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A Novel AttemptMarch 26, 2009

Today I found what I think might be my second attempt at writing a novel. The first is lost, but I wrote and illustrated it in first grade, and it was about a brownie (the fairy kind, not the chocolate kind, although I may have conflated the two: the protagonist had a suspiciously dessert-like shape).

What might be my second attempt is in a journal I found today when I was cleaning out my closet. I have an old rattan suitcase which houses all my old journals, and this was in it:


Yep. corduroy and flowers, acquired in 1981, when I was nine. The very first thing written in it is a poem that my sister Christy copied onto the first page (How do you like to go up in the air, up in the air so blue?). Then Dad added a poem, as did my best friend Evelyn Bailey, and Mrs. Ross (oh, how I loved my pretty teacher Mrs. Ross). Mom wrote, "Happiness was born a twin" (Byron, "All who joy would win must share it").

Then I wrote a poem about drought which I won't share here. You're welcome.

THEN: My novel.

PARALIZED [sic]: 3 Mile Marathon

There is an acknowledgment page and a table of contents. And then the story starts!

"Hurry up, we'll be late!" Sarah called to Tony. Tony was a well built young man who helped Sarah run.

Note how I'm already a sucker for the leading man in a romance novel?

Sarah ran for half-an-hour every day so she could be in the 3 mile marathon in one month. It would be what she had been going for since she was 7. She was 14 now.

WTF? I was writing about running? A freaking marathon? I was the most unathletic kid in my school, no lie. However, if one is going to write about running and knows nothing about it, I suppose three miles sounds like a good long way to go. Then I had to go and run a real marathon when I grew up.

Back to our story. They get to the beach. Tony is her timer. Heh. She has a timing-boy.

She jogged in place for 20 minutes and THEN she did 20 push-ups and only THEN could she start jogging down the beach.

The emphasis is all nine-year-old mine. And I love my method of working my character out. Running in place for twenty minutes on the beach? I'm dying here.

But moving on. Sarah runs. I think I imagined some Chariots of Fire action here. But when she goes home, she finds a note that her mother is in the hospital. She calls Tony (natch) and meets him there.

"Hello. What room is Laurie Redenbaum in?" Sarah asked.
"Little girl, I would tell you, but your mother -- I think that's who she is -- is not fit to be seen right now," said a nurse.
"Well then could you tell me what kind of accident she's been in?"
"Yes. She walked out in front of a car and was hit."
"Well, was she hurt?" Sarah demanded.

Dude! You're at the hospital! Your mom walked in front of a car! She's hurt!

"Yes. She has a fractured skull, a broken leg, and a broken arm."
"How much will it cost to get her back to normal?"

That's Sarah's first thought? Poor worried little thing.

"With all the expenses, I'd say about $20,000."

Where did I get that? I have no idea.

"Oh, no! The only place I can think of that gives that kind of money would be the marathon! Hmmm. The marathon...."

Yeah. Because mini-marathons give out forty grand (she is stoked about that, because if she wins the race, she'll have twenty grand left over). Again, whiskey tango foxtrot?

And then the accident happened. I know, another one? Chapter Four is titled, surprisingly, The Accident.

Sarah was riding her bike with Tony when a car going very fast came around the corner. It didn't look alarming but then they saw that the driver was unconscience [sic]! It was coming straight at Sarah. Tony yelled at her but she just sat there on her bike, staring at the oncoming car. Right when the car was about to hit her, she jumped, but it was too late.

OKAY, HOLD IT RIGHT THERE, PAL. YOU'RE FREAKING ME OUT. Insert what my thirty-six-year-old self wrote YESTERDAY:

   From behind her, a car approached, its motor revving. Lucy was in the bike lane already, but she moved in closer to the curb. Stupid tourist going too fast.
   She looked over her shoulder. The car was too close. Way too close. Jerking the bicycle to the right, Lucy rode off the asphalt. 
   But the car kept coming, turning to follow her, its tires spitting dirt. With a shout, Lucy hurled herself off the bicycle. She landed hard in the sand of a low dune. She watched in horror as the vehicle smashed her bike, running over it without pausing, then kept going. Part of a handlebar dangled from the rear bumper of the car as it caroomed away.

