15 May 2018

Giving Thanks

It may be six months until Thanksgiving, but when the urge to thank people moves you, I say, go with your urges.
Writing fiction might feel like working in a vacuum because so much of the time the author is sitting alone in front of a computer, typing away. Even if the writing occurs in a public place, the writer is essentially toiling alone (except for the voices in her head). But we all need help from time to time, and it's a wondrous thing to work in an industry--the mystery community--where people are willing to help others, even eager to do it. They were helped along the way, and they like to give back by helping others.

Take Barbara Ross. She's a mystery writer from New England. Last month she gave a presentation to my local Sisters in Crime chapter in Virginia about promotion--what works and what doesn't. We didn't pay her to do this. She was going to be in the area and has a bit of expertise in this subject and didn't mind spending a chunk of her day sharing her knowledge with others, so she did. Mystery writers do things like this for others all the time. Heck, it's what so many of the blog posts here at SleuthSayers aim to do: help other writers. To all the Barbara Rosses out there, thanks.

There are other people we writers often turn to for assistance: subject-matter experts. I was reminded of this recently when I was answering a question posed to me about my newest short story, "Till Murder Do Us Part." The question was: Do police officers really use peppermint-scented masks to avoid terrible odors at death scenes. (A sheriff's chief deputy wears just such a mask in my story.) And my answer was yes, some do. I got the information from a subject-matter expert who gives his time, free of charge, to help authors get details right. It's also how I knew to call this particular character a chief deputy. So to Lee Lofland and all subject-matter experts who help authors get their  lingo and other details right, thank you.

You don't have to be a professional in any particular field, however, to have useful information for an author. Personal experience can be wonderfully helpful. When I was writing "Till Murder Do Us Part," I needed to know what it looked, smelled, and sounded like when a cow exploded. There's only so much information I could find online. I needed someone with personal experience to answer my questions. Bless my Facebook friends; they came through. None of these people are farmers, but they all spent time on farms growing up, had firsthand knowledge with exploding cows, and didn't mind providing pertinent details. So thank you to my friends Bob Harris, Gwen Mayo, and Teresa Wilder for their help with these details. And thank you to everyone I know who has, over the years, shared personal information that enabled me to get details right. Everyone is an expert in their own lives, after all. You just need to know who to ask about what.

For instance, if you need information about writing, ask some writers. Just today, I had a friend who was feeling down because she hasn't yet had luck selling her first novel. (It's great--I've read it--but sometimes these things take time. Not every agent is right for every author and book.) I figured it might help her to hear from other authors who had a lot of rejection before they had success, so I asked my Facebook friends to share their stories. And did they. About thirty authors shared their stories of querying and querying and querying until, finally, they had success.
Not the right paper for professional
queries, but very pretty

Three of these authors sent out more than 400 queries each, and for two of them, when they finally got published, their first book was nominated for major awards. These are perfect examples of the importance of persistence. Hearing these personal stories helped my friend, and my heart was warmed that so many people shared what some might think is embarrassing information in order to help another writer have confidence to continue querying. Rejection is just a step on the journey to success, but it's never easy. So to all my fellow authors who shared their stories on my Facebook page yesterday, and to authors everywhere who regularly share their insights to help others get published, thank you.

The list of people to thank feels endless, which is lovely, because it shows that wherever you turn, there are helpful people. Thank you to the agents, editors, and publishers who have taken a chance on me and other writers. Every one of us was new at some point and needed someone to give us our big break. Thank you to all of you who've done that.

Thank you to the bookstores, librarians, reviewers, and bloggers who buy our books and share them with the world. You help make our dreams come true. And finally, we authors would be nowhere without readers. You buy our books, enabling us to buy our food and feed our dreams. So thank you.

Before I end, a little BSP with a little more thanks thrown in: First, the launch party for Chesapeake Crimes: Fur, Feathers, and Felonies (in which I have my cow story, "Till Murder Do Us Part") is this Sunday, May 20th, at the Central Library in Arlington, VA, from 2 - 4 p.m. If you're in the DC area, I hope you'll come to the event and share in our celebration. Books will be sold and snacks will be served.

Second, this past week I was honored to have my short story "Whose Wine Is It Anyway?" nominated for an Anthony Award, along with stories by fellow SleuthSayer Art Taylor and authors Susanna Calkins, Jen Conley, Hilary Davidson, and Debra H. Goldstein. You can read my story on my website by clicking here. Art's story is available here. Debra's story is available here. Hopefully Susanna's, Jen's, and Hilary's stories will be available to read for free online soon. In the meanwhile, you can buy the books these stories were published in. Congratulations also to SleuthSayers Thomas Pluck, nominated in the best paperback original category, and Paul Marks, nominated in the best anthology category.

