Welcome to New York Times Bestselling Author Alina Adams, who is returning to the blog to share 5 changes she made to her latest book, My Mother’s Secret: A Novel of the Jewish Autonomous Region. Keep reading to get insight into Alina’s revising strategies on this intriguing historical fiction book, which is rooted in detailed research about a little known chapter of Soviet and Jewish history.
Change #1: The Beginning
The first draft of the book which became My Mother’s Secret: A Novel of the Jewish Autonomous Region opened with three chapters setting up the “present day” sequence—San Francisco, CA 1988. (When the bulk of the book takes place in the 1930s and 1940s, 1988 is “modern.”)
It introduced the heroine, Lena, her difficult relationship with her withholding mother, the death of her beloved father, her teenage daughter, and her controlling husband—as well as the man who would become a potential love interest in the future. The three chapters went into great detail about why Lena always felt unloved by her mother, and how her faltering marriage got to this state: Lena used to love that her husband made all of her decisions for her. It made her feel that he cared about her in a way that her mother did not. Now she feels smothered. Her husband’s not the one that changed; Lena is. She knows it and blames herself . . . but she still can’t help feeling like she wants out. It’s guilt about her daughter that’s making her stay.
However, the feedback I got was to get to the “good stuff”— the story of Lena’s mother and her desperate escape to Birobidzhan, the Jewish Autonomous Region on the border between Russia and China in the mid-1930s—faster.
So the original three chapters became a single prologue which, in the hardback version, now runs a tight 12 pages. I still hit all the main points, but much more compactly. You have to wait for Part Three to get the details. And learn how it all turns out.
Change #2: In the Name of the Father
The first lines of the book read: Lina Mirapolsky’s father was dying. Her husband was trying to get a discount on it.
The newly truncated prologue still opens with the death of Lena’s dad, and her surprise at the way her mother reacts to it.
In the first draft, Lena has always known that he’s her stepfather and adored him anyway.
In the rewrite, his cryptic, dying words send Lena on a hunt which reveals that the man who raised her wasn’t her biological father.
I initially deliberately avoided that, because it felt too cliched, but was ultimately convinced to put it in for the “wham” moment which closes out the prologue. Curious to hear what readers think!
Change #3: Straight Ahead
Part Two of My Mother’s Secret: A Novel of the Jewish Autonomous Region follows Lena’s mother, Regina, from the time a neighbor in her family’s Moscow communal apartment introduces 12-year-old Regina to the dream of Birobidzhan, getting her involved with the Yiddish-language newspaper she publishes as well as the historic figures committed to the cause of an independent Jewish homeland in the Soviet Union, until 18- year-old Regina is forced to flee Moscow to avoid being arrested along with her neighbor and all their compatriots.
In the original draft, the story is told chronologically. In the published version, we first meet Regina as she is fleeing, and the question of what she is fleeing from is left unanswered until much later in the story, when she is forced to confess all. The idea here is to set up suspense as to why Regina is on the run, what she is hiding, and her reasons for being so secretive with everyone she meets, including the man she starts to fall in love with.
Change #4: Slap, Slap, Kiss, Kiss
In my first pass, Regina’s initial meeting with her future love interest is full of antagonism. Regina smugly feels she knows what’s best for Birobidzhan because she’s read books about it better than Aaron, the man who has lived there for years. This leads to lots of witty banter—the kind I frankly, love to write. But it also made Regina come off as unlikable. (I was writing her as a know-it-all teen-ager who would eventually come to realize the error of her ways, wise up, mature, and admit her youthful folly. But I guess nobody wants to wait that long.)
Now, Regina is still cryptic with Aaron, but it’s because she has a secret she doesn’t want him to discover, and also because she is deliberately turned against him by a third party with his own agenda.
The pair still argues and banters, and I was even able to keep some of the same dialogue. But the context and motivation is different, making her less of a brat, and more of a scared kid.
Change #5: Where the Wind Takes You
My first idea for Regina’s story was to have it take place exclusively in Birobidzhan. The little-known history of the place, as well as the paranoid atmosphere—anyone could be arrested at any moment, everyone was always spying on their neighbors, loyalties were constantly shifting, and what was politically safe to say one day could, overnight, become treason—seemed ripe for gripping narrative possibilities.
