Skeletons in the Writing Closet

Yes, I’m working on a novel.  I won’t be publishing one-shot short stories forever.  And yes, I’ve begun to consider my work-in-progress as progressing rather well.  My main character, Xan, is a novelist both like me and unlike me in many ways.  But what’s interesting me now is one of the items we - unfortunately - share:  an elephant’s graveyard sized amount of unpublished works.

I decided to dig around and unearth a few of these pieces which will likely never see the light of day.  Here are some of my favorite, awesomely bad ideas:

Lelia’s Tale.  The fact this story has a title is frightening - it means I once thought it might be suitable to share with people.  It’s not.  My title page summarizes it as “The tragic story of the daughter of a lord in the middle ages.”  Today, with the Internet as my guide, I can pinpoint and research specific time periods, but as a teenager in the late nineties, my realistic details are sorely lacking.  The names are especially horrific.

Everything about this story makes me cringe.  It’s a maudlin tale in which the overly dramatic Lelia falls in love with the wrong man - a man who would be nothing if he hadn’t saved her from drowning years earlier and been appointed a military officer by her father.  Despite her feelings, Lelia’s father marries her to a man she hates, and when Lelia finds out the man she loves is involved with her best friend, she tries to drown herself in the castle moat.  Her mental health deteriorates until she follows the image of her recently deceased father into the road, where she’s trampled to death by galloping horses.  The final scene shows her husband and her former lover putting aside their differences long enough to dig her grave and take one last lingering look at her.  Ugh.

How Angel Fell Down.  My first full-length novel.  Slightly less maudlin but no better researched.  Several people have read it and were kind enough to take pleasure in it, but I’d never spend time on it again.

The heroine is small town waitress Angel Statton.  She meets a good man with the horrible last name of Dickinsheets (this is an actual surname).  When Mr. Dickinsheets takes a job transfer to California, their jagged breakup leads to the aforementioned fall - Angel starts an affair with a sympathetic druggy and writes a semi-autobiographical novel about her experiences.  This not only gets published (I like the hopefulness of my young writing self, don’t you?) but gets turned into a film.  Then Angel moves to LA because she’s somehow snagged the main role.  Filming reintroduces her to a man she knew when they were teens, now a hot, flirtatious movie star whose marriage is disintegrating.  Angel rekindles her affair with Hottie, runs into Mr. Dickinsheets, and rekindles that affair, too.  She gets pregnant, leading to an uncomfortable scene in which Mr. D reveals he’s sterile.  Woops.  He dies in a car crash, Hottie’s divorce goes through, Angel decides to marry him, and the final chapter graciously skips ahead.  Angel’s son is turning 18, and she’s about to give him a watch from Mr. D’s estate.  It would be touching - if Mr. D was the father instead of “the other man” in Angel’s relationship with Hottie where she was “the other woman” to his unhinged and self-centered wife.  Double ugh.

The Price.  This is the only story from this list I might resurrect because I like the premise, but I’d approach it much differently.  A teenage girl lives in a boarding house with her mother who runs it.  One of the guests is a mysterious woman who keeps to herself but has a surprising knowledge of films starring one particular actress.  As the teenager pries, she discovers, of course, that the boarder and the actress are the same woman, dramatically changed by a brutal physical attack and resulting plastic surgery.  I’d make it a short story, but I’d never try to make it a novel.

The Hitler Project.  The edgiest of the list.  A group of neo-Nazi’s plans to take over a facility researching the human genome.  No reason to revisit this premise, although with the right director, I’d watch the movie version of it.  (American History X + varied geneticists & a sensual masseuse on retainer.)

So those are some of the overwrought and unpolished works I have stored away in my filing cabinet.  Thoughts?  Reactions?  Do you have literary skeletons in your own home office?  I’d love to hear about them in the comments.

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