Monday, August 16, 2021

Your Hidden Masterpiece

 RHYS BOWEN: I have been thinking about what to do with my papers when I die. I know Debs has bequeathed hers to a university. The librarian at Berkley has expressed interest in mine. The truth is that I have very few papers. I keep notebooks with story ideas, plot points, but I no longer have manuscripts with corrections written in . Nor do I have correspondence between Rhys Bowen and Louise Penny or the Reds. (Not that our musings are the stuff of great literature in the way that Hemingway and his like wrote)  It’s all online these days.


But I do have some boxes somewhere in the storage room that contain snippets of ideas that never saw the light of day. One of those turned into In Farleigh Field. I had written the first few chapters around the year 2000 and showed them to my then agent who declared that nobody was interested in WW2 and she thought it crass and tactless to write about people living in big houses in England when so many were suffering on the Continent.  So I put it aside then, only to think about it recently and decide that it was a good story, show it to my current agent and end up with a number one bestseller.


Which makes me think what other brilliant ideas I might have lurking in boxes. I know of one such idea. When I was writing children’s books back in the Eighties I came up with a fun idea about a girl who is sent to a snobby boarding school by her aunt. It’s called Greenwich Academy, only the taxi driver gets it wrong and drives her to the next door Witch Academy and she learns to ride broomsticks and do spells.  My then agent though this was stupid. If only, right?…..

(by the way, I have changed agents since then!)

I don’t have many completed manuscripts and I might even have thrown them away. I wrote a couple of novels in college—angst-ridden young women contemplating the meaning of life. But I have to say that most of the good ideas I’ve had I’ve been able to use in some for or other. My theory is no good story goes to waste.

So I’d like to hear from you, Reds. Do you have any masterpieces hidden away? Have you ever re-read an old manuscript and found good parts that you can use?

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Nope. Nope nope nope. One of my nicest days recently was when I did a newsletter about how I was getting rid of a lot of old papers and memorabilia. (Did I need TEN copies of every magazine with me on the cover? I mean--will I ever look again, as fabulous as they were? And if not me looking at them, then who the heck cares?) But a reader emailed me, all upset, saying she was the curator of a library, and was aghast that I would throw these things away. So..that was nice. But I threw them. 

I still have way too much stuff, and I do have printed out manuscripts with corrections, certainly. And notebooks with ideas, come of which clearly became parts of books and dialogue. (If anyone could decipher them.) ANd i do love seeing those, actually. Like the one where the elusive solution to  The Murder List just burst into my mind and then I wrote it down. And I did save that.  But I don’t think they would provide life-changing revelations for anyone! 

JENN McKINLAY: I’m with Hank. I throw out everything. I assume everything that’s important is online these days, and I don’t think I’ll be of particular interest to anyone in the future. I have kept a handwritten journal since I was a kid. Those I fully intend to burn before I die. If I don’t get to it, the Hooligans have been told to burn them without reading them. They certainly don’t need to know about my sordid youth! 

LUCY BURDETTE: I only wish I had lost masterpieces stashed away! Usually an unpublished manuscript is in the scrap pile for a reason--I was learning to write as I went. Except...I had written a book called MARRIED SEEKING MARRIED that never got off the ground. When Hank asked me to contribute a story to the Bouchercon anthology this year on the theme of Second Chances, I thought of that title. The story is very different from the novel, as it takes place in a bar in Key West, but the idea worked. And there was another unpublished book called UNSAFE HAVEN that my agent revived and sold--it will be out from Severn House this fall! Let’s call it a found masterpiece LOL.

 JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING:  I'm always a little dubious about recently-deceased popular authors who (their publisher is happy to announce) have left behind numerous unpublished or half-finished manuscripts. In my experience, publishers are putting the screws on their best selling authors to get pages out as fast as possible, and are willing to put almost anything available into print. As for me, I have a library's worth of novel ideas, notebooks for each book I've worked on, and the foul matter (what a wonderful phrase!) from the first three of four manuscripts, back when it was still all on paper.

