Novel approaches: part 5

I’ve recently learned from my publisher Alexandra that Two Birds will be out at the end of November. Things, as they often do, may change, but it’s safe to say it’ll be on the shelves this year – 2012 – which, by my calculations, is 23 years past my original publication date.

See, when I was soon to be graduating college back in 1986, I gave myself three years to see my first novel in print. Dickens’s first novel, The Pickwick Papers, started in serial form when the author was 24. King’s debut, Carrie, came out when he was 26. I couldn’t see any reason why Pearson couldn’t present himself to the reading world when he was 25. Three years was plenty of time in which to craft a worthy novel.

I know…delusional. Those men were and are otherworldly. I am a mere mortal. I’d need a couple more decades.

And the thing is, I could have been published years ago, way before my original deadline, and way before I even established that deadline. I could’ve have a book published when I was 10 years old, when I was a fourth grader at Converse Street School in Longmeadow, Mass. But at that tender age, in what would become a debilitating, self-destructive pattern, I learned how to blow off deadlines and dismiss the expectations of others – of those who believed in me. In retrospect, I’d like to attribute such deficiencies to the immaturity of my brain, which was still ripening and trying to get comfortable in my skull. But I can’t. I know it was fear.

If you’re not familiar with the 1991 Albert Brooks film Defending Your Life, get familiar with it. It’s brilliant. It tells the tale – “the first true story of what happens after you die” – of a dead man (Brooks, in his comedic prime) lingering in Judgment City, where he’s basically on trial, having to testify that he’s learned enough in his most recent life to earn the right to proceed to “the next level.” But in a series of hilarious clips from his life, we see that fear has kept him from making important decisions – that he’s played it too safe, so afraid of failing that he’s hardly even tried.

That movie struck a chord with me, since I know there have been times where I haven’t pushed myself to do something, so certain I was of failure. While that’s no longer a concern of mine – for proof, I am writing a public record of the events leading up to the publication of my first novel (what the hell am I doing?) – it was in my younger days. Sure, I still have moments of paralyzing self-doubt, but at least I still forge ahead. That wasn’t always the case.

It was in elementary school that I resolved to be a writer when I grew up. My fourth grade teacher, Janet Carestia, understood this. In an act of encouragement that I couldn’t comprehend (remember, my brain was still working out its kinks), she suggested I write a book to be bound and covered and placed on the shelves of the school library. She wasn’t kidding. She must’ve spoken with the librarian, who must have agreed with her proposal. What an amazing teacher. I mean, what could be better for an aspiring writer than to have his teacher say he could have a book that he’s written placed in the school’s library? It nearly brings me to tears today.

How did I repay her kindness and generosity? Though I had written plenty of other stories up to that time, I found myself unable to complete the one slated for publication. I fiddled with it, but barely. Ms. Carestia asked me about it time and again, and grew understandably frustrated by my lack of progress. I gradually pushed the idea out of my mind, because, after all, I was just a kid and there was no way I could have a book in the school library…even though Ms. Carestia had guaranteed I would. Eventually, gauging my lack of interest, she dropped it. I’m sure I was a great disappointment to her.

Fear sucks. Thankfully, I’ve learned to give it the finger and move on, no longer anxious about making myself look foolish. Between writing for the newspaper for 14 years and playing in bands for six, I’ve come to appreciate audiences, not fear them.

And if Converse Street School hadn’t been turned into condos 20-some-odd years ago, and if Two Birds didn’t have a fair amount of sex and violence and adult language in it, how I’d love to place a copy of my first novel on its library shelves this year.

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Dana Pearson is a writer living in Kennebunk, Maine.
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