Practice novel makes perfect-ish

Why would you want to read the latest Oates or Grisham when you can choke down some schlubb’s amateur musings?

Good question. Does anyone else feel a non sequitur coming on?

Which brings me to my next point …. lately, I’ve been trying to think of how to share some of my serious fiction work with folks without disqualifying myself for literary magazine submissions and agents and publishers.

After all, anyone who knows me knows the bulk of my work has been in the category of humor essays.

Then, this weekend, while reading an article on places to share chapters of your novel, I remembered I have a supernatural thriller sitting in the closet that I wasn’t planning on doing anything with.

I know, if it’s so great, why is it sitting in the closet? I could ask you the same.

Once I’d put together my humor collections for the tens and twelves of my fans to read a few years ago, I decided I needed a break.

And since this ain’t Eat Pray Love, I had to change something without leaving Michigan … or my apartment. Besides, I’m fine with my version of EPL: Taco Bell, Practice Novel, Tentacle Porn.

As much as I enjoy making people laugh, I’d long wanted to do something with the dozens of unfinished short stories I’d written, as well as a handful of long fiction ideas I had kicking around in my head.

Problem was, after a decade of producing 700-1,200-word pieces for newspapers, magazines and my books, I wasn’t sure I could stick with something so wordy as a novel.

To be honest, I’ve always had trouble seeing things through.

I left college after a half of a semester, I walked out on the big play audition because the director made us walk on all fours and bark like dogs, and I was afraid to kiss my first love … so she went and did the hunka-chunka with my friend Bill on the basketball court.

How I ever quit smoking or stayed married for 22-years-and-counting or kept a company running as long as I have is really beyond me.

In fact, I was so afraid of not finishing the great book ideas in my head, I refused to even start them.

I know me.

I tend to get really excited about a new project and then peter out about halfway through.

So, I chose not to do anything with any of it.

Then, back in maybe 2013, this one idea for a historical adventure novel kept pushing its way into my thoughts. I figured it would make for a good read and might even have a chance at commercial success.

But, still, I was afraid of lousing it up.

Then, one day, while daydreaming about how much I hate basketball, I hatched a plan … a plan to write a practice novel.

It was genius. Well, in a this-has-been-done-to-death sort of way.

Among the ideas floating in my skull was one for a supernatural thriller—taken straight out of the Stephen King wannabe universe—which I thought could make for an interesting read. (That is, it’s King-esque. I didn’t actually steal one of his ideas … yet!)

I began with sketching my thoughts longhand as I always do. And, by the time I had filled a legal notepad, I also had a fully formed concept.

I promised myself I would work on it every week until it was done … knowing the entire time that I’d never even come close to finishing the first chapter.

That’s the key: low expectations.

You’ll never be disappointed as long as you shoot for the mud. (Gee-zus, thanks for spellcheck. I’m 42-and-a-half and still cannot spell “disappointed” correctly. Which is ironic for someone who is so good at disappointment.)

Any-hoo, the more I wrote, the more I cared about the story, and the more excited I was about finishing, and the more I knew I was gonna rub my success in the faces of Bill and whats-her-name? (Yes, I’m pretending I don’t remember.)

As shocked as I was, after about a year of plugging away at it, I had a solid second/third draft of an 86,000-word book called “One Cold Turn.”

I originally called it “A Clash of Wants” but then my lovely wife pointed out that every story is a clash of wants and that if I kept a book title that stupid she would leave me for someone who likes basketball.


One Cold Turn follows a Catholic priest, in one of them ye olde crises of faith, about to leave his Detroit church when he finds himself entangled in a murder mystery where he is the prime suspect.


While he and a private eye look into the matter in hopes of finding the true killer, they uncover an ancient conspiracy responsible for some of the worst catastrophes in human history—disasters like the Triangle Shirtwaist fire, and 9/11, and Keeping Up With The Kardashians.

It ain’t A Farewell To Arms (I don’t even like that book) but I think it’s a solid thrilling horror story.

More important, it was good practice for the Great American Novel I’m currently fine-tuning. Did I say “fine-tune” because I meant “somebody get me outta here!”

True, I could have just let it sit in the box in my closet. But, the truth is, I ended up putting a lot of work into it. (And, first novels aren’t anything if not intended to be shoved down the throats of unsuspecting friends and family.)

Hi, mom!

With some reader input and revision, it might make for a decent beach read.

And, if not, I could always dump a bunch of violence and sex scenes (so many tentacles) into it and publish it under the name Dirk Throbbington.