On Writing 'Dead Gone'

I’m not sure why I’m about to say all this. Maybe it’s because when you write what are mostly e-books, the release of one isn’t some big, splashy affair. It’s a quiet thing.

This thing you’ve worked on for months, maybe years, greets the world for the first time and it’s like any other day.

I’m not complaining. I’ve made a conscious effort to keep my life manageable, and to me that means quiet and simple, with plenty of time at home with my family.

Still, I’m only human, and so compelled to share a little of the drama now that my latest book has finally squeezed out the publishing canal and is squalling away with all the other books in the nursery, just trying to get some love and attention.

I started writing Dead Gone sometime back in late February or early March. First I called it Rivergate, because a woman had been found on the roof of a hotel called Rivergate. I’d gotten the idea while watching an episode of Mr. Robot – in it, a dead woman is found on a roof the morning after a party attended by the affluent. I thought, what a great premise that is, to have twenty or thirty rich people (and maybe a bartender or janitor thrown in) all as potential suspects.

So I started writing, as I usually do, charging ahead after the scent of something, anxious to see where it led.

It led to trouble. Juggling twenty or thirty suspects (I of course immediately reduced it to about fifteen) was a logistical nightmare. It may have been the premise for a classic, closed-room whodunit, by why would I want to subject a reader to that many characters? Too many names to remember.

I’d come about twenty thousand words and decided to start over.

There was a short story I’d written once that took place in Florida, and in it a body turns up in Rookery Bay, which is a lush estuary preserved by the state. I decided I’d crib from my own unpublished work. A new story was born, one I now called The Bay. Same rookie detective, same unidentified female victim, but that was it.

Shortly after switching things around like this, my wife and our three kids took our annual trip to Florida to visit my father. I kept working while I was there, which became kind of a disaster. My kids are young, and since I was in the throes of a rough draft, sometimes it took me more than a couple hours to complete the day’s work. My poor wife had a lot on her hands.

I also met with a sergeant in Collier County’s vice and narcotics bureau, Smitty, who took me on a walk and filled my head with all kinds of glorious police details and stories.

Really driving me on this book, you see, was the desire to make it as authentic as anything I’d written yet. Also, I didn’t want to write anything about politics or government conspiracies, which I’d been doing quite a lot of. But to the hammer, the world is full of nails, and I soon ferreted out some juicy conspiracies in the stories Smitty told. Nothing major, but just enough to keep me hungry while writing, to see how it all worked out.

Also driving me was the possibility of a solid crime series with a recurring character. My first published book, Habit, had a good character in Brendan Healy, but at the time I wasn’t interested in taking a protagonist through one case after another. I was wide-eyed with ideas about big business and governments colluding, sex scandals and the military-industrial complex all entwining in a sinister way. And while I’ll never regret writing the Titan trilogy, it’s just a fact that a series of standalone books with the same protagonist do better than a trilogy, and I have kids to feed.

In the midst of all of this thinking about what to write, trying to be sensible about it, is the writing itself. Today, I’m convinced that writing is a path which never ends. And along the way, you realize certain things you held as esteemed truths are not necessarily true, that there is really no standard of writing which crosses genres, no real pinning down the alchemy. Something either just works, or it doesn’t. All you can do in the meantime as you practice your craft is listen, and try things. So for years I’d been listening to my publisher / editor, and other writers, and trying things, and this new book was going to showcase my best effort at tight, stripped-down writing.

Finally, my publisher has been growing in size and success, and so their standard of books has been rising. So getting Dead Gone through the edits and publication prep took longer than any of my previous books. It grew frustrating, because there’s that part of me which wondered – shouldn’t this be getting easier? But it doesn’t seem to be the way. You journey on, the ascent steepens, the responsibility increases. I think Nietzsche said something to that effect.

So now here we are. The book is out, the reviews are starting to come in. It’s no longer mine, it belongs to the world.

I’m always comparing writing to pregnancy and parenting, and this is no exception. This part – the release of the book – I imagine to be what it’s like to drop your grown child off at college. Yes, it’s like birth, too – I know I’m mixing metaphors – but this moment really feels like watching your child walk off onto the campus.

This thing you spent so much time with, gave everything you had to, went through all manner of emotions with, and now there they go. Just like that. No parades, no one to place a medal around your neck (or theirs), just another day, another soul gone into the fold.


But, it’s good! The journey continues, there are more stories to raise up and send off into the world. And I thank you for being with me.