Killer Year–The Class of 2007


A Bottle of Time
November 29, 2006, 9:30 am
Filed under: Sandra Ruttan

An author recently sent me an email, telling me that the weeks following the release of their first book were extremely depressing. All the build-up, all the anticipation… And it was over. The book was out there. Most of the reviews had already come in, so the only question was whether or not readers were buying the book, and if they liked it.

We live in a society that almost demands instant gratification. It’s both the blessing and the curse of the virtual world. Letters no longer need to pass through physical hands and be transported across the miles. Data can be sent through the internet instead, in the blink of an eye. We expect our fast food in five minutes or less. We even have drive-through banking.

The funny thing is, a lot of the process of being published involves waiting. Waiting to get and sign contracts. Waiting to hear from your editor. Waiting to see the final cover design. Waiting for the review copies to be ready. Waiting for the reviews to start coming in…

I hate waiting. I’m not good at it, but that isn’t the only reason. It robs me of a full appreciation for where I am, because the waiting mentality, that niggling part of me that wants to see the next thing happen, keeps part of my focus on the future instead of letting me completely enjoy the present.

I thought about this after Harrogate, back in July. I thought about it after Bouchercon.

I got thinking about it again, yesterday, and this time I decided to turn to some friends. Some debut authors from 2006, other authors more years of experience behind them, and ask about their memorable moments and what they’ve learned through their experiences.

If there was an author moment that you could harness like a ship in a bottle, what would it be? What’s the moment you’d like to preserve and be able to relive forever, or a pivotal moment that made a huge difference for you?

I rank this as one of the best days of my life. My wedding and the birth of my daughter are numbers one and two, but number three is the publication party for Beneath A Panamanian Moon. The invitation read, “12 years, 5 major rewrites, 3 agents, 2 titles and 1 hell of a good reason to party.” Twelve years I’d been working, dreaming of the day I could hold my novel in my hand.

We threw the party at The Blue Bayou in Hillsborough. The bar owner donated food. The Monarchs played for free. Friends brought their instruments and jammed. People came from up and down the coast to raise a glass with me. My daughter sang “At Last” and blew the room away. There were so many people there to help me celebrate that I told my wife it was like being at my own funeral, without having to wear a suit. I’d never felt so rich in all the things that matter.

If I ever publish a second book, I know the party will be great because I’ve made so many writer friends this year and I expect they’ll mix well with the musicians. But I also know it won’t be anything like that first party. It was a day I’ll remember until the day lay me out, suit and all.

David Terrenoire
Author of Beneath A Panamanian Moon.

The moment of my debut year that I would want preserved – the most exciting moment… was actually pre-debut. It was at ThrillerFest, and the amazing fact that writing and getting my first novel published qualified me to sing in the Killer Thriller Band. I guess I’m just a communal kind of girl, but being able to sing and dance in a band of that caliber with authors who have been my idols for years… that was coming home, in a way I’ll never forget.

Well, and also that thing in the stairwell with — (all right, never mind that…)

Alexandra Sokoloff
Author of The Harrowing

The best part of last year for me was the book launch party. I live in a fairly tight-knit neighbourhood in a big city and I know a lot of the people around here. Mostly I know the other people in the schoolyard where I drop off and pick up my kids everyday. They all knew I had a book coming out for a long time – I sold it more than a year before it was published – and were all really supportive. I don’t know if it’s typical, but in my schoolyard there are almost as many stay-at-home Dads as Moms. I’d been asking the other parents questions for years, all kinds of stuff from women’s fashions to money transfer laws and they were remarkably helpful.

So, the night of the book launch, a great spring evening, was a chance for a lot of us to get together at a nice place – without our kids (that’s very important) – and let loose. Usually we all see each other in the schoolyard and are pretty rushed getting our kids home for lunch and back and to all kinds of lessons after school, but at the party we got to just sit around and chat. And eat the free food the publisher supplied.

But what was really great for me was the terrific reception all these people gave me when I got up to read a little and thank them all. They all seemed so happy for me. And for my wife. I mean, for years these people wondered who was married to the weird guy asking the questions. It was a great party.

