This is a bit of an unusual post. No pictures of Spain, no travel stories or advice. Instead, I wanted to tell you about my novel. Well, novels.
I wrote my first novel as a freshman in college. It’s called Bankrupt, and it’s terrible. No one has read it. Actually, my college professor read some of it during a semester Private Study I had with him. In the process, he fell so far behind that we never actually finished editing the book. It’s that bad.
Bankrupt is about the titular rock band – a Christian band – that gains massive success to become one of the biggest acts in the world. At the time (early 2000s) there had been a number of bands like Lifehouse and Evanescence who had Christian-origin stories but were downplaying that in the wake of their Top-40 success. That was the spark for my novel.
Inspired by a reading of The Sound and the Fury, the book was broken into four parts told by each member of the band, starting with the most devout Christian and ending with the guy of no faith. In structuring it this way, I was essentially tracing my own personal de-conversion from the faith.
As a concept and as a structure, there’s a really great book to be made of Bankrupt. I didn’t write that book. What I wrote is putrid garbage, and I don’t say that out of modesty. Beyond the fact that I was still writing like a freshman college student, I had no idea what I was writing about, knowing nothing about the music industry or what it was like to tour the country. I still lived in my hometown for god’s sake.
Bankrupt will never see the light of day. My version, at least. Maybe someone can steal the idea and make a decent book of it. Just do me a solid and give me credit in the thank yous.
The Fortunate Ones
The second novel I ever wrote came about in my final semester of college while I was taking four different literature courses and too bored to pay attention. I was never a note taker, but trying to stave off sleep, I started writing out a dream I had one morning and over the next four months, it grew into a novel.
That book is called The Fortunate Ones. That’s probably it’s third or fourth name. Originally, it was called Tabula Rasa, mostly just because I liked the term, not because it bore any meaning for the book.
The Fortunate Ones was my attempt to take the infamous “Bechdel Test” to its logical extreme: I wrote an entire novel where the only characters who spoke were women, and there was no fluffy romance subplots. The book followed four main characters, including the narrator, as they dealt with life’s ups and downs. It was a noble if ham-fisted attempt at feminist literature, I suppose. It also wasn’t very good.
Back when Livejournal was a thing, I created a new site to post chapters from the book. I had one random online stranger who read the whole thing. She gushed about it enthusiastically, and I always appreciated that, but I have no idea who she was and we didn’t keep in touch.
A couple years back, I was in the midst of a writer’s funk and decided to revisit some of my old writing. I started rereading Tabula Rasa and reworking it, eventually leading to an almost complete rewrite of the second half of the book. When I was done, I changed its name to The Fortunate Ones (a bit less pretentious title) and threw it up anonymously on Amazon. I’m pretty sure no one has ever downloaded it, and that’s probably for the best.
I started writing Invasion during Year 1 in Charlotte. It’s probably the most personal of my four novels, and honestly I don’t remember it very well. Like Bankrupt, I think the concept is sound, but also like Bankrupt, I know that I wasn’t a capable enough writer to do the topic justice. I’ve never re-read it.
Invasion tells the story of a gay college student in Kansas who is attacked and left in a coma. That’s chapter one. The rest of the novel explores his relationship with his mother who is devoutly religious and unable to accept her son’s “lifestyle.”
Their relationship is explored from many different angles, with the cornerstone being their mutual love of the music of the Beatles. I used a lot of Beatles lyrics in the book, something that I realized would probably make getting the book published an expensive proposition (especially for a first-time novelist), but those lyrics were the heart of the story.
The novel plays around with shifting perspectives, an erratic timeline, and, what has become a hallmark of my writing, mixing global and local perspective. I tell very personal, human stories against the backdrop of a larger narrative, some bigger event going on in the world that puts things in perspective. I was just starting to develop this style with Invasion.
My next novel honed it.
Originally just titled Yahweh, my fourth and final completed novel has been around for roughly a decade at this point. I started writing the book at the end of Year 2, Philadelphia, after reading a book called Joseph’s Bones: Understanding the Struggle Between God and Mankind in the Bible, by Jerome Segal. Segal’s book sparked my novel’s initial raison d’etre, though in its final form, the connection is tenuous.
The first draft took a year to complete. I edited it, and edited it, and edited it. I would submit it to agents and publishers and here nothing, then go back and edit some more. I’d start working on a new novel, get bored with those fresh efforts, and go back to Yahweh.
About two years ago, having sat on this complete tome for many years, I sent it out to a journal that offered editing services for $250. They said they would read the book over a month and then get back to me with their thoughts and suggestions and edits in the margin. After two months, they still hadn’t sent back the edits. Finally, I was contacted by the guy who was reading my book and he said he’d have it for me in a week.
