Stand By Me

By Allison Brennan


So . . . I was originally going to write about the difference between FRUSTRATION and DISCOURAGEMENT in pursuing publication, but then a news story caught my eye, and I was going to write about THAT but when I logged onto the Murderati Members Only site, I discovered that one of my more knowledgeable fellow bloggers has a brilliant post on the very subject I was going to discuss . . . 

So I went back to my FRUSTRATION v. DISCOURAGEMENT idea. Only, I don’t want to talk about being frustrated in this business, or discouraged. Because tonight I’m elated.

No, I haven’t hit any lists recently, nor have I heard any good news. In fact, as far as careers go, mine is in limbo. I’ve had some major upheavals recently, and honestly, probably shed more tears over writing and the business of writing in the last four months than in the four years I’ve been published. 

But I am elated. I’m calm because there’s one thing I have now that I never had at the beginning of my writing career:


Okay, don’t feel too sorry for me. I had friends of course, and a very few who I consider close personal friends, like Trisha who I dedicated SPEAK NO EVIL to. (My first book I dedicated to my mom; my second to my husband; my third to a fallen sheriff’s deputy from my adopted hometown. So Trisha is a dear friend who got my fourth dedication!)

But in THIS business–publishing–“friends” means something completely different.

We have MySpace friends. And Facebook friends. People follow us on Twitter and subscribe to the RSS feeds on our blogs. They are FRIENDS–in the broad sense of the word. They either like our books, or want to learn about publishing, or met us at a conference and liked our humor (that would be Toni, not me!), or think that by friending us they are networking because my friends are your friends, in a mi casa et su casa kind of way (and no, I don’t speak Spanish–I took three years of Latin in high school–so if I got that wrong, don’t shoot me.)

But true friends are those you can vent to. Those you can commiserate with. Those who will stand by you No. Matter. What.

In publishing, especially when you’re in the same relative field of fiction, your friends can also be your competition. But true friends don’t consider that a reader may have to chose between their book and yours on pay day. A true friend will always give you the best advice they can because they love you and want you to succeed–because your success has nothing to do with their success.

In 2008, I attended the RWA conference in San Francisco. I regularly attend both Thriller Writers and Romance Writers because (surprise) I write romantic thrillers that I think appeal to both sides of the line. I went to the RWA conference coming off a great Thrillerfest, but at the same time I was stressed because of personal family issues and I was president of PASIC, the Published Author chapter of RWA, and had a major event to host. Evidentially I offended someone because I didn’t recognize them or I didn’t pay proper homage or I said something wrong. I don’t know, because I only heard about this third hand. It hit me then for the first time that maybe–just maybe–I needed to change. That when I left my hotel room, I needed to be “on” and “alert” at all times. 

I didn’t leave my hotel room much that conference. 

But one person was there for me, and understood what I said even when I didn’t make any sense. (Ah-ha! you’re all thinking, it must be Toni. You’re right!)

I have had some major ups and downs in my career, and Toni has stood by me from the very beginning. I have a few other friends who have always stood by me as well, and they know who they are. But when the world comes crashing down, or when I have terrific news, Toni is the first person I want to talk to.

I only met Toni after I sold, but before my book came out. We met online though Backspace, a group for writers (which I have sorely neglected of late.) We were both attending the first ThrillerFest in 2006 (Right after my first B2B2B trilogy came out.) Toni confessed that she was nervous and an introvert (she doesn’t act it, but she is! Trust me!) and wanted to know if I’d have a meal or two with her. We ate virtually every meal together, talked until the wee hours of the night, and I was so blessed that she actually liked me. (Toni is smart, funny, and a far better writer than I can ever hope to be.)

As my career progressed, I realized that sharing information or fears or worries or highs or lows wouldn’t be taken the same way by the same people. For example, if I am at all critical of something in my career, I have a half dozen people telling me they wish they had my problems. I want to shake them and say, really? You want them? You want to stay up until three in the morning for two weeks, knowing you have to get up at seven to get the kids to school because you have a tight deadline? But the grass is always greener, and some people think that the life of a bestselling author is all glamour and bon-bons and working 10-to-2.

Except the people who know better. 

There’s an urban legend that may be true, may be false, but I’m inclined to think it’s true. Apparently, someone cornered Nora Roberts in the elevator at one RWA and said, “OMG, I want to be you.” And allegedly, Ms. Roberts said, “Really? You want to be me?” And then laid into her. 