But then, I decided to up the stakes. Historical fiction, especially featuring Jewish characters, has plundered every aspect of the Holocaust. There isn’t nearly as much written about what was happening at the same time in the Soviet Union.
The USSR lost over 24 million people in their “Great Patriotic War,” roughly half of them military, the other half civilian. The Russians then—as now—fight by throwing bodies at the enemy, treating them as disposable. And then there were the Nazi prisoner of war camps. Western powers were signatories to the Geneva convention. The Soviets were not. Even when they were kept in the same camp, American soldiers were treated much better than Soviet ones. (There’s a reason there were no Soviet prisoners having a goofy, fun time in Hogan’s Heroes.)
Once I did my research there, I decided to throw my heroes from the frying pan of Josef Stalin’s Great Terror into the fire of a Nazi POW camp.
After all, isn’t one aspect of compelling writing to make it seem like things can’t get any worse . . . and then make them get worse?
With his dying breath, Lena’s father asks his family a cryptic question: “You couldn’t tell, could you?” After his passing, Lena stumbles upon the answer that changes her life forever.
As her revolutionary neighbor mysteriously disappears during Josef Stalin’s Great Terror purges, 18-year-old Regina suspects that she’s the Kremlin’s next target. Under cover of the night, she flees from her parents’ communal apartment in 1930s Moscow to the 20th century’s first Jewish state, Birobidzhan, on the border between Russia and China. Once there, Regina has to grapple with her preconceived notions of socialism and Judaism while asking herself the eternal question: What do we owe each other? How can we best help one another? While she contends with these queries and struggles to help Birobidzhan establish itself, love and war are on the horizon.
New York Times Bestselling Author Alina Adams draws on her own experiences as a Jewish refugee from Odessa, USSR as she provides readers a rare glimpse into the world’s first Jewish Autonomous Region. My Mother’s Secret is rooted in detailed research about a little known chapter of Soviet and Jewish history while exploring universal themes of identity, love, loss, war, and parenthood. Readers can expect a whirlwind journey as Regina finds herself and her courage within one of the century’s most tumultuous eras.
Alina is the author of soap-opera tie-ins, figure skating mysteries, and romance novels. She was born in Odessa, USSR and moved to the US with her family in 1977. She has covered figure skating for ABC, NBC, ESPN and Lifetime, and worked for the soap-operas As the World Turns, Guiding Light, All My Children, and One Life To Live. Her historical fiction novels, The Nesting Dolls (2020) and My Mother’s Secret: A Novel of the Jewish Autonomous Region are based on a combination of family history and rigorous research.
If you could use some editing tips, then I’d love for you to check out my interview on The Writer’s Tribe Talk Show. Host Elsa Kurt asked me lots of insightful questions about my writing journey, how I became an editor and online course creator, and the common mistakes that writers make.
We talked about the ups and downs of the publishing path and why most new authors are flabbergasted when they read their first editorial letter. You’ll hear about the shock I experienced as a teen author receiving editing feedback.
We also shared some helpful advice for busy authors. You can watch the interview on YouTube (see the video below) or listen on your favorite podcast app including Apple Podcasts and Spotify.
Be sure to check out other episodes of the podcast as well. Elsa talks about all things writing, publishing, and promoting. She has interviewed authors in many genres and has also discussed topics like TikTok for Authors, Imposter Syndrome, your elevator pitch, and roadblocks to writing.
Do you know you need editing, but are worried about how you’re going to afford it? Would you love to do a lot of it yourself, but know you have blinders on when it comes to your own work and that self-editing may not be your strong suit? Never fear! Recently, my friend Liesel Hill interviewed me on The Prolific Author Podcast. The topic was self-editing tips for the indie author. You can also find the interview at the bottom of this post.
I’m an author herself, and as someone who also does a lot of editing for other indie authors and has created a self-editing online course, I have a unique perspective. Give the interview a listen to learn some self-editing tips and find out how you can improve your revision and rewriting skills. You just might save yourself tons of time and expense on editing!
