The Accidental Novel
The Accidental Novel

The Accidental Novel

The Accidental Novel

I didn’t set out to write another novel. 

That was supposed to be for later. My newest book, Old Flames Never Die, was supposed to be a novella. It was going to be a wrap-up of the arc of stories sandwiched between novels in the series. It was supposed to be 30k words max. 

Instead, I wrote a whole goddamn novel. And it happened inside of a freakin’ month. All because the gremlins inside my head said so. 

Also because, as I’ve mentioned before, I’m a verbose motherfucker.

What resulted was one of the most productive, most creative, most exciting periods of my life as an author. It was awesome. It was also crazy-making, alienating, and one of the biggest mindfucks I’ve ever undertaken.

But hold up. Before we get to that part, I have to back up and tell the first part of the story.

The Danny Diamond Series

At the beginning of 2024, I set a goal for myself. I wanted to publish a book a month. Some of them were super short, super spicy reads, which would help make the goal more attainable. Some were already written and just needed a cover and a little extra polish. But one thing I knew I had to write fresh was a conclusion to the first arc of Danny Diamond tales. 

My Danny Diamond series is a set of spicy mysteries set in 1940s L.A. It’s an erotic take on some of the old pulp noir stories from the ’30s and ’40s, and it’s my bread and butter. A previous series overview I put together lays out the timeline and publishing approach. 

The idea was pretty simple. It involved having an arc of shorter stories in between each novel, which would then be anthologized once all the stories in the arc were complete. It would also help me pad out my number of titles and give me more books to play with for promotion, etc. They’d be numbered #1.1, #1.2, and so on. The forthcoming book would have been #1.4 in the series. And as a novella, it would have capped off the arc with a pretty big bang and made for a hefty paperback anthology. 

A great plan, right?

Except all that’s been shot to shit now, and it’s my fault.

The Self-Imposed Deadline

I put together my publishing schedule at the beginning of the year, matching it to the cadence of my bi-weekly newsletter. I had enough material from the prior year (plus those super hot and spicy short titles I mentioned) to fill up my monthly slots through May. June was the first month open, so the Danny Diamond story would go there. 

I’d also been trying to up my promotional game, and I wanted to make sure the new book release was a success. The better quality promoters for erotica are booking waaaaay out in advance, so it was February when I locked in a series promotion with Bookspry for the whole series. The promotion would include free copies of The Money Shot (the first full novel in the series), plus promotional pricing of $.99 for all the other installments.

The hope was that the giveaway and sale would reach more readers and create buzz for the series going into release week for the new book. More eyes on the series would result in more sales when the new book was released. Queuing it all up four months in advance would also give me plenty of time to write that 30k story in the midst of everything else I was doing.

That was the hope, anyway.

The Plans of Mice and Men

I didn’t start working on the story until March. There was plenty of time, remember? 

I was also getting the CRUSHED series of ebooks off the ground during that period, so I didn’t have time for much else other than planning and brainstorming. Actual writing would have to wait. But I made the most of the time that I had. I already decided on a title — Old Flames Never Die — and a general story arc. 

It was all going to be based on a salacious local story that cropped up in my hometown a few years ago. It involved a yoga instructor and entrepreneur who wound up becoming a country club madam for the rich and powerful. Except they country club hookers turning tricks for the rich and powerful weren’t ladies. They were young men. And they weren’t just any young men. They were the yogi madam’s daughter’s male friends — who happened to be members of the boys’ soccer team at a local high school.

Talk about spicy!

If that doesn’t sound like the setup for an erotic crime story, I don’t know what does. Of course, a fictionalized treatment would need to ensure all the players were of age (I think they were in the real-life story too, but the age of consent here is 16, but that’s a whole ‘nother conversation). And then I’d have to invent some other sordid crimes to go along with it, but it wouldn’t be a stretch at all. In fact, the reason why it all came out in the local press to begin with was because of a police investigation into embezzlement of club funds. Then one thing led to another, as it usually does, and more revelations came to light.

I also wanted to tie together some loose threads from prior Danny Diamond stories. That, and rain more angst and misery upon my main character’s head. Danny Diamond is a womanizer and a sonuvabitch of the first order. He beds every dame that crosses his path and generally lets his dick do the thinking for him. And while that makes for some fun reading, that kind of behavior doesn’t come without consequences. Old Flames Never Die was supposed to bring some of those chickens home to roost in the form of lovers — both past and current — that converge on the hapless hero with disastrous results.

By the end of March, I had my premise. I also had a detailed plot outline. I even had my cover. I was ready to put my head down and write. 

