“This is a book. It is a book I found in a box. I found the box in the attic. The box was in the attic, under the eaves. The attic was hot and still. The air was stale with dust. The dust was from old pictures and books. The dust in the air was made up of the book I found. I breathed the book before I saw it; tasted the book before I read it.” (P. Harding)
Some of my regular readers will remember that about this time last year I did a blog post about having found a small portion of a manuscript my mom had been working on for years. Pages eighty-eight to one-hundred and ninety suddenly appeared. I was so intrigued by that discovery, I plunged right in reading, transcribing from the manual typewritten pages, and changing things as I went. I couldn’t help myself.
I went through those pages fairly quickly and then I simply pined to find the rest of that manuscript. Feelers went out everywhere it could have possibly been stored and I waited. Whenever I returned to the work, I imagined how I would start and end the story if my mom’s work never surfaced.
A couple of weeks ago, I got a text from my daughter. The rest of the manuscript had been found in some boxes that had been stored in an attic for years. I could hardly contain my excitement. I arrived at my daughter’s house last week to be greeted with a very large stack of black duo-tang binders and loose papers. I was stunned. As the quote above says, I smelled this book before I ever read it. The smell was familiar – old paper and dust and something else that was my mom.
This stack of material contained a file folder with map drawings of the setting, blue file cards that contained character sketches and a complete outline! Wow!
The total size of the typewritten manuscript is over two-thousand pages! And I thought I was long-winded. I located a bunch of pages that started at page one and began to read. Got to about page thirty-five and realized this was a far different version of the story than I had dipped into last year. I put those pages aside and began searching through a series of red folders. I found the version I was familiar with but it starts at page twenty. That is better than eighty-eight for sure, but still . . . sure wish I had page one.
I read and I read and I read – I made it through all of those binders and loose pages. Sometimes I felt like screaming because my mom was breaking more than a few of those rules that I said (in a post not too long ago) make me want to grab an author and shake him or her or even my own mother. Other times, I couldn’t stop flipping just to find out what might happen next. Still other times I burst out laughing as I turned over a page and found a recipe from lasagna, an old phone number or childish doodling that had to have been done by me or my siblings sitting by mom as she flipped the pages and scribbling on the back of each newly dropped paper.
The novel is stunning. It is brutal, raw, edgy and the main bad-guy character, Sergeant Burt Calder would give the hardened out there a few bad dreams. This is a story I could not have conceived of. But, oh gosh, am I excited at the thought of what I might be able to do with it. I can’t count the number of times I’ve thought – while reading a self-published novel – I just wish I could change this or that. Well, now I can.
I have to leave it on the drawing board now and move back to finishing the final third of Chasing Down the Night. It won’t be easy because my mind is racing with ideas. But a time of letting those ideas go into a slow simmer will only serve to improve the choices I make later.
Oh yes, and I am spending time with my granddaughters and enjoying life out in civilization for a couple more weeks. Seeing people every day, shopping, going to restaurants, getting my hair done and even scored big at BINGO the other night. Life is good.
So – here’s a question. I’m curious . . . if you found a manuscript as I have what would you do with it? Would you have the nerve to rewrite, to tamper with the original story? Would you type it up as is? Or would you put it back in the box and leave it for another generation to discover?
What an exciting find!!! I empathize with you on the difficulty of keeping on track when a diversion comes along. Be strong. You are great at organisation so you won’t have a problem establishing a place to jot down those spare ideas! Jane
Thanks, Jane. My mom’s story sure pushed everything else to the margins. I will stay strong and draw on those organization skills you believe I have – oh ya, those skills, I remember them.
hmmm well if it’s flawed as a manuscript and has sentimental connections – I might be tempted to rewrite it. Or take the main central theme and write a new story from scratch. There’s one thing for certain, it will never see the light of day in an attic collecting dust. I have a similar quandary regarding a series of children’s books that were written by my EX. Her and all the manuscripts perished in a fire. I know the basic theme that ran through the series but certainly did not memorize the content. I tried to get her to self-publish but she had no interest at all. Now they are lost forever. We remained close till the end. And so it goes…
It just might come down to your second option – take the central theme and rewrite from scratch. I agree that just allowing it to sit in a box collecting dust is pointless. The story of your ex, her children’s books, how it all ended – it really got to me Yes, as you say . . . so it goes. Life. Thanks for stopping by my blog.
welcome. For me it’s just keeping a find memory alive, even if it’s just sitting out there on Amazon Kindle like a friendly ghost. Good luck!
I don’t know what I’d do. I adored my mom so I don’t think I could change a word or do anything more than cherish the manuscripts. Of course, I beleve every story is based on truth to some degree, so I’d probably be searching for that vein, and the charters involved right off. You scared me with the shaking. I went through 6,000+ sheets of paper before I finished my novel.
It isn’t so much the length that gets me wanting to give an author a shake as it is unnecessary repetition or unbelievable plot twists and turns and things like that. I’m all for the blockbuster – as long as every thing that’s there needs to be there.
I don’t know what I’d do. I adored my mom so I don’t think I could change a word, or do anything more than cherish the manuscripts. Of course, I believe every story is based on an element of truth, so I’d probably be searching that vein to identify the characters involved right off. (You scared me with the shaking. I went through 6,000+ sheets of paper before I finished my novel.) Nice post.