If you haven’t listened to The Prolific Author Podcast before, you’re in for a treat. Liesel is a USA bestselling author and Story Clarity Coach, and her podcast is a wealth of information on everything from story craft to book marketing tips. Here is her description of the podcast:
Do you dream of making your living writing fiction, but don’t know where to start? Believe me, I understand. I worried and struggled over my writing for years, afraid it was cheesy and amateurish, and not TRULY resonating with readers. Meanwhile, at every turn, I was told I couldn’t make money this way. It takes too much time and hard work. It’s not a “real” job. I bet you can relate, right?
Well, I’m gonna let you in on a secret the traditional publishing industry—and let’s face it—most of society at large, don’t want you to know: it’s VERY possible to become a career author. To make your living writing stories full emotion, passion and morality.
With all the upheaval and negativity in our world, people NEED your stories more than ever before. Stories only you can bring to them. I created this podcast to show you how. And I promise it will take less time than you think. So, join the revolution of authors following their passion and changing lives, both their own, and those of their readers. WE…are prolific authors!
In today’s Behind the Rewrite, romantic suspense author Cathy Skendrovich talks about the power of the red pen—and the delete button. She discusses five changes she made when rewriting her new release Zone of Action.
It doesn’t matter how great you think the book you’re writing is, it’s going to need some editing. When I wrote my first book five years ago, I had no idea what the publishing process entailed. Sure, I figured I’d need to change some words, maybe remove some punctuation. After all, I’m a former English teacher; my book wouldn’t need a lot of editing, right? Wrong! My editor had me slicing and dicing until I felt like a contestant on Iron Chef. Never underestimate the power of a good red pen (or Delete button).
The process hasn’t changed over the years, either. Zone of Actionis my fifth book, and it went through three editing passes before my editor approved it. Here are some changes I made that I feel have improved it drastically.
Change #1: What’s In A Name?
When I started writing Zone of Action, I knew I wanted my heroine, a former Army counterterrorism expert, to have left the military and become a florist. I wanted to juxtapose her violent past with the peace and tranquility of flora and fauna. Unfortunately, I also thought it would be fun to name her Daisy Jenkins. Get it? Daisy, florist? Besides Daisy, I chose Joe for my hero, and Frank for my villain. I could picture my characters really clearly with those names.
However, my editor didn’t see them the same way. She asked me how vested I was in those particular names, that they were old-fashioned and in Daisy’s case, a dumb idea. It took the seriousness out of the plot and made it, well, corny. And Joe was not hero-sounding enough. It was too ordinary. And Frank? Way too old for the twenty-first century. I racked my brain, because I was already into the book a few chapters by then and decided my hero could change from Joe to Cameron “Cam” Harris, and my villain went from Frank Gates to Brett Gates.
I immediately saw a different image whenever I wrote Cam (just look at the cover model!), and, though Brett was a harder sell for me, I eventually saw the prudence in changing his name. I now get a very vivid picture of Brett whenever I see his name. As for Daisy? I tossed around a lot of choices, but in the end I chose Audrey, after my older son’s fiancée. It’s still a little old-fashioned, but more up-to-date, and definitely not a poor play on words! A name is everything in a book; choose one that sets forth the right image for your characters. Your readers will thank you for it.
Change #2: The Sinister Acronym
My novel is about a terrorist group who wants to take over the U.S. Army. When I first started writing, I decided to have a terror cell working with a larger group, meaning I had two sets of acronyms. I had them straight in my head, so I figured the readers would understand the difference, right? Wrong. On the third edit pass, my editor finally flagged the two entities and said, “Can’t we just have the one terrorist organization? I’m getting confused with all the acronyms.” Since she’s the expert, I went back and pulled out the cell’s acronym, and reworked each section that had it. More work for me, but the finished product reads much better now. Less confusing. By the way, the group is the GUWP. You’ll have to purchase the book to find out what it stands for!
Change #3: “Strangers In The Night”
Most of you are probably too young to know the song sung by the venerable Frank Sinatra, but it’s a good title for my next major edit. My novel is a romantic suspense thriller. I had the required romance and (Sh!) sex scenes, but my editor came back very early in the first pass and said, “I don’t see any buildup of attraction, to romance, to sex. They have insta-lust, and then they fall into bed,” or on the floor, in this case. I reread the manuscript (again) and looked for places I could add a stolen glance, a prolonged touch, a flirtatious comment. I added those, and also reworked the actual sex scenes, adding description, using better adjectives, and “showing, not telling,” as our English teachers are always saying. And I have to say, those scenes are really “hot” now. Again, you’ll have to get your own copy to see if you agree.
