anna hits the ground running, though. So do Liz and Alice. It really makes a difference.
Some of the things I was expecting to find weren’t there. I used to get grief from some Harlequin readers about my female protagonists asking for sex; they thought it made the women look pathetic and needy, but there was also an undercurrent of giving up an advantage; that is, they thought of sex as transactional instead of consensual partnership. I’m pretty sure that was a generation thing, and it appears to be gone from criticism now. I remember there was a kerfluffle at the time Welcome to Temptation came out about the language, but re-reading it now, it seems clear to me that the language was the way the characters safely violated social norms which don’t exist any more, so the language now is just . . . language. No big deal. The things that are big deals now, like consent, were pretty much always in my work, albeit not usually explicit.
Mostly I read both the books and the reviews to see if I could isolate bad decisions in my writing and try to avoid them as I revise. The slow starts are a good example. I need to cut a lot out of the beginning of Lily and Nita. Lily will be easy; Nita a lot harder. With Lily, I was mostly writing to discover, so if I move the beginning to her confronting Sebastian on the steps of the diner and then going inside to meet Fin, I think the book will open in the right place. Nita’s harder because there’s so much set-up, but set-up is the reason my books start slow, and it’s something I warn writing students about all the time (do as I say, not as I do).
The other thing that’s specific to my books is the balance between the external plot (like the movie in Temptation or the paintings in Faking It) and the romance. The strongest scenes in Faking It, I think, were the cons that Davy and Tilda pulled to get the paintings back, not because those scenes were about the plot but because the situations put the lovers together under pressure and arced the romance in action. It reminded me that the only reason the plot exists in romantic comedy is to show that arc; it’s the “What genre is this?” question. Faking It is a love story told through a screwball caper plot; it’s not a screwball caper. Nita is not a supernatural screwball comedy, it’s a love story told through a supernatural screwball comedy. It’s the romance, stupid.
I did a lot more deep thinking about sex scenes, both mine and that kind of scene in general, but that’s another post. Basically, I reread my books because my writing has evolved and I needed to know the weaknesses in my prior work so I don’t revert to them in the new stuff. It feels a lot like looking back on my life in general: equal parts of “That was a good thing I did” and “Not gonna do that again.”
And now I must cut the hell out of Nita’s beginning and revise Act Two so that Nick and Nita are together, OBVIOUSLY. Well, now it’s obvious. Re-reading is good.
(Thank you for the question, Sure Thing.)