EXISTENTIALISM (THE MURDERATI NEWBIE EDITION)

By Gar Anthony Haywood

Well, I’ve finally made it.  The Big Time.  I’m a Murderati contributor.

As a long-time fan of the site, I was thrilled to get the call, of course.  Who but James Patterson wouldn’t be?  But once the initial thrill wore off, I found myself asking some really big questions, like, “Who am I?” and “Why am I here?”

In other words, exactly what kind of Murderati contributor will I be?  What can I possibly bring to this party on a regular basis that JT, or Alafair, or any of the eleven other fine writers on hand here, doesn’t already deliver in spades?

One of the things I’ve always appreciated most about this site is its diversity.  The writers who blog here have traditionally run the gamut in terms of backgrounds and experiences.  Some are A-listers, some aren’t quite there yet, and others are working toward getting on their first significant list of any kind.  Some, like me, have been on and off so many lists, they barely know up from down anymore.  Alex is a genius at blogging about the technical aspects of writing; Stephen likes to get under the hood of the writer’s psyche; and almost everyone is expert at writing about agents, marketing, and the debatable efficacy of book tours.

See?  In terms of perspective on the crime writing life, it would seem Murderati has all the bases covered.

So where do I fit in?

Some background:  I sold my first book, FEAR OF THE DARK, way back in 1987, by winning the St. Martin’s Press/Private Eye Writer’s of America’s “Best First Novel” Contest.  (Damn, what a mouthful.  Can you imagine having to say that every time someone asks how you sold your first book?  And yes, you read that year right: 1987.  I’ve been around that long.)

Anyway, winning the contest made securing an agent a simple matter of asking the best one I knew if he’d be willing to represent me and having him say yes.  With his help, I sold two more books in my hardboiled Aaron Gunner P.I. series to St. Martin’s, then moved on to G.P. Putnam’s Sons with two serio-comic mysteries about Joe and Dottie Loudermilk (two fifty-something retirees who buy a truck and an Airstream trailer and take flight from their five grown Children From Hell, solving crimes as they travel willy-nilly across the U.S.A.).  Putnam’s promptly dumped the Loudermilks and asked me to revive Gunner, so I sold them three more books in that series.

When Putnam’s tired of the Gunners, I did a total reboot (adopting the pen name “Ray Shannon”) and sold them two standalone thrillers, MAN EATER and FIRECRACKER, for more money than I’d seen for my previous eight books combined.

Putnam’s then lost interest in my standalones and, well, then they lost all interest in me.  The mid-list crunch was on throughout the industry and my sales numbers made me an easy target for dismissal.  I never got a Dear John letter, but figuring out Putnam’s and I were through didn’t take much reading between the lines.

What followed, in 2004, was a crater in the ol’ career path not unlike the one that asteroid in Armageddon might have left on the face of the earth had Bruce Willis and company not blown it to smithereens.  No one wanted to touch the proposal I’d written for a third standalone and any conversation about a new book in either of my two series was a non-starter.  Oh, and that burning smell I was gradually beginning to notice turned out to be my agent’s disappointment grinding his faith in me as a saleable commodity down to a smoldering nub.

It was time for another reboot, this one sans the pseudonym.  But Gar Anthony Haywood, ver. 3.0, was not going to be an easy fix.  I would have to write the complete manuscript of my next book before shopping it, and to have any chance at all of being sold, it would have to be better than anything I’d written previously.  That latter part didn’t faze me in the least, but the former was a real pain in the ass, because I write the way Arctic snow melts in January.  It was two years before I had CEMETERY ROAD done.

The book was far from high concept.  It wasn’t easy to pitch in a single line.  In fact, like most of what I’d written before, it was a tough, unapologetic, urban crime novel about various people — mostly men — of color.  But hell if I didn’t think it was my crowning achievement.

My agent?  Not so much.  His first question for me upon reading it was, “What are you expecting this book to do for you?”

Uh oh.  That burning smell had stopped.  The man had no more faith left to grind down.  We reached a mutual agreement to go our separate ways.

So now I needed a new agent.

If this were my unabridged autobiography, and not merely my first Murderati blog post, I would amuse you to no end with the full story of how I came to find the wonderful agent who now represents me.  But it isn’t, so I won’t.  Suffice it to say, with a little bit of help from my friends (bless you, Michael Connelly), I signed on with an agent who saw in CEMETERY ROAD what I did, and almost two years later (that’s right: two years), we sold the book to Severn House in the UK, where I remain to this day.  Paid like a pauper but treated as I imagine Knopf once treated John Updike.

