Kevin Brennan Writes About What It's Like
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.
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. I 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.