My first novel was too large to fit into a short story format. I had been writing short stories (some of which would today be called “flash fiction”) and poetry from the time I was in the fourth grade. During my sophomore year in high school, I encountered a story idea that I didn't think could fit into a short story. In my more honest moments, I knew that I sucked as a poet, so I decided to try my hand at writing a novel. After spending some time fantasizing about myself as the next Willa Cather or Laura Ingalls Wilder, I started writing.
The setting was in the Southwestern desert, in what is often referred to as Navajoland, the world made famous in fiction later on by my idol, Tony Hillerman.
The main female character was a white, urban teenager from somewhere in the East. I can't remember how she came to live in the area. I think she was college student or maybe she was hitch hiking across the country like so many other kids in the 1960's had done. Anyway she befriended a Navajo boy from a very traditional family. Cultural obstacles to their friendship abounded, but the two managed to get past them and explore their respective cultures and the local scenery together, amidst plenty of flirting, without any actual sex.
The underlying theme had to do with varying cultural attitudes about interracial dating, set against the backdrop of a wild and beautiful, dangerous and endangered land.
I don't think I ever actually finished the story, or at least I don't recall how it ended. The thing I remember was the vivid images in my head of the setting: the buttes and bluffs, and the almost-dried-up streams. I'm sure that there was way too much narrative description and way too little action. My only excuse is that my favorite writers at that point in my life were Zane Grey and Louis L'Amour. (Westerns, I think, can get away with a lot of narrative about the setting because the people who read Westerns expect a lot of description of the scenery. Or, at least that's what they used to look for. I haven't read a Western novel since Louis L'Amour died, so it's possible the genre has changed.)
I remember that abortive effort at writing a novel after forty years because, even a the time, I marveled at how the story emerged from the confluence of my experience (my family had vacationed in the Southwest on several occasions and I was enchanted by the high desert), my curiosity (I have been fascinated by Native America since I read a biography of Geronimo when I was in the second grade – I think it was my first chapter book), and some Mystery that caused characters, action and dialog to well up from my subconscious as though they were real people and events.
Writing is still like that for me. And I still marvel when characters, plot and setting details emerge from the mists of my subconscious. I sort of watch the story play out in my head and write it down as it's happening.
On the one hand, I wish I still had a copy of that first novel so I could find out how it ended. On the other hand, perhaps it's for the best that it's lost. I'm sure it was totally awful.
That was the event that kicked off my desire to be a novelist. I wasted a lot of time between 1970 and 2005. Now, I'm trying to catch up.