Twenty years ago today, 26 August 2001, I finished Chapter 41 of Swan (later entitled “Who Will Stand, Who Will Fall?” after a line in the chorus of the George Harrison song “The Lord Loves the One [That Loves the Lord]”), wrote the Epilogue, and typed “The End.”
I was 21 years old, and had been working on this book for almost the entirety of my teen years, plus my entire adulthood up to that point. Yes, there was a break from working on the novel proper from October ’93 to September ’96, but in between, I wrote several prequel short stories and additional scenes to be inserted into the book, as well as doing longhand editing of a printout of the entire story up to that point.
Soon after closing out of the final document of this massive doorstopper, I saw on aohell that the singer Aaliyah had just died in a plane crash. Though I don’t really follow contemporary pop culture, I’ll always remember that event and its date because it’s linked so closely to the end of my first draft.
All these years later, it’s stunning to think back on how young I was when I wrote the first draft, and yet how well I wrote it. Yes, I ended up junking or radically rewriting at least 95% of the original 1993 material, but there were so many places in my juvenile initial vision that perfectly led into a more mature direction and an actual plot with a real focus.
The material from the second major phase, my junior year of high school, didn’t need quite so many severe edits and excisions, but it did require more than light, surface tweaking. By that point, I’d begun making and working from short chapter-by-chapter notes and following a real storyline.
The material from the third and final major phase of the first draft, late ’98 through to the end, needed the least amount of editing. The vast majority of these chapters are largely unchanged but for adding and expanding certain scenes. I look back and marvel at how a good chunk of that was the work of a teenager! In my very late teens and thus technically an adult, but nevertheless still a teen.
And without any elaborate advance plotting and planning, I managed to ultimately link up all these groups of characters and their stories—the main cast, the orphanage girls, the middle Lebedeva sisters, Lena Yeltsina, Natalya Yeltsina, Mrs. Yeltsina and her older daughters. How did I do that?! I doubt I’d be able to pull off such a feat, or even write the book itself so well, if I were just starting out now.
Technology moved on, and I was unable to access any of my files on disks for almost an entire decade, even after buying an external disk drive. Finally, in April 2011, I figured out how to open and convert these documents in obsolete file formats.
When I typed “The End” at 21, I naïvely believed I only needed to really edit the earliest chapters. How very wrong I was! The entire manuscript received multiple edits, revisions, and rewrites over the next three and a half years.
Then I made various edits for a second, third, fourth, and finally fifth edition. Nothing too radical, mostly just some new, brief additions here and there. One of the later editions also involved replacing the cover. Though I remain proud of how those are the best human figures I’ve ever drawn, I’m now embarrassed I ever thought that looked professional.
My entire life long, this will stand as one of the books I’m proudest of having written, one of the books closest to my heart. We grew up together, and it wonderfully demonstrates my writing style during many distinct phases of my development.