Guest Post: WRITING AN UNTIDY AFFAIR by MB Dabney

Blaise must find the true killer before he is literally buried alive — AN UNTIDY AFFAIR by @mbdabney27

WRITING AN UNTIDY AFFAIR

In the spring of 2009, I decided to write a novel that November, during National Novel Writing Month. While I assumed it would be a large challenge for me to write a novel of at least 50,000 words in 30 days, I felt I was up to it. But at the time I was still a novice fiction writer and there was little evidence that I would succeed.

That’s because the first novel I ever wrote took me more than 25 years, not that I toiled at it every day. It was a thriller inspired by an incident involving my wife and me when we were in our 20s and in Europe for the first time. I didn’t know how to write a novel and didn’t focus on it as work and raising a family demanded my time and attention. Surprisingly, however, when I did focus on it, I finished the last half of the novel in a matter of three weeks in September 2007.

It’s still sitting on the hard drive of my laptop.

The second novel, a murder mystery set in a Black newspaper in my hometown of Indianapolis, I wrote in five months in early 2008. Certainly an improvement in productivity but it, too, languishes on my hard drive.

Come 2009, I was ready to step it up.

I decided on a story about an Indycar driver facing physical, emotional and financial hurtles as he fights to stay relevant in the racing series. I love racing and know a lot about it but I have little technical understanding of the sport. The plan was to do research most of the summer and fall to gain an understanding of the technical side of racing. The story wouldn’t include much talk of spring settings, gear ratios and aerodynamic downforce, but an understanding of them was necessary to write a credible story.

However, just as I started focusing on the research, I learned of the possibility – and then the reality – that I had cancer. And with that, everything changed.

I was still working as a freelance journalist but, as I considered my course of cancer treatment, I found that I couldn’t write fiction.

You see, to me, writing fiction is like having a long, elaborate daydream and putting it down on paper. While I don’t wait for inspiration when I’m writing – as most writers will tell you, it’s probably 20 percent inspiration and 80 perspiration –I initially could not go to that place in my head where stories and characters live. I was held captive in a real world in which I had cancer. And the thought of not being able to write terrified me.

Deeply.

But in late October, I decided on a treatment plan and suddenly, I could daydream again. I could write fiction again. I was elated though Nov. 1, loomed large. I had only a week to prepare and I had no idea what I was going to write. The racing story was out of the picture and so I fell back on my first literary love – crime fiction.

I’d write a murder mystery, though I had no idea who was killed, who killed them and why, or who would figure it all out.

I am by nature a pantser, not a plotter. I love not knowing exactly what’s going to happen when I’m writing. I want to discover most of the story just as the reader will. But writing a novel in 30 days required me to step out of that comfort zone and write out an outline. I did, however, keep it simple – a narrative in long hand of about eight pages.

It was surprisingly effective. In the early morning hours of the first day of writing, I mined nearly 800 words from just the first sentence of my outline.

And so the journey to create An Untidy Affair began. I wrote at a pace that meant I reached 50,000 words on Day 15, though the novel wasn’t yet done. That took another three days. It was only the first draft and many re-writes and edits followed. But I learned a lesson about me and writing a novel – stick to writing a novel in November during National Novel Writing Month. And that’s how it’s been since 2009. The rest of the year I focus on re-writes, or on writing short stories, or in finding a home for my work.

I wrote a short story in July that, in all likelihood, will become my novel project this November. And finally, my poor race car driver, who missed out on a full treatment back in 2009, will see the light of day.

The narrator’s voice, in this book, is classic Marlowe, Spade, Hammer, with a touch of Thomas Magnum. David Blaise is a soft-boiled, hard-boiled detective and it works so well. He is all hard edges and angst but still looks forward to Sunday dinner with his 80-year-old granny who is a force unto herself.

Dabney is not an author I am familiar with, but he takes command of this tale from page one and drops the reader squarely into this period piece, fully invested in the outcome. Set against the drama of the 1985 Philly MOVE bombing (the aftermath of which is still today playing out in the courts) he gives the city of Philadelphia a distinct personality and makes it a character in the story.

Blaise is streetwise with an innate understanding of human nature yet he is socially awkward, single-minded to a fault, and beautifully damaged. The book is peopled with wonderfully vivid archetype characters that could, but definitely do not come across as cliche. Like any good literature detective, David has connections that get him the info he needs from pickpockets and former prostitutes to hardball journalists and tax accountants with everything in between. The result is a parade of gripping personalities that keep the quick pace of the story moving and the unexpected twists coming. I am looking forward to more novels in this series, just to spend more time with these characters.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I received an advance review copy for free through Great Escapes Virtual Book Tours, and I am leaving this review voluntarily

Struggling Philadelphia private eye David Blaise gets two routine but unrelated cases on the same day in May 1985 – the day city police firebombed the MOVE house, which killed 11 people and destroyed an entire neighborhood. When Blaise starts following a cheating husband and searching for a missing person who may not actually be missing, he also discovers his cases may be related, and that he is being followed. When his tail is murdered, implicating the P-I, Blaise must find the true killer before he is literally buried alive.

Purchase Link: Amazon Bookshop

MB Dabney is an award-winning journalist whose writing has appeared in numerous local and national publications, such as Indianapolis Monthly, NUVO, Ebony magazine, Black Enterprise.com, the Indianapolis Recorder, and the Indianapolis Business Journal. A native of Indianapolis, Michael spent decades as a reporter working at Business Week magazine, United Press International and the Associated Press, the Indianapolis Star, and The Philadelphia Tribune, the nation’s oldest continuously published Black newspaper, where he won awards for editorial writing. He has co-edited two anthologies — Decades of Dirt: Murder, Mystery and Mayhem from the Crossroads of Crime; and MURDER 20/20 — and has published numerous short mystery stories, including Miss Hattie Mae’s Secret (Decades of Dirt) , Callipygian (The Fine Art of Murder), and Killing Santa Claus (Homicide for the Holidays). An Untidy Affair is his first novel.·         The father of two adult daughters, Michael lives in Indianapolis with his wife, Angela.

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