About nine years ago, I began writing a book. I'd finished about 150 pages when a flash of inspiration came...for a different book entirely.
(Look, a squirrel!)
That became my second novel, The Mind Set on the Flesh.
A few years after that I wrote my third book, A Time to Every Purpose.
Last year, I started my fourth book.
My writing process is organized and detailed. (Those who know me have a surprised look on their face right now!)
I do extensive profiles of my main characters, which includes physical descriptions, personality strengths and weakness, family tree and dynamics, goals/motivations, secrets, and comprehensive backstories. In the end, much of this doesn't ends up on the page of the final draft, but it's essential to me; I need to "know" these people...intimately.
For this fourth book, I was in the early stages of outlining and had even finished a few chapters.
One afternoon while cleaning up my computer's external hard drive, I came across that earlier novel in the virtual equivalent of a shoebox, tucked away in a dark corner of the basement.
Because of the abbreviated name I'd assigned the document, I didn't even know what it was when I found the folder.
I’d honestly forgotten about the book.
I opened the manuscript and began to read.
Overall, the plot didn't capture me.
Some of it actually embarrassed me.
I’m not even sure what I was thinking when I wrote it.
However, there were some interesting elements:
The characters still appealed to me.
The struggle of my protagonist was relevant and real.
The theme and setting were consistent with those I like to explore—people living their life within the influence and impact of the deeply religious, conservative culture of the South.
It occurred to me: this might be salvageable, especially since I’ve been wanting to write a book loosely based on my involvement with "ex-gay" ministries. I'm not interested in publishing an autobiography, but I think my experiences would make for a good story, if I fictionalize what happened to me.
Author's Note: Yes, sometimes authors base their stories on real life—their own and others!
As they say: write what you know.
Of course, names will be changed to protect the innocent. And the guilty!
To do this, much of the existing story would require serious revisions.
This is more than minor alterations, like performing a nip and tuck to hide a few imperfections.
It would require a makeover that would make the Queer Eye guys proud.
Ugly duckling -> Lovely swan.
Caterpillar -> Butterfly.
The end result would probably be unrecognizable from the original.
I began by taking the manuscript apart, dissecting the entire book into small chunks—parts, chapters, scenes, fragments (partially written sections) and ideas.
Some are useable; others are questionable, but kept in a separate file...just in case.
I have a revised basic outline—a general idea of my main characters' "journey."
The goal now is to bring it back together again into a coherent, essentially new story.
Like a jigsaw puzzle of written sections, I'd need to assemble the pieces to form a pretty picture.
There are already significant changes:
- I revised the timeline. Chapter one originally opened around the turn of the new millennium (2001); it now begins in the early 80s.
- I'm thinking the story arc, which covered about a year, will expand to nearly ten. (That's still to be determined.)
- My main character is on a different and more problematic trajectory than in the previous incarnation.
- Secondary characters are emerging into more prominent figures.
- New folks are being introduced.
- The centrality of one pivotal relationship is suddenly (and for me, sadly) uncertain.
- The lives of two characters are in jeopardy.
It's not unusual for an author to re-read something they've written in the past, and wish now they’d done something…different.
I've talked about that.
This is different.
For me, it's an entirely new, not completely comfortable, way to write a novel.
(A novel approach to writing a novel!)
Now, it's time to re-assemble the assorted "dead" parts and try to fashion a new, living creature.
I can only pray to the Muse goddesses that the lesson of Humpty Dumpty we learned as children will not prove true.
I need to put Humpty back together again.
Paging Dr. Frankenstein...