WHEN I was 23 or 24, I wrote the first chapter of what I intended to be my first novel, and to call it a piece of shit would be to insult all of the shit that has ever been published.
It was an angsty and lovelorn and overly earnest chapter about a guy not long out of college, who, sure as shootin’, looked and acted very much like his creator, an angsty and lovelorn and overly earnest guy not long out of college. Like virtually every young, first-time novelist, I was writing about myself and, like virtually every young, first-time novelist, I was doing a piss-poor job of it.
I stashed it on a floppy (yeah, yeah, I know–I’m old) and never went back to it, which is just as well, since it stood absolutely zero chance of attracting an agent’s eye, let alone a publisher’s.
That’s what I thought, anyway, until I read Jonathan Tropper’s Plan B. Tropper’s first novel, published around the time he turned 30, is about a group of panicky friends upset because they’re … turning 30.
Plan B features stock characters, vastly improbable dialogue, and hackneyed situations. It is an unsurprising book and a dreadfully typical debut novel, the exact–I mean, painfully exact–kind of rubbish I would have written when I was 30 but never would have shopped around because I’d have convinced myself that it sucked.
I don’t mean to trash Tropper, whom I quite like as an author, as he went on to develop his talent quite nicely and publish several books that are heartfelt, insightful, enjoyable works. It’s just true that Plan B is none of those things.
My anger, then, is self-directed. Tropper’s crappy book got published because he sat his ass down and wrote for weeks and weeks and weeks, revised for weeks and weeks and weeks, and scared himself up an agent who sold the damn thing. My achingly gorgeous first novel, a model of pitch-perfect prose, was never published because I NEVER WROTE IT.
A couple of old saws come to mind: Thomas Edison’s regarding the ratio of perspiration to inspiration in explaining genius, and Wayne Gretzky’s regarding missing every shot one doesn’t take.
Plan A–reading other writers’ work and whining that I could have done better–hasn’t gotten me published. Perhaps it’s time for my own Plan B. | DL