Quite a ride, huh?  The old “rollercoaster” analogy would seem to be most fitting.  Highs and lows, starred reviews and no reviews (thanks for nothing, Marilyn Stasio), big advances and little advances.  Day jobs that sucked, day jobs that were more fun than Disneyland, and long periods of time in which no day job at all was necessary.  Movie options, I’ve seen a few (a finished script for my third Gunner, YOU CAN DIE TRYING, came this close to becoming a Spike Lee Joint), as well as the occasional TV-writing gig.  Hell, you name it, and anything just short of serious bestsellerdom or a rung above POD, I’ve been through it.  So…  Getting back to that existential question I asked earlier:

Where do I fit in the Murderati universe?

I’m still not sure.  It may take me a while to find my proper place here.  But for now, the niche I think I’ll try to make my own is that of the seasoned veteran who all too often sounds more like a rabid, overly-opinionated reader than a professional writer.  Because, even this many years into my career, I still think of myself in those terms: I’m a reader first and published author second.  It’s the hyper-critical reader within who keeps me honest, and forces me to confront the weaknesses in my work head-on.

Ultimately, the process of writing involves making choices, and explaining why I make the choices I make to conform to my sensibilities as a reader, is the conversation I’d most like to have here, every other Sunday, as a Murderati blogger.

So let the games begin.

First question for the class:  What do you think is the most important thing your Inner Reader contributes to your work?

31 thoughts on “EXISTENTIALISM (THE MURDERATI NEWBIE EDITION)

  1. Barbie

    Oh, I have no work. I'm a spoiled "full time student". By full time I mean as much as possible I get all my classes in the morning and sleep in the afternoon. My work = Sleep. So, I suppose my Inner Reader contributes with imagination for all the flippin' awesome, full of action, oftentimes filled with detective work (love those!) dreams I have! I have the best dreams.

    Yeah, I live THE LIFE, baby.

    Welcome to Murderati, dude! I'm still waiting to see Gar, the pussycat, as you introduced yourself to me the other day! ๐Ÿ™‚

    Reply
  2. Zoรซ Sharp

    Welcome, Gar

    I'm still trying to work out where I fit in among the 'Rati crew, even this far down the line, and I think if your post has highlighted anything, it's that I don't seem to have a niche.

    Hmm, maybe I need to work on that …

    What does my inner reader contribute? Getting to the heart of the story.

    Reply
  3. David DeLee

    Welcome, Gar,

    I think my inner reader is my greatest critic, telling me what works and what doesn't work in my story, based on years of experience reading what I like and what I don't.

    David DeLee
    Fatal Destiny – a Grace deHaviland novel

    Reply
  4. Lawrence Block

    Gar, I think my Inner Reader is that built-in Shit Detector Hemingway proclaimed to be every writer's sine qua non. I don't know that mine always functions at optimal efficiency, but thenI'm not sure Hemingway's did, either.

    Good to encounter you, old friend. . .

    Reply
  5. Louise Ure

    Hey Gar, nice to see you here. I had forgotten about your Ray Shannon sojourn. Have to go back and reread those.

    My inner reader is napping these days.

    Reply
  6. Sarah W

    Before I tackle the question, I'm going to gush for a second — I love your blog and your books and now you're here in one of my favorite places. Happiness!

    So:

    My Inner Reader helps me with almost every aspect of writing, from word choice to sentence rhythm, to which darlings I need to kill. But it also helps me figure out what to write in the first place.

    I read to escape, explore, feel certain emotions, get some adrenaline pumping, experience a HEA (or not, in case of noir), and/or all kinds of etceteras.

    I write for the same reasons. And since I also hope to eventually take other people's Inner Readers along for the ride, I'd better pay attention to what mine says about what kind of plots, characters, formats, and moods might do the job.

    Reply
  7. KarinNH

    Great first post–welcome!

    My inner reader is, shall we say, a little less flexible than she used to be. Several years ago, while reading a book where the author had one of the main characters do something totally unbelievable and out of character as an easy way to make the plot jump forward–truly it was an insult to one's intelligence–my inner reader got furious. For the first time ever, I not only refused to finish a book, but walked over and very forcefully threw it in the trash can.

    So my Inner Reader's number one rule is not to insult the reader's intelligence.

    Reply
  8. PK the Bookeemonster

    Welcome Gar! I do remember your Shannon books, bought 'em, liked 'em. Severn House is a good place to land. I usually don't pay attention to publishers when putting together my newsletter, but I get my Severn House excerpts from Michelle over there who is wonderful. Their authors are ones that I've either read and are in my TBR or strike my fancy.
    I think what my inner reader tunes into most is world building and a certain level of intelligence in it. <shrug> I like what I like and if I don't like it I move on.

