It Takes a Village

It’s only May, and I’ve already been to 3 significant writers’ events this year: Left Coast Crime annual conference in Reno, Nevada; the Edgar™ Banquet; and Malice Domestic, a conference in Bethesda, Maryland. In a couple of months, I’ll be attending a 4th, ThrillerFest, in New York City.

Jeffrey Deaver (the tall one) and me at the podium for the Edgar™Awards

In between there have been writers meetings, bookstore events, and book clubs.

One of the things that worried me when I thought of writing as a career was that it would be a solitary occupation. So much for that.

I’d been a physicist for a long time. No one does physics alone, not since Newton, anyway. Who can accommodate something like a 17-mile-long tunnel to house a collider, or a 192-beam laser, in her garage?

Physicists gather around huge equipment in giant laboratories these days, working as a team. My graduate school mates and I spent long hours together in the same laboratory every day, sharing power supplies, monster-mentor stories, and data. We became close friends and knew each others’ families as well as our own for a few years.

All the while, I’d wanted to be a published writer—something with more popular potential than my technical papers on the scattering properties of a titanium dioxide crystal. But I couldn’t imagine sitting alone in a room with pen and paper, or keyboard and monitor, pouring out my thoughts and plots, in solitary confinement.

Imagine my delight when I discovered that writing—mystery writing especially—was a community endeavor. I discovered not only professional organizations and critique groups, but book clubs, conferences, Internet lists and groups, and blogging colleagues. Who knew?

Sure, there’s a lot of me-and-my-chair for hours at a time, but I always know I can call or email any number of colleagues if I want to brainstorm a plot point, or discuss a new character I’m developing. With each book, my acknowledgments list gets longer.

Also, like physics, writing requires research. Most of it is people-oriented, which has turned out to be quite a bonus. In the course of writing themes and subplots for 25 books, I’ve interviewed an embalmer, a veterinarian, a medevac helicopter pilot, an ice climber, a telephone lineman, a hotel administrator, an elevator maintenance man, a postmistress, a musician, and countless experts in forensics, and—uh—ways to kill people. I even have a special cop who never minds answering procedural questions.

I’ve gone to conferences in cities I’d never have visited otherwise, like Omaha and Boise and Milwaukee (I usually fly over these states on my way to and from San Francisco and Boston or New York.)

And the readers! In each series I’ve tried to make the protagonist sleuth someone readers would like to have lunch with. I’m still amazed and pleased when readers approach me, through email or at a signing, with a kind word about my books, and I remember whom I’m writing for.

Research at the Morgan Library

I’m sure some writers prefer go it alone, but I never would have made it.

The writing and reading community are smart, fun, and generous.

I’m glad I found them.

 

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