02 February 2011

Sonnets, Sardines and Community

Welcome back to Word Nerd, Brad Parks. Brad's covers in his post how he came to be here and all about the Sardine-y award Word Nerd bestowed on him in 2010. What he doesn't mention is that his first book, Faces of the Gone, won both a Shamus award and a Nero award, a feat never-before accomplished in the mystery book world. His second novel, Eyes of the Innocent, released yesterday so find it at your local bookstore.  

By Brad Parks
            There have been sonnets written about the night I met Bethany and Stacie, and with good reason.
As I recall, it was a flawless autumn evening on the Great Plains, when gossamer strands of moonlight illuminated the gently waiving wheat, when lowing cattle sang out to grazing sheep, when all of nature achieved a harmony that…
Yeah, okay, it was actually a stinky, crowded dive bar in Indianapolis. (Not that I have a problem with stinky dive bars).
And maybe there weren’t sonnets written, just a previous post on Word Nerd  (I don’t particularly like sonnets anyway).
            We were half-deaf from the too-loud cover band, desperately trying to get a drink, crammed up against each other in a mash of elbows and shoulders. I think at one point Stacie even copped a feel of my ass without meaning to. (Not that I have a problem with that, either).
            But, the point is, we made a connection. Bethany e-mailed me a few days later and we’ve been corresponding buddies ever since. I’m not sure what Bethany’s gotten out of the deal, but I know I’ve enjoyed the back-and-forth. I suspect it may have even given me a leg up on the competition in being award the prestigious Sardine-y Award for Best Newly Discovered Author of 2010.
            And it never would have happened if not for Bouchercon 2009. Which brings me around to the whole point of this post: Community, and its importance for writers of all levels.
            In some ways, I’m probably the last guy who should be lecturing on this topic. As an author, I’m just about the biggest lone wolf this side of Jack Reacher. I don’t have a critique group. I don’t share chapters with other writers as I go. I don’t get line edits from my agent. I have a few early readers – none of whom are writers – and as long as they tell me everything makes sense, I send in the manuscript.
So what does a guy like me need community for? Everything else. Encouragement on the down days. Camaraderie on the good days. Perspective on all the days in between. Knowing there are other people in the world who sits around and dreams up creative ways to kill people.
            And, man, was it a revelation to learn I wasn’t the only one. Before I signed my book deal, I actually had no clue there was such thing as mystery conventions, or writers’ organizations, or blogs, or any of it.
I wrote my debut, FACES OF THE GONE, in total isolation. It sold to St. Martin’s/Minotaur in July 2008 and in September of that year, my editor, Toni Plummer, told me about this thing called Bouchercon. I registered and sent an e-mail to this woman named Ruth Jordan – who the heck was she, anyway? – to make sure I did everything right. (Little did I know, I could have just stopped right there, put my entire life in Ruth’s hands, and ended up quite well off).
I went to Bouchercon in Baltimore and it was like the world opened up to me. I met readers, writers, bookstore owners, community legends, reviewers, publicists, bloggers, even my fabulous future website designer (hello Maddee James of xuni.com!). If I even tried to catalogue the wonderful things that have sprung from that one Bouchercon – not to mention the two that have followed it – I would totally blow the 700-word limit Bethany imposed on this guest post.
And it’s not just Bouchercon. The same applies to Thrillerfest, Left Coast Crime, Sleuthfest, and on, and on. Point is, if you’re sitting on the sidelines, wondering if you’re really “ready” for a conference, questioning if it’s worth the time and expense, my advice is quite simple: Go. Mix. Mingle. Shake a few hands. Take a few business cards.
No matter where you are in the process – slaving over that forever-imperfect first manuscript, lining your trash can with agent rejection letters, or counting all the zeros in your royalty statement – I guarantee you’ll get something out of it.
Oh, and make sure you find Bethany, Stacie and me at St. Louis Bouchercon this year. We’ll be happy to chat. We’ll try not to grab your ass.


Steve Weddle said...

Write in private and mingle in public.
Getting out and meeting folks is a good idea.
NoirCon up in Philly every other year is a good one, too. Had some great discussions this year about Patricia Highsmith -- her life, her books and the movies from those books.
Anyway, keep at it, Mr Parks.

Eric Beetner said...

Brad, your guest posts are fantastic and raise the bar for others. I agree with what you have to say here. Hopefully I'll see you at eft Coast Crime this year or at least at B-Con.
Our books came out the same day so at least in my head, even if not in our Amazon rankings, we're compatriots. Good luck with the new book.
(your cover, by the way is already going to be one of the year's best I guarantee it. Amazing.)