In 1991, the first of three theatrical Highlander sequels opened in theaters, and it was looked at as a massive failure. The bonding company responsible for the film’s completion stepped in and took it away from the filmmakers, resulting in a 90-minute movie that made absolutely no sense. A few years later, the producers and director had an opportunity to re-visit the movie and they fixed what went wrong and streamlined the story in a much , the bonding company’s interference was a blessing in disguise, since the film’s failure allowed director Russell Mulcahy and producers Bill Panzer & Peter Davis to look back at the entire film, remove what went wrong (including their own storytelling issues), add what was left on the cutting room floor and basically re-invent Highlander II to such a degree that they took an abominable film and made it work.
To differentiate this version from the one that was in theaters (that was called Highlander II: The Quickening), this new cut was known as Highlander II: Renegade Version.
With that in mind, allow me to introduce myself. My name’s George Sirois, and I want to take a second to thank the good people of YA Author Rendezvous for giving me this brand new platform to speak to you each month. Now, why did I start my first blog post here with a random piece of film trivia? To prove a point, and that point is that no matter where you are in life, everyone deserves their own “Renegade Version.”
Back in 2002, I self-published my first novel. It was called “From Parts Unknown” and it was based on a screenplay I had written over ten drafts of between 1999 and 2001. It was a fun story to write, but when I tried to sell it, it went nowhere. So I thought that my chances of success were greater if it were a novel. A year-and-a-half later, I was finished and an acquaintance thought I should self-publish it since it catered to a niche market. After finding a great deal from iUniverse, the novel was released in November of 2002.
And once again, it went nowhere.
I thought that I would just have to move on from this story, and eight years later, I did with the release of my second novel “Excelsior.” But by the time this one came out, the landscape had changed dramatically from what it was back in 2002. The Kindle was born, eBooks followed, and the self-publishing boom began. When I was asked by a veteran self-published author about “From Parts Unknown,” she told me flat out, “You gotta get those rights back. Get them back and re-publish the book yourself as an eBook.”
So I did, and when I re-read the book, I realized that it didn’t hold up. The quality wasn’t there anymore. (Maybe it was never there.) I still believed in the story, but I no longer liked the execution. Therefore, I decided to take the steps that led to what was going to be my very own “Renegade Version.”
These are the steps I took for this journey that officially began on September 4, 2011 and ended on January 19, 2015.
First thing I did was make sure the original novel was pulled. If you self-published, this is a pretty easy thing to do. Just go to KDP Select, click on your book, and hit the “Unpublish” option. If you worked with a company such as iUniverse, then you have to contact them and let them know you wish to discontinue your title with them. You’ll have to send an email or snail mail letter to the company, and unless your work is bringing in a lot of money, they’ll likely let you go without any problems. But you have to make sure you have the rights before you start. There’s no point in going on this adventure if you can’t.
Once iUniverse gave back the rights (it wasn’t selling, and they already had my setup fees, so why not?), I re-read the book and took notes. Like I said before, I still believed in the story, and so I made sure it held up. For the most part, it did. But when I looked deeper, here’s what I spotted, so when you’re looking at your own manuscript, keep these in mind:
Outdated Technology: For some reason, I still had characters using VHS tapes. That HAD to go, along with many other items that made my future look more like the 23rd century from the 1966 Star Trek point of view than the 2009 one.
Updated History: A lot happened between 2002 and 2011, so it all had to be considered for addition, whether as a specific moment being mentioned or people or events inspiring elements in the story.
Thin Characters: Several characters had just a couple of scenes and then dropped out or were killed off. If this new version was going to work, then I had to introduce readers to people they’d want to follow.
Blank Canvas: This is what I call a world without description. If your characters are to properly interact, they need a world in which to do so, and I only now realized how little description I had in the original story. Some color was desperately needed for this canvas.
I also asked my friends for their opinion on the book. If there were any logic problems that I missed the first time around, they let me know. If something needed further explanation, they let me know. And when I was in the editing stages and working with my beta readers, I listened to their suggestions as well.
As the story grew and grew, and my enjoyment of this new iteration grew along with it, I realized something very interesting. My characters were moving in a very different direction than they did back in ’02. And so I let them, and this is the biggest tip I can possibly give to anyone: If your characters are moving in a specific direction, follow them. Don’t pull them back and tell them to stay on the path you had mapped out.
This was especially true with two characters, the Gladiatorial Combat League Champion Kyle Flyte, and my main character’s wrestling teacher Verne Dappy. Originally, Kyle drops out of the story at the halfway point and Verne only has a few scenes. Early on in the new version, Kyle and Verne are old friends and share a long conversation that I absolutely loved writing. I wanted more of them both, and so I kept them around. Their roles in the second half allowed them to be heavily involved in the subplot I had come up with in early 2011, the subplot that made me want to write this Renegade Version more than anything else.
Fast forward to 2015 (maybe I should have just said “skip ahead,” there I am with the VHS references again), and the final version of “From Parts Unknown” is finished, it has a home with a publisher, and it’s now available on eBook with a paperback version coming soon. I’m thrilled to say that I’m happier with this story now than I ever was before, and I hope that you’ll want to go on a similar journey with your own work. But keep in mind that I’m not suggesting you go back and tinker with a story that already works just fine. At some point, you have to move on. But because of the freedom that the digital age allows us, we no longer have to dwell upon what might have been. And if you know what missed the spot the first time around, and if you know how to make it right, then go for it! Get your story right, because if you’re happy with it, your readers will be too.
No matter who you are, everyone deserves a “Renegade Version.”