Eight years ago, when Pari Noskin Taichert assembled a group of mystery writers together for Murderati, Twitter had not yet launched as a public site. Facebook was still mainly for select corporations and college and high school students. I secured my domain name, but only had a single home page on my web site for quite a few years. I barely understood what a group blog (grog?) was, but agreed to participate in Pari’s brainstorm nonetheless.
My debut publishing year, 2004, was an auspicious one. Auspicious in that a faint – very faint – smell of change was in the air. Within a couple of years, my then publisher, Random House, would announce that ebook splits with authors would drop from 50 percent to 25 percent.
Also in my publishing Class of 2004 was JA Konrath, a writer who engenders either fanatical cheers or jeers. Whatever you may think of Konrath, there’s no doubt that he is a change agent or at least an evangelist. An early adopter of the self-publishing digital model, he has left traditional publishing for a very successful DIY career.
So what does this leave the rest of us today? Which path should we follow?
I feel that decision is very individualized. And personal. There have been new terms, like “hybrid author,” that actually describe a very old-school situation. From the times of Dickens (and perhaps dating back to the creation of the Gutenberg Press), the writer has had to be savvy and enterprising. From serials and short stories and novels and nonfiction, we’ve had to experiment and dip our toes in different genres and publishing outlets. No different today.
For me, I’ve come to the conclusion that I have to build the rest of my writing career on fiction and nonfiction. And although for a brief time common wisdom said that writers needed a breakout standalone to get out of the midlist, now series fiction is the desired choice for many mystery writers, both self- and traditionally published. So in other words, who knows what tomorrow will bring?
Walter Mosley has been my literary role model and as I’ve watched him write multiple series, dip into children’s lit, science fiction, political writing, etc., and support small presses as well as large, I’ve attempted to follow his example – but not as prolifically or successfully. But I will say diversification and openness to new options have allowed me to cobble together a so-called writing career.
Before I had become a published mystery novelist, Gary Phillips had inscribed in one of his first books, VIOLENT SPRING, to me with this message: “Writing ain’t for sissies.”
Ain’t that the truth. In the nine years since my first novel was published, I’ve been orphaned five times (lost an editor due to job change or downsizing) and my agent left agenting. We’ve lost our publishing contracts or received smaller advances. Nonetheless, we get back up, dust ourselves off, and figure out a new plan. We may go the DIY route, go with a smaller publisher, or change genres. But we keep writing. Some in fits and starts, and some, more than ever.
The life of a writers can be a lonely one, so I’ve coveted the relationships cultivated by groups like Murderati. Pari has slept on my living floor and we’ve shared heart-felt conversations over steaming bowls of Korean food in La Crescenta in Southern California. I’ve torn up the dance floor with Alexandra Sokoloff and high-fived (either in person or in spirit) JT Ellison’s success (remember that I knew you when!).
We’ve seen our comrades fall: Murderati’s own Elaine Flynn; Louise Ure’s husband; Sally Fellows, the indefatigable mystery reviewer and supporter; and many others.
One author shared with me his disappointment when the mystery community he had served so faithfully failed to attend or even acknowledge the funeral of his partner. He learned that these so-called relationships were actually more superficial than he realized. The news of that stung, but I knew that he was speaking the truth. We can be a narcissistic, self-centered bunch. And we all have our own personal stuff to take care of, leaving precious few moments to look beyond ourselves.
Through Murderati, we attempted to create some kind of community, in which we pulled at each other’s bootstraps as well as our own. Although I lasted only barely two years (or 46 posts – nothing compared to JT’s 223 and Pari’s 218), I did give it my all. I did start to lose steam; as I’m an introvert, it was extra effort to get the words in my head out on the Internet. (Posting photos on Facebook takes a lot less energy.)
In my first Murderati post on April 5, 2006, I pretty much stated that after producing my third novel, I, more than ever, have come to the conclusion that I don’t know much.
“Change is inevitable. Change before change gets you,” I wrote in a blog post. Although that is definitely true, I’d add “know yourself.” Deeply. Be informed, but don’t let anyone dictate which path you should take. Regarding your work, no one really knows or truly cares except yourself. (By the way, I would recommend that every writer read Anne Lamott’s BIRD BY BIRD.)
Walking on that path is a solo journey, but it certainly is nice when someone who understands joins you for certain empty stretches. Thanks, my Murderati mates and all who have followed!
