Saturday, March 23, 2013

As the words change. . . . and stay the same: Legacy of Honor

There is a temptation, when preparing a work for republication many years after its debut, to alter it and make it more suitable for the present day's audience. Some authors have done this as they've put their older print books into digital format, and the reviews seem to have been rather mixed.  Some readers preferred that the books stay the same as they remembered them from earlier editions.  But certainly authors have a right to try to reach newer readers who might not find those old 1970s and 1980s tropes quite as attractive.

When I republished Firefly, I did make some changes from the version that had been print published in 1988.  Most of those changes were along the lines of restoring elements that had been removed from the original.  My digital files predated most of the editorial changes that had been made for publication, and so the 2012 edition was actually closer to the 1980s original rather than "updated."

There wasn't anything about Firefly that would have been considered politically incorrect by today's standards anyway; if anything, the original contained material that was deleted as objectionable then which would not draw a comment today.

Secrets to Surrender (the digital version of Desire's Slave) and Shadows by Starlight (formerly Starlight Seduction) were virtually unchanged from their print editions except for minor clean-ups; story and content and style remained.  In both of those books, a reader would really have to sit down with the new and old versions side by side for a page by page comparison to find the changes.

With Legacy of Honor, which was my first published novel, the question I face going into a digital republication is a quite different, for a number of reasons.

Written over a period of roughly two years between 1980 and 1982, Legacy endured rejections by most of the major paperback publishers before finally being contracted by Leisure Books/Dorchester Publishing in 1984.  I trimmed the text from an unwieldy 250,000 words in the original version to approximately 200,000 for the complete version Leisure requested after seeing a sample, and that was the version contracted.  There were no editorial requests for revisions.  Editor Jane Thornton did require that I make additional reductions that brought the word count down to about 180,000 for publication, but after I made those cuts, she altered virtually nothing further in anything resembling an editorial process.

Editing was one thing; typesetting was another entirely.

I never saw page proofs of Legacy prior to its publication in February 1985, and I have to say I was appalled at the number of errors in the typesetting.  Sections of sentences were omitted, paragraphs were switched, and generic typos abounded.  As the author I was embarrassed, but there wasn't anything I could do about it.  (Again, one of the advantages of traditional publishing is that the author has lots of other people to lay the blame on!) 

So it stayed that way for almost 30 years.

Now, in 2013 and not having a digital manuscript of Legacy to upload for republication, I was faced with the task of transcribing the whole thing, either from the print edition with all its typesetting errors or from the original uncut, unedited 250,000 word and 888 typed page manuscript, which Leisure had never seen.  Neither of those alternatives was an attractive proposition.

I began with the print version, but after only a few pages decided to see if my printer-scanner's OCR software would do a halfway decent job generating a text file from the mass market version.  I was willing to sacrifice a copy if it meant saving myself the typing of 200,000+ words.  It worked, and in a few days' spare time I had the complete text file.  It's a mess of bizarre page breaks and weird formatting, but it can be fixed in far less time than it would take to retype the whole blasted thing.

The process of cleaning it up, however, exposed a lot of unexpected problems well beyond typos and missing lines.

When Jane Thornton requested those cuts to bring the book within reasonable production length, she gave me just two or three days at most in which to do them.  I had to go through 600+ pages line by line looking for words and sentences that could be trimmed without affecting the flow, the continuity, the plot.  There was no time for major rewriting.  And as a first-time author who had little knowledge of how the editorial function was carried out by a traditional publisher, I also trusted that if I made any egregious errors, Thornton or someone else in the editorial department would catch them and fix them.  Errors along the line of a character returning to a room she hadn't left -- because the line about her departure had been cut.  I expected any errors of that nature to be fixed.

Guess what.  They weren't.  And now, almost 30 years later, I didn't have a copy of the actual manuscript from which the book had been typeset.

Or did I?  Being an inveterate pack rat, I save everything, and I began a search in the hopes I did in fact have a copy of that intermediate typescript.  To my surprise and relief, it didn't take long to locate the old-fashioned carbon copy of that revised manuscript, complete with my hand-written edits.  I had over-nighted it to Thornton, and sometime after publication it was eventually returned to me.  And I kept it, neatly filed with a bunch of other pre-computer manuscripts.

My intention at that point was only to make sure I corrected, in the new digital edition, the worst of the typos and other typesetting errors exactly as I would have if given the opportunity to check the page proofs prior to the actual publication in 1985, so that the product that hits the ebook retailers isn't the kind of mess Leisure put out.  But what I was finding were exactly those errors that I trusted would have been fixed during the editorial process.  A character opens eyes that had never been closed, takes off clothes that had never been put on, re-enters a room that had never been left, dismounts a horse that had never been mounted.  That sort of thing, if not those exact examples.

And of course I now have the opportunity to fix those errors.

Do I also want to avail myself of the opportunity to update the book to the conventions of 2013 that might be very different from those of 1983?

Um, no, I don't.

There are elements in Legacy of Honor that might not be politically correct today.  I'm not even sure they were politically correct in the early 1980s when I wrote it.  As someone who has railed against some of what I've seen as misogyny in those early post-Woodiwiss historical romances, I'm probably going to take some heat for not making major changes to Legacy of Honor.  But in fact I think the book will stand the test of feminist times.

Whether it does or not, however, I feel it should remain in its own context.  As I've written so often before, books aren't written in vacuums.  They, and their authors, exist in contexts.  Legacy of Honor was written in that exciting, adventurous 1980s context when the historical romance as a literary type was going through revolutionary changes.  Authors, too, were changing and evolving.  If I were writing Legacy today, it would probably be a slightly different book.  But I'm not writing it today, and I have enough respect for it and for myself not to want to change it.

The version that will be digitally republished (soon, I hope!) will remain true to its original form and context.  Cleaned up, yes, with its typos and continuity corrected.  Some details from that original manuscript will be restored, and there will be an author's note added regarding research and . . . and another little bit of personal background to the story that I've often told in person but never had the opportunity to put into print.

No comments:

Post a Comment