The Real Work Begins

The month of April would be dedicated to the rough draft. If I just wrote 1,000 words a day, that should get me to my goal of the 30k novella by the end of the month. Easy peasy. Then I’d have May for editing and most of June for tweaks, formatting, and promotion. Totally doable.

But in looking at the outline that I’d put together, something didn’t sit right with me. 

There was a LOT of story to be told. I’d have to be really scrupulous with my words to fit the story into 30k. Also, I’m a verbose motherfucker (see above). But I believed I could do it. Or more accurately, I believed the plan I’d put together was immutable, so I had to do it. 

So fuck it, let’s write. We’ll figure out the rest along the way. I pushed aside all my other writerly commitments — as well as some real life ones —put my head down, and wrote. 

I’ve never been a very fast writer. I tend to want to go back over what I just wrote and beat it to death until it’s perfect. What can I say? I’m my own worst critic. But with this book, I focused on just getting the words out. I knew that if I had a base to work from, everything else would fall into place.

Each day I hit my 1k word goal and then some. By midway through the month, I took a couple days off because I was so far ahead of schedule. But then by about the twentieth, I started to realize that I wasn’t plowing through the outline as fast as I had anticipated. The word count was where it needed to be, but I was 2/3 of the way through the month and less than 1/2 of the way through the story.

That verbose motherfucker had struck again.

The Race to the Finish

I couldn’t shorten the plot. If I cut elements, I was sure the story wouldn’t hold the same weight. I also didn’t have time to puzzle out how exactly to do that. The only thing I could do, I thought, was finish the damn thing. Then once it was done, I could figure out which areas to cut. After all, I’d previously cut almost 60k from the first draft of my first novel. Fixing this would be a piece of cake. 

And even if it was a little over the 30k mark, did it matter? Novellas are anywhere from 20k to 50k. There was plenty of cushion. The one thing I couldn’t do was change my timeline. If the draft took longer than intended, then that pushed out the editing (and I’d need at least 4 rounds of that), and that pushed out the promotion and ARC reads and everything else. 

Pushing out the publishing date wasn’t an option because I had a $20 promo riding on it all, plus the pie-in-the-sky goal of putting a book out every month. The release of the book had to line up with everything else. It had to, because my brain gremlins told me so. They were in control, and I was along for the ride. We were going to do this, come hell or insanity.

And by the way, I realize now that this thinking was completely insane. I could have pushed my publishing date further down the line and saved myself some grief. It is, after all, self-publishing. I’m supposed to be the one in control. I can change shit if I want to. But I didn’t want to. That was the thing. I wanted to make that date with every fiber of my being.

So I revised my target length to 40k and kept writing. 

And I kept writing.

And I kept writing.

The last five days of April were brutal. I swear, I’ve never written so much in such a short amount of time — even when I had a term paper in college that I’d procrastinated on until the last minute and started working on it two days before it was due. The last weekend of April, I sequestered myself from my family and I just wrote

My wife, bless her heart, put up with my mania. Though, she did say — more than a couple of times — that she’d be really happy when this book was done and she had her husband back. The kids always wanted to know what Dad was up to, but we couldn’t tell them he had mindfucked himself into a tizzy over a smutty mystery about a country club prostitution ring, now could we? So we told them Dad had taken on a time-sensitive editing project as a side gig, which they sort of bought.

I buried my guilt and kept writing.

Low and behold, the end of the month came, and the book was indeed done. I looked at the final word count and was stunned. It was 52,000 words long.

I had just written a fucking novel.

The Conundrum

I didn’t want to write a fucking novel.

As I mentioned before, my plan called for a novella to cap off this run of shorter stories, which would be combined in a print anthology, and THEN I would write a novel (see the master plan below).

I had to cut. That was the only answer.

But then my friend Skylar Quinn slapped some goddamn sense into me.

You wrote a novel, she said. You basically did NaNo in April. Run with it. You can still anthologize the other stories, but now you have book 2 of your series. You can do a print version of this one too, and then you have two additional books instead of one.

The light bulb went on. I saw the possibilities. It still took a few days for me to latch onto them. When I set upon a course of action, it takes a little convincing to get me to alter course. I’m bull-headed like that. But Skylar was right, and she did convince me (none too gently, I might add).

Old Flames Never Die was a novel. Now I had less than two months to make it the best damned novel I could.

The Editing Trenches

I always like to say that good books are made in the editing. No one writes pure gold on the first draft, especially when you’re dealing with mysteries. There arejust too many things to keep sorted in your brain as you write. It takes several rounds of detailed scrutiny to ensure all the characters and clues and plot twists sync up in a way that feels plausible and true. And then there’s all the grammatical and line edits that need to be done.

