A Book in The Drawer … Right Where It Should Be
I have a book in the drawer. Okay, it’s not in an actual drawer. It’s in a box with old tax documentation under my fax/scanner. I also have electronic copies stashed in several places. Not that it matters. It will never see the light of day.
The Book in the Drawer is a phrase I’ve heard often from other authors. It’s the practice novel, the one that never got published. If a fiction-writers bible were ever to be written, the psalms might include the following lamentation:
Oh, Lord, have mercy on my wretchedness.
I have been cast out into the wilderness of time wastage.
I have put my pen to many a parchment,
Pages that speak from the depths of my soul,
And yet my toil has been for naught!
Alas, my Book is in The Drawer.
I wrote my drawer novel out of aggravation. I had just read a remarkably bad book. The only thing I liked about it was the premise: two people trapped in an elevator. (She was beautiful, he was handsome. Of course. Yawn.) I found myself wondering, What would I do with that for a starting point? Who would I put in that elevator?
I decided that the man has just come from a family barbecue at which his siblings have lambasted him for being selfish. The woman is a recovering alcoholic with an unmedicated anxiety disorder. The elevator gets stuck between floors during a power outage, and the woman has a panic attack and pees her pants.
I called it The Hyperventilating Pants-Wetter Society. It took me a year to write. In the end, the best thing about it was the title, which I still really love.
And it almost got published! I had an agent and everything. (He completely ignored me then shunted me off to some 24-year-old “associate” who clearly hated me and my book. After a couple of painful months they decided it was unpublishable, notifying me by registered letter. I am not making this up. Seriously, they couldn’t have picked up the phone?)
I was in a state of ocean-floor level misery until I remembered how much I disliked and was slightly afraid of them both. Also, by that time I had written my next novel, Shelter Me, and I knew it was better than The Hyperventilating Pants-Wetter Society, except for the title, which, for my money, is hard to beat.
Shelter Me was eventually repped by my current agent, and after she got it sold, I asked her to read The Hyperventilating Pants-Wetter Society. She was not enthusiastic—didn’t even think it could be fixed—so I left it in The Drawer (so to speak) and turned my efforts toward the new story I was working on.
There are three things I’m grateful for regarding The Hyperventilating Pants-Wetter Society:
1. That I completed it. Before that, I truly had no idea if I could take a story from a bunch of stray thoughts to a full-length novel with a recognizable beginning, middle and end. It allowed me to put an official check mark next to something I’d always had on my bucket list: write a novel. Not write a bestseller or even get published. Just put the words on paper from start to finish.
2. That it’s in The Drawer. For a while I had a hard time with the fact that I’d spent an entire year writing something that would never see the light of day. At one point I went back to see if I couldn’t—oh, how foolishly—prove my agent wrong by buffing it to a publishable state. I couldn’t. It was not good. And if it had been published, I would be embarrassed by it now. It was a practice novel, pure and simple.
The third thing is a little surprising. My father read and loved The Hyperventilating Pants-Wetter Society. As an adoring and completely biased parent, he loved that novel.
A couple of months ago, he was helping a friend with incapacitating claustrophobia—especially in elevators. Her father was very ill and being treated on the twelfth floor of Massachusetts General Hospital. She desperately wanted to visit him, but not being in great health herself, she couldn’t walk up twelve flights. My father went along to help her get through the elevator ride. As they waited on the ground floor, she became terribly anxious, and he thought she might not be able to make it.
He later told me, “I wanted to distract her, so I started telling the story of The Hyperventilating Pants-Wetter Society. By the time the elevator came she was laughing, so I kept going. When we got to the twelfth floor she couldn’t believe the ride was over so fast.”
Thus, 3. That it helped someone.