3.11.2011

Junk in the Trunk: Giving Up on a Novel

I think almost every would-be author out there has a trunk novel. In fact, I bet at least one. I have a few finished projects that I tried to have published but will never see the light of day. Two or three short stories, a novella, and now one novel.

The novel in question is my humorous urban fantasy, Scarlet Letters. Intended to be a satire combining the nerdy wit of Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy with a hapless mailman who was turned into a vampire by his doctor, it was a fun little romp but ultimately about as lacking in true substance as beaten egg whites. 

But because it was my first completed novel and an interesting enough concept (I envisioned it would have the sort of popularity that stories like Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter would have), I put it through the query process and I even submitted it into the contest for the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award. 

I got a couple requests for manuscripts, but at the end of the equation sat a big ol' R for rejection. By the end of it, I wasn't terribly surprised. And eventually, I came to be relieved. 

Why relief? 

Because I'd had misgivings about the book from the get-go. I don't think the story is rich enough, for one. I like stories that are heavy in the use of themes and deeper characterization, and Scarlet Letters had neither of those things. It was a bit too satisfied with its smarminess. It was self-indulgent. It had the over-confident swagger of a fifteen-year-old boy that a fifty-year-old person would look at and go, "Kid, give it up." 

It was also comedy. While I enjoy writing humorous dialogue, it's not where I live. Scarlet Letters is not the kind of writing I want to be known for, and in the back of my mind as I was going through the querying process, all I could think of was how if this thing did get picked up and did become successful, how on earth was I ever going to segue into the darker speculative fiction that is my bread and butter? I'd have to completely reinvent myself. And while there are a lot of authors I look up to who aren't hemmed in by genre (Stephen King, Neil Gaiman), they have a firm platform of horror and/or fantasy beneath them and they use that to branch off from. In other words, I don't to establish myself with what was essentially an experimental kind of work. I have a mainstream fiction project I've been contemplating and even started working on, but the same goes with that. I don't want to try to establish a career on it until I've achieved a firm footing as the kind of author I generally want to be. Horror/SF/Fantasy. 

I toyed around with the idea of self-publishing Scarlet Letters on Smashwords/Amazon/Barnes & Noble like I have with some of my other stories, but again the question is why. I no longer believe in it and I would feel disingenuous trying to sell it. 

Sometimes it's best to step back and evaluate a dud for what it was and move on. Here's what I got from my first trunk novel: 

1. It was my first completed novel. It taught me that I can finish a story. And I had great fun rollicking around in Louis Cross's world for a bit. 

2. It taught me a lot about writing a query and a synopsis. I feel more confident entering the query process again with a book that is more definitively "me." 

3. The few people who did read it enjoyed it, and it gave me a confidence boost in that maybe I can do this kind of thing for a living with the right kind of stories. My friend Justin also drew some great artwork of Louis for me, and I will forever have the image of that character in my head. I will always look back fondly on him and his story, and maybe even go back and visit him from time to time. 

Now that I have released Louis and his friends back into the ether, it's possible he'll come back in another form. Perhaps in the form of a better story. At any rate, that will never happen until I let him go. And let go I must. There's no shame in it. Every single project is a learning experience. Even the failed ones. 

5 comments:

  1. as one who read this book and enjoyed it, I am sad your're trunking it, but also think you have good and valid concerns regarding it, as you have enumerated. Im glad I got to read it!

    as so many masters of writing have said, not every work is marketable and not every piece is worth being made public.

    Now, on to the next one!

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  2. Thanks Rachel. I hope maybe someday I can resurrect it. But I am glad you enjoyed it. I don't know why it almost embarrasses me now. I feel almost a sort of contempt for it.

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  3. Aw, sorry you had to put it away. I loved it! It's a very entertaining read, but definitely lighter than you seem to be drawn to normally. Have you considered putting it on Smashwords under a pseudonym?

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  4. Thank you too, Sherri. You know, I considered doing a pseudo a long time ago for it. That might not be a bad idea.

    You're one of a few people who has said they really enjoyed that story now. Ken suggested that maybe my resentment of it is just my way of trying to keep myself from being beaten up by it anymore. There may be something to that.

    I'll have to stew on this one awhile.

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  5. I, too, love this story, and have thought many times it would be a great screenplay. A friend's husband is writing a screenplay, and if he has success, I'll definitely be hitting him up for advice, cause I'm serious! I can picture the movie - atmosphere, humor, mystery....

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