I met Claire McMillan through Twitter, in part because we are both card-carrying members of the Emily Mitchell/Last Summer of the World fan club - and Edith Wharton Fans. Emily's splendid debut novel, Gilded Age, is a bit of a House of Mirth set in modern-day Cleveland. Elle Magazine calls it "a beach read with a touch of literary pedigree … a rich romp of a read." I hope you'll enjoy it, as well as her rich romp of a story about how it came to be published. - Meg Waite Clayton
I have a novel in a drawer.
I’d never say, I have a novel in a drawer, somewhere.
I know exactly where it is.
I wrote the beginning of it when I was getting my MFA at Bennington and still practicing law. I finished it two years and a new baby after I graduated. When I was done, I shopped for an agent.
No one wanted it.
I queried maybe 25 agents, a few looked at the manuscript. Everyone took a pass.
That’s when I put it in a drawer.
I literally cleaned out a drawer, placed a copy of the draft in there, along with a copy on a flash drive, and shut the drawer.
I told myself I’d stop writing for a while, that I needed a little break. I wanted to chill with my baby.
But I didn’t really know how to start something again.
My husband gave me a first edition of The House of Mirth for my birthday that year. We give him an A in present-giving for that. He knew it was one of my favorite books, Wharton one of my favorite authors. That night over dinner, we were discussing why I like Wharton so much. I was saying that everything she was writing about, like all great authors, was universal and still happening today.
That’s when the lightbulb went on.
I was too nervous to actually read the first edition, for fear of damaging it. My paperback version from college was tattered, cover fallen off, and spine disintegrating. So I went out and bought a fresh copy.
I read it through once, and then placed it next to me as I wrote. It kept me company, which helped me. Jumping off from a great book was both easier and harder than before – easier because there was a blueprint to work with, harder because I was intimidated.
I told myself I was just messing around.
When I was done, I sent it out, and it found an agent and then a publisher fairly quickly which felt incredibly lucky and like a huge relief.
It’s been with a publisher for a year, and during that time I’ve been working on starting again.
I decided I needed to take the novel out of the drawer and burn it in order to be free of it. I grew up in Southern California and lived in Northern for a decade, I can be prone to stuff like this.
I now have two children. Their eyes were wide as I put the failed novel in the fireplace and set a match to it.
It wouldn’t light.
I got the clicker my husband uses for the barbeque.
I have no explanation for why it wouldn’t burn – other than the obvious reason, the one that calls to me from the drawer telling me to start again.
Like I said, I’d never say I have a novel in a drawer somewhere. I know exactly where that thing is. - Claire
This post originally ran on 1st Books: Stories of How Writers Get Started, hosted by bestselling novelist Meg Waite Clayton, author of four novels, including The Wednesday Sisters and the forthcoming The Wednesday Daughters. 1st Books features award-winning writers blogging about how they got started writing and publishing, as well as other readerly and writerly delights.