Early Writings (part 4): First Submissions

wings on fire

It is easy to look back at my writing and succinctly draw it up into three major stages that are common to most arts: the Apprentice, the Adept, and the Master.  To fully understand these rigid categories in a highly diversified and arbitrary career, one must look at certain stages.  It is true that an artist can surmount a mastership level and regress to an Adept or even an Apprenticeship when they rediscover themselves, but all-in-all, that is rather ambiguous in its own definition.  The levels of advancement are based more on experience than perhaps the work itself.  My stages were rather straightforward.  I could argue that my earlier writings the introductory phase – was a stage by itself, or that it was merely an extension on what is considered my longest stage as an apprentice.  Yet, becoming an apprentice was rather more formal than it had been prior to that point.  For the years I was dabbling in styles and plots, my writing had always been rather for fun, for amusement, rather than a serious study.  My apprenticeship, much like my stage as an adept, was marked and clearly seen.  I can almost define them by the date the transition occurred.

The beginning of my apprenticeship did not benefit from going to a school or achieving a master to learn from; instead, it was based upon two very important events – one physical achievement, the other, rather esoteric.  Painters have gone to art schools to begin their apprenticeship; athletes begin a sports regime under a coach; mine began with the completion of my first novel-length manuscript, Galleon: Portrait of a Treasure Diver.  The second initiation factor was a dream that featured a young woman standing on a beach asking me if I’d join her.  The dream itself was separated from the fact of it being a sexual one, as it termed that my writing side – the artistic side of me – was female.  I joined with her.

After discovering a Royal electric typewriter in my closet (left by a former tenant) while living in South Lake Tahoe, CA, I began devising a new story.  The novel was somewhat a redraft of the earlier Depths, but this time was far more focused.  Galleon: PoaTD concerned a young SCUBA diving instructor who discovers three sunken Spanish ships in the Bahamas, and his struggle to raise their treasure.  It was my ambition, having been inspired by Benchley’s The Deep, Kip Wagner’s personal account of salvaging the 1715 Plate Fleet in Florida in Pieces of Eight, The Treasure Diver’s Guide by John S. Potter Jr., and other sources, to fashion a realistic novel detailing a group of Mel Fisher wannabes who run afoul of every conceivable problem trying to find sunken treasure in the Bahamas.  The main characters consisted of Michael Palmer, a young SCUBA diving instructor employed by a resort in the Cayman Islands; Catherine Mitchell, a pretty tourist girl and love interest for Palmer; James Anton, Palmer’s father figure and all around best-buddy; and Harry Jameson, the bad guy out to pirate the treasure.  This story I argue in being an ambitious work to publish, on the mere fact that I was actually fantasizing of becoming a treasure diver myself one day.  The characters were pretty much the same as those from Depths, but they had stronger motivations and were out to achieve a goal.  Palmer starts things off by finding a gold doubloon on a beach just after a raging hurricane.  The find lures him into finding out where it came from, and there he discovers the legend of a Spanish galleon wrecked nearby.  During his research, word leaks out about a serious treasure hunt, and this comes to the ears of the antagonist, Jameson, who spares no time or expense in asserting his evil greed.  Clashes with not only the bad guys, but with the authorities as well, places Palmer and his friends in one jam after another, until, during a climax with a second hurricane, they defeat Jameson and spirit the treasure out of the Bahamas.

A fun, ambitious work; in some ways I wanted it to be published, but I rather had my doubts that any publisher would find it that good.  There were no rewrites to make mention of; I was rather naïve when it came to perfecting works at that time.  I enjoyed the journey of Galleon, and kept it close to my heart as my first completed novel at a whopping 241 pages.  It bothered me, however, that I still hadn’t achieved the length of a novel in the scope of where Benchley lay, but, try as I might, I couldn’t get any more out of the story.  I enjoyed the fact that Catherine Mitchell was a stronger female love interest than those I had attempted before, and that my female leads were becoming stronger characters, rather than just dressing in the window.  It’s interesting to note that at the end of the novel, Catherine and Michael aren’t together, and have somewhat a detached separation.  It reads more like their brief love affair was to be experienced for what it was, rather than something to build upon.  Palmer, being chased by the authorities for committing some outrageous criminal acts in his pursuit of the treasure, has to run off with an older brother; Catherine Mitchell ends up pocketing the treasure herself and leaves the Bahamas with her family.  She gives the horizon a wistful look as she stands on the dock, where she can spy a receding boat that contains a fugitive Palmer, disappearing into the sunset.  These two main characters are young – possibly in their late teens.  There are other adventures waiting for them; they do not need to stay together.  Another note is that Palmer’s father figure/best friend, James Anton, gets killed toward the end by a group of sharks and not by the villain.

Galleon: PoaTD was a milestone in my literary career not only because of the completion of my first novel-length manuscript, but in the fact that I was very learned of the subject matter, and did extensive research.  The scope of the novel was a send-up, no doubt, of Benchley’s The Deep, but it was an honest attempt to create an intense, original action/adventure.  I labored to make the work as realistic as possible, and sought to outdo my earlier fantasies and meager imagination with concrete research.  I then attempted to write a new novel with oceanic themes concerning pirates.  This project was described as “a pirate captain becomes obsessed with a treasure chest he buried,” but it never got beyond the first two or three chapters.  It was tentatively entitled The Island, but I didn’t much care for it as it was like Benchley’s third book.