(Naomi Hirahara is the Edgar Award-winning author of the Mas Arai mystery series. Her fifth, STRAWBERRY YELLOW, was released in March 2013. Her new series featuring a 22-year-old multiracial female bicycle cop with the LAPD will make its debut in spring 2014. Completing her second middle-grade novel, she will be working on a coffee table book on the history of Terminal Island for the Port of Los Angeles. For updates, subscribe to her newsletter on her web site, www.naomihirahara.com.)
That's a powerful post, Naomi. It came from the heart and it hit me like a train. I apologize for the terrible metaphors and cliches, but I've been up all night and it's the best I can do.
I agree, we can be a narcissistic bunch, but so can so many others we meet – most folks I meet in my day jobs are less compassionate than the authors I know, especially the authors in the mystery-thriller community. It hurt to hear that your friend received no support from our community when his partner died. And yet it's amazing how little support I received from anyone I knew when my father died. It seems universal, this inclination to pull away from people who have brushed up against death. I've never really felt at home in a community until I met the mystery-thriller authors I know, and then suddenly my crazy life made sense. There were others out there just like me.
Without Murderati, I might not have found your work. That would be a loss.
One of the gifts you brought to The 'Rati is your very practical perspective on doing the job. It made sense to me, since I started as a Kid Journalist. It has certainly helped me press on with the work.
But more than that – well, Stephen got it. Your heart is always in your stories, long or short, without drama, without distraction, without glitter, all the better.
I didn't mention our fellow mystery writer's story as an indictment, but more as a cautionary tale. That I need to strive to be authentic, present and compassionate whenever I can be. Sometimes it can be all about elevating our personal careers — and some of that is definitely necessary as we need food on the table and a place for the table. But there's often room to also be a decent human being. That part I don't want to forget.
Good to have your voice join the chorus. We all learned so much here and hope that those of us like Larry, Jake, Sarah and I and many others make you all proud by giving nod to muderati when we get published. And we will be sure to keep our hearts in it as well. Thanks so much.
Yes, I've really come to realize how journalism has affected the way that I write fiction. A professor mentioned to me how I write "journalistically" — I first took it as a slight, but then I realized that it's true. If it's your voice, then claim it!
And thank you for being such a loyal reader of Murderati. Good luck with your own writing. Take care.
Working on the first manuscript is pure bliss and hell. Bliss because you can really go in any direction without any outside pressure. Hell, because it's such a new experience. (Now we have so many publishing choices; what to do?)
I'll always remember the bliss of the first. Enjoy and savor that experience, please. Once the first is out the gate, there's the pressure of producing the next (and the next, etc.).
Naomi – you have succeeded, then. One thing I admire about you is that, since the moment I met you, you have been authentic, present, and compassionate. These characteristics also present themselves in your work.
And, you've got a good mentor there in Mosley. If I ever manage to write more than two books I'm going to follow his lead as well.
It is so great to see your face and hear your words today. Thank you for coming back to share your perspective – though you never truly left us. Your words are so true, and always are. Glad to high five you right back, sister!
Hey Naomi, what a great reflection! I always miss you here.
And Allison – you better believe we're waiting for that, and cheering you on. XX
JT and Alexandra:
Adore you two women! I'm a proud sister watching both of you both produce good work in different formats. Keep doing what you doing and don't let any naysayers get you down.
Naomi, I came to Murderati after you left, but after your post today I see I have to spend some times in the archives reading your past blogs. I'm also going to have to check out your books. (most of my new reading the last couple of years has come from Murderati and why should that stop now)
Thanks for dropping by today.
Nice to virtually meet you, Larry. And good luck with your writing. My first book in my Mas Arai series is especially "pungent" — it's not for everyone, but I still love it. You might want to try SNAKESKIN SHAMISEN, which won the Edgar, or my latest, STRAWBERRY YELLOW.
What a wonderful, reflective post. Practical and authentic are good descriptors for your voice, Naomi. I like it. I missed the early years as well and, as Larry said, now I have yet another writer to add to my "must read" list.
That's one thing I tend to forget about this place. When I first came over here, I'd met Alex and knew Toni's name from another forum, but had only read the work of Allison and Tess. Everyone else was a complete unknown. That seems incomprehensible now.
What a treasure you are and have been through all of these years. I'm so sorry not to have stayed in better touch, but cherish the time we have spent in contact. I also cherish all those posts you wrote, all your advice and articles — introducing us not only to various aspects of writing and the writing life, but spam sushi and many things Japanese — what a gift you gave and continue to give.
Thank you for blessing Murderati with this one last post.
Thanks, Pari, for being the initiator of Murderati! I know that you will be giving us something special in the future. All this sifting has to leave some golden nuggets to express in writing and art! xoxo