I read JT’s facebook status yesterday. On Saturday, she was working on her next book. I was working on revisions. My friend Christy Reece posted early in the morning that she was editing all day. 

I’m not sharing all this to get sympathy. I’m sharing today because I want you all to look around you. Who is the one person you can count on No. Matter. What? Who will stand by you if you rob a liquor store, murder your boss, or  . . . oh, wait. Sorry. Scratch that.

Who will stand by you while you vent? Complain? Even if you’re wrong, they’ll listen and give you loving correction, because they love you and want you to succeed. No matter what.

Thank you Toni, I would never have gotten through these last few months without you standing by me!


24 thoughts on “Stand By Me

  1. Alexandra Sokoloff

    This is really touching, AB. I feel that way about so many people in the mystery and thriller community, it’s a little unreal. All of the ‘Rati, for example – we might not see each other more than once or twice a year (others, like Brett and Rob, you can’t seem to get rid of…) but I know for sure that if I were ever in trouble these are the first people I could go to and find help, unconditionally, and I could tell them anything and know that I would be accepted and understood.

    We are extravagantly blessed with friends, in this profession. Maybe it comes from the empathy that any good writer tends to have, but I never had any idea it could be like this.

  2. Cornelia Read

    I am constantly amazed and heartened by how kind and compassionate people in this community are. I came into it at one of the bleakest times in my life, and the friends I’ve made have sustained me through major ugly extended family upheaval, a broken marriage, and a lot of tragedy–but were just as happy and wonderful and there for me when it came to celebrating good news.

    It’s an honor and blessing to be a member of this tribe.

  3. Rachel Walsh

    I have three "go-to"girls, all of us at various stages of the publication process, and all of whom are there to vent to 24/7, no matter that we live in different hemispheres of the globe (two of us are American, two (including me) are Australian.) We all met at Books and Writers on Compuserve, and having others who are facing the same stuff with the writing (and to whom we can vent to about "real life"), is truly a sanity-saving blessing.

  4. Alafair Burke

    Great minds think alike, especially those with initials AB. My next post out was going to be about friends! I also cherish having a writing community, and feel like I found 13 new friends when I joined you all here. I am also blessed to have some very close writer friends at all phases of their careers whom I know will support me, listen to me, and be truthful with me. It helps to have friends who write for what I think are the "right" reasons, and who seem able to set my head back on straight if I’m acting like a whiny tool.

  5. Zoë Sharp

    Well said, Allison.

    And if you ever need to vent, you only have to send one email – to the group labelled ‘Murderati’ and know you’ll have plenty of willing ears and absorbent shoulders ;-]

    But everyone is surprisingly cool in this business, aren’t they?

  6. Barbie

    Awww, Allison! You’re SO lucky to have such a friend! Toni is such a sweetheart 🙂

    Sorry things have been stressful for you. I’m sure everything will be fine! And you’re so awesome, you can pull these things off. And you have great support.

    I don’t have such person in my life, but that’s okay. I have some wonderful people in my life. Sometimes, I talk and vent and whatever. But mostly, I’m there for them and have some company.

    One thing I’ve tried to learn in my life is to be self-sufficient. Not to depend on anyone, for anything. I’m pretty used to fending for myself — in the emotional sense of the expression. I can do virtually anything on my own (traveling, going to the movies, going out to eat and whatever) and enjoy it.

    I don’t really believe in real, unconditional friendship — or maybe it just isn’t for me — but I like reading about it 🙂

  7. toni mcgee causey

    I am gobsmacked and honored. Seriously, you have been there for me in the best and worst of times, and I love you.

    This is a fabulous group – both the front and the back bloggers. I am blessed with so many amazing people, but I wouldn’t have made it here, had it not been for Allison. I really am introverted and have a hard time in crowds at first, and Allison got me through that first conference. And many more since then!

    I think this is the best part of the business, really — these wonderful people, writers and readers, that we meet along the way.

  8. J.D. Rhoades

    Toni’s introverted? Who-da thunk it?

    I’ll second (third? fourth? whatever) the emotion. I’ve been through a pretty brutal couple of years myself, both personally and professionally. My writing career seems to be in limbo as well, and it’s affected everything else.

    But you guys, and a couple of other friends as well, have always been there with an ear and a shoulder (and occasionally a foot to give me a needed kick in the pants), and it’s literally kept me alive on more than one occasion. Thank you all.

    Now I gotta go write. Limbo, schmimbo, I’ve got work to do.

  9. Allison Brennan

    Everyone here at Murderati is fantastic–I didn’t mean to single Toni out, except that she’s the one I can call at all hours of the day and night. I love free long distance!

