My first book was not good. It wasn’t even bad. It was abysmal.
It was the kind of book that other first attempts would mock openly. It made the original draft of “Dick and
Jane” seem like Tolkien.
Twenty-five odd years ago, I started work on a writing exercise. I didn’t have it in mind to write anything more than a short story, which had become my forte. After all, what’s three or four-thousand words amongst friends? I had a slew of characters that I would kill off gloriously in a massive battle. Not a single one was intended to outlive the last line.
The tale, as should happen, grew in the telling.
The trouble was, I didn’t know how to write. Oh, I knew how to string nouns and verbs and adjectives together. I could put a period at the end of a sentence with the best fifteen year-olds in the business. But character development? Plot? Themes? Rising and falling action? Conflict and resolution?
Action, action and more action. If I had a complaint in my ten years as a reader it was not enough hack-n-slash. The dog Dick and
Kitty Jane were
always on about, Spot, why didn’t he have razor-sharp claws and mithril-capped
teeth? Why weren’t there more orcs and
trolls lurking around the hills? Why
didn’t they carry swords, shields and wear armor?
See Dick. See Jane. See Dick and Jane do fierce mortal combat with the evil horde.! See Jane’s katana slice through an ogre’s neck, issuing a fountain of dark ichor. Go Jane, go!
That was what the heroic fantasy genre needed.
I was just the writer to do it.
I armed myself with a ream of blank, three-hole, college-ruled paper and a mechanical pencil. I had a vision of heroes standing on a battlement, facing the dust of a hundred-thousand evil doers, marching on a nondescript castle. I closed the door to my room and began writing.
If I did any editing at all, I can’t remember it. Everything came out in a wild frenzy of effort. I cribbed, I stole, I openly plagiarized whole passages from my favorite authors. I clumsily hammered together the plots from a half-dozen of the best writers in the business, and scribbled my madness on the blue lines of the page.
I stood as a god.
Four days later, I had completed my opus. I think my parents were a little worried that I was making a bomb or something sinister. I hadn’t come out except for food and water. The book itself was, to my naïve mind, a masterpiece of the highest literary effort. It had heroes and heroines and blood and brains. Pages were slippery with the entrails of the slain. I reveled in the indentations between my index and middle finger where my trusty pencil had pressed.
I immediately began to show it to friends. I put it in a three-ring binder and passed it around as if I had created the next C.S. Lewis or Robert Howard of fantasy.
I was fortunate that my friends were no older, experienced or wiser than I was. What I had was not a novel, it was barely a story. Calling it uneven is a slander to the rigged merchant scales of Mos Eisely. Some creative elements were actually my own, but they could be counted on one hand with fingers left over.
The best thing that happened to that book, and to me, was that it became lost. Within a year, it was misplaced or thrown out, and my hopes of ever publishing it (and being justifiably sued) were dashed. I had to recreate what I had written, and in so doing, the tale changed. I moved the action back, I gave the characters histories, I drew a map, I started keeping a writer’s bible of important and relevant information. I stumbled through the darkness of actually learning to light candles and torches that would illuminate my own story.
It’s a hard lesson to learn, that your first work, even your first draft, is at best weak tea. But you have to have a first book and a first draft first. As I start serious work on my next book, “The Flesh of Legends” I’m so happy to have actually written that No Title mess all those years ago, and so glad it never saw the light of day.