This is a meme going around Facebook, so I thought I'd do my own version: the top 10 books that I've written that were most important to me. And yes, I realize this is incredibly self-absorbed and egotistical and all sorts of other bad things. I'm sure I'm sorry.
1. Untitled 1st unpublished novel manuscript. There was a title to this but I've forgotten what it was. I'm not even sure I still have a copy of it. It took me a year to write this book, which clocked in at about 150 pages, single spaced, with very little dialogue. This was during a difficult time. I was living back in my father's house, starting college, drinking heavily. I'd write ten pages one day, cut eight the next and write ten more, while my deaf father sat, reading, in front of a blasting TV in one room, and my brother blasted 60s music from his room. I took Beckett, Joyce, and Camus as models. There was an extended scene about a homeless serial killer shitting in an alley, a college student who'd been anally raped bleeding through his pants on a bus, and that's all I remember about it. They may have been the same person or at least incarnations of the same person. A friend read it and said it really picked up after 130 pages, which was actually quite a compliment. I was so disappointed with it when it was finally finished that I decided I probably wasn't a writer. Then I sat down and wrote three short stories, which stood as some of the best work I'd produced.
2. Riceland, a poetry collection. This was just published, but it took me over a decade to write it. The first poems came from a workshop I took as an undergrad. I was very disenchanted with much of the other poetry being written in this workshop, especially what I was writing. Everyone was writing about how they'd been to France once, how bohemian they were because their dishes were plastic, how independent they were even though their parents were paying their bills. So I started writing about fish guts and squirrel hunting. These poems have always stood out from my other work. I found my voice writing about farming and my background, which I'd avoided writing about before.
3. Sunlight, a novel. This young adult novel was the third book I finished and the first I published. It's a non-autobiographical story I wrote in about six weeks. I learned how to write a novel writing it. I learned about pacing and what was important to keep. I also developed much of my approach to writing novels during this time, things like revising as I write rather than pushing forward, things I'd been told not to do.
4. Man of Clay. This is a forthcoming novel I started in grad. school but kept putting aside because the idea was too complex for my skill. I had several false starts and came back to it a couple years ago and finished it in a week, averaging 6000-7000 words a day. When my wife became pregnant with our daughter, Ellie, I decided to get serious about writing. I'd published a few books, but I had a huge backlog of ideas and partial drafts for novels, linked story collection, short stories, etc. I started making my way through them and have since completed most of them. This is something I was taught wasn't possible or worthwhile for a writer to do. I was taught that once an idea is abandoned, it's dead. I'm also pleased with this book because it's coming out on a press I really admire.
5. Anthem, a poetry collection. This was my first book accepted for publication. It was accepted while I was in grad. school but wasn't published for three years--so long that I revised it extensively, pulled out about half the poems and reworked those into a collection that was actually published before Anthem came out called _____(Want/Need). Anthem stands as a crowd pleaser.
6. Music/The Vanilla Life, an unpublished novel manuscript I haven't really titled yet. I started this as an undergrad. but was unable to complete it because it was beyond my ability at the time. I came back to it a few times, each time with a different approach, and finally completed it a couple years ago. But the completed version is so different from what I started writing, not to mention the various other false starts, that I could probably piece together a second novel from at least one of the outtake versions. Completing this showed me that Man of Clay wasn't a fluke; I truly could go back to unfinished drafts and turn them into something worthwhile, with some cutting and reworking.
7. The Necro-Files: $7.50/hr + Curses, a novel. I pitched this to the publisher (who later sold the published book to another publisher) before I'd written it. In fact, all I'd written was the pitch. When the publisher asked for an outline, I had to hastily come up with one. Instead, I wrote a synopsis and the first two paragraphs. They liked it, though they told me to cut the first paragraph. I finished the book in about six weeks, my average time for a book, based on the synopsis and blurb. This was the first time I'd written a book, idea to complete manuscript, without at least sitting on the idea, making a couple false starts of drafts, etc. I've since written a few that way.
8. Honus Wagner and the Wittsburg Treasure, a middle-grade novella. This story was solicited by the editor of an anthology of stories by writers for/co-written by their children. This was my first attempt at writing for such a young audience. I took an idea I'd kicked around for a while and wrote it and sent it in, thinking it would be rejected, but it ended up in the anthology pretty much as-is.
9. Last Stand in Zombietown, a novel. I had a lot of fun with this book, but I also had a lot of stress. Writing action scenes was very difficult. I actually wrote the opening--involving a bank robbery and a shoot-out--first and then sat on it for a couple years because I had no idea where to go from there. I went through several versions and false starts before finishing it, mostly because i didn't know how to write action. This might sound absurd, but it's actually the same problem I had with the first attempt at Music/The Vanilla Life. Originally, that book had a drug war episode in it, which was challenging because most of what I was basing it on was really from TV shows and movies. The challenge was that I had to unlearn all the versions of fights, shootouts, etc. that I'd been inundated with over the years and really examine the realities of these situations, though I've never been in a shootout and haven't been in a fight since I was a kid, and even then, not very many.
10. Arkansas, an unpublished autobiography. I wrote this in grad. school. It's about my experiences growing up while my mother had Huntington's Disease. This was the second prose book I ever completed and was never, and I'm sure will never be, published. Basically, I learned a lot about pacing and putting together a long story.The first half is tedious and awful. The second half is readable. When I finished it, I stuck it on a shelf, so to speak, and rewrote the entire thing into about a twenty page short memoir piece that works pretty well.