The Generosity of Friends

Yesterday I attended a memorial celebrating the life of a wonderful friend, David Thompson, manager of Houston’s Murder by the Book and Publisher of Busted Flush Press.  Since his death two weeks ago, plenty of his friends (including me) have posted tearful tributes, so this won’t be another one of those.

But the last two weeks have had me thinking about generosity.  David was as generous a soul as this world has to offer.  As a bookseller, he welcomed his customers with an infectious smile as if greeting them in his living room.  He’d knock himself out to build to-be-read piles filled with books his customers would never find on their own.  By handselling books that would be sold no other way, he helped energize the careers of young and independently published writers otherwise forgotten in a world of Wal-Marts and CostCos. 

As a Publisher, he not only published but tirelessly promoted the works of his authors.  Here he is with our own Zoe Sharp, whose entire Charlie Fox backlist was republished by Busted Flush Press.

The last time I saw David in person was at this year’s Edgar Awards, where David continued his tradition of making sure his nominated authors were there, supported by their publisher – something even major New York publishers don’t always do anymore. 

David Thompson and wife, McKenna Jordan, at Edgars 2010And as a friend?  As a friend, David was so generous in every way — with his his time, money, humor, and love — that I can’t even begin to offer specifics without risking another one of those tearful tributes. 

But David wasn’t the only generous person in this little crime fiction world of ours.  Instead, he seemed to exemplify a supportive spirit that permeates our writing community.

Take a look at any of your favorite crime writers’ websites, and you’ll most likely find evidence of generosity.  Blurbs.  Photographs from joint events.  Blog posts describing the emotional support and sounding boards that other writers provide for us when our thoughts go dark or blank.

Who are some of the people who have been generous to me in this writing world?  I’ve been blessed to have almost all of my favorite writers read and endorse my work: Michael Connelly, Laura Lippman, Lee Child, Harlan Coben, Sue Grafton, Linda Fairstein, Jan Burke, Tess Gerritsen, Tami Hoag, Sandra Brown, Faye Kellerman, Kathy Reichs, and Lisa Gardner.  I know these recommendation don’t come solely from generosity.  They have to be earned.  But these writers are all busy people who could sit back and worry only about themselves, but they’re the types who send the ladder back down for others to climb up, waiting at the top to offer a hand.

And it’s not just the blurbs.  Harlan Coben agreed to do a joint event with me when he was booked for The Poisoned Pen in Phoenix on the only day I could fit in a stop over spring break. 

Michael Connelly gave me a shout-out in the Wall Street Journal when asked about his summer reading list.  Laura Lippman traveled up to New York City on her own dime to address the local chapter of Mystery Writers of America, and all I had to do was ask. 

Lee Child’s support could fill its own blog post: giving me a ride from JFK to my parked car at LGA when he knew nothing about me other than the fact that I stupidly managed to fly home from Bouchercon into the wrong airport; helping me fill a Manhattan Barnes & Noble by agreeing to play a much hotter James Lipton by interviewing me for the launch of Angel’s Tip; and let’s not forget about that two-night-stand Jack Reacher had with my Samantha Kincaid at the beginning of Bad Luck and Trouble

The gang at Murderati has been generous, welcoming me into the fold even though they really didn’t need another blogger, especially one who sometimes goes missing from her computer for a few days at a time when the day-job transforms her into a 24/7 law professor.

Independent booksellers and librarians have been generous, helping introduce my work every day to new readers. 

My readers are ridiculously generous, talking up my books to friends and neighbors, sometimes driving hundreds of miles to greet me on tour, and serving as my virtual kitchen cabinet on Facebook.  (This week, I think more of my readers voted on my new author photo than in last week’s primaries!)

And where would I be without my people who see me through the dark times?  I’ve never been a writing-group kind of writer.  No critique exchanges for me, please.  As far as actual content goes, I sit in the sandbox by myself until the castle is done. 

But having friends who face the same unique struggles of this enterprise — self-doubt, fighting to find writing time and energy, the frustrating publishing industry quirks — saves me a hell of a lot of money on therapy.  Some of these people probably don’t even know how much they’ve shouldered me, either day to day or in a singular moment forever etched in memory: Lisa Unger, Maggie Griffin (Partners and Crime books), Teresa Schwegel, Jonathan Hayes, Dan Judson, Karin Slaughter, Reed Farrel Coleman, James Born, Michael Koryta, Ben Rehder, David Corbett, Val McDermid, Chris Grabenstein, Jane Cleland, Margery Flax (Mystery Writers of America), and, once again, Michael Connelly, Laura Lippman, and Lee Child.

