Closing in on a first novel

I’ve always liked Christmas–the aesthetic, even more-so than the presents. It’s one of very few lapses into Old World sensibilities that an American may still occasionally witness. And for the non-Catholic, the Christmas carol by candlelight is perhaps our sole faint whiff of true pomp and circumstance.

I remember believing in Santa Claus to roughly the same extent that I believed in Jesus–a comparable that I shouldn’t wonder has been the end of a few fledgling believers. I suppose I thought him an employee of Christ’s, a recurring reminder of the Peace on Earth and Good will towards Men that ought to be year-round, but isn’t.

To varying degrees, I also appreciated the amorphous lore of Christmas–the Beowulf-like intersections between the pagan and the Christian, and the ability of any determined writer to contribute some newcomer to the mythos’s cast (Frosty, Rudolph, The Grinch, etc). I would later discover and admire a similar quality in the legacy of H.P. Lovecraft–a man whose horror stories, with a penchant for the unknown and the unsaid, provided a fertile breeding ground for the imagination of any other sufficiently morbid mind to follow.

I find there to be something admirable and robust about any story that invites its readers to eventually become contributing writers. Put differently, I suspect those source materials that are themselves enriched by the later additions of others are effectively winning the gene/meme game, as compared to the one-hit wonders that wither at a stranger’s touch.

Perhaps this is the reason why I took Christmas for the topic of my first full-length novel–although at the time it seemed quite random. In the winter of 2019 I happened to see the phrases “North Pole” and “North Korea” juxtaposed; this festered for a few days alongside a blasphemous Christopher Hitchens quip about Heaven being “a celestial North Korea,” and finally I recognized the potential to use Christmas-gone-wrong as a microcosm for Modern-world-gone-wrong.

In early 2021, this idea had turned into a 1000 word script for a children’s picture book, although I would later realize that this script could only be described as “Tarantino for kids” in a not-necessarily-good kind of way. Feeling assured that such a strange beast was destined for more than to die unseen, I asked around in my small but burgeoning network for anyone who might be able to advise me on prettying up said beast and getting it put on display.

This led me, in very It’s A Small World After All fashion, to a mentor and writing coach who knows all about big presses and movie adaptations, having personally done both. We spent several months of phone calls and emails turning said script into the lengthy outline (itself more than the original 1000 words) of a children’s middle grade novel (8-12 yo). Then, in August of 2021, we agreed that the outline was as diamond-hard as it could be, and that the only way to advance further would be to write it and see what happens.

I finished the first draft on my 28th birthday, the 28th of September. And now the second draft is near at hand.

The story could be described as Wicked-esque, insomuch as it concerns an irreverent reimagining or expansion of the Christmas mythos. However, it has very much maintained its modern sensibilities, so that I tend to think of it as a Christmasy Mission Impossible for kids (my mentor helped me bring it down several notches from Tarantino). The best I can do without any spoilers is to say, Santa Claus and thus Christmas itself have gone wrong for very understandable reasons, and it’s up to a kid hacker to save them.

I have been quite proud of several of my past stories, but I have never been under the impression that any of them had the commercial potential to wind up In Bookstores Everywhere. This one will be the first. So, I suppose the only question is whether the ability to realistically determine which ones won’t sell also translates to those which will? In the first week of 2022, I’ll send my mentor the completed second draft and find out. I have no doubts that they will have several ideas about improvement that would have never even occurred to me (their eye for such details completely dwarfs that of any English professors I’ve encountered). In that regard–the details–I am purely excited for their feedback.

The only part that scares me is holistic, the entirety. It would unquestionably be the greatest self-inflicted disaster I’ve ever endured, if I were to find that I did not do the outline we worked so hard upon justice, or did not learn sufficiently from and dedicatedly deliver what this mentor asked of me. Hopefully this is not too melodramatic to say–it is of course a fine specimen of First World Problem. Nonetheless, I am finding that when it comes to one’s subjective, idiosyncratic dreams, the scariest part is the knowledge that you could potentially lose your footing at the final step.

I am currently applying the Seneca strategy to this potential woe by living it before it happens. I already roughly understand the phases I’ll go through, even all the way to dragging this manuscript on a thumb drive and leaving it for years until I do find a way to give it life.

Beyond that, I’ve even managed to detect something of a silver lining. If this, my first and perhaps finest commercial literary idea, is beyond my own abilities to manifest, then I may have discovered an unsought freedom–that, since I cannot impress the gatekeepers of the presses and studios, I ought not to try. And while I would be hesitant to draw this conclusion for fear of defeatism, it would undoubtedly allow me to stop writing as though my future depends upon it and just create organically–like the painter who knows they will never grace Sotheby’s, or the musician whose wingspan will ever be the size of their stage. That, I am proud to say, I can certainly endure. I can stop dreaming; I cannot stop writing.

One thought on “Closing in on a first novel

  1. Congratulations, l hope it will be a best seller,and movie. One thing is for sure, you don’t know until you try.Love you, Roxanne.


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