Saturday, October 27, 2012

New Words for Old

     Don’t most writers want to preserve our  published words forever? But now and then I would like to substitute a “mo better” word for certain weaker ones  that “slipped” through.
     Publishers usually won’t go for that. They’ll just reprint the whole book as is, good or bad.
     Lois Duncan, however, is one author who has the good fortune of  being able to  “update” her text in several novels.  Since her publisher has started its own trade book line and is setting these books into print from scratch, “updating” some texts  won’t create extra financial problems.
     One book she “updated” was  Daughters of Eve, originally published in 1979 at the beginning of the Women’s movement.  Here a group of girls takes revenge upon males who’ve mistreated them.
     “My editor told me that today’s readers are so conditioned to violence that the acts of revenge in my original book were nothing more than slaps on the wrists,” Lois says. “I had to make the vengeful acts more vicious.”
     In another book  (she didn’t say which) her characters were in trouble, but Lois  realized that in today’s YA mystery novels  the characters just pull out their cell phones or lap tops, send  ‘SOS’ text messages, or go to Facebook or Twitter to get help. She’s had to figure out other ways for her characters to get out of danger. Of course, she does.
     Yesterday’s names like Melvin and Gladys  in one book were changed to today’s Cody and Madison. 
     “I had to change hair styles, clothing and slang, too  – no more ‘Golly gee’ or  ‘Oh, heck!’  I’m old fashioned enough to shy away from a lot of the words that kids today throw into almost every sentence,” she says.  “Keeping the language comparatively clean while still making the dialogue between kids outside the hearing of adults sound natural was a major challenge.”
     She overcame those obstacles, of course. Watch for her “new” older books!
     Do other authors’  recent book makeovers come to mind?


  1. I just finished reading the 15th anniversary "updated" version of Skinnybones by Barbara Park. It was updated in 1997. : )

    I thought it interesting when Orson Scott Card updated Ender's Game to reflect the ending of the Cold War.

    I have mixed feelings about this idea, in general. Some books are great because of their attachment to a time period. As a reader (even a young one), these different times intrigue me, and I can pick most dated references up by context. As Duncan mentioned, things are different now, and many mystery and suspense books wouldn't work out the same way in "modern" times. I kind of like reading about the ways they solved problems in different times.

    I understand more the urge to change weaker words to stronger ones I know now that I'm older and have a deeper understanding of words. I usually hesitate to do so, though, because often, the overall tone and feel of the piece would be changed if I inserted my older-and-wiser self. Then again, I'm not really a published author, so the situation is probably different. : )

  2. I like entering a different milieu, too, and enjoy dated aspects of stories. Though I have to say, the challenge of "updating" could be a fun one!

    Coincidentally, I'm in the middle of Ender's Game (a revision from 1994). Now I'll have to go read about the past editions...

  3. Hi Moon,
    I'll have to go back to the original Ender's Game and then forward my brain to the updated one to see the differences. If I haven't missed his visit to one of my favorite bookstores, I'll go to his reading and maybe ask him about "updating."
    Thanks for your comments. Who am I writing to?

  4. Hi Andy,
    I'm glad to hear from you. I agree that it would be fun! I asked my editor in 1990 to please change the wording in a certain chapter in my book "Thank You, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.!" when it went from hardcover to paperback. I'd described the location of my main character's friend's street being called one thing in one paragraph and called something else in another paragraph, I think. She made the changes and I was so grateful.

  5. Thank you for information about Lois Duncan's work, Eleanora. These are some of the reasons I don't want to write fiction set in the present. I feel more in common with Elizabethan characters than twenty-first-century ones. How fast will things change after the singularity occurs?

  6. Saroyan rewrote The Human Comedy when he was an old man. I'd read the book in high school and loved it, and then I ran across the updated version and thought "Oh boy!" but then found out that Saroyan had taken out all the idealistic stuff that made the original so much fun. Spangler didn't shout any more. The ending in the two versions are night and day. My high-school self was devastated. Though I can see why he'd excise the over-the-top idealism, it was also sad, because it was like Saroyan had become a sad old man, and I really liked that fellow.

    P.S. There were too many stories of soldiers never coming home and dying folks at the last residency. Just so you-all fix that for next time. ;)

  7. I know it's not literary but all I can think of is the remaking of the Star Wars Trilogy.
    Yes, I said trilogy.
    The original three were a masterpiece, they were epic, they were my childhood.
    When Lucas remade the first three it was disastrous and it was devastating! He claims he had always found fault with the original works. I understand that. Who doesn't look at their work and feel that they could keep changing it, perfecting it. But once it's out there and you have people that fall in love with that book and those characters, I think it has to be left be. You've made a contract with your fans. Would you take a piece of history, like a Frida Kahlo painting, something people recognize and love and be okay with her adjusting it years later? Let's say she all of a sudden hates her unibrow and wants to go back and change it. It changes the essence of the art, it takes away the history of the piece.

    I mean sure, you find a misspelling, go for it. Other then that, don't make Guido fire first instead of Han Solo because you want Han Solo to be a more like able guy. It takes away from his journey from being a true scum-bag, thats all for himself, into the man that comes back to save Luke Skywalkers butt! By that simple change Lucas ruins everything, urgghhh!!!!!!

  8. Hi Everybody!
    Nina, Janes, Melinda, Andy, and "Moon in Autumn" -- you had some heavy thoughts.
    Lois Duncan says to thank you for reading about her books.