Wrote a crime novel!

Let's not closely examine why I began another novel so soon after completing the last one. I just wanted to, okay! The prospect of working to revise the last one (which was a YA novel) wasn't very exciting, since it could be aeons before it's ready to go on submission. But I also didn't want to waste my seven weeks of uninterrupted free time by working on short stories (it's hard to get any long-form work done during the semester). Also, it feels really good, physically and emotionally, when you're in the zone on a novel. and I liked that feeling.

So I wrote a novel. It takes place in a twenty-minutes-into-the-future world where doctors use brain-scans to ferret out psychopaths, and then the police book them on minor violations as a pretext for sticking them in hospitals for the rest of their lives. In this world, a working-class mom schemes to get her daughter into a high-class Northern California prep school that's designed to turn children into geniuses. However, after the mom tests positive for sociopathy,  she pulls a switch, convinces the police that the scan actually belongs to her daughter (who, in reality, has about as much empathy as one can reasonably expect out of a teenager), and then everyone becomes convinced that the genius school might be able to turn the daughter into a productive member of society. But the daughter refuses to go along with the deception, which means that the mom has to use all her sociopathic cunning to somehow force her thirteen year old daughter to toe the line.

Although I intend to market it as a literary novel, it borrows the typical noir novel structure. Ever since I started reading crime novels a few years back, I've really liked the structure of noir literature. It always starts with an ordinary person who's placed in an untenable situation where something they want is juuuuust out of reach. And then they commit one illegal-but-thoroughly-understandable action (telling one lie, forging one signature, etc) to get that thing. And that succeeds...for awhile. But then they're forced to engage in increasingly awful behavior in order to conceal their initial crime.

And the book is also about parenting! Something I know zero about. But I've watched a lot of family sit-coms, and it's pretty much just like that, right?

I am very happy with the book. This is the first time I've finished an adult-market novel without having the vague suspicion that I was going to abandon the book and never look at it again. I am pretty sure that I will someday revise this and send it out (probably over the summer).

However, it was a brute! I've never had to work so hard at dragging a novel, kicking and screaming, out into the world. Remember how at the end of last year, I wrote a post on how long it took to write, edit, and revise one of my novels? I believe the total was something like 160-170 hours (which is absurd, I know. Probably I'll someday look back and be embarrassed by the smallness of that number). Anyway, this one has already taken 160 hours. My first draft ended up being 110,000 words, but I also discarded about 60,000 words along the way. I restarted the book two times. The first was after I'd written 11,000 words. The second was after I'd written 30,000 words. That sucked.

It was a very complex protagonist, and the book both has a lot of threads and is very plot-driven, and, since the narrator is very unreliable (she's not lying to you...she's just very unintelligent, so she doesn't understand much of what's going on), I had to know, at all times, exactly what: a) the narrator thought was happening; and b) was really happening.

I also had typical science-fiction novel problems (even though this is not really an SF novel), in that I needed to figure out the structure of things, how the world works, how the genius school works, what people believe about psychopathy, what's true about it, what the mom thinks, etc.

The result is, though, extremely tight, I think. It fits together like nothing else I've ever written. We'll see, though.

Anyway, I am really excited. It's a good start to the year. On a sidenote, I keep track of writing stats on a year-by-year basis, and the my stats for this year are insane. I've written an average of 7,100 words and 6.2 hours every day. If I keep up this pace, I'll write 2.5 million words this year =]


  1. mattllavin says:

    Hot damn! Good job. It sounds like this one was a real wrestling match. The premise sounds really good!

    1. Thanks! Yes, every time I think it’s going to be easy, and every time it is very different from the last. I hope one of these actually sells, so I can start opining more freely on the novel-writing process because I feel like I’ve learned alot, but writing about what I learned also makes me feel like a poser.

  2. As an afficionado (who hates the term afficionado) of noir, let me say that you’re displaying a better understanding of the genre than a lot of people. Some people get the whole regular-gal-goes-bad dynamic, but the critical role of the unreliable narrator/MC is lost on a most. The point of the hardboiled, of dragging the detective story out of the parlor (as Chandler would put it), is to show that we are all unreliable creatures. Humans. Our motives are confusing and complex and often hidden to our conscious selves.

    And, don’t fall into the trap of “if you’ve never had kids you don’t know!” That’s a non-starter, a sociological solipsism, a meme that’s propagated by defensive parents. I’m the father of two, and I’ve seen the best and worst sides of other parents, and you’re totally on point with the uglier motivations and dynamics.

    I would LOVE to read this story.

    1. Hopefully you someday will!

      I read a ton of parenting books in preparation for this one, and it was fascinating. I never realized how crazily fraught the whole topic of parenting is. It’s like every crazy fandom war and petty political squabble, but it’s about something that’s actually important.

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