My First Novel

I wrote my first novel when I was in high school.

I wrote in longhand back in those days. In pencil, and in thick spiral-bound notebooks, preferably college ruled. My pencil of choice was, of course, the Faber Castell Velvet No. 2. I don’t remember how I came around to fetishizing this particular brand of writing implement, but I did. Just as I had somehow managed to convince myself that my thoughts flowed more freely when I wrote in longhand and my creativity was somehow enhanced by flowing through the pencil lead of my magical pencil.

The truth was that I wasn’t a proficient typist yet. I was getting there. I had purchased a manual typewriter at a secondhand store in my hometown. I had learned how to type in school on a manual typewriter. Pounding the keys on one of these behemoths was a workout for your fingers and forearms. The more I practiced, the better I got.

However, there was something about typing in the pre-digital age that stifled my creativity somewhat. It’s not like today, where I’m inputting words into a computer program and can edit or change sentences and words as I go. With a manual typewriter you have to resort to strike throughs or gobs of Wite-Out to make corrections. It’s messy and—at least for me—too labor-intensive a process.

Somehow, writing in pencil, with the ability to erase or rewrite sentences as I go, was more conducive to my creative spark at that time. Writing in longhand is a slower process as well, requiring me to think more about what I’m writing as I’m writing it, rather than forging ahead at breakneck speed, more focused on plot than in things like characterization and description. It is easier to appreciate a well-written sentence when you write in longhand.

So my first novel was written in pencil, and in a spiral-bound notebook, mostly when I was in class and should have been paying closer attention to my teachers. My novel’s working title was How to Save the Universe (without really trying). It was influenced by several things of a pop culture nature going on in the zeitgeist of that particular slice of the space-time loaf. Star Wars was a big one, of course. Another was Douglas Adams. By the time I wrote my first novel, I believe I had read The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and The Restaurant at the End of the Universe. I would go on to read all five novels in this famous “trilogy.” At this point in time, however, they hadn’t been published yet. I’m not saying that I was in any way plagiarizing Mr. Adams in my own story. I’m just saying that his influence on me would have been apparent to anyone who read my notebook. Those first two Hitchhiker’s novels blew my young mind. I liked the way Adams’ characters talked and the way he seemed to revel in the absurd. I also liked that the story was unpredictable to me. I never anticipated what was going to happen in the next scene throughout both novels. And this was refreshing.

The notion so appealed to me at the time that I wrote my novel without even considering advanced plotting or outlining. I didn’t know what was going to happen next, so how could the reader predict it? What I did was create a group of diverse characters and send them all on trajectories towards each other. When I thought I knew what was going to happen next, I subverted my own expectations and wrote a different outcome. I even killed off one of my main characters, and then replaced him with an android copy.

I also had a crustacean-like alien bartender character who predated Futurama‘s Dr. Zoidberg by about two decades.

I don’t remember everything that happened in this story.

I know that it was what I considered finished, in that I never went back and edited anything after I wrote “The End.”

I still remember characters.

There was Oscar Rothzing Stewart III, the last president of the United States, who is an alcoholic and all-around entitled cad as well. Some four decades after I originally wrote about the man, I’m struck by some similarities between Oscar and He-Who-Should-Not-Be-Named (you know who I mean, the one with orange skin and what Penn Gillette refers to as hair like “piss-colored cotton candy”).

There’s another character named Carthan Peet, from the planet Craterteat, and of course the crustacean bartender I mentioned earlier, with his claws and chitinous exoskeleton. There must have been a lead female character as well, but I recall no details about her.

There’s also a special prototype spaceship that Oscar “accidentally” steals while escaping from a disaster on Mars that he also “accidentally” caused. The ship was obviously inspired by KITT from Knight Rider. Its on-board AI talks to all of the other characters and becomes a character itself.

There’s an artifact, object of power, an all-around multipurpose Maguffin called the God’s-Eye Ring that everyone wants, and our heroes have possession of the object without their own knowledge for about three-quarters of the story. There’s a boo-hiss villain who seems to be equal parts Darth Vader and Doctor Doom, with the unlikely name of Hatpar Iswa Fitzalcarz. I recall choosing syllables at random to make up this alien-sounding name. For the life of me, I don’t know why I still remember it. I thought it was funny to build up Fitzalcarz’ evilness through several scenes scattered throughout the story, to build up his menace and apparent competence, only to have him defeated unceremoniously in one story heartbeat by our protagonists. An anticlimactic climax.

I wish I still had this handwritten novel. I could read it now with more objectivity. I know I would cringe at stylistic crutches and what I can only imagine was a prodigious number of grammatical mistakes and misspellings. (Ironically, I misspelled this word before I edited the post.)

I’m certain it was a horrible novel, in fact. I just can’t substantiate this now, since the manuscript no longer exists, as far as I know.

I have some idea about what happened to this novel.

When I left home to make my way in this cruel world, I left a few belongings behind. I needed to travel light for a few years. I have two brothers who are thirteen and fifteen years younger than I am. At some point after I left, the stuff I left behind was considered to be up for grabs and my brothers claimed salvage rights. I think my first novel was among whatever else I left behind, and thus was lost to me forever. I imagine it ended up in the trash at some point, along with whatever high school detritus I left behind.

This sounds like I’m blaming my brothers for all of this. On some level I probably am, but my complaints aren’t meant to be taken too seriously. Not for what I think was a crappy, possibly plagiarized, science-fiction comedy novel. I assure you that the possessions that were most important to me went with me. Whoever tossed out the trash was well within their rights.

There’s also the possibility that nobody tossed it out, that it was with me as I began a new chapter in my journey through life. Perhaps I threw it away at some point, or else it’s at the bottom of one of the many plastic storage totes that contain proof of my existence in this reality. If that’s the case, it’s doubtful that I’ll ever see it again before my final chapter ends. It may as well be buried somewhere deep in the landfill.

I didn’t know at the time that it would be nearly twenty years before I would finish writing another novel. Whoever said ignorance is bliss was onto something. Because I didn’t know how difficult writing a novel was supposed to be, I managed the feat without undue stress when I was a teenager. As an adult, it became a more laborious and stress-inducing process.

There’s a lesson to be learned from this somewhere.


2 thoughts on “My First Novel

  1. I had some things “laying about” my mother’s house that kind of disappeared once I got married. I guess that transaction was an immediate “trip wire” of sorts it was ok to toss them. There was nothing of real value or interest to me, certainly not a novel amongst the departed stuff. I have no doubt if I tried to produce a book while in college it would have been way less stressful than if I tried to do it years later. I think when we’re younger, being fearless is much easier to achieve.

    Liked by 1 person

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