Change #4: Good Guys Don’t Act Bad (ly)
The hero in Zone of Action, Cameron Harris, is a military man. That means he believes in action. He doesn’t want to sit around talking or cajoling suspects into telling their secrets. If there’s a way to physically coerce the unsub, then he’s going to choose that route. For example, Cam catches the eighteen-year-old kid who was hired to break into Audrey’s house. Audrey asks the youth why he did it, and who hired him. The kid replies with a nasty phrase. I wanted Cam to act like a he-man and slam the kid’s head into the car hood. My editor said, “No, no, no! That makes Cam look bad. He isn’t heroic if he’s slamming a kid’s head into something. Rewrite!” I really wanted that scene, but in the end I changed it to him shaking the kid and saying something rude to him. I have to say that I like the change now that I’ve lived with it. Cam doesn’t seem to have a wicked violent nature hidden under the surface now. Most of the time, editors know best.
Change #5: The End (Or Is It?)
I love writing the HEA to my books. Sometimes I know the ending before I know the beginning, if that makes any sense. In Zone of Action, I wanted an ending like the old movie, An Officer and a Gentleman, where Richard Gere appears and whisks Debra Winger off her feet. My editor was fine with that, but she encouraged me to delve into Audrey’s thoughts more, show her worrying over never saying I love you to Cam. After working the ending scene over a few times, I’m very proud of it, and can see how the added information builds Audrey’s character more. Readers can relate to her now. Haven’t we all wished we’d said some things to our significant others? Or, perhaps not said certain words? By adding to Audrey’s thoughts, I’ve pulled readers into her dilemma, and they can feel for her more.
Want To Read The Rest Of The Book?
Former terror cell expert Audrey Jenkins has seen enough death and destruction to last a lifetime. When she uncovers her ex, Brett, a higher-ranking officer in her unit, selling military secrets, she turns him in and returns to the simpler life she has embraced since leaving the army.
CID Special Agent Cam Harris is a career military man with a strong sense of duty. When a military prisoner who once saved his life in Afghanistan escapes while in his custody, he requests the assignment to track him down.
Cam’s manhunt leads him to Audrey’s door. His prisoner—her ex—will resurface here, he’s sure of it. The feisty woman wants nothing to do with hunting down her ex, but when a terror cell she’s all-too-familiar with launches a deadly attack on army intelligence soldiers and officers, she knows it’s Brett.
Helping Cam is the right thing to do. But the attraction burning between them may be the mistake that gets her and Cam killed…
Lover ofdogs, reading, and the outdoors, Cathy Skendrovich looks for story ideas in everything she does. Recently she moved to Star, Idaho, with her real-life hero, and now they enjoy living overlooking a pond. Her favorite genre to write is romantic suspense, though she’s also dabbled in historical romance. Her fifth book, Zone of Action,blends her love of suspense with the military. Her younger son, who’s currently in the army, has stopped taking her calls because of all the research questions she asks him. Seriously.
In today’s Behind The Rewrite, author Renee Wildes discusses having her romantic epic fantasy series picked up by a new publisher. She shares five important editing tips for authors to keep in mind when revising their manuscripts.
1: New Publisher/Title/Editor
The Guardians of Light series originated with Samhain Publishing and when they went out of business and I got my rights back, I had everything re-edited and Champagne Book Group picked up the series. Each book was again re-edited and renamed, with new covers. This book was originally titled Moonwitched, and was renamed A Guardian Redeemed. We chose a play on the Guardian theme for each book’s new title. Each subsequent book in the series is a spin-off from the earlier ones, featuring familiar characters mixing with new ones. The heroine, Mari, was Finora’s best friend in Book 3, A Guardian Revealed. The hero, Valkyn, was Aryk’s best friend in Book 5, A Guardian’s Destiny. The secondary hero, Matteo, was the villain in Book 3…but this is his redemption story arc.
We had a bit of a rocky road. When Cassie, the publisher of Champagne, decided to retire her editor hat so she could focus on the publishing end of things, I was initially assigned a new editor who turned out to be not a good fit for me. Sometimes, in professional interests, it’s necessary to stand up for yourself and negotiate a new deal. In this case, a new editor. I decided to ask for someone specific, and Cassie was gracious enough to agree. Jenna and I get on great, and it’s nice to have another house and editor who believe in me and my stories. NEVER be afraid to speak up if something feels wrong. It’s YOUR book and YOUR career, so look out for yourself.
