Carmen always stopped what she was doing to watch Emile Garza take his first drink. That is the first line of a double-spaced 129 page manuscript I have kept for over twenty years. To get stuff cleared out, reduce the moving cost and clutter, and clear myself for a move with new opportunities, it is now time to decide. What do I do with this ragtag early attempt to write a novel? Finish it or throw it out? The last sentence is: She turned, startling the three females laughing and watching her.
There’s no honest stand to take in misleading myself or you that I will throw this four pound (translate minimum $1.20 moving cost by weight) 8 1/2 x 11” and 2 3/4” high stack away. But it’s been on my shelf for over twenty years, so it is time to answer what it means. What it means beyond weight of paper, loose collection of notes, unfinished outline, list of characters and birth dates, six character outlines and a three ring binder that all add up to failed attempt.
There have been other failed attempts I’ve found around the house while clearing things out. The pile of unused fabric I gave to a daycare center for the kids to use. Books I had stacked to read someday that no longer look interesting went to charity. A few pairs of pants I don’t believe any renewed attempt to lose weight will ever make comfortable again I’ve given away. The toaster oven I thought would be more efficient and quicker turned out to be too hard to keep clean and a space taker, so I cleaned it well and it’s ready for the big yard sale. Christmas ornaments I’m tired of are in the same pile. The books of handwriting analysis I dabbled with I’ve given away. The uptown brown leather boots that were more interested in keeping their shape than ever feeling comfortable to me are gone. So, it’s not as though I’m connected to every “thing” in my house.
Bits of writing, poetry and miscellaneous things I’ve written have been chucked too, along with notes to self that no longer make sense. There’s another 300 page manuscript at the top of my closet I think I’ll throw out. I wrote it. I finished it. It stinks. First sentence: The single stab of sunlight glinting through the unwashed city window of a thousand sorrows struck her small marriage diamond. Last sentence: And for that one night it didn’t matter.
I remember the protagonist and frankly, I never really liked her (the thinly disguised me). She was weak and boring and even as I wrote it I knew it was meritless except to me, which is why I kept at it. I needed to expunge that part of me. You know, to unleash this dazzling, soul-sparkling woman of easy laughter and true knowledge you see before you now. It was the only way I knew how to turn a key and hope I walked out of my own jail.
And what about Carmen? I remember her, too. I didn’t like her name, but I used it so I wouldn’t delay writing. She opened the story, but it wasn’t just about her. I remember the three sisters, their father, the men around them, their small village, but most of all as I reread my rough copy yesterday I remember their spirit, the smoothness of their black hair, and the smell of the land they lived on. I remember there was something in that story that was waiting for me to figure out. A puzzle.