Back in early 2000 I wrote a short story that I knew would be big. It was, I liked to think, my New Yorker story. It was called "New Avalon" and was basically about how Princess Diana faked her own death and was living secretly with Dodi Fayed in a small town in northern Pennsylvania. The reason for her faking her death was because she had cancer and didn't want the world to watch her die a slow and painful death. The story would be narrated by a young man who had abandoned his old life to become Diana's personally bodyguard and driver. In fact, the story itself wasn't so much about Diana as a plot device to focus on this other character and everything he had to give up. The story was originally written in first person, but there was something off about the narrator I couldn't put my finger on. Then I had the idea to try it in the second person -- you know how I love a good second person narration -- and bingo, it worked perfectly.
But there was still something missing. The story read okay, but it still felt incomplete.
By that time I had signed with my first agent and, after trying to sell a thriller, I told him I had a literary novel. I'd expanded the short story into a 50,000-word novel. The novel was broken up into twelve parts; each section took place during a month of the year, starting with January and ending with December. The story would be set ten years after Diana's "death" and how the cancer that had regressed was starting to come back and the narrator begins to live life again. It was, in many ways, a love story and dealt with the idea of destiny and free will.
My agent loved it and we went out with it, knowing it was going to be a tough sell because of the second person (though I had flashbacks between each section in the third person which, in retrospect, slowed the novel's pace and could have done without). As usual, there were a few nibbles from some major publishers, but no bites. And so, like usual, the novel was set aside to "maybe come back to someday."
Stewart O'Nan -- who's excellent novel A Prayer for the Dying is written in the second person and was really an inspiration for my own novel -- had read an early draft of New Avalon and encouraged me to keep at it. The thing was, at the time, there really was no need to keep at it. I could revise, but so what? My agent had submitted it to publishers. You only get one shot. So then set aside it went.
Until many months ago when I saw an article somewhere online about a woman who had written a novel about Princess Diana faking her own death and living under an assumed identity in America.
And, as you can imagine, I immediately thought: WTF?
But at the time, I wasn't ready yet to start self-publishing. That came only a little later, but by then I was more concerned with getting The Calling and The Dishonored Dead out there. They were, after all, ready to go for the most part, just needed some tidying up. In the back of my mind, I knew that New Avalon would be a possibility but that I would have to give it a major revision. My goal was to get it out before the other book came out. I knew the plots were somewhat similar, so it was imperative that I got mine out first. Granted, the second person would scare a few readers off -- which is a shame really, because second person can be so great -- but I was fine with that.
Unfortunately, the other Diana book came out much quicker than I had anticipated. Obviously I hadn't done my research well enough, but I had assumed it would be later this year. In fact, my plan was to dive into the revision of New Avalon in the next week or so, try to have it ready by September if all went well.
But then this past Saturday I saw this.
And I immediately thought: Shit.
The review itself of Monica Ali's novel Untold Story (a pretty crappy title if you ask me) isn't very good. In fact, the review even says, "Unfortunately, the premise is the best part Untold Story."
Yes, the premise is pretty excellent, isn't it?
After sending a frustrated email to Stewart O'Nan to get his opinion on what he thought I should do -- would it still be worth trying to publish this thing now that the other book was out? -- I dug around and found the early draft of the novel I had sent O'Nan back years and years ago. He had marked it up with notes. I paged through the manuscript. And I thought, for a moment, it might be possible to do a quick cleaning up of the novel and just post it as is.
The thought was only there for a moment, and then gone.
Because I knew better.
Had I done that, the novel would be an okay novel, but not a great novel.
And a great novel is obviously what I'd want to publish.
Like I said before: just because you can, doesn't necessarily mean you should.
So New Avalon? I have no choice but to say goodbye. Which sucks, because a lot of work went into the novel, but that's okay because it was a learning experience. I am the writer I am now because I had once written it. And it's for the best too, really, at least from a marketing standpoint, as the readership I'm starting to build leans more toward thrillers, and throwing a literary novel into the mix this soon into my "career" could be jilting for some.
But don't worry -- I plan (hope) to publish a novel in the second person one of these days.
Until then, you can always enjoy an excerpt from New Avalon which I posted a few months back.