I do have the half a science fiction novel I've spoken of before; the one that started me on the road to writing mysteries. I've always thought I'd like to dig that out and rework it at some point...

DEBORAH CROMBIE: I wish I had a lost manuscript tucked away in a drawer, Rhys! Maybe there are some scribbled notes in a notebook or journal somewhere. I don't keep multiple drafts of work in progress, either--I delete as I go. I do, however, still do an edit on a printed copy of a manuscript, just because I catch things that way that I never see on screen. Maybe those will be of interest to anyone who looks at my collected stuff someday.  A couple of years ago, the University of North Texas (UNT) library did an exhibition of some of the material I'd given them, and it was interesting to look back at my notes for that very first book and see that my process hasn't changed much over the years. And on a fun note, I'm in very good company as they also have all of Larry McMurtry's papers.

RHYS: Not shabby company, Debs! I also have a printed copy that John and I go through carefully but I regret that I toss them when the ms goes off to the editor. When about the writers who are our Red Regulars? Any gems re-found?

32 comments:

  1. I would imagine that re-finding a gem would be an exciting prospect . . . .

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  2. Rhys, I am insulted on your behalf by the comments made by your former agent(s). Farleigh Field is a terrific WWII mystery, about which tons of people still are interested in reading. And, how wrong could she have been about the girl being dropped off at the wrong school? Brilliant idea.

    The fact that few people will be leaving papers behind is so strange. Do you copy your files onto a cloud or a device of some sort? Otherwise, everything on it disappears when the computer dies.

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    1. Everything's in Dropbox, and on the iCloud. This is all fine until the world has an internet meltdown.

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  3. What a great topic. I'm glad you changed agents, Rhys!

    I don't keep much paper, either, writing-wise. All my Scrivener projects (=books) are on Dropbox, along with edited files and final copies. I do keep my daily to-do list notebooks, which show the marching up of word count for each book, but they also include things like Water garden and Call hand doctor - not exactly the stuff of a literary bequest.

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    1. I can see a future essay by someone researching you. "Edith Maxwell's Love of Garden!"

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    2. I love seeing other writer's daily word counts--I'm a huge Ben Aaronvitch fan and he posts his once a week on Twitter.

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    3. Oh, I will look for that, Debs! xx I keep track of that for mine with screen shots..

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  4. Not really the same kind of writer, but I figure I'd chime in anyway. I don't have anything that would be worthy of archival preservation.

    I have printed out copies of a lot of my reviews but that's more for me since I'm always worried that the sites I write for will go offline and then I won't have anything to point people towards when I say I write for various websites. But since they are hardly literary masterpieces, I once again don't see them being preserved once I'm not around anymore.

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  5. Something I always advise aspiring writers: "Save everything! Today's crap is tomorrow's compost." I've got everything on my computer or in the cloud, pretty much dating back to when I started writing personal essays, my prelude to fiction. A hidden masterpiece among them? Highly unlikely. And it never occurred to me that someone might be interested in my "papers." I'm just happy not to have piles of manuscript pages moldering in my house (and basement and garage and attic...)

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    1. But you never know what's on some cloud, forgotten for the moment. xo

      Ann, in disguise

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    2. Hallie, a story idea... an author's writings are on a cloud and include some great secret. But which cloud and how to access. The ultimate modern mystery

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    3. RHYS! As always, you are a genius.

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  6. Last summer in preparation for the village shredding event, I went through boxes of stuff in the garage and found a short story that fit an anthology prompt. I tinkered with it and shipped it off and received an acceptance in 24 hours!

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  7. No hidden gems here. All my Scrivener projects and notes are in the cloud. But I really don't think anybody will ever be interested in them.

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  8. RHYS,

    It would be wonderful to see your papers at the Bancroft Library at the University of CA at Berkeley. It's fun to find treasures, right?

    Your novel about a Witch Academy is definitely a novel that I would like to read. Does your heroine discover that she has hidden witch powers?

    Speaking of hidden treasures, I found old photos of my grandparents when they were young children. I had seen photos of them as adults.

