The first real, structured storytelling I attempted was while I was living in Finland. I was seventeen and expected to attend school as part of the exchange program I was on. Attending school was only a formality, because the Finnish language is one of the more difficult languages in the world to learn and to understand (in a year, I basically learned how to swear and how to say thank you). So I'd show up to whatever class it happened to be -- History, Math, Science, etc. -- and I'd write stories. Terrible stories, but stories nonetheless. After my year in Finland I had several exercise books filled with violent, offensive, aggressive, sexist, hilarious, terrible stories (you know, the types of stories a seventeen year old abroad for the first time in his life might write), which I never read again. What these stories did was make me want to improve. They made me want to write more.
When I returned to Canada to finish my grade twelve year, I put most of my energy into my creative writing class. We talk of the people who inspired us... who helped us along our paths. My grade twelve Creative Writing teacher Mrs. Martin was one of those people for me. She spoke a lot about the potential in my writing. About the quality of my ideas. She taught me to always write for myself first. She taught me to use my environment and the characters in my real life to help me give life to my stories. She taught me the importance of rewriting and editing.
At the end of my grade-twelve year (1995) I looked at my friends and the growing city I was living in and I began writing a story that has lived with me in drawers, on floppy disks, on zip disks and CDs for almost 18 years now. It is a story that has been rewritten a dozen times and has helped me define my path as a writer. It is a story that has always had a grand idea, but an unachievable outcome.
We all have that 'first novel'. My first novel was called DIVERSIONS. It was born out of the confusion and fear I faced after getting to the end of high school and not knowing what was to come next. When I received a diploma in Journalism in 1997 and was faced with that next task of getting a job, DIVERSIONS became something altogether new. As I struggled to get a job and to get back into life living at home again, I began to ponder the whole nurture vs. nature question. Are we the person we are because of the innate qualities we are born with or are we the person we are because of what happens to us along the way?
Then I began to think about cult leaders. I began to wonder how someone goes from average member of society to leading people in a new way of believing. Of convincing people to take their lives for that new belief. I was writing this in the mid nineties when the Waco siege and Heaven's Gate was in the news. I combined my own struggles at the time with the concept of the rise of a cult leader, and I wrote the majority of DIVERSIONS. It took me five years, but in the end I had an epic 120,000-word piece of "literature" I sincerely thought would be my blockbuster debut novel. It was anything but.
I was so happy to have finally completed it, I packaged it up and sent it off to publishers all over the world. DIVERSIONS taught me very quickly how to deal with rejection. There was so much rejection... And with each new rejection letter that came in, my skin got a little thicker. My focus got a little more narrowed. I eventually accepted I wasn't going to be the adult-fiction writer I had once imagined I would be. And I was okay with that, because through good luck and a series of strange events, I began writing children's literature, where I have actually found a modicum of success.
But DIVERSIONS stayed with me. It haunted me. The idea was always there. If anything, the friends I grew up with in Abbotsford in the 90s deserved to read it, because I know they experienced a lot of the same things I did: a town growing into a city, boredom, coffeeshops, Pearl Jam. If anything, I needed to finally let the darn book go. And so, a year ago I blew the dust off the last incarnation of it and I took to finally polishing it off enough to put it out in the world.
I also added a new element to my final incarnation of DIVERSIONS, which brought forth a new title: NEW FATHERS.
We all start out somewhere. Our first attempts are never that great. But that doesn't mean they shouldn't be shared. There are still gems to be found in those great piles of words. And as rough and inaccurate as my first novel might still be, I believe it is full of little gems about growing up, about finding our place in the world, about dealing with change and death and life.
by Xavier Kind
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Xavier Kind is the pen name I use for my adult fiction. I have released one other book called VANILLA under this name. Xavier Kind is also the name of the protagonist in THE BALTHAZAR EXPERIMENT, the online YA science fiction novel I worked on last year.