My first two novels, Nova Scotia and The Fifty-First State of Consciousness, were practice novels. Akard Drearstone was my first real novel and my attachment to it has been deep. Akard was created in several different eras:
- Draft One, February 1976 to March 1978. I’d planned to write out everything I could even consider expressing, and was astonished at what flowed out: dozens of characters, bizarre unfolding plots and subplots. Looking back on Draft One years later, I realized its 1,587 pages contained one good novel, one bad novel, and three mediocre novels.
- Draft Two, May 1978 to October 1980, was an era of endless revisions and a growing awareness of the novel’s obesity and numerous other shortcomings, all of which forced me to come up with some new rewriting techniques. There were also problems with attachment to the Holy Words of Draft One, writer’s ego trip, ambition, publishing paranoia, etc. The happy astonishment of Draft One gave way to a determined, ongoing worry about Draft Two.
- I typed 300 pages of MS. to September 1981, then realized this novel no longer expressed my current concerns, and that the physical typing was taking too much of my writing time. I had two other novels going by then and so could afford to realize that Akard Drearstone wasn’t everything.
- New Akard 1979. In 1984, realizing I had no backup copy of the remaining chapters, I made a photocopy of twenty of the chapters (out of the original thirty-one) and called these 760 pages the finished novel, now titled New Akard 1979. (In 1976 I had set the plot in the “far future of 1979.”) I was satisfied with this version, which because of the cut chapters had a more mature tone than Draft Two, and I was proud that I’d lopped off 50% of the original novel and strengthened the rest considerably.
- The 1992-1994 revision. Years later, after several other novels, I realized there was some unfinished business with Akard. Looking at New Akard 1979 afresh, I rewrote it with a recent paradigm of trying to put myself inside the mind of a twelve-year-old girl as the main character. The finished 1994 Akard Drearstone was a good synthesis of all the personal Akard myths over two decades.
- The 2004-2005 revision. But the end of Chapter 1 bothered me for years, and I always felt that if I could just go in and revise that one thing, the novel would be perfect. In the 1994 version, the main character, twelve year-old Jan, witnesses Akard and his girlfriend having sex. The point was, of course, to drag the innocent girl through the irresponsible, drug-addled lives of the main characters, but a) it should build up more gradually–and tastefully–and b) it should show her struggling to free herself from the insanity to later become a musician in her own right. But opening up that chapter to revision got me looking at the rest of the novel, and I saw a lot of unnecessary verbiage and a few bathetic scenes. Before I knew what I was doing I’d committed to a thorough revision. In eight weeks I completed a forced march through the fifteen long chapters, cutting a 722-page MS. down to 574 pages.
- The 2010 tune-up. The 2010 version strengthened the work and shortened it to 137,000 words. The largest cut came when I realized that Jim Piston’s secret 115-page novel wasn’t necessary. I later just called this a novella in its own right, The Holy Dark Ages (not for publication but I made a draft cover anyway).
- The 2011 Revision. In addition to cutting any lingering references to Jim’s novel, I finally weaned myself from a longstanding attachment to my 1970’s Dickensian character names (e.g., Ted Placemat, Harray Andreality, and a dozen others), though Pete Sponge was recognized as a stage name along with Harley Krishna. I split the fifteen long chapters into sixty-six for faster reading, and trimmed the novel by about 4,000 words. As mentioned above, if the Ur-Akard was one good novel, one bad one, and three mediocre ones, what was left at this point was the one good novel. Literally so. Its 132,758 words were 20.06% of the scanned rough draft’s 661,581.
- The 2012 Revision. Another snip of some 8,800 words, consolidating some chapters and writing a new one. Overall improvement at 123,941 words.
- The 2017 Publication. 122,360 words. I’m quite satisfied with what I’ve calculated to be “Draft Twelve Morphing to Final Manuscript” after overhauling the first thirteen chapters, fixing numerous plot and stylistic aspects, and truly committing to this novel in a way I hadn’t previously dared to. I got rid of all attachment to previous versions and somehow all existing and new 2017 writing meshed into the true vision of the novel I’ve been nurturing all these years.
The central vision for Akard was my secret desire after graduating from Rice to live in an artistic commune. Since I couldn’t do that, and probably would’ve hated it anyway, the next best thing was to write about it. Akard emerged full-scale in one day in August 1975 as I constructed a satire record album cover out of scraps of pink paper. Three single-spaced pages of notes I typed a few days later charted the course of the first draft. From August 1975 to February 1976 I heavily inventoried dreams, recent ideas, and my bleak employment in an insurance company to throw everything into what I knew would be a massive work unlike anything I’d done before. It may be that the stretching involved in Akard, the disbelief that so much expression could flow out, is the reason I’ve been so attached to it. And of course it was Akard’s tone and methods that began the evolution towards the rest of my novels.
Though I probably won’t ever do this, I’ve had the idea of someday creating an Additional and Alternate Akard. There are so many subplots, chapters, characters, and alternate versions of each that I could produce an additional 700-1000 pages of Akard-related material. Normally I forget second drafts and mid-drafts, but there’s energy in these alternate versions despite all the contradictions involved.
In 2011 I realized a long-standing desire to scan in the 1976-1978 rough draft of Akard Drearstone, and I finally finished proofing it in July 2012. The 7/19/11 blog entry covers this exhausting project in detail.
All words and images copyright by Michael D. Smith