Renovating a Novel and a House: How Much is Too Much?

A "before" photo. Stay tuned for the "afters, coming soon.

A “before” photo. Stay tuned for the “afters, coming soon

Renovation is Not For Sissies:

So what does a writer do when her home/workplace is filled with workmen and she has a book to write?

In the beginning of May I left Florida believing I could settle into our 108 year old cottage in Chautauqua, New York.  While there might be a few interruptions as renovation continued, I could work with a minimum of fuss.


As our contractor warned: “When you open an old house, you never know what you’ll find. As our architect warned: “The most dangerous words the homeowner can say at this point is “and while we’re at it. . .'”

The Decision:

Since constant interruptions are the name of this game, I realized after our arrival that I wouldn’t be able to work on my novel until the guys cleared out. Instead, the moment my study was more or less ready to move back into, I began editing a novel I wrote in 1987, a novel I will soon put up as an ebook. After all, editing can be interrupted and completed in fits and starts. It seemed like the perfect solution.  And wonder of wonders, it’s turned out to be a success.

Similarities Between an Older Home and an Older Novel:

As I’ve worked on From Glowing Embers, I’ve seen the similarities between editing an older novel and renovating an old house.

Here's the original cover.  The new one will be completely different.  Stay tuned.

Here’s the original cover. The new one will be completely different. Stay tuned.

When built (or written) both the novel and the cottage were the best they could be for their era. They followed the conventions of their time. The house had a bath and a half, which by local standards was plenty. In Victorian times, nearby houses often had sinks in the bedrooms for daily bathing  More bathrooms would have been unheard of.

The kitchen, too, was tiny. Cooking was simpler, few pots and pans were in residence; most likely fewer ingredients were used.

The Novel:

From Glowing Embers, on the other hand, has an abundance of everything. Words. Exclamation points. Introspection. Flashbacks. Points of view. Love scenes. By today’s standards, it moves a bit slowly. Or, at least, it did before I began my work.

When I contemplated both renovations I began by taking stock of what I already had. I loved both in their former states, but I also saw that in order to live on, they had to be brought into the present day.

Head Hopping, Exclamation Points and Flashbacks:

For the book this has means a careful editing to remove unnecessary dialogue and, more frequently, unnecessary introspection. Exclamation points? Many fewer. Flashbacks? Since I love them all as they are, they will stay.

The most difficult change is point of view. Point of view simply means which character’s head the reader is in at any given moment. This novel is a romance, and originally the only point of view allowed in the genre was the heroine’s. Then authors began to sneak in the hero’s point of view, too. Finally authors began to include both points of view in the same scene, otherwise known as “head hopping.”

I haven’t head hopped in years, but when this book was written, along with my fellow writers, I certainly did. The reason? I knew my readers wanted to feel and understand both characters. What were they going through? What secrets were they keeping from each other?

These days I use multiple points of view in my novels, but the point of view characters only change when a scene break occurs or a new chapter begins. However my task now is not to completely rewrite an already satisfying novel, but to tweak the scenes where the head hopping occurs. Some head hopping must remain because it enriches this story. Some of it will disappear. Gone, too, will be some of the introspection, so that the book moves more quickly.  Gone, too, anything that bothered me.

The Pleasures of Change:

Both renovations are maddening, filled with choices, disappointments, and moments of surprise and delight.  But the freedom to make those choices and carry them through?  Priceless.

No matter how many times I bang my head against my newly shored-up and insulated walls, I know that both this cottage and this novel will be so much better for the effort.

Renovation photos and novel to debut soon.


  1. Nancy Badertscher on June 4, 2013 at 11:56 am

    Looking forward to more photos of the renovation, and for the re-appearance of the older novel. We are doing a minor renovation – well, major to us but in comparison to what you are doing. All work has stopped now on the screen porch waiting for an electrical inspection. Then the rest of the work should be able to fall into place, including delivery and installation of the hot tub, but my anticipated deadline of before June 15, when we will leave for a beach week, is looking more doubtful every day. I admire your ability to put your head into the book when work is going on around you!

    • Emilie Richards on June 4, 2013 at 1:49 pm

      We need a Renovation Surviver group. Good luck with yours. I’m rooting for you. Right now they’re tearing out the new ceiling and walls to get to a leak. Can we say EEK?

  2. Lynn Ross on June 4, 2013 at 9:40 pm

    Emilie, this was a great entry/essay/article (what do we call it?). As in all your writing, “I’m there.” I lived through a kitchen renovation back in the 1980’s. I cannot even imagine what a whole-house reno would be like to live through. I’m sending you good energy.
    I just loved FROM GLOWING EMBERS. It is one of my favorites of your books. I thought that series was just wonderful, but then I feel that way about all your books. However, this one was especially special. 🙂 I don’t have a Kindle. Is there a chance this will be released in hard copy?

    • Emilie Richards on June 5, 2013 at 3:12 pm

      I hold the e-rights, but my publisher holds the paper rights. As long as they continue to exploit them one way or the other, then I won’t be allowed to put it back in print. But I can put it up as an ebook in every format, which is wonderful and the best solution for publishing books that were written so long ago. It sure is cleaning up nicely, though. A real honest to goodness facelift with a minimum of effort.

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