12 Unpublished Novels We Wish We Could Read

Starting in 2015, fans of J.D. Salinger will be treated to a treasure trove of previously unreleased work, including new stories about the Glass family and a sequel to The Catcher in the Rye. In the wake of exploding heads and spontaneous bowel evacuations prompted by that announcement, I got to thinkin': What other famous authors have work that's never seen the light of publication? Work their fans would kill to get their ink-stained mitts on, regardless of quality? That thinkin' got me to researchin', and it turns out numerous Holy Grails exist. Unfinished manuscripts and unrealized ideas taken to the grave; completed work deemed unfit for publication, whether by the author or publishing at large; material lost to time or destroyed in a fit of rage/self-pity/doubt. Mayhaps one day they will surface, emerging from the depths like Salinger's work did. It's even possible they could be works of genius (although another twelve volume sleeping pill a la Tolkien's History of Middle Earth is far more likely). But until that day arrives, they remain part of the 12 Unpublished Novels We Wish We Could Read.

'Prince Jellyfish' by Hunter S. Thompson

What we know: This was the Gonzo God's first attempt at The Great American Novel, written during his early 20s when he was still naive and optimistic. Or as naive and optimistic someone who had been kicked out of high school and served time for armed robbery could be. The Guardian described the book as "an autobiographical novel about a boy from Louisville, going to the big city and struggling against the dunces to make his way." [1] Sounds like quintessential Thompson. Unfortunately, nobody wanted to touch it. He abandoned it and moved to Puerto Rico to work on his second novel (which wouldn't be published until 1998), The Rum Diary.

Why we want to read it: It's a first novel written by a twenty-something, but it's a first novel written by a twenty-something Hunter S. Thompson. And The Rum Diary was pretty good.


'The Owl In Daylight' by Philip K. Dick

What we know: Dick had been working on this novel at the time of his death. He had already been paid a handsome advance, so of course the publisher wanted someone to finish the thing. Dick's estate reached out to numerous writers, but since the author left no outline, no one could figure out what the hell the novel was supposed to be about. There are numerous theories, based on different interviews with the author, but apparently it had something to do with a B-movie composer whose mind is taken over by a race of aliens that live in a world without sound. Their influence turns the man into an avant-garde sensation, but it also destroys his brain. The aliens offer to remove the chip, but he's like, Fuck that, I'd rather die for my art, and chooses to have his being transplanted into an alien so his consciousness can continue to create.

An alternate summary claims the book's about a scientist who is trapped in a theme park of his own creation by artificial intelligence who is forced to travel through multiple realities, a la Dante's Divine Comedy. [2]

Why we want to read it: It sounds bat-shit bonkers, that's why.


The 'Rant' Sequels by Chuck Palahniuk

What we know: Back when he was doing press for Haunted, Chuck mentioned how said book was the third in a thematic horror trilogy, and that his next book, Rant, would be the first in a sci-fi trilogy. Five novels, one remix, and no sequels later, the fans are still clamoring for it. We don't even know if it's supposed to be an actual trilogy or just another thematic one. But what we do know is that the book is already written, and we wants it, precious. From Chuck's recent Reddit AMA:

Argh! The Rant question comes back! I've written the second book, but I'm such a compulsive nut-job that I'm still looking for a non-fiction form to use as a structure. I know, I know, I'm stuck on structural gimicks (sic), but experiments like that are important to me.

Why we want to read it: Rant is a puzzle box of time travel and liminality, and was Chuck's best book since Choke, if not Survivor. He has yet to top it.


'The Poet' by Charles Bukowski

What we know: Bukowski published his first novel, Post Office, in 1971. It was followed by Factotum in 1975. But wait, according to the book Mug Shots: Who's Who in the New Earth (1972), he was working on a novel called The Poet at the time, which he described as, "fairly filthy, very lively, and just a little bit literary." On January 12, 1975, the Northwest Arkansas Times reported he was still "leisurely" working on said novel.  

