Old Notebook Fond Reminder of Early Writing Dreams

Most of the time, unpacking after a move is a tedious process. There is a seemingly never-ending supply of boxes you have to go through and decide what happens to the stuff inside. Over the past few weeks, I have found myself wondering why some of the things I’ve pulled out of boxes came with us.

But there is an occasional piece of treasure — a moment where you find something that makes you stop working and delight in the (re)discovery.

I had such a moment last week, when I was unpacking my new office. There were a number of boxes labeled, “Old Writing” or “Archives.” Much of that stuff had not been gone through since I packed it up to leave my apartment in December of 2011.

Calibots RevengeIn one of these, I came across an old, red, Mead notebook from 1983. Written in blue, Bic pen on the cover was, “Calibot’s Revenge  –John Phythyon”. Inside, handwritten in the same blue ink, was the manuscript for my first novel.

I don’t mean the first novel I ever published. I mean the first one I’d ever written — stem to stern — meticulously hand-scribed when I was 15 years old.

I didn’t bother to open it. I know how bad the material inside is. I saw no reason to torture myself with the evidence of my untrained pen.

But this dreck did eventually become something grand. The handwritten manuscript preserved in that notebook was the genesis for last year’s The Sword and the Sorcerer. It may have taken 30 years to transform that first draft into something worthy of publication, but I feel as though SatS is my best novel to date, and given that it is essentially a love letter to my wife, its humble origins are all the more remarkable.

I can still recall the focus and the desire I felt as I labored away, literally penning the tale of a wizard’s son getting a magical, flaming sword so he could avenge his father’s murder at the hands of an alleged friend. I remember looking towards the future, when Calibot’s Revenge would be the first novel I published — launching my career as an author before I even graduated from high school.

I remember finding the notebook in 1991, when I moved to Kansas for graduate school and being deeply embarrassed at how bad it was. And I recall thinking that, despite how terrible the writing and themes were, that the seed of a really good adventure story were buried in there. I just needed to water them.

It took awhile. It took 22 more years and about eight drafts. but I managed it. I turned this laughable revenge story inspired by a D&D campaign into a fine piece of literature.

And so, despite the facts that I have no need for this artifact of my infancy as an author and that I would be mortified if anyone ever read it (assuming the chicken scratchings of a left-handed teenager with poor penmanship could be deciphered), I did not consign it to the garbage. I kept it in a drawer with other pieces of bad writing from my early years learning the craft. Some of them I hope to mine in similar fashion to Calibot’s Revenge. I believe the germ of a good book is in there, waiting to be teased out.

I won’t let anyone read these embarrassing pieces of developmental writing. But I keep them anyway as a fond reminder both of my innocence as an artist and of the important concept that a good idea isn’t enough.  Writing, after all, is a craft.


You can’t read the original manuscript of Calibot’s Revenge, but the book it became, The Sword and the Sorcerer, is available through all major e-retailers. One dollar of the eBook sales and two dollars of the print sales benefit Freedom to Marry, the national campaign to win marriage equality nationwide.

Click here to purchase The Sword and the Sorcerer from Amazon.com.
Click here to purchase The Sword and the Sorcerer from Smashwords.com.
Click here to purchase a print version of The Sword and the Sorcerer.


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