My First Novel: a Love Story

When I say love story, I’m not talking about the plot. I’m speaking of the relationship between me and my book.

I finished writing the first draft of my first novel a two years ago. A couple of people read and offered me their thoughts. I have done a couple of revisions. I’ve sent it out a few places and been rejected.

Now, I’m meeting with a novel-writing group and having my manuscript read by more people, who are giving quite helpful feedback. Hearing their comments, I’ve come to see the strengths and weaknesses I display should have been predictable. I’ve spent countless hours of my life immersed in poetry. In more recent years, I’ve produced a number of short stories. My strengths in my first novel, according to my first and second responders, are in dialogue, description and character development. I have many individual wonderful scenes with great dialogue. But it’s obvious this is the first time I’ve plotted something this size. I need to work on the story arc.

I’m trying to decide whether to do another rewrite and work on getting this volume published or whether to let it be and move on. I already have a start on my second novel. I’m about 5,000 words in at the moment. (No sneering at me, please, NaNoWriMo people. I’m a busy woman.)

The other night, while I was pondering my options regarding my firstborn book, I had a happy epiphany. I possess a very healthy emotional relationship with this novel. Whether I do any more revisions, whether I ever publish it or not, I’m so happy to have written it. It’s a story I needed to tell and I’ve told it, if only to a handful of my closest fellow-writers and my spouse. I’m not staking my entire self-concept as a writer on getting it published. I’ve gained some publication credits with several poems and a small handful of short stories. I’ve even been paid some of those times. I learned a lot in the first-novel process and my second book is benefitting already.

See, I don’t have a co-dependent thing going. But I do have a deep, true, abiding love. I’m able to see my novel’s flaws and still care for it – warty story arc and all.  I love my characters. I love my sense of accomplishment in having finished an entire book. I love how much I learned. No matter what I do with my writing in the future, no matter how many books I finish, I will never forget you, first novel. You will always have a special place in my heart.

Veteran, Author – Kurt Vonnegut

“The nicest veterans in Schenectady, I thought, the kindest and funniest ones, the ones who hated war the most, were the ones who’d really fought.” – Kurt Vonnegut

One of my favorite authors, Kurt Vonnegut, was born on Armistice Day in 1922. His experiences as a soldier and POW in World War II influenced much of his writing, especially his novel Slaughterhouse Five, published in 1969. Slaughterhouse Number 5, Dresden, was Vonnegut’s address after he was captured by German soldiers. As a prisoner of war, he was held in the basement of a slaughterhouse, which ironically ensured his survival during the firebombing of Dresden.

Slaughterhouse Five is a novel I feel the need to re-read every few years. I believe Vonnegut’s ability to use time travel and aliens to show his readers absurd truths about real wars showed true genius. I will never forget the image of a soldier trudging for hours through the snow in shoes that are tearing his feet apart.

Happy birthday, Kurt! I know in some version of reality, you can hop in your time machine and come to 2011 to read this blog post.