Monday, 22 February 2016

What's the Hardest Part of the Writing Process?

I once participated in an author panel discussion in which we were asked to name the part of the writing process we found most difficult. Some of my colleagues explained why they found revision and editing to be the most challenging phase, while someone else talked about getting a new idea started as being particularly difficult for them.

My answer then, and now, is that I find writing the first draft of a new novel to be much more difficult than any other part of the writing process.

This may sound surprising to those of you who know that I spend at least the first two weeks of a new project writing a detailed outline of the story I'm about to begin. As I've explained before, it's essential for me when writing a crime novel to know up front exactly how the investigation will unfold, what evidence will be unearthed, and--most importantly--how the story will end. Only when I have a complete understanding of the plot, the main characters (including suspects) and the basic themes, do I consider it safe to begin actually telling the story. When I write the first draft, I need to know when I get up in the morning where I am in the story and what I need to accomplish that day.

And yet, with all this advance preparation, the first draft is harder than revision, editing, or marketing?

It's a question of confidence. Writing a first draft is like walking a very long and very high tightrope. You know your destination--that roof on the other side of the street--and you have the rope beneath your feet, in a straight line, that you only need to follow to safety. And yet ... I'm not sure I'll make it. Is the story idea strong enough? Are the characters working or are they too flat? Should I switch to first person? Do I even like this guy I'm writing about???

I mention all this now because yesterday I just completed the first draft of my new manuscript The Long Road into Darkness. Featuring Tom Faust, a recently-retired homicide investigator, it tells the story of an unsolved murder of a family in central Ontario and how it comes back to haunt Tom, the lead investigator at the time, seventeen years later.

It has taken me six months to complete this draft, working about four hours a day, pretty much every day. It's a long, long haul filled with self-doubt and stress. And yes, a couple of switches in point of view and a few tweaks to the outline to improve the story as it unfolded.

Now, I feel an enormous sense of relief. The story's been told. It has held together, the characters have worked more or less the way I want them to, and the themes are there.

Now comes the fun part. Now I'll go back to the beginning and run through the whole thing again. Tighten the prose, rewrite passages that aren't working properly, maybe even beef up a few scenes to bring out more clearly what I'm trying to say.

The pressure's off, you see. The story now exists. Now I get to play with it, and to make sure it sings.

Monday, 15 February 2016

What Am I Doing (Right Now)?

The last two weeks have been a blur as I've been working non-stop to finish my current manuscript. Its working title, for those who like to know such things, is The Long Road Into Darkness. It features a new character, Tom Faust, and a new setting in central Ontario. (Tom's a former colleague of Ellie March, who is mentioned once or twice in the story.) Watch for more news about it in the coming weeks.

Needless to say, the excitement about Sorrow Lake's nomination as a finalist for the upcoming Hammett Prize still hasn't worn off. I'm very proud of the novel and very gratified to see it receive a measure of critical acceptance.

I came across this article the other day concerning the judging process followed by the Hammett Prize reading committee. Published last year in LancasterOnline, it features the chairman of last year's committee and provides very interesting insight into the reading and selection process. I was very surprised to see that they considered almost two hundred novels last year. For Sorrow Lake to have made it to the final five this year from such a large field is a humbling honour, indeed!

Read the article here.

Back to work now! Faust is getting restless........

Monday, 1 February 2016


SORROW LAKE has been shortlisted for the 2015 HAMMETT PRIZE for best crime novel in the US and Canada!

The announcement was made this past week by the International Association of Crime Writers, whose North American branch awards this prize for "literary excellence in the field of crime writing."

The winner will be announced in October at the NoirCon literary conference in Philadelphia, which runs from October 26-30, 2016.

Past winners of the prize include Stephen King, Richard Lange, George Pelecanos, Margaret Atwood, and Martin Cruz Smith.

Other finalists for the 2015 award include:

The Stranger, by Harlan Coben
The Whites: A Novel, by Richard Price, writing as Harry Brandt
The Do-Right, by Lisa Sandlin
The Organ Broker: A Novel, by Stu Strumwasser

I'm very pleased and gratified that the reading committee selected SORROW LAKE as a finalist for this prize. And take heart--BURN COUNTRY, the second novel in the series, will be ready for publication in the spring!

In the meantime, please keep your fingers crossed for SORROW LAKE, the "little crime novel that could!"

Read the IAWC press release here