Oh my, no question in my mind. I’d do exactly what you’re doing: read, enjoy, edit, and ‘make’ a book around the book still raw from years ago. Your edits and re-writing are doubling exciting, because you’re the daughter, collaborating with your mom. What a wonderful story!
If I never tried to type it into a word processer document, I suppose I might be able to leave it be. But the second I start typing, it’s as if my fingers have a mind of their own. As long as it feels as exciting as it does now, I know I can’t stop myself.
Wow, Francis! Ever since I read your initial post about the partial manuscript, I hope the remaining would turn up.
This might be a lot of work, but if I were in your position, I would first retype as is (or hire someone) just to have a record of your mother’s original work. After that, I would re-write it with the Francis touch.
This is so exciting!
You’ve got the work part right, Jill 🙂 I like the idea of retyping as is for posterity and a baseline but, as I said in another comment, the minute I start typing, I start reworking. Can’t seem to help myself. It sure is exciting.
This is great! It kind of cracks me up to see how super organized your mom was – I mean after reading some of your descriptions of the way you work.
What about a combination memoir/novel about a woman finding her mother’s manuscript? I hope it’s dated: you could write memories of your mom corresponding to the dates,followed by an excerpt of the manuscript, followed by your rewrite of the novel – in sections. You could illustrate it with photos of the manuscript (those you posted are great) and photos of your childhood, etc.
I know it sounds complicated, but it provides its own sort of self-propelling structure.
PS I’m sorry I’ve been a bad reader of late!
Hi Claire – nice to see you anytime you comment 🙂 I love your ideas, though they seem like a lot of work but you’re right – the structure would build itself as the project went forward. I wonder about a book about the process. So many, many possibilities.
I’d leave it as is – and then use it as an inspiration for my own work. But I’d definitely leave it intact as your Mom intended. It would be a wonderful keepsake for your grandchildren and those who come after them …
Good points, Jenny. I do wonder about what would amount to a quite different story than the one intended. But there are so many unanswerable questions with a found work of this type. Since my mom never finished this manuscript to a state ready to submit anywhere – was she really serious about letting this story go public? She published short stories, so I know she had it in her to bring something from draft to completion. Was the mere writing of this story to the point she left it in enough for her? Lots to think about and I sure appreciate the other viewpoints that come from the comments on this post and the last one I did on this subject.
You have a fascinating, puzzling, exciting and frustrating task ahead, Francis. How intriguing! I’m anxious to hear what you decide to do. Were it me, I’m afraid I would also not be able to help myself and would plunge in typing and rewriting until the wee hours of the morning to take your mom’s book to publication. Best wishes. Gayle
What you are describing, Gale, is exactly what is happening to me. I am immersed so deep in this found story, I can hardly get to any other task. Post-it-notes of multiple colours are dotting the old manuscript and the structure I want to keep is emerging – slowly but surely. It’s a very exciting process.
Wow, Fran! This is the kind of thing that writers dream of…and a connection once more with your mom! Not only should you tackle this manuscript–since your mom probably would like that–but there’s a whole other story in your search for the “missing” parts. It will be good to read the completed version someday. Keep us posted. 🙂
Thanks, Mark. The story of how I manage with this old manuscript will be a good one in and of itself, as you say.
How exciting Fran! And your mother worked much in the same way as you do – planning, outlining, mapping. Or maybe you picked up those methods from her in her other writings?
I’d love to have the chance to work on an old, forgotten m/s – maybe more so if it was non-fiction and revealed something of the time it was written.
Maybe I did pick up these skills from my mom without ever realizing it 🙂 Fun thought, for sure. I’m thick into the endless pile of pages now and I’m pretty sure there will be no turning back.
What an exciting discovery! It would be a shame to just stuff it back in a box. But it really depends on whether you like the story enough to want to make something of it. If you do take on the job of revising and rewriting it, you could credit both of you.
I’ve sort of fallen in love with the story – and that might have to do with growing up with parts of it. What it needs is a really thorough developmental edit and I am enjoying the process so far.
Big dilemma. To be honest, I don’t know the answer, and I suspect if I were to give an answer it might not be what I would actually do in the situation. You need to trust your own judgement as a writer. Does you Mum’s manuscript actually need changing to make it better, or is that just your preferences coming to the fore. If you change it will it be a better book, or merely different.
Perhaps you could do something really exciting like publishing both — the manuscript as is, and your version of it, a variation on a theme by your Mum. Could set a new fad running.
I think if most definitely needs changing. Something akin to a very brutal developmental edit. There are more than a few creditability issues and redundancies. I have to believe the changes will make it not only different (that is inevitable) but also better. Publishing both isn’t an option. Mom’s manuscript is too rough without the work I’d put into it. It is a big dilemma, as you say.
I understand your hesitation but I think I would have a go. I work in fashion and we’re always “improving” on vintage–maybe that’s where I’m coming from 🙂
I bet your mum would love it if you did: a posthumous collaboration if you like.
I love the analogy of improving on vintage – like vintage wine or fashion. There are only so many stories around right? Everything is a variation on a given theme. I think my mom would be pleased with some of my ideas.