I’m in the process of reading a book written by my old friend, Jim Phillips. It’s called “Camden, Four Decades on the Streets of America’s Toughest City.”
I’ll be writing more about the book later, but it’s one of those books you can’t put down. It’s not very flattering to the current police administration and there are rumors orders have come down threatening discipline for any Camden cop caught with a copy in his patrol car.
Jim wrote the book in vignettes, meaning it’s not a chronological narrative, not a story that’s starts there and ends here.
Jim’s book has inspired me to pick up work on my own book.
I started it back in 2013. I’d write every afternoon during the week, Then life interrupted that and, in July of that year, with about 20,000 words of first draft writing done, I stopped.
I’ve been trying to start again for some time.
Many years ago, a woman friend declared that I had lived a sordid life. I embraced that notion wholeheartedly. The working title of my book is “My Sordid Life: The Unauthorized Autobiography.” Think about that.
My book, too, uses vignettes. In some cases, they are set in time. In others, no date is needed.
I think because I have spent my life writing for newspapers, radio and the Internet, I am somewhat challenged in writing long form, as in a book, starting a story on page one and finishing it on page 280.
For 30 years I have written feature columns that are, generally, less than 1,000 words each. Doing so for so long, I believe, has handicapped me. I can’t seem to write much longer than that.
So rather than bang my head against a literary wall, I have embraced the short form.
Colleagues and friends over the years who have been lucky enough — or forced — to hear the stories I tell have urged me to write them all down.
“You should write a book,” one would say.
“Yeah, I’d buy it,” another would add.
So, I am trying. Again.
I started a murder mystery as a kind of joke in 1986. “The City Council Murders” it was called. Initially, all the characters’ names were plays on real people — people I worked with, a mayor and city council members, lawyers, cops. As the story got good, it was too distracting for people to want to figure out who which character was supposed to be, so I started shying away from the funny names.
It was still a funny murder mystery, though. At one point, I took a novel-writing class on AOL (remember AOL?) When I submitted the first chapter to the instructor, he sent me an email saying he didn’t think he could offer any help to me because my writing was so good. He said he even suspected I might be a ringer, a published writer sent to his class by his boss to see how he was doing.
Very nice to hear, but I was still stuck at Chapter Six. Never could get past Chapter Six. And there, 29 years later, is where “The City Council Murders” remains.
I started three other books, all anti-terrorist novels. One had a plot to die for, it was so good.
All of them clutter the unfinished pile.
So I have learned my lesson, a lesson Jim Phillips has apparently learned, as well.
K.I.S.S. Keep it short, simple.
I’ll write more about Jim’s book when I finish it.
And I’ll write more of my book as time permits.