Hey all, Gerry Boyle here. And I’m reporting in at a key moment in the life of a mystery novel. It’s done.
Sort of. Not done in the sense of it being ready for the agent, but done in the sense that it’s written from start to finish. As in THE END. As in I’ve gone over it a few times, done big and little fixes, run spell check, changed a couple of names, made plot adjustments that came to me in the middle of the night.
So now what? Well, let me start with a little advice. This is advice I was given, before my first book was published, back in the early 90s. It came from none other than Robert B. Parker, and it was delivered in his trademark sandpaper baritone. “Don’t show it to you mother,” he said. “Don’t show it to your girlfriend. Get it in the hands of a professional who can tell you whether it’s any good.”
With apologies to the late great creator of Spenser, I have to admit that I do break the Parker rule. My first reader, as a rule, is my wife Mary. She doesn’t copy edit. She just reads the thing and gives me her gut reaction. As in, “That was pretty good.” Or, “I lost you just before the chase began.” Or, and I remember this one clearly, “What the heck goes on in your head?”
Well, we’re writers. All kinds of crazy stuff. Other people just see the part we choose to share.
And share I did. With Mary. With my collaborator and daughter, Emily Westbrooks. This is the book set in Dublin and environs called THE DEAD SAMARITAN. Emily lives in Dublin and was key to the plot, the setting, the people and places. I’m a regular visitor to Ireland but to write a book set there we needed to expand the team. Emily recruited her friend Rachael. She’s Irish. Her dad is a cop, or Guard, as they say there. Rachael read the ms. too.
And her verdict was …
I have to say that there’s a lot of trepidation when you put a new ms. out there, even if you’ve done this more than a few times. What if they hate it? What if the plot you thought so clever is predictable? What if, even worse, they read 20 pages and give up?
Fortunately Rachel liked it. She seemed to like it a lot. She even liked it for the right reasons, and keyed on the character traits I hoped would be most interesting. Small sigh of relief.
Not that there wasn’t plenty of constructive criticism. That, after all, is what you want at this stage. It’s why you pick your readers carefully.
Only people who are fairly well brought up use the word ‘feckin’. Everyone else – criminals, underworld, even those only from a slightly rougher side of the tracks use the full expletive.
Who knows more about X (in this case Ireland and Irish policing) than you? Who will give you an honest opinion? Who is a perceptive enough reader to give an effective and helpful critique? Who can say, “She doesn’t ring true in this moment. And what happened to so-and-so? You dropped him awfully fast.”
Not sure young people would drink Smithwick’s. I’ve never met someone under 40 who does. If it’s pints it’s Bud, Carlsberg, Heineken, Bulmers or Guinness.
Some people get this from writers groups. I’ve never been in one, mostly because I don’t have time. My writers group tends to be family and trusted friends. Downside for them is they don’t get the bang that real readers get, opening the finished product.
I like neat endings, so I’m wondering about the girls still up in Belfast with Sabas – unless I missed a mention? (reading this in snatched moments, so easily could have). However, real, gritty life doesn’t always have neat answers, so maybe it’s best left out.
On the upside, early readers get a sneak preview. And if the book is good, reading it isn’t work. The professionals await, but these early readers are the unsung heroes.