Friends and readers alike might be aware of the fact that I’ve written another novel. I’m hopeful that this one is better than the last one, but I once again find that a completed novel has put me on a collision course with New York City.
Later this month I will head up to one of the larger writers’ conventions in Manhattan, much like I did in 2011. My goals are similar to the ones I had six years ago, though not identical. Obviously, I am there to learn. The classes look great and I’m very much looking forward to taking the time to step out of my own comfort zone and learn from professionals in the industry and my peers. I’m looking forward to meeting other writers and meeting some new people and networking. I’m looking forward to pitching my novel as well.
My main goal in 2011 was to take my first real steps into the world of writing and publishing and not feel out of place. I feel like I accomplished that-like I fit in amongst my peers. I felt welcome and like I belonged. That was a very significant thing for me at the time as the bulk of that book, The Geography of Home, I wrote while we lived in Hawaii, which was pretty far away from a great many things. It was nice to step into that world and not feel out of place.
In my heart, I think I knew that book wasn’t good enough. The industry has changed a lot. The book garnered some interest and I had five agents ask to take a closer look at it. They all passed in the end, but it was a learning experience. They were all polite and complimentary and I’ve been in touch with some of them since. One of the agents, who was from Jersey of course, told me, “Listen, if it were 5-10 years ago, I might have taken a chance on this as I really like your voice. But I just can’t go there today.”
Honestly, I still take that as high praise. I considered revisiting it, and, I have a good eight chapters written of what could have been a sequel/expansion, but I decided to put it away for good later that year and I think it was the right choice. I’ve looked at certain chapters again once or twice. There are a few chapters I still really like and wish I could share someday, but my time working in that world with those characters was at an end.
I took a break from writing anything, but soon enough the characters living in my head started calling out for attention, as they are prone to do. Oddly enough, ideas always seemed to pop up while I was at church. Many of my initial notes and ideas are written on service leaflets. I try not to overthink the fact that inspiration came in those moments.
In addition, I revisited some older ideas that I’d shelved but none of them thrilled me. Over the next year I found that there were what felt like three distinct stories calling out to me, each of them very different. I spent time on each of them, but one simply wouldn’t let me go. It’s a quirky little story that became a novel that I’ve called The Last Good Day and it’s dominated my creative time for over five years. These characters have been knee-deep in my mind and in some ways have been bossing me around for much of that time. At over 83,000 words, my time as their primary shepherd is done. I had an amazing team of beta readers who made the novel much better. I’ll be working next week with a professional editor for a second time to tighten a few things up and then it will be time to pitch.
The pitching process is a little like a very short job interview and it’s kind of fun in its own way. It usually results in one of two responses:
a) Yeah, not for me but, good luck
b) Ok-Send me ___ number of pages and some other stuff and I’ll look at it.
And then generally, one hears back. Last time I left NYC with five “yesses,” meaning the agents/editors wanted to take a look. If I leave New York this time with that in my pocket, it will have gone very well indeed, but it won’t be promise of anything.
Regardless of how it goes, it will be the ending of something. Perhaps it will be the beginning of a next step with the book. I’m hopeful as I still believe in this story and its characters. I only hope I haven’t done them a disservice by having them be written by me, instead of a better writer. That said, there’s little I can do about that now. But it will be the ending of my time all alone with these characters. If someone likes it enough to move it forward, then it will be the start of a whole new process, a whole new chapter, one in which I will remain knee-deep in the world of The Last Good Day. There will be edits galore and many other steps and the opinions of people I don’t yet know to contend with, and that’s all for the good. I’ve had them all to myself for long enough.
And if no one likes it enough to take that chance, if no one wants to move it forward, then it is probably the end for this book, for now. While I believe in it and genuinely feel that it could find an audience in the “Young Adult/People who love them” market, that’s not an area I’m experienced enough in to navigate on my own. I’m not interested in self-publishing it at this point, though I’ve considered re-branding this blog and moving it to its own server and releasing it in installments, like Dickens used to do in the newspapers. That’s likely the first and last time that Charles and I will share space in the same sentence. But, those kind of decisions are likely months away. I’m realistic though. One only must walk through Barnes and Noble to figure out how many books there are being published, even in this market. There’s a lot of content out there and print/shelf space is limited.
Honestly, it’s time for me to get back to some of those other voices in my head, who’ve grown louder now that Avery and Angela’s story is written down. I believe in it and hopefully one day soon I’ll be able to share it with you. I’ll do my best.
I feel a little proud that I’ve done all this, I guess. It was a significant amount of work and time and I feel good that I’ve modeled certain things to my children. It’s been a lot of late nights and I’ve filled four handwritten notebooks before I sat down to type it all. I always wrote where I was writing from with each entry in the notebooks, and reviewing them has been fun. Parts of this story were written in, among other locales: San Francisco, London, Edinburgh, Cleveland, Buffalo, Florida, aboard the Cape May-Lewes Ferry, Philadelphia, and of course, Wildwood. The story is very much a time and place one, but I’ve written it all over the world. It always seems to come back down the shore though.
Someone once told me that they thought these writer’s conferences were like “Author Fantasy Camp” where we plunk down our money and get to pretend we are “real writers” and “part of the industry” for a few days. I always felt that was a rather cynical view and I told him so. In my experience, the people I’ve met, the friends I’ve made both through conferences and other writing communities, those of us who write don’t write because we want to. We write because we must. There’s little choice in the matter.
We write because to not write simply doesn’t compute. We fill notebooks and church leaflets and random scraps of paper on a regular basis because that is simply how we are wired to navigate the world. As such, we seek out others of like mind. We feel called to improve and share our work because we must. It’s a passion, yes, but it’s also simply who we are. I could no more stop writing than I could choose to stop letting my fingernails grow. I actually find a great deal of comfort in this. In the end, I suppose it doesn’t really matter if I ever get published or “make it” as a writer. I’m not doing it for you. I’m doing it because I must.
Back in 2011 at my first big conference, I was sitting at a big round table as the opening keynote speaker started his presentation. He asked everyone to look around and see how different everyone was in the packed room. And so, dutifully, we did. And then he started asking us questions to which we were to raise our hands if it was something that applied to us. I don’t recall them all but my hand and those of many around me went up more often than not.
The one that really stuck with me was when he asked, “How many of you have had a moment where, as you were writing, your characters rebelled against you and said, ‘yeah, that’s not what I’m doing here?’”
Pretty much every hand went up. That was an experience I really thought was unique to me. That was the moment I knew I was in the right place. These were my people.
I don’t know what the future for this novel is, at all. I like it. My Beta team was encouraging. My 12-year-old daughter likes it. Regardless, as Peter Brady once sang, “It’s time to change.” One way or another this process will change. Maybe it ramps up or maybe it joins its predecessor on the shelf in my office. I believe in it though. And I’m ready.
And I can hear the excited chatter of the other characters in my head, Freddy Pinkerton most of all. He’s been trying to bust loose for years.
That might make a decent working title, actually. More on that later. For now, stay tuned. Thanks for reading.