    Reply
  9. Allison Brennan

    Hello and Welcome! I'm very happy to alternate Sundays with you ๐Ÿ™‚

    My inner reader … it depends what kind of mood she's in. (I suspect my inner reader is also my muse.) Sometimes she's a total bitch and hyper-critical of everything and other time she's a slave-driver and other times she's surprisingly supportive. My inner reader wants a smooth, fast-paced, suspenseful story. She doesn't like too much description (sometimes she wants none–hence the necessity during dialogue scenes to add a few grounding sentences.) And she demands justice in all things, but is surprisingly understanding of people who do the wrong things for the right reasons. She makes me consider the WHY of everything, which can sometimes be very annoying, but ultimately makes a better story. (Like, "I don't know why my bad guy wants to blow up the mine, but it'll make a great scene because–" I begin. She interrupts, "Don't write another word until you figure it out."

    Reply
  10. Gar Haywood

    Barbie: Purrrrrrr!

    Zoe: Getting to the heart of the story is vital. Your IR is right on.

    Larry: Thanks so much for dropping by and getting me started on the right foot here. When and if I write a post going into more detail regarding all the ways my Inner Reader informs my writing, one of the things I'll mention is that, while it never exactly asks the question, "What Would Larry Block Do?", it does often drop the nag that "Larry Block would NEVER settle for THAT pathetic line." If you want to be the best, you have to hold yourself to a very high standard, after all.

    Sarah, Brett & PK: Thanks for the kind words and warm welcome.

    KarinNH: Don't insult your reader's intelligence. Exactly.

    Allison: I'll watch your back every Sunday if you'll watch mine. And you're right about the importance of considering the WHY of everything. That, to me, is the greatest contribution an author's IR can make to his or her work. Because it's for damn sure your readers are going to ask those questions, and they're going to expect you, the author, to provide the answers to them.

    Reply
  11. Eika

    Welcome! Hope you enjoy your time in Murderati!

    I'm a college student working part-time at McDonalds. Reading contributes nothing to my actual job. To writing, though… seeing things, and how they can be repackaged and made better for your own situation, is lots of fun. There are no new ideas out there, but if you can take one and run with it, it can become new.

    -Alaina

    Reply
  12. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Hey Gar – I laughed when I read your post because to my mind you HAVE been part of the Murderati lineup for a long time – we just needed to make it official.

    Good question about the inner reader, because sometimes I forget that I'm writing these weird books (scary, ambiguous, dreamlike) because they're the books I'm always looking for to read but often have trouble finding. So thanks for reminding me – just focus on what my inner reader wants to read!

    Reply
  13. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    Good morning, Gar, and welcome to the Team! Man, it's good to have you here. I, too, feel like you've been a Murderati member for a long time, having read your insightful posts and extraordinary opinions these last couple years. You're the perfect addition!

    My inner reader searches for truth and honesty. I want to see characters searching for meaning in their lives and struggling with their own insecurities. I look for duality and dimension and shades of gray.

    Reply
  14. Allison Davis

    Gar

    What Alex said, you've been a regular on here for a long time but nice to hear your voice on the blog. My inner voice alternatives between kicking my butt, making me feel guilty and then ignoring me. Most of all though, the inner voice is talking to me about my characters, are they true, are they vulnerable? Am I opening up to them and leetting them have free reign? Do I care about them? That seems to be the key to my moving forward with a work.

    Reply
  15. JT Ellison

    Yay, Gar's here! I too feel like you've been a part of the blog for a long while, and I think you've already defined a large part of your niche. So, so many authors are in your exact situation, and the perspective will be invaluable, but even more, Gar, is the perseverance aspect. I bow down.

    My inner reader is a bit of a bitch too, who looks at the purplish prose that spits forth from my fingers with disdain. Any time I think – wow, that's a really beautiful sentence, she laughs at me. Heartily. And I sigh and take it out.

    Reply
  16. Pari Noskin

    Gar,
    Welcome!

    I don't think it's a matter of "fitting in" here at Murderati. I've always thought of this group as a collection of fine writers — and even better human beings — all with something to say about their work, their life, and their particular view of the world.

    You fit in just fine. And I'm delighted you're here!

    Reply
  17. Robin

    Hi Gar, welcome!

    Look forward to reading your books and your future posts. I'm a big time rati fan and slowly making my way through everyone's books. My inner reader likes to be entertained, taken away from the real world and enthralled in imaginary worlds. I try to turn off my inner editor while I read, but some writers make that impossible and I find myself critiquing their work. As a writer in training, sometimes it is helpful. Other times, just frustrating and makes me not want to read 'those' books.

