I began writing my first novel in 1997, the year my wife and I moved from Houston, Texas to Nashville, Tennessee. I have wanted to be a published writer since the first grade, evidenced by the blank next to the question What Do You Want to be When You Grow Up? in my elementary school progress book, in which my six year-old little hand scrawled the word “author.” Throughout adolescence I was a prolific writer, churning out short stories and school newspaper articles and lessons for my church youth group and the like. My dream all along was to write a novel like the ones I enjoyed so much as a kid, and in my dreamy imagination I knew I could work some idiosyncratic literary alchemy with proportionate parts C.S. Lewis and Stephen King.
The conditions seemed right in ’97. I had a few months free before resuming studies at a university in our new state. Having left the comfortable familiarity of our hometown struck the right creative chords too. So—pouring decades of ambition, years of mental composition, and months of between-homes angst onto the page—I eventually produced my first full-length work of fiction, a supernatural thriller titled OTHERWORLD.
Things seemed to happen quickly from there. I could see the lightning striking. With that one manuscript I landed a New York literary agent. That agent got some great responses from some eager editors.
And then a year passed. Then two. Then three. OTHERWORLD got me close to a publishing deal once, then twice. Then the door closed. Dejected, I was still enthused enough by the response to pour myself into a second novel. It went nowhere. Then I began a third. Then life took over.
Was it John Lennon said that life is what happens when you’re making other plans? I am blessed enough to have established a supplemental career in writing in the meantime, having this year signed a deal that will total eight books of my own on the market when all is said and done, not counting the few I’ve assisted other authors with. All non-fiction. The childhood dream of authoring stories, my first writing love, has simply sat on the shelf gathering dust. So I made other plans.
And while I was making other plans, my agent re-introduced OTHERWORLD, fifteen years after I stopped visiting its grave, to the new guard in the publishing world. And somebody actually wanted it. I couldn’t believe it. The dream deferred had circled back around.
I jumped back into my spiritually afflicted Houston, back into the world of animal mutilations and UFO sightings and serial killings and demonic possession. I reunited with my odd cast of characters, reminding me of all the ways the primary three protagonists were simply expression of myself. And revisiting that manuscript, with its prose, its character development, its images and pacing all reflective of my first-timer skills, my twenty-two year-old “not quite there” creative imagination, I saw not the monument to the towering genius I supposed I was then, but a whole lot of junk. But I was in a rare position. I could make my first novel better before any poor sucker could read it.
A lot of stuff needed changing. The places I wrote about, suburbs of Houston mostly, have changed so much in fifteen years, and rather than shoot for contextual accuracy, I fictionalized those towns, capturing them in the dream state of 1997 even as I updated metro Houston and the rest of the story to 2013. I had written of beepers, VCR’s, pay-phones. The Internet then was mainly a curiosity, certainly not a portable lifeline. But I also had weak characterization, immature ruminations, clunky turns of phrases.
Still, the potential was there, the raw story was there, still effective, still potent, reminding me of that previous magic. It was dusty, but it was real. And I could fix it! In the fifteen years of never looking at this novel, it hadn’t given up on me. And I learned in the process of this rare opportunity to resurrect the dead to not give up on any of the old stories, the ones that won’t let go even though we ought to put them six feet under. I’ve learned that some ideas ought to be buried, perhaps until the heat and pressure of time’s passing makes them more diamond-like.
I have learned this: There is life in the bones of our bad writing, if only we will have the patience and the perseverance to let them lie longer than we’d like.
What dream have you had for a long time, one commenter will win OTHERWORLD and a Starbucks card
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