After moving to Knoxville, Tennessee, in 1981, I found myself in a new environment with new adolescent perils.  My writing ambition had become stronger, and I was serious enough about it to attempt getting a short work published.  An inspiration came to me through one of my SCUBA diving magazines of a sculpture that featured a diver going toe-to-toe with a shark in open water.  I naively put together a short story based on the same premise about a diver who runs afoul of a shark in open water and reflects about his experience after he escapes it.  Who was the intruder?  The man or the shark?  Thus, the short story was called “The Intruder” and was promptly sent off to Reader’s Digest as an Adventure in Real Life.  It, of course, failed.  “The Intruder” marked my very first professional submission, and was rather dubious in its concept.  It went under the guise of being a true story, but was, in fact, totally fiction.  A couple of weeks later, not to be daunted, I put together another slap-dash work entitled “Derelict”, which was about a man-eating fungus on a derelict spacecraft.  It was sent off in a highly-ambitious move to Playboy, after I attempted to put in a rather lurid sex scene within its pages.   I had never read Playboy, other than peruse its artistic photographs.  Writer’s Digest had touted that the magazine was one of the most highest-paid, garnering up to $400 for a published work; it too, came back.

During a haphazard time trying to fit in at high school, I eventually began working on a fantasy novel in serial, called Dragons of Eden.  Not to be confused with Carl Sagan’s work, my fantasy concerned a young squire living in a kingdom besieged by an evil sorceress.  Writing it, I was very influenced by Mallory’s King Arthur stories and Greek mythology.  It was a lengthy work for its scope, but I lost interest after a time and it never became finished.  It came before my Tolkien period, and I found it rather difficult to write because of my lack of reading fantasy works in that vein.  It was, in retrospect, an attempt to put together a Tolkien-based work, but without having read Lord of the Rings.  I instead drafted a new ocean-based novel that resurrected my earlier fascination with The Bermuda Depths and my short story, “Fathoms.”  Typing away on a Smith Corona manual typewriter, I put together a far more reaching scope of a novel than what I had put together before, rivaling Galleon.  This new work introduced the same elements from before, but drew them out and strengthened character-to-character relationship and motivations with a gloomy setting.  The result was a novel about the hunt for a sea serpent, and some rather sinister supernatural and fantasy elements.  The characters were: Nathanial Jacobs, a young man looking for his dead father; Richard Logan, a marine biologist who becomes obsessed with his oceanographic project; Dewitt Johnson, another biologist in charge of the project; Sondra Logan, Richard’s conservative and melodramatic wife; and Paul Simpson, a senior scientist with a hidden agenda.  This is an important draft, because I now have a female character who is no longer background dressing, although she is a minor character; Sondra Logan becomes a strong female lead who is supposed to be the sober and practical component to the marriage she shares with Richard.  At a loss what to call the project, I had a dream in which my sister handed me a book with the title Winds of the Deep on it in bold black on yellow letters.  There I pursued the draft, drawing out all the elements that I’d known before and hammering out totally new ones.  The work was a little more haunting than my previous effort with the juvenile “Fathoms,” but it found itself strengthened from my experiences with Depths and Galleon and a lifetime of reading stronger works.  During it, also, I had discovered some works by Stephen King (particularly Salem’s Lot), and found a deep fascination for that writer’s prose.  WotD was far deeper in scope than any previous work, and played heavily on the fantasy edge more than horror.  The ending of the novel, after young, lost Nate has his surreal love affair with the ghost of Jackie Bartholomew, culminates in the loss of the two biologists by a fire-breathing sea serpent.  Nate is washed up on shore alone and all but dead.  The novel I completed at 269 pages (or thereabouts), and felt it was time to try my hand at the publishing game of books.  My mother found some wayward article from a shady vanity publisher and persuaded me to send it to them.  After a couple of weeks, a fellow called me and offered to publish the work if I paid them $3000.  I, of course, refused, knowing how limited my own talent was and that it was not right.   My mother was confused.  How come I had to pay them?  I tried my hand at science fantasy too, envisioning a post-apocalyptical society of long-eared aliens with Star Wars-style technology cavorting around the search for an ancient artifact that would reveal that there had been another race of intelligent beings sharing the same world (humans).  This novel was tentatively entitled Odyssey, and concerned a hotshot jet pilot named Puck and a group of other pixyish-looking beings that could easily populate a video game.  Though I feel there is some strength to the milieu, the story never quite got off the ground and suffered from disorganization.  During a brief stay in Phoenix, Arizona, I was inspired to begin writing a sequel to it that featured much of the same characters and technology and was heavily inspired by the Mad Max/Road Warrior films.  This piece too never quite got beyond the dream stage and eventually was abandoned.

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About mciddangelo

"I write because I believe in literature; I believe that the art of words is louder than sound, more colorful than paintings. My novels are written not because of the pursuit of money or even success, but in the FAITH that they exalt our experiences; that not only do they give us enjoyment to read them, but they are meant to open worlds that a reader may not ever imagine." M Cid D'Angelo is published in Aiofe's Kiss, Calliope, Eureka Literary Magazine, Third Wednesday, Midway Journal, and many others. He is the author of Dead Reckoning (J Ellington Ashton Press, 2015), available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle versions.
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