The moment of possibility (revisiting my NaNoWriMo novel)

Each year, I make quarterly goals. I like fresh starts so much that I want to give myself lots of opportunities! I make these goals in three categories: career, relationships, self. This brings me to a dozen goals for the year.

My career goal for Q2 is to revise the novel I wrote (as a Q4 career goal) during National Novel Writing Month last year.

I hit 50,000 words in late November. Then I put the manuscript away. April 1 came, and I knew revision — or at least revisiting — was, officially, my career priority for the quarter. But I put off digging into it.

Why? I knew it was going to be rough. When you write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days, it’s not going to be a good novel. I knew that the initial read-through would also mean making a decision: is this story redeemable? Do I truly want to put more of the (let’s guess) 400,000 hours I have left of my life into this project? Do I want to do this knowing that nothing might ever come of it? Or should I write off the time already invested as writing practice, and nothing more?

This is a fraught decision for a writer — trying to be a good judge of your own material. So, here we are in late April. But, this week, I had open time after being a good soldier about recording enough Before Breakfast episodes to take me to May. I realized I needed to put my hours into what I claimed mattered to me (a point I may have made a few times in my other books).

I will admit that the first bit of reading was rough. I skimmed sections that will need to be cut from any version making it to the larger reading public. I have some bad writing habits. They did not take a vacation in November 2018.

Then something happened. At some point while I was skimming, I started really reading. I realized that I could see this world I’d created: the (fictional) little town of Winston, Indiana, home to the Robert Truman/Jack Franklin museum. Jack Franklin is the hero of a series of five much beloved children’s books about an old-time Indiana boyhood. Author Robert Truman wrote these golden, nostalgic books after seeing the miseries of the Depression and the hellishness of war-time Europe as a newspaper correspondent, and then returning to the states with his mysterious Norwegian bride, Lise. Now his grandson, Charlie, is running the museum and living on Truman’s royalties, feeling somewhat stuck with this legacy, but not seeing what else he can do. The action mostly takes place on the winter solstice of 1998 as Charlie begins to learn that much of his family history is not what he thinks. There are also flashbacks to the summer solstice of 1998, when he visited Lise’s hometown in Norway and became infatuated with a Norwegian folk singer, with parallels that give him insights into the grandfather he knows mostly as a literary legend.

This being 1998, there is also a side plot line around a theft of Beanie Babies, a new girlfriend who’s got a web diary that’s not officially a blog because no one used that word yet, and a millennial sect trying to re-create life from the Jack Franklin era.

In any case, I found myself caring about Charlie and his various mishaps and his wavering between rebellion and acceptance. I can see big problems that will need to be worked out. But there were also moments where I could see the haze on an Indiana cornfield, or the ice in a farm bucket on a frosty morning, and feel for the dilemmas of people making hard choices.

So…to work. I am posting this here partly to hold myself accountable. There is no time line on speculative writing, but I would like to have a draft to show to some test readers this fall. Maybe people can nudge me! The read-through was a reminder of the possibilities of a project, and also of something I know to be true, but forget: my first audience is always an audience of one. Time isn’t wasted if I write a book that I want to read.

Photo: Indiana — the real version, not the fictional one

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