Bottom-of-the-Desk-Drawer Novels

The first novel-length manuscript I wrote was called Catch of the Day. It was supposed to be a romance. The hero was a fishing boat captain – not the kind you see on cable, but the kind who take 60 people at a whack out a mile or so to fish for snapper and grouper, etc. Party boats, we called them.

Being young and naive then (as opposed to old and naive now), I paid some  agent $50 for an assessment of the book’s viability. Hint: never do this.

The report, which I probably still have, said that I had written a “forgettable” book. So I had paid $50 of my hard-earned money to get my feelings hurt.

I’d tell you more about the plot, but I can’t remember it. I put the manuscript away or burned it. I can’t remember that, either.

The reviewer, harsh as s/he was, was right. Catch of the Day stunk like week-old fish.

Still thinking that I’d like to write romance because I didn’t think I was smart enough to write mysteries, I pounded out another gem. This one was called Mud Puppy, and was about a journalist doing a series on army training. I knew a bit about that, because I spent a miserable three years working civil service for the army and I’ve been a journalist my whole adult life.

The only good part about that whole, torturous career misstep was learning about grunts – the infantry. My dad was in public affairs during his army career, so I had little firsthand knowledge of the infantry. Man, are they ever impressive!

Anyway, Silhouette Books asked to see the whole manuscript on the basis of a query. Sadly, they felt the plot was too “military.” That had me scratching my head, considering how many military families there are and how interesting a good portion of them might be in a romance set on an army post. Oh, well.

I think I burned that one, too.

These epic failures took a lot of time and effort to write. Back then, hardly anyone had a computer. I wrote on an IBM Selectric I bought used, and kept liquid correcting fluid at my elbow. The toil was useful, I think, because few writers can produce a winner “right out of the box.” Not without first readers who are not family or friends that might lie to them, and probably not without a professional proofreader or editor. Or both. I had none of those things.

Writing a novel, even a failure, is a learning experience. It teaches you perseverance and dedication. Finishing that first manuscript is like being born – you will only have that experience one time. That’s why even a failure counts, in a way, as a success.

I currently have five novel-length manuscripts that have never seen the light of day outside my workspace. No, make that four. One, Dying to Meet You, is about a serial killer on a fictional army post that I named for the lieutenant-colonel that ran the Infantry Officer’s Basic Course battalion where I once worked. I liked him. DTMY will eventually get a place on Amazon, but not until I’ve redone a major part of the plot.

Dying to Meet You won first place in the mystery/thriller category at the Harriette Austin Writer’s conference one year. I have no idea which year. I think there’s hope for this one, and I like writing mysteries better than romance.

The others? I reread them now and then. Parts of all of them make me wince, but other parts make me proud.

But whether any will make it to the finish line is a whole ‘nother kettle of fish.

Do you keep your old, rejected manuscripts? How about  your rejection letters?

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