The Manuscript in Kathleen’s Drawer

My first manuscript was a twenty-thousand-word trashfire of a multi-generational family saga. I’d decided to try being a novelist (New Year’s Resolution 2015), and then wrote a couple hundred words a few times per week. I published the scenes (now deleted) on my personal blog, which added a bit of accountability to the project.

Alice, the main character, went through various life stages. I wrote out of order, tackling pivotal moments I thought would reveal bits of her character. Her mother, Evelyn, and her father, Frank, proceeded through their imperfect and often toxic marriage. The story had no beginning, middle, or end.

Almost exactly a year after I’d started, I had a flash of an idea for Minor Dramas. The inciting incident–Julia, a grown woman, storms the high school drama bulletin board to see whether her darling son has gotten the part he deserves in the musical–made me laugh and smile and had me glued to my laptop for more than the ten or fifteen minutes I usually spent on The Drawer Project.

Certain aspects of the process, though, remained the same. I still wrote out of order, flitting in and out of scenes. I still had no beginning, middle, or end. I also had 150 pages with no antagonist, a part of the process I would not repeat. I wrote much more and faster as I went along, but it still took a full two years between first words and querying, and then another year before it sold. (And one more before it released in February 2020).

Our next projects are a Debutante Ball topic for another week, but I’ll tease mine a little bit: Alice Sullivan, the grown-up version of the girl I wrote about in that first drawer manuscript, is the main character in my second novel, Are We There Yet? Her parents, Evelyn and Frank, are in it, too. Their circumstances are wildly different, yet I definitely mined the character seeds from that first flaming pile of words. That felt good. No writing is a waste, I’ve discovered. You never know what goodies you’ll accidentally leave for yourself in those unpublishable drafts.

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Kathleen West

Kathleen West is the author of the forthcoming novel, Minor Dramas & Other Catastrophes, out 2/4/20 from Berkley. She lives in Minneapolis with her family.