In: From life
My first novel was a blatant rip-off of Ira Levin
I was sixteen and had just finished reading Rosemary’s Baby and The Stepford Wives in rapid succession. My literary ambitions outweighed any talent I thought I possessed: I intended to be crowned the new king of horror, and my novel (the title of which I’ve since forgotten)–amounting to nothing more than Rosemary’s Baby-meets-The Stepford Wives–was going to win me a legion of followers and make Stephen King shit his pants.
I spent much of my sophomore year imitating Levin’s style on a huge Brother word processor. That machine was loud: after running a spell-check and saving a chapter to a floppy disk (probably labelled simply BRANDON in my obsessively tidy handwriting), I’d begin methodically feeding sheets of paper into the word processor. It was time-consuming. My bedroom would be filled with an incessant, rapid-fire klack-klack-klack as I printed out my chapters. (My bold-faced chapter numbers sounded like klackklackklack. Klackklackklack. Klackklackklack.) Between the klacking sounds, I heard a mechanical whir-clunk when the typewriter shifted to start the next line. And after every page–blessed silence.
Then I’d start up again. And again. Sometimes for only fifteen minutes, other times for almost an hour. And there I was, sitting at my desk, staring as my novel took on paper and cursing under my breath whenever I caught a typo, a missed word, a missed punctuation mark.
It drove my mother temporarily insane. But she failed to realize that she was listening to the klack-klack-klack of a classic in progress. Some of those machine-gun-like noises made up the dedication: For Mom. Those were the sounds of Stephen King’s funeral dirge. I was going to usurp his throne and take over the bestseller lists. Several hours of annoying klacking seemed like a small price to pay.
The next day, after school, I trudged over to a copy store and carefully placed several pages of my novel face-down on a copy machine and began pumping in nickels, dimes, quarters. The clerk later informed me that he had a machine where I could just plop my–"What is this, a book report?"–work of horrific art in a tray and have it copied pretty quickly. I took his advice, and soon left with three copies totalling just over three hundred pages.
Then, imagining exclamations of praise and shudders of revulsion, I handed out two copies–one to my mom and one to a friend–and told them to prepare to be utterly horrified. I did research for my novel. This is scary. It has witchcraft in it. The occult. Satanism. People die in it. And the ending! Wait’ll you read–
Alas, it wasn’t to be. Mary hated it: "I can’t believe you made me read that. You gave me nightmares." My mom, perhaps simply feeding my new ego, said she liked it–until the end. "Your ending needs work." My grandmother told me the same thing. But they didn’t understand! It was supposed to end like that! You’re supposed to imagine what happened at the end! That’s the point!
Grandma: "Well, I know. I could tell. But we don’t want to imagine the ending. You have to write it."
But I wasn’t daunted. I spent six months typing that damn thing out, and another week or so listening to klack-klack-klack in order to make my masterpiece a reality. I tidied up the ending–"Much better," my mom told me after I made her read my novel again–I flipped through the phone book and, after selecting a literary agency, carefully klacked out a cover letter. I quadruple-checked the agent’s name and mailing address. Then I picked up a jumbo envelope from the grocery store and, after making sure everything was perfectly in order, stuffed my novel inside and went back to the copy store. I mailed my novel to the literary agent, again imagining praise and lost sleep. He was about to read the first work by the new Stephen King.
Several weeks passed. I eagerly awaited the agent’s response. My hopes dimmed. I got caught up in schoolwork and started my first job, at Wendy’s, working from five to eight in the evening. I almost forgot about the literary agent and put my literary aspirations on hold while I asked people if they’d like to Biggie Size their orders.
Then I got a letter in the mail. I immediately recognized the return address: it was from the literary agency I’d sent my novel to.
I tore open the letter and quickly read it. Then embarrassment flooded my cheeks. It was a stock rejection letter.
But the literary agent had enclosed a handwritten note. I was a good writer. I had a lot of talent. He was pretty impressed. My novel wasn’t what he was looking for, and the ending needed work, but he enjoyed my novel. Finish school, go to college, then start publishing.
I threw away the letter and the note, feeling a strange sense of pride. My novel may have been awful, but it was nice to know, after so many stops and starts, I could actually finish one. Maybe that was the point all along.