Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Your Unpublished Novels

Long ago, at least as time is measured in the blogosphere, I posted on the topic of unpublished works and the number of unpublished novels many well-known writers had piled up before they published their debut novel.

In the world of screenwriting, your unsold screenplays are said to be sitting in "your trunk," and are considered to be a possible resource. Writers, a gloomier lot, tend to be a little ashamed of their unpublished novels, and often refer to the place they are stored as a "drawer," which has the virtue of sounding less roomy.

[n.b. In my earlier post, Cate Sweeney wrote to tell me that in Britain "trunks" tended to refer to male swimwear. We use the word in that sense too, though it's a bit dated, but by "What's in your trunk?" folks in Hollywood mean one of those old-fashioned steamer trunks--a giant piece of luggage usually stored in an attic. They aren't really asking what you have in your swimsuit. Or up your elephant's nose.

On the other hand, you can't really solve the problem by instead asking, "What's in your drawers?" Unsold writing is apparently always stored somewhere synonymous with points south of your navel. Go figure.]

In any case, in that post I asked other writers to let on what they had in the way of unpublished works. Matt and Aliya confessed to a number of novels in the drawer. (Lucy McCarraher said her MNW debut was in fact her first novel!)

I was reminded of this when reading one of Emma Darwin's posts some time back, where she mentioned she had completed 8 1/2 novels (very Fellini of her). Since she's published one and has another in the pipeline, I'm wondering where the other 6 1/2 reside and what her intentions are.

In the interests of full disclosure, my novels (in order of composition) and their current status:

Things Unseen: Needs revision, but probably publishable some day. Suffers from 1) Everything-but-the-kitchen-sink first-novel syndrome, as well as 2) Writing-every-day-instead-of-stopping-to-think syndrome.

Tomorrowville: Coming next year. Probably.

A Map of the Edge: Story line has a broken spine. Needs a major overhaul.

Shock and Awe: Published.

Earthly Vessels: Needs a little work. Might need an agent, but I'm not in the mood to look for one.

Work-In-Progress #1: Half finished. (What I'm planning on sending to MNW next.)

Work-In-Progress #2: Also half finished, and just sitting there.

Work-In-Progress #3: One-quarter finished, and has been sitting there for quite some time. (Of course, since I'm in the middle of W-I-P #1, I'm naturally having exciting ideas about #2 and #3. The grass is always greener, etc...)

Now my question to all: What unpublished works do you have? Are you revising them, or are they abandoned? Do you like 'em, hate 'em...?

I realize those are big and rather personal questions. Feel free to answer on your own blog, of course.

Or feel free to tell me it's none of my damned business.


Faye L. Booth said...

Keeping it to novels, and taking into account my superstitious tic about discussing WIPs or their titles:

Cover the Mirrors: My first MNW novel, of course, and also the first novel I wrote.

Trades of the Flesh: See above, substituting 'second' for 'first'.

Other Book: A completed novel, as yet unpublished.

WIP: My current preoccupation, obviously. Almost finished with the first draft.

Partially Completed Books 1 and 2: A couple of projects I've put on the backburner for the time being but have every intention of returning to at some point in the future.

Embryonic Idea: Self-explanatory; possibly the one I'll be attacking once I'm done with the WIP and editing TOTF with Will.

When did it all get so complicated?!

David Isaak said...

CtM is a hell of a great first novel.

I'm glad to hear that someone else has partially completed things that are back-burnered. I'd become to think of this as a character flaw of mine.

I'm in total agreement about not discussing WIPs. I don't think of it as sueprstition, though. For me, it would be like taking the lid off a pressure cooker in mid-precess. If I tell things about the story, the urgency to write it vanishes. I know writers who don't seem to have this problem; but I sure do.

Matt Curran said...

Hi, David

Well, as you've asked:

The Forever Chain - came close with HarperCollins; needs a helluva lot of work doing on it. Might look at it again in the next five years.

The Prey and the Haunted - another story in the Chapel Hulme series, first draft only.