But I wasn’t worried. I’ve put together a pretty solid team of beta readers and editors over the last couple of years, and I was pretty sure they’d be able to help me get the book over the finish line. No sweat at all. But as I started reading what I had written, I was slowly seized by a gut-twisting realization.

The narrative I’d churned out wasn’t working.

Well, it wasn’t the narrative so much. It was the structure. The pacing. The sexual tension. Too much of it was weighted toward the end of the book. The plot wasn’t bad, but it needed to be restructured so that the events of the story pulled the reader along from section to section, while also keeping the sexual tension high.

Another problem was the tone didn’t strike the exact note I wanted it to. I wanted to pull together Diamond’s many love interests and really heap misery on my hero’s head. Some of it was there, but I had also missed several opportunities to really drive home the idea in the title — that Old Flames Never Die. At least, not in Diamond’s case.

So my second draft focused on restructuring the story. I went into another shorter manic phase (sorry, Honey) as made the necessary changes. I cut several chapters. I moved some around. I wrote brand-new chapters. I also did a line edit over the whole thing.

After three more weeks, I wound up with a better-paced novel, AND I managed to twist the threads of prior installments together in a climax that was both satisfying and deserving of the skirt-chasing degenerate I’d created. 

I thought, anyway. The real test was going to be what my beta readers thought of it. 

They were absolute champs. They plowed through the thing in record time, gave me awesome feedback (especially Vivian Blake). I cut a couple of smaller sections that didn’t work, according to her (she’s was right. She’s always right). And then my editor Ellie Desyre took a crack at it and made the manuscript beg for mercy over the course of four days. But by the first week of June, Old Flames Never Die was done. 

The Home Stretch

Well, except for ebook formatting. 

And the ARC reviews. 

And the paperback formatting. And the cover editing. And the newsletter. And the promo work. And the…

I won’t bore you with the rest. As anyone trying to make a go of it in the self-publishing space will tell you, the to-do list is never-ending. But suffice to say, I did all the things that had to be done. We are on the home stretch, and everything is lining up to see this book published on time and according to plan (June 25, 2024, if you’re interested).

But more than that, this whole experience has been a paradigm shift for me. Not only in my approach to what I thought I was going to do with the Danny Diamond series, but in how I write books altogether.

The Takeaways

This practice of pushing aside everything else and just focusing on putting words on the page was a game changer. I didn’t do any additional promotion. I was pretty absent on social media. I just focused on writing. And while it was frustrating at times, it was also pretty damn fun. I got into this whole writing thing to write — not to market. And yet somehow, I’d become more focused on how to sell books rather than how to write them.

In the future, I plan to do more of these sprint phases to boost my writing output. The one thing I’d do differently, though, is give myself a wee bit more cushion in terms of time and word count so I don’t have to become a crazed hermit and alienate my wife and kids until the damned thing is done.

This process was also instructive in my editing process. I’m kind of a self-flagellating control freak when it comes to editing. My first novel, The Money Shot, went through ten full revisions and two dozen beta readers over seven years before I finally pulled the trigger on self-publishing. My later works took less time but still went through a blue million revisions before I was comfortable showing them to anyone else. 

That kind of process is bananas. If I want to increase my catalog, I have to smooth that out, and it starts with trusting my beta readers and editor. I have to get my work in front of them earlier. We’ve assembled a talented network of authors who support each other immensely. In many ways, we are each other’s secret weapons. I need to pull that trigger quicker than I have in the past.

I also need to not beat myself up over this shit so much. That part, I’m sure will be harder than the rest. I’m intensely self-critical, and I have a tendency to grind on things until I think they’re just so. That habit will be harder to break.

I guess we’ll just have to focus on baby steps.

The Conclusion

That’s how I accidentally wrote a novel and did it all on time — whatever that means when the only timeline is self-imposed.

It was a whirlwind, but I learned so much — about the process, but about myself more.

It reminded me of the foreword from Neil Gaiman in his classic novel, American Gods. In it, he talked about what an odyssey it had been to write that book. It had taken him months to figure out what his book was about and weaveall the disparate threads in his mind into something that felt real and true. When he finally had that “eureka!” moment, he felt like he had uncovered this truth about writing that would carry him through the rest of his career. He then recounted a conversation he had with an older author friend, telling him about his breakthrough and that he’d learned the secret to writing a novel. 

And his friend just smiled, shook his head, and said, “No. You didn’t figure out how to write a novel. You figured out how to write this novel.“

Maybe a novel is like a woman. You never figure out women. You figure out one woman, if you’re lucky. And you put in the work. And she lets you. Because each is unique and unknowable in her own right. 

Is that what happened to me with this accidental novel? I don’t know.

I guess we’ll know for sure when I get around writing Book 3. 

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