Please welcome guest author Tony Vanderwarker with a post on bringing old drafts back from the dead.
One of the things you accumulate as you age is not just years, but places to stash your stuff. My wife and I have filing cabinets in the garage; stacks of plastic cases in the studio; and boxes of records, bric-a-brac, family photos, and just plain junk in the attic. So no matter how carefully we tuck some treasure away, months or years later it’s inevitable we can’t remember exactly where we put it, and a search can consume hours, sometimes days.
When prompted to start a search for a plastic bag full of floppy discs I’d secreted away years ago, I despaired of finding them. Should I start in my studio? In the garage? Or the attic? And even if I managed to locate them, would my computer be able to read the outmoded discs?
I’m not sure why I bothered to save them in the first place. I only remember stripping the stuff off my computer’s hard drive and transferring it to discs so I’d have room to write more novels. The six books I removed were my first attempts, relics of my first ten years of novel writing, read only by my wife, children, a couple close friends, and the New York literary agents who rejected them. I guess I couldn’t bear the thought of hitting the delete button and vaporizing years of writing.
I was astounded to find the dusty and cloudy bag containing the floppies on my first try, tucked away in a container under a bunch of old IRS records, titles faded but still legible. But I was not at all surprised when my computer would not recognize them.
First thing I did was call our computer wizard and ask, “Lou, any chance you can unlock these floppies?”
Two days later, Lou reported that he’d been able to save the 3 files I was most interested in.
After slipping the CD into my computer, I was delighted to discover that while one novel was fatally flawed, two held up well. So well that the idea of potentially bringing them back to life that had sent me searching for them was not whacko, but maybe reasonable and even promising.
They’d been buried, if not dead, for decades. I had quit writing after a novel I wrote, under the guidance of my friend and neighbor, John Grisham, didn’t sell. “If I can’t sell a book with John Grisham looking over my shoulder,” I said to myself, “it’s time to hang up the laptop.”
After that I didn’t go near my studio for four years, doing environmental work instead, throwing Walmart off a battlefield, fighting a couple of ill-advised road projects, and protecting 100,000 acres of land. But the writing itch came back big time, and I was soon sucked back into the chair in front of the computer.
I wound up writing a memoir about the process of writing a novel with Grisham: Writing with the Master: How One of the World’s Bestselling Authors Fixed My Book and Changed My Life. I got John’s permission to use his notes and critiques, and I found an agent and a publisher.
Initially, the publisher pitched a two-book deal bundling Writing With the Master and the thriller I had written under John’s guidance, Sleeping Dogs. I was flabbergasted by the interest in a novel that had been dead and buried for eight years. Could a resurrection of Sleeping Dogs be possible? Why not? It was created under the auspices of a master.
Then the publisher decided to start backing away from novels, so they didn’t go through with the two-book offer. But later, when the sales and marketing people began to work on Writing With The Master, they were so sanguine about the prospects for Sleeping Dogs that they came back and made an offer for the e-book rights.
That’s when I started my floppy search. I was looking for two other long-buried novels: Ads For God, a comic novel about advertising with the same kind of wild characters and sleazy situations that has made Mad Men such a hit; and Say Something Funny, a comic takeoff on reality TV before it even existed. I’d written them ten and fifteen years ago, respectively. Were both too far ahead of their time to be appreciated? I wondered. Would the two books, having hibernated in a plastic bag for all this time, come back to life?
Now my memoir, Writing With the Master, will be published traditionally along with the novel it talks about, Sleeping Dogs. And I’m using them to promote Say Something Funny and Ads for God, which I’m going to self-publish. So I’ll have four books coming out in 2014 after a drought of twenty years.
How it will turn out, I have no idea. But I can tell you, there’s definitely a warm glow from seeing your long-ago creations being brought back to life.
So authors, save your floppies, flash drives, CDs and old computers. For who knows what gold lies buried in them?
About the Author: Founder of one of Chicago’s largest ad agencies, Tony Vanderwarker is author of the memoir Writing With the Master: How a Bestselling Author Fixed My Book And Changed My Life (Skyhorse, February 2014), about his experience being mentored by John Grisham while writing the thriller Sleeping Dogs. He has also penned the forthcoming novels Ads for God and Say Something Funny.