I’m convinced that 9 out of 10 ideas are bad. Of course, one doesn’t know an idea is bad until he has acted on it and the consequences have developed to fruition. Want proof that 90% of all ideas are bad? Rifle though a history book. The consequences of bad ideas are scattered amongst the pages: ruined economies, dead armies and the cigarette umbrella (yes, it is what you think it is, and yes, it existed at one time). But bad ideas are what the make world go around, aren’t they? What if the history books were crammed with good ideas? There would be no Salem Witch Trials, no World War II and no James Buchanan. BORING! We owe a lot to bad ideas—the fuel that powers the fun engine that puffs the carcinogenic smoke.
My original idea for a novel was a bad idea. But surprise, I didn’t know it at the time. One night in June of ’09, while I was falling asleep, I had one of those thoughts that falls between a dream and an idea. (If I remember correctly, Keith Richards imagined the iconic guitar riff that adorns Satisfaction during one of these moments.) Anyway, during my half-conscious state, I imagined that the rotation of the world had stopped and mankind had begun to panic, but god himself, in the form of an owl, would intermittently come to a single person and guide him through the apocalypse. That, my friends, was the original idea. I wrote a brief synopsis at work the next day. I had made a few alternations but essentially my idea from the night before remained intact: The world stops turning. The moon, who is literally god, appears to a lowly file clerk named Duncan. The moon/god explains to Duncan why he has chosen to defy physics and allow civilization to destroy itself. Meanwhile, Duncan travels to save his gal pal, the jaunty deli aide Evelyn. The file clerk and the deli aide sleep together and when they awake they are the only two people on Earth, like a new Adam and Eve.
Salem Witch Trials, World War II…Matt’s first idea for a novel.
I figured I could simply sit at my laptop and write the story day-by-day. Who needs an outline, or even hastily scribbled notes? I’d just develop the characters as I constructed one off-the-cuff plot detail after another. The first paragraph I wrote for my new high-drama story was an adjective-laden description of a skyscraper. Pretty arresting, huh? By the fourth or fifth paragraph, my main character was scrutinizing his puffy middle-aged self in a bathroom mirror. Good lord! Two pages into my first draft and any self-respecting reader, left alone a reasonably competent author, would have already been granted license to snatch the nearest blunt object and throttle me in the neck. Such a grisly attack might have thwarted me from continuing to invest time in the wretched mangled hunk of literature.
At the time that I decided to finally buckle down and commit a complete novel to hard drive my bodacious wife Kait began to express a desire to begin lugging an embryo. I told her bluntly “Let me have my baby first and then you can have yours.” I figured that I’d only be writing the novel for about 8 months, and I’d take another few months to edit. After that I’d divide my time between seeking a publisher and frequently sneaking off to the woodshed with Kait to steer nature our way. Little did I know that certain woman-type medical complications would thwart the baby plans for three years; little did I know that I would need every bit of those three years to complete my novel (which eventually became Save Me, Rip Orion).
Although I ended up cutting the goofy moon/god component out of the manuscript altogether, I stopped writing about 35,000 words into my manuscript. Apparently 35,000 words are the approximate number of words it takes a neophyte author writing a first draft of a first novel to realize his idea is bunk. At least that’s how long it took me. My characters’ personalities were amorphous, my plot was meandering and my narrator was a rambling drunkard.
Although I had to hack off my novel midway and cauterize Duncan’s journey there were three aspects of the novel I figured were worth preserving. Two were my main characters: the well-meaning schmuck Duncan and the bull-headed but endearing Evelyn. I wanted to imagine a new, more fascinating story for them. I thought they deserved it. During the four hour drive to Williampsort, PA for Thanksgiving that year I taxed myself with conjuring a new plot. By time I pulled into my parents’ driveway I had the seeds of an idea thanks to the third aspect I relished from the defunct novel: a scene in which Duncan wakes up in the dead of night and watches the house across the street burn.
Check out my novel Save Me, Rip Orion on Amazon, Smashwords and other ebook sellers.