Saturday, July 31, 2010

Panic!

When I was a kid I used to watch the television show, THE WALTONS. Mainly the first couple of years. I liked it for a lot of reasons, not least of which was the fact that the main character was a young fellow who wanted to be a writer.

And one episode that I always liked was one in which that young fellow lost all of his journals and fiction in a house fire. All of his work--all of those words--were consumed by flames. He was left with nothing but empty notebooks and had to start over. It was both a devastating and encouraging bit of TV drama.

My agent emailed me last week asking for an updated file of my novel BEAUTIFUL BOY. He was submitting it to an editor and wanted to ensure that he had the most up-to-date and fully corrected version. No problem, I thought. I'll just call it up and send it on to him. I generally make multiple copies in various places to make sure I don't lose my precious manuscripts.

I clicked on one which was titled "Final Version" and had the latest date. The book is a 105,000 word novel. I scrolled down. It didn't look right. It ended in a series of thick black dots that aren't on any keyboard I've ever seen. I did a word count: 67,000 words. Damn. This wasn't the whole novel! I pulled up one of four different versions of the novel on my hard drive. None of them was over 67,000 words.

It was at this point that I was feeling queasy. I looked in my portable hard drive. It, too, had the same versions as my desktop computer. I have a flash drive that I keep by the desk purely for backing up manuscripts. I plugged it in and took a look. Same deal as before. Now I was really getting scared.

I tried to figure out what had happened. From the state of the manuscript marked "Final Version" I can only deduce that it became corrupted somehow. Thus, those black dots at the end of that manuscript. Obviously the product of some pernicious glitch.

There was no way I was going to be able to produce those missing 40,000 words! Fuck John Boy with a crowbar! Where was the file?

And then I remembered that I'd last worked on the book on my laptop computer. So I went downstairs and booted it up. I checked the files and was getting the same results as on the other hard drives and flash drive. Now panic was setting in. I was totally screwed. This novel had been a bear to write. I worked on it sporadically for a very long time--two decades, in fact, before finally finding a way to finish the job while taking time off from work to write in the North Carolina high country. It was sickening to think that I'd lost all of that hard work.

However, I didn't give up. I recalled that this was the book I felt the need to re-title after the appearance of a non-fiction best seller called BEAUTIFUL BOY from a year or so back. I looked to see if I'd saved it under one of the working titles that had never seemed, somehow, to fit the book.

And there it was, on the laptop hard drive and also on another flash drive that I keep with my laptop. It was under the title THE LOST CHILD. I had found my full 105,000 words of hard won fiction. You cannot know the relief that flooded through me.

I immediately backed it up on the flash drive and took that upstairs to my office where I saved it on every drive I own. My wife is always after me to print out hard copies of everything I write and to make copies on DVDs. After this experience I'm going to heed her advice.

4 comments:

Lawrence Roy said...

There's no substitute for hard copy. None. Glad this worked out.

It's been several years since that boo-hoo my beautiful and talented and perfect-in-almost-every-way yuppie spawn is on drugs crap came and went. I don't see why you can't use your own title now. The same people who read crap by New York *Times* reporters whose names aren't Rick Bragg wouldn't look twice at a horror novel by someone whose name isn't Stephen King.

Lawrence Roy said...

There's no substitute for hard copy. None. Glad this worked out.

It's been several years since that boo-hoo my beautiful and talented and perfect-in-almost-every-way yuppie spawn is on drugs crap came and went. I don't see why you can't use your own title now. The same people who read crap by New York *Times* reporters whose names aren't Rick Bragg wouldn't look twice at a horror novel by someone whose name isn't Stephen King.

HemlockMan said...

Yeah, we decided to just submit it as I'd always intended it to be seen: BEAUTIFUL BOY. Publishers often change titles anyway. If they want something else they can come up with a different one. I agonized for many months over a new title, but because I'd always thought of it with the original title I just couldn't make myself rename it.

And, yes, as Carole has doggedly suggested, there's no substitute for a hard copy.

Fred Dodsworth said...

When we had our notorious Oakland Fire a decade or so ago, Maxine Hong Kingston, who is good friends with a neighbor of mine, lost her latest complete manuscript to the fire (her house, too). No backups anywhere. She soldiered on and wrote a new novel on the ashes. I know this because after the fire she temporarily moved in with my neighbor.