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Karen Hall Alters ‘Dark Debts’ in a New Edition

17 March 2016

From The New York Times:

When Karen Hall published her debut novel, “Dark Debts,” 20 years ago, it seemed like the start of a blockbuster literary career. Ms. Hall, a veteran TV writer who had worked on hits like “M*A*S*H” and “Hill Street Blues,” had the commercial storytelling chops. She spent five years working on the novel, a pulpy theological thriller about a Roman Catholic priest who becomes mixed up with demonic forces.

“Dark Debts” was an instant success when Random House published it in 1996, with a 150,000-copy print run. Paramount optioned the film rights. Fans hounded her for a sequel, and Ms. Hall’s publisher and agent urged her to write another novel to capitalize on the momentum. “I can only hope that Ms. Hall will read these reviews, and will provide her readers with another work of fiction,” a reader pleaded in a 2001 Amazon review.

She never wrote another book. Instead, Ms. Hall spent the next two decades obsessing about the flaws of “Dark Debts.”

“I never stopped thinking about it,” said Ms. Hall, 59. “I never said it aloud to anybody, but I always knew I would never write another book until I got this one right.”

Now, the story is finally getting a second life. On Tuesday, Simon & Schuster released a new edition of “Dark Debts,” and Ms. Hall has made changes — dramatic and subtle — throughout the book. She rewrote the explosive ending, which previously finished on what she felt was an emotionally false note. She added a character and dropped a significant character from the earlier version. She toned down some of the violence and gore, including a climactic plot twist in which a possessed man goes on a killing spree, and scrubbed out the profanity, at the request of her 91-year-old mother.

“I had barely been able to read it in the last 20 years, because everything I didn’t like about it made me cringe,” Ms. Hall said. “Boy, I was in love with the sound of my own voice.”

Link to the rest at The New York Times and thanks to Tom for the tip.

 

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22 Comments to “Karen Hall Alters ‘Dark Debts’ in a New Edition”

  1. What strikes me is this: How unusual the iterative, ongoing editing process is in traditional publishing…

    And how frequently it is practiced in the gentle artistry of self-publishing ebooks.

    For the self-publisher, the ebook has an aspect of clay to be played with.

    Not so, I think, for its traditionally-published counterpart.

    • Reworking something would cost trad-pub ‘more’ money after having mark a book as ‘done’, not so much self-pub, just a little time …

  2. George Lucas Syndrome strikes again.

    As a writer, I get wanting your story to be perfect. The itch to “fix” things hits me whenever I re-read some work of mine from the past.

    But coming from the reader/fan side, it irks me when creators do this because I fell in love with their work “as it is.” Basically, they are telling me my taste sucks when they “fix” a work, or that I’m stupid. And these “fixes” usually make things worse.

    (Because it makes no flaming sense for Greedo to have missed at point-blank range!)

    • “(Because it makes no flaming sense for Greedo to have missed at point-blank range!)”

      You have to consider he’d a flamin’ case of heartburn. That tends to mess concentration.

      Man, do I hope we’ll get a hi-res version of the original edit…!

      Take care.

      • Look for something called “Star Wars: A New Hope Revisited”. It’s a fan edit of the special edition footage with certain things put back the way they were.

        • Heard of it, yes, and truly thanks for the suggestion. Thing is, it’s still a patch over the BlueRay. I don’t have a BR player, nor am I going to get the blasted misbegotten miserable excuse of an original.

          Take care

  3. Late at night I am reading through the debut novel, in preparation for digging into the revision of the second book in the trilogy – and my exhausted mind is picking at things, things I put in for a reason, wondering if I should…

    This post – thanks PG! – reminded me to cut it out. It is what it is. Everything I planned is in there. And if there are a few phrases that are not perfect, I am NOT going to touch them.

    That way lies madness.

    Possibly she has been obsessing about this SINCE it first came out (writers know their own flaws), and finally figured out HOW to fix whatever she knew was not right. It will be interesting to hear the followup.

