by J.D. Rhoades

As writers, we all hit a wall at some point, that horrible moment when it looks as if the damn thing is never going to get done, it’s a huge waste of time, why did I ever think I was a writer, I wish that giant asteroid would just hurry up and wipe out all life on Earth. etc. And, we’re told, to be a real writer. you have to push on through that wall and finish the work.

But according to  this article in the New York Times on  “writers who abandon novels”,  it seems that  lot of, not just “real writers”, but famous,  talented and respected ones,  have started works they never finished for various reasons.

Michael Chabon leads off, talking about how he abandoned his second novel, “Fountain City,” after five and a half years of work because, he says,  he could feel it  “erasing me, breaking me down, burying me alive, drowning me, kicking me down the stairs.” (Wait, that’s not how it’s supposed to feel?)

Some writers who admit to having dropped projects might surprise you. Stephanie Meyer apparently stopped work on her “Twilight”  spin-off  “Midnight Sun” after 12 chapters were leaked to the Internet because,  she says,  she felt “too  sad.” Whether she was angry about the leak or the quality of the work is not specified in the NYT  article.  Harper Lee allegedly quit work on  her second novel, tentatively titled “The Long Goodbye,” after “To Kill A Mockingbird” became such a runaway success.  “When you’re at the top,” she told a relative, “there’s only one way to go.” Maybe she also got “too sad” after realizing Raymond Chandler had already written a book by  that name.

Well, if these people can admit to abandoning their children, I guess I can. Some of my foundlings include:

DEVILS AND DUST- the fourth Jack Keller novel and the wrap up of the series. where Jack has to go looking for his friend and sometime sidekick Oscar Sanchez, who’s disappeared while looking for his sons who went missing while trying to enter the country.

Reason for abandoning: lack of enthusiasm for another Keller novel on the part of my publisher.

DYING BREED- another “redneck noir”  novel about two young men who grew up in foster care. One turned out okay, one went bad, but the “bad” one shanghais the “good” one into a doomed plan to rescue their mother from the clutches of her boyfriend, a small time drug dealer trying to go big time by ripping off his sadistic boss.  Pretty soon everyone’s in way over their heads, including a couple of cynical DEA agents on the trail of said boss.

Reason for abandoning: My agent said, and I quote: “I don’t love it.” I did end up lifting the twin redneck bodyguards, Liberty and Justice,  and using them in LAWYERS, GUNS AND MONEY, where they’re not quite as evil, but still scary.

THE KING’S JUSTICE-definitely not the sort of thing you’ve come to expect from me, this was a medieval-fantasy post-apocalyptic mystery. Several hundred years ago, a  war that culminated in the magical equivalent of a nuclear exchange killed every wizard on both sides, destroyed most of their armies,  and left a huge swath of territory not only devastated, but polluted by residual and unpredictable magic. Now, in time of peace,  the area is beginning to be re-settled, but it’s still a wild  frontier. The King’s authority is maintained by travelling Justices such as the portly, jolly, and shrewd Master Justice Taras Flinn, who travels from town to town  with his Watson-like apprentice and their valet Jacky (a former thief),  holding court, solving mysteries, and looking for the next inn where he can get a decent meal and a tankard of ale.

Reason for abandoning: I’d put a couple of short Taras Flinn pieces up on an early e-pubbing site called MightyWords and gotten some good feedback, (and a couple of dollars). Then MightyWords went toes-up, I  started writing The Devil’s Right Hand, and that’s the one that sold. (And just a reminder: The Devil’s Right Hand  is now available again for Kindle, Nook, etc. for only  .99 for a limited time).

LIGHTFOOT: this sci-fi adventure featuring a lone-wolf, wisecracking space-freighter captain was abandoned because it sucked. I mean really sucked. It taught me that I absolutely wasn’t ready to write SF. Let us draw a veil over it and speak of it no more.

The New York Times article mentions that sometimes “dead” projects rise again: Stephen King’s recent “Under the Dome,”  for example,  was an abandoned project from 30 years ago that finally clicked.

So who knows? One day one of these projects may see the light of day. Or maybe not.

So, fellow ‘Rati, spill: what abandoned children are sitting on your hard drive? Have you ever looted them for parts, characters, dialogue, etc.  for use on other works? Anything you might ever go back to, or is there a project that you feel needs a stake through its heart to stay dead? Finally,  when,  if at all, do you know it’s time to let a failing project go? 


19 thoughts on “Foundlings

  1. Mikaela

    Abandoned children? What are you talking about? They are just waiting for me to get back to them! 😀

  2. Barbie

    Oh! Oh! Oh! I can soooo identify with that. Do you really want to know how many abandoned children I have? Let me count. I have SIX unfinished projects, none of which I plan to abandon. There's one with more than 44K words, a romantic suspense I started long ago before I knew how to write — and I mean technically, I didn't even know punctuation. AND I had exactly FIVE parallel stories happening at the same time — so, basically, I have 44K words of pure crap, even though I have the story fully developed in my head. Some day, I want to dissect it, because I have full stories for the side stories I'd developed, so, I could probably use that.

    The problem with me is simple: I have characters in my head and they're bossy. They want to be written, when they want to be written and they won't leave me alone till I write them. So, I have a bunch of started-but-not-finished projects because whenever I'm writing something, there comes a character that won't let me sleep. Yeah, I'll never be able to be an author if I don't find a way to control all these people 😛

  3. Karen Olson

    I'm reworking an old manuscript right now. I've changed everything about the protagonist, although am keeping much of the action in the same place. The basic plot is also the same, but with some differences due to the new protagonist's backstory. I liked it the way it was before, but I think the changes are definitely making it even better.

