I promise that’s the last time I’ll quote The Gambler for a long time.
A writer has to feel a story. It might sound strange if this isn’t a world you live in, but its true. As a writer, you’re spending hours a day, months of your life with these characters, imagining their lives, their struggles, their world. You’ve got to be connected to that in a very visceral way. If you can’t, not only can you not faithfully describe those situations, you also can’t motivate yourself to sit in front of of a keyboard for hours, hammering away.
So, a little over a year ago, I decided to set aside the sequel to The Bad Shepherd despite being 4-5 months into writing it. Why? I wasn’t connecting with the story the way I needed to. The ideas weren’t flowing and I didn’t feel like the plot was living up to its predecessor. The Bad Shepherd is a special book for me. It was my debut novel, but more than that, it was my love letter to the rock and roll I grew up with (granted, its a pretty dark letter) and has been a big part of my life. I couldn’t write a sequel to that if I didn’t think I could do it justice.
Instead I decided to work on Proper Villains. Villains was a bit of a departure for me. The Bad Shepherd is a private eye noir and my second book, A Legitimate Businessman, is a crime thriller about a professional thief leading a double life. Villains is a crime thriller too, but its also a dark comedy, very much in the style of Elmore Leonard or Carl Hiaasen. Why the pivot? Creatively, I felt like I needed to switch it up. Of my three published novels to date, Villains is my most “natural” in terms of writing style. I didn’t have the think about the language or the tone, I just went. Every day was an exercise in how much deeper can these idiots get. As one reader put it, “they make all the wrong choices and its perfect.”
Villains just flowed. It was an absolute blast to write and I think that comes across in the story. While I was a little disappointed to put pause on Bo Fochs, at least for now, I think the results of the pivot speak for themselves. I was able to focus on something that I was totally engaged in and could really get behind, creatively. I’m not sure why I wasn’t connecting with The Bad Shepherd sequel the way I did with the original, other than its a pretty dark story and I just wasn’t in that frame of mind. As I said in the beginning, you’ve got to be 100% committed to a story because you’re going to spend several months with these characters, their choices, their world and the repercussions of that. You also have to bring the same fire to the editing process as you did in the initial writing or the book will fall flat. You can’t do that if you’re not feeling the story.
It was a tough pivot but better that I set this aside for now and focus on something that I could really get behind, than to try and force a story that wasn’t there. Additionally, if you’re not completely authentic writing, regardless of the genre, readers will sniff that out in a heartbeat. Based on the reviews, I think I made the right call. As I type this, Proper Villains is in the Top 100 on Amazon’s “Humorous Dark Comedy” list.
Will I go back to The Bad Shepherd? I’d like to. There’s at least a trilogy there and possibly more. I think Bo Fochs is a compelling character, fun to write and one that resonated with the readers. But for right now I’m setting it aside and focusing on the stories that I feel more compelled to tell. As I write this, I’m halfway through the next “Gentleman” Jack Burdette story and will probably do a third on the heels of that. There may be a spinoff series in the offing as well, so stay tuned for that.
I’ll doubleback to the 80s when the muse strikes me. (figured it’d be safer to end on ZZ Top than more Kenny Rogers…)