A Defense of Stupidity

The manuscript I just completed was good for me in many ways. First, it showed me that I can still complete long works in a decent amount of time even though I work full-time and have a wife and new baby to love. It also got me over a major bout of the yips and a crisis of confidence in my ability to complete anything. Also, this books is better than the one I wrote before it (and the two others I abandoned after 60,000 words for many of the same problems) and infinitely better than my first attempt. With a good amount of revision I think this could be a decent book, the sort that ten years ago would have been a nice paperback original. But I don’t want to write or publish a good book. I want a knock you on your ass, pass the book around to everyone you know book as my first appearance on the publishing stage and I’m now realizing that’s not going to happen with the type of book I’ve been writing.

I always joke about how I want to write a novel without a plot, but I don’t think that’s it. I want to write a book without a mystery plot. I just don’t have the natural gift for mystery plotting. I suck at motives and clues and the intricate working of that kind of story. But I want to write a book with a story where exciting things happen, just without a whodunnit or whatever. I’m reading The Ice Harvest right now and I know I can pull something like this off with Murder Boy. I do well with stories that turn on small motivations that blow up into bigger things. I like to write about people reacting to wacky things around them, not trying to figure out what wacky things have already happened.

I think I’m writing this more to justify to myself why I’m going to throw away five months work on a project with plenty of potential that just doesn’t match my skill set. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that my weakest short stories are the PI stories and they suffer from the same problems as the books. My strongest stories, the ones that have been reprinted in anthologies and nominated for awards, play to my natural strengths and I think that’s where I should go with my books. Charlie Huston, Sean Doolittle, Victor Gischler, Scott Phillips, Duane Sweircznski, I think this is the direction I should be going.

I’m also very happy that this books showed me I don’t need to be in such a hurry to get something out there. When I started this book, the end seemed sooooooooooo far away and then longer after that to find an agent and then longer than that to get a deal and then longer than that to have the book come out. But here I am just five months later with a completed manuscript that if I knew how to make it great could probably have an agent and a deal within a year. That makes me happy. And I haven’t been happy with my writing stuff for a while.

So today starts a new chapter. I’m no longer writing first person mystery novels that come in around 70,000 words. I’m going to write a lean, fast, darkly funny book that might hit 60,000 words and could very well be THE book I was meant to write. I’m very excited and this will probably be the last I talk about it until it’s finished.