TWEAKING THE STORY
As some of you that follow this site know, I’m in the middle of editing my next upcoming novel, Lusitania Gold. This story has been a long time coming, one with a twenty-one year history. That being said, the manuscript has seen many tweaks over the decades. Here, I’ll discuss the process of how the story is slowly but surely (and don’t call me Shirley) coming to fruition. Maybe one day, if this ever happens to you, these insights may help.
I’ve always been fascinated with sinking ships since my grandpappy sat me down in his lap in Lakewood, California in probably…1955 or so, and showed me pictures and stories from an Encyclopedia Britannica my parents had bought, back in the days when there were actually door-to-door encyclopedia salesmen. I guess they fell under that spell and we ended up with a set. Anyway…Grandpa Frank happened to pull out the L book and as we leafed through the pages, we came to one with the most famous or infamous drawing of the sinking of the Lusitania. The split second I saw that image, those four funnels, that hooked rudder and those gleaming propellers sticking above the water and all those people scrambling about in the water, it burned in my memory. I was only four years old, but never forgot that vision and became hooked on shipwrecks.
As time went on, unfortunately, the Lusitania faded into the background because the more infamous Titanic took center stage. However, there were plenty more unfortunate wrecks to read about as well, like the Morro Castle, Empress of Ireland, Sultana, Brittanic and hosts of others less well-knowns.
Decades later, when I fell into writing, thanks to inspiration from Clive Cussler and others, I wanted to put in my two cents and bring the Lusitania back into the mainstream. So, the seed of the idea for Lusitania Gold came into being.
Though it’s gone through substantial editorial tweaks over the two decades since I originally wrote it in 1995, essentially, Lusitania Gold’s the same story. However, in the beginning, it had some bloat, as they say.
In my early research, the Internet was far more primitive than it is today. I did my due diligence and eked out all the details I could at the time based on what I could garner from the library and personal knowledge accumulated over a lifetime. As for the electronic side of research, part of the problem was my personal computer. I also didn’t have access to Google Maps like we do today, among other web sites. It was 1993 when Bob Ballard explored the ship and did the video of his dive on the wreck. Around that time, he published that excellent book that I relied on extensively.
In 1992, I devoured Clive Cussler’s novel Sahara. That novel as well as the first book I read by him, Raise The Titanic, gave me inspiration for the wishful thinking I employed when I wove the plot for Lusitania Gold. Not only that, but along with being fresh off my just finished icky bug novel, The Greenhouse, I added a little surprise. It turns out that another author, which became a later influence, had a strange parallel as well. James Rollins also employed this same surprise in his early novels but was fortunate and talented enough to get published while I was still struggling in the trenches! It was almost a decade later when I read my first taste of his work and discovered he used the same thing.
That whole mix ended up being in the first draft of Lusitania Gold. It was 130K words. Along with that were a few sub-plots. As the years passed, after many query letters and subsequent blind edits by me as I learned my chops, and not knowing what I was doing, they never got deleted like they should.
FIRST MAJOR EDIT – A DECADE LATER
I’d received minor interest and had sent several samples out, chapters and an entire manuscript to a few places, but ultimately, rejects of around eighty or ninety agents and publishers as I recall. By the time I arrived in Las Vegas and found the Henderson Writer’s Group, I decided it was time to read Lusitania Gold to them and get twenty to thirty sets of eyes on it. I knew I needed lots of external input. Besides, my writing and editing chops were light-years ahead of what they were a decade before, plus, I’d set it aside and had already written three or four sequels since!
The tweaking began in earnest! I found sub-plots and passages that were destined for the trimming floor. There were things I didn’t need that had no impact on the story, and at the same time, I lost nothing of either the impact or the plot. I ended up tightening the plot and made it so much better.
On the other hand, because of much improved access to the internet, I also obtained new and improved info on the Lusitania wreck, contacted some divers that actually dove on the ship and obtained real info. This is something I was never able to do with Ballard. I tried multiple times to contact him and never once got a response from either him or anyone from his team.
As a result of this reading to the writer’s group, which took a year and a half, I pared it down from 130K to 95K. Quite a difference!
From the major edit after the writer’s group, I combed through it probably two times over the years, prior to various writer’s conferences. Why? Once in anticipation of pitching it. The second time because I actually got a publication contract. In each case, I tweaked and tweaked, and still found more things as my editing skills improved. I picked up a few more things through the forest (forest-through-the-trees).
When my original publishing contract fell through, the stars aligned and I found my real publisher, one who was there and had been there from the beginning of the major edit with the writer’s group. She’d been in on all the major tweaks and trimming it took to turn it into a better and more suitable manuscript. She knew the story intimately.
Right now, as I’m going through the pre-publication editing, my editor and I are getting to the details. Yet even so, I keep tweaking more real facts. As it turns out, this editing process takes months. During that time, I received another book on the Lusitania for Christmas and read it. Because of that, I now have even more background detail to use for tweaking!
I’ve not only incorporated that into my edit, but have gone back to the Internet and re-tweaked my research. I’ve gone back to Google maps. I went back to the web sites I could recall. I also removed historical names of storms in the areas because I didn’t want to date the material. I’d mentioned certain recent hurricane damage but didn’t want to mention them once I thought about it. Since I’d mentioned those storms, there’d already been others worse!
I added the name of an airport, either added in or took out details I wasn’t sure about. Stuff I’ve been preaching to you about and stuff James Rollins and I talked about extensively at the writer’s conferences where we chatted about these details.
COLD DEAD HANDS
To quote Charlton Heston, which I’ve probably done before but without the guns, as authors, the work never ends until it’s in print, and even then, you want to pull it off the shelf and tweak some more. You want to edit until they pull the manuscript out of your cold dead hands!
I’ll continue to tweak Lusitania Gold until they pull…
Well, you get the picture.
There’ll still be things wrong, historically, physically, scientifically. Some of it’s intentional, wishful thinking. Some of it’s just my blunders. My tweaking is to try to make it as believable as possible – to get you to suspend your disbelief, so to speak. I can’t please everyone and I won’t even try. However, if I can get even some of you to close that last page with a smile on your face, I’ve done my job. I hope you, as writers feel the same way.