Forgotten April, my debut novel, isn’t my first novel. Like so many writers, I have a bottom drawer dweller, or, in this case, a novel that lingers on my hard drive in a folder called “Bad First Novels.” The novel is called Lily’s Legs. Don’t ask me who Lily is — she’s not a character; she’s simply a thinly-veiled version of my twenty-something self. And the other characters are people from my life back then: the morning show host from the radio station I worked at in the 90s, family members, lovers. I took the whole “write what you know” adage literally and forgot an important thing called imagination.
But that’s okay. It had to go like that. I think it was Stephen King who said in his memoir On Writing that you have to write a million words before you can call yourself a true writer, since a million words is what it takes to smooth out the rough edges, to rid yourself of the frogs in your throat and the endless ahs and ums that occur when you’re trying to explain something you don’t understand yet. That was me, anyway, when I was penning those 73,000+ words. (I was still using double spaces after periods, too. Sheesh!)
I spent some time today re-reading portions of it. I wrote a lot of it in Provincetown (pictured), one of my favorite places in the world, and I remember sitting on my hotel balcony that was a stone’s throw from the ocean and writing on my laptop. I was one of the only people I knew with a laptop then, and it made me feel all official-like, as if I were a “real” writer. (We’re talking circa 1995.)
Anyhow, today as I was re-reading it, I noted that 99.9 percent of it was crap, but I also remembered a scene I had written and quickly found it and discovered why I remembered it now…because there was a spark of “something” there, something I’d learn how to manage better over the next fifteen years and turn into “story.”
We all have to begin somewhere. And while I’d NEVER want this book to see the light of day, I’m still proud of it in the same way I imagine mothers are proud of the kindergarten artwork they hold onto from their now grown-up kids. The work shows faith and diligence and a little bit of chutzpah, which are all things “real” writers need even after they’re all grown up.
What’s in your “Bad Writing” files?