THOUGHTS ON A NOVEL-IN-PROGRESS by Tom Coffey

I have a confession to make: This is not the blog post I thought I was going to write.
When I agreed to do this, months ago, I thought I would have news to report about my next novel.
Well, as we head into the homestretch of 2017, my news is this: I’m still working on the book.
It wasn’t supposed to be this way. I even have a nifty pitch line for the thing — it’s a murder mystery set in two vastly different cities: the New York of the 1970s, and the New York of today.
Of course, the pitch is one thing. The writing is something entirely different.
About a year ago I sent an early version of the manuscript to a number of agents. In response, I received mostly indifference and rejections, but I did get one interesting reply. An agent with a reputable house said he liked the first half of the book, but he felt that the second half fell flat. He then recommended a change that immediately caused me to ask myself, “Why didn’t I think of that?”
I like working with people like that.
As it turns out, that one seemingly simple suggestion has led to a total reworking of the book’s second half — kind of like deciding to paint the living room walls a different color and ending up with a gut renovation. I keep working at it and thinking I’m getting close to the finish line, but then something changes and I go back and rework some other chapters and pretty soon I have the feeling that I’ve been driving all day and have traveled about a mile.
So I plug away and, despite my whining (let’s face it — this is totally a First World Problem), I believe that the manuscript is getting significantly better. Right now, my latest self-imposed deadline for the book’s completion is early next year, but I now understand why the Big Dig in Boston lasted more than a decade.
In the meantime, the agent I talked to has switched employers. I’m not sure if this is good or bad. We are connected through LinkedIn.
Nothing that has happened while I write the book, tentatively titled PUBLIC MORALS, is all that unusual for a writer who is not yet at the Grownups Table where powerhouses like James Patterson and Sue Grafton graze. In my younger days, I used to think the process would get easier once I gained more experience. I now realize that it won’t.
While I remain focused on the writing, once the book is complete I will have to consider the twin devils of Selling and Marketing. My last book, BRIGHT MORNING STAR, was published in 2015 by an independent operation. The book was a real departure for me and I was happy to get it out in any form, but the D.I.Y./entrepreneurial aspects of independent publishing are a bit daunting for somebody as Old School as myself. My first three books were handled by traditional publishers; I candidly admit that I’d like to make a little money from my efforts. My daughter starts college next year and, well, everybody knows what that means.
And yet … I’ve heard about a well-regarded independent publisher who specializes in crime and mystery novels, and I know people who are happy with that publisher, and if I’ve learned anything over the years, it’s this: I am highly unlikely to get rich from my books.
When it’s all done — and I do believe it will be done, eventually, somehow — I’ll be tempted to say something about the importance of The Process, and how The Journey is way more significant than The Destination, and talk about how much I have learned and grown and matured as An Artist.
 Actually, I don’t think I’m going to feel that way at all. I’m fifty-nine years old. How much learning and growing and maturing do I have left?
Well, that’s about it from the trenches of Novel-in-Progress Land. But I do have one final thing to add.
I intend to write a sequel.
AUTHOR BIO
Tom Coffey graduated from the Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University and attended film school at the University of Southern California. He has worked as a reporter and editor for some of the leading newspapers in the country, including The Miami Herald and Newsday. Since 1997, he has been an editor at The New York Times. Tom is also a member of Mystery Writers of America. His first novel, THE SERPENT CLUB, was published in 1999 by Pocket Books and earned a starred review from Publishers Weekly. Pocket Books published his second novel, MIAMI TWILIGHT, two years later. In 2008 Toby Press printed BLOOD ALLEY, which also earned a starred review from PW. In 2015 his latest novel, BRIGHT MORNING STAR, was published by Oak Tree Press.
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2 thoughts on “THOUGHTS ON A NOVEL-IN-PROGRESS by Tom Coffey

  1. Karen says:

    I loved this post! I’m mired in essentially the same process. Threw out the main character in the second rewrite, then tossed out her sidekick, who had been a very important character, in the third. Daunting. But, simply based on your post here, I’m going to buy your book when it comes out. Excellent writing.

    • tomcoffey@rcn.com says:

      Karen: Thanks so much for this, and good luck with your project. They never said writing was going to be easy and, dammit, they were correct.

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