MY FIVE THINGS I DID NOT LEARN WRITING A NOVEL

A few of the many things that are still a mystery to me:

1. How to Write a Novel

I took about five years to write HIPSTER DEATH RATTLE. How did I do it? No clue. I couldn’t begin to tell you. Similarly, I did not learn how to be organized, diligent, or disciplined. 

I did get better at procrastinating like a champ and making excuses like a politician. Weeks went by when I didn’t get a word down. Socks had to be sorted and folded! Or I had tweet something interesting to build my brand!

If asked, I could sputter some generic ideas about writing every day or outlining or revising. But I have no secret vital magic #writingtip to offer.

I can say for sure that I did learn that I could write a novel. In fact, I wrote another book after Hipster. That one had more of a process to it, involving heaps of coffee and lots of charts. Don’t ask me for the formula. I don’t remember that exactly either.

2. How to Speak Latin

The main protagonist of my novel, Tony Moran, speaks Latin in order to signify his ironic otherness from his own Puerto Rican culture — he speaks Latin, but not Spanish! But just because he spouts bits of the dead language, please do not assume that I myself speak it like an Eton schoolboy. Do not come up to me at a crime fiction conference and say, “Salve! Ubi spiritus est?!” I will run to the bar in hopes you won’t look for me there.

Other crime writers research how to get away with murder, how to fly an airplane, how to quilt, etc., and I’m sure some of them are very good at all those things in real life. But not me.

I used Google to get the raw idea of what to say and then I sent those pieces to very patient friends who did actually study Latin. “Gratias, mi amici!” (I’m hoping that phrase makes sense because I did not run it by them.)

3. How to Solve the Issues of Gentrification 

My book HIPSTER DEATH RATTLE involves a serial killer running around with a machete, against a setting of overdevelopment and gentrification in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Do I know how to resolve these serious issues? Me, the guy who stays busy folding socks?

I’m not the first one to take on the issues — just look at every other episode of Midsomer Murders. But these issues are important to the plot and to the motivation of the characters. So I researched them, talked to people, did a lot of thinking. Did I come up with an answer? 

No at all. But what I do hope the books does in bring some small attention to what has happened in Williamsburg and what is happening all over new York City and in many parts of the country and world. 

4. How to Do Promotion and Marketing

Do you have five grand burning a hole in your pocket? Then you can hire a publicist to take care of all the attention-getting you need to get your book soaring into the zeitgeist. Alas, I did not. 

Like many of you I suspect, I have been throwing everything at the wall to see what sticks. Blog tours. Library panels. Noirs at Bars. Any other ideas that you have would be appreciated.

Yes, I’ve a nice amount of Twitter followers (8,000+), but don’t ask me how I got them. No doubt part of the procrastination skills I honed (see item 1). If I could, I would ditch social media and the Internet completely. 

Online we are all brands, and artists with a product to hawk more explicitly so. But I have no idea what amount of posts, tweets, and instas are too little, just right, or “I am now officially spam.”

File this lack of knowledge along with “The Care and Feeding of an Agent,” “How Amazon Works,” and “How Not to Make a Fool of Yourself during a Reading.”

5. How to Know When Your Book Is Finished

I rewrote HIPSTER DEATH RATTLEso many times, I lost track. After it was accepted by the loverly folks at Down and Out Books, I still sent them two substantial and unsolicited overhauls. I couldn’t help myself.

My book is now printed, distributed, out there. But it’s not done, not to me. There are a thousand million things I wish I could change. I could keep changing it forever. How then did I know when to stop, when to send it out? 

Perhaps, like a hovering mother with a 42-year-old, twice-divorced offspring, I knew that my baby will always be my baby but he had to leave the nest sometime, and I had to be brave enough to let him go. And if the world (read: agents, publishers) rejects or accepts him (the book, I mean, just to be clear), I will always be there to say, “Here is a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with the edges trimmed, now comb your hair and tuck in your shirt” — by all of which I of course mean just a little more editing and one further revision.