On September 10, I finished the most recent draft of a novel I’ve been working on called Far Nineteen. It’s a big one, 113,000 words, 370 pages. On a whim, I went back and looked through the back-up files for the project and found the earliest files dated from 2008, the year I sold my first novel, The Evolution of Shadows, to Unbridled Books.
If my memory is correct, I set it aside for a number of reasons. The primary reason was that it is a thematically challenging story dealing with race and white privilege which can be, for a white male writer, be a problem if he does not force himself to be awake and to listen. Privilege can be blinding, stealthy, and subtle all at the same time. The other reason was that, after selling Shadows, I fired off a completed manuscript I had “in the bank” (as Hemingway used to say) that turned out to be irreparably flawed. Then, in my stubbornness, wasted a good nine months or so attempting to revise it, mostly out of spite, until I hit the point where it was sticking. It was a lesson in trusting a good editor.
By The Still, Still Water was an ambitious project, dealing with war, sexuality, guilt, and how unspoken family history can twist and damage relationships. In my early 30’s when I wrote it, I may not have had enough experience to pull it off. I’ve gone back and looked at it again over the years and find myself still pondering ways to fix it because, honestly, there is some strong writing in there.
I remember talking with people about what would become The Palace of Winds sometime in September of 2009, just before Shadows came out. That means I had already done some preliminary sketching on the idea, maybe for as long as a year. I went back and looked for the earliest files because there was an exploratory scene I remember writing about two hobos taking shelter in an abandoned shack during a dust storm in 1930s Kansas. It would have given me a rough timeframe for when I began The Palace of Winds, but I couldn’t find it.
In February 2010, I began writing The Palace of Winds in earnest, while Far Nineteen languished on the back burner. Palace took off, for me, after my father’s death in April 2010. I worked on it solidly through 2013 and in to 2014. It went through several drafts, friends read it out loud to me, it got submitted and rejected, revised again, and so on. In late 2014, I believe, I returned to Far Nineteen and completed a draft in September 2015, which involved first revising everything that had been previously written.
Now it’s time to bring in my early readers who will read the entire manuscript and rip it apart, and my volunteer narrators who will read sections back to me out loud so that I can hear my language.
I should have been done with this earlier, but in January of 2016, a friend read the first few pages of The Palace of Winds out loud to me, and I was shocked. It was one of those cases where, after having read to me, then revising and revising again, I’d fucked up the pacing and language (no wonder it was being rejected so much). So, I went back in and did another line revision of the whole damn thing.
Now, I have three complete manuscripts. One in purgatory, one I need to keep sending out, and one that needs to be critiqued. In the meantime, I’m going to wander back over the scenes and pieces and notebooks for other ideas until one grabs hold. There’s the Minotaur story, the dead girlfriend story, the Spanish story, the trench story, the Wichita noir story, and then there’s my rock b and serial killer story that’s been simmering since 2004. Or maybe I’ll spin my wheels for a while and see what comes up. I was thinking about my Haibun for the Missing idea a few days ago. I’ve been wanting to flex my poetry muscles again. I’ve also thought about writing that college band screenplay I’ve been kicking around.
The biggest drawback, of course, is always time. Work life, personal life, and writing life form this hopeless tug-of-war when living alone. I write, I work, I exercise so I don’t die, I read, I do laundry, I cook meals, I sleep, I clean the apartment, I run errands and I see some friends once a week who are thoughtful enough to drag me out of the house. The last year has been so focused on getting these manuscripts finished that I dropped the podcast I’d been doing. I want to get it fired up again, but I’m not sure what kind of format I want this time. The conversation format was fun, but the reading schedule needed to read an author’s book before getting them on the show tended to crowd out my personal reading. My biggest fear was reading something and not liking it enough to really be interested in talking to the writer. I loved talking with Stephen McClurg on a regular basis, but I felt we were losing the audience and struggling to make our conversations interesting to anyone but us.
So, there it is. Now, I’m off to see about some new adventures.