It was a few years back, after finishing my last side project, that I considered another. It was going to be an analysis of the rise of fascism in America and around the world. I already had a title for it: How Fascists Win. Having written one piece of nonfiction, I was eager to write another. But while I was just starting my research, I came across a book that covered the exact same ground. How Fascism Works is probably the most important work of our time and demands to be read. But I was left without a side project, and for whatever reason, I needed one.
There was another idea that I’d been sketching out; one based on events in my life but turned into a work of fiction. You see, I’d read a novel called Emergency Contact some time back that was similar enough to an event in my life that I was inspired to read it, but different enough that, after finishing it, I thought I could write my own story.
Emergency Contact is about a relationship that persists in the virtual world, mainly through texting. I could immediately relate. But whereas this one started off with an in-person meeting and continued through today’s version of texting on smartphones, mine took place many years ago. Back then, each text took minutes to compose on the keys of flip phones, and somehow made each one seem all the more valuable. By setting my story in 2006, I was not only staying true to life but creating a period piece. Still, I was not yet ready to start writing.
Then I went through some brief emotional turmoil and was looking for an escape. This potential side project seemed to be just what I needed. I would revisit my senior year of high school and this relationship, which suddenly held new significance. Unread Message was born.
I worked on it on and off for the next couple of years, unsure if I would ever finish it and not as inclined to publish it. For one, it was way more personal than anything I’d ever written, given that a version of these fictionalized events actually happened to me. There was an emotional honesty to it that I felt uncomfortable even writing. Additionally, it was about a certain someone that I hadn’t spoken to for over a decade; someone that I probably owed a long overdue apology to but who I wasn’t sure even remembered me. Nevertheless, I kept at it.
I didn’t finish it until I had an abundance of spare time during the first year of the pandemic, when I managed to wrap it up, and then promptly set it aside. After finishing it, I decided to devote any extraneous hours to composing Medium articles rather than taking up another long-term project. My main focus would remain the science fiction and fantasy novels I was (not) known for. Enter my latest trilogy.
After writing three novels back to back, I realized that they would need some serious rewrites before I even considered publishing them. Given that I try to put out one book a year, that would mean 2023 would go by without a single new book from yours truly. While I would probably be the only one who noticed or cared, it just didn’t sit right with me. So I dusted off my last side project and took a look.
Unread Message is not a novel for you. It is a novel for me. It is a pensieve, preserving some of my favorite memories from my senior year of high school while trying to turn them into a cohesive story. I’m not sure I succeeded. The names have all been changed, the extraneous details removed, yet it likely holds little value to anyone that wasn’t there to experience it. So my advice to you is not to read it.
Maybe it properly captures 2006 and 2007. There’s a taste of life from that time period, when AIM was still big, social media wasn’t rampant, and flip phones were still in vogue. Personal sentiments toward the Iraq War and the Bush Administration abound. Maybe it captures a certain type of high school experience that isn’t dominated by bullies, cliques, or other often-depicted cliches. If that piques your curiosity, then perhaps you might get something out of it. But I’d still prefer you didn’t read it.
Ultimately, I am publishing this novel for two people. It satisfies my need to put out one book this year and my inclination to preserve a significant time in my life that gets a little further away with each passing day. And it also serves as that overdue apology to a girl that will likely never read it or even know it exists. But, like stumbling upon an unread message on a cell phone, maybe one day she’ll somehow happen upon it and know that I am sorry.