    Reply
  18. Reine

    Hi Gar,

    Be opinionated. Thatโ€™s good. The Murderati universe can take it. Or eat it and throw it up. And still love you.

    My inner reader hates excess page-filling crap, does not allow endless description or explanation. โ€œJust tell the fucking story.โ€

    Niche? Why? Niches too clearly defined get boring. What, that again? Write fresh and engage. That is great. You are your niche.

    Too special is too boring.

    Zoรซ? You are a brilliant niche.

    IMFAO

    Reply
  19. Gar Haywood

    Alex, Stephen, JT and Pari:

    Thank you. I have indeed been "around" here for a while. But it's one thing to watch the game from a peephole in the fence, and another to be invited onto the field to play.

    As for my fitting in and/or finding my Murderati "niche," Reine has a point: That does sound rather boring, doesn't it? So maybe what I'll just do instead is what I've been doing here, as a visitor, all along: Entertaining 30% of the people who read me and pissing the other 70% completely off.

    Hey, it's a living.

    Reply
  20. KDJames

    Hi, Gar! I agree, it seems sort of silly to welcome someone who has been here all along, but I love it that you're going to be writing posts. So welcome to the new role! I wouldn't worry too much about finding where you fit in. Boundaries and definitions make me twitch and then I spend too much effort trying to break them. Don't limit yourself from the outset. You're a writer. You fit.

    And geez. Put the man up in front of the class and he gives us a pop quiz on the first day.

    Interesting question. It's more likely that I have an Inner Writer, given that the Reader part of me is always so ravenous and insatiable. Too big to be classified as an Inner anything. But there's no doubt the reading feeds the writing. Hard to pin down the biggest thing it contributes, without it there would be no writing, but maybe ryth– (damnit, why can I never spell that word on the first try?) ahem, the rhythm of dialog, but mostly that of pacing and structure.

    As much as I love good writing, I think I learn more from reading a badly written book.

    Oh good grief, I just got an email that Lawrence Block is following me on twitter. I'll never tweet again.

    Reply
  21. Reine

    KD, you are so funny!

    Gar, there is a huge market in the pissing folks off business.

    Sometimes you need a niche to find work. There are a dodecatrazillion licensed psychotherapists in Boston. Honest. So I made a niche of working with medical students and doctors. It paid the rent. And I liked it. But that was such a small part of me. I needed freedom. So I created more very specialized niches: ministers and theologians; First Nations; students rejected by Harvard. At last I had so many niches, I didnโ€™t have any. That was the best. I really hate the love box.

    Reply
  22. Erin

    Gar, Looking forward to reading your posts and your books! I have a feeling your gonne be really entertaing….

    Reply
  23. Jenni

    Welcome, Gar! Good post, and it's nice to have some backstory to your story. I've spent a lifetime moving around and trying to fit in. It sounds like you've already found a good fit here. My inner reader is curious about the world at large and always putting the puzzles together as I read. I find life is usually stranger than fiction, but working in law, it's amazing how my inner reader can lead to some interesting comparisons. In my writing, my inner reader (who's read everything available since learning to read) has given me a broad foundation for knowing what works, what doesn't.

    Glad to have your voice here!

    Reply
  24. PD Martin

    Hi, Gar, and welcome to the Murderati gang! From one newbie to another ๐Ÿ™‚

    Great first post and lots I could relate to in it. My agent and I recently 'parted ways' although very tragically it was through her death. Initially I thought it'd be easy as an established author to get a new agent but I soon realised times were tough, I wasn't a best seller and that I'd have to complete the next book to have a shot at getting a new agent. No bites yet, but your story certainly gives me hope! I'm hoping my crater will only be the size of a small meteor rather than the Armageddon asteroid!

    My inner reader…I like to read page-turners and I'm an impatient person, so I guess my inner reader is usually hurrying be up and saying: "Just write it, Phillipa…you can fix it up later!" I tend to write the first draft very quickly and then spend almost the same amount of time editing it.

    Looking forward to your future posts!

    Phillipa

    Reply
  25. Jake Nantz

    Gar – 70% P.O. rate, eh? I'm pretty sure that's about my rate around here, so I think you and I will get along swimmingly. Welcome now that it's officially official.

    My inner reader is, like my inner writer, a bit underdeveloped at the moment. Because I'm a little weird (I write the bones of the story in the first draft and fill it later rather than editing down), my IR usually just knows something isn't right, or is missing, and sends me to a pubbed author's pages to compare and find what I screwed up or left out. My fear is that it makes me as much a mimic as a writer, but at the moment it's the best I've got.

    Reply
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