In the summer of 2006, someone suggested I try my hand at NaNoWriMo. To the uninitiated, that’s National Novel Writing Month, wherein writers, aspiring writers, and others with a story idea commit to writing 50,000 words between Halloween and December 1. I had an idea for a story about a road trip to Hell. It had its genesis early in my contract with the small press that published Northcoast Shakedown. I’d gotten a call from an agent who wanted to rep it. This is the infamous “If I waited just two weeks…” incident. Anyway, in order for Jane Chelius and her son to take it on, I would have to liberate it. The publisher was willing to let me go, but I wanted to fulfill my obligation. So I suggested the road trip idea. The plan to move Northcoast to New York failed (Sorry, Jane. I know we tried to make that work.), but the road trip story tickled my brain. I revisited it from time to time.
Fast forward to 2006. The publisher imploded. Nick Kepler was orphaned. I had no idea where to go next. Someone told me to attempt NaNoWriMo to get the juices flowing again. The idea of the road trip began pulsing in my mind. I hit on the idea of making it like a Carl Hiassen novel. The story would not go away, and I found myself trying to get people to talk me out of NaNoWriMo at that year’s Bouchercon. No soap, so I went to Charles Ardai, the brains behind Hard Case Crime and the television series Haven. I rattled off the story I created and said, “Tell me you hate it and won’t buy it.”
“I want to see it when you’re finished.”
Dammit. An actual respected publisher wanted to see the end result. I’d not only been dared and double-dog dared. I’d been triple-dog dared. So I spent the next month and a half sketching out the story. I think I had a more detailed outline than I did for Northcoast (which went 14 pages.)
And so November 1 arrived. Also, a vacation arrived. I thought this was a bad idea. I was not going to get anything done. Or was I? In my pre-Nita days, I frequently took vacations to Hocking Hills, staying at a place called Ravenwood Castle. I’d go hiking, have a lovely dinner each night, scarf the breakfast buffet (which is delicious. Check it out if you love wilderness hiking.) I stayed in one of the cottages and typed like a mad man. I left for Hocking Hills on a Friday night, having already written 5000 words. The next day, I went to breakfast (because I’m not crazy. That’s some damn good food, and I am a breakfast person), then proceeded to write. I went for a hike. And I wrote. I had time with my traveling companion. And I wrote. I went to dinner. And I wrote. Lather, rinse, repeat until about Thursday that week. Driving home the next Friday, I unpacked and wrote.
That first Saturday home found me writing for eight hours straight. Sunday for six hours. I came home from work the first three days back and spent entire evenings at the Starbucks in Mt. Washington banging away, jealously guarding the chair next to a socket. Come Wednesday night, November 13, 2006, I wrote those words every novelist longs to see (much like I do now with the science fiction novel.)
Road Rules, checking in at 55,000 words. I was exhausted. I’ve heard stories of writers churning out novels in weekends. Mickey Spillane wrote I, the Jury one weekend on a boat. Stephen King wrote The Running Man in 72 hours. Thirteen days is nothing compared to those two. On the other hand, thirteen days? All the Keplers took 2-4 months, checking in between 62,000 and 75,000 words.
Now, I’m not going to kid you that I shopped this thing as is. I actually did a round of revisions and sent it to Charles Ardai. He thought it was funny, but took a pass. It’s Hard Case. They only have four slots a year for original material. So I revised again, pushing it up above 62,000 words. When I had it beta’d, all three readers came back and suggested cuts. I ended up cutting all the new material. What you read now is pretty close to the original, with a few scenes rewritten for clarity and some lines of dialog to explain a few details.
I won’t lie. I got lucky with this book. Most novels written in NaNoWriMo will need work. And I’ve never been able to duplicate that process again. Indeed, the last two novels I’ve written, Holland Bay and the science fiction novel, took months. Even Holland Bay‘s second draft took months. I can’t promise you that you’ll create something an agent will love or a publisher will want to see. I can’t even promise you that you’ll finish a novel in a month.
But it is possible.