Same when it comes to the cover—if it doesn’t look like your story/book, speak up. Not all publishers give the author the power to change something, but it never hurts to try and speak up and be selective with what you want to fight for. The initial cover had a scruffy dark-haired hero and a desert setting like Arizona. It looked like the cover of a Western. So I reminded Cassie that Valkyn was a blond Viking-esque warrior and the book setting was very “Africa.” (My editor Jenna said the setting looked like Mars, and now I can’t get “Cowboys on Mars” out of my head!) And I got a new cover that we all agree looks more like my actual book.
2:Fight Lesson Scene Do-Over
One of my favorite scenes in A Guardian Redeemedis when Valkyn decides to teach Mari how to defend herself. They’re going to war to overthrow an evil warlord and restore a boy-king to the throne. It’s a major turning point for Valkyn because when we first meet him (in A Guardian’s Destiny) he’s adamantly opposed to female warriors. But the thought of Mari dying because she can’t defend herself changes his mind. But she won’t kill, which complicates things. So I wrote this epic mock fight scene, where he teaches her a variety of moves I picked up on the Internet. Then I asked a martial-arts teacher fellow writer to vet it for me.
And what I got back was an epic DVD of her and her son reenacting the fight scene…showing me exactly why what I wrote would not work. But it was done in the best spirit of helpfulness and she gave me a variety of things that would work. Because I’m a visual person, being able to see both versions gave me exactly what I needed to rewrite the scene. And then I had the benefit of a professional editor who helped me trim the scene enough to fit in what was missing—all the romantic chemistry that kept it a romantic scene and not a how-to manual.
So whenever you have any kind of technical research, I highly recommend having an expert “vet” the bits in question, to make sure when you’re adding bits of realism it actually reads “real.”
3:To Tag Or Not To Tag: (Dialogue)
When I was with Samhain I used all kinds of dialogue tags, to get the exact inflection I wanted to color the tone of the dialogue. When I moved to Champagne, one of the first questions Cassie asked me when she was my editor was, “You really don’t like ‘said’ and ‘asked,’ do you?” Enter the notion of ‘invisible’ dialogue tags—and changed all statements to ‘said’ and questions to ‘asked.’
When Jenna inherited me, it was another learning curve. Enter the notion of NO dialogue tags/tag with action. Commas changed to periods. (Mentality being “We know it’s a question—see the question mark at the end? So you really don’t need ‘asked,’ now, do you?”) Just so we knew WHO was speaking, it’s good. Plus, scenes stay in motion, focus. Dynamic. Definitely a way to eliminate talking heads and static conversation!
Apparently you can teach an old dog new tricks!
4: How To Keep Track Of The Troops
(Large Casts Of Characters)
I write romantic epic fantasy—a blend of romance (first) and epic high fantasy (second). Otherwise known as romance with a couple of fantasy/action subplots. There’s always a lot going on, a lot of change on both a personal and grand scale, and a big canvas has a lot of people in it. My stories do not take place in a vacuum or on a desert island. Characters have friends and family, enemies, employees and servants, ex-lovers, and all the business owners who keep living realistic. Each of my editors has voiced concerns over whether or not a reader can keep it all straight, and has suggested cutting back the body count.
I have cut minor characters and trimmed scenes to increase the focus on the primary action, and been careful to only name important secondary characters. One trick I try to keep in mind is to not repeat the same beginning letter of names too often. Another is to use my baby name book (divided by nationalities) to pick names from the same culture to use within the same culture, to clue the reader in to a character’s race. Dialogue and terminology also help differentiate a noble from a stableman from a warrior from a bard. It also helps to make sure each person has a specific unique role to play, that only they can do, and give them each a memorable mannerism/voice/appearance/attitude/history that differentiates them from all the rest. And to periodically throw in their title/job with or instead of their name to reinforce the reader’s memory.
