"Lost Work": A Guest Post by Andrew Porter

Dear Reader,

In Between Days, Andrew Porter’s astonishing and provocative debut novel, follows a family falling apart in the face of colliding expectations and secrets. Elson and Cadence Harding have divorced after 30 years of marriage, and their son, Richard, is living at home and working in a coffee shop. But when their daughter, Chloe, is asked to take a leave of absence from her East Coast college and returns home…

Porter’s prose is gorgeous, fluid and precise — and years in the making, as he shares in this original essay.

 Lost Work

            When I was in my early twenties, I moved to Houston, Texas to write for a year. At the time, I was living off a post-graduate fellowship from the University of Iowa, where I had recently received my MFA, and the idea was that I would use the time that the fellowship money afforded me to complete my first book, a collection of short stories. I decided to move to Houston specifically because I had some friends there and because it was, at least then, a cheap place to live.

           In retrospect, I was probably still a little green in terms of my understanding of the publishing world. I don’t think I understood how difficult it was to publish a book or how lucky I was to have people who seemed to be interested in publishing mine. All I knew was that everything that I had hoped would happen in my young career was starting to happen. By the time I left Iowa at 25, I had published two stories, won some awards, and was currently being funded to write for an entire year. On top of that, I had recently begun working with an agent and had received a number of letters of interest from New York publishers, all of whom seemed interested in and optimistic about the eventual publication of my book.

            At that point, it seemed like all I needed to do was actually finish it. I worked extremely hard that year, perhaps harder than I’ve worked at any other time in my life, putting in six to eight hours a day at my computer, and by the time that April rolled around, I found myself in what I thought was a pretty good spot. I had at least ten solid stories, all of which I felt were publishable, and a manuscript that was about ninety percent complete.

            It was maybe because I felt so close to the finish line that I began to go out more at night, instead of working on my stories, as I usually did. All I know is that one night toward the end of April I went over to a friend’s house to watch a basketball game on TV, and when I returned to my own place later that night I discovered that it had been robbed. And by “robbed” I mean that virtually everything I owned except for my couch, bookshelves and desk was gone. My stereo, my computer, my printer, my television and VCR, most of my clothes, my guitar, and so on—all of it was gone. My first thought was my writing, my manuscript, and upon seeing that my computer was gone, I immediately ran over to my desk in search of my back up disks, only to discover that they, too, had been taken. At that point, my only hope seemed to be a small leather briefcase at the back of my closet where I stored all of the printed-out hard copies of my stories, but even as I ran over to my closet that night, I think I understood what I’d discover: an empty closet and no briefcase in sight, no physical evidence at all of any of the work I’d done over that past year or any of the years prior. In other words, I’d basically lost almost everything I’d ever written since I’d first started writing.

            For years afterwards, I’d chastise myself for never sending drafts of the stories I’d written that year to my agent, or for not using the internet to back up my work, as some of my friends had begun to do, but the reality is, it was 1998, and I didn’t own a computer with internet capabilities, and I didn’t send the drafts to my agent because it’s simply not in my nature to show people my work before I feel it’s finished. In any event, for many years afterward, I found myself stuck in that moment, wondering what might have happened in my life had I simply taken some precautions, or had I chosen to live somewhere else, or had I simply not gone over to my friend’s house that night. In the end, I decided that the only choice I had was to start over, and with that in mind I moved to California with the idea that I’d try to rewrite the stories I’d lost from scratch—a task that proved nearly impossible—and then, later, that I’d simply try to write new stories—a task that proved almost equally hard.

        In the end, it took me almost three years to get to the point where I was ready to write fiction again and almost eight before my first book was eventually published. It was a long and difficult road filled with many setbacks, but it was also a road that changed me a lot, both as a person and a writer. If I hadn’t taken this road, for example, I would have never met many of the people who I now consider friends, I would have never met the woman who would later become my wife and the mother of our daughter, and I would have never ended up in San Antonio at a job that I love. I also would have never written the stories that would end up being included in my first book, The Theory of Light and Matter. So, it’s always a little strange when people ask me whether I still have regrets about that time or whether I still find myself thinking about all of that lost work, wondering how my life might have been different had it not been stolen. It’s kind of like asking me whether I wish I’d lived a different life. And my answer, when I’m asked this question, is almost always the same. “No,” I’ll say, with a slight smile. “Not really.” —Andrew Porter

Cheers, Miwa

Miwa Messer

Miwa Messer is the Director of the Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers program, which was established in 1990 to highlight works of exceptional literary quality that might otherwise be overlooked in a crowded book marketplace. Titles chosen for the program are handpicked by a select group of our booksellers four times a year. Click here for submission guidelines.


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