A friend is writing an essay called “Island of the Misfit Novels” and asked me to say something about what abandoning a novel feels like to me.
Well, it feels awful.
I am absolutely convinced that each novel I’ve written, published or abandoned, exists somewhere in the universe, absolutely real. For example, way back in the 1980’s, I set a novel in funky little resort town in northern Michigan, a place that was remarkable to me in a number of ways, including the fact that there was a mangy caged bear at a gas station at an intersection near the lake. Giving directions, locals would say, “Turn left (or right) at the bear,” and I loved this so much that I gave one of my characters a house you got to by turning left at the bear.
To this day, I have never turned left at the bear myself—and, though the bear is long dead, I never will. It’s crazy, I know, but I’m convinced that May is living with her quirky mother in the fabulous Victorian house that I made for her, looking out on the lake, pondering the relationship I set in motion, and waiting for me to return and help her resolve it.
If I turned left, whatever real world I found would vanquish the one I imagined once and for all—and I would never be able to get back to it or to the people I made and for whom I feel as responsible as I do for my own children.
Which, I guess is what I have to say about abandoned novels: I am pretty much in denial about the fact that I’m never, ever going back to them. It feels as if there’s a door in my head for each one of them, and some part of me just can’t stop believing that someday, if I can just live long enough, I’ll open those doors one-by-one, fix my characters’ lives, resolve...everything.
It’s exactly the way I feel about my own (real) life.