5: Heart & Soul (Romance Before Plot)
I told a friend of mine I’m a rabbit-hole kind of girl. Means I’m a chaser and a finisher, in a linear/visual sort of way. I tend to write the plot/action scenes straight through, visual-description heavy, and then have to add in the romance, emotion, and other multi-sensory details after. Missing the trees for the forest—too much big picture, not enough close-ups, as it were.
Even/especially in love scenes, I tend to start with ‘he did this’ then ‘she did that.’ And I’m guilty of certain overused phrasing I tend to fall back on without realizing I did so.Champagne has a pre-edit checklist for their authors that helps weed out certain common overused/generic/passive words to cut, but I’ve made a list of my own overused reactions. I still have editorial comments in revisions that go, “I know what they’re doing, but how do they feel about it?” (and a specific word count with yellow highlighter telling me exactly how many times someone ‘stares’ or ‘blinks’—told you I’m a visual person, it bleeds out into my characters, too—or‘groans’ or ‘shivers.’) You’d think my characters were making love in a refrigerator, they shiver so much! LOL (and a thesaurus only gets you so far before it becomes apparent that you’re usingsaid thesaurus in the hunt for alternative word choices!)
Be flexible, not rigid. Embrace change. Be aware of your personal foibles and work on them. A sense of humor about it all helps! Always use another fresh set of eyes to catch what your familiarity misses.
Want To Read The Rest Of The Book?
A Guardian Redeemed by Renee Wildes – He was bred for war. Her magic is only for peace. Together they must fight for love. Weapons stolen, comrades dead, ship burned and sunk, Valkyn is rotting in Lord Zurvan’s grim dungeon, wondering if he will ever again see his sons. Rescue comes from an unexpected source—the human witch Zurvan sent to patch him up between beatings. Mari can’t bring herself to let Valkyn die, never mind that the fearsome northern riever is the scourge of her homeland. Yet in him she finds an ally who could help restore the rightful boy king to the throne. And a man who reminds her body there’s life after widowhood. Their first kiss unleashes pent-up passion she thought was long buried, clouding all the reasons they shouldn’t get involved. But the blood on Valkyn’s hands is anathema to Mari’s magic. If she dares open herself to him fully, he could destroy her. Valkyn knows his heart has already surrendered to hers. When this quest is over, the real quest will be convincing her that polar opposites not only attract, they belong together— forever.
More About Renee
Renee Wildes grew up reading fantasy authors Terry Brooks and Mercedes Lackey and is a huge Joseph Campbell fan, so the minute she discovered romance novels it became inevitable that she would combine it all and write fantasy romance. Renee is a history buff and research junkie, from ancient to medieval times, esp. the Dark Ages. As a Navy brat and a cop’s kid, she gravitated to protector/guardian heroes and heroines. She’s had horses her whole life, so became the only vet tech in a family of nurses. It all comes together in her Guardians of Light series – fantasy, action, romance, heroics, and lots of critters!
In this Behind the Rewrite installment, author Alice Renaud shows how to flesh out and improve the flow of a scene through line editing, using an excerpt from her fantasy romance novel, Music for a Merman.
Alice Renaud’s Behind The Rewrite
The hero, Rob, a shape-shifting merman working as a cop, is falling in love with a human woman, Charlie, in defiance of the laws of his people. In this passage, Rob has just had breakfast with his sergeant, Jack, in the police station. As he leaves the station to go back to his flat, he composes a merman love song for Charlie.
In the first version, we jump straight from Jack’s line of dialogue to Rob composing the song, without any transition, which is jarring. Then Rob hums the song before thinking that the song comes from the deepest place in his heart. It doesn’t seem to be the right order.
The revised version shows Rob saying goodbye to his boss, leaving the station, and reaching the sidewalk. There’s a song on the radio, he whistles along to it, then he gets the inspiration for a new song—a merman’s song. The edits aim to improve the flow of the scene and highlight Rob’s musical talent, as well as his forbidden love for the human woman. I also added a bit more about his brother, who unlike Rob fell in love with a mermaid, so he was able to marry her and have children.
“Course you can.” Jack pulled the local paper towards him and turned to the crossword page. “I’m here, and Frank will be along, as soon as he’s taken his youngest to her scuba-diving class. Take the rest of the day off. I’ll see you tomorrow morning.”
