I first heard of NaNoWriMo in 2010, and I thought it was crazy. For one, it sounded like Mork from Ork. Nannoo Nannoo? NaNoWriMo?
Secondly, a whole novel in a month? Many have been written in as little or even less time. But those writers were pros, not first time novelists. I chickened out that time, but when November 2011 came around a lot had changed in my life. I was married, and my wife Sarah gave me the kick in the ass required:
"You're always talking about writing that book."
Put up or shut up, Tommy boy.
I hadn't written since college. Shortly after graduated, I'd had a story accepted by Pulphouse Magazine, which promptly folded, and I let that minor setback consume me. That story didn't get published until three years later, in the now-defunct Blue Murder, and the costly and time-consuming process of mailing printed manuscripts, and the rejections, deterred me from writing. I didn't have the perseverance required. The online crime fiction community brought me back when I discovered flash fiction. A thousand words? Easy enough! I had a knack for it, and a dozen or so publications later and it was November again, with the Big Idea for a novel crowding my head, something I called In the Garage after the Weezer song about a social outcast's hideaway.
Two months later that became a 115,000 word novel called Beat the Jinx (I had just read Josh Bazell's over the top and enjoyable as hell novel Beat the Reaper and felt the nod was a touch of good luck). But good luck it wasn't Beat the Jinx was a big old mess, with a Mary Sue protagonist, a Manic Pixie Dream Girl Friday, a confusing combination of revenge story and caper for its plot, and the most interesting character was relegated to sidekick. That version become a "drawer novel" that won't see the light of day, but I took what worked and wrote it into an action-oriented crime drama that drew on my literary heroes James Lee Burke and Richard Stark. Two different ends of the crime spectrum, one lyrical and romantic, the other fiercely driven.
Several drafts later, that book became Bad Boy Boogie, which Down & Out Books is publishing next week. The "exciting" character is Jay Desmarteaux, a Louisiana transplant lost in New Jersey, who has no idea why his parents moved there when he was a child, who joins a group of misfits who suffer the torments of a brutal bully who thanks to small-town politics and corruption can get away with his cruel misdeeds. Until Jay shows up and gives his friends some spine.
The bully is dealt with harshly and only one of them is punished. The outsider, young Jay Desmarteaux, caught in the "superpredator" days when prosecutors sentenced juveniles to Life Without Parole to show that they were tough on crime. Twenty-five years later, the Supreme Court handed down the Miller decision that labeled such sentencing as cruel and unusual punishment. And Jay, who spent his time preparing for a life in prison, is released to find his family gone, his former friends hostile, and someone who keeps trying to put him in the ground. The trail will take him through seedy Newark strip clubs, the Jersey docks still controlled by the mob, and the sheltered castles of political New Jersey power before he finds the truth of his past and why he was the one left swinging, when he stood up for his friends.
My previous novel Blade of Dishonor took 6 months from first draft to final manuscript from my editor. This one took nearly five years. I had found the perseverance I needed. Why?
Bad Boy Boogie was a book I had to write.
Like I say in the dedication, it's a true story but the names have been changed to protect the guilty. That's something Bon Scott mutters on an early AC/DC album, and it fit. So many parts of this book draw from events I experienced, knew from my town and family's history, or had heard whispers of over the years. It's about what some did to get what they have and what they will do to keep it. About growing up working class in the suburb that produced Martha Stewart, clawing your way from nothing and fighting to hang onto the scraps that your betters don't think you earned.
Bad Boy Boogie is out on March 20th, available from local bookstores and the usual retailers.