I’ve just sent off my sixth novel to my editor and my two best and trusted writer friends. I am hoping to get insightful comments that help me better this mystery. It is the second in my series about a Kern County Sheriff’s Detective investigating a murder in the far from tranquil village where I live.
I’ve turned it over after two years work on it. After four unpublishable novels which served as an apprenticeship in learning how to write, then five modestly successful crime fiction novels, I thought I had the process down fairly well. This last one has almost defeated me.
Perhaps it was one I did really want to write but felt I had to. Four previous novels were set in Santa Monica and featured an SMPD detective. But my bestselling novel had been a standalone set in my mountain village. I thought it should be the debut of a series.
It’s advanced slowly through many fits and starts. I tried outlining which is against my nature. I changed the killer half way through. I gave the killer a sidekick. The only constant through this agonizing process was that the story took place in a cat sanctuary. I knew the animal rescue world and it unfailingly intrigues me.
In the meantime I wrote and published 3 eBooks on the topic of Writing Your First Mystery. The book, still untitled, just wouldn’t come and I had now put so much time into it, I couldn’t abandon it. Finally I summarized the process in a 4th eBook called Finishing Your First Mystery, now in the process of publication. I worked at the wretched novel almost every day for two years. Of course there were lapses, but not many.
Quoting one of my favorite writers, Neil Gaiman: Creative work is often a slog and the only way you’ll really get good at it is to finish what you start even when it’s not going well. You’ll end up learning more from that experience than if you quit.
Well, perhaps Gaiman is right. I feel some sense of satisfaction, it’s true, even if I can’t say yet it’s ready for publication. By now I know it will be finished and I will feel pride when I hold it in my hand.
More than anything I feel the freedom of finishing. My first waking thought is not dread at what lays ahead of me when I open the file for the day. I can play at writing. Blogs, do some long-needed promotion, write a catch up email to my friend in Australia, pick up the phone and have a long gossipy conversation with a friend, start a new novel.
I’ve learned again that writing a novel-length piece of crime fiction is a marathon endeavor. My good friend tells me I always say I will never do this again at the finish of a novel. I don’t remember that but I believe her.
A story is already bubbling in my mind, this one in Santa Monica.
Writing Your First Mystery is available free here on my website.