With Apologies to Jack Kerouac by John Knoerle

With Apologies to Jack Kerouac

By John Knoerle

Jack Kerouac didn’t believe in outlines. When he wrote his classic “On the Road” he taped together typing paper into a roll over one hundred feet long. He spooled the roll into his typewriter so he could pound away, his stream of consciousness uninterrupted. He finished the book in three weeks.

That worked for Kerouac, God knows, but it didn’t work for me. I tried it with my first book “Crystal Meth Cowboys.” Like Kerouac I had copious notes and no outline. When I finished writing the book, a police procedural, I realized it was scattered and diffuse. No narrative drive.

So I started over, with an outline this time, and wound up with a book that was optioned for a TV series. Sadly, the series never got produced but I made some dough and garnered some notice. Not bad for a first novel.

Did I learn my lesson? No I did not. A couple books later I got fed up with the tedious outlining process. It was taking me the better part of a year!  So on Book Two of The American Spy Trilogy I channeled my inner Kerouac and pounded away at the keyboard, full speed ahead, destination unknown.
And therein lay the problem. I kept painting myself into corners. It could be that it’s a genre issue. I write spy novels and mystery fiction. ‘Determine the conclusion and work backwards’ is the conventional wisdom for those plot-heavy types of books.

So it was back to the dreaded outline.

No outline is sacrosanct of course. You can’t know in advance what a character is going to do when confronted with a particular dilemma. Sometimes they don’t want to go where you tell them to. But a well-drawn story arc will help you find a way forward. And avoid those free-wheeling, energy-sapping dead ends.


John Knoerle began his creative endeavors in the early 70s as a member of the DeLuxe Radio Theatre, a comedy troupe in Santa Barbara. He then moved to LA and did stand-up comedy, opening for the likes of Jay Leno and Robin Williams.

Knoerle wrote the screenplay Quiet Fire, which starred Karen Black, and the stage play The He-Man Woman Hater’s Club, an LA Time’s Critic’s Choice. He also worked as a staff writer for Garrison Keillor’s A Prairie Home Companion.

Knoerle moved to Chicago in 1996 with his wife Judie. His first novel, “Crystal Meth Cowboys,” was optioned by Fox TV. His second novel, “The Violin Player,” won the Mayhaven Award for Fiction.
John Knoerle’s novel, A Pure Double Cross, was the first volume of a late 40s spy trilogy featuring former OSS agent Hal Schroeder. The second volume, A Despicable Profession, was published in 2010. 

Knoerle’s latest book, The Proxy Assassin, Book Three of the American Spy Trilogy, has just been released.

Visit his website at www.johnknoerle.com.

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