So at age nine, I wrote about girls throwing themselves off bikes out of the paths of moving vehicles, and twenty-seven years later I ain't got nothing better than that?

I mock myself, but the find was rather delightful, I have to admit. Tragically, as soon as the doctor pronounces her paralyzed, the book ends with a ripped out page. What on earth was on that page? Why did I rip it out? Why didn't I finish it? I had goal, motivation, conflict. I was good to GO. (Also, maybe if I knew the ending, I could plagiarize myself some more.)

And another nice thing found in this journal is the page titled LOVE. Apparently, at age nine, I loved: Dad, Mom, Christy, Beth, Reading, Knitting, Romeo (my rat), Darby (our horse), Piano and Clarinet.

That's a nice LOVE page.

But the best part is the page titled HATE is blank.

Yep. But oh, god. Please don't ever make me read again through the journals kept during my teens and early twenties. I was a mess, yo. All jangled angst and bargain basement worn-out self-confidence. Looking back, I don't feel it was that bad. But my journals beg to differ. I hope it's just that I only really journal when I'm working shit out, because otherwise, I really was a mess back then. 

Which makes the chair I'm sitting in right now a really lovely place to be.



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Oh, man. I can NOT go back over old journals... I end up burning them. My school district kept writing samples in a nice folder for us as we got older - one or two for each year of school, and then we got to keep them after graduation. Oh, man... They should stop that at about 6th grade. The later grades are so not cute, and mostly just embarrassing... But I can't bring myself to get rid of them! They did all that work to hold on to that crap. I think they're so painful because it's a little too close to the adult version of yourself, but young enough to sound SO ...earnest. Naive. Whatever. Thanks for reminding me of that folder!! (really - but I may have to finally purge it of the most egregious examples.)

ps, That is such a cute story! :)

OMG I am tearing up over here because I am laughing so hard - this was so adorable!!! And man, I wish marathons were only three miles. That would solve a couple of my upcoming scheduled problems. And structurally you were doing better at nine than some pros out there now!!

aahhh, the angst and academic mindset of youth! darling little novella there...and the bike must be an ongoing symbolism for something for you..i have one journal that i've kept from my fresh/soph years of college. must. never. allow. teen daughter. to .read. At least as long as i'm alive ;0

What a wonderful find. A you were a great nine year old writer!

I love that you blogged this. I don't think any of my old journals exist anymore, but I can tell you for certain that the stories in them all involved teenaged girls with mothers who didn't understand them. WRITE WHAT YOU KNOW, they say.

This is FANTASTIC!! I'm glad you found that journal -- thank you for sharing. Great little story to start the day.

I hate reading my old journals--I like to think I'm all serious and studious, but it turns out I've spent most of my still-young life thinking about boys.

But. I keep the old journals. Partly because my mom didn't and I wish I had SOME kind of narrative from her youth.

And partly because I'm finally back with the love of my life, with whom I first fell madly in love when I was all of 16. We've gone through a lot, together and apart...even the bits I'd prefer to forget (not talking for seven years, me being married to someone else for 5 years, for instance) are pretty instructive.

I think 9-year-old you and 9-year-old me would have been friends, and not just because you had a horse. (Promise.)

I have one journal from my freshman year of college hidden away in the garage. I read it every 5 years or so. Love the whiskey tango foxtrot. And the story is priceless!

I still have a poetry journal I turned in for a 7th grade project. It's sweet, funny and sad... rather typical for a 13 year old.
I don't mind reading it... I just wish I could go back and reassure that little girl that "Everything will be fine. Really". Oh, and that "You will NOT end up married to Mike of the Monkees. Sorry."

I don't have but I do remember a story I wrote for the same English class. Something about traveling to a distant planet and discovering another civilization like ours. Making friends with girl my age (who liked me) and her friends (who liked me) and her cute brother (who liked me!). And I had to stay because something broke in my space ship. But it was okay, because she had a cute brother who liked me.

Somewhere deep in a box, there is a folio of poems and short stories, illustrated no less. That, maybe one day I will dig out. All science fiction and fantasy and graded by my very kind high school writing teacher because it was project. Oh dear... I really wanted to be a writer/artist in high school, so much so that I took 4 blocks of writing course and 4 blocks of art course, grade 11. Yikes. I don't think the journals survived though, probably a good thing.
Well I think your 9 year old self wrote a pretty damn good story, I wonder how it turned out.

