Aside from a couple early practice novels, Akard Drearstone was my first real novel and my attachment to it has been deep. Was gestation to publication really forty-two years? Well, this novel has been on my mind since 1975; in fact, the character of Akard Drearstone had appeared a year earlier in a comic I drew. But my estimate is that over these decades I’ve spent approximately eight years on this novel. Its lineage can be traced through three different eras:
The Ancient One: The Original and Scarcely Believable (To Me, at Least) Volcanic Eruption of Ideas, Character, and Plot
I went into Draft One, February 1976 to March 1978, with the plan that I’d I write out everything I could consider expressing. I was astonished at what flowed out: several dozen characters representing all the psychic forces I could imagine, and bizarre unfolding plots and subplots. Looking back on Draft One years later, I realized its 1,587 pages contained one good novel, one bad novel, and three mediocre novels.
Draft Two, May 1978 to October 1980, was an era of endless revisions and a growing awareness of the novel’s obesity and other shortcomings, all of which forced me to come up with some new rewriting techniques. There were also problems with attachment to the Holy Words of Draft One, writer’s ego trip, ambition, and publishing paranoia. The happy astonishment of Draft One gave way to a determined, ongoing worry about Draft Two’s prospects in this unpublished-author-hating world.
I typed 300 pages of MS. to September 1981, then wearily understood that this novel no longer expressed my current concerns, and that the physical typing was taking too much of my writing time. I had two other novels going by then and so could accept that Akard wasn’t everything.
1984 witnessed the clunky creation of New Akard 1979. Chagrined that I had no backup copy of the remaining chapters, I made a photocopy of twenty of them (out of the original thirty-one) and called the resulting 760 pages the finished novel, now titled New Akard 1979–because in 1976 I had set the plot in the “far future of 1979.” I was satisfied that this roughly cobbled version had put an end to the novel, and I was proud that I’d lopped off 50% of the original novel and strengthened the rest considerably.
Two: A More Mature Twelve-Year-Old Jan Pace Experiment Renaissance
But a 1992-94 revision demanded existence. After writing several other novels I realized there was unfinished business with Akard and I completely rewrote it with a new structure of putting myself inside the mind of a twelve-year-old girl as the main character. The 1994 Akard Drearstone was a good synthesis of all the personal Akard myths over two decades. I also decided to leave this novel set in 1975, and ever since I’ve considered it essentially a historical novel. My memory is that I wanted to consider this effort publishable, but … for some reason … I never got around to submitting a query letter …
A 2004-05 revision also intruded itself. The end of Chapter 1 had bothered me for years, though, and I always felt that if I could just go in and revise that one thing, the novel would be perfect. In 1994’s first chapter, the twelve-year-old Jan witnesses Akard and his girlfriend having sex. The point was to drag the innocent girl through the irresponsible, drug-addled lives of the main characters, but a) this theme should build up more gradually and tastefully, and b) the novel should show her struggling to free herself from the insanity to eventually become a musician in her own right. But opening up that chapter to revision got me looking at the rest of the novel, and I saw a lot of unnecessary verbiage and a few bathetic scenes. Before I knew what I was doing I’d committed to a thorough revision. In eight weeks I completed a forced march through the fifteen long chapters, cutting a 722-page MS. down to 574 pages.
Unfortunately, I also introduced a pollution problem: at that time I had gotten the idea into my head that my novels should overflow with italicized character thinking, along with generous amounts of all caps.
Really, what was I THINKING?
This version of AKARD literally has full pages of italicized character thoughts!
I THOUGHT it was all providing intensified emotion, but–YUCK!
Why did I think that was such a great idea?
I was never confident of my ability to achieve publication for this version, either. Though an emerging eBook revolution was already underway at this time, I had nothing but a hazy knowledge of it and so considered mailed query letters as my only route to print publication by … Them. But again, I never sent a query on Akard 04-05.
Three: Pushing this Thing into the World Whether You Want it or Not
But by 2010 I realized I’d gathered enough tools and insight to take a fresh look at Akard and to assess its karmic force in my life. And I knew there was no point to perfecting this novel unless I was ready to send it out to publishers.
A 2010 tune-up strengthened the work and shortened it to 137,000 words. The largest cut came when I saw that Jim Piston’s secret 115-page science fiction novel (forming an entire chapter of the book!) was definitely unnecessary. I did save that chapter as a novella in its own right, The Holy Dark Ages, though I have no urge to revise or publish it.
The 2011 Revision cut any lingering references to Jim’s novel; originally, it was a big deal to the other characters that he’d written it. I also weaned myself from a longstanding attachment to my 1970’s Dickensian character names (Ted Placemat, Harray Andreality, and a dozen others), though Pete Sponge was recognized as a stage name along with Harley Krishna. I split the fifteen long, unwieldy chapters into a fast-reading sixty-six and trimmed the novel by about 4,000 words. As mentioned above, if the Ur-Akard was one good novel, one bad one, and three mediocre ones, what was left at this point was the one good novel. Literally so. Its 132,758 words were 20.06% of the rough draft’s 661,581.
A 2012 Revision snipped another 8,800 words. I consolidated some chapters and wrote a new one, which at first seemed a sacrilegious trampling of the Ancient Akard Myth but turned out to be an enjoyable return to the Akard-verse. This was the only version I ever submitted to publishers. As you can see, not to any great effect.
The 2017 Publication by Sortmind Press got Akard down to 122,360 words, though by this time I’d ceased to measure how good the thing was simply by how much verbiage I could eliminate. But I was uncertain enough about the 2012 version that I wrote an “Akard Evaluation Essay” before rereading the novel this year, fairly certain I’d abandon it forever. But I saw that the only serious problem was the slow-paced construction of the first thirteen chapters, which would put off almost any reader from discovering the marvelous energy starting with chapter fourteen. I revamped the thirteen to a more spirited nine and also retranslated the godawful italicized thinking of 2005 back into good narrative throughout the book.
I truly committed to this novel in a way I hadn’t previously dared to, and I’m quite satisfied with what I’ve calculated to be “Draft Twelve Morphing to Final Manuscript.” I got rid of attachment to previous versions and somehow all existing and new 2017 writing meshes into the true vision of the novel I’ve been nurturing all these years.
Though I probably won’t ever do this, I’ve had the idea of someday creating an Additional and Alternate Akard. There are so many subplots, chapters, characters, and alternate versions of each that I could produce an additional 700-1000 pages of Akard-related material. Normally I forget second drafts and mid-drafts, but there’s energy in these alternate versions despite all the contradictions involved.
In 2011 I realized a long-standing desire to scan in the 1976-1978 rough draft of Akard Drearstone. How else do you think I came up with that figure of 661,581 words? The original book is now just a distant ancestor of its 2017 progeny, sort of like some Civil War cavalryman the family speaks of every now and then. The 7/19/11 blog entry covers the exhausting Akard Draft 1 scanning project in detail.
Copyright 2017 by Michael D. Smith