Writer’s Craft #71 – My big, fat, first novel
A science-fiction lover since childhood, Michèle Laframboise juggles her time between drawing comics, writing stories and caring for her family. With her scientific background, she elaborates intricate plots filled with sense of wonder, poetry and adventure. Three of her novels received literary awards. She lives in Mississauga, Ontario.
2) My big fat first novel
Back in 1984, when I was a young artist and student, I found the story haunting me, a strange little girl raised by idealist scientists to become a powerful spying tool. I drew the 22 first pages of a graphic novel before realizing that the convoluted story called for too many details and fact-finding. So I told myself that it would be easier to write it as a novel. After all, I loved spy novels and SF thrillers. How hard could it be?
Cue the fate of so many first manuscripts. Lying unfinished in the bottom drawer for a few years until 1992, then transferred from Apple2C print-outs to PC386 Ascii files, by the grace of a blind student friend endowed with a scanner and an advanced OCR software. He was the first to “hear” the story, and encouraged me to complete it.
Another science fiction buff (who later became my husband) passed through the Ascii text, adding all the French accents (that most of you don’t have to bother with). Passed from hand to hand to family members and friends, endlessly re-edited, going from a modest 300 pages to a fat 622 pages, submitted to a contest, then shrunk back to 240 pages by the first publisher’s editor; when the contract fell through, another spot of drawer-residency. A new round of version avatars, around friends and family, then through publishers, collecting refusals. (I had no contact with experimented SF writers at the time).
At last, Ithuriel found an enthusiastic small print publisher in France. The book got out in 2001, with almost no graphic research and no further promotion. The small press eventually folded, leaving me with three boxes of unsold copies.
You might think that it is a sad story. Not at all.
While mired in an endless editing process, any other project was stunted. I lost more than ten years over this novel, so “getting it out at least” felt like an immense relief. As badly off as it was, Ithuriel got positive reviews by SF critics in Canada.
When this first novel left my hands, a coiled spring released its stored energy.
Waiting for the publishers’ responses, I wrote and submitted a shorter SF novel, along with several short-stories. Les nuages de Phoenix (The Clouds of Phoenix), featuring an handicapped young girl on a far off planet, was accepted and published at the same time as Ithuriel. The Clouds even reaped a gen-lit award for a first YA novel.
So, here is a way to look at your creative work. Any idea is a tiny seed that needs nurturing to grow into a story.
Today, I work on several stories at the same time.
Whatever their ultimate form: short-story, novel, novella, poem, comic book, each is at a different level of development, like plants. As a patient gardener, I visit them regularly and feed them from readings, life experience, imagination (the three roots of my last post). Some stories don’t grow past a cute idea. Many do grow; and the gardener can feel when a story is ripe for writing.
This year, I am getting three SF novels out, and two next year. Among them, will be a new edition of that big, fat first novel. And, after 10 years, I discovered to my relief that I could look upon my previous writing style and spot the problems, slash off the excesses, to get a lean and mean story fit for its public.
So, fellow gardeners of words, stay patient and resilient!