Writing and re-writing: A Novel of King Arthur - Sarah Woodbury

Writing and re-writing: A Novel of King Arthur

I normally blog about dark age and medieval Wales, and just touch on the writing that has preoccupied my life for the last five years.

But I’ve just put up my new novel, Cold My Heart:  A Novel of King Arthur, and I thought I’d talk about the process that created it, particularly for my long time readers and followers who will have seen a blurb to this book in another form not long ago.

The most important thing I’ve learned in writing fiction over the years is, of course, never give up.  The second most important thing is that no book is ever set in stone.  It’s really hard to see that when you’re in the process of writing it, but every single one of my books has gone through a transformative process from when I first began writing it, to when I finally published it at Amazon and Smashwords in 2011.

I began writing fiction five years ago on April 1, just to see if I could.  I wrote a straight-forward fantasy novel called Dark Legend (which I still think is a great title and I swear one of my books is going to be called that in the future), which will never see the light of day.  I wrote it in 6 weeks, edited it for a month, and started sharing it.  I tremble at what people must have thought and they were very kind about it, but . . . no. 

Almost immediately afterwards, I began what eventually became, Footsteps in Time.  It took me four years and five more completed novels to get it in a condition where it was publishable.  In those four years, I tried to sell it for two, I wrote two more books in the series, and through it all, I was ripping the book apart and putting it back together.  At one point, a third of the book was from Meg’s viewpoint.  At one point, it was in first person (which a Goodreads reviewer guessed, so kudos to her!).

The point is that until you’ve published a book (and with ebooks, maybe not even then) a book isn’t done.  It’s important not to lock yourself into one idea or one avenue, even after you’ve typed ‘the end’ and then edited it a dozen times.   Especially if you are seeking representation, and ultimately an editor.  The good think about ripping apart a book and putting it back together in the computer age, is that you can save the old version.  There is no risk.  Except your heart, of course.

Which brings me to Cold My Heart.  I started it in November of 2009 for NaNoWriMo.  I wrote it in about 5 months, setting it in the 13th century, the same time period as my After Cilmeri series.  I did that because I loved the time period, loved the people, but I couldn’t sell Footsteps in Time, and thus, if I was going to write about that era, I was going to have to write a different book.

A year and a half later, I’d gotten these rejections: 

“There is alot of good material here but after much consideration I think I will have to pass on the project.  I kept thinking that this was neither fish nor fowl kind of book that wouldn’t fit comfortably in either the historical or fantasy slots.  I do think she is a very talented writer however and would love to take a look at anything else she is working on.”

“Its very nicely done, but I find I’m not falling in love with it, partly because I don’t feel optimistic about the market for this kind of medieval romantic historical.”

“I actually liked it alot– this is one of my favorite time periods– and Sarah has a talent for writing a story that stuck with me.  This said, I think we’d have trouble making it work.  We haven’t had alot of luck in this particular time period, and I think the fantasy element might make it harder, given that we don’t do any fantasy.”

So  . . . what to do?  It would never be published in this form.  Not traditionally, and maybe, just maybe, I was beginning to think not ever.

It didn’t take long to come up with an answer and my writing partner and I had the exact same idea, almost simultaneously.  She knows me well enough to understand that rewriting an entire book from top to bottom is daunting, but not impossible.  I’d done it before.  I’ll do it again.  I set it 700 years earlier, with different characters, different history (obviously), and a whole new impetus for being.  I wrote a novel about King Arthur.

And the truth is, I love this book.  I love it more than the old one.  I am so glad I got those rejections that made me reconsider.  I hope you love it too.

Cold My Heart:  A Novel of King Arthur is available at Amazon ( http://tinyurl.com/67v6cfl), Amazon UK, and coming soon to everywhere Smashwords distributes.

It has been featured at the New Book Journal here:  http://newbookjournal.com/2011/04/new-release-in-historical-fantasy/

10 Replies to “Writing and re-writing: A Novel of King Arthur”

  1. I agree with Robyn. I like reading about writers’ processes for writing books. I also agree that books can always be improved and rewritten. although I do think that at some point the Law of Diminishing Returns kicks in.

    1. Yes. I think so too. That’s why it’s important to eventually move on to a new book, even if the prior one still lingers in your mind.

  2. I love reading about a writer’s process (and I love that you started writing on April Fool’s Day as well — great anecdote). I think the test of a true writer (meaning one who sees writing as a career and not a hobby) is his or her ability and willingness to start over from scratch again and again. It IS a daunting task, but one that’s often necessary. It takes a writer with balls (figuratively, in this case :)) to do that. Congrats on the new book!

  3. What an entertaining day to begin writing – April first. Very true what you are saying about how much novels can change over time. One of my novels ade it to the final round of publishings only to be rejected, and I got some good comments from the editors.

    The weird thing was that I already knew all the things they said, deep down, I had just been holding out the hope that somehow I would not need to rewrite an entire novel. Such a silly perspective. I have now rewritten said novel twice, and it gets better with each writing. It is probably at or near publishability now, but I think I will have to give it one more write – every time I do it brings new and more exciting plot lines to the fore.

    1. I know exactly what you mean. Deep down, you knew it had to change and were resisting it. In some novels, there are sections which you know aren’t as good, but you label ‘okay’. Or so you tell yourself! But the real problem is admitting that they need to be fixed. Good for you for reaching that point and good luck with your book!

    1. Yes . . . you might ask that . . . and that would be . . . because agents and editors told me that they couldn’t market books from first time authors in first person. It turned too many people off.

        1. It is just one of those things. I very often think in first person, and my characters talk to me in first person, but at the time, I didn’t want to write something that would instantly present a barrier to an editor.

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