Sunday, October 18, 2009

Traveling in the Time of Swine

by Cathy Pickens

A couple of days ago, I waited for the elevator at the Hyatt Regency in Indianapolis as a new arrival to the hotel asked a waiting couple about the mystery convention. (Bouchercon, of course, the world’s largest party for mystery fans.)

“I hear Lee Child was just in the lobby,” he said.

“Oh, yes. And Michael Connelly is here. And Sue Grafton, Sara Paretsky, lots of great folks.”

“Wow,” he said.

Wow, indeed. That sounds like a really great conference to attend, I thought. Thanks to the swine flu, I was in self-quarantine on the 9th floor, sneaking out on the occasional food run and staying away from anyone who would want to talk … too contagious for that.

If I couldn’t hang out with cool writers and fans, at least the swine flu gave me time to read … and to mull on Karin’s suggestion that we blog about book reviews. The topic made me smile because I hearkened back to one of the reviews for my first book, Southern Fried. Back then, I didn’t know where the Contra Costa Times originated – I had to look that up. But the newspaper had reviewed my book, and my publisher had sent me a copy of it.

The review started something like this: “How do I hate this book? Let me count the ways.” And the reviewer proceeded to number the ways. I was laughing out loud when I handed it to my husband to read.

He looked at me, shocked. “You’re taking this awfully … well.” He probably feared I was having some kind of breakdown.

“If it was the only review I’d ever gotten, I wouldn’t think it was funny. Here’s someone who doesn’t know or like the South but at least isn’t damning with any faint praise.” If it had included the name of the reviewer, I’d have written a very nice thank-you note. That’s what well-bred Southern girls do, after all.

That was also the day I realized that all those rejection letters writers collect while they are working to get publishable (a very different goal from “working to get published”) serve a purpose: they get us ready for the real world, where not everyone is going to like everything we do.

To be fair, I’m not compelled to buy every book I pick up in a bookstore. Some books invite us on some days and not on others. Some books invite us not at all.

In the age of the Internet, all of us have the power to share our favorite books and favorite authors with a wide audience. Book review pages at major newspapers are drying up at an alarming rate, but online sources, online book outlets, word-of-mouth, your local library … whatever the outlet, pass it on. You can’t imagine how helpful that is in keeping the authors you love on library and bookstore shelves.

If you like a book or an author, tell others. Of course, life is short, so count the attributes of the ones you love. Remember what your mama said, if you can’t say something nice …

Oh, my latest read? Mayhem in Mayberry, by Brian Lee Knopp. A real private investigator who really knows the Southern Appalachia where I grew up. Quite a storyteller, especially if you like true crime.


staceyjwarner said...

excellent's always good to remember that we don't pick up every book at the bookstore and rave about's not going to happen to us as writers!

much love

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Cathy, I hope you're better soon. That swine flu isn't fun.

Haven't read "Mayhem in Mayberry"--thanks for the tip!

Mystery Writing is Murder

duko said...

It won't succeed as a matter of fact, that's what I believe.