For National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) I decided to write the 4th in my detective series, The Elizabeth Street Epiphany. It continues the story from Book 1: The Bleecker Street Bodies, Book 2: The Delancey Street Disappearances, and Book 3: The Mercer Street Murder. The series follows Harry DeMarko, a retired NYPD street cop and his partner Toni Bennett, a former prostitute. Book 4 wraps up not only the cliffhanger from the previous novel but also sets up the next the series as well.
What made this unusual is that I’d been planning this book, Elizabeth Street, for two years, which is odd because The Bleecker Street Bodies wasn’t supposed to be a series, and the characters seemed content to remain where I left them at the end. My wife Cara (my first reader) finished the book in record time, looked up at me, and said, “I want more.”
So I began thinking about a second book. And I brought back recurring characters from book one. And suddenly the whole cast began to think and move and act in ways I’d never expected. I was as surprised and excited as anyone else to find out what they were up to.
By book 3, I had my eye on the next book, wondering what I could do for a plot. And then when I got to the end of book 3, I discovered that it was a serious cliff-hanger. I was, in turn, outraged and elated, because suddenly I had my next book. I had no idea HOW it was going to work, only that it would. I trusted my world, I trusted my heroes (who seem far smarter than I am, which is terrifying) and I trusted that the magic would happen again. And it did.
The third book was published in March of 2018, eight months before NaNoWriMo. I had moved on from the series, working on two other books (coming soon) before starting book 4. As it was so close to November, I decided to write the 4th book in November. I made a couple of promises to myself (and my editor!) before I began.
I wouldn’t write a single word until November 1st.
I wouldn’t write notes or plot anything (which I never do anyhow).
I would finish the other two books before I started Elizabeth Street.
This led me to work faster than ever, finishing up two books that were 120k and 150k, respectively. It’s a lot of words. But at last, I’d finished, with three days to spare. And I waited.
Finally, 6 A.M. November 1st, I began writing. And because I’d been thinking about this book for eight months, a remarkable thing happened.
I write quickly. It’s a skill I’ve worked hard to hone over the years. On average, I can put up between 5k and 8k a day without forcing it. When NaNoWriMo rolled around, I was already warmed up from working all day every day to finish the other stuff on my plate (and Grad School. And participating in a marriage. And having kids to keep alive. I’m a workaholic, and I never say no to a new project) and I’d been training for this moment all year.
And I started.
The first day, I wrote almost 12k words, a feat I’ve never accomplished before. The story flowed like water, the characters were alive and vivid, and the plot unraveled naturally and sweetly as any I’ve ever written.
Emboldened by this first day (and because I’d promised my editor Jennie Rosenblum the book could be published in February) I wrote harder and faster. The finished first draft of Elizabeth Street was 109k, which is right around average for the Harry & Toni books. And I finished it at 4:50 p.m. on November 15th.
I’d written the entire book in two weeks.
It’s something I’ll probably spend the rest of my life trying to top, and I’m not sure how much I want to try. Each of these books is something special to me. They were each written during certain times of my life, and each carries with it unique memories. And now this one does, too.
I hope that it’s as satisfying to read as it was to write, but I’m not sure that’s possible. This was the easiest book I’ve ever written, if you don’t count the other three I had to write to get to this point!