Monday, January 12, 2009


Among the advantages of having your children grow up is that their advice occasionally becomes valuable to you. I wrote a novel that has been sitting in a closet for years – 25 years, actually, as I was writing it while Tracy was pregnant with Ben. Ben is now 25, and having grown up on novels and being a smart guy, his observations about such things are quite useful. Because I have forgotten many of the details by now – I had to think a moment when he started talking about the character “Jim” – criticism of my great work of art is only mildly uncomfortable.

For those who know the family organization who are wondering why Jonathan, the older brother, has not provided any similar help, it is because he read the book at age 13. It gave us a nice father-son bonding experience, but his literary evaluation was not sought at that time. (On the other hand, Ben has been writing to publishers about things he thinks are wrong with novels since he was about 9, so perhaps it is a personality thing.)

Mildly uncomfortable is still uncomfortable, though, and his initial observation that it reminded him of Madeline L’Engle didn’t end up as positive as you’d think. Instead of putting it in the “Time” series, he thought it was rather like The Austins Survive The Apocalypse. A little ouchie. Yet I saw what he meant immediately, and nodded throughout at his observation of how many of the characters were aspects of me. Part of that is the conversation-heavy writing. My writing voice is similar enough to my spoken voice that even on the blog, it is altogether too easy for people who know me to hear me speaking as they read. That’s a good thing in this context, but not in the context of a novel with male and female characters of different ages. They can’t all be me.

I can’t bear to rewrite the sucker. It’s 100,000 words long, and Ben agreed with my guess that I would find some aspects unendurable to read now. But based on his comments, I am going to rewrite the beginning and end to reframe the story. If you are in a position of criticising someone else’s writing, by the way, it is best to focus on whether something works or not. That another person could see what I was trying to set up but thought the terribly-clever technique I used fell flat was easy to hear. It just doesn’t work. Fine.

Actually, I’m going to cheat and lie. The framing rewrite will just be an unconvincing patch in the eyes of those who read the earlier version. That seems dishonest to my earlier self, who wanted things to be a certain way, and in fact would have thought them crucial. I will even change the title slightly. I have an odd impression of “selling out,” even though I should view this as “having another whack at it.”

On the other hand, the rabbit in “Harvey” was originally visible at the end, and we’re glad that was written out, right?

Side note: the book was originally written longhand, both drafts. I can’t imagine doing that now.


GraniteDad said...

I'll need the updated intro and ending, to place with my copy.

And one of these days I will figure out a way to scan the manuscript and let you have it electronically.

Donna B. said...

Jonathan, when you do that I hope it can be available to those not in the "know" about it.

Written in longhand, yes that is amazing. However, I think it might be more interesting that way. When I am typing something, I'm much more likely to go back and think "about" it and decide it doesn't work, when maybe it didn't need to work. Life often doesn't work.

I wish I were a writer, but at best, I am only a proofreader.

Erin said...

Dad has some information on online publishing companies that will let you publish as little as a few copies of a novel for a reasonable price (if you're looking to save it for posterity)

Ben Wyman said...

I'd like to point out that I would love to actually read The Austins Survive The Apocalypse, and I would almost certainly enjoy.