Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Buried Treasure

Oh, my.

Over the past year or two, I've made a number of forays into my type 703 boxes of old papers, looking for my Mâvarin maps, for old poems, for stuff from my Clarion days and other items that I desperately wanted to find again. Sometimes I found one or more of the things I was looking for, sometimes not.  Sometimes I found things I had previously failed to find.  Sometimes I found things I didn't remember owning or drawing or collecting or writing.  Overall, though, I built up a mental list of the following missing items:

1.  Either the color map of Mâvarin, or the black and white one that preceded it, or any photocopy of either.  One of them was drawn by my next door neighbor in Manlius, Sue Keeter, now a professional artist.  The other was drawn by John, based on Sue's map.  The reason I wanted it was that I wanted to reconcile it with all that I've written since then, and use the result as the basis for a new map. 

2. The comic ballad of Epli and Amtula, rejected by The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (F&SF) circa 1975. I refer to the existence of the song at least twice in the books, and wanted the text of it to possibly revise and include.

3.  The poem 4967, and the 1976 update of it.

4.  The poem Window Taps, or at least my 2004 reconstruction of it.  The latter really shouldn't be hard to find, but it is.

5.  My first letter from Harlan Ellison, on its distinctive gray stationery.

6.  Harlan's address, so I can send him those photos I promised.

7.  A program from the play I Love My Wife, autographed by Tom and Dick Smothers.

8.  A spiral notebook of my early writing and art, and I mean very early, as in late elementary school.

9.  A story I started about someone named Jon, which may or may not be the alien telepathy story, and which may have been printed in Mycenae Gazelles.  I wanted to know whether that related to my abandoned early novel attempt, The Simian, or to the creation of JW, or neither.

There are probably other items I've been persistently missing, but you get the idea.

Well, tonight I wanted to pull out one of those one-page story beginnings for Becky.  The boxes are not well organized, so any given box may have stuff from junior high and college, but skip high school; or from high school, a little college and then 1986 or 1993.  Still, there was one box I hadn't been through recently.  At the moment it happens to be on top of the pile of boxes teetering on my office floor, because I didn't put things back in the closet after my Friday night foraging.  (Read: tired and lazy and busy.)  Judging from what was on top, the contents of the open box looked to be from 2001 or so, far too late to hold any hidden treasure.


Just a couple of inches down, I found a semi-thick folder of Mâvarin notes from 1974 through 1977, the very early days of my attempt to write the first book.  Together with the box I recently found to contain single-spaced drafts typed on erasable bond using my mom's manual typewriter in 1974, it's the genesis of the Mâvarin novels, as envisioned by a 17-year-old Tolkien fan.  Not only that, but farther down in the box were notes and letters and whole notebooks of fragmentary material from 1989, when I sat in restaurants, finally finishing the first full draft of what was then called The Tengrem Sword.

I didn't find either of the good maps tonight, but I found a bad photocopy of part of a different one.  It's full of place names long-since forgotten, and totally unsuited to the revised geography developed for Mages of Mâvarin.  One good thing:  I found out the name of the ocean.

bad photocopy of part of a map I probably drew myself.

Remember my mention of a song written in Mâvarinû?  I found that, too.  I don't know what every word of it means, but notes in the same folder reveal that the song refers to races and species that I dumped or renamed decades ago.  If I want to revive it, I'll have to revise it.

The Ballad of Epli turned up, too, and I'm sorry to say that it's terrible.  I'm embarrassed now that Ed Ferman of F&SF ever saw the thing.  Nevertheless, I'll type it into my LiveJournal, Mâvarin and Other Inspirations, as an object lesson in how bad a high school poem can be and still be fondly remembered.

Reading through pages of handwritten notes and fragmentary drafts, I'm struck by how naive and juvenile and embrionic it all is.  My first attempt to differentiate Mâvarin from Middle Earth consisted of changing the names of everything, and mostly leaving them alone otherwise.  Somehow I thought that if I called them "haven" instead of "dwarves," "bargen" instead of "dragons" (so help me!), and made sure that shamûnen didn't have pointy ears, that would make it all original.  Harry, the wizard sidekick in my Joshua Wander serial, gets pages and pages of notes, including an admonition not to make him too silly compared to the rest of the story.  And yet I have a song parody that he sings on one page, which I knew even then I couldn't use in the book.

very early notes for the end of the book, completely different from what I eventually wrote.

What does all this mean to me?  Well, I'll tell you.  It means a couple of things: 

From a purely egotistical point of view, it means I've preserved the beginnings of the book(s) for whatever historical, biographical or literary value they may eventually have.  Many years ago, I went with my family to a museum in Chatham, Massachusetts.  The one thing I remember about the experience was that they had old papers, including early versions of some writer's work.  I vowed then and there to hang onto my early writing, so that when I was a famous and successful writer, people would be able to trace the humble beginnings and evolution of it all.  That sounds terribly pompous now, but I still believe it, at least in principle.  Just today, a handwritten draft of Kerouac's On the Road went on display, all 200-something feet of it on butcher paper or whatever it was, one very long sheet. I'm not saying the Ballad of Epli and Amtula will ever inspire the interest people have in Kerouac, or for that matter Tolkien, but it's still good to have it, as a curiosity if nothing else.

And that brings me to my second point.  The primary value of having all these handwritten notes and typed pages from high school and beyond lies in how very different it all is from the version of Heirs of Mâvarin that currently sits on my hard drive. In 1975, my Mâvarin book consisted of that pathetic Tolkien-inspired poem, a story with an illogical beginning, no middle and an unsatisfactory ending, and many pages of largely misguided notes.  If thirty years
and thousands of pages can take me from that junk to what I have now, then it's been worth all the time: the false starts and years of neglect, the notes on napkins and the printouts sent to friends, the pointed questions at Clarion, the disheartening rejections from editors and agents--all of it.  It's all worth it, because I know how far I've come, how bad it was then, how good it is now. 

I just have to do that last draft (again), revise the cover letter (again), and gather my courage to send it back out into the world, seeking an agent and an editor who agree with me that the book's time has finally come.



deabvt said...

What wonderful finds! You must have been so excited.

plittle said...

I wish I could find that old notebook of mine.

chasferris said...

I am impressed with the logical analtical way the young you approached your novel to be.  I am afraid I approached my writing with unashamed imitation
   on the other hand, I won a short story writing contest in junior high by analysing.  There is not enough dialog in student writing....so I wrote my short story in all dialog, no narrative.  It was different enough..and I won.

ryanagi said...

Glad I could help! LMAO ;-) I should send you looking for something else so you can find the rest of the stuff on your list. Very interesting to see the genesis of your novel.