Okay, so according to our theme this week, we are each posting humiliating pieces of our early writing for our readers’ amusement and enlightenment. Unfortunately, as I wrote (but didn’t always finish) 34 novels before I was published, and started writing when I was but a tiny maggot, I had much material to choose from. There were many forms of badness to choose from, from the very subtle to the roaringly hilarious, but finally I put my writing faults into a few major categories:
1. The relentless melodrama of a teen with a cause. I wrote a lot of IRA thrillers when I was 14-17, usually about disenfranchised Irish men who wanted to make a difference and got sucked into a bad crowd, or Irish-Americans being forced to pay for the crimes of their fathers, or former IRA terrorists who now had realized that they found the wet work unappealing and were trying to get out despite blackmail and hilariously bad sworn threats. They all have different names, plots, etc., but one thing is the same: the melodrama.
Example A typifies this:
[some manly pen name so that when I got this gem published it would sit comfortably on the shelf with Jack Higgins, the reader never suspecting i was but a sixteen year old girl]
What then remains, but that we still
Not to be born, or being born, to die?
-Francis Bacon [I always had to have an enigmatic, fierce quote to start them off properly]
Belfast, Northern Ireland
Even the sounds of the street could not drown out the steady clatter of the flag pulling vainly at its bounds, high above the sidewalk. There was the harsh, metallic clatter against the flag pole, the soft, seductive rush of the flag in the breeze, and then the defiant snapping and cracking of the flag as the wind caught it and threw it here and there. [yep, the reader prolly knows what flags do]
It flew high above the sidewalks, where tourists and locals made their way to and from shops. It hung from a narrow flagpole, and was barely five feet long, but the shadow it cast could’ve stretched for hundreds of miles, a narrow strip of dark amongst the light. [again typical flag behavior, I’m waiting for the conflict here]
It was the British flag. [oh, SNAP! oh, wait . . . ]
It flew high above the Royal Ulster Constabulary police station, oblivious to everything below, cold and uncaring, for it was, after all, only a flag. [no comment. No, no comment]
2. There was the rampant abuse of cliches when I wrote fantasy. I used ’em all: unicorns slowly dying off, lost princes, forgotten heirs, thirteen-year enchantments, amnesiacs, dragons names Nagon, names formed with apostrophes, enchanters named Erik. And usually combined them with horrifically bad prose, syrupy description, and excessive internal monologue. Case in point, opening of a fantasy novel cleverly titled THE ENCHANTER:
The boy furrowed his brow. Where was he? He reached out with his hands and grabbed onto a branch. The thorns pressed into his hand, drawing blood, so it was no dream. But who was he? He sat up suddenly as he realized that he didn’t know who he was. [he’s an amnesiac! WOW! That’s never been used before in a novel!]
He looked down at himself. He wore a deep blue tunic with several slashes across it, tall, smooth, brown leather boots with short silver spurs, and tan leggings. He had a fit, tall, youthful frame, and his hands looked strong and well-used. [used for what, Erik? used for WHAT!?]
"Two plus two," he said aloud, listening to his own voice. "Four." He answered himself. So he knew arithmetic. He hadn’t totally lost his mind, whoever he was. [I wouldn’t go that far.] He simply had no identity.
3. There were the multiple non-IRA thrillers I attempted, all stunningly naive, which all could easily fall into the category of Harrison Ford fanfic. Go on, imagine him doing the voiceover on this one:
guitar. [so, typical guy things] He used to love black tea and getting up early. After that things start to fade into a studied schizophrenia. A lonely way to live– no, not exactly lonely. But my work is my life, so I know I’ll die doing exactly what I’m doing now. But no matter what happens, I’ll always remember that first day, that first month, that first year when the world changed for me forever. [cue helicopter shot of the Pentagon or close up of Harrison Ford’s face]
4. A trifling lack of concern for side characters. Not their welfare, but rather their personalities and appearances. In this lovely time-traveling novel, for instance (which I helpfully wrote as a seven-book series which got successively more painful until we ended up in the 1940s with some guy named Johann), kindly note the names of the maids.
"I’m only going as a scribe, and right now, I’m going to bed," Lizzie said. She sat down on a spare mattress, but the maids dragged her up again.
"No, you’re not," said Janey. "We have to get you ready for tomorrow’s ball."
"Oh, goody, this will be fun. She doesn’t have to ride, so she can wear ruffles and lace," said Beth. They began to poke her and fiddle with her hair. They started holding clothing up to her to check colors and sizes.
"Cream’s not her color, is it?" asked Ellie. All the maids shook their heads.
"Would her hair be better down or up?" asked Janey.
"Down," said Mary.
"Up," said Milly.
"How about lavender? Is that her color?" Ellie asked.
"No," said Beth. [Beth is clearly a rebel. Her name was originally Bethy, but she dropped the y when she dyed her hair black and started wearing an apron with rivets and skulls]
[I cut out more maid banter here, whereby they braid her hair and debate the color of her dress more]
"Well, let’s get to work," said Milly. Ellie handed Lizzie a beautiful green dress that looked a bit used. [used how? should we be asking Erik of the well-used hands?]
5. Nonsensical description. I was a fan of the metaphor, even back then, even if I didn’t quite understand that metaphors were supposed to clarify the situation, not make it murkier than a mill pond.
"I came because I need to speak to Lord Emerson," Dominic said.
"Why, you water rat! You came so that I wouldn’t look better than you by bringing more information!" Lizzie cried. [oooh, water rat! BURN!]
"You think quickly, for a fool," replied Dominic evasively. [o, i say verily, snap again.]
7. Action sequences too boring to live (this was something that pretty much covered every novel, whether we were blowing up Ford Cortinas, racing horses, murdering countesses, or whizzing through time]. I invite you to merely skim the next passage. I sure as hell did.
and finally, I would like to leave you with some choice sentences and remind you that yes, this is the writing of a NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLING AUTHOR.
"Dog, get him!" shouted Lizzie, and pointed to the bandit with the club. She didn’t want him getting hurt.[the bandit or the dog?]
Eoghan was a tall, gaunt, wary-looking individual with dark hair, perhaps forty or forty-five, who looked as if he suspected that the world was out to get him.[You could basically drop any of my characters’ names into that description and it would fit. and they’re all right]
It was the most beautiful day in the most beautiful state at the most beautiful time of the year.[but was it the most beautiful part of the city is what I want to know?]
“"Where will you get the money?" she demanded.
Maginn shrugged. "Somewhere, I s’pose."
stuck stuck stuck stuck stuck stuck.
urg! Madly stuck.[some things just never change]