Questionable: Re-Reading Crusie When You’re Crusie

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.)

28 thoughts on “Questionable: Re-Reading Crusie When You’re Crusie

  1. I love the glimpses into how, and how much, you think about your work. I’ve always thought writing a book would be more work than I’d want to do, no matter how many stories run through my head. And that would be just the write down the story and revise part.
    Collage and beats and arcs, oh my!
    Thank you.

  2. You’re welcome and thank you for answering! 🥰🤩

    This reply reveals a lot about process and how to revise for impact.

    I’ve realized that it’s very useful for me in lesson planning. I’ve decided to be insanely creative as a teacher this year and lessons as a story feature heavily in my thinking. I need to shorten my introductions and get to the concepts faster! 💜

  3. Very timely. Thank you!

    I just finished rereading four books to be reissued this month. I really didn’t want to have to revise, but… Talk about slow starts. Aaargh! Half of scene one in book two was backstory. Wonder why that was the least successful of the four?

  4. This kind of evaluation can be really valuable. Thanks for sharing.

    I had a similar revisiting of my books last year when I put out my audiobooks. I had to reread six of my books as well as listen to them. At times it was hard because it was so concentrated, but I learned a lot about my writing, and, like you, am pulling those lessons forward to future books.

    In your review evaluations, I did find the comps to Evanovich interesting. Not sure if those reviewers were referring to her romance novels or her Plum or other adventure/mystery series. While the romances may be more comparable (albeit different as you point out), I’m not sure the Plum books are as easy to compare.

    What I do find, though, is that readers often binge a lot of a writer’s books and then run out and turn to another writer, and it can take a while to change gears because they get used to the previous writer’s voice and style. Sometimes, that may impact their interpretation of the new writer, so there may be a few caveats when it comes to reviews that mention other writers when context is taken into account.

    But now as you move forward with your latest works, I’ll be curious to see which gets finished first:)

      1. I actually loved the beginning of faking it .. because of the dog. It touched my heart and I knew this was a story i would love and it is exactly what i would have done..

        1. The dog was the reason I finally kept that scene. I couldn’t figure out another way to get Steve to Columbus. Also, I really liked that first paragraph. Good clue that scene was unnecessary? Clarissa was never seen again in the story.

          This, by the way, is the reason for “Kill your darlings.” (Not Steve, I would never have killed Steve.)

          1. The burglary takes place during breakfast instead of dinner. Tilda leaves and drives straight to Clarissa’s to paint angry flowers and collect Steve. Davy follows Gwen instead of Tilda to the gallery, goes to play pool and call his bank/burglar buddy for rent money. That way, Davey delivers the painting in his rented room.

      2. Oh dang. I liked how Faking It started! Must reread and compare it starting later. Would you just have the dog be there, or have a dif rescue scene later?

        1. I couldn’t figure out another way to get Steve in. Looking at it coldly, Steve is not essential to the plot, but I wanted him so . . .

          1. I can’t picture the story without Steve in it. He’s balanced by the cat (who’s name eludes me and I can’t go look it up without disturbing the cat sleeping in my lap).

  5. I think these are all great yardsticks for re-reading. If a book’s morality (for want of a better word) has aged well, there are only minor writing issues and it has a reasonable amount of complexity then it can be fun to read again. I’m re-reading some Loretta Chase at the moment (Miss Wonderful) and the level of fascinating historical and geographical detail makes it an interesting re-read, but the plot and characters always take centre stage. (and I know to skip over the annoying side plot about the evil ex-employee that really shouldn’t get so much page space imho)

  6. When the rights to my very first published book reverted back to me, I knew I wanted to rewrite some of it because of how much I’d learned in the intervening years.

    I was pleasantly surprised that it wasn’t as awful as I feared LOL!

    Jenny’s right, too, that it’s like reading someone else’s book. I remember being shocked by that feeling.

  7. Great post, but I’m not sure I agree with your conclusions. Faking It is probably my favorite novel of yours. I re-read it so many times I’ve lost count, and my copy of the book is falling apart. I wouldn’t change a word in it, much less cut off the beginning. It shows who Tilda is before her romance kicks in. That beginning also launches the plot line about Scarlet and her paintings.
    I love that book. Please, don’t trash it!

    1. Oh, I’m not trashing it, it’s one of my favorites of the things I’ve written. It’s just a lot of set-up to go through until Davy grabs her in the dark like a burglar.

    2. I agree that Faking It doesn’t have a slow start. And neither does Nita from what I’ve read so far.

      I really like Crusie heroines and I’m pretty interested in meeting them, just them–before any romance starts.

  8. I just finished 1632, Second Edition. Eric included an Afterward, in which he explained the reason and nature of the changes to the First Edition. He closed with this:

    Looked at from the standpoint of public relations, this whole exercise is useless anyway. As sure as the sunrise, some nitpicker will find some other (itsy bitsy teenie weenie) error in the text and grouse about it. At which point I will trot out my standard rebuttal:
    “Which connotation of the term ‘fiction’ are you having the most trouble with?”
    But that’s not really why an author does this sort of rewrite. We do it because (truth be told) we’re a little obsessive about our fairy tales. That pretty much goes with the territory of being a story-teller in the first place. Who else would come up with a pack of lies that runs for hundreds of pages—and then fret and fuss to make sure the lies stay consistent?

    Eric Flint
    November 20, 2012

  9. Of course, I see your books differently from the way you do, and the beginning of Faking It is a good example. I know Tulsa as an artist and an adult who is responsible to her family — and who will take on a dog in need — before I see the silly stuff — the kiss in the closet, getting had by Clark Kent in the diner, and falling onto the bed with Davey. The intro shows me that she has integrity — no matter what she is faking. Separately, I really like your “What genre is this?” question. However, I don’t see any fuzziness with genre in your stories. The number of characters who are “in” at the end is alien to me — I don’t see why everyone has to show up at Min’s apartment or at Andi’s haunted house, but that isn’t as issue. In fact, I really like the fact that one of your books has a bad gal who is one of the group of women buddies who chat all the time. No, two books. One has the young wife who pokes holes in all the condoms. The other is a neighbor. Gracious, I can’t remember anything anymore. My point is that you vary your basic character patterns.

  10. I also love these craft discussions. Notes above re: slow starts are something I really need to be conscious of on my WIPs. There is one, ‘complete’ but resting because of designer/beta reader unavailability, in which I’m just not sure I should mess with it. I need a beta read.

    It’s a slow-burn, colleagues-to-lovers story but also a career-evolution story. The MCs don’t even go on a date until almost halfway through. They meet in the first chapter, and they negotiate working together early in chapter two.

    I’ve recently recharacterized one of my novels as not a romance, because its central couple is established in an earlier book, the story arc is about making a movie, and I wanted to make the book description more clearly reflect the content.

    May simply do that for this one too. The love story is really the reason the book exists, but to hack out all the before-the-romance-starts would make the Why and How of that love story too opaque. I mean, I want to see *why* people decide to be together, and someone whose opinion I value says ‘write the stories you want to read.’ 🙂

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