So what happened? Is Factotum, in fact, The Poet? Was the novel abandoned? Cannibalized for other works? Lost forever? We may never know.

Why we want to read it: Because we love us some narcissistic, alcoholic navel gazing, and this guy was the master.

"Godspeed" by Will Christopher Baer

What we know: It's been years since Baer disappeared into the ether and took his followup to the Phineas Poe trilogy with him. According to the synopsis still on Amazon, Godspeed is "equal parts dark fantasy and sinister noir, a Paradise Lost for a new generation." Tantalizing bits still exist on the internet, but who knows what form it has taken since. All we know is Baer is a perfectionist, and the release date kept getting pushed, and then the publisher went under and Baer went away. We've been waiting for him to resurface ever since.

Why we want to read it: Why does the sun rise in the East and set in the West? Why does a dog chase its tail? Why can't Phineas leave Jude? Now you're beginning to understand.


'The House on Value Street' by Stephen King

What we know: I know Stephen King is so prolific it seems like he publishes every little thing he farts out, but he actually has an abundance of unfinished/unpublished material (much of it housed in the Special Collections Department of the Raymond H. Fogler Library at the University of Maine). Perhaps most famous is The House on Value Street, King's "roman à clef about the kidnapping of Patty Hearst, her brainwashing (or her sociopolitical awakening, depending on your point of view...), her participation in the bank robbery, the shootout at the SLA hideout in Los Angeles...the fugitives run across the country, the whole ball of wax." [3]

Why we want to read it: King did interesting things with American History in his recent novel, 11/22/63, and he does some of his best work when he steps outside of the horror genre, so his take on Patty Hearst could have been great. Not only that, it was during the writing of that novel that he was inspired to write The Stand.  


'The Only Criminal' by Tim Lucas

What we know: Tim Lucas might be best known for his film criticism. He is the editor/creator of Video Watchdog, as well as the author of books on the works of Mario Bava and David Cronenberg's Videodrome. But he is also the author of two pretty great novels: Throat Sprockets and The Book of Renfield.

He has an unpublished third novel, a "graphic novel idea written in classic novel form"[4] called The Only Criminal. It started as a short story in 1978 and has since blossomed into a novel and been rewritten numerous times. From the few hints the author has dropped, it is a "dark fantasy"[4] about "a global phenomenon tied to found artifacts of, shall we say, infernal provenance."[5] His last update came from the Video Watchblog in June of 2007.  As of that point he had finally finished the novel to his liking and was preparing to send it out. Nothing has been heard since.

UPDATE: Tim contacted me after reading this article to let me know that The Only Criminal should be coming out in eBook form sometime next year. Huzzah!

Why we want to read it: Throat Sprockets, a novel about a man who becomes obsessed with an erotic film about throats, is such a beautifully bizarre piece of literature. I would read anything Lucas writes based on that book alone.


'Twilight of the Superheroes' by Alan Moore

What we know: Alright, not technically a novel, but this is coming from the man who wrote comics like they were novels—thick and meaty. Moore pitched this epic crossover to DC in 1987, which involved John Constantine going back in time to have drinks with himself in an attempt to prevent a future ruled by warring superhero dynasties. Those dynasties included the House of Steel, ruled by "it" power-couple Superman and Wonder Woman; the House of Thunder, consisting of the Marvel family; a superpowerless group of rebels led by Batman; and an alien contingent formed by the Green Lantern Corps.[5]

Why we want to read it: Sounds kind of like a spandex version of Game of Thrones, minus all the sex and violence. Oh, wait. This is Alan Moore we're talking about, so it would have been chock full of sex and violence. Damn, this would have been good.


'Mambo Mephiste' by Seth Morgan

What we know: This one comes straight from the wishlist of Craig Clevenger. Seth Morgan wrote his first novel, the blistering Homeboy, during a brief layover between heroin habits. But despite a decent critical reception and a promising literary future, Seth jumped right back up on that horse. Maybe it was that five-figure advance on the paperback, burning a hole in his pocket. Shortly after the book's release, Morgan died in a drunken bike wreck.