In the last two weeks, I’ve seen this little crime-fiction world of ours turn on its generosity full force to support Murder by the Book, Busted Flush Press, and David’s widow, McKenna, but it’s a generosity that is always there, benefitting all of us.  I don’t think it’s an overstatement to say that many of us, like David, have found a second family in this world.  I wanted to spend today writing about the gratitude that I always feel but am usually too snarky to express.

Who are the people in your lives who have been generous?  Give ’em a holla’ in the comments!

37 thoughts on “The Generosity of Friends

  1. PK the Bookeemonster

    The mystery book community is wonderful. I launched my newsletter a couple months ago. For the most part, being an unknown entity, I get the needed info from publicity materials online. The most difficult things for me to obtain are excerpts from the new releases. As a last resort, I email authors for an excerpt of about 200 to 300 words and I can now provide a past issue to provide an example. I still get silence from a lot (remember, unknown product) but those authors that do respond — amazingly supportive and kind words.
    Great post to start the week.

  2. Barbie

    Aww, what a lovely post, Alafair (I never know if I should refer to authors I don't know by their first name or last, but I'm an informal person, so, sorry if I'm being disrespectful!). I'm very sorry for the loss of your friend! I wish you and his family comfort through this hard time.

    I have had some amazing people in my life. There's one of my friends, his name's Kleber (I'm linking this to him, he'll dig this), he's in Germany now and I miss him. I don't even know if he knows this, but two years ago, when I decided to quit Law School and study Languages (Yeah, I know, you're a Law Professor. I'm so sorry, but I HATED that thing), every single one of my friends gave me that "Really? Umm, cool. You know, it's… umm.. good for you." I hadn't seen him in years, but when we talked online and I told him, he was nothing but supportive and said it would be great to have me around (he studies Languages, too). Not only that, but when I started the course, he was there for me, and with me, every day. He took a class so we'd study together, he introduced me to his friends, who soon became my friends (and such great friends), to his dear professors (who soon became my dear professors), he was with me, giving me hugs and holding my hand. I completely broke out of my protective bubble, made friends (I'd been TWO and a HALF years in Law School and hadn't made one single friend — that's how shy I am). I think if it weren't for him, I'd be there all on my own, too shy to talk and interact. Instead, I'm well known and liked. I love him and owe him so much.

    From Murderati, Allison and Toni have been, for the past year, so amazing to me when I did absolutely nothing to deserve that. They' gave their time, their care and some really amazing advice on writing and the business and life and general to this little messed up girl in Brazil just because they're really amazing, nice, caring people and I'm so thankful for everything they've done for me and everything I've learned from them.

    Thanks for the post. πŸ™‚

  3. Alafair

    Pk, I'm happy to hear writers are sending you excerpts. Barbie, I'm definitely a first name woman. You should be applauded for doing what makes you happy. I wish everyone who went to law school gave sufficient thought to whether it's something they really want to do.

  4. Shizuka

    Your post took away the yuck feeling I woke up with and reminded me I'm a pretty lucky girl.

    My writing group read my entire second draft, although we usually just read chapters, because one of the members insisted. She said it was the only way to really see how the story worked.

    My best friend, who used to work for a major publisher, reads what I write and points out the things everyone else misses.

    When I finished my first book, David Corbett introduced me to agent with a beautifully written e-mail that said much kinder things than I merit.

    Closer to home, my mom always encourages me to write, although she hopes what I write is not autobiographical. (I remind her my protagonists always seem to have dead parents and she's alive.)

    I disappear into my computer for hours, went away for a month this summer to take a writing workshop, and monopolize the kitchen table with my post-its and notes. My husband doesn't mind this at all. He buys me great instrumental CDs to write to.

    Thanks for the reminder to be grateful, Alafair.

  5. Stephen Tremp

    I give a shout out to my Yahoo! Goup BBT Cafe. There I met people who helped me design a decent blog, gain followers, learn the ins and outs of publishing, marketing, and sales, and I even found a terrific editor.

    Without the guidance and wisdom of these people I would be dead in the water. So thanks everyone from the BBT Cafe!

    <a href="http://www.stephentremp.blogspot.com/">Stephen Tremp</a>

  6. Grace

    Excellent post. It is good to take stock of those who have helped — one author went above and beyond in her support of my first effort to write, and then there's the on line group of writers who generously share their time and talents, as well as my friends and my reader who gives it to me right between the eyes. How fortunate I've been to have this kind of support, and last, but not least, I'm a faithful follower of this blob and the generosity of the bloggers is phenomenal. Thanks for the question.

