From late 1996 to late 1997 I wrote two novels. One was a fictional account of my experiences during my one summer of summer stock...doing Amish musicals. The title of that became the title of this blog. The other was a completely fictional novel, my fantasy on the deaths of two high school boys. It came from the actual deaths of two best friend high school athletes who died in a one-car crash. Matt and Seth was gay fiction. The father of one of them was a fundamentalist preacher with ambitions to become one of the Big Boys of Televangelism.
I'd re-read The Oh, Pshaw! Follies a couple of times. I like it, it works, it's long, it got lots of rejections. And that's fine. I think it would make a fun gay movie, but I doubt that'll happen. I hadn't read Matt and Seth since I proofread the manuscript in 1997, 17 years ago. I mentioned to my therapist that I recently re-read The Follies. He suggested I find the other manuscript and read it. After 17 years of hardly even thinking about it, I rummaged through my stacks and found it. I started reading it and soon it was difficult to put down. I was surprised.
Follies is mostly for fun. M&S is drama. I was surprised by how well I had drawn the characters, how much sense the plot made, but also how well I represented Matt's father, the Rev. Tony Reynolds. I was 50 when I wrote it and casually knew two young men, and I drew the boys from them. By that point, I had pretty much decided that hate-mongering, power-hungry fundamentalist preachers deserved no respect. I'd been the recipient of "Christian love" and knew how they operated. I had gone beyond having suspicions about them. The Rev. Tony Reynolds was a conglomeration of every such preacher I knew of.
Follies was written straight through, beginning to end. M&S was written the way movies are shot...this chapter and then a later chapter and then an earlier chapter and so on. One of the things that surprised me when reading it 17 years later was how well it worked from a continuity standpoint. I would not have guessed that it was not written top to bottom. And aside from some quibbles about language, the one thing I think no one would believe now is that I waited until their senior year for them to have sex. I mean, they met in 8th grade and became best friends in 9th and started questioning their feelings in 10th and 11th. Then again, it wasn't written today, so in its own world, it worked.
In the 1980s, I was obsessed with piano rags. I played them well and wrote a few. I'm currently trying to put my arrangements and compositions into my PrintMusic computer program. I wrote one called "'Rope' Rag," music for a production of the play, Rope. When I played it back on the computer, I was stunned by how well written it was. I put it in the computer shortly after I finished M&S. And after listening to it, I couldn't help thinking, Who wrote this for you?
Obviously, my opinion of myself has not been all that great. My partner is the writer in the relationship. He liked rags but dismissed them, too. Although I read a horror novel he wrote, he never read my novels. I think he pigeonholed me as a copywriter and that was that. I mean, can you really count copy writing as writing? I frequently go to his readings. He never listened to me when I was a radio guy and heard my TV announcing in passing while he waited for a show to start. I never got an opinion from him on anything I wrote, music or prose. That's a disappointment, of course, but that's the way it's worked out.
My writing abilities surprised me. I was so convinced that I was just playing around with writing that, after reading the novels and listening to the rag, I wrote in my journal, "Who wrote this? Who wrote this for you?" Well, I did. Maybe I was good for proofing and editing; maybe I was a creative person who could have done more.
Follies was rejected by agents both respectable and sleazy. Matt and Seth never got beyond my partner's agent. She felt it was too long for a young adult novel. What I should do, she insisted, was to split the book into two novels...and the boys shouldn't die in the end.
At some point, I'd hope, we all get to realize that what we like to create is good. It may or may not be salable, but maybe it shouldn't be created with that in mind. I'd hope that all of us who like to create something enjoy the act of creation, discovery, the fact that we're happy with what we've done; it's as good as I can do, and that's pretty damned good.
In answer to my journal question, "I wrote this. Get over it. Better yet, enjoy it."