"His second novel, Mambo Mephiste, was by his own account to be the definitive Mardi Gras novel."[7] But only a few chapters and a synopsis exist, rescued from his apartment before it was tossed by the neighborhood junkies. Both chapters and the synopsis can be found in issue #16 of Conjunctions.

Why we want to read it: Craig's ringing endorsement of Morgan. Nuff said.

"Saint Heretic" "Mother Howl" by Craig Clevenger

What we know: Speaking of Clevenger, he's another guy who's been working on his next novel for what seems like forever. [EDIT: And guess what? He just announced he finished it AS I WAS WRITING THIS.] Initially titled Saint Heretic, at least back in 2005, this shapeshifter of a narrative probably hasn't even assumed its final form the finished novel is now called Mother Howl. It spawned from a short story called "The Fade," and according to Craig, is not nearly as dark as his previous work.[8] It's been a long time coming, but at least we know he's still plugging away it's done. Hopefully we'll get to read it soon.

Why we want to read it: We've never been shy about our love for the Craigmeister here at LitReactor. The man's a damn fine writer


'The Long Goodbye' by Harper Lee

What we know: Lee was halfway through the followup to her Pulitzer Prize winning To Kill A Mockingbird when she just... stopped. Was it the pressure? The alcohol? Capote? No one knows. We don't even know what the book was supposed to be about. All we know is she wanted to be the "Jane Austen of Southern Alabama,"[9] and write "a series of novels chronicling small-town life."[10] She began another project in the 80s, a true crime piece about "a renegade Alabama preacher whose wives and close relatives had a nasty habit of ending up dead,"[9] but abandoned that as well. She refuses to speak to anyone about either.

Why we want to read it: Because she is the author of Pulitzer Prize winning, 30 million copy selling To Kill A Mockingbird, that's why.


'The Replay Sequel' by Ken Grimwood

What we know: Ken was in the middle of writing the sequel to his popular Groundhog Day precursor when he died of a heart attack (which, coincidentally, is what killed the first novel's protagonist, over and over and over again) in 2003. Possibly because John Constantine came back from the future and told him that Ben Affleck was circling the lead in a proposed film adaptation, like a vulture. Sadly, that is all we know about the novel.

Why we want to read it: To find out the mysteries behind the Replays. Granted, Grimwood wasn't necessarily going to tell us, but still...


Dishonorable Mentions and Also-rans

Now before you get all petulant and pester me with your Why didn't you includes... here are a bunch I didn't include. Either because they've already been published in some undercooked form, or are generally considered unpublishable by all involved.

  • The God Thing by Gene Roddenberry: The "lost" Star Trek novel, based on a screenplay Roddenberry wrote pre-Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Numerous writers have attempted to finish the project, some as recent as 1994, but no dice.
  • If God Were Alive Today by Kurt Vonnegut: A first draft exists, published as a novella in We Are What We Pretend To Be, but don't be fooled. Vonnegut had given up on this novel shortly before his death, and never meant for it to be published. By all accounts, what exists is not very good.
  • Fountain City by Michael Chabon: An abandoned 1500 page opus that inspired Chabon to write Wonder Boys. He published an annotated version of the first four chapters in McSweeney's.
  • If You Lived Here, You’d be Home Already by Chuck Palahniuk: Chuck's first attempt at a novel, which by his own admission was a pretty terrible attempt at emulating Stephen King. The 700 pager was rejected by every agent in town. Another one for the better left unread pile.
  • Dark America by Junot Diaz: A sci-fi yarn about mutants the author deemed "hopelessly stupid and convoluted.”[11]
  • Midnight Sun by Stephenie Meyer: A heartbroken Meyer abandoned this Twilight spin-off after the first twelve chapters leaked to the internet.
  • Inland Souls by Jennifer Egan: A 600 page monster Egan scrapped, saving only the original concept, which became Invisible Circus.
  • The Dark Tower by C.S. Lewis: A novella featuring Dr. Ransom from Lewis's acclaimed Space Trilogy that takes place after the events of Out of the Silent Planet. It has been published in its unfinished form, but many believe it to be a forgery.

