Monday, April 27, 2009

The Call

by Cathy Pickens

I came to writing as a reader. That doesn’t, I’ve learned, go without saying. I’ve met several folks at signings who want to write a book but who never read books. That’s another blog.

I love reading, and I knew I wanted to write murder mysteries when I was 11 years old. When I announced that, the head librarian gave me old copies of The Writer Handbook and back issues of The Writer and Writer’s Digest, on their way to the landfill. I poured over those magazines and books, musty from the library basement.

I wanted to know how all this worked. I realized later I was looking for THE PATH. I figured there was a secret entrance to the magical world of “published author.” All I had to do was find it.

I read and I read. I wrote and I wrote.  For years, I looked and listened for word on the magical entrance.

When Duane Lindsey asked me to write an essay for the book How I Got Published, I wrote about The Path … and about how I discovered, after I was published, that everyone has a different path. I haven’t met a writer yet who got there in exactly the same way any other writer did.

There are some rules, though: Good news comes by phone. Bad news by letter. Don’t wait by the mailbox.

For both my first short story (in the Sisters in Crime/Private Eye Writers of America anthology Deadly Allies II) and my first novel, news came by phone. Sue Dunlap, anthology editor and one of my mystery writing idols, called me on a Sunday afternoon. I managed to hang up the phone before I started jumping around and yelling.

The second phone call came while I sat in my office at Queens University of Charlotte, nearing the end of my five years serving as Provost, not because I ever wanted the job but because the president was quite a salesman. That’s another story.

Anyway, Ruth Cavin, the iconic mystery editor, was calling to tell me I’d won the St. Martin’s Malice Domestic Award.

I calmly thanked her, hung up the phone, nodded to the folks working in my office, walked quickly across campus to my husband’s office, closed the door … and started jumping up and down and yelling.

I had only a faint glimmer of how that would change my life. I was glad to be leaving the administrative job returning to the classroom I loved. But the bigger transition was to one-year deadlines, travel schedules, and life as a real, live mystery writer.

My husband didn’t know either what that meant. That we’d travel to Bristol, England and Anchorage, Alaska, and Boise, El Paso, Tucson, Denver, New York City, and Kings Mountain, North Carolina. 

We’ve had a blast over the last five years, meeting writers (mostly of the murderous type but also folks like Karin Gillespie, blog mistress extraordinaire – that was in southern Kentucky), and running into them again and again. The writing and reading community is a large, ever-changing, welcoming, quirky, bookish, fun bunch.

Six books later, I’m so glad the phone rang.  The secret entrance? Read, read, read. Write, write, write. Learn the business. Perfect your craft. 

Take yourself seriously. Persistence trumps talent every time. 

And take every opportunity, at bookstores, libraries, book festivals, to meet authors, to join the incredible community of readers and writers. The entrance isn’t so secret after all.


Feeding the Grey Cells said...

Loved your article! It is so fun to hear that "a real life mystery writer" was human enough to jump up and down (just like I would do).

Congratulations on your success and for giving readers like myself a glimpse into how it all began.

Anonymous said...

I love hearing author's stories about publication. Thanks for sharing,

Elliot Grace said...

Inspiration can be an invaluable tool...better yet, a weapon for aspiring writers experiencing those bumps in the road; and to read and fully absorb the stories and advice provided on this blog is the perfect antidote for us starving artists on the brink of hanging it up.

Great writers are avid readers...I couldn't agree more. Reading "The Call" at this particular time in my life is comparable to that much needed squirt of chocolate syrup over that boring scoop of vanilla ice-cream. Thank you.