Being a writer means living inside your own head.
Often that impedes any progress on the actual writing.
This became evident this past weekend when I spent two days at, first, Warren County’s Park Fest, and then BooksNJ2017, The Bergen County Cooperative Library System’s biannual event.
The topic at hand was what to do with Frank Nagler, now that I left him hanging at the end of the third book in the series in his name, “The Weight of Living.”
There was a lot of “don’t tell me” and “you need to solve that, don’t you,” and “better get to work.”
While they hadn’t read the series, they were curious to know why I did things the way I did them. They were also interested in that I set the books in a fictional North Jersey with Dover and Morris County at the center.
They were intrigued when I explained why “Weight” ends so suddenly. Which was good, because I was, too; it was one of those unplanned, happy writing accidents, I think.
The ending was so abrupt, my copy editor at Imzadi Publishing, asked if I had failed to send her the last chapter.
I said, No, and explained it this way.
In the first two Nagler books, “The Swamps of Jersey,” and “A Game Called Dead,” there was a little time after the crime solving for an assessment of Nagler’s state of mind and his battle with his inner demons.
In “The Weight of Living,” the crime scheme is so all-encompassing and deadly, and has done such significant damage to many of the characters — including Nagler, who suffers a terrible personal loss – he focuses on offering everyone else some form of closure, as poorly defined at it is in the story.
So, what to do, going forward?
Lauren Fox, Nagler’s smart companion, provides one clue in “Weight” when she tells him that he needs to break out of his emotional shell.
What form will that take? How to write the next saga without writing “The Weight of Living, Part Two?”
The weekend discussions, and taking the time to outline how the book series began and how it is structured, helped clarify my thinking.
I’ll have another chance to examine all this at the Mountainside Public Library in Mountainside, N.J. at 1 p.m. Saturday.
Anyway, I know in the next story that Nagler will be teaching a class on “investigation,” and within that structure, that concept takes on a measure of personal investigation for Nagler.
Given the ending of “Weight,” this will be an unhinged Frank Nagler, possibly acting in ways that heretofore have not been part of his character. He is searching for something and actually beginning to grieve. I don’t yet know where it leads him.
In a note I made weeks ago, reporter Jimmy Dawson says, “We wondered how he had survived all that. Then we wondered if he had.”
And given that this is a mystery series, his actions have to take place within the framework of crime solving.
While I haven’t chosen the overall crime scheme for the book, I know part of it. Nagler is presented with a file by one of the students who claims that her father is in jail for a crime he didn’t commit. Nagler, having heard this before, rolls his eyes, but takes the file.
It is not a case he investigated, but as he reads the file, he remembers more and more about it. That memory search triggers what I’ll just now call “stuff” and frames the story.
And while all that is going on I need to address the needs of Lauren Fox, reporter Jimmy Dawson, Leonard and Calista Knox and anyone else who shows up.
Frank Nagler doesn’t have happy endings, but he does need a happier one.
At the same time, I’m muscling up for another pass at the original “Game Called Dead.”
The first version, written years ago, Nagler chased down teen age serial killer Charlie Adams. While trying to rewrite that story twice, it took a left turn and became “The Swamps of Jersey,” about the confluence of politics and murder, and
a book called “A Game Called Dead,” that was not about Adams, but about revenge and family.
The challenge is how to present material that will be somewhat familiar to readers of the series in a way that doesn’t bore them or new readers.
This is Nagler’s first case. He is newly married. But as readers of the series know, his wife dies, and Charlie Adams kills nine women.
That is Nagler’s beginning. The book after “Weight” is Nagler’s present. They connect.
I had toyed with the idea of combining both stories but it would 800 pages and no one deserves that.
The best part of being a writer is laying out these challenges.
The Nagler books are available online at: