I was rearranging stuff in the attic, when I discovered another version of my novel The Swanson Shuffle. As yet unpublished, the novel was inspired by my experience living and working in a psychiatric halfway house. I have envelopes containing manuscripts of my other works, but what made this one especially interesting is that it’s bound with plastic cover and rings. I believe it was a requirement for one of the contests I entered a long time ago, and I had a copy made for me as well. Although a bit yellowed on the bottom, it has survived two 2,400-mile moves across the country.
I wrote Walking in Place, which is the book’s original name, in 1999. I failed to lure an agent or a publisher for it. Actually, the agent I did get passed on the book and instead agreed to represent one of my hilltowns novels, which alas, he couldn’t get published. Yes, it’s been a long, strange trip.
Then in early 2014, I rewrote Walking in Place and renamed it The Swanson Shuffle. Both titles refer to the side-effect of one drug a few of the residents of Swanson House take. I have had a hard time finding a publisher for that one as well, so I’ve decided to read the original and see if there is anything in there I could use to make the novel better.
The two versions have many of the same characters. The protagonist is named Rose in the first book and Bia in second. The first is written in first-person past tense, and the second, first-person present tense.
Walking in Place begins when one of the residents, Jerry, has been arrested. The Swanson Shuffle starts with Bia coming for a weekend as part of the interview process. She meets Jerry outside while he’s working on his car.
The first version has hardly any chapter breaks. The second, as is typical of my current writing style, has lots.
In the first book, a lot of the plot revolves around Rose’s relations with the staff, including a bit of romance. The second focuses on Bia’s relationships with the residents, who, frankly, are far more interesting than the staff.
I finished reading Walking in Place when I awoke this morning at 2 a.m. and couldn’t go back to sleep. In the end, I decided I made the right move rewriting Walking in Place. I was pleased at the progress my writing made during those fifteen years. The Swanson Shuffle is tighter, livelier and certainly better written. It’s also a better story.
But I acknowledge there might be some passages and ideas I could take from the first.
I am also weighing which title to use — and whether to change the novel to past tense or even third-person. I may experiment with a couple of chapters. Such fun.
By the way, that was my second discovery last week. The other was a copy of Lady Chatterly’s Lover, circa 1928, that I scored in a free book box in downtown Greenfield. It originally belonged to a local library, and considering its controversy, I am a bit surprised.
I will go through my collection and see what I can spare in return.
ABOUT THE PHOTO ABOVE: My copy of Walking in Place.