One of my goals for this summer was a new novel…well, at least a draft of something new. I had a few ideas: “The Long-Forgotten”–a ghost story regarding the ghost of a….well, I don’t want to give that away….”The Bureau of Lost Films” about a thief hooking up with film historians to locate a long-lost Charlie Chaplin movie….”The White Hot Spotlight,” a long-planned take on Rudolph Valentino’s death…and something called “The Projectionist,” a love triangle between a man, a woman, and a derelict movie theater. Talk about an embarrassment of riches.
Yet summer came and went without a new novel. There were a few distractions and my “Pola Negri: Temptress of Silent Hollywood” finally came out. Hooray…me, a published author…who woulda thunk it? The truth, however, is that I was suffering from a fear of commitment to a new novel, particularly the ideas I had. All of them had spectacular set pieces that I had planned out….and then, nothing else really. I tried them all. “The Long Forgotten” fell apart about 125 pages in…victim of a plot that really didn’t want to go where I needed to go and finally seemed too thin to put the reader through. “The Projectionist” didn’t get past the first chapter because I couldn’t get a feel for the main character. “The White Hot Spotlight” also died at Chapter 1 because…well, an idea that once excited me now bores me to death. All that was left then was “The Bureau of Lost Films,” which had the same problem as “The :Long Forgotten”. I had great sequences, but no real story. People liked what they read and asked me what was next and all I could say was “I have no idea.”
Or was that really the problem? I think I was too involved in trying to hit that home run on the first draft. I’d forgotten that first drafts are always fatally flawed. They are vehicles for working out ideas, scenes and dialogue. They don’t have to be any good. I didn’t listen to myself when I say that your novel doesn’t exist until about sixth or seventh draft. That, however, takes a great deal of commitment to an idea and I suppose, after tasting success with my Pola Negri bio, I just wasn’t up to doing the hard work.
With no takers at all for “The Ardent Admirer,” I realized I have to write something passably commercial that might be interesting to readers. “The Bureau of Lost Films” seems to fit the mark, so I started working on it three weeks ago. I’m now up to 178 pages with a target of about 250 or 260….more would be a bonus. Of course, it’s no longer the same novel I started with–there’s already sequence that needed to be edited out and motivations that needs to be changed. That, however, is the beauty of the first draft and since I’ve now gone over the traditional 150 page wall, its very possible that I indeed have a book and I’m finding myself excited and committed to see where it’s going.
I’ll keep you posted. The first draft needs to be done here by the end of September. We’ll see if I can make it happen or not.