Thursday, February 19, 2015

When The First Book Started Answering My Questions

By Rich Zahradnik

Writing—the writing process itself—changed in a big way for me from my first novel to my second, and in a way I didn’t expect. This is fresh in my mind because the first book came out Oct. 1 and I turned in the manuscript for the second on Jan. 4.

Like many, my fiction career started while I was working full-time. The first book took a long, long time to finish, because, depending on the job, I might have an hour or a half hour to work on the manuscript. I’m actually embarrassed to say when I started that manuscript, but let’s just say the word “decade” is a fair count of the years. Then, after it was finished, there were the three years or so it took to get an agent and for my agent to secure a publishing deal. A long time.

Last spring, I sat down to write the second book in the series (the publisher contracted for four books). For the first time in my life, someone wanted the manuscript I was about to start. They’d set an actual deadline. And I was working close to full-time on writing (less time spent as stay-at-home dad). For all these reasons, I expected I’d go faster. Let’s face it, I kind of had to, given the deadline. But what surprised me was how much faster I was able to write.

I was a 500-words-a-day writer when I worked on the first book (and had the time). I know some people like goals, some don’t. I do. So I pushed myself and found to my great surprise I was turning out a 2,300-word chapter in a day. It was all messy first draft material, of course.

The why of this is what I really want to talk about. What changed between the first book and the second, aside from time constraints? I realized it was the questions, the thousands and thousands of questions I had to ask myself as I wrote the first book. Is this the right way to handle attribution tags? Too many chapters? Too few? Too many adjectives? Too few? Is the plot working? Is the mystery a mystery? And on and on. Pretty much every other word I typed brought up a question that needed considering and answering as I tried to turn myself into an author.

Some bit of magic happened after the first book was published. You see, now I knew the answers, either because I’d done the right thing in the first place or learned what the solution was during the editing process. You’d be amazed how much faster you can write when a question doesn’t pop up every other word, nagging at you, pulling you back. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t know all the answers, just the first 10,000 or so basic ones. It’s like I now understand the code. Book one gave me the gift of confidence—but not too much of it—and made writing my second manuscript a faster process, though I’d never say easier. Writing never gets easier. The confidence let me get down more words a day and take on bigger challenges in plot structure and character development.

And so came more questions.

Rich Zahradnik is the author of the Coleridge Taylor Mystery series published by Camel Press. LAST WORDS is the first novel in the series and was published Oct. 1, 2014. He was a journalist for 30-plus years, working as a reporter and editor in all major news media, including online, newspaper, broadcast, magazine and wire services. He held editorial positions at CNN, Bloomberg News, Fox Business Network, AOL and The Hollywood Reporter. In January 2012, he was one of 20 writers selected for the inaugural class of the Crime Fiction Academy, a first-of-its-kind program run by New York's Center for Fiction. Zahradnik was born in Poughkeepsie, New York, in 1960 and received his B.A. in journalism and political science from George Washington University. He lives with his wife Sheri and son Patrick in Pelham, New York, where writes fiction and teaches elementary school kids how to publish newspapers. You may visit him at:

In March of 1975, as New York City hurtles toward bankruptcy and the Bronx burns, newsman Coleridge Taylor roams police precincts and ERs. He is looking for the story that will deliver him from obits, his place of exile at the Messenger-Telegram. Ever since he was demoted from the police beat for inventing sources, the 34-year-old has been a lost soul. A break comes at Bellevue, where Taylor views the body of a homeless teen picked up in the Meatpacking District. Taylor smells a rat: the dead boy looks too clean, and he's wearing a distinctive Army field jacket. A little digging reveals that the jacket belonged to a hobo named Mark Voichek and that the teen was a spoiled society kid up to no good, the son of a city official. Taylor's efforts to protect Voichek put him on the hit list of three goons who are willing to kill any number of street people to cover tracks that just might lead to City Hall. Taylor has only one ally in the newsroom, young and lovely reporter Laura Wheeler. Time is not on his side. If he doesn't wrap this story up soon, he'll be back on the obits page—as a headline, not a byline. Last Words is the first book in the Coleridge Taylor mystery series.


Jenny Milchman said...

What a great analysis as to why it got easier for you, Rich! I'm happy for your success--especially that 4 book deal! Thanks for sharing this...

Bhanwar said...

Congratulations for your first book success and all the best for the second book

Michael Murphy said...

Enjoyed reading your writer's journey. Best of success.