Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Rewrite a Novel or let it Die? by Diane Scott Lewis


Years ago I read a novel called Desiree and became interested in Napoleon, especially in his exile on the strange island of St. Helena. I started to research this exile and found numerous resources at the Library of Congress (in those Dark Ages days before the internet). One resource would lead me to another, one book published at the very time, 1817, Napoleon was on the island (1815-1821). The description of the odd landscape, flora and fauna of St. Helena, a remote volcanic atoll in the South Atlantic fascinated me.
Approach to St. Helena
I’d lived on Guam for a few years, so understood the isolation of an island in the middle of nowhere.

A story formed in my head, and my alternate-history novel began to take shape. What if Napoleon met a woman on St. Helena, and rallied to escape his exile?  I worked for years on this book, even corresponding with a Napoleonic scholar who had visited the island four times. I read dairies of Napoleon’s servants who’d accompanied him there, plus information from his English captors who held him prisoner under the strictest of circumstances.

I wanted to humanize this much-written about man, without bending the facts too far—other than the escape of course!

I finally sold the book to a small on-line press and was thrilled. Until I saw the price they put on my ebook. As an unknown author, few would pay that inflated price, so the book languished.

I was so enamored of my own research, that to salvage some of it, I wrote a short novel that took place on St. Helena, A Savage Exile, in which I added vampires to the mix.

Next year my contract with the other publisher will be up, and I’m dying to rewrite the original book and present it to my current publisher. But now my ideas have changed. I want to replace my heroine with another, older, smarter woman, change the dynamics, and shorten this very long book. I have misgivings about the rewrites. Should I forget about it? It seems I’m constantly rehashing this story, but then again all those years of research going to waste!
St. Helena map, 1815

We’ll see how the summer goes, as I’m working on a time-travel at the moment. I might electronically drag out that dusty tome and hack away and see what happens. (in fact, I’ve already started).

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