It was also good to get pretty positive reviews in the Globe and Mail and the National Post on the same day and in the Toronto Star a couple weeks later, and it’s a great feeling the first time you see your book. And the first time you see it in a bookstore.

John McFetridge
Author of Dirty Sweet
Coming in 2007: Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere

I don’t know if this counts as the most exciting moment, but I think the moment that I was most nervous about that turned out okay was during my first joint signing with Lee Child.

We were at the Poisoned Pen bookstore in Scottsdale, which I had heard so many great things about that just being there was intimidating, much less to be sitting up on a barstool holding a microphone in one hand and a bottle of water in the other in front of a couple of hundred people who were there to see Lee.

He gave me the kindest introduction I could ever have imagined, and was of course totally witty and charming and articulate, and then it was my turn to say something.

I remember thinking, “okay, I now have to open my mouth, so I just hope it’s not to throw up AND that I don’t make him look totally nuts for having invited me to do this.”

I had no idea what I was going to say, and I don’t actually remember anything I DID say (something about Lawrence Welk and Jell-O salad?), but the people in the room laughed, and after that I knew it was going to be okay.

That was an amazing day. I still don’t quite believe it actually happened.

Of course, the next day at the sublime Murder by the Book in Houston I actually *did* throw up—right before we started the gig there–but luckily it wasn’t in front of anyone. Lee especially.

Cornelia Read
Author of A Field of Darkness

My best moments this year were the moments that I spent at Bouchercon and at The Midwest Literary Festival, because I had so many e-mail relationships that came to fruition when I was able to meet those people: my editor, fellow writers, fellow bloggers, DorothyL friends. Knowing some people not only helps me feel like I’m not alone as a newcomer, but it gives me a sense that I am part of a wonderful industry. And then writing is that much less lonely.

Julia Buckley
Author of The Dark Backward

One day in March I opened the front door and there stood the UPS guy with a handcart loaded down with boxes from my publisher, Poisoned Pen Press. I cut open the boxes and there they were: copy after copy after copy of THE HEAT OF THE MOON. Until that moment, some part of me had persisted in believing that the whole sale-and-publication thing was an elaborate practical joke that some unknown enemy was staging. But that day, it became real.

Sandra Parshall
Author of The Heat of the Moon

Moments after I hit store number 500 on my Rusty Nail tour this summer, I drove up the street to a restaurant, bellied up to the bar, and ordered a shot of Jack Daniels. It was the single best drink I’ve ever had, and probably ever will have.

JA Konrath
Author of Bloody Mary, Whiskey Sour and Rusty Nail

My novel, 47 RULES OF HIGHLY EFFECTIVE BANK ROBBERS, debuted this year. The moment I’d like to replay was when I was in the midst of a grueling 47 city tour to promote my book. Right when I was dog tired, I think between my third and fourth bookstore signing one day, I got emails from both a film company wanting to buy the rights to my book, and a big NY publisher wanting to do my next book. It felt like a Cinderella story.

Troy Cook
Author of 47 Rules For Highly Effective Bank Robbers

The highlight of my debut year was seeing my first reviews come in, and receiving kind words of encouragement from people who read a LOT of mysteries.

Bruce Cook
Author of Philippine Fever

May Day came out in March 2006, and here is the moment I wouldn’t trade for anything in the world: that first fan email, the absolute stranger from Massachusetts or England or Montana who says they loved your book so much that they just had to let you know and they’ve never contacted an author before but jeez was it a fun read.

Moments I couldn’t sell for a penny: every single signing I did at any Barnes & Noble. Humiliation writ large. I think I sold three books at one. The rest were all about me trying not to act like the chick with greasy hair that no one wants to dance with.

Jess Lourey
Author of May Day

For me the crucial moment was the one when I understood at last that if I listened to that small interior voice and wrote what I wanted to write in the way I wanted to write it, instead of following other people’s instructions, the work would be much better. I only wish I’d come to this realisation many years earlier!

Natasha Cooper
Author of Gagged and Bound

Natasha’s new website (www.natashacooper.co.uk) is coming soon.

My friend, a New Yorker, runs the big bookstore here… His sister hangs with the Hell’s Angels in California and he sent them my novels.

God forgive me, I didn’t know The Angels read. They loved the books and gave a blurb, which said:

“Read Bruen or die muttahfuckahs.”