    Speaking of saving or throwing away things, I was reminded of my fifth grade class. Our teacher scolded me for throwing away a blank sheet of paper and she talked about the trees cut down to make paper. I have been more careful about not throwing away things. These days I think everything can be recycled?

    Diana

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    1. Diana, I was in elementary school in the years after WWII when nothing was thrown away. We had to write on a sheet of paper, then around all four edges. We also had slates to practice cursive so they could be wiped clean. My husband still won't throw away anything--rubber bands, glass bottles, all kept until I sneak them out!

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  9. Dear Writers: Please do not underestimate the delight that readers will experience when they troll through your papers in university archives. We always want to know more about our favourite authors, and having the opportunity to page through a notebook that our favourite writers' have actually touched and written in would provide untold pleasure for us. No matter whether those pages contain daily chore reminders or pearls of unique wisdom. We will make up our own stories about what we find!

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    1. I was just going to say the same thing, Amanda. I love reading memoirs, letters, and journals and find the little details of the everyday lives of writers I admire fascinating.

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    2. That's it exactly, Deborah! The little details of the everyday are fascinating to us readers.

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    3. And that is why the JRW blogsite is so precious. The personal contact with all of the terrific writers here is just beyond anything that reading Hemingway's letters could ever mean to me.

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  10. Jenn, I laughed about your "sordid" teen years and the instructions TO BE BURNED. When I was a "sordid" teen I kept a diary but I wrote in shorthand; when I went back a few years later I had forgotten the shorthand! I pitched them.

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    1. Emily, I had to keep a journal when I was in school in London - it was a requirement for the theater majors. It was meant to be our thoughts and observations on plays, workshops, etc, but I put EVERYTHING in there. I need to find it and see if I ought to put it in a lockbox to be opened by my adult grandchildren. In my experience, they think grandmother's louche youth is fascinating, rather than horrifying, as the kids would.

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  11. Count me as another reader grateful you found a new agent, Rhys!

    Just last night I was thinking about a short play, a long scene, really, that I wrote in a workshop decades ago. And wondered if it it might work somewhere. It's really outdated, though. Any story that included it would have to take place in that same era, circa 1990.

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  12. Yes, ditto on the new agent, Rhys!!

    While I'm not about to go back to writing novels by hand or on a typewriter, I find it sad that all that ephemera will be lost to future readers and writers...

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  13. I have two completed manuscripts under my bed. One of them I can't even remember the proposed title. I think it's safe to say that's a non-starter. The other I do love - it's a romance set in the Caribbean Island of Sint Maarten during the early 1980s - it was contemporary when I wrote it - now I doubt I would recognize the place. That one - title Caribbean Knights - may someday see the light of day, at least as a short story!

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    1. Kait, that's another problem with manuscripts in drawers - sometimes the ideas, settings or characters have dated. Badly. I had an idea way back in the 90s for a lighthearted romantic novel about a circle of expat Americans enjoying life in Budapest, which was one of THE hot city in Europe at the time (pretty sure there was a movie with roughly the same idea!) However, given Hungary's increasingly hard-line authoritarian government, it just wouldn't have the same ring if I resurrected it nowadays.

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  14. Ah, but Julia, think of the research trip for an update - now that's not a bad idea!

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  15. I have a trunk full of stories and a couple of novels I wrote going back as far as the late '60s! Brilliant gems? I think not, but sometimes I look at them and wonder who that angst-ridden girl was who wrote them. Hmmm. Perhaps I should think of a backyard bonfire before I get run over by a truck or something.

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  16. Oh, Rhys, you hit a nerve, to be sure! Around 1996, after returning from a five-year life in France, I dreamed an entire mystery novel that takes place in Paris. I wrote and rewrote it, while earning a living as a freelance writer/editor, teaching and publishing a novel and many anthologies. After MANY revisions, it's now with an agent and, in turn, several editors. Who knew? I hope my journey in some way reflects yours: my long-time (and beloved) agent couldn't get behind it, so I found a new agent. There's always hope, yes?

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