Dave White: Five Things I Learned Writing Not Even Past

Finally, Jackson Donne has it figured out. After leaving the private investigation business, he’s looking toward the future — and getting married to Kate Ellison. Donne is focused on living the good life — planning the wedding, finishing college, and anticipating a Hawaiian honeymoon — until he receives an anonymous email with a link and an old picture of him on the police force. Once Donne clicks the link, nothing else in his life matters. Donne sees a live-stream of the one thing he never expected. Six years ago, his fiancée, Jeanne Baker died in a car accident with a drunk driver. Or so Donne thought. He’s taken to a video of Jeanne bound to a chair, bruised and screaming, but very much alive. He starts to investigate, but quickly finds out he’s lost most of his contacts over the years. The police hold a grudge going back to the days when he turned in his corrupt colleagues, and neither they nor the FBI are willing to believe a dead girl’s been kidnapped. Donne turns to Bill Martin — the only man to love Jeanne as much as he did — for help. And that decision could cost him everything.

I Could Do It Myself

That may sound ridiculous, but it is true. I’ve always had beta readers at very early stages in my novels. Seriously, like after first draft stages. Sometimes I’d show people very early chapters just to keep my confidence up. Not with this one. I wanted to try and keep things quiet, and write for myself. Screw everybody else.

When I finally got feedback from editors and readers, they were more enthusiastic than critical and there was less to fix. That taught me to trust my instincts. I could now yell DON’T TELL ME WHAT TO DO at editors. (Note: I would never yell, “Don’t tell me what to do at editors.”) Hearing the positive feedback was so important for my confidence as a writer and going forward. I don’t feel as daunted by revisions. Given enough time, I can find what needs to be fixed.

Nope. Can’t Read.

I love to read fiction. Crime novel after crime novel after crime novel. But when I’m writing, I just can’t. Too often I’m distracted or can’t follow the plot. I get nitpicky about what I’m reading. I’m never drawn to a book. Probably it’s because I’m subconsciously focused on my own book. Plots are hard to follow because I’m still working on mine.

However, for some reason, I am really enthusiastic about reading when I’m writing. I always think I’m going to be able to plow through all this new and exciting books by authors I love. Instead, they sit—untouched—on my nightstand for months.

What I can read however, is some lighter fare. I can read comics—Marvel gets a lot of my money when I’m writing. And journalism. I love sports reporting and I read a lot of that for enjoyment.

Scheduling Writing Time with a Kid Is Tough

When I wrote my first three novels, I didn’t have a kid. Heck, I wasn’t even married. I could write all willy-nilly. Nights? SURE until 1 am if I wanted. Mornings? Afternoons? Whenever the inspiration struck—I could be at that computer pounding away at the keys.

Now I have a two year old. And he naps, so that’s good. But he doesn’t always nap consistently. I have had to figure out times when Ben is distracted or when someone will watch him for me. I get a good hour or two of writing in right after work—and when I do promotional work, it’s after he goes to sleep. All right, I lied. Right now I’m typing this blog post as Ben is watching a video. BAD DAD.

But it was something I had to learn. I always wrote every day when I was single or childless, but it was easier to wait for when it was convenient. Now it’s like Chuck says, Art Harder, Mother Fucker. You can’t just wait around. You have an hour now? Use it. Get it done. That was the tough adjustment.

Retroactive Character: Who is Jackson Donne?

Jackson Donne is my series character. He is a former private investigator that was mourning the death of his fiancée, Jeanne, in the first novel. But, as I came up with the hook for NOT EVEN PAST—Jeanne is actually alive—I had to learn more about Donne himself. And some of what I learned was retroactive.

Donne is more unhinged than I had already thought. He’s not the smartest guy, and his more impulsive than expected. These realizations kind of synced with the first two novels in a way I didn’t expect. I was able to look back at those novels—and at Donne going forward.

In a way, this is my comic book novel. Some retcons, a character coming back from the dead and I’m sure some continuity issues. I love that. This book and Donne are raw to me–their edges aren’t sanded. It comes at you in a flurry, I hope. And because of that I know more about Donne going forward and how he can grow and change.

I’m Different as a Writer, and That’s Okay

How do I put this? I learned a lot about myself as a writer with this one—and I think you can see that in what I’ve learned. I’d gone away from writing novels for almost two years when I started this one, and I was afraid it wouldn’t be like riding a bicycle.

And it wasn’t.

But that doesn’t mean I couldn’t still write. But I had a different process this time around. I wrote the first 100 pages of this book and then went back and started over. I outlined my revisions. I’d never done that sort of thing before. I always just pushed through, forced it when it wasn’t there and then fixed it later. Now, I’m more patient. I’m more willing to re-work mid-novel. People ask how many drafts of my novels I write. One my first 3 books I could have told you a true number on front to end revisions. Now I go back and play much more. I tweak a lot more.

I think that’s part of growing as a writer, maturing. And I was able to do it by myself, which was very cool to me.

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Dave White is a Derringer Award-winning mystery author and educator. White, an eighth grade teacher for the Clifton, NJ Public School district, attended Rutgers University and received his MAT from Montclair State University. His 2002 short story “Closure,” won the Derringer Award for Best Short Mystery Story the following year. Publishers Weekly gave the first two novels in his Jackson Donne series, When One Man Dies and The Evil That Men Do, starred reviews, calling When One Man Dies an “engrossing, evocative debut novel” and writing that his second novel “fulfills the promise of his debut.” He received praise from crime fiction luminaries such as bestselling, Edgar Award-winning Laura Lippman and the legendary James Crumley.

Dave White: Twitter

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