The song came to Rob as he walked up the street towards his rented flat. He hummed it to himself, the clicks and whistles bouncing around the whitewashed walls and glistening cobblestones. It came out of the deepest place in his heart, fluid and passionate. His eldest brother Rhodri had composed a similar tune once, when he was courting the mermaid who had become his mate.
“Course you can.” Jack pulled the local newspaper towards him and turned to the crossword page. “I’m here, and Frank will be along, as soon as he’s taken his youngest to her scuba-diving class. Take the rest of the day off.” A folk song came on the radio, and he hummed along with it, tapping his pencil against the paper.
Rob grabbed his jacket from the back of a chair. “Thanks! I’ll see you tomorrow morning.”
The catchy melody followed him along the corridor, and he could still hear it as he left the police station. He stood on the sidewalk and whistled a few bars. Inside him, from the deepest place in his heart, another song began to grow. A merman’s song, richer and more passionate than anything on the human radio. But he couldn’t sing aloud in the middle of the street. He began to walk towards his flat, humming to himself. The clicks and whistles bounced around the whitewashed walls and glistening cobblestones.
His brother Rhodri had sung a lot, when he was courting the mermaid who had become his mate. But his tunes had been happier. He’d had the sense to fall for a girl that his father approved of, a good mermaid of the Regor Clan. There’d never been any doubt that they would marry, and their first merbaby was already on the way. Rhodri would never know what it was like to long for an unsuitable mate, someone he couldn’t keep.
Want To Read The Rest Of The Book?
Music for a Merman, a Sea of Love novel – Rob Regor knew that humans were trouble. All the shape shifting mermen of the Morvann Islands knew it. And human women were double trouble… especially when they were lying on the road in front of a digger. Rob has a mission. Go to the mainland. Work as a policeman. Spy on humans. Report back to his father, the head of the Regor Merman Clan. It should be easy. Until he has to arrest Charlie. Rob can’t fight his attraction to the sexy eco-warrior, and it puts him on one hell of a collision course with his family and his Clan. Will he break the rules – or break her heart, and his? Love ‘em and leave ‘em, that was Charlie’s motto. It had served her well until now. But Rob is different… Can she open up her heart to Rob—when a secret buried in her past surfaces and changes her completely? Books in the Sea of Love series can be read independently.
More About Alice Renaud
Alice lives in London, UK, with her husband and son. By day she’s a compliance manager for a pharmaceutical company. By night she writes fantasy romance about shape shifting mermen, water monsters and time-travelling witches. Her first book, A Merman’s Choice, was published in January 2019 by Black Velvet Seductions. It is the first book in a fantasy romance trilogy inspired by the landscapes and legends of Brittany and Wales. The second book, Music for a Merman, is out now and the third, Mermaids Marry in Green will be released later this year. Alice has also written a short story, The Sweetest Magic of All, included in the BVS Mystic Desire anthology, out now. Alice loves reading and writing stories, and sharing them with anyone who’s interested!
If you’ve ever skimmed through your flat first draft and felt as if it needed more depth to come alive, then you’ll relate to this Behind the Rewrite post from author JL Peridot. Below, she discusses rewriting her sci-fi romance novel It Starts With A Kiss.
JL Peridot’s Behind The Rewrite
I hate first drafting. But I love having a first draft. And while going over rough work can be tedious at times, the rewrite stage is where you get to really express your creativity and skill as a storyteller.
To date, my most popular book, It Starts With A Kiss (“Kiss”), is the one I enjoyed drafting the least. It took four rounds of reboots to turn it into a piece of work I was comfortable sending out.
Oh, gosh, my rewrites… Let me show you them.
1. Shaping Realistic Characters
Using archetypes can speed up the first draft process, because we’re so used to seeing them in fiction and the “economy of thought” saves us from getting bogged down by details early on. But these exaggerated personality profiles are just that—profiles. And depending on the kind of story you’re telling, they may hinder your ability to write characters that people can relate to.
Where this stuck out for me was when Celeste stood at the door to Eleanor’s quarters, deciding whether or not to knock. It was too easy to portray a “blameless protagonist”, free of vice and vitriol. But Celeste isn’t like that. She’s independent and strong-willed. And I needed to show her talking about Eleanor as well as to her in the earlier chapters, so not only does it make sense why she made that decision at the door, but the truth of her whole character emerges as well.
