It took me "five months and 15 years" to write my 2010 book about Bible translation: five months of actual writing, and 15 years of research.
How long, then, did it take me to write the roughly 10,000 words that comprise "Checkpoint," the inaugural tale in The Warwick Files?
I touch-type about 75 words a minute, because even though I ignored most of middle-school, I did pay attention in typing class, where a strict but effective teacher trained me to type 10,000 words in two hours, 15 minutes.
Now, I'm a notorious procrastinator, so we have to pad that considerably with time for things like grabbing a snack, checking my e-mail, and checking the postal mail, even at 9:30 a.m., just in case the post office suddenly revamped my delivery schedule and didn't tell me. So call it a long morning to type 10,000 words.
But of course that's the easy part.
It takes much longer to decide what to write, something I usually do while driving or bicycling. I came up with the premise for "Checkpoint" on the way home in late summer. Then I filled in details on subsequent drives and rides. So that's a couple of weeks.
But even that isn't the hardest part.
I wanted to create a brand new world to form the backdrop of The Warwick Files, with nuanced details of a rural town and individual people's speaking styles. These little things all work in concert to enhance the readers' satisfaction while they read the story. (Though they might prefer I not explain it in pentameter.)*
While "Checkpoint," like every episode in the series, is a complete story, it's also part of a larger picture that readers discover bit by bit, so my early decisions would have long-lasting consequences.
I needed the main characters, starting with the hero, Coyote "Kai" Goodman. The reader meets him when he's in his 30s, but I had to create the life experience that formed him: his childhood, teen years, first love, first job (which is classified, so please don't ask me), and so on, as well as his general temperament and personality.
I had to do the same for the important auxiliary characters, some of whom don't even appear in the first few stories, and even for the minor roles, because this kind of detail keeps things interesting.
And I needed somewhere to put everyone. The thoroughly charming village of Warwick, NY provided an excellent start. All I had to do was modify the real town slightly, and invent some places that are vital to my storylines but which were inconveniently overlooked by the village planners and so don't exist.
I'd put the total time -- again, mostly in the car and on my bicycle -- at somewhere around two months, on and off, bit by bit.
But the real investment in time isn't writing at all. It's reading. While I've been doing that since preschool, it wasn't until I was in my late teens that I started making mental notes as I read: Why does what I'm reading work so well? How did the author pull it off? What would I do differently? And so on.
In this regard, I'm grateful to my favorite authors: John Grisham and Tom Clancy, who introduced me to fun-filled fiction; the incomparable Uri Adelman, who died much too young; Lee Child, whose books are still my personal favorites (even though, obviously, I love all my indirect mentors equally); and more.
So it took me a morning, two months, and more than 20 years to write "Checkpoint."
And yet you can read it in about an hour.
J.M. Hoffman authored two non-fiction books and contributed to over a dozen others before writing The Warwick Files, a short-story series featuring a police chief with a secretive past who lives in a quiet New York City suburb where, according to the official count, there are no spies.
He signs his non-fiction work with his full name and title, and his fiction with the shorter "J.M. Hoffman."
(*)I wanted to create a brand new world
to form the backdrop of The Warwick Files,
with nuanced details of a rural town
and individual people's speaking styles.
These little things all work in concert to
enhance the readers' satisfaction while
they read the story. (Though they might prefer
I not explain it in pentameter.)
Follow Dr. Joel Hoffman on Twitter: www.twitter.com/JoelMHoffman