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Where Have I Been? Here’s Where I Have Been

March 23rd, 2013 | Posted by Philip J Reed in books | personal | writing

Detective FictionSo it’s been quiet around here lately, and there’s absolutely nothing noteworthy about that fact. But I did want to pop in to let you know that, unlike every other time, I haven’t been totally unproductive. In fact, I’m writing a book.

It’s a project that I started for National Novel Writing Month a few years back. For those of you who aren’t familiar, the idea is that you are supposed to write an entire novel between November 1 and November 30. I’ve participated a few times now, and I’ve nearly always succeeded, but it’s very much worth noting that they define “a novel” as “50,000 words.” So you can very easily hit that number without bringing your story to a close, or even getting anywhere near an ending.

For many it’s just a writing exercise, which is great, but for me…I’ve always tried to do something more. 50,000 words of anything is a useful workout for a writer, but I feel a little let down at the end if I don’t have something I can share. Rework, rewrite, edit, extend, sure…but I at least need to come away with something I can show for my investment.

My first completed novel that I owe to National Novel Writing Month is Afterbirth: The Comedy of Miscarriage, which took me two years to write and another five to really shape into what I needed it to be. It’s a piece of work I’m immensely proud of right now, a book that manages to be clever and complicated enough that I can’t believe some schlub like me wrote it. In fact, it’s so good that nobody wants to publish the thing, and it’s sitting around doing absolutely nothing.

Detective Fiction was a deliberate response to Afterbirth. The former is massive in scope and scale, scrambling up scenes across generations and narrated by a self-serving trickster, leaving the reader to fend for himself or herself from paragraph to paragraph, trying to piece together the story that lies beneath what’s actually being said. It was hard to write. Heck, it’s hard to read.

So for my next project, my next real project, my next big novel attempt that I could actually spin into a finished manuscript at some point down the line, I went intentionally simple. It’s a straight-forward story without any significant leaps through time, with a manageable cast of characters, and with a clearly defined beginning, middle, and end. I didn’t want it to get too big. I didn’t want it to get too complicated. Because…well, I already had one of those. And it went–and continues to go–absolutely nowhere.

Detective Fiction, I reasoned, could make for an easier sell. It’s a simpler pitch, its first few chapters won’t scare people away, and I can make an effort to be a little more overtly funny. It should still be good, but it could be good in a way that plays more nicely with its readers.

My plan was to write a sendup of the detective fiction genre, starring a young man in the fictional Palmwood City, Florida, who decides to operate as an unlicensed private eye in order to draw focus away from a few other things in his life. I delved into some classic examples from Raymond Chandler to Arthur Conan Doyle and realized, shockingly, that these books were actually a lot better than I gave them credit for being. In fact, my attempt at a joke very quickly turned into a love letter, as I realized the reason that these stories endured: they only pretended to be about the mystery. They were always actually about the detective.

But I never finished the book. I wrote most of it, hit the 50,000 word goal, but never brought it to a conclusion.

And it languished for two years. While I did absolutely nothing with it. Honestly, I was afraid to go back. As simple as I wanted the book to be, I was still trying to provide three things at the same time to the reader: a good read, a genre pastiche, and a satisfying mystery…in roughly that order. And the more time passed, the easier it became to just assume that I had failed, that it was a scattered mess, and it wasn’t worth revisiting.

Recently, I revisited. And it was far, far better than I remembered it being. So I thought I’d dig back in, and give young Billy Passwater the conclusion his story so specifically deserves.

I have one chapter left to write. I intend to do that tonight. I will then spend months (at least months) rewriting, and rewriting, and rewriting, and rewriting.

And before long, I hope to have something I can send out to agents. Something I can be happy to have my name on, and something they can be happy to have their names on as well.

I know I’ve been quiet, but I haven’t been unproductive. I hope you understand why I’ve decided to focus my energies elsewhere for a time…it’s now or never for Detective Fiction.

Noiseless Chatter isn’t dead. Detective Fiction doesn’t represent me having nothing to post here anymore. If anything, as the man himself once said, “Things should start to get interesting right about now.”

(Kudos to the friendly Ridley for that banner.)

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4 Responses

  • Jeff says:

    I’ve thought about busting your chops for neglecting Steve Zissou Saturday, but I suspected you were focusing your energies on something worthwhile. Billy Passwater, I love it. I am also fond of the detective genre as a vehicle for a good human story. And while I love your blog, I am down on blogs in general, so any time you deprive us here to devote yourself to something out there, you have my full support.

    • Philip J Reed says:

      Fun fact: the more or less fully-formed idea for the book came to me after meeting somebody with that unfortunate last name. There aren’t any similarities between the guy I know and the character in the book beyond that…at least I hope there aren’t…but it’s interesting, sometimes, what small detail will set an entire novel in motion.

  • Ridley says:

    Oh for–

    Look, I’m subscribed to this music magazine, right? And I was thinking about how to philip my orchestra, yeah? Thought they would be the perfect people to ask about a reed in my wind section.

    While typing, my phallus slipped and I accidentally sent the male to you instead. So all that stuff about organs and mouthpieces and flutes is completely innocent in consext and that picture with the horn is a mock-up for a potential winning cover that they are running anus competition for.

    Nevertheless I hope to see your private dick in full at some point in the future.



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