2. Writing Natural Dialogue
Once I connected my plot points together, I spent a lot of time fixing the dialogue. Workplace banter is easy if you’ve ever been mates with your colleagues. All you have to do is pay attention to what gets said and take note of the non-verbal stuff too, like tone of voice, facial expression and body language.
So, when re-written Owen mashes his hand into Celeste’s face, you can tell it’s because they’ve been friends long enough for that to be okay. When re-written Laks bosses everyone around in the function room, you know it’s different to when Eleanor does it. It’s evident in what she says, how she says it and, most importantly, how everyone else responds to it.
If you don’t have personal “banter” to inspire your dialogue in certain scenes, look for movies, TV shows and reality shows that match the genres, characters, setting, pacing or vibe of your story. In addition to my own workplace friendships, I referenced my friends, family and in-laws for specific social dynamics (such as Bettina’s dynamic with Dave), and Fresh Meat for how a diverse cast of characters could bounce off each other in a story-driven setting.
3. Fixing The Tone Of Voice
Even though “Kiss” was always intended to be a romantic comedy, the first draft prose was much too saccharine, taking away from the dramatic encounters and ruining the chances of emotionally connecting with the reader. Fixing this meant getting into the right mood to write in a particular tone of voice. My solution was soundtrack. Not just “a writing playlist”, but a playlist specific to the story and its unique setting. Other writers may only need to turn the lights down, or write only at certain times of day. Every writer will have different sensory needs for getting into the zone of a particular story, if not getting into the zone of writing anything at all.
4. Not Shying Away From Science
The first version of “Kiss” had far less of the nerdy stuff. At the time, I was trying to emulate the contemporary stories I’d immersed myself in, ones with broader appeal that stuck with general language. And it failed.
What makes a romance special is its characters. It Starts With A Kiss is a story about two engineers who came together through their work on a futuristic space station. The technical stuff comes part and parcel with who they are and the choices they’d made leading up to the start of the book.
So when re-written Celeste rambles about technical details, it’s because that’s what she sees when she looks at the world. As far as she’s concerned, this is the situation she’s dealing with, even if non-technical folk gloss over it or decide it’s nonsense because they don’t understand it. This is just who she is, and just who many of my sources of inspiration for her character are.
5. Building The Wider Universe
All of my stories are contained within their own worlds, but most of these worlds belong to a greater milieu with a timeline and interconnected events. “Kiss” is my third Alliance Worlds release, but the first event in the timeline. And this isn’t in any way relevant to the story.
So how do you pull off large-scale worldbuilding in such a way that it’s enriched by your existing lore while also contributing to the wider universe, when it has nothing to do with what your book is about? You drop hints.
For example, towards the end of “Kiss”, when Eleanor has her big spiel, I could have let her allude to other companies as an abstract concept. It does just as good a job at getting her harsh point across, if that’s all we needed to do. But in the final published version of the book, Elle named a specific company that’s tied to the wider universe. This serves the added functions of strengthening her character through dialogue, and giving familiar readers a richer experience of this story and all the other stories.
These particular revisions ended up breathing life into a manuscript I was on the verge of giving up on. Of course, I look back and wonder if I could do a better job of it with the gift of hindsight and these extra months’ worth of learning. I’d like to hope so, but may never find out. There are too many other stories still to tell.
It Starts With A Kiss – Celeste is a talented engineer who doesn’t realize her job’s going nowhere fast. She’s a little naïve. She’ll cut code and solder cables forever as long as Owen’s around. Owen, on the other hand, knows exactly how badly things suck—he just doesn’t care. Sure, his skills aren’t what they used to be, but they’re still better than what Halcyon Aries deserves. Then it happens. The company’s toxic management team finally crosses the line. As both techies race to upgrade the station and to free the team from their oppressive contracts, they come to learn that life—and love—can only ever be what you make it.
Strap in for a steamy office romance in space, because sometimes It Starts With a Kiss!
More About JL Peridot
JL Peridot writes sexy love stories and more instead of using Arduino kit she insisted on buying when the conversion rate was slightly better. Her latest book, “It Starts With A Kiss”, is a nerdy, sci-fi office romance—a little HEA for her fellow ladies in tech. Right now, she’s working on a futuristic romantic suspense novel, washing her hands, and playing a lot of video games.
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