WHAT THE HELL

Kevin Brennan Writes About What It's Like

Baggage

old boxes

In our recent move from the Bay Area to the foothills, I discovered (again) that I’m still carting around the manuscript of the first novel I ever wrote. Or, rather, the first one I actually finished. It’s a big manuscript — probably 150,000 words or more. (Not sure, exactly, because back then we didn’t have automatic word count; you had to do it manually and get a per-page average to multiply by.) It’s been cradled in the same box for thirty years.

Why do I hang onto it? Well, for one reason, it’s my eldest and I’m not ready to see it go. I submitted it to just one agent, who had seen a story of mine in a little magazine and asked if I had a novel. Why yes! I said. Yes I do, as a matter of fact. And I sent it to him. A painful few months went by before he came back with a Sorry, kid, it needs too much work.

I haven’t even reread the book in all this time because I’m afraid of realizing he was absolutely right. I’ll find out it was a mess. It was self-indulgent and unruly. It had slow parts and unlikely plot points (some of which involved hot air ballooning into another dimension), and I’m sure it still reads exactly like what it was: a young writer’s first shot at getting to THE END.

And that’s what makes all those pieces of paper special. It’s the first time I sat myself down and said, No more pointless short stories, dude! If you’re going to be a writer you have to write a novel. Here, I’ll even start it for you.

“Chapter 1.”

There. Get busy.

I can remember the early days of composition, when I’d get up at four in the morning and sit there with pen and legal pad scribbling away till it was time to get ready for work. I’d type up my pages a couple of times a week, discard half of what I’d written, scribble away some more, retype, re-discard, rewrite. Somewhere in there I bought a drafting table and started writing at it. It made what I was doing seem more like a real craft, a learned skill. And then a little later I acquired my first computer — an Apple IIe — and that’s when things really began to take off. apple_iie_largerI flew through the chapters. Editing became a piece o’ cake. Rewrites? No problem. Me and PFS Write (my word processing software) can tackle anything!

And in a few months the book was finished. I printed it out on a dot matrix printer using paper with perforated strips on each side that had to be removed by hand. I must have gone through half a dozen ribbon cartridges printing that sucker, only to have the book rejected without much in the way of commentary by the agent (par for the course, come to find out).

So I hang on to this relic, and one day I might even summon the nerve to pull it out and read it. Maybe when I can finally face the embarrassment that I thought I could sell a turd like that to a New York publisher.

Yes, a turd. But an artisanal turd crafted with dedication and love. My first novel.

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14 comments on “Baggage

  1. islandeditions
    June 15, 2015

    I’d read that artisanal turd, if you ever transcribe it into a Word doc … And that’s based on the belief that, considering what you’ve produced and published since then is all great, to me at least, this first effort couldn’t have been all that bad. 😉

    • Kevin Brennan
      June 15, 2015

      Ah, thanks, Susan, but this time I’m afraid you really are being too kind. 😉

  2. ericjbaker
    June 15, 2015

    You’re just afraid a sanitation worker will find it in the recycling plant, put his name on it, and become a millionaire novelist on your hard work!

    I probably have my first manuscript lying around somewhere, probably in the same box with my second one. I’ve wizened up enough not waste money and ink printing the third one.

    • Kevin Brennan
      June 15, 2015

      I still fear that a hundred typing monkeys will accidentally recreate it.

      It’s great now that we don’t have to print out the things we’re not sure of. Long live email attachments!

      • ericjbaker
        June 15, 2015

        With the advent of the typing monkey, novelists are almost pointless. Why, one of those critters wrote the screenplay for Jurassic World.

      • Kevin Brennan
        June 15, 2015

        Ha! I suspected as much… 🙊

  3. John W. Howell
    June 15, 2015

    Loved this story. Mine is in the laundry room. No less a turd than yours but is now useful since it can be used as a door stop. I may take a picture of it for a post.

    • Kevin Brennan
      June 15, 2015

      Yes, at least yours is functional. Mine is a pretty good dust collector…

  4. pinklightsabre
    June 15, 2015

    That’s a lovely story Kevin (even if the story itself isn’t – ha). Funny, I’m packing our things up as we’re moving out of our house in a couple weeks and renting it to some friends, and I just packed up a bunch of old writing and wedged it into a spot in the upper loft in our garage (flash to the final scene of the film Raiders of the Lost Ark). Perhaps our failed first novels should be called “Raiders of the Lost Arc.” Sorry –

    • Kevin Brennan
      June 15, 2015

      “Raiders of the Lost Arc.” Love it! There never were any “Readers of the Lost Arc” either…

      • pinklightsabre
        June 15, 2015

        That’s awesome. My face just melted a bit.

  5. 1WriteWay
    June 16, 2015

    I’d keep it too 😉

    • Kevin Brennan
      June 17, 2015

      I know YOU would. You have a treasure trove of your own stuff!

  6. Phillip McCollum
    June 17, 2015

    I’m still crafting turds, but I hope they’ll hold a sentiment similar to yours when I finally put together something worth a damn. As the kids say – Cool story, bro.

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This entry was posted on June 15, 2015 by in Writing.
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