I don’t have a trunk or a drawer of manuscripts that will never see the light of day so much as I have a giant sinkhole of ’em, all at various states of decaying into one another. Whenever I’m asked about my previous books, my first books, my works in progress, my works never finished, how many I wrote before I won the proverbial Author Lottery, I think about this pile, its layers both distinct and inseparable.
I wonder, what counts as a completed book? At what point is the book I started writing in 5th grade distinct and separate from the document on my drive that’s labeled Draft 2017 that has the same characters, the same setting, but an entirely different everything else? At what point is the literary fiction I initially titled “This One Has a Happy Ending” a different book from the fantasy I queried years and states and a different name later that definitely doesn’t have a happy ending?
(I have a brand, I know)
I wonder, which count as trunked? Which don’t? Did I need to have written them with the intent of publication, of querying? Clearly the stories and books I wrote when I was in middle school were never intended for publication, because I didn’t even know that was a thing. But the NaNoWriMo YA novel about secretive government operations and Faerie and (honestly just an excuse to write about) lightning in snow storms – does that count? I wasn’t quite serious about writing yet, but full of maybes.
What about the high fantasy epic I worked on in college, drawing its gods and maps? I wrote that full of publication hope, even if I never showed it to anyone else. But does that count as fully trunked? I’m not sure I’ll ever dredge it up from its place in the sinkhole, but I might still reuse the story at its heart – one about the power of narrative and tyranny. And the story it spawned, the one I queried, the one about betrayal and ghosts (and cannibalism) – that counts as trunked, right?
Because I have stories I’ve queried and stories I stopped just shy of querying and stories in various states of disrepair and entropy all jostled up together. I’ve stripped elements from some and some I’ve simply grown up and away from – but all of them, each and every single one of them, has made me the writer I am today.
Some writers bemoan the books they’ve trunked, and understandably so. You put so much time and energy into it, only for it to go nowhere. But has it really gone nowhere? Or has it brought you further than you were before, to here, to now, to the next book?
We tend to think of trunked books as locked away, never to see the light of day. But that’s not quite true. The book you’re writing now, the book you just published, the books out under that light all have pieces of those trunked books. Those now books couldn’t exist without those then books.
Those books are the roots that feed what you’re writing now and tomorrow. And who knows, you might still unearth some, untangle them from the rest, but its time underground will have changed it.
Then, changed, does it still count as trunked?
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