I’ve just spent the last week editing the first book in my Kestral Voyages series, part of my new marketing push for all of my books. (No, it’s not back on sale yet.) I thought I’d be doing a fairly simply copy-and-replace of a few elements. Boy, was I wrong.
What I originally wrote under the working title Berserker has gone through 5 revisions over the years, including text, titles and covers. That’s because it was one of my earliest books, and each time I looked at it, I discovered bits of my writing that needed improvement. This time, I decided to make more wholesale replacements for some of the terms in the series, because some of them sounded good to me when I first wrote them, but now they sound dated or just plain stupid (Galarchy, I’m still looking right at you).
Those changes were easy. But I found I couldn’t stop there; as I made an editing pass through it, I found that there were still quite a few writing artifacts from my earlier career that needed excising. It’s often amazing to me how many times I can go through these books, convinced that nothing can be improved when I’m done, only to look at the books later and find even more to edit. For example, I used to like the phrase “long moments.” In my original manuscript, that phrase was everywhere. In my latest edit, I still found remnants of that phrase, sometimes edited to things like “a few moments,” “quick moments,” etc. Clean up, aisle all of ’em.
I also came across a few areas where I could have applied the writing practice of “show, not tell” a bit more liberally, to improve the overall work. So some sections got a good fleshing out, where it wouldn’t bog down the story. And of course, I found plenty of places where a better turn of phrase improved or better clarified the scene.
And finally—the subject you’ve all been waiting for—I found myself addressing sex in the book… something I’ve wrestled with from the very beginning of my writing. Originally, the book had NO sex, and just one buildup scene—not even foreplay, just a “kiss-kiss-cut-to-morning” scene like the G-rated stuff I grew up seeing on television. In later revisions, I decided to go all-in (ahem) on sex, taking my cues from George R. R. Martin’s Wild Cards series (which had so much graphic sex in them that I always used to wonder how they got away with not having to put an “adult” label on their covers somewhere… but there they were, in the science fiction aisle, waiting for some impressionable kid to pick up and be scarred for life).
But I was never really happy with that kind of writing for a science fiction adventure novel. It felt gratuitous, overdone, excessive; and I decided I just didn’t want that much grinding going on. So I’ve taken a page from an acclaimed comic book writer and artist, Howard Chaykin, particularly his American Flagg! sci-fi series: Also set in the future, AF featured plenty of sexy scenes, including foreplay and not-quite-revealing positions, but no actual sex or depictions of genitalia or nipples. Chaykin gives you a tantalizing glimpse of the sex you’re about to miss, which is definitely more erotic and exciting than kiss-kiss-cut-to-morning. This is a literary depiction of sex that I’m not only comfortable writing, but comfortable reading as well.
I’ve since scaled things back: The sex is still there, but handled much less graphically; more of the experience, less of the mechanics, so to speak. I’ve finally reached a style of sexual scene that is good with me, still capable of being erotic and exciting, but not so crazy that I’ll disappoint the readers who aren’t bothered by reading a sex scene, nor have to fight off the torch-and-pitchfork-carrying crowds.
So, what I thought would be a single evening of find and replace turned out to be the 6th full revision of Kestral 1. Now that I think I’m done editing it, I need to the external features of the book: New cover art, new blurbs, and new titles. I don’t just want these books to read well, I want them to jump off the shelves and into the world’s readers. I still have a long way to go before it’s ready for that.
I’ve tried multiple covers and looks over the years, none of which totally satisfied me (or the audience, apparently). I like the idea of featuring Kestral on the cover, along with the ubiquitous spacecraft that sci-fi fans want to see on covers. Years ago, I found the model above, and really thought she captured Carolyn Kestral. I’ve never been able to create the freighter Mary to my satisfaction. But I recently came across a spacecraft that, with editing, could be the Mary. (A lot will depend on my Photoshop skills on this one.) I’m hoping I can somehow combine the two into an awesome cover this time around, something exciting and eye-catching, something…