    Dusty, you should definitely go back to the KING'S JUSTICE. It sounds fantastic.

  4. Alexandra Sokoloff

    >>>“erasing me, breaking me down, burying me alive, drowning me, kicking me down the stairs.” (Wait, that’s not how it’s supposed to feel?)<<<<

    Hah. Exactly.

    I have a whole first draft of a novel – the hardest part!! – that I've not gone back to because I was writing it at a time that a loved one was going through a Sheenesque breakdown, and I can't deal with the feelings the story still brings up. I hope some day I can.

    There's another that I put aside because it was uncomfortably different from other books I've written and I had an idea that my agent and I both agreed was better to work on in the short term. I've never really done that before, I'm pretty fanatic about finishing what I start, but this time it really did seem like the best decision.

    Great topic!

  5. Richard Maguire

    I agree with Karen.

    J.D., your paragraph briefly outling the story of THE KING'S JUSTICE had me wanting to know a lot more about what happens. It sounds fascinating.

  6. Matt

    I went back to an old film script a couple of years ago that had been sitting in the basement of my brain for several years. I've now got a US sales agent on board and possible co-pro interest in the UK. I had to rework it a fair bit, but the essence of the story was still the same.

    Got a US crime/comedy novel that I must get back to as well some day. Best thing I ever wrote, but never had time to market correctly in the States with paid film script work and journalism pieces.

    Intrigued about the thought of lifting characters from one piece and putting into another one.

  7. JT Ellison

    Oh Dusty, have you ever hit a nerve. I have too many proposals littering my computer to count. I trust that I'll get the time to write them someday. Some have been abandoned because my agent didn't love them, some aren't ready for the light of day. Two or three I plan to write, just as soon as I finish… yeah – that's my biggest problem. Too little time and too many ideas.

    I too vote for the King's Justice. That sounds amazingly cool.

  8. Bryon Quertermous

    I've only abandoned 2 novels and they both sucked because I was trying to write for the market instead of myself. They are both mixed 1st/3rd person "thrillers" that are just awful.

    I also vote for The Kings Justice. Sounds like a great ebook project.

  9. JD Rhoades

    "Dusty, you should definitely go back to the KING'S JUSTICE. It sounds fantastic."

    "J.D., your paragraph briefly outling the story of THE KING'S JUSTICE had me wanting to know a lot more about what happens. It sounds fascinating."

    "I too vote for the King's Justice. That sounds amazingly cool."

    "I also vote for The Kings Justice. Sounds like a great ebook project."


  10. Rob Gregory Browne

    I abandoned a few novels I started many years ago when I could only dream of being a novelist. Most of them never lasted more than ten or twenty pages, and I just knew I wasn't yet ready to go the distance. Maybe I hadn't done enough living yet. Or maybe I didn't understand structure well enough. Whatever the case, they sit in a box somewhere, never to be resurrected.

    One novel I abandoned recently was called BOTTOM DEAL. I got about fifty pages in and realized I had no idea where it was going and couldn't think of a decent place to take it. So I dropped it in a drawer, only to pull it out a couple weeks later and turn it into a short story — a short story that wound up in the Killer Year anthology. Go figure.

  11. Alafair Burke

    I don't get rid of anything. Sometimes I jot down a few lines of dialogue having no idea where they came from, who said them, or in what context. When I'm looking for a new project, I peruse all my little miscellaneous notes and am always surprised where they take me.

  12. toni

    Add my vote for you to go back to King's Justice. I was frustrated that I couldn't buy the book right then after reading the description.

    One of my "abandoned" scripts was Bobbie Faye, which turned into a book. I have another script that is the One That Refuses To Die, as it is constantly being re-optioned (only to never get made), so I'm probably going to pull that one back to the foreground after finishing this current book and adapt it. In fact, I have two or three scripts I may do this with, since I worked out so much of the story issues while working on the scripts–seems a shame to waste them.

    There is one novel which will never see the light of day. I don't even know if I kept it, but I was about 600 pages in (yep, you read that right) and thinking I might be at the first act turning point, when I realized what that meant, page-count wise… and I wasn't entirely sure where it was going. I'm pretty glad I abandoned that one. I would probably still be trying to fix it, all these years later. [However, that character was the sort of beta version of Bobbie Faye, so she served her purpose.]

  13. KDJames

    Yes, another vote from me for The King's Justice. I'd read that. Absolutely.

    I have three "books" that I've abandoned. Mostly because I realized along the way (as I learned more about writing) that I had NO IDEA how to write a novel. Let alone come up with a decent idea for a plot. Or characters. They're the books that, if I wrote faster, I would have already sent to every agent/editor I could find, amassing volumes of well-deserved rejections. Sometimes I'm very grateful I write more slowly than I learn.

  14. Sylvia

    Sure I look. Then I shake my head and think someday I'll actually write a book.

    Until then, I'll continue to enjoy the work that all of you on Murderati produce and think of someday writing…more.

  15. Reine

    I shredded my doctoral thesis, because it sucked. Then I fed it to the toilet one piece at a time. Does that count?

  16. Debbie

    Late to the party but I had to…The King's Justice, please. As for Meyer she was so upset emotionally that she wanted to feed the Cullen family to their rivals. She said that she couldn't continue with that kind of emotion driving her writing, that emotionally she was no longer in the right place to tell the story and do it justice.

    Abandoned MS: I wrote a sequel to my first that needs a sub plot, but might be a candidate for publication as a stand alone as my first MS suffers from the same problem as Toni's. My third project got overtaken by the one I'm currently writing. The intent is to finish and then return to it because it is fully mapped out in my mind.

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