A colleague at Pacific Northwest Writers (PNWA), Bill Kenower, is the editor of Author Magazine. Bill’s editorial focus is on the author experience, especially for novelists. He is a great speaker and I’ve been to several of his seminars and workshops. Being a fiction writer — an aspiring novelist — is one thing, but being a published Author is different.The writer phase is private. You sit in a room, do research, commune with your imaginary friends, and work to craft compelling tales.
It got to where I’d not mention my novels. I wanted to avoid that horrible question, “What have you published?” It’s embarrassing to say, “Nothing.”
We all go through that. The Harry Potter lady, now a billionaire whose books sold millions of copies, took over a decade to get published. Sure, the Harry Potter franchise has, at this writing, grossed some $25 Billion dollars. But that was later. The unpublished novelist, except at writer’s conferences and conclaves, is deemed by some to be a social misfit, a dilettante, a hobbyist.
It’s a long lonely road and many don’t make it. I would have given up myself, except for encouragement from family and colleagues, including some famous authors like Tony Hillerman, whose “blurb” graces the cover of my most recent novel, Soft Target.
But eventually, if you persist and are fortunate, a metamorphosis occurs. One day, poof, you are published, winning awards, getting 5-star reviews, and your world changes. It turns by increments from dim and grey, to one of rich colors. You have become an Author.
That’s basically what Bill says. He’s right.
We, my wife and I, now split our time between alternate universes, Oregon and Arizona. America is a land of contrasts, and these two states are opposites in most things: climate, vegetation, politics, the economy, etc. This contrast helps my novels, but part of being a successful novelist is that it is business, one with myriad bureaucracies and details all demanding attention.
Even the best novelists are in peril if they don’t attend to the business part of writing. Richard Bach learned that to his sorrow when the IRS pounced on him after Johnathan Livingston Seagull had brought him international recognition. His lesser known book, The Bridge Across Forever, is a cautionary tale about that ordeal, and one I suggest authors should read.
Last Christmas, as confused snowbirds, we found ourselves heading north for a confluence of reasons both exceptional and mundane – from Christmas and a new grandson, to a book signing, meetings with lawyers and accountants, the mandatory annual inspection of our airplane, etc.
Tedious details dragged on. I was impatient to return to Arizona by New Year’s. I wanted to get back to my craft and my next book, but an e-Mail came in. A first rate bookstore I’d been courting for years was doing a first for them, a local author event, and I was invited.
Weather. That’s what. As the date approached, the forecast was for major winter storms, heavy snow with the mountain passes closed.
The trip became an adventure, but we got there. We made it in on instruments just ahead of a major storm, with another one hard on its heels. Resort employees were kind enough to tuck our airplane into a hanger where it was safe. It was the last airplane they could fit inside.
The first night wasn’t too bad, just a lot of wind blowing the patio furniture around and heavy rain. In the morning I did an interview with Suspense Radio as the outside temperatures plummeted. The rain turned to snow and was expected to increase. We walked to the lodge, ate lunch and watched the mountains vanish. The ceiling and visibility came down hard in driving snow, and soon there was nothing but white.
It was starting to remind me of Stephen King’s The Shining. The novel where the snowbound author goes insane, except the Sunriver lodge had a LOT of food stocked, an excellent restaurant, and nothing crazy or sinister was afoot. They assured me their equipment could get us to the bookstore regardless. My wife said I was, “Still normal,” but then looked dubious and added, “Hopefully.”
A shuttle picked us up. We did the signing event, had a nice dinner at the lodge, and they then dropped us back at our room so we didn’t have to contend with large drifts and icy decks. We were snug in our condo in front of a warm fire when the power went off.
By morning the storm was abating, but everything was shut down. Fortunately, we had food, a kitchen, and I’d picked up a copy of Craig Johnson’s book Steamboat at the signing. Snowed in, but with the power back and the room warm, I read by the fire. It was about a desperate rescue flight in an old B-25 Bomber through a horrific winter storm. How fitting.
Fortunately, our flight back wasn’t as dramatic. We waited it out. The next day, workers had the airstrip cleared and the storm had mostly passed. We had a pleasant flight back on top of an endless sea of white clouds, finally wrapped up our details at home, and headed south.
It was a great signing and a trip to remember. The life of a published Thriller Author starts with being a writer. The books you write, the tales you craft, are always the main thing. Still, once you are published and your books are loose in the wild, it goes beyond that. The Author Experience is about more than the words you put on the page. It becomes richer and more unpredictable when the world becomes engaged with your novels.
My advice to new authors? Hang on, and enjoy the ride.
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