John M. Donovan's Blog: Alphabet Cake

November 16, 2016

My Legendary Naïveté

The phrase “legendary naïveté” is something I first used years ago to describe my uncanny inability to recognize when a woman was interested in getting to know me better or, in rare cases, actively trying to seduce me. The classic example of this happened when I was 23 and taking a walk on a country road with a woman I’d just been fixed up with that night. We raced to a stop sign in the dark and when we got there she said “My bra came unhooked.” She generously offered to let me hook it, so I reached under her sweater and did exactly that.

There are other examples that would make this quite an entertaining and revealing blog entry, but for now I want to talk about how my legendary naïveté affected my initial efforts to publish a novel way back when.

In the summer of 1983 I wrote the first draft of my first novel, and a few years later I finished a much-improved new draft. Bob Smith wasn’t a bad little first effort. It was a literary fantasy that dealt with an assuming college student getting pulled into an adventure involving parallel universes and the search for an immortality potion. Rounding out the cast were five great 19th-century American writers—Poe, Hawthorne, Melville, Whitman, and Twain—who, in this book, were literally immortal.

Here’s where my legendary naïveté comes in. As I was crafting my query letter, I was absolutely certain that I had the hook that would make a publisher say “Heck yes, please send me your entire manuscript post-haste.” The hook, in my mind, was the fact that some of the great names in literature were characters in the novel.

I mean, if you work in publishing, you hold these guys in high regard, right? You’re thinking “I’ve got to at take a look at a novel that has Mark Twain as a character,” right?

Alas, nobody thought that.

Did I expect anyone to call me with a multi-book deal just because Mark Twain was a character in my first novel? Nah. But I kind of hoped my query would be opened by an old English major with fond memories of Huck Finn and Moby Dick, one who might think “Now this sounds like a fun read.”

I have a collection of about 50 rejection slips confirming that I kept missing that particular English major’s desk.

Bob Smith is still around and is due for another rewrite soon. I don’t think I’m naïve enough anymore to waste any more query letters on it, though, so look for it on my website by and by.
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Published on November 16, 2016 13:59 Tags: first-novels, publishing

February 19, 2016

Coming Late 2016: The Rocheville Devil

Now in progress: The Rocheville Devil, the story of a man whose life has been spent dealing with "bad luck, bad timing, and bad people," and whose response is to return to a time when he was an innocent person in an innocent world. Like Trombone Answers, this one is set in Colby County, Illinois--but it'll be my first novel set in the 21st century.
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Published on February 19, 2016 13:52

February 3, 2016

Twelve Years in the Making

Back in 2003 I set out to write a trilogy about a guy who suffers a midlife crisis and ends up moving back to his little hometown. The first novel was going to cover his life in high school, the second would go into his career and marriage, and the third would move the story forward from the moment he moves back to Colby City, Illinois.

As I started writing, though, it made more sense to combine all three narratives into a single book, with numerous flashbacks. This was truly a case of something sounding good in my head. The high school reminiscing came easy and the move back to Colby City was full of promise, but the material that would have gone into the second book was sketchy and somewhat painful to write, considering I was still feeling the residual effects of a midlife crisis of my own.

I finished a couple of drafts before deciding to focus on Parker Graham's high school years, and finished a couple of drafts of that without being completely satisfied. I told the story in first-person, then tried it in third-person, and finally came back to first-person before setting the novel aside and working on getting The Fraternity ready to publish.

After that I returned to what was then called The Responsible Young Man. One draft later, I still wasn't satisfied and ran it by a friend who had made some important edits to The Fraternity. Among his many great suggestions: 1) Change the title, and 2) Break up the book into themed sections. The original narrative ran six years through junior and senior high, with themes bouncing all over the place. This final version is divided into three sections. In the first, Parker begins to examine his life and question his religious beliefs. In the second, he deals with the gradual cooling of a longtime friendship. And in the third, most freewheeling section, he confronts death and dating and marching band as he grudgingly prepares himself for life after high school.

After 12 years, this novel is finally ready. It's called Trombone Answers, and it'll make you laugh.

Trombone Answers by John M. Donovan
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Published on February 03, 2016 09:44

Alphabet Cake

John M.  Donovan
I've got Facebook for keeping up with family and friends, Twitter for pithy political messages, a long-lost blog called The Electron Runes for less pithy political messages, and now Alphabet Cake for ...more
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