“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?