Still have some Why didn't you includes to pelt me with? That's what the comments are for. Which of these unpublished works would you give your first born child to read?

Joshua Chaplinsky

Column by Joshua Chaplinsky

Joshua Chaplinsky is the Managing Editor of LitReactor. He is the author of The Paradox Twins (CLASH Books), the story collection Whispers in the Ear of A Dreaming Ape, and the parody Kanye West—Reanimator. His short fiction has been published by Vice, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, Thuglit, Severed Press, Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing, Broken River Books, and more. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @jaceycockrobin. More info at joshuachaplinsky.com and unravelingtheparadox.com.

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ReneeAPickup's picture
Class Facilitator
ReneeAPickup from Southern California is reading Wanderers by Chuck Wendig September 17, 2013 - 11:21am

If I had to choose one of these to get hands on, I would go with Philip K Dick, for the reasons listed in the article. His books always bend my brain for good or ill. Of course, I will pick up Clevenger's book as it will actually be available at some point.

Richard's picture
Richard from St. Louis is reading various anthologies September 17, 2013 - 11:24am

The Baer. It's always going to be the Baer.

Anthony French's picture
Anthony French from Eaton Rapids, Michigan is reading Lovecraft September 17, 2013 - 11:30am

My life will now be forever incomplete because I will never be able to read Twilight of the Superheroes. I blame you for the future psychiatric care I will surely need for this depression...

P.S. Awesome list nevertheless.

Dino Parenti's picture
Dino Parenti from Los Angeles is reading Everything He Gets His Hands On September 17, 2013 - 11:52am

If someone could figure out how to finish that Philip K. Dick novel, THAT would be a Philip K. Dick novel to read.

Joshua Chaplinsky's picture
Joshua Chaplinsky from New York is reading a lot more during the quarantine September 17, 2013 - 12:18pm

Re: Dick

His wife actually published her own version of the novel, but the Dick estate asked her to withdraw it. You can still find copies on ebay and Amazon for hundreds of $$$.

Joshua Chaplinsky's picture
Joshua Chaplinsky from New York is reading a lot more during the quarantine September 17, 2013 - 12:19pm

Also, @anthony:

Moore's proposal for Twilight leaked online a few years back. DC sued, but you can still find it if you look hard enough.

Tracy Tucker's picture
Tracy Tucker from The Great Plains is reading Birds of America, by Lorrie Moore September 17, 2013 - 12:30pm

You've got Stephen King but you didn't mention _The Plant_!!!! Ugh, Steve. I was paying to read that thing. I still have prints of the first chapters somewhere. Finish it!

Jessica12345's picture
Jessica12345 September 17, 2013 - 12:37pm

The Salmon of Doubt- Douglas Adams. He died before it was finished. This should be #1. I've only read the book once since it's so sad knowing you'll never, ever, be able to finish the story.

Joshua Chaplinsky's picture
Joshua Chaplinsky from New York is reading a lot more during the quarantine September 17, 2013 - 12:56pm

Haha, The Plant. That and Salmon of Doubt were contenders. Would have put them both in the Also-ran section but my deadline was looming.

cshultz81's picture
cshultz81 from Oklahoma is reading Best Horror of the Year Volume 8 September 17, 2013 - 1:34pm

I have to agree with Anthony here, but really where all the titles are concerned, not just Twilight (though the concept of Batman as a leader of rag-tag rebels is compelling enough in its own right). 

Thanks Josh, awesome article!

Karl Hodge's picture
Karl Hodge from UK is reading Bleeding Edge - Thomas Pynchon September 17, 2013 - 1:46pm

Grimwood's Replay is such a self contained story that a sequel could only spoil it. Like The Matrix or the Star Wars prequels, so often the explanation dilutes the purity of the original. It's like the old saying goes: "The magician guards an empty safe". So, another vote for Phil Dick.

