Diving Into The Deep End: Finding A Place In The Crime Fiction Family
What’s my part of the Crime Fiction Community? It’s a question all writers must ask themselves. It’s less to do with the “brand” of a writer or the genre you choose to write in, and more about deciding how you want to be a part of the group.
I said early on my only goal was to be a part of the conversation. I didn’t go into writing with grandiose ideas of being a best seller, or of winning awards or accolades. All I wanted was to be included in the world I admired and to have my work respected as an equal.
Since I kicked off my shoes and jumped in the deep end of the Crime Fiction Community I’ve drawn influence from two opposite experiences in my life.
First was my punk rock youth where I learned what a scene was all about and learned the value of DIY. There are many parallels between any small music scene and any genre of writing, and I’ve talked about it before, but my own experience as a hardcore punk teenager burned into me the notion that the best way to support a scene is to join it.
That meant not writing a book and sitting back while I waited for someone to discover me – whether an agent, publisher or readers. I knew I had to show up at the shows (book signings) support the bands (authors) and be a fan as well as an artist. You wanted a punk band to come to your town? Put on a show. Don’t sit and wait.
Same thing: You sad because you can’t get a reading anywhere? Set one up yourself.
On the other side of the coin was my experience in screenwriting. I wrote scripts for years in Hollywood trying to break through. I sold some scripts, made a little money, had meetings big and small. I shook a lot of hands and ate a lot of lunches. The sum total of that was four optioned scripts, one paid assignment, one small mention in Variety and absolutely zero produced for the screen.
In Hollywood, one writer’s success means less opportunity for every other writer. Only so many movies are going to be made each year and every sale that you read about means a smaller slice of the pie for you and your work. As a result, many screenwriters I found to be bitter, jealous and vindictive. They actively wished for your failure almost as much as their success.
In contrast, when I had the same expectations of the novel writing community (after all, there is only so much shelf space) I was pleasantly surprised to find the exact opposite. When my first novel came out on a micro-tiny press, nobody batted an eye. Come on in, they said, the water’s fine.
When greeted with that response I knew I wanted to keep paying it forward. To join the scene, as it were. As a result, I’ve taken nearly every opportunity I’ve had to boost other writers. When the major gathering point for crime writers in LA closed its doors, I asked Jedidiah Ayres and Scott Phillips if I could use the Noir at the Bar name out here. More than 5 years later we’ve featured more than 80 authors (or is it 100 by now?), including a dozen or more for their very first public readings. Many writers we featured as unpublished have gone on to great success, far beyond what I sell. And that’s strangely satisfying to me. You can see why I washed out of Hollywood.
I don’t do the things I do for my own benefit. That’s not very punk rock. When S.W. Lauden and I started our new podcast, Writer Types, we talked at great length about all the great writers we know who could use a wider platform. We never mentioned our own names. We’ll never be guests on our own show. It’s not about that.
We took on a huge amount of work for zero profit beyond our own satisfaction in creating a show by and for readers and writers. Something we’d want to hear. It’s our adults-with-kids-and-hearing-problems version of starting a band.
The other thing I do, which doesn’t help with my sleep deprivation problems, is say yes. I’ll say yes to about anything. My motto is: if you’ve got the candy, I’m getting in the van.
Need a story for an anthology? Yes. Need me to design a cover for a book? Yes. Want me to host your night of readings? Yes.
The idea that someone would think of me for any of these opportunities is amazing so who the hell am I to say no?
When I was asked to Emcee the inaugural Murder and Mayhem in Chicago, you can’t imagine how overwhelmed I was. Look at me, Ma! I’m part of the conversation.
Being out there and being an active, contributing part of the crime fiction community is incredibly rewarding. In many ways, it makes up for not being a best seller. How could I have any complaints when I’m invited into an anthology? What an honor it is to be asked to moderate a panel at a convention. How grateful am I when someone accepts my invitation to be on our podcast?
Too often I tend to go it alone. I’m working on that. I’ve partnered with Steve Lauden for the podcast and I could never do it by myself. I work with an agent to get my books out there, with editors on anthologies, with convention committees for events. The DIY is becoming less Y, and that’s a good thing.
But I see no better way to show my enthusiasm for a group of talented artists than to be an active member of the club. I’ve never been one to sit on the sidelines and wait to be invited in. But along the way, it just so happens that now I find myself invited to more and more opportunities within the crime fiction world.
A small irony is that I’m not advocating for you to do this. If everyone was as over-active as I am there would be a flood. Readings every night. 20 hours of new podcasts each week. There’s a place for those in and out of the center ring. Nothing wrong with that. It’s how it works. You need to find your place in the community. Committees need organizers, organizations need treasurers, panels need panelists. A row of all moderators would be silly, right?
So find your place within the scene you want to be a part of. But that’s the key thing – be a part of it. Large or small, in person or online, sharing your work or your advice or your non-writing talents. Join one of the many writers organizations like MWA, SinC, ITW. Do your part to support other authors you like, even if it’s as simple as remembering to write Amazon and Goodreads reviews.
Your participation in the Crime and Mystery community makes the overall scene stronger, no matter how small.
As for me, I’ll keep working hard on my craft as well as my placement within a group I’ve come to call friends. I’ve met my goal of being regarded as an equal. I’ve befriended writers I adore, been praised by craftsmen and -women I couldn’t begin to thank, and been invited into the pool. And once I was in, the first thing I did was turn around and invite the next one in.
So if you’re ready to play a part, get involved, help your fellow writers – join us. The water’s fine.