    That first Thrillerfest was the best conference that every happened to me, hands down. I think we should plan a reunion there, maybe a mini conference of sorts "off" season. I made friends for life, Toni being only one of them. I think back to 2006 and realize how naive I was about so many things . . . but it’s all a learning curve.

    Friends in this business are essential (and in any business, really–people who totally Get It. Spouses and non-writing friends may listen and commiserate, but because they don’t understand this odd, odd business, they can’t really offer anything more than a shoulder to cry on or to pop the cork on the champagne.) But in writing, because we’re so holed up in our little world, friends who are part of the business are essential.

  10. Louise Ure

    Great post, Allison, and a lovely tribute to a true friend. Writer Gillian Roberts calls those folks her "two a.m. club." Those friends you can call anytime. and know that they’ll be there for you. Not surprisingly, she’s one of my "2AM’ers."

  11. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    This is a very special post, Allison. Very meaningful. I do have a few friends I’ve met along the way, mostly screenwriter friends who have shared the writer’s dream with me from the very beginning. Screenwriting is a more difficult route, it’s more like a one-in-a-million shot, and the ones who sell or get produced face the frustration of seeing other writers re-write their work. But I’ve found a small community of screenwriter friends I can go to. However, nothing really compares to the kind of support I’ve found in Murderati, and in the Mystery-Thriller community as a whole. You guys have taught me what it is to be humble, giving and supportive. I’ve never met such gracious people in my life, anywhere. I consider myself very, very lucky.
    I do have one very special friend who understands EVERYTHING I go through as an author. Understands the ups and downs of the business, understands the minutia of difficulties I face every time I write a sentence. This is my wife, Ryen. I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for her.

  12. Eika

    Can we count people who we’ve never- or very rarely- seen in real life? I have a handful of people who I’ve met online who are this to me. The physical connection’s been there when we’ve managed to meet in real life, and they’re the only writers I know (none in the area, oh well).

    But for the closest of close? Best friend. It’s rather hilarious how we became friends in middle school- a combination of ‘friend of a friend’ sitting at lunch tables together followed by recommending books to each other- but we’re stuck together like glue, and can talk about anything.

    She’s an EMT in Afghanistan right now. I hear from her more often than her mother, probably because I e-mail her more often. Anything and everything, she’ll be there. What are friends for?

  13. toni mcgee causey

    Dusty, LOL… but it’s true. I’m not bashful or shy, really. (Well, I’m shy when I walk into a room because I’m overwhelmed. It takes a bit for me to quit being freaked out… but I’m better at it now than a few years ago, mostly because of great friends like yourself…. who I am still stalking…) I can warm up and clown around, but if I don’t go have down time and just chill, I will be glassy-eyed before the second day. By the third, I feel incoherent. 😉 (Okay, that is my excuse and I am sticking to it.)

  14. JT Ellison

    Funny how we all go running to Toni when we need a sanity break… Hmmm….

    Allison, this is such a great post. They say if you have 5 people in your life that you know you can count on, you’re blessed. I love the 2 am club – I’m a very private person, and I have a hard time opening up to people. Randy, obviously, is my best friend, I go to him for everything, and I have a few other really close friends that are not in the writing business who I can be myself with. I have some friends in the writing business who I do trust with my heart and soul, who I can tell anything and be assured that it’s not going any further, and their advice will be good for me, not bad. Lord knows I’ve made mistakes trusting the wrong people, and I’ve gotten myself into unhealthy relationships. But with everything that happened in the past year, I’ve gotten much more discerning about who I surround myself with, and I’m so much happier, knowing the friends I have are real ones. Having all of you is like, well, it’s heaven, knowing that you can count on people. I love you all!

  15. Mariah Stewart

    Allison, I was thinking this very thing yesterday. This business can be so tough sometimes. If not for my closest writer friends, I don’t know if I’d have lasted this long and still remained sane (there are those who might argue that last part). As much as I love my family and my non-writer friends, no one else in my world gets the frustrations of the business – as well as the triumphs – as my writer friends. The trusted few to whom I can tell anything are very precious to me – definitely worth their weight in gold.
    (Toni, shy? Introverted? Who knew?!)

  16. KDJames / BCB

    What a touching tribute to friendship, Allison. I think that’s one of my favourite things about this place — the sense that even if you all might not always agree, you do always stand for each other, in friendship. Coming here is like walking up to the edge of a group gathered around a big bonfire in winter, listening to the camaraderie of conversation and laughter, being cheered by the glimpse of bright flames and every once in a while feeling the warmth of the fire on your face even as you take a breath of cold night air. It’s comforting. Plus, you know, there’s the writing stuff.

