The Lost Novel
Sean Coleman's rough-and-tumble precursor.
My first published novel, From a Dead Sleep, came out in 2013. It was the first of now five Sean Coleman Thrillers, though, at the time I was writing it, I never envisioned it becoming part of a series. In fact, by its release date, I had already written several chapters of my second book, Blood Trade, as an independent story with entirely different characters.
I changed my mind for a couple of reasons, which I’ve talked about in interviews and with book clubs over the years, but what very few people know is that there remains one standalone novel in my body of work.
Well, it’s not technically a novel, but rather an unfinished manuscript that got bulldozed over many years ago by an unusually vivid dream I had one night. In the dream, I witnessed a man kill himself on a mountain bridge. I watched his body fall and get swept away in a roaring river below. And I spent the rest of the dream trying to convince everyone I knew of what I had seen, with none of them believing me.
Yes, I’m describing the opening scene of From a Dead Sleep… through Sean Coleman’s eyes. I found the imagery and mystique of that dream so compelling that I immediately shelved my first attempt at writing a novel, and began my second.
In retrospect, it should have been harder to do than it actually was. I mean, it’s not as as if I had written just a handful of chapters of that first manuscript. I had completed about thirty! Heck, it was over 85,000 words in length, which is actually longer than a couple of the Sean Coleman Thrillers I would later write. I guess sometimes, when inspiration hits, it really hits.
And to be honest, I’d been having some misgivings at the time about the first manuscript, which I’d based loosely off a spring break road-trip I’d taken in college. It was part thriller, part coming-of-age story. Though I was happy with much of what I’d written, other areas I wasn’t so sure about. I worried I had created too many characters, and too much extraneous detail. I was concerned the story moved much too slowly, and that readers wouldn’t find the planned ending satisfying enough. I even questioned my decision to write it in first-person, because at times I felt as though it made my narrative voice come across as pretentious and even narcissistic.
I suppose those are the types of things a lot of writers worry about when they first tackle fiction, at least in any serious way.
In the end, though it never saw the light of day, it was a great writing exercise that I’m convinced helped me with my later fiction work. So, I was pretty bummed a few years back when I thought I’d lost it to a crashed hard-drive. (This was before “the cloud”).
All that work… gone.
That is… until I happened to come across it fairly recently when searching flash drives for old photos.
In a way, the subject of backups is quite appropriate for today’s newsletter, since I originally planned to cover an entirely different topic this week. Some forces outside of my control have delayed that piece for a little bit, so today, I instead present to you some very early John A. Daly fiction writing from that original, lost (and later found) manuscript.
These are exclusive un-edited excerpts, never before seen by anyone but me. Maybe you’ll find them compelling, or maybe you’ll find them kind of silly. Either way, they’re part of me and my past (in some cases literally), and the work was defintely a precursor to greater things.
It was beautiful outside. The weather was getting nicer, the trees were regaining their leaves, and the smell of spring was in the air. Street-sweepers had even brushed away most of the dirt and gravel left over from the icy winter roads.
I skidded onto 6th Avenue, past the old college football field which used to generate huge crowds every weekend. It was pretty much abandoned once a newer stadium was built on the other side of town. My roommates and I had taken the opportunity, on a few occasions, to sneak over the old surrounding fence in the middle of the night. We got a kick out of climbing one of the sturdy goal-posts which still towered proudly over the area.
I knew spending a week with Nick’s friends would be interesting. Being an English major, Nick hung out with a rather odd crowd of fellow English majors and musicians. They were nice enough people, but I always felt like they lived on another planet. At get-togethers, they would often take turns standing in the center of a room, reading stories or poetry they had written. They were always animated, accompanying their readings with wild facial expressions and obscure annunciation. The stories never made sense to me or my own group of friends, but they obviously had an impact on Nick's comrades. The end of each paragraph or poem would often be greeted with loud laughter and praise. Sometimes, Nick’s buddies would even choose to read in British or German accents. I didn’t understand why, and didn’t try to.
Nick quickly handed Tito a beer. We always encouraged Tito’s drinking because he was, without a doubt, the most entertaining drunk we had ever seen. Sure, it was a little selfish on our part, but Tito’s intoxicated antics were so captivating, we felt compelled to offer just the right amount of peer pressure. Sometimes he would engage in incoherent philosophical debates with the two of us, usually revolving around religion or politics. My personal favorite was the time when Nick, an atheist, challenged him to prove that God actually existed.
Tito’s response: “If there was no God, why are there so many churches?”
For fifteen minutes, we trucked along at ten under the speed limit, hoping to save gas. Philip was concerned, as were the rest of us. Everyone was wide awake and very aware of the situation. I was expecting the engine to come to a sputtering halt at any second. We all sat up in our seats, straining our eyes ahead in hopes of spotting a road sign or any other form of civilization. Even the smallest of towns had to have had a gas station, but it had been miles since we had passed any. The thought of getting stuck out in the middle of nowhere was not a pleasant one. Not only did we have to worry about motorcyclists catching up with us, but also now about the weather.
My eye caught Philip, with his arms stretched out for balance, as he scrambled down to the very bottom of the embankment. Slipping and stumbling along the way, he circled around to another bend, presumably where he could descend safely. I followed the direction of his body as he darted across the dry portion of the ravine bed.
Lying ahead of him, almost directly below me, was a horrifying site: a motionless body. It lay sharply contorted over one of the many large rounded rocks that rested at the bottom of the cliff. The phrase “Is she dead?” resounded through my mind.
A feel good story for sure. 😉
Have a great week, everyone!
Have a favorite writing story you’d like to share? Tell me about it in an email or in the comment section below.
New Blurb for “Restitution”
My upcoming book “Restitution” recently received a nice blurb from author Tom Nichols. In addition to writing bestsellers, Nichols is a professor of national security affairs at the U.S. Naval War College, a contributing writer at The Atlantic, and a five-time undefeated Jeopardy! champion.
Obligatory Dog Shot
Winter is coming.
Readers of my books may have suspected that I’m a Ray Charles fan. He’s been mentioned, after all, in at least three of my novels... and always in a positive light.
Sure enough, I am. In fact, my wife and I actually got to see him perform in concert just a few days before we got married. It was less than two years before he passed away, but he still sounded fantastic and still knew how to put on a good show.
Since Charles came well before my time, it’s mostly movies where I discovered his music. In fact, I first heard what became my favorite song of his in the movie Groundhog Day: “You Don’t Know Me,” written by Cindy Walker.
Coincidentally, I had a phone conversation a few weeks ago with an aspiring author who’s working on a biography about her grandmother. And it just so happens that her grandmother actually had a hand in Walker’s writing of that song. Man, is it a small world.
Anyway, Charles put out some absolutely amazing and iconic music in his time, and Ray Charles: The Ultimate Collection (a two-record set) is a great compilation of some of his most well-known stuff… all on the rich, vinyl medium from which it was meant to be heard.
This is a great collection.
That’s all for now. Thanks for reading today’s Daly Grind.
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Also, if you’re not caught up on my Sean Coleman Thrillers, you can pick the entire series up at a great price on Amazon. And if you’re interested in signed, personalized copies of my books, you can order them directly from my website.
Take care. And I’ll talk to you soon!