Letters to my dead novels

Inspired by “How Writers Mourn Their Dead Novels.”


Dear Dead Novel #1,

You were the one.

The one that made me realize I could do it. Really do it. Write a book. A whole book.

You were a few hundred handwritten pages of pure, magical dream-fever. Sure, you were about talking horses running wild in Wyoming. Sure, half of you now lies smudged, faded, and illegible in a drawer because I was too naive to write with a pen and not a pencil. But Novel, I remember the long summer nights we spent together.

I miss you sometimes. Not, like, all the time, and for sure not enough to write the sequel that 11-year-old me was planning, but there are moments, brief though they be, with my current project when I think back to how easy it was to write you.

I also think about how weird of an 11-year-old I was and wonder how I have friends.

Dear Dead Novel #2,

I may not have stayed with you, but I took you with me.

Princess Azra of Eldora still shows up in my characters, three novels later. She was strong and brave and had to figure out what that meant, and that left an impression on me. She made me realize that I was always going to write about women discovering their own strength. She also made me realize that 15-year-old girls forced to fight fairies and slay grown men in battle and discover they’re actually the secret bastard daughters of enemy queens, should be way more prone to post-traumatic stress disorder than the average teenage princess but WHATEVER it’s fine.

Novel, you were weird as hell, but you let me figure stuff out. Stuff like how to write a fantasy novel, and outline, and remember character names when my past self decided it’d be really cool to give every single one of Azra’s six sisters a name that starts with an ‘A’ (Aaliyah, Avani, Auryon, Arlais, Anaya, Alegria, #YASQWEENS).

Stuff like, what does courage mean. Like, what does a father’s love mean to a daughter. Like, what does it mean to take a life and what does it mean to save one.

Novel, you should’ve come with a warning sign: Characters in this book may be somewhat deeper than they appear. Even King Czar. Who I literally named “King Czar.”

Dear Dead Novel #3,

To this day, I don’t know why I wrote you. I was borderline obsessed with the Disney version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, yes, but you came out of me like you’d been waiting to be written, and I do not freaking understand it. Nobody writes historical fiction about a Roma girl in Paris during the medieval Inquisition for fun.

Still, I remade my entire life around you, Novel. I repainted my room light grey and hung black-and-white photos of Paris on the walls. I told my parents that all I wanted for my high school graduation was to go to France, so we went to France. I kept notebooks full of ideas for you. I read novels and textbooks and articles about the history of the Church and of Romani culture for you. I killed beloved characters for you. I fell in and out of love while I was writing you, and I used my heartbreak to make you better. I basically gave you everything.

And then you died in my arms after one revision.

To this day, I still don’t know why.

Dear Dead Novel #4,

I hesitate to call you “dead,” because four years later, it still hurts my pride that I can’t seem to fix you. I don’t know if you’re dead or not. I think you are sometimes. And then sometimes, I hear you calling me back through the fog of my mourning, like some creepy ghost pirate sh*t and IT’S NOT RIGHT okay.

I wrote a lot of you. You were a lot of book, Book. And Captain Charmaine Trenton was/is the character I’d always wanted to write. She’s badass and courageous, fearing only one thing – herself. I’d been waiting to write a character like her all of my life.

But then just as soon as you reeled me in with your adventure and your plot twists, you refused to be held anymore. I couldn’t keep my grip on you, no matter how many times I tried to rewrite you. (Five. Five times.)

I still have a theory that you’re going to come back to haunt me, the day I publish my first novel. That day, you will be there, taunting me and goading me and loving how much I still want you back.

Why am I even writing you a letter. We both know you’re not dead and you’ll probably never die. You asshole.

Dear Possibly Dead Novel #5,

Sorry I abandoned you. I don’t usually do that. But let’s be real; you were a dystopian-fantasy commentary on race relations in the U.S. and I was 21 years old and lol we weren’t ready.

Dear Future Dead Novel(s),

…I hope to God that there aren’t too many of you.

Also, I hope I stopped giving your characters really weird-ass gibberish names and overusing the phrase “gritted [her/his] teeth.” I probably didn’t, though.

Anyway, I’m sorry for killing you. Or letting you die. Or whatever happened.

Mostly, I just hope you show up in my future novels. I hope something about you comes back to haunt the ones that survive revision and querying, maybe even get to publication. I hope this isn’t goodbye. I hope you change me and the way I write.

I hope we can still be friends.

Samantha Chaffin

This was so self-indulgent and shockingly therapeutic, because that’s what I think about on vacation. Myself and therapy.

Got something to say to your dead projects? Leave your letter in the comments. Or write your own blog post and send me the link so we can commiserate.


5 thoughts on “Letters to my dead novels

  1. Linda D says:

    Privateer…Dead…?…!!! Nooooooo!!!! Samantha, say it isn’t so. I read and edited that book with relish and reminded you to feed Captain Charmaine when you had her battling on for 34 chapters with a mere couple of pints of beer to sustain her.
    She didn’t survive near starvation, sleep deprivation, and loss of the love of her life to be abandoned and left for DEAD. That can’t be so. I think a little of me died when I read Privateer is in your dead novel category.

    Linda D

    • samchaffin says:

      Haha, y’know… I don’t really know how dead Privateer is. There may yet be hope for it. But right now, I must write other things. Can’t revise one MS forever!

      • fdinkumcomcastnet says:

        In the immortal words of monty Python “I’m not dead yet,! I’m just rest’n” I know that Privateer will line my bookselves one day.
        But in the meantime write away on any new project that sparks your imagination. I’ll be sure to make time to read it😎
        Linda D

  2. Jennifer N. says:

    Oh man… I just feel so much for this post… At this point, I only have one sort-of-maybe-it-could-have-been and I am constantly bombarded with ideas for new ones, but I can’t seem to let this one go. My heart goes out to every one of your novels… And I hope you have more success with your current/next one!!

    • samchaffin says:

      I totally get it. It’s so hard to let go of the ones that feel like your babies (in my case, Privateer). I realized recently that it will probably be The One That Got Away for me, and I can either a.) sit on it forever hoping something comes from it, or b.) move on and write more babies. But yes. Still, the pain.

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