Point being, you put the books out there, you just never know who they’ll reach.

Ken Bruen
Author of American Skin

What was the most important thing you learned?

I’m still learning, and the stuff I’ll carry with me are: don’t do booksignings unless invited or you have a built-in fan base; your time is much better spent giving presentations at libraries or other venues where you can sell your books afterward. Don’t blog (sorry, but it almost killed me). Send out review copies all over the world; it’s expensive but rewarding. Carry a “guest book” with you wherever you go so you can get the addresses and emails of people interested in your books. If you’re going to buy postcards advertising your book, invest in an address list of libraries; they’re the best audience for those. Don’t spend a lot of money on promo items unless they’re truly unique (I invest in Nut Goodies). Get involved in MWA and other writer’s organization; connecting with other writers is one of the great treats of the business.

And here’s something I JUST learned that has nothing to do with writing. My conservative college students don’t know Stephen Colbert is a liberal. Yes. Chew on the implications of that, and best of luck with your writing!

Jess Lourey, author of May Day
p.s. June Bug comes out March 2007.
p.s.s. Sandra Ruttan is a lost virgin and she rocks.

Jess tells me her website http://www.jesslourey.com is down until mid-December, but will be back big, bionic and graphically amazing. The ‘lost virgin’ comment will be explained in a forthcoming interview…

I think the most important lesson I learned was that promotion is something you need to spend a LOT of time doing. Or you can’t be in the right place at the right time for a bit of luck to fall your way. If you want to know more about 47 Rules, the movie deal, or my tour, visit http://www.troycook.net for more info.

Troy Cook
Author of 47 Rules For Highly Effective Bank Robbers

That novels are IT, for me. It’s bloody fucking hard, but when I write a novel, at least creatively I’m not responsible for anyone’s inadequacies but my own, and that’s a world of difference from Hollywood. The intimacy between author and reader is priceless. Your primary responsibility as an author is to tell your story to your readers in the most perfect way you’re capable of – and, staggeringly, publishing people actually GET and support that. It’s a miracle.

Alexandra Sokoloff
Author of The Harrowing

Two lessons, really. One: Stay calm, because things will inevitably go wrong occasionally, but that doesn’t mean the world is coming to an end. Two: Sad to say, there are nasty people in the world who enjoy trying to bring others down, and it’s best to be on guard against them.

On my web site I have a piece in the Writing section called “The Perils of Publication” in which I distilled the lessons of my first months as a published writer. I hope it will help somebody else avoid the mistakes I made.

My second book, DISTURBING THE DEAD, will be out from Poisoned Pen in March 2007. I know I’ll be just as thrilled to get my boxes of DTD as I was when the copies of THOTM arrived, but I hope the rest of the process will be smoother the second time around.

Sandra Parshall
Author of The Heat of the Moon

What did I learn? It’s just a book. Enjoy it and get back to work.

John McFetridge
Author of Dirty Sweet
Coming in 2007: Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere

My thanks to all who chimed in, knowing I’m in galley edit hell and didn’t have time to finish the original post I started for today.

My question to you is, what have been your moments, the ones that you wish you could harness and hold forever?

Sandra Ruttan
Author of Suspicious Circumstances
January 2007
On Life and Other Inconveniences

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6 Comments so far
Leave a comment

This is one of those print and pin to the wall above the bed/computer monitor/toothbrush holder/wet bar kinds of posts.

Comment by Bill Cameron

Sandra, thanks for gathering all these fantastic comments in one place! Truly inspiring!

Comment by CJ Lyons

Excellent entry. Very, very cool.

Comment by Tracy

bitter hag that i am, i couldn’t come up with anything of huge impact. i’m still waiting for that moment, which probably makes me bitter AND foolish.

i’m whining again. *sigh*

Comment by anne frasier

I’m glad you guys like this post. It would have been an ideal New Year’s post.

Anne, I’m like you, though. What would be the moment? I really don’t know.

Comment by Sandra Ruttan

This is great. I love the diversity, and find it fascinating that the answers show that each person has their own version of debut nirvana. I can’t wait to look back and see what mine is. Last post of Killer Year Class of 2007 should be our moments from the year.

Comment by killeryear




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