41 Years in the Making
Just a couple weeks ago, I finished the first draft of my first novel.
I consider this a major life event—I've wanted to be a writer since I was a young boy traipsing through the halls of my elementary school in Ohio. I have a thick binder full of short stories and drawers full of novels I've started but never finished. My graphic design career got started, and my writing fell by the wayside. I returned to it every now and then, but never for long.
Several years ago, after I finished reading the brilliant novel The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman, his fast-paced, quirky style inspired me to write the opening scene of what I thought would be a very different novel. That scene introduced me to Chris Turner and his ridiculously neglectful mother, and for at least four years, that's all I knew of them.
When I turned 40, something inside me clicked. I wasn't going to let my whole life go by and never fulfill my dream of writing a novel. By gawrsh, I was going to finish one and prove my junior high teachers right—after all, they'd always expected to buy my published books some day. I pictured Mrs. Brase going gray in a rocking chair somewhere, shaking her head at the thought of Brian Cole never finishing a book. And I pictured the eleven-year-old me, wagging his finger at me, saying, "Why did you stop writing? Did you forget how much you love it?"
So I dusted off—okay, the file was on one of my external hard drives, so I metaphorically dusted off—that first chapter of Chris's story. What emerged over the next couple of years was empowering, rewarding, agonizing and awakening. Writing a novel without an outline—with waves of self-doubt criss-crossing with waves of joy and pride—was an exercise in sheer determination and wills. I came to love Chris, Victoria and Darius, and the 41 other characters who make up my 98,000-word story. Finishing this book was as much about giving them life and a voice and resolution as it was proving to myself that I could do it.
As I sit here, staring at the 300 pages that I filled, I'm still wondering if it's any good. If people will think I'm bonkers for having dreamed up some of the fantastical stuff I dreamed up. I guess I'll know soon enough.
I have to thank my amazing family—my wife, who encouraged me to go away to write, allowing me to knock out many chapters at a time...for my daughters, who remind me of the kid inside me who just wants to create...for my parents, who always knew I could do it. Not to mention my longtime friend Terey Summers for reading an early draft and showing so much excitement for my characters, and Brennan McPherson for our email rallies and honest support and encouragement. (Go check out Brennan's newly published book, Cain.)
UPDATE: So my book wasn't selected for publishing by Amazon's Kindle Scout program. No problem, I plan to have it professionally edited and will self-publish ASAP! In the meantime, I've already got most of the outline completed for the sequel.