Friday, February 5, 2016

Caribbean Jewel, My Lost Book

What happens when you write a novel and then lose it for almost 20 years? One thing is gaining the perspective of a reader, rather than the author, because after so much time, the only concrete details I could remember about Caribbean Jewel were the two main characters' names and the villain's. I couldn't even remember the title. In fact, I thought I had never titled it because I had a hard time thinking of a good one. So I had been calling this book "my pirate novel" all these years. 

I wrote Caribbean Jewel fresh out of college, in my 20's. I wanted to be a novelist; at the time that was my only real career goal. I'd been known for my writing skill in high school because I used to compete in writing competitions around the state with my freshman English teacher as my "coach," and everyone who knew me was just sure I was headed for stardom as a bestselling author. So, when I finished college, I bought a $300 computer on a credit card and started writing a pirate romance novel. My friends and coworkers were all reading it as I wrote, telling me how good it was and asking for the next section, and the next. I sent the first three chapters to one publisher. Only one, and when they didn't show an interest, I decided I'd better get a real job so I could support myself, and put my pirate novel aside.

In a few years, my $300 computer was hopelessly outdated (that computer's operating system was MS-DOS, pre-Windows, pre-mouse!) I thought I would never see my pirate novel again because my one or two hard copies had been loaned out to friends who were reading it and the electronic manuscript was written in an MS-DOS program called "Spinnaker," stored on 5 1/4 inch floppies. Those floppy disks moved with me from town to town over the years, and it scares me to admit they came close to getting tossed a couple of times because I thought the files were irretrievable.

But then, it happened. A tekkie friend of mine figured out a way to retrieve my pirate novel files a couple of years ago, and I remember holding my breath, watching as Word actually opened the file. Across the top and down the sides were a lot of random characters from formatting confusion. He scrolled down to see if the text were readable, and a title appeared before my eyes:

CARIBBEAN JEWEL

"That's what I titled it?" I stared at it in amazement.  "Hmm, it kind of works."


I settled in that night to look at the file more closely. I couldn't remember for sure if I had finished the novel or not or if it was even close to being long enough for a standard historical romance novel (between 90,000 and 100K words.) The manuscript came off those floppies with 115,000 words, complete with 25 chapters and an epilogue. Good news to me - it was definitely long enough to be a mainstream historical romance novel, and had plenty of room for trimming and shaping up.  (It now weighs in at 94,408 words by the way.)


Then I started reading it. I couldn't remember much of the plot, so it was truly like reading someone else's book. I felt more like a reader rather than the author of it. I had to laugh at myself because time and again Marcano and Jolie would get into some sort of tough situation, and I'd get that "oh no" feeling because I had no idea how they were going to get out of it! You're not supposed to brag on your own book, but I'll just tell you honestly, by the time I got to the first pirate attack in chapter 8, I was hanging on every word; by chapter 22 I was sobbing my head off, crushed by the black moment; and by the end I knew I was going to publish this novel. And that if no one ever reads it, or if they read it and hate it, it doesn't matter--I love my once-lost pirate novel with all my heart.

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