I recently did a rough estimate of how many words I’d written in my lifetime. The total is approximately four million, give or take. To what end, you ask? It was to help emphasize a point I make to all my writing students, whether they are at Hofstra University or at MWA University. In order to get good at anything, you have to do a lot of it. I find that new writers cling too dearly to what they have written and thereby do themselves a disservice. My mantra is: Learn to love writing, not what you’ve written.
It’s a good thing I’ve taken my own advice to heart. Because over the last eighteen months I’ve done so much writing that not even I can believe it. And the fruits of all that hard work are starting to hit the shelves. Just to give you some perspective, here is what’s in the release queue: Gun Church (Tyrus Books, Oct 18), Bronx Requiem with NYPD Detective John Roe (Hyperion E-book, November 6), Onion Street, A Moe Prager Mystery (Tyrus Books, Spring 2013), Dirty Work (Rapid Reads, Spring 2013). To say I’ve been a little bit busy lately would be an understatement. The cool part of this is that these projects are very different from one another. The secondary benefit is that I am a better writer now than I was before I wrote any of them.
Gun Church is a stand-alone that I began six years ago. It took nearly five years to write. It’s the story of a vanquished 80s writer who has been reduced to teaching at a rural community college. When he saves his class from being taken hostage, it sets his life down a very bizarre and dangerous path. It’s a book with lots of moving parts: book within a book, commentary on the protagonist’s career and life, the diary of an IRA man. In it art imitates life imitating art imitating life. The late David Thompson described Gun Church as Wonder Boys meets Fight Club with guns. Although I wrote it over the course of many years, I practically rewrote it about a year and a half ago.
Last year my agent came to me in early December with a proposal. He’d just had breakfast with an editor at Hyperion. It seemed Hyperion was breaking into the E-book market and needed an experienced writer to collaborate on a series with a retiring NYPD detective. The detective, John Roe, had a career that stretched over forty years! He began before the Son of Sam and was retiring eleven years after 9/11. David asked if I would be interested in creating a character with John and co-writing some novels based on that character.
Within four months, John and I had finished the first draft of Bronx Requiem, the story of how a thirty-year-old murder case comes back to haunt our protagonist, Detective Jack Kenny. Collaboration is such a different animal. It cuts against what I usually do, but I’ve done collaborations before—Tower with Ken Bruen—and it keeps me on my toes.
But if you think going from a meta stand-alone to a co-written police procedural was a leap, you ain’t seen nothing yet. A few months earlier, I had contracted to do a series of novellas—something I had never tried before—for a Canadian firm, Orca Book Publishers. The novellas feature a bitter but determined little person PI named Gulliver Dowd. Of course, Gulliver rejects labels like little person. As he says, labels won’t make him grow or make him feel better about who he is. The truly interesting thing about this project is the audience for whom I am writing. Orca and its Rapid Reads imprint were established to serve late-to-literacy and reluctant adult readers. The goal is to entertain and to encourage more reading. To serve this audience I had to tweak my style. My storylines have to be linear in nature. My sentence structure has to be less complex. And I could not use difficult vocabulary. I have never enjoyed writing more. It also makes me feel like I’m doing something for the good beyond earning a paycheck.
Onion Street is my penultimate Moe book. A prequel set in 1967, it tells the story of how Moe became a cop. So, you see, I’ve been keeping a lot of balls in the air. No one can ever accuse me of not doing what I preach. I write a lot and I write different things. Try it. It can’t hurt.
Reed Farrel Coleman is called a hard-boiled poet by NPR’s Maureen Corrigan and the “noir poet laureate” in the Huffington Post, Reed is the former executive vice president of Mystery Writers of America. He is a three-time recipient of the Shamus Award for Best PI Novel of the Year and is a two-time Edgar® Award nominee. He has also won the Macavity, Barry, and Anthony Awards. Reed has published fifteen novels as well as novellas, several short stories, poems, and essays. He is an adjunct professor of English at Hofstra University and a founding member of MWA University. He lives with his family on Long Island.
(The Killer Nashville Guest Blog series is coordinated by KN Executive Director Beth Terrell (http://www.elizabethterrell.com/). To be a part of this series, contact Beth at email@example.com.)