Novel Writing, Disappointments and Baby Steps

For those of you who don’t know, I am working on a novel. This is my second serious attempt at long fiction; the first completed manuscript is lying in the bottom of my desk drawer after not finding a home among publishers.

The first is memoir turned fiction and is based partly on real-life events surrounding my brother Jim’s dying process with AIDS and a flim-flam boyfriend whose primary goal was to steal pretty much everything not tied down from my brother’s estate. Light fare? No, not at all. I am still debating whether I am going to revisit this story and return it to complete memoir. I think that it will be a better story, and it’s already written, I just have to edit it. But I am not sure.

What happened was that I was holed up in a Motel 6 in Ventura for two weeks working on the final draft and somewhere in there, I just started having fun inventing a different outcome. I asked myself, “What if my brother had made one major choice that was different from the one he made? What if he’d hired a private investigator that verified the questions that we all had about that boyfriend?” From that point on, the story veered away from what had become the saddest moments of my life and into a story of defiance and victory. I had more fun rewriting the last third of the book than I had writing any of the 425 pages of the first draft or the 325 pages of the second draft. That is when I discovered just how much I loved writing fiction.

Alas, it’s tough to pick oneself back up after you’ve had your first book produce exclusive options among literary agents only to then have them – and many other agents – declare that the subject is too depressing and who would read this book anyway? I have always contended that lots of people could relate to the greed that often comes when someone is dying of a terminal illness, but literary agents are looking for books that fill marketing niches and mine was not among those. So, I am still pondering what to do with it. There’s a part of me that says, “Come on, it was your first book. It wasn’t all that good. Just keep moving forward.”

Hence this new novel, which is 100% pure fiction and the process feels very much like skiing down a steep slope with no idea what obstacles might be looming over the next ridge. I am simply writing by feel on this to entertain myself. Today I had a great writing day because my “writing friend” Michael was here and we both just sat and wrote quietly for one and a half hours before giving a quick update on our progress. Nothing is more fun than whittling out writing time and just sitting down and doing it. No big fireworks; just satisfying effort.

So, my goal is to move forward with this novel, slow but sure, then after it’s done, reassess my other novel/memoir. I presume that I will learn more about good storytelling during this process and, hopefully, can look at that past work with fresh eyes.

I know I am not the only writer who has to deal with disappointment and pick myself back up. Or, baby step through a first draft of a new novel. It is part of the mark of being an actual writer. On a positive note, I did get a Pushcart nomination for one of my short fiction pieces. That was/is a major ego boost even if I didn’t win. Like I say, one tiny step forward and then another…

Today, I am happy with my progress. That is good enough.

Have a good evening, my friends.

We will talk again tomorrow.


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