Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Who's on First?

Recently, I read a post on an agent’s blog warning against mentioning that the novel you’re querying is your first. Why? “Because, in my opinion, first novels are not very well written.” Though I understand his point (and he’s doubtless got mountains of partials to back it up), I’m forced to wonder just what it means when you say a novel is your first.

Okay, in the interest of full disclosure, here’s a snippet from a typical query for The Angels' Share:

Though The Angels' Share is my first novel, my short story “The World Behind” was recently accepted by Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine to appear in their Department of First Stories, June 2007.

Yep. I said it. My first novel. And it’s true, too, but not in the way that the afore-mentioned agent is assuming. The Angels' Share is the first novel I’ve completed. It’s the first novel-length work I’ve liked enough to finish, polish, and submit. And believe me, polish I have. But it sure as hell isn’t my first attempt.

Before I sat down to write The Angels' Share, I spent a year slogging away at another novel entirely. I had no idea what I was doing, and it showed. Eventually, I wrote myself into a corner, and it’s a damn good thing. You see, I learned a ton while writing that book, and one of the things I learned is to listen to your instincts. My instincts were screaming “THIS IS THE OPPOSITE OF GOOD,” and they were right. So, humbled, I regrouped and set out to write something new, applying the lessons I learned during that first ill-fated project. That something new wound up being The Angels' Share, a book I’m immensely proud of. So yeah, The Angels' Share is my first novel, but don’t hold that against it.

It’s worth noting that my prior attempt wasn’t technically my first whack at writing a novel, either. See, in high school, I got it in my head that I could write me a book, and I set out to do just that. I bought a nice, new notebook and started writing. No plot, no outline, no idea what in the hell I was doing. I was probably fifteen at the time, and solidly in the thrall of Neuromancer. The result was a near-future dystopic crap-pile of a book. Or, to be more precise, about 37 handwritten pages of a near-future dystopic crap-pile of a book. I’m pretty sure the whole affair ended with me throwing it out in frustration, and thank God. The last thing I need is for anyone to see that.