This is the third and final installment in the “Long Road Back” series. The first edition hails from 2008, the second from 2011, and 2018 completes the trifecta. This series falls closely into what can be called my sophomore slump: the difficult task of writing a second novel that surpasses the first. Like Pulitzer Prize-winning author Michael Chabon, I ended up abandoning my second novel, The Shoemaker Experiment.
Over years of practice, I have developed a gauge that lets me know when something is not working in a story. An early warning siren, this instrument is a fabulous ally. As far as telling me from which direction the storm is coming, I’m on my own.
In the past, when I’ve become stuck, the gauge told me something was wrong with the narrative itself. This time, the story works, which is why it took me a long time to realize the issue was me.
I ultimately determined this particular book was not the right choice to pursue, that it didn’t reflect my voice. Perhaps it did when I first wrote Shoemaker as a short story in the summer of 2004, fourteen years ago, but since that time, I had built up this project so much in my head, built it up to a future trilogy even, that the whole situation turned into a disservice to me and my productivity.
So, as of late, I found myself watching Wonder Boys on repeat, a film based on Chabon’s novel of the same name, which is about an author’s sophomore slump. After five or so viewings, I learned the story was inspired by Chabon’s own abandoned novel when he started to think, “Oh, my God, I’m going to become one of those writers that I have heard about who are working on the same book for ten years.”
Well Shoemaker was fourteen years in the making, minus five years to work on The Last Night, minus three years to complete an MBA, which equals just enough time to make me feel better that I wasn’t chasing this book for a full decade.
I wrote 130 pages of the novel and thirty pages of the screenplay. The story is good. But fourteen years all told is too long to continue banging my head against this wall.
On the plus side, the experience has improved my craft by exercising different creative muscles, and I have earned the hard-won knowledge to abandon projects earlier. Even if you think the story is great, evidence of non-completion means it is time to put the manuscript aside to keep moving forward.
Maybe I’ll return to Shoemaker some day in the future. For now, I’ve started fresh—a concept that was anathema to me before, but now feels right—on a story that has been knocking around in my head for a few years. I care about it more, and it needs to be told. That’s a good enough place as any to start.