Necrodyssey - a series of linked short stories about the end of the world. Completed for my university degree. Was looking to expand it as a web-based anthology until I was asked to concentrate on writing The Hoard of Mhorrer for Macmillan.

The Apprentice and the Stripper - a bloody epic, in the region of 250,000 words. 2nd draft is complete, needs... well... about two years worth of work.

A World of Night - perhaps the only pre-Secret War story that needs the least amount of work. I've told Macmillan about it, but it needs a little work and I have very little time to spare it.

The Black Hours - the current project. I start the 2nd draft next week...

The Traitor of Light - the third Secret War book. I've started making notes on this and have begun researching the downfall of the Mayan kingdom. It's going to be shorter than the first two books, but more of an epic (if that makes sense!) I start this in Summer 2009.

And to come... Well, there's The Fortress of Black Glass (Secret War Bk 4), then there's Three Dead Boys, Smith, Stranded Rooms and The Last Mortal. And that's just in the next ten years!!!

S. Boyd Taylor said...

I have many short stories and poems sitting unpublished. Most of them simply because I don't have the guts to submit them anywhere.

My best 3 or 4 short stories are out to markets right now. The others I all think need revisions (some just a few edits, some a lot). But I'm like that.

If I was a builder, I would tear down houses and build them back from scratch just to make sure the Feng Shui was perfect.

I have about 40 story ideas and scenes sitting around in fragments.

I've completed 2 novels. #1 is done but needs a completely ground-up rewrite, and may not be salvagable then (dated material). #2 is going through it's second from-scratch rewrite, and is getting closer and closer by degrees to what I intended in the first place. When I speak of the Calculus of Writing -- how writing is about trying to get as close to the area of a curve you can but you can never quite reach it -- I am referrign to novel #2.

S. Boyd Taylor said...

Faye --

That's odd. I'm just completing a short story called "Cover the Mirrors".


Aliya Whiteley said...

Answered this on my blog. Why comment when you can bloggify?

David Isaak said...

Hi, Matt--

You make me feel like such a slacker.

And...250,000 words! Holy molely. You've got a lot of chutzpah. And a lot of words, too!

David Isaak said...

Hey, Sam--

I think Lawrence Block suggested that if you write short stories that you send them out in such volume that you sort of expect a rejection in the mail every day. Claims it takes the sting out of it.

I think it would take the sting out of it by the fact you'd been beaten senseless, but I've never tried it.

David Isaak said...

Hi, Aliya--

Why comment when you can bloggify? Well, I'm so scatterbrained I often do both. But after seeing your list over on your blog, I think it belongs there. It's pretty long and pretty impressive.

Janet said...

I was going to say that I am boring and that I am working on my first one. And then I remembered that novel about the anti-abortion woman dealing with a very unwanted pregnancy. And the YA novel with angels in spaceships. And the other one with the time machine (yes, I put a twist on it). Um well. Of course, I never got past a few skinny chapters with any of those, which is why they kind of evaporated from my memory. It doesn't help that they reside on a hard disk which is too buggy to be accessed anymore.

I wonder how many more I've forgotten.

Tim Stretton said...

The Zael Inheritance
My first attempt at a novel - 85,000 word thriller set in the far future. Influences, in descending order: Vance, Chandler, Austen. Some structural flaws, but a decent apprentice-piece. Self-published with Lulu.

110-word fantasy of galley-racing and political intrigue. I still believe in this book, and it's with Macmillan at the moment. Self-published with Lulu.

The Dog of the North
Published by MNW in July to widespread indifference. The best thing I've ever written by a country mile.

The Last Free City
Current WIP. Set in the same universe as Dragonchaser and The Dog of the North and with one shared character from the latter. First draft probably about half-done but the biggest struggle of anything I've ever written.

The City of Green Glass
Ambitiously designed as a sequel to Dragonchaser and The Dog of the North which also explains the starting point of Dragonchaser: this is the One Ring which makes the relationships between the other novels explicit.

Listed like that - I've finished everything I've ever started, and thanks to Lulu, also published. In that sense, there's nothing in my trunks...

