I thought it might be interesting to take a small journey back through some of my own writing. And this blog seemed like the perfect place to do it. What I plan to do is make this into a small series of posts as I periodically take a look back at my own work, mainly my three published books. I may also do the same with some of my older books, which for now shall remain unnamed and will forever remain unpublished (for the better). It might be fun.
Feel free to leave feedback, let me know what you’d like to see in these posts (or any future posts, in general).
For now, cringing as little as possible, let’s take a look at my first published book, Other Endings (2016). This should be interesting. For me, at least. Hopefully for you, too.
Other Endings is the story of an emotionally battered and despondent man named Lester Halley who flees his life and ends up in a small English town called Margaret’s Mourning. He begins to learn more about the mysterious small town, comes to know some of its people—the good and bad—and learns that it is haunted by ghosts. For him, these ghosts are both literal and metaphorical, seeming to arise from the darkest part of his past, connected with a love he lost long ago.
I began writing Other Endings in 2014, and finished in April of 2015. Since then, the amount I’ve grown as a writer is… immense, in every single way. For this reason, as this book was published at the end of 2016, it’s hard to look back on. As a writer, I suffer from the constant feeling that I can always do better, always make something better. It’s a driving force, one that I’ve managed to discipline and transform into productivity, but sometimes it is a torment. I’ve learned that that’s the case with anything of mine that gets put out into the world. I look back at my own work and think, If I could have just one more draft. And any number of variations of that. For me, no book is ever completely done. This is especially true of Other Endings. Oh, the things I could do to improve this book, given the chance.
In the way of critique, there is much to say about it.
There are a handful of logical issues with the book, mostly ones involving its setting of a small English town.
There is an issue of genuine wordiness, as this was a truly developmental book for me as a writer. It came out of a difficult and tumultuous time in my life—and was almost a much darker story. I was adrift, lacking a grounded sense of self and relying on exterior things and people for a feeling of meaning and self-worth. I learned a lot about myself during this time, and regret a lot about how I was, but it was a learning experience and it helped me become who I am today. I took the world, I took life itself, for granted. I took people for granted. I isolated myself behind barriers of opinion and judgment and fear and cynicism. I’m sure these feelings, in some ways, made their way into the book, into the characters, making it, for me, quite an interesting one to look back on. Maybe that’s why there are parts that still make me cringe. I was a much different person, a much different writer, when I wrote this book. Much younger, in so many ways.
Plus I was doing a lot to experiment with language and sentence structure and words. The result is that it is a book of excess from the point of view of writing.
While there are a few good characters in the book, there is so much more that could’ve been done in the way of characterization. As the writer of the book looking back on it, I think a lot of the dialogue could’ve been rewritten and given more subtext. I remember trying to be very direct with how the characters expressed themselves, but that doesn’t always work here.
I also feel that there are elements of it that come from too raw of an emotional place, and perhaps misrepresent mental illness from a broader perspective. I haven’t reread the book with this in mind to confirm whether or not that is the case, more so it is a feeling I have about it.
It is also straight-up incredibly weird. There are some reviews of the book that show me it was misinterpreted on a surface level, as to me this book was always much more metaphorical in nature not only with some of its specifics, but in a broader sense as well. There’s even a point in the book when it goes almost full allegory, with Lester Halley’s confrontation of the “agony god” of Margaret’s Mourning. Weird stuff.
That’s where, I think, the book’s strengths are. Not that its being metaphorical justifies its flaws at all, it simply offers explanation for certain aspects from which it can be critiqued.
For as much as I can critique it negatively, I’m still proud of it some ways. It may not be a particularly well-written novel, but I do think one of my strengths is simply in storytelling. Once the story picks up speed, which may be around the halfway point or so, it carries real momentum. At least that’s what I’ve found on rereads. And many of its emotional notes strike quite as I intended them.
It is a first novel, and I’ve been assured that there are so many authors out there who look back at their past books, especially their first books, and have something to this effect to say: “It’s a first novel, I know what’s wrong with it, and I’ve come to peace with it.” The “coming to peace” part is what I’m working on.
One of my favorite things that I’ve heard said about Other Endings is that it isn’t a fun book to read, it isn’t one that you read and necessarily “like,” in a conventional sense, but it’ll stay with you. That kind of feedback makes me happy. I’d like to write books that are fun to read, too, but this book was never intended to be that. It was never really intended to be anything. I wrote this before I even knew how it felt to be published, or how it felt to have an audience in any substantial sense. And I may not have a truly substantial audience still, but it’s a published book, it’s out there in the world, and that is both scary and exciting. As for Other Endings, the general feeling is: Yes, I’m published, and I’d love for you to read my work… but if you don’t mind, maybe don’t start with my first one?
And yet it’s fun being able to say that at all. The part of my mind where my impostor syndrome resides goes crazy with the thought of this book and everything I think is wrong with it and everything I want to be as a writer, but that’s always how it’s going to be with pretty much anything I write.
Another of my favorite things about the book, brought to light by a review I read of it, is my treatment of ghosts. A reviewer described how unique it was that I treated the ghosts of this story with empathy, as interested in their stories and their feelings as in the feelings of the living characters. The funnest parts of it to write were the haunted elements, the ghosts—and the character of Angie, the little blind girl who “sees” the ghosts and is connected to them. She’s probably my favorite character of the book, though undoubtedly I’d be able to write her so much better now.
So, in conclusion, Other Endings has a lot of problems both on the surface and beneath. Some of its problems are broad enough that, if I were given the chance and wished to devote that much time to it, I would probably rewrite the whole thing from scratch. But that’s a given with any past work, isn’t it? I’m gradually, continually learning to see—always with support—how cringing at past work is a gift, a sign of having grown.
There is some good to be found at the core of Other Endings, but the book needed research put into it, it needed a heavy editorial hand (the kind I have long since developed). But there are aspects of it that shine through, and I’ll always have an awkward fondness for it in my heart. It’s my first published novel, after all. And that remains the biggest stepping stone of my life as a writer so far.