    I can see how Toni would be a fierce and loyal friend. I thought I had a friend like that, another writer with whom I could share all the ups and downs and who just "got it." And me. I was mistaken. That loss, about a year ago now, was incredibly painful and has made me wary of getting too close again, of sharing anything too deep. Then again, it’s always been difficult for me to open up to that kind of intimate trusting friendship. More so now.

    But there is a group of friends, about three dozen of us, a few are writers but mostly they’re avid readers, and we have our own quiet little group blog where we talk about the events of the day and what we ate for lunch and share the joys and sorrows of our lives. They’re smart and funny and caring. They are also the most steadfast and supportive group of people I know and if it weren’t for them, I would not be writing. The faith they have in me is humbling. My kids call them my Imaginary Friends, but I’ve met a handful of them in person. Some are a bit fuzzy around the edges, especially if they move too fast, but mostly they’ve got all their parts. And they can make a four-hour lunch fly by like you wouldn’t believe. I’d be lost without them.

  17. Susan

    Very nice blog post today, Allison. I only have one person who would "help me hide the body". She has been my friend since 3rd grade. We are totally opposite in everything but I’d take a bullet for her and she would do the same for me.

    Aaaaaalex. (Foot tapping sound in background) Patiently waiting for the winner of your new book that you promised from yesterday’s post…………… me me me me ? But I won’t mind having to actually BUY it. That’s what you all are hoping to do, right? Sell books? Don’t mind doing my share there.

  18. Pamela

    Allison –

    Sorry you’ve had tough times, but you’ve written a beautiful post on friendship. I lost some people who I thought were "close" friends, due to misunderstandings. It took me months to get over the hurt and betrayal. But I finally learned an important lesson: a true friend will love you during your up moments, comfort you during the down ones, and care enough after you’ve had a disagreement or misunderstanding to still be your friend. And if not, if the friendship is easily discarded, that person was never your friend to begin with. Sad but, true. Life is frightfully short, and each day is a gift. The person who wants to share that gift with you, is your friend.

  19. Allison Brennan

    Oh Louise! I love that "2 am" club. Marti . . . can I call you at 2 am??? Ha ha ha. Marti was the first published author, after I sold to Ballantine, who reached out and taught me the ropes. I would still be a fledgling mess today if it wasn’t for her.

    Susan, I already pre-ordered Alex’s book . . . not that I’d get a chance to win! LOL. I absolutely loved THE UNSEEN–started and finished it on a cross-country plane ride. I love how Alex twists reality with the supernatural, and SHADOWS looks even better (‘cuz I’m a huge fan of police procedurals.)

    I didn’t meant to just single Toni out–because truly, I have been blessed with fantastic friends in this business. Karin and Rocki always listen, Marti guides me, I’ve found other authors along the way. But like BCB said, sometimes friends come and go, sometimes you don’t know why, sometimes you do; sometimes there’s a fundamental difference in opinion so important to one or both of you that you can’t get beyond the disagreement. That happens. Forgiveness is always hard, because I think we’re pre-wired to hold grudges sometimes. It’s so hard to turn the other cheek (and as Jesus says–sorry to get preachy, but I did just come back from church) if someone wrong you, turn your cheek. If it happens again, turn the other one. When I came back from San Francisco two years ago, I didn’t think I’d go to another RWA conference. THAT’S how upset I was. Not mad, not betrayed, but deep down truly anguished that something I had said or done–that I didn’t mean to be a slight in any way–was taken so out of context that it destroyed someone’s opinion of me. And I think that’s why I hold all my friends closer now, because if they did say something that hurt, I’d ask them about it. And vice-versa. Because I don’t like to believe that anyone is deliberately vindictive, and most people aren’t.

    Anyway, it’s Toni’s birthday at the end of the week, so this is my little birthday present to her! LOL 🙂

  20. TerriMolina

    Great Post, Allison, and I think the tribute is well deserved for Toni..she’s been totally awesome to me too!

    My son used to have a bumper sticker that says: A good friend is someone who will bail you out of jail, but a great friend will be sitting right beside you in the cell saying "Damn, we had a great time!!"


  21. Mariah Stewart

    2 a.m.? Your time or mine?
    Of course you may.

    And for the record, Allison was never a fledgling mess.


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