Home > Writing > My first novel: a retrospective – part 3

My first novel: a retrospective – part 3

Okay, it’s about time I return to something related to writing, so here’s another chapter in my first novel retrospective.

After one sends out queries to multiple publishers about their most recent (ok, first and only) manuscript, with turnaround times measured in weeks and months, if one wants to write you just can’t sit tight and wait for responses. At the time, I had a number of ideas circulating in my head that had been trying to find their way out for quite some time. I knew, or thought I knew, that they weren’t big enough to make a complete novel, or even novella, but I still felt that they were good stories and I wanted to tell them. Convinced that I could master the art of the short story, I took off with as much passion as I had for my first book.

Over the course of several months, I ended up writing six short stories, ranging in length from ten to forty pages or so. Were all of them great? Well, no. But I’d say that probably half were really good, and the others were just ok. Taken as a whole, it was definitely easy to see how I was progressing as a writer and as a writer of short fiction, and I’m quite proud of the stories that I wrote. Off the top of my head, I think that there’s only one that I’d be too embarrassed to show anyone. I think it’s because it was the first one I wrote, and to be honest, it’s really not all that good, either in style or substance. But that’s where you learn to do something well. You do it, and you improve yourself by not repeating mistakes from the past. I think I was successful, because every other short that I wrote I’d be happy to let anyone read. And maybe I will someday. As I sit here typing this, I think the only person who has read at least one of my short stories is my son, Jonathan. I know he liked at least one of them, but I can’t remember if it’s the only one he read or if he only liked the one. I’ll have to ask him about that.

Having worked on short stories a bit, and having given up on hearing back form any publisher for awhile, my thoughts also turned to writing, or attempting to write, the next book. Of course, it was rather presumptuous for me to believe that just because I wrote one I could write another, but I didn’t care. I was still too excited about writing, about creating, about using an imagination that I’d thought had stagnated to the point where it simply seemed to have vanished. About this time, I felt like I could write just about anything and make it sound good. I was convinced that I was going to become a writer, and I was just at the beginning of a prolific new career. So off I went, out into the unknown, ready to write my next novel.

So it was time to begin writing another book. Problem was, I didn’t really have any ideas at the time. I just knew that I wanted to write another novel. Undaunted, I sat down in front of my computer one weekend in the winter of 1989 and waited for inspiration. I remember sitting in my chair, staring at the screen and the blinking cursor, with my mind completely blank. I was struggling to come up with something, anything. Finally, as a diversion from the task at hand, I pulled back the drape and looked outside. The Bermuda grass (pretty much the only thing you’ll find in a front yard in Texas) was brown and looked dead. I could see the wind whipping around through the trees, and I could hear it blowing across the window, whistling like a banshee. After a moment, it was enough to inspire part of the opening lines of a new story.

Through the square panes of glass in the living room window, it looked gray and cold outside. Reverend James McElroy held the drape to one side and stared out into the emptiness, no expression on his face. Steel blue eyes, obscured by lenses held together by thin wire frames, sat easily across his nose as he observed the world as he knew it slowly disappear. He reached beneath his glasses with two fingers and rubbed eyes that felt as if they were burning, bringing little relief. With nothing better to do, he resumed watching the remnants of humanity go by in an empty parade. It all looked dead, like the once vibrant green grass turned dingy brown. He found himself wondering if it would ever fill with color again. He wasn’t so sure, anymore. Nor was he sure he even cared.

Yeah, I thought it was pretty good. But then every newbie author thinks their writing is amazing. Still, it was the beginnings of a story. Of course, at the time I had not a clue to where this germ of an idea would lead, but I figured that all I had to do was keep typing away on those keys and I’d come up with something good. And I think I did, mostly 🙂 However, just as I was getting into the groove of writing the new book, I began to receive responses to the query letters that I’d sent out a couple of months earlier. Apparently that’s how long it took at the time to get through the “slush” pile.

Without going through the boring details of opening each letter, I can say (and in retrospect, I can understand why) that I began receiving rejection letters. Of course, all of them were form letters, with check marks in boxes that explained why they weren’t interested in my novel. I still have every rejection letter I received and have, over the years since, gone back and read over them again. Funny, it hurt when I first read them twenty-odd years ago and they still hurt all these years later. Why is that? Anyway, the truth of the matter is that I don’t really blame them for the rejections. After all, it was my first time writing a book, and the amount of editing I did was pretty minimal. Of course, at the time I figured that didn’t really matter, but hey, I was young and foolish.

After receiving nothing but rejections, I’d pretty much gotten in the mode of opening each letter from a publisher with little hope of seeing anything but more of the same. And I wasn’t disappointed. Until one day, when I received something unexpected.

–dp

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Categories: Writing
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  1. June 23, 2014 at 12:36 am

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