Welcome to #AuthorFail (want to get in on this thing? Check here for guidelines.)
This week’s installment (cue old-timey radio-play music), traces Sean Beaudoin’s novel-that-never-was-which-almost-became-an-app-that-never-was. Picture Sean right now, perhaps playing around with one of the project’s sprawling sentences the way a cat beats about a bloodied mouse.
Lawd, take pity on us poor writers. See you next week.
Six years ago I began a crime novel called Render Janes Is Dead, in which Render Janes, a cheapjack desert evangelist, is killed in the first scene. It was (is) a murder mystery with over a dozen characters that converge on the fictional New Mexico town of Madred, where Render’s cult-like flock awaits his return in blue teepees. The novel mainly follows a pair of hapless ex-cons whose car breaks down on the Madred exit ramp, as well as Sheriff Nyall Riggs, formerly of the LA police department, a man disgusted by the Rodney King riots and now looking for a little peace of mind. There’s a crystal meth sub-plot, sister cults in Sweden, a hot blonde assassin named La Marcel, a psychotic bookie named Car Lester, a few million in laundered cash, and more permutations than most people are inclined to stuff into any given 400 pages.
I knocked out the first five chapters in a weekend. Finished the initial draft in two months. And I’ve been rewriting the goddamned thing ever since. But back when it was fresh, I sent the pages to my high-power (really) Manhattan agent, he of the imposing name and revered agency, and thought I was on my way. High Power liked it enough to immediately send it around. The mildly famous editor of a very famous crime writer decided it was “brilliant” and was preparing an offer. At least that’s what High Power told me. That night I bought drinks for every single person within ten blocks of my local pub. I spent the morning drinking water straight from the tap, nervously eyeing my phone.
The editor did not buy it.
Neither did anyone else.
High Power sent me some notes. I spent half a year doing an extensive next draft. I was extremely happy with the new version. It was infinitely better, more nuanced, with a tighter plot, deeper characters.
I sent it back.
A month later, High Power dropped me as a client. He said the new draft lacked the “ragged off-kilter charm” of the first. He bade me good luck.
The book sat as a file on my laptop for years, impossible to ignore, a reminder of my hubris, a digital albatross. Every once in a while I’d re-open it and do some work, get frustrated, put it away again.
I found a new agent with a different manuscript.
One night on a lark (too much cheap Rioja), I sent her Render Janes. She loved it. Newly titled Smarter Than You, Deader Than Them, it made the Manhattan rounds once more.
Back into the laptop for another year or so.
Then I got a late night call from my agent. She was starting a digital agency and thought Smarter Than You, Deader Than Them would be perfect to redesign and release exclusively as an interactive app. The dozen characters, the multiple narrators, the bizarre cultural references. It would have a map, hyperlinks, a mini video game, character dossiers, the works. I spent months rewriting it. The manuscript ballooned yet again. There were new characters. New chapters. It was renamed High Leg Cross. A cover was designed. We hit on the idea of linking the obscure references to a fake dictionary that would exist within the app. I wrote 100 extra pages of dictionary entries, deadpan comic paragraphs explaining things like Bob Le Flambeur and Sun Ra and the long-ago struggle over what to do about Leonard Peltier’s cornea.
After laying the groundwork and spending all the seed money, we found out how much the app design was going to cost, even using a Ukrainian chop shop. The bill came during the height of Publishing Is Dying’s first rush of 2009.
My agent decided not to pursue the project any further.
High Leg Cross once again sits on my laptop. At this point, it’s sort of the equivalent of having written 3 or 4 other books. Better books. I read the first chapter just a month ago and was appalled. Not enough to drag it into the trash where it surely belongs, but still. No doubt I’ll open it again. Even rewrite it at least once more. If not several times. Maybe when it reaches a cool thousand pages, it’ll be ready. There will be other agents, new technology, sleeker distribution points. Not to mention better titles.
I fucking hate that book.
Sean Beaudoin is the author of Going Nowhere Faster, Fade to Blue, You Killed Wesley Payne, and the forthcoming The Infects, (Candlewick, fall 2012). His stories and articles have appeared in numerous publications, including Narrative, The Onion, The New Orleans Review, Glimmer Train, The San Francisco Chronicle, and, most famously, Spirit-the inflight magazine of Southwest Airlines.
Last week: #AuthorFail #1: Mark Spitzer
Next week: #AuthorFail #3: Gretchen E. Henderson.