Friday, February 19, 2016

IN THE COMPANY OF WRITERS

I’m not a sentimental person, and not a natural joiner. It’s a cultural thing. My ancestors were Germans and hard-nosed Anglo-Saxons. We’re reserved by nature. But I do like congenial company, and better yet, a larger community where one is welcomed and mutual support is the norm.

This is what I discovered when I started writing mysteries.

I had no idea. Unlike many in this business, I wrote my first mystery in total isolation. It was only at the moment The Permanent Press accepted my first book that I got my head out of the computer and looked around. My first stop was a New York book store specializing in mysteries, now tragically gone, called The Black Orchid, where I met the inestimable Bonnie Claeson and Joe Guglielmelli, and where I learned about the greater world of mystery readers, writers, publishers, commentators, booksellers, reviewers, and devoted followers.   

Bonnie’s first bit of advice was to go to Bouchercon and hang out at the bar. This was something I knew how to do, so I did. There I met people like Dennis Lehane, Robert Warren, Markus Sakey (who had yet to be published), and Jon Jordan, and had a great time. Everyone was very cordial and free with excellent advice. Better yet, the talk was all about writing, the experience of it, the joys and struggles of the craft. It’s not what I expected, having been fed the Hollywood version of pompous and self-absorbed writers, misanthropes, and self-pitying drunks.

Okay, plenty of drinking was going on, but the mood was all bonhomie and generosity of spirit.

Since then, I’ve gone to plenty of writers conferences and acquired lots of new relationships with writers who are first and foremost decent, thoughtful people. I’ve enjoyed bantering about with quick wits like Brad Parks and Daniel Palmer, and basked in the soulful wisdom of Reed Farrel Coleman and the elegance and generosity of Hank Philippi Ryan.

My partner Marty Shepard calls these people statesmen (and stateswomen) of the literary world. I’d add to the list Lee Child and David Morrell, bestsellers who freely give a tremendous amount of their time helping other writers find success and satisfaction in what is usually a very difficult and lonely pursuit.  

There are plenty of other statespeople among the reviewers and commentators in this unique sub-culture. Jon Jordan (Crimespree) and George Easter (Deadly Pleasures) come to mind. Stephen Campbell at Crime Fiction.FM. They do what they do because they love mysteries, but I suspect the greater love is for the community itself.  

I’m picking out names many would know, but the same spirit pervades in every corner of the mystery world. Permanent Press author Jaden Terrell and I are in a project now with seven others called “Eight Mystery Writers You Should Be Reading Now” initiated by Michael Guillebeau.  None of us are on the bestseller list, and none expect this to be a catapulting event. But rather to just support each other, and do what we can to contribute to something larger than our own personal ambition.  

All professions have their 1% who achieve great success, and the other 99% who labor along because it’s just what they do. The mystery world is no exception. But there is a big difference between doing something you feel you have to, and doing something you want to do. I would have worked just as hard to publish books if the only connection had been between myself and my publishers. But having been welcomed into this larger universe, a benevolent community of the spiritually united, is a gift.

Chris Knopf

2 comments:

  1. I'm often amazed by the kindness and generosity of our community. So nice to work in a world where someone else doesn't have to fail so we can succeed. Not quite sure I buy the solitary anglo-german thing...but to write, we all have to be solitary. And then we creep out and get to talking...

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  2. I've found the community very generous and kind to the aspiring author as well.

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