Monday, January 24, 2011

The long and rambling tale of my first novel

Today I was thinking about how I wrote my first novel (saddled with the improbably ludicrous name of A Most Vehement Flame), which, thank God, has been lost to the sands of time. I wrote it in college, where we did have access to computers, of a primitive sort. At the time I did my writing in a sort of mishmash-- I tended to write things down longhand, then type them out and fix them later.

At that point I didn't write in order, so I'd scribble down random scenes in class notebooks (in lieu of taking notes), or napkins at lunch, or whatever came to hand. I'd then sneak into the computer lab (where people were trying to do actual college work like, you know, papers) and type madly away, trying to make a coherent whole out of my randomness (and hoping no one who actually needed a computer would realize I wasn't doing real work).

Then I'd print out what I'd done, because the system had a painfully limited capacity to save your work. The printer, of course, was dot matrix (this was the eighties, when dot matrix was the height of awesomeness), and sometimes the pages would be barely readable. I'd pull off the edges of the pages, then shuffle them into some sort of order (I had scenes from one end of the book to the other, with giant gaps in between) and paper clip them into chapters, which I would later scribble all over while editing. Then I'd slither out of the computer room and start all over again. I was so into writing my novel it's a wonder I ever got any papers written.

After college, the novel was finished, but alas, I no longer had access to a computer, not even one with a dot matrix printer. I pulled out my old IBM Selectric and typed up the whole thing, all 400 pages' worth. I then had it copied several times and sent it out into a highly unappreciative world, where it was summarily and curtly rejected.

Despite the four years of love I poured into it, that manuscript was total crap, but it did help me in various ways:

1. My typing speed increased drastically (from maybe fifteen words a minute to at least eighty) over the course of those four years.

2. Writing 400 pages (even of total crap) can't help but make you a better writer. I learned a lot about putting a story together from that book, bad though it was.

3. I discovered that everything I write is not worth reading. Getting rejected stung, but eventually I realized that this particular book was better off in a box beneath a bed somewhere. Or, better yet, shredded into little bitty pieces, then burned into ashes.

4. The hero was redheaded, and I realized I loved redheaded heroes (a rarity in romance for some reason). I eventually got around to another redheaded hero, in In the Mood.

5. The hero and heroine of Flame wound up as secondary characters in the first novel I actually had published. Readers may not have cared, but I did, because it made them "real" and meant to me that all that time I spent creating them wasn't totally wasted.

6. I finally figured out that A Most Vehement Flame was a ridiculous title, and vowed never to use such an absurd title again.

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