Willow Polson's picture
Willow Polson September 17, 2013 - 2:19pm

Pro tip for Joshua: If you don't like Tolkien, don't read it. It really doesn't help your article to crap on his work, and mostly just makes you sound like a snobby hipster with a short attention span. But thanks for being more literate in general than most Americans.

Illi's picture
Illi from MN is reading Infinite Jest September 17, 2013 - 2:31pm

Can't wait for 'Mother Howl' but where the hell is Baer's?!

Joshua Chaplinsky's picture
Joshua Chaplinsky from New York is reading a lot more during the quarantine September 17, 2013 - 2:34pm

Pro tip for Willow: These are the jokes.

Daniel Lukes's picture
Daniel Lukes September 17, 2013 - 2:35pm

Grimhaven by Charles Willeford. 

Jonathan Brett Kennedy's picture
Jonathan Brett ... from Pennsylvania is reading LA Confidential September 17, 2013 - 2:46pm

While some of these I would be interested in (The PKD especially), the only unpublished novel I'm interested in reading is The Village by Robert McCammon.

lyknthrp's picture
lyknthrp September 17, 2013 - 3:32pm

Glad to see Will Christopher Baer on the list. I have been waiting years for Godspeed. But I also tried to adapt Kiss Me, Judas into a screenplay for kicks and that didn't get anywhere either.

Gavin John Campbell's picture
Gavin John Campbell September 17, 2013 - 3:55pm

Thompson's 'Prince Jellyfish', By a longshot. In my opinion, others pale in comparison. 

Daniel Donche's picture
Daniel Donche from Seattle is reading Transubstantiate, by Richard Thomas September 17, 2013 - 6:34pm

Godspeed. Been waiting for that one forever.

Side note, I lost half a book I was working on once, just disappeared into the ether. Had it saved on a thumb drive and the work computer (would write it while I was on shift in Afghanistan). Got back and it mysteriously disappeared from my thumb drive and someone deleted it from the work computer. Bye bye, Philth.

voodoo_em's picture
voodoo_em from England is reading All the books by Ira Levin September 18, 2013 - 1:58am


Matthew McBride's picture
Matthew McBride from the rural woods of Missouri is reading Child of God September 18, 2013 - 9:38am

All of these are fantstic -- especially HST, PKD, & WCB -- but a book I've waited a long time for, and have no idea about its current status: Lost Country, by William Gay. 

Joshua Chaplinsky's picture
Joshua Chaplinsky from New York is reading a lot more during the quarantine September 18, 2013 - 10:24am

Lost Country: forgot about that one. Interesting, that's the third book mentioned here that was supposed to be put out by MacAdam Cage...

J Michael Xavier's picture
J Michael Xavier September 18, 2013 - 10:55am

I've read that there's a large chunk of an Authurian epic that Tolkien never finished and which remains locked away in his estate.  I can't tell you how interested I'd be in that.

Earl Marischal David Greybeard's picture
Earl Marischal ... September 19, 2013 - 7:19am

I really want to read Dark America by Junot Diaz!!  I hope he goes back to it and finishes.

You've neglected to mention Evangeline Walton, author of MABINOGION TETRALOGY  and WITCH HOUSE.  Her previouly unpublished SHE WALKS IN DARKNESS, a Gothic novel, is out this month. In the foreward Paul Di Filippo writes that there are more unpublished works to come.

abudner's picture
abudner September 19, 2013 - 7:31am

An interesting list, but why are there so few women on it? Aren't there unpublished works by female writers that are as intriguing or do women just have fewer unfinished books waiting in the wings?

Erza Scarlet's picture
Erza Scarlet September 22, 2013 - 8:13am

Tailor shop of enbizaka? What tailor shop of enbizaka? Let's just leave that out! Yeah, seriously that needs to be in here we only know the gist of the story. And the evillous chronicles have shit tons of plot twists so for all we know Kayo could've been the wife -_- yeah I'm pretty sure 99% of you don't know what the hell I'm talking about so I'm just going to like leave with a link.