I’m working on a short story that is due by June 1, so I decided to amplify an old story–now out of print–to see if I could solve the unsolved mystery at its center. As I’m working through it I remember that this story, along with two others that I’ve published, came from a novel project that I abandoned, about the children of a famous cartoonist who turned them into characters for his most famous strip, and how they grew up to be very dark adults implicated in several gruesome killings.
I thought I had lost that ms long ago, and up until today I didn’t much care. As I recalled, it was a mess and only half done. No biggie. So I’m cleaning my desk today and I come across several scratched, cryptically labeled (if at all) cds:
Like any proper writer looking for a distraction, I went through them. Almost half are bootlegged episodes of The West Wing. Some are music files and vacation pics. One is that damned lost novel.
There are 17 clearly labeled chapters. 10 others not labeled so they appear in alpha order. There is a really detailed outline–but no ending.
The plot is insanely complicated, and when I dump it all into Scrivener, it tells me I have 90k words. The files are all dated 05/23/03, when I saved them and never loaded them onto the next computer. That must have been the last time I looked at those words.
So what was happening in 2003 that I turned my back on this book? I don’r remember, but I do know I turned 40 that January. I had also started publishing flash fiction, and I was getting attention for it.
Reading these chapters now, I’m very excited. The words are good, even if the story is dumb. (I can work with dumb). And by good, I mean slick. Cheesy even, but in a way I find really readable.Back then I was working hard to stay out of my own way, looks like:
Seated at the long table were two other detectives whom Srivastiva introduced as Jeggs and Danich, white-guy dicks out of central casting. Both were square headed and bloated with red rimmed eyes. Jeggs’ combover was only little fuller and darker than Danich’s. Both were aggressive drinkers–you could see that in the soapy pink heat of their complexions. Two hours from now, Parker wouldn’t be able to pick either man out of a line up if he had to. Like Srivastiva, Danich and Jeggs wore suit coats defeated by perspiration and over-wear, and all together the three detectives looked like they were in the middle of an investigator’s slumber party.
The air was rank with old coffee and arguments.
I’ll probably regret going back in time like this, but right now it feels like Christmas.
Congrats on finding your old novel, Laura. But what does it mean to stay out of your own way when writing? And is it good or bad? Thanks.
Ha. Usually it means putting more trust into “first thought, best thought” practices, which in my case, as a prose stylist, means sacrificing originality for readability. One thing I do remember about writing this ms was that I put a priority on speed–speed of writing, speed of reading, and speed of ideas–and that was important for me because I was/am notorious for over-working the line.
Anyway, a few days after I wrote this post, my enthusiasm petered out. I spent some days with the work, and realized that it may be unsalvageable, and that I’m better off spending my energy on new projects. Another item on Kerouac’s list: “Accept loss forever.”