My Novels and Why I Hide Them

Construction signs….the bane of any Toronto photographer’s existence.

Construction signs….the bane of any Toronto photographer’s existence.

During Christmas this year, one of my cousins joked to me that I’ve been working on “that novel” for almost four years now. 

“No, it’s my fourth novel,” I corrected. 

“Yeah, sure, sure,” he joked, knocking me on the shoulder in a I’m-kidding-but-not-really sort of way. 

I sipped my water (unfortunately I was driving home from the Mississauga party and it wasn’t a beer in my hand), and realized something. 

He was right. 

This was a realization I think I’d made on my own previously, but one that I always buried beneath the slick layer of ugly thoughts at the bottom of my mind, like newspaper on a puddle of dog piss. 

Unfortunately, just like that newspaper, it does very little to solve the problem, and eventually you’re going to have to deal with the pissy stain on the floor, or in this case, the sad realizations that you’ve been talking shit for a few years. 

It’s not easy to do. These novels, the four that I’ve finished, are parts of me. 

I know that sounds cliche, and if you’re still reading this right now, I thank you for it, because I probably lost a couple people there. I know I would have clicked out. 

Cliches are shit. They sound awful. They’re lazy. 

They’re also true. 

Those four novels are the result of a lot of work. A lot of work. 

And there isn’t really an excuse for why I’ve left them to gather dust on my shelf, some of them for almost five years now. 

The truth is, I hate editing my own work, especially after giving birth to a 500-page novel. All that sweat, sleep and strain is over, and the last thing you want to do with your finished manuscript is dive right back in and start rethinking every single sentence you ever wrote. The thought of doing such a thing is akin to crashing your car into a hydro pole the second you drive it off the lot. 

It has to be done. I know that. (The editing, not driving into a pole). 

Whether they are my best work or not, I want people to read these books. I know that too. 

So I need to do something with them. 

I know that. 

I know. 

So, let’s start from the beginning. 

Dismantling Christmas here in Toronto.

Dismantling Christmas here in Toronto.

Horizon’s End. 

The first, and shortest of the novels I’ve written. The story focuses on a young, shit-head teenager and an old drug addict who cross paths as the kid is trying to untangle an urban legend in Algonquin Park. Legend has it that there is $500,000 of stolen mob money stashed somewhere in the park, long forgotten. The kid intends to find it, the addict intends to stop him. 

To be completely honest, I can’t remember when exactly I finished this story. It’s been years, at least five, probably more. 

I’ve shared it on this website before, twice actually, and have tried to get it published the traditional way but have been turned down. 

So, this year I’m going to try the self-publishing route. 

Currently, I’ve got my talented, photographer/graphic designer brother Daniel working on a cover-design. 

So, look for more on that later. I’d say near the end of the first quarter of 2019. 


The second novel. This one I believe I finished in 2015. I started writing this one after returning from Athabasca. The story starts with a scene inspired by one of my favourite metal songs (hell of a break down), and has the main character burning his house down. The book’s central thrust follows the guy’s recovery after losing his wife. 

I’ve given this one second, and third pass edits, and even had a friend read it over and make some recommendations for improvement (thanks Lauren!). 

Honestly, I think this one has self-publishing written on it as well, but I’m just not sure I’m happy with it yet. 

Regardless, at the very least, I want to give it a read over this year. Perhaps I’ll surprise myself and be happier with the final product than I remember. 

What We’ve Become

My third novel is perhaps my only book that is truly grounded in reality. It’s completely character-driven and focuses on a young reporter (surprise surprise) trying to find what he’s really passionate about. His plans to leave everything behind are derailed when he meets Amelia in a chance encounter-turned bar fight. 

Charlie’s plans are immediately compromised, but things get even more complicated when he’s pulled into Amelia’s own struggles with her past, which just won’t leave her alone. 

Amelia, and the villain in this story are probably two of my favourite characters I’ve ever written. Amelia because I feel like she’s relatable and real, and the villain because he’s just an unhinged, wild mother fucker in a normal package. 

I know this book has potential, but I definitely need to tie up some loose plot ends. Most of the villain’s storyline was pieced in afterward. It was one of those moments when I didn’t realize until I was three-quarters finished the book that he was a main character. It hit me like a beer bottle to the head. I wrote his entire storyline separately and then, like a surgeon with his hands tied behind his back, tried to piece it into the main story. It was crude, bloody, and ugly, and we definitely need to triage some of the more jarring connections. 

Anyway, I hope to get to that in 2019 as well. 

Liquid Life (title pending)

My latest and fourth novel, completed only a few short months ago with a triumphant celebration of great Italian pizza and beer with M. 

I really got tired of not being able to get creative with the worlds I was building on paper. Sure, it’s my story, but when you ground your stories in a real setting, having something go completely off the rails takes a lot of finesse. 

With this novel, I made a world where things can go from serene to shit-storm with the snap of a finger. 

And it’s fucking great. 

There’s some good characters that I’m happy with, probably my best plotted novel in terms of pacing and progression, and sets up nicely for a second book (my next project). 

I’ve completed my first round of edits on this one in hard copy and just need to update the electronic version. 

I’m doing things differently with this one. Instead of tossing it on a shelf, I’m getting it into the hands of some people who have expressed a real willingness to read it. 

I haven’t thought much more about it than that. One step at a time. 

And there, you’re now up to speed on Joel’s library. 

There’s also the many, many short stories though….sigh…we’ll get to those later. 

Thanks for reading!


Joel Wittnebel