If you follow me, or if you don’t…I’m talking today about the based-on-true-events novel I’m currently working on, Weeds of Detroit.
“Working on” might not sound funny to anybody but me. What most of you don’t know is that this book has already been written…and re-written…and re-written…several times.
Weeds of Detroit, originally titled Help, was the third book I’d ever written, although it was my fifth, Cornerstone, that was the first to be published. Out of those four early books, two will languish to dust on my hard drive without ever seeing the light of day again and the other two I have long planned to re-write and publish. One of those two is Weeds of Detroit.
If you’re a writer, you can probably see where I’m going with this.
Being the third book I’d ever written, Help was a big, fat, sloppy book, lacking in craft, development, and industry knowledge. Although I’d always been a writer, I’d always written much shorter pieces than novels. I dove into writing this story loosely based on my younger years with the zeal of Augustus Gloop stooping at the edge of Wonka’s chocolate pond.
When I finally finished Help, it tipped the scales at something like 140,000 words. It was a bloated, meandering beast of a tale with some fascinating scenes and no plot to be seen for pages. To give you an idea, an average novel ranges about 70-80,000 words long. Mine was double that, without a point to it, or even the possibility of breaking it into two books. Nope–it was a literary freight train with box cars that derailed and flew off the track every few chapters. Back in 2009, I had no clue about genre guidelines, tightness of plot, and didn’t think economy of words was something you had to worry about in a novel. Poetry, yes…novel, no. Boy, did I have a LOT to learn. I also was writing a story I had lived and that made it hard not to cut the parts that were momentous to me, but a total snoozefest to everyone else.
Back then, I had a short list of about 5 agents. I had painstakingly researched agents and found five that seemed like a perfect fit to me. Those five were queried with each book I wrote. It was wildly exciting every time I got a request for a partial or full read. However, when each of these first four books were ultimately rejected by all five agents, I would just throw the story on my hard drive and start a new book to query them with again. Two of my fab five agents did eventually break the rejection trend with Cornerstone, but that’s a story for another day.
Help was queried as the flabby monster it was back in 2009. I had absolutely no idea what I was doing, but every writer has to start somewhere and I sure did start in the furthest outpost of B.F.E. (if you don’t know where that it is, google it, you youngster).
Help was instantly rejected by each of my five. As in, I’d send it out and within minutes to hours, I had a rejection letter in my inbox. Like the agents hadn’t even blinked before they’d said no! There was not one request for even a partial read, which I’d grown accustomed to receiving. Nada. Nothing. For this story, I decided to query a couple more agents- I think there were seven others I tried, but I got pretty much the same or no response at all. At the time, I assumed it was my writing, or the gritty subject matter that was sending me butt-skidding out of the agent’s favor…not the whopping 140,000 words I was stuffing in their request boxes.
I learned, about a year later, that starting off a query with “I have a morbidly obese word count for you,” doesn’t get you any gold stars. However, it does often gets you an instant rejection. Tada! More embarrassing, I had actually argued with another writer who kindly suggested I take a weed whacker to the book, that I couldn’t possibly cut one word- that every single one was necessary. God…I was such a noob.
So, as per my usual path, I threw Help on the hard drive and it sat there, taking up a good chunk of real estate on each of the three computers I’ve owned since it was written in 2009.
Not to say I didn’t take it out every now and again and play with it. In fact, every single year I’ve thought it was going to be the year to re-write this book. For various reasons, every single time I tried, I just wasn’t ready. Or it wasn’t. At first, I just didn’t know where to begin to hack and chop. I re-wrote the opening a dozen times–starting with different scenes, changing the tense, even changing the narrator completely. Nothing fit.
In time, and a few million failed attempts to make Help read well, I discovered that I what I really needed was to write all the books I’ve written so far in order to be able to re-write Help the way I think it should be written. It took writing a bunch of other books for me to develop the ability to see a little more clearly what was fat in the story and what was not. I also found that I didn’t have a great handle on the real plot of the story. In early drafts I was still more worried about accuracy than plot and it resulted in more blubbery, ambling scenes that buried the reader in fits of yawning. I studied the crap out of plotting. I made notes and boards and flow charts. But, every year, I still stepped up to the plate and then abandoned the project again for lack of craft, clarity, or interest.
But the story has continued bubbling on a back burner in my head. And then, 2016 comes along and something in me says I’m ready. I’ve re-worked the entire story down to the cellular level. It has been a pleasure to write so far, even if at times it still gets a little emotionally sticky. A couple of times I’ve had to trash the scenes and re-write yet again, because it’s still a little too close and this is a novel, not a memoir. It’s a funny little pin-point line to walk.
So, that’s where I’m at… if this kind of thing interests you at all. This is the history of the writing of Weeds of Detroit…a lot of sitting and waiting for the right moment. Hahaha…which is exactly the experience of just about every writer involved in the publishing world. It requires patience, these stories. And this one has finally found its time.
(Coming, October 25, 2016)