I have a veritable stockpile of poems none of y’all are ever going to read, and you should thank your lucky stars because those words– though they taught me about imagery and evoking emotion and storytelling– they are not good words. There are 23 versions of my first novel sitting on a hard drive next to 3 years of MFA poetry work that you’re also not going to read. And that’s okay.
Over the course of writing four (nearly five! By Sunday it should be five!) finished novels and a metric fuckton of poems, I’ve learned a lot about myself as a storyteller. But it was my first novel-length work that helped me figure out what I want to be when I grow up. I want to be a novelist. I love this job, and I really hope I get to keep doing it.
My first book taught me that I can write a book-length project and keep all the bits and pieces in my head. It reminded me that words can be fun. After 5 years in college and 3 in graduate school, I needed the reminder. I needed a bridge to help me get from the world of literary fiction and poetry to the kinds of stories I’m truly excited about: stories that push the boundaries of our world and touch those we can only imagine.
My first book helped me learn how to weave pieces of our world into one of my own imaginings. It helped me see the world in a whole new light, helped me learn to file away the details of my day to help color a scene later. I found that working on a novel made me appreciate the sights and smells and sounds that peppered my daily life. It made me wake up and pay more attention, and that, in turn, made me much, much happier.
Finally, my first book reminded me that I love where I come from. I set my first book in the mountains where I grew up, and every word of that book is an ode to the verdant coves, lush hollows, and vicious peaks that watched over my childhood. That book made it possible for me to see the beauty in a place I’d worked hard to escape. Growing up in East TN was hard for me, but when I was writing that first book, I found myself drawn once more to the mountains, to the stories and folklore and rich landscape of the Smokies, a setting that I’ve come back to again and again in my later work.
You won’t ever read my first book, but threads of that work are woven through everything I’ve written since and every story still marinating in my brain. What parts of your trunked novels do you carry with you?