Thank you to everyone who took the time to send in ballots for the Anthony Award nominations, and especially thanks to everyone who listed my story on their ballot. With so many good stories published each year, receiving an honor like this is, well, an honor. A true honor. So ... thanks.

If you have someone you'd like to mention or thank who helped you on your life's journey, I welcome you to do it in the comments. And thanks for reading.


  1. Good column, Barb. And I agree that we have a lot to be grateful for and a very supportive community. Sometimes it's easy to get down or overlook those things and it's nice to be reminded.

    Congratulations on your Anthony Nom! And thank you for the shout out.

    And just one more thing: try to stay away from those exploding cows. :-)

  2. Thanks to all the people who told me to keep at it when I didn't think I'd ever see my name in print.

    Oh, and I queried my first book for 2 years before finding an editor who loved it.


  3. Nice post here--and who cares what the calendar says! Congrats again on your Anthony nomination. Great celebrating with you again!

  4. Again, Congrats on the Anthony, Barb!
    I will turn the tables here and thank the writers for ASKING the questions,seeking out information. There is nothing as destructive to any would-be compelling story than to be hit with a piece of misinformation, something that could have easily been researched or asked,but the writer was too lazy or figured no one would notice or care. (Most of us wouldn't know if you faked the exploding cow info, however, my hat is off to you!)

  5. Nice column. I could mention dozens of people but Ill just mention one I have thought about recently. I have been blogging about mysteries for eleven years because James Lincoln Warren invited me to be part of Criminal Brief. In 2011 he asked me to read "Inner Fires" before he sent it to the Black Orchid Novella Contest, which inspired me to write "The Red Envelope." Therefore he and I were the winners for two years.

    Recently I remembered that he very kindly sent up "The Red Envelope" in Kindle-friendly form for me and I finally got around to setting it up so you can purchase it on Amazon. So I owe him for the zillions of dollars I will no doubt make off it.

    I have said it before, mystery writers tend to be wonderfully nice people.

  6. Congratulations, Barb! And to everyone nominated for the Anthony Awards.

  7. I've written about her before, but Mother's Day brought her to mind again, so I'll note the person I most owe thanks to is my mother. Without her encouragement when I was young it is unlikely I ever would have become a writer.

    And I'll toss out a general thanks to all the editors I've worked with. Without them digging my submissions out of innumerable slush piles, and without the hands-on work some of them did to turn mediocre stories into good stories and good stories into great stories, and thus both directly and indirectly teaching me how to craft publishable fiction, I might not have hung around as long as I have.

  8. Thanks, everyone, for stopping by and commenting and for sharing your thanks and your personal stories of persistence and about folks who have helped you along your journey. And about exploding cows ... having cow guts rain down on you sounds absolutely hideous, so I will strive to avoid it at all costs. That is good advice for all.

  9. Even more admiration now for the wonderful, talented authors who PERSIST despite rejections and who encourage others. <3

  10. Congratulations on your nomination, Barb (and Art, too).

    I remember attending Crime Bake years ago when Harlan Coben was the guest of honor. The interviewer asked him why he gave blurbs and advice and encouragement to so many unknown writers, even those who were still unpublished.

    He answered, "Nobody who's an asshole lasts very long in this business."

    'Nuff said.

    One of the perks of being a crime writer is the dozens of friends, many of whom I've never met, who offer advice and encouragement and even sympathy when things seem to suck. I remember seeing a slew of emails in my inbox several years ago: twelve writers were sending congratulations on my Edgar nomination...before I'd even found the email from MWA. Yes, mystery writers are the most generous people out there.

    BTW, I didn't notice your FB post or I would have responded that I quit counting when I reached 700 rejections several years ago.

  11. Thanks for the thanks, Barb. I really enjoyed my time with the Chessie chapter and I got a lot out of it, too. The mystery community is so supportive. As Lawrence Block said, "No one has to fail so I can succeed."

  12. And, speaking of recognition, congratulations to our own Rob Lopresti for his Derringer Award for best short story and John Floyd for his Edward Hoch lifetime achievement award, both richly deserved.

    Both just announced. ;-)

  13. Mary, Steve, and Barb, thanks for coming by. I love how we all support one another.

    And Steve, 700 queries. Wow. You win! Good for you for being tenacious.

    And yes, I add my congratulations to all the Derringer winners and finalists, especially Rob Lopresti, who won in the short short-story category, and John Floyd for being awarded the lifetime achievement award. So proud of both of you!

  14. Wonderful post, Barb. Thank YOU for reminding me of the importance of being thankful every day, not just once a year!

  15. Thanks, Karen. And I should give you a special thanks of your own. You were instrumental in persuading me to open my own editing business. I really don't know if I would have done it without your encouragement. Hugs to you.


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