When I finally received his reply, there were no edits in the book itself, or really even any concrete suggestions for improvements. Instead, he sent three pages explaining why the book simply didn’t work. He didn’t care much for the characters or the stories, and thought one of my subplots was homophobic, interestingly enough. There was no mention of the humor in the book and seemingly no understanding that the book was meant as a work of satire.
I was angry about the review, as any writer would be who just had years of work trashed in a hastily completed “edit.” At the same time, this stranger was the only person who had actually read the book (presumably he finished it), and he had clearly hated it. That led to a dark moment of the writer’s soul. It took months before I could even look at my novel again.
(The most aggravating part of the letter was him ending it with the condescending, “At least you finished writing the novel. That’s something to be proud of.” I don’t need your pity, random half-assed editor.)
When I did return to Yahweh, I committed to killing my babies. I scrapped a large chunk of the opening chapter that I had always loved but now realized was superfluous. I took entire chapters and rewrote them from a different character’s perspective. I expanded the roles of the women characters and tightened up the ending.
The name changed to Yahweh’s Children (which, if I’m being honest with myself, should have always been the book’s title).
I submitted this new version to a host of agents. And the roaring sounds of “Meh” came crashing in. To be fair, I did receive a couple of responses saying, “Sounds interesting but I don’t think I could represent it.” I’ve spent nearly as much time crafting different cover letters and synopses for the book as I did writing the thing.
The truth is, I don’t know how to sell this book, but I believe in it. It’s the only one of my four completed novels that I would call “good.” There are genuinely passages in it that, when I re-read them, make me laugh out loud, which sounds ridiculously egotistical, but if you’ve made it this far, you have to know I’m not exactly a toot my own horn guy.
Yahweh’s Children is a bit unwieldy, incredibly difficult to explain, and deeply yet subtly satirical in a way that, apparently, doesn’t register with some readers. It simply doesn’t fit into easy genre terms. It’s science fiction to a large extent, minus any interest in most of the tropes of that genre, but it’s also just a story about fathers and sons. And aliens. And God. Or god. Like I said, unwieldy.
Now that I’m in Madrid, I have so many new priorities and concerns, searching for an agent/publisher just doesn’t register in my top 10. Plus, with how rapidly world events are transpiring, the book might be hopelessly dated by the time I ever did manage to find representation for it (the book was written during a time when a Trump presidency seemed less likely than the discovery of aliens).
And so, for that reason, I’ve decided to go a route that, frankly, I’ve never had much interest in pursuing. I will self-publish Yahweh’s Children on Amazon and let the chips fall where they may. It’s quite possible no one will ever buy it, and that’s fine. No one is ever going to buy it if it just remains on my hard drive, either.
I have a new novel idea that I’ve been picking at for a couple of years, but as long as Yahweh’s Children remains in front of me, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to fully commit to it.
Yahweh’s Children may hold no interest for any of you readers, but I figured I’d let you know anyway. My aim is to have it online and available first thing in the new year. You know, right when everyone stops buying things because they’re broke after Christmas. I’m good at business.
I’ll post when Yahweh’s Children officially goes live, but in the meantime, here’s a book jacket synopsis so you can gauge your interest:
In the early decades of the 21st century, SETI researchers receive the first confirmed transmissions from an alien species. These messages, transmitting from far beyond our galaxy, arrive as indecipherable gibberish, accept for one word written in an ancient human language. It’s a name: Yahweh.
Yahweh’s Children follows three generations of the Priestly family through interweaving timelines. The Priestly men are a stubborn and gently misanthropic tribe, driven equally by their passions and their disdain for their fathers. Wyatt, the patriarch, is a frustrated writer-turned-professor and Luddite, living through one of the most revolutionary moments in human history, and frankly, he doesn’t care for it.
Wyatt and his wife, Mia, have twins: Gwen is charismatic, brash, confident, and outspoken; and then there’s Parker. Parker lives in the shadow of his beloved sister, a bitter also-ran in the race for their father’s admiration. He grows into a man of reckless affection, flitting from marriage to marriage, seeking an ever elusive contentment, with his children always in the dust.
Nearly 50 years after the reception of the first “Yahweh Messages,” Parker’s eldest son, Alex, lives in a world haphazardly transformed by alien technology. As a journalist, Alex stumbles upon a mysterious government project involving the alien messages that may hold the key to the next stage of human evolution. Or it may herald the death of Yahweh’s Children.
That’s about the best broad synopsis I can give for a novel that deals with wide-ranging subjects including Climate Change, gender identity, slang evolution, and, of course, alcoholism.
If that sounds interesting to you, I hope you’ll support my art and travels by purchasing the book when it’s available in January. Thank you to everyone who reads these posts week to week, next week 10×10 will return to its regularly scheduled programming.