The Author’s First Novel

[Originally posted on April 21, 2011 by David Sheppard]

Note: Might want to reference my chapter in Novelsmithing titled “The Psychology of Creativity” before reading the following.

I’ve been reading Jung’s Psychology and Alchemy, and last night I ran into the following quote:

The “personal unconscious” must be dealt with first, that is, made conscious otherwise the gateway to the collective unconscious cannot be opened. [page 62]

I found this to be a startling statement. A little further on, Jung discusses a dream where reaching “the seventh” references climbing a stairs. Jung says,

If this interpretation–that the “seventh” represents the highest state of illumination–is correct, it would mean in principle that the process of integrating the personal unconscious was at an end. Thereafter the collective unconscious would begin to open up… [page 63]

A well known phenomenon in publishing is that an author’s first work is generally a coming-of-age novel and autobiographical. This is certainly true of me. My first complete novel was The Escape of Bobby Ray Hammer. It is set in my hometown and during my high school years. It’s a first person narration. The main character is much different from me, and yet, also very much me. I wrote this novel during my five years of psychotherapy. I had started the novel as an exercise for a creative writing class taught by the poet Renate Wood who had suggested that we write a short piece about someone as different from ourselves as possible. Of course, that immediately opened me up to my personal unconscious, my shadow. I was in a really “hot” psychological state while writing that assignment, and I expanded it into the novel I recently published. I’m rather certain that writing that novel is what threw me into psychotherapy.

Shortly after completing therapy, I lost my job and instead of finding another, I elected to stay unemployed and immediately began planning a trip of several weeks to Greece. I’d felt that my therapy was somehow incomplete. I had been introduced to Carl Jung’s writings (again by Renate Wood), and I thought that constructing a personal mythology might bring it all to a close. At the end of three years from the time I got laid off, I completed my travel journal that I titled Oedipus on a Pale Horse.

I then set to work on another novel titled The Mysteries, A Novel of Ancient Eleusis. But the point I want to get across is that this new novel was not about me. It was a historical novel set in Ancient Greece. I believe that, just as Jung stated, I had integrated my personal unconscious, and that my collective unconscious had begun to open up. I believe all novelsmiths go through this process in one form or another. Our first works deal mainly with leftover stuff from childhood, and our later works deal more with archetypal phenomena. My belief is that we are always dealing with a mixture of both the personal and collective unconscious, but that we deal more with the personal in our early works and the collective more so in our later ones.


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