I met Claire McMillan through Twitter, in part because we are both card-carrying members of the Emily Mitchell/Last Summer of the World fan club – and Edith Wharton Fans. Her splendid debut novel, Gilded Age, is a bit of a House of Mirth set in modern-day Cleveland. Elle Magazine calls it “a beach read with a touch of literary pedigree … a rich romp of a read.” I know you’ll enjoy it, as well as her rich romp of a story about how it came to be published. – Meg
I have a novel in a drawer.
I’d never say, I have a novel in a drawer, somewhere.
I know exactly where it is.
I wrote the beginning of it when I was getting my MFA at Bennington and still practicing law. I finished it two years and a new baby after I graduated. When I was done, I shopped for an agent.
No one wanted it.
I queried maybe 25 agents, a few looked at the manuscript. Everyone took a pass.
That’s when I put it in a drawer.
I literally cleaned out a drawer, placed a copy of the draft in there, along with a copy on a flash drive, and shut the drawer.
I told myself I’d stop writing for a while, that I needed a little break. I wanted to chill with my baby.
But I didn’t really know how to start something again.
My husband gave me a first edition of The House of Mirth for my birthday that year. We give him an A in present-giving for that. He knew it was one of my favorite books, Wharton one of my favorite authors. That night over dinner, we were discussing why I like Wharton so much. I was saying that everything she was writing about, like all great authors, was universal and still happening today.
I was too nervous to actually read the first edition, for fear of damaging it. My paperback version from college was tattered, cover fallen off, and spine disintegrating. So I went out and bought a fresh copy.
I read it through once, and then placed it next to me as I wrote. It kept me company, which helped me. Jumping off from a great book was both easier and harder than before – easier because there was a blueprint to work with, harder because I was intimidated.
I told myself I was just messing around.
When I was done, I sent it out, and it found an agent and then a publisher fairly quickly which felt incredibly lucky and like a huge relief.
It’s been with a publisher for a year, and during that time I’ve been working on starting again.
I decided I needed to take the novel out of the drawer and burn it in order to be free of it. I grew up in Southern California and lived in Northern for a decade, I can be prone to stuff like this.
I now have two children. Their eyes were wide as I put the failed novel in the fireplace and set a match to it.
It wouldn’t light.
I got the clicker my husband uses for the barbeque.
I have no explanation for why it wouldn’t burn – other than the obvious reason, the one that calls to me from the drawer telling me to start again.
Like I said, I’d never say I have a novel in a drawer somewhere. I know exactly where that thing is. – Claire