Yesterday I finished redrafting a novel I wrote over the summer of 2009. It is one step closer to the light of day, and I want to record its history. The story of the story, so to speak.
As everyone who knows me is aware, finding conventional employment (especially the kind for which a college degree supposedly prepares you) is not my strong suit. It was with some surprise then, that on graduating from college it appeared I would land a job at the NYC Mayor’s Office. But this was early 2009, the recession was in full swing and, to make a moderately long story short, I didn’t get the job.
It was a setback certainly, but not the end of the world. I had graduated in January, a semester early, and had enough money for rent and living expenses to take me through the end of July, when our apartment’s lease ended. Obviously I would find some sort of unpaid internship, maybe take a side job, and continue the job hunt.
I wrote a book instead (and partied. And played DOTA).
When the lease ended I had no job and no money, so I moved to Atlanta with one of my roommates, who had been accepted into Emory’s law school. The rent was about a third of what I paid in New York, and I had my own room. I had a first draft of a book, a handful of short stories, and some ambition. I would redraft the book, apply to MFA programs, get accepted into the Iowa Writer’s Workshop, find an agent on graduation, and return to New York, triumphant.
But I lacked discipline and faith, and about half-way through redrafting the book I decided it sucked, was so bad that reading it made me physically ill. So I gave up on it.
Then I didn’t do much of anything, up to and including getting out of bed, for a period of maybe six months. It was a dark time.
At some point my troubles… they didn’t go away exactly, but they became less suffocating. I started a second book (cause or effect? I do not know), but I got stuck on around page 100 and gave up.
Roughly a year after moving to Atlanta I started my third book. I wrote the first half in three months, took a three month break (interrupted by partying. And playing HoN), then wrote the second half in three months.
I also applied to six MFA programs (Austin, Alabama, Arizona, Iowa, Indiana, and Michigan). I wasn’t accepted into any of them. No worries, I would try again the following year.
I redrafted the third book.
Then Occupy Atlanta happened, consuming ever waking hour for six months and introducing me the love of my life.
We all know where Occupy led (nowhere). So MFAs, round two (Austin, Arizona, Iowa, Michigan, Northern Michigan, Portland, Wisconsin). Complete and utter rejection.
Following this unbroken string of failure, I took a break from writing and toyed with getting a REAL job (I never did). Eventually my morale recovered, and I redrafted the third book again. And I looked for an agent. No luck. So I began self-publishing, making a small amount of money and gaining no notoriety (my Amazon page and my Smashwords page).
Somewhere in here I moved from Atlanta to Nashville.
On November 8th I finished Draft 2.5 of my novel, tentatively titled Merchants of Zion.
Thanks to my own record keeping and the magic of dated email, I can provide some statistics about the book.
Based on what I believe to be the original word document, I began writing the book on April 12th, 2009. It was finished on July 28th, 2009. It was 90348 words. A whole book in less than 4 months. I doubt I could recreate that kind of productivity now. Even then, I was averaging less than 1000 words a day.
The details of draft #2 are lost forever, though the edits survive.
Draft 2.5 is chronicled on paper. Last Christmas my brother bought me a calendar, on which I catalogue my daily battles with writing productivity. I also record when I finish drafts, blog posts, and –when I remember—books I’ve finished reading.
The draft was begun on May 12th, 2014, just over five years after the book was begun. As I wrote earlier, it was finished on November 8th. Just shy of six months, and longer than it took me to write the entire first draft. In my defense, I have a job—of sorts—now, and have moved twice in the editing period. In the writing period I was unemployed and in one place. And had zero responsibilities. Regardless, this is the low end of productivity, even by my unproductive standards. I hope to finish the next draft before the end of the year.
This draft is 84803 words. I’d been aiming to cut it by 10%, but 6% isn’t terrible (at least the length didn’t increase). But the book, unlike this post, is missing an epilogue, and there are several other missing pieces that need to be written. In the third draft it will expand back beyond 90000 words, before being trimmed once again in the fourth.
After that, who knows?
So what is Merchants of Zion about? I wanted to write a book about people who live in a dystopia and don’t realize it. It is not 1984 or Brave New World, where the characters rage against the evils of an omnipotent, overarching oppression. In Merchants of Zion, the characters know that the world they inhabit isn’t imperfect, but the fact that the homeless are whisked away to slave camps and a singular corporate-government entity owns everything are of only mild interest compared to their careers and love lives.
It’s also a book about a sci-fi world gone wrong, where the promise of artificial intelligence is no match for the ensuing legal liability, and a burgeoning space industry is powerless before the onslaught of a credit crunch.
As much as technology has accomplished, it can’t solve problems like human greed and callousness. I wanted to explore how it is that people find a way to survive, and maybe even find happiness, no matter what the world looks like.