Laughed! To! Tears!

Hillarious!! Love it.

My fourteen year old is all angsty right now. It's almost as painful to watch as it is to live through.

Wow! I am so glad you blogged this -- that's awesome! I found my diary from about 7th/8th grade a while back, and it was absolutely painful to read . . . I didn't destroy it, but I hope I don't run across it again! It's all about the Family Angst, and Boy Angst, and Hair Angst, etc etc.

Oh, this is so sweet! Thank you for sharing it with us!


What a brilliant blog post! I love the original novel and how you frame it now. This would be a fun book--a collection of first novels written in childhood by now published authors who can offer their adult perspectives. My favorite part is the fantastic hospital dialogue. Thanks for sharing this.

Ha ha, that's so cool! And freaky about those similar passages! Ha ha ha! You were a good writer as a kid! My first attempt at a novel was sorta a Judy Blume rip-off about a girl with a mean older sister, and it lasted 5 pages (I was about 8 years old); and the second was about people eating green pizzas that turned them into chickens (I was about 9 years old). I think that lasted about 5 pages, too. Hah, I should return to the pizza one! I wonder how it'd come out with my adult self writing it!

I love the story! I wrote plenty like that, and my 13 y.o. niece is now doing the same thing!!

What a wonderful, sweet, adorable (all the drippy adjectives I can think of) post, I too, am crying from laughter... and the comments are so fun today. In my piece of fiction, written in the 5th grade , the "teenagers" are the evil force. As an only child,I spent hours spying on the teens next door and their "activities" (kissing in particular, oh and smoking)!!!! thanks for the walk down memory lane!

Thank you for this not only was it very funny but it reminds me why I've kept my own old journals and why I've persuaded my daughter, now 13, not to pitch out her old stories and poems, beginning with "Dora and Emily go Walking in the Raneforest(sic)" from when she was about 6.

OMFG! Rachael, that seriously had me laughing out loud! I had to read it to Jimmy and Jared! I told Jared 'See? You really need to start writing again!' His answer: 'Why - so I can look back and make fun of it in my 30's?'

OMG - I bought that very same journal (no idea where it is today) to write poetry in when I was about 9 or 10. Very funny.

Whiskey tango foxtrot, indeed! So fun, but seriously, I need to know how it ended. Yes, I'm THAT kind of reader. And I can't help wondering where 9YO Rachel developed such a fear of/fascination with vehicle crashes... and did that have anything to do with you becoming a dispatcher? Lie back on the couch and let's explore that, shall we? ;-;

I wrote a short story in my youth about a princess that rescued a knight and her dragon Cherinoble. It even had magical wishes. I thought I was clever (still do).

I like the idea of great writers first stories. what a concept to pitch to the publishing company.

Lovely story. And how amazing that you are recycling your old plots and incidents unconsciously.

Sarah, with Tony's help, probably shuffled through the marathon, stunned to find a special $20K prize had been awarded to her for true grit.

Curious to know what poem I added--probably:

If I were ever punished
for every pun I shed,
I'd go behind a puny shed,
and there I'd hang my punnish head.

yer Dad

HAHAHA Love it! Thanks for sharing, still not over the image of you (sara) jogging in place for 20 minutes. he he he Where you came up with that, no one will ever know ;)

P.S. I also think it's hilarious that you wrote about this character running a marathon, and then did it years later!

Hi Rachael,
Love it! You were always writing something, journals, neighborhood newspapers, stories. Please don't tell me I wrote a Shel Silverstien poem in your journal-extent of my imagination-luckily, you had enough to share! Thanks for letting us all into your life. You always leave me smiling.
Love Evelyn
PS Congrats!-you did IT!-published author!! I'll be waiting in line...

I found your blog through the Knitting Help website. (New knitter.) I'm reading it at work so I have to stifle my laughter while reading your 9-yr-old's novel. Great stuff. Love your blog...thanks for sharing!

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Rachael loves it when book clubs read her work! She's happy to attend book clubs that read her books either in person or via Skype. Contact her at rachael@rachaelherron.com to make arrangements.


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