I met Randy Susan Meyers on Backspace (bksp.org) and she quickly became a friend and a mentor. Her writing insight and advice are only rivaled by her fiction. The Murderer’s Daughters is a captivating, sweeping drama about two sisters, and how a violent event from their childhood has repercussions throughout their lives. If you haven’t read The Murderer’s Daughters, look it up, flip through the pages, read the back cover, and decide for yourself. In this blog post, Randy shares with us her books that did not get published…and the courage it takes to move on.
Please welcome Randy to Women’s Fiction Writers!
Books In The Drawer: Go Back Or Let Go?
How do you know when to put a book away and when to keep on plugging? Is it an ingrained personality trait (stubbornness?) that keeps one going? Does an innate wisdom kick in and tell you to give it up? How do you know whether you’re throwing good money after bad or giving up too soon?
Arthur Golden spent ten years working on Memoirs of A Geisha ,which then spent 2 years on the NYT bestseller list and sold millions of copies. Herman Melville and Nathaniel Hawthorne passed an ultimately never-published book back and forth for years. Bestselling author Janet Evanovich admits to having three books in the drawer that will never see light.
Nichole Bernier, in Beyond The Margins, reveals that Amy Bloom yanked back a novel which was accepted for publication, admitting in an interview, “It was my warm-up … It wasn’t anything of which I had to be deeply ashamed. But it wasn’t as good as I wanted it to be. Once I saw that, then I wanted it not in print.”
I have three books in the drawer (not counting half-hearted starts, odd-ball attempts, and a co-authored near-miss.) One of the three is from many, many years ago and I would be terrified to open it. After I finished that book, someone convinced me to show it to their ‘connected-published-cousin-in-law’, who, after he read it, told me directly that it was awful and a waste of his time. (Poor guy, huh?) His particular tough-love sent me away from the keyboard for years.
My second book-in-the drawer I think of as part of my trilogy:
Book One: The book in which I learned proper techniques for sharper writing and characterization, but forgot about incorporating sub-plots. I carry much tenderness for this book, for the characters, and am still in love with my opening paragraphs. I got an agent with this novel (not my current agent.) While this book was out on submission, I began writing my next one, which I quickly saw was a better book. This was:
Book Two: The book where I learned multiple points of view and how to weave major and minor plot-points, but where I didn’t learn that tiptoeing and/or being polite can weaken a book. I still had a reader-over-my-shoulder with this one. (I’m still attached to the story and the characters.) While this book was out on submission (former agent and I having made the decision to pull Book One in favor of Book Two,) I began working on Book Three.
In the midst of this, my agent (who was now concentrating on YA) and I amicably parted ways. Soon after I finished:
Book Three: The one where I became published: The Murderer’s Daughters. After all my downs and downs, this book sold quickly. As the long publishing process unfolded, I began my next book. Why did I choose to begin a new work and not return to my previous novels? First, I had a new story bubbling to get out. Second, I needed to be certain I could do the proper surgery needed to resurrect either novel.
Arthur Golden tore his book apart after six years: changed point of view, where the story began, and God knows what else. Obviously, he was able to approach it with the cold eyes one needs to perform a truly great revision.
I’d written Book’s One and Two quickly and without the store of knowledge, technique and voice that now comes to me more easily than it did previously. If I resuscitate either of these books, I’ll have to be laser-cold and read them as dispassionately as I would a novel picked randomly from a bookstore shelf.
Letting go of a book takes a certain kind of courage—the ability to consider those years as a self-schooling. Even if the story never sees publication, the time put in feeds one’s future work. However, putting in the years, as Golden did, to shape and craft and stay with a work takes a different kind of talent, patience and love. Perhaps it is a personality test—I know myself well. Maybe it wasn’t courage that led to my shoving my books in the proverbial drawer, but impatience with the idea of ripping apart and refashioning them.
Possibly, inner-tuning forks tell us when to move on and when to hold our cards. Despite loving Book One, I think (despite those fantastic two paragraphs and all those slick, funny lines) it will sleep with the fishes. Much as I heave a great lazy sigh of ‘not again’ at the idea of cutting and then re-stitching Book Two, it continues calling me.
Friends have gone in both directions—starting over or holding on. At least three writer-friends I know are reaping the rewards of sticking with it. Others are feeling free and hopeful because they’ve started new projects.
How did you make the decision to keep on going or start over? What brand of courage did you need to grab? My new book is done and off to my editor and I’ve already begun work on another book, but like the one who got away, those books in the drawer still linger in my mind.
The dark drama of Randy Susan Meyers’ debut novel is informed by her years of work with batterers, domestic violence victims, and at-risk youth impacted by family violence.
Randy Susan Meyers’ short stories have been published in the Fog City Review, Perigee: Publication for the Arts, and the Grub Street Free Press.
In Brooklyn, where Randy was born and raised, her local library was close enough to visit daily and she walked there from the time she figured out the route. In many ways, she was raised by books, each adding to her sense of who she could be in this world. Some marked her for horror. Reading In Cold Blood at too tender an age assured that she’d never stay alone in a country house. Others, like Heidi by Johanna Spyri, made her worship her grandfather even more.
Some taught her faith in the future.
A Tree Grows In Brooklyn by Betty Smith was the only bible Randy ever owned, her personal talisman of hopefulness. Each time she read it, she was struck anew by how this author knew so much and dared to write it.
Randy now lives in Boston with her husband and is the mother of two grown daughters. She teaches writing seminars at the Grub Street Writers’ Center in Boston.