David Isaak said...

Hi, Janet--

I don't know, it sounds to me like you should take the disk to a specialist and retrieve those. A YA with angels in spaceships seems like something you might want to pursue again some day!

David Isaak said...

Hi, Tim--

Nice list, and nice that you don't have two or three things half-finished.

Vance, Chandler, and Austen? Now there's a trio I'd like to meet for a drink. In sort of a noir-ish Napoleonic-era bar in a parallel universe.

Janet said...


Thanks for the vote of confidence, David. Although, honestly, the rewrites I would have to do (I cringe at the thought of that first chapter) would be massive enough, retrieving the idea in my head might be sufficient.

Still, we've saved that old computer because there are things on that drive worth retrieving. Where on earth would I go to get that done?

Anonymous said...

Fascinating to hear others' experience. If re-writing from the ground up can still count as the same novel, then you can probably only really count me as about 4 (I won't bore you with the details, but some have even had the same title...) I suspect writers tend to divide into the ones who re-work the same thing, albeit sometimes at intervals, and the ones who put it aside if it fundamentally doesn't work, and never go back at all.

lorrie porter said...

I think I fall into Emma's second category. With my first attempt at a novel I threw out the paper file when it went mouldy in the cupboard then a couple of years later I threw out the disks. My first finished novel is stuffed under the bed at present, fearful of spores.

David Isaak said...

Hi, Emma--

Aww. And I was so pleased with "8 1/2".

I fully intend to go back and fix the ones that aren't working...but since I haven't done so, I guess we can't tell which kind of writer I am!

David Isaak said...

Hi, Lorrie--

They have some good organic antifungal sprays these days...

Creative A said...

I'm only going to count stuff I considered publishing, because anything before that *cough*four novels*cough* just isn't worth it.

Memoir of a Weapon: I completed it and then tried rewriting the ending. That turned into rewriting the middle and ending, then the beginning and middle, then the ending and beginning...eventually it morphed into a different story entirely, and I trunked it.

Falling: This was sort of my "rebound" novel after Memoir. I loved the premise but struggled to flesh out my plot. About 3/4 of the way through, I worked myself into too many corners and had to quit. It's one worth saving, so I want to rework it someday.

Volition: Since I could never quite forget the premise of Memoir, I ended up taking the base idea and plunking it down in a different world with different characters. Volition only lasted about 20k before it started heading down the same path as Falling, so I trunked it as well. I KNOW I'm going to rework this one because it refuses to leave me alone.

WIP: Shatterbox - Obviously, this is what I'm working on now. I just had a breakthrough and shot from 17k to about 26k in, like, two weeks. It's another rework that started as a short story, got rewritten as a novel, and kept feeling unfinished until I finally sat down and wrote it. I am finishing this one. Honest.

Pressing Story Idea #1 Gnawing away at my insides
Pressing Story Idea #2 see #1
Pressing Story Idea #3 see #1 & 2

If you add it all up, I have two rewrites to do, one WIP, and three story ideas I've been chewing on for months now. If I get any more inspiration, I'm gonna implode.


Alis said...

Hi David. This was such a good idea that I've followed Aliya's lead and put up a post on my own blog.

David Isaak said...

Hi, Creative--

I've never seen "trunk" as a verb before, but I'm going to adopt it.

"Shatterbox" is great title. You should finish it on that basis alone.

David Isaak said...

Hi, Alis--

Great post, and yess--it shouldn't be buried in this comment trail!

David Thayer said...

Perfect timing for me to answer your questions three since I'm not working on anything at the moment, but if I were it would certainly add to the staggering pile of unpublished work already in the trunk. WAYS TO DIE IN THE CONGO is my favorite of my unpublished manuscripts. It's like a Studebaker in the garage under a tarp.

David Isaak said...

Hey, David--

I dunno. Congo is good but I might have to vote for Rendition Man. Or one of the DiPinos...

Creative A said...

On second thought, turning "trunk novels" into a verb does get rid of that whole underpants problem, doesn't it?

Thanks on the title, btw. :)