Note: Originally posted on Boston Blooming.
Back on the last day of April, I announced on Facebook that, four drafts and eight years to the day, I’d completed the final version of Phantom, the first novel I’d ever written. I was extremely proud of that accomplishment, as that first novel had been hanging over me for so long. My first draft was so bad, beyond pitiful, and it took three major overhauls and rewrites to get it to the mostly-final form that it’s in today.
Of course, I didn’t spend all of those eight years working on Phantom. My brain needed to rest between drafts, and thus flitted from manuscript to manuscript in that time. Some took fewer years or fewer drafts to complete. Others are still far from completion. Phantom was the most outstanding – as in “remaining to be done,” not “great” – of my manuscripts, originally begun on May 1st, 2006. The second most outstanding manuscript was Summer Rain, my second novel, begun in early 2007.
Like Phantom, Summer Rain started out as a worse-than-pitiful draft. It was loosely (and lamely) called Eternity, and to be perfectly honest, I quit writing the book about 50k words in, it was that bad. (I know. Bad writer. I don’t do this anymore. I finish all drafts regardless of quality. Eventually.) I shelved it for later rewrite-from-scratch, keeping only a few touchstones from the original idea to carry into subsequent drafts. Draft 2 (now titled Summer Rain) was completed in late 2010; draft 3, in fall of 2012. I began the fourth-and-final draft on February 11, 2013, only to get completely stuck, 27k words into the mss, four months later. Once again, I put it aside to let it rest, and in late May this year, I brushed it off and got back to work.
Now, seven-point-five years and four drafts after I began writing this novel, it is DONE.
Well, it still needs a six-month rest and a read through with new eyes, followed by touch-ups and revisions and edits, but as far as draftinggoes, at least, it’s done. For the first time, I am very, very happy with a completed version of this manuscript, happy with the story and characters and writing. The third-to-last chapter, which I wrote just the other day, is probably my favorite chapter that I’ve ever written. I’ve reread the manuscript twice since finishing it two days ago, and both times, I just wanted to hug it. Yes, I’m a dork.
Summer Rain is about 80,000 words long – adult literary magical realism that explores the idea of dream-sharing in a modern, over-psychoanalyzed world, set in a fictional smallish town in Wisconsin. A huge component of writing the book involved world-building: names and descriptions of shops, bakeries, restaurants, bars, motels, parks, offices, churches, cemeteries, schools, and physical landmarks (Jason was instrumental to this!!). I had to draw out a detailed map of the city, complete with every single street name and business. It was a tedious process, to be honest, but it made the writing fun afterwards, because Phantom is also set in this fictional town, and I got to weave in little ties between the books. Phantom’s narrator shows up for two seconds in a diner in this book. One of its supporting characters gets an awkward high school relationship story in Summer Rain. Two characters who are barely mentioned in Phantom are fairly major characters in Summer Rain. Frickin’ awesome. I love when novels intersect like this!
Fun facts about Summer Rain:
Because I’ve been working on this manuscript for so many years, it has drawn on a lot of personal experiences. I always find it fun to look back on final manuscripts and see all the references that someone close to me might pick up on. There are dozens of them in this novel, some of my favorites being a particular photo I took in Venice in 1999 (below), an experience I once had at a concert, an antique/craft store I visited in Rice Lake (WI), a giant willow tree at Mound View Park in Platteville (WI), and multiple references to things that happened to Jason and me the first week we met in person.
It’s also fun to take a look at my research history for a manuscript. Just off the top of my head, a couple of my researches for Summer Rain included:
- symptoms and treatment of erotomania
- coffee shops on State St in Madison, WI, open from 2003 to present
- common/iconic trees in Florence, Italy
- mythological differences between pixies and sprites
- treatment for a sprained ankle for a five-year-old
- specialty flavors of Coke available in 2000
- lucid dreams and recurring nightmares, in contrast to regular dreams or nightmares
Then, there’s the playlist for the novel. Nearly all of my manuscripts eventually pick up a few key songs that I associate with the story, characters, scenes, or specific emotions in the novel. Summer Rain has acquired six of them over the years:
- “Better Man” by Pearl Jam
- “Hallelujah” by Leonard Cohen (and many variants thereof)
- “The Great Below” by Nine Inch Nails
- “Gnossienne No. 1” by Erik Satie
- “Alien” by Bush
- “English Summer Rain” by Placebo
- “Lonely No More” by Rob Thomas
Needless to say, after nearly eight years, Summer Rain has become one of my precious babies. It’s been a painstaking process, and we’ve come a long way with each other. I look forward to letting it rest, so that I can do final edits and eventually start the submission process. And, how serendipitous is this? I got to write that wonderful last word – End – a mere two days before my Writer’s League of Texas Agents and Editors Conference. I won’t be pitching it there, of course, as it’s too newly-finished, but I still love the fact that I completed it just in time. Perfect.
Last but not least, I want to send a quick shout-out thank you to my cousin Jen and my Monday writing group for helping me carve out time to write (especially now that the boys are home for the summer), to my fellow writer Stephanie who encouraged me to keep pushing to finish even when I was stressed with all this relocation stuff, to my cousins Gina and Nate for taking my boys for an entire day and giving me that time to write while I was in the home stretch, to ALL my blogger friends who keep telling me they want to read something I’ve written one day, and to Jason for always being there to answer any random query (“Quick: What’s a common last name for this part of Wisconsin?” “What movie do you think they’d watch on DVD in late 2012?” “What’s another popular look for women from the flapper era that’s not flapper?”). Love you guys. 🙂