The Skinny Detective


I just completed a revision of my detective novel, Desert Justice, and it was major surgery. I took out 5,000 words, dropping the word count to a mere 70,000.

Was the detective really so flabby that there were 5K words of deadwood on him? No. I had given him an avocation, to write pulpy crime novels as an outlet for his extremely angry, vigilante, alter-ego. The 5,000 words were his metafiction.

After reading through the novel after a six-month hiatus, I realized that the pulpy crime episodes were largely stereotyped vigilante stuff. The anti-hero was Clint Savage (a cop), angry at seeing criminals get off with light plea-bargains. He’d sneak up and pop them, inadvertently creating The Tucson Killer, which he was then tasked to catch.

Not only was Clint working the sterotypes, his story had no throughline and his character had no arc, which is how pulpy crime fiction often works. It was almost completely episodic, and really a lot of fun to write, but it interrupted the flow of my real story. When I looked at it objectively, the psychological connection between my detective and Clint was marginal. Clint was just too cheesy to be effective in illuminating my detective’s evolution from Manichean morality to self-doubt. So Clint got the scalpel. Hated to do it. He was a darling.

But now I’m on the edge of having a novella. I think 70K words still counts as a novel, but no question it’s thin. Reading it yet again, I was satisfied that it is also tight. I did not write the stuff that readers skip over.

At the same time, it’s not simplistic. It has three story lines woven together, one the Maguffin story, one a family story of three generations of cops, and of course, the romantic story. I can flesh out some of the secondary characters and I could add scenes where I have summarized. I do tend to over-narrate and under-dramatize, but I hate to introduce sag just for the sake of word count. I need some readers.

After that, I’m not sure what to do with it. The novel started out as a short story in 2011 and evolved into this. I’m a different writer now, and I don’t think I’d be interested in writing another detective tale, but I’d like to do something with this one, since I have it.

Maybe I’ll unfurl it at one of the online Backspace conferences ( and see what happens. I’ve also got Left Coast Crime coming up in Phoenix ( and I’ll see if I can generate any interest. For now, I think I’ll leave it skinny.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.