Delighted to welcome fellow horror guy Joseph D’Lacey back for today’s Write club. Joseph continues his two-parter discussion of editing (you can read part one here).
Life-saving surgery Part II: The Blood Fugue edit
By the time I met Steve Haynes, editor of Proxima, I’d written eleven novels and fifty short stories, taught creative writing – specifically, novel writing – for a few years, had a BFS award under my belt and a Stephen King endorsement worth tattooing on my forehead. I thought I’d been around the block, that I knew about writing and editing books.
After working with Steve (Hacker Haynes, The Butcher of Bodmin to his friends) I discovered I knew only two things:
- It’s hard.
- Knowing it’s hard doesn’t make it any easier.
This is what happened:
Having loved The Kill Crew, Steve contacted me to ask what I had that might suit his imprint. I pitched him four novel outlines over coffee. He liked two of them and I sent written synopses of both. He picked Fugue Hunter and we got to work.
The novel was 108K. To make a good impression and ensure the later editing passes were easier, I went through the manuscript cutting out everything superfluous or overwritten and generally tightening and polishing. I got it down to 100K and proudly sent the file.
I didn’t hear anything for a week or two. Then an email came in with two words in the subject line. It was from Steve. The two words were: ‘Hatchet Job’.
The attached file was 75K.
Whole sections had gone. Two characters had been deleted. Steve had even – to use his expression – ‘excised’ an entire chapter. I stared at the damage like a man waking from anaesthesia to discover his legs and genitals have been amputated.
Then a funny thing happened. When I began to study the much slimmer ms (through my tears…) I saw all kinds of things that didn’t need to be there. Fat sentences, redundant phrasing, pointless dialogue, discursive passages – I could go on. Disgusted with myself, I snapped on the latex gloves and attached a clean blade to my scalpel.
We took turns on the unconscious body of our patient until it was lean, sculpted and beautiful. The cuts even allowed me to add some scenes, increasing tension and threat in the early chapters. When we were done, even with extra sections, the novel barely grazed 76K. Almost 30% of the original text was gone.
Looking back over our work together, Steve called it a masterclass in rewriting. That’s probably a little too congratulatory. Whatever it was, the unpublishable Fugue Hunter became the published Blood Fugue.
But even that’s not the whole story.
Fugue Hunter had been turned down by at least seventeen literary agencies, rejected by most major publishing houses in the UK and several in the USA. It was, in fact, my first horror novel, written in 2003. I’d already redrafted the novel many times over the years before Steve took an interest in it.
Two things about this process seem suddenly obvious now:
- The earlier drafts of the novel weren’t accepted because they weren’t good enough. Editing made all the difference.
- A ‘completed’ novel you really believe in is something you should keep working on. Editing makes all the difference.
In November 2012, Blood Fugue hit shelves and e-readers all over the place. I found myself looking back over the years I’d spent submitting and redrafting ad infinitum. At the time, it had all seemed a little pointless but seeing the book ‘dressed’ in its cover, holding it my hands and finding it so positively reviewed in so many places; it became worth every hour I’d lost count of in the making.
Editing never ends.
And you never know where it might lead.
Joseph D’Lacey is best known for his shocking eco-horror tale Meat, a widely translated novel which prompted Stephen King to say “Joseph D’Lacey rocks!”.
Other works include Garbage Man, Snake Eyes, The Kill Crew, The Failing Flesh and Splinters – a collection of his best short stories. He won the British Fantasy Award for Best Newcomer in 2009.
His new apocalyptic fantasy Black Feathers is out on 26th March in The USA/4th April in the UK.
Follow JD’L on Twitter, on Facebook and on Goodreads