  4. The most important question is, Will fans LOVE the new version or hate it?

    IMHO, if it ain’t broke…

  5. I sincerely hope this is not taken up by very many authors.

    I’m not sure that the twenty year revision is going to be all that much better than the first one – writing, by all that I can tell, is something you learn by doing. She has not been doing much (at least in novels, apparently).

  6. I love e-books, but if I could change one thing about them it would be the endless tinkering it allows. Not once but twice I’ve gotten into series by new authors who self-published. When they were picked up by a publisher they chose to “take advantage” of the “wonderful opportunity” to “fix” it. They lost me as a reader when they hit the triple crown of insulting my taste, turning their back on their loyal readers, and expecting me to pay for an almost identical book at 10x the price I already paid. Both authors ended up on my mental “don’t buy from those jerks” list. I noticed in passing that one of them pulled the same stunt again when she changed publishers a second time.

    • Maybe it wasn’t their idea.

      Take care.

    • Why would you buy it again?

      • The Other Diana:

        In both the cases I asked the author on their blog and was informed I’d have to rebuy because there had been significant changes and I wouldn’t be able to follow the series except by starting from scratch. In both cases I chose to drop the series instead.

        • Wow.

          That’s just crazy to expect people to shell out twice for the same book.

          I would have dropped those authors too.

          Thanks for replying 🙂

  7. Made me think of the updates Jackie Collins did to her books when she went indie. Personally I thought they didn’t quite take and kinda spoiled the fun. A disco in the 70s should be a disco in the 70s! 🙂

  8. Wow – This sounds more like a case of some personal shame she felt towards her own work, rather than it being ‘wrong’. Removing the cursing at the insistence of her 91yo mother for a book that was immensely popular? Toning down violence that apparently made sense to her readers? Yeah, that’s some real Freudian stuff, methinks. Sad to be gridlocked for 20 years over unnecessary shame.

    • I would love to be able to rework my first published pieces. Trouble is, my toolkit has changed so much, I can barely endure reading them. I wouldn’t stand a prayer of changing them. They are going to have to stand as they are.

      And really, what’s wrong with that? A photograph is a moment captured in time. So, to an extent, is a story. My skills then were as they were. I’m content.

  9. This is making me glad that I have the mentality that once you hit Publish, you don’t make updates unless you’re correcting errors of fact — “you said Bob died in the car crash on the highway on page 80, but then said he was eaten in the grue attack on the high school on page 120” — or a typo, like the sat vs. s-at error some writer’s publisher introduced.

    But if you just wish you could revise your older novels using the skills you have now that you’ve level upped … you just have to write another book. A new way of looking at the old situation. It’s been done. Georgette Heyer did it with “The Old Shades,” REH did it with “The Hour of the Dragon.” TV does it, too: “Bubblegum Crisis” vs. “Bubblegum Crisis Tokyo 2040.” I think you just call the new versions “re-imagined” and off you go.

    It just seems Orwellian to rewrite the original book with the same name and hope the fans accept the revision of the story they knew.

    • Twas the Phoenix on the Sword Howard rewrote iirc. It was a re-imagining of a Kull story called By This Axe I Rule!

      The edits on Hour of the Dragon were done by others after reh died.

      Your point stands and is well-taken tho!

  10. She never wrote another book. Instead, Ms. Hall spent the next two decades obsessing about the flaws of “Dark Debts.”

    This made me very, very sad. She let her shame stifle her creativity. And in the end, after a 20-year battle, shame won. It’s the saddest thing that can happen to an author.

    She would have been much better off writing the next book and growing instead of shrinking.

  11. Never wrote another book because the first one wasn’t perfect. Wow. I don’t know whether to feel pity or to shrug her off as another has been.

    There’s bound to be something I could do better now than when a work was published, and I could go back and “fix”it, but down that path lies madness.

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