Mar 12, 2008

Confessions of A Crimespree Publisher

So, uhm... how to start? That's always the hardest part isn't it? You all know me, I'm amongst friends here. So I'll start with an e-mail. A couple of weeks ago the name Ken Bruen popped up in my in-box. Ken's a good friend, a great mystery champion and a brilliant writer. It had been a bit since we'd e-mailed, busy getting in the way on both sides of the equation. The first line of Ken's e-mail was "I love your story in EXPLETIVE DELETED." Out of the blue. The e-mail went on to its main context but I kept going back to that first line and blushing a bit (well a lot). I responded to Ken's e-mail and closed with the line, " Thanks for the kind words about my little story, I've got an Irish blush on as I type." And Ken broke our e-mail pattern. Not five minutes after I hit send there was more e-mail in my in box. "Ruth it's a great story, have you not been reading the reviews?"

That's right, I'd been kindly scolded by Ken Bruen, told to take Little Blue Pill seriously and not as a codicil in an e-mail. It freaked me out. Ken Bruen telling me to take my writing seriously....

Jon and I are uber fans. If there's anyone left in the mystery world who doesn't believe that, they'll be able to see it for themselves next Monday. I love spreading the word. Am passionate about the books I love and not dismissive of those I don't. We've come a long way from tentative ramblings in chat rooms and on bulletin boards. We've made a lot of really good friends in the community. We continually try to find new ways to forward mysteries and I'll never forget how proud I was in 99 when Val McDermid stopped me in the hall at the Milwaukee Bouchercon. She wanted to introduce to a friend. Said friend asked me what I did and I replied "I'm a reader." and Val, bless her heart said "Isn't that great!" before I tried to come up with some reason this person should talk to me, a mere reader. It's been my mantra ever since. In the mystery community I truly believe Readers are the most important part of the equation. And if Val McDermid agrees with me it's a pretty strong platform to be on.

So what about this new thing, having a published story that people seem to like? Am I betraying my own identity? Do I need to include it in my bio? Does anyone have to know about this? Maybe. I have after all experienced quite a few strange and wonderful moments of deja vu with this.

Over the years I've met many people who were always writers but hadn't ascended to authorhood when we were introduced. Jon and I have been lucky enough to get to encourage a lot of these people and experience the jubilation as they achieved a goal. First book, First review, First award nomination, First time on the list. And the truth is these are the trappings that make up for the hours spent alone nurturing your ideas and a voice. And if you're good at the writing and lucky with a book's release, if you work hard, the accolades come. If you work really hard and the product is really good and you can distribute it the sales may even follow... but not always.

So when I signed copies of Expletive Deleted at Muskego this past November, seated between Laura Lippman and Libby Fischer Hellmann it was a big deal. A surreal "pinch me" moment. And when on a dreary Saturday morning, Jen4 forwarded a review of the anthology (print, no less) that mentioned my story and called it strong.... well that review stayed up all day as I worked on other projects. Hey, I've even lost my first writing award at this point. Just this past weekend I was asked to personalize a copy of EXPLETIVE DELETED for my favorite college professor. All this from one little story, just imagine if I wrote a book?

So, I'm understanding what many of my friends go through every time they put that little piece of themselves out there with a lot more clarity. I can cheer them on with more enthusiasm and a better understanding.

So what about that short story? I'm happy it's been well received. And I hope that given the opportunity for the same writing process over again, I'd write a better end product. When I wrote BLUE PILL, I got a lot of help polishing it. When it was submitted for EXPLETIVE it was edited again. It's a stronger story than the one I first typed but it doesn't say exactly what I was going for. Or as my Mom put it, "I'm not sure people will understand it's satire."

I still remember sending Pill out in it's original form. I was excited and every author I'd ever met who, as a kindly aside had said, "If you ever finish something, send it" received it. Many said well done, two folks offered to help me fix it and taught me more about writing in two weeks than I'll ever learn again, but there was the hero who didn't respond right away. A day went by, a week, then two.... And then an e-mail.....
"Thank Christ it didn't suck". If there's anything driving me to write a book it's the visual of the back of the book and the blurb..... "Thank Christ it didn't suck". The sheer relief felt at the reading of those words cannot be described but I know anyone who's ever sent anything out that they've written will understand entirely.

So here's the end of my confession.... I've always written fiction. Just recently I found a report I wrote in second grade about the pilgrims.. pure fiction. I write a little every day. Years ago, good friends Jeremy Lynch, Annie Chernow and Sarah Weinman all made it to Milwaukee and saw the file of "stories Ruth started", now I have a lap top full of word documents that just aren't good enough to share. The writing is better because I write every day..... the writing isn't good enough because I'm a reader. A champion for mystery. I am not going to make anybody read crap. Well, except for Jon. There's too much good stuff out there. What I write now doesn't even have much of a crime element in it, if that makes any sense to anyone. So if anyone pushed, asked me for a bio, it would go READER, FAN, Crimespree, and writer. Am I an author? Not yet but maybe someday....

So if the first step is admitting you have a problem.... I guess I've done that here.



Tom Schreck said...

I read a lot of short stories because some times my attention span isn't what i want it to be.

I also don't always want to commit to a "whole" novel.

Besides that, I've been attracted to the short story since I was a kid reading Sherlock Holmes.

I've written four shorts for Amazon Shorts to support the release of my book and the first thing I found about trying to write short stories is that they were harder to write than novels.

The time commitment is far less so i guess for pure labor they're easier but in every other respect they are far more challenging.

There's no room for backstory, no time to develop an arc--you have to leave a lot to the reader and to me, that's highest form of the art.

Having said all that crap I'll repeat what i told Jon and Jenn (and I guess now it strikes me odd that I haven't told you directly)that Little Blue Pill was the most memorable short story I've read in the last few years.

Another one by Donald Westlake impacted me two years ago.

My first reaction after completing it was why the hell does Ruth write all the time--now I've learned that you do.


Sandra Ruttan said...

I'll admit it... I don't read a lot of short stories that are published. The reason is simple - I read too many submissions.

Expletive Deleted was the one anthology I really dug into last year. And LITTLE BLUE PILL is one of the stories that lingered on the brain. I'll keep this short and simple - I loved it. It was one I mentioned in my review.

As much as I have many friends who are authors, no matter what I do I will always be a reader first. If it wasn't for reading I wouldn't be doing what I'm doing now. Nobody should look down their nose at readers - they're the people we should look up to. They're the people we writers (ultimately) write for.

Anonymous said...

Ruth - the minute you stop "wondering if you're a writer" - is when you die. :) Thus - the more you wonder - the more you'll grow. But - if it's any consolation - you are one. :) So listen to Ken, okay?

Looking foward to seeing you at Bcon!