  7. Louise Ure

    Alafair, I don't dare offer a list as I know I would leave off someone of great import to me. When I started writing, I'd never met a real life author. I thought all authors were dead. So, without any kind of contacts at all, I faced a new career and writing world that was totally foreign to me. My unnamed list of folks changed all that. They blurbed, they introduced me at conventions, they developed email relationships, they listened to my dumb questions and complaints. And I'll bet they don't know how grand they are, and how often I think about them and smile.

  8. pari noskin taichert

    I'm with Louise on this one, Alafair. Far too many people to name, far too many have shown such incredible kindness these last 6-7 years. I'm still floored by it all.

    But . . .
    I will name some people who are helping me now with Left Coast Crime 2011 in Santa Fe. These people are all giving more than a little bit of their time so that hundreds of other people can have a GOOD time:
    Sarah Schwartz, Rob Kresge, Olin Bray, Andrea Stirling and David Haughowout, Liz Wilkerson, Lucinda Surber and Stan Ulrich (Stop You're Killing Me), Janet Rudolph (Mystery Readers International), Sue Trowbridge (Interbridge websites), Toby and Bill Gottfried, Cecilia Runkle, Joe Badal, Susan Zates, Christine Goff, Pat Brown, Tom and Enid Schantz, Sarah Storme, John Maddox Roberts, Colleen Collins and . . .

  9. Cornelia Read

    I love this gang of people, this business. The kindness and support is extraordinary, and everyone's just fun, too. David and McKenna have been so kind and generous to me it practically made me cry earlier this year. And the saintly Lee pretty much changed my life with his support when I was just getting started. I've been through some real crap, too, over the last several years, and without my crime peeps I doubt I would've made it.

    Thank you so much for this beautiful post, Alafair. You're embodying all the best of this group, and that's a lovely thing to read on a rainy morning.

  10. Erin

    As a reader, my list would be largely the same as yours, albeit for different reasons. Every time I crack a cover, whether to catch up with old friends or make new ones in the pages, the generosity of the author shines through. I always make a point of reading the "acknowledgements" page, where the generous spirit of authors comes alive, too. And as online communities go, crime fiction has drawn a global group that amazes and inspires me every day…especially on those days where various tech niches or politics get too overwhelming πŸ˜‰ Thank you for your lovely–dare I say generous!–post.

  11. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Lovely, Alafair. I'm with Pari and Louise – it really would take me a week just to START listing the people who have been so incredibly generous. It's also very interesting how many of the people who would be on my list are on your list, and so many of our lists, I bet.

    This is SUCH a community. I feel lucky every day to be a part of it.

  12. Beth Groundwater

    Great post, Alafair! I, too, have been greatly warmed by the help offered by those in the mystery industry, especially by those mystery authors who live in my home state of Colorado. A huge thank-you to Margaret Coel, William Kent Krueger, Nancy Pickard, and Sandi Ault, who have given me blurbs for my upcoming DEADLY CURRENTS release. Many thanks to all those bloggers who hosted me on my last virtual book tour, and to Bill Crider for mentioning my own blog, http://bethgroundwater.blogspot.com/, in his recent EQMM "Blog Bytes" column. Thanks to my lovely roommates at conferences who shared good times as well as the cost of the room. And thanks to fellow Colorado mystery authors Mike Befeler, Pat Stoltey, Linda Berry, Cricket McRae, Robert Spiller, Ann Parker (who might as well live in Colorado), and others who have had joint signings with me all over the state!

  13. Beth Tindall

    i've been constantly warmed by the generosity of the mystery community, who let this long-time social services professional make a career out of websites and online marketing. It all started out as a scheme to get free books that I couldn't afford on nonprofit salary and that the library had never heard of… and it's supported me fulltime for over 8 years now. From Jeremiah Healy, with whom I had my first "OHMYGODIT'SANAUTHOR" moment to Harley Jane Kozak who couldn't have been more gracious when I couldn't form complete sentences as I tried to talk to her, to Karin Slaughter who was a friend before I even know her name or that she was a helluva writer and businesswoman. And I wouldn't be where I am today without Jon and Ruth Jordan's open arms, Margery Flax's unwavering support, Laura Lippman and so many other people who have propped me up along the way. All these fabulous people treat me like a peer when inside I know I'm just a quivering fangirl who is still just plotting a way to get free books to support my crime fiction addiction!!!

  14. Debbie

    People I should recognize more frequently: my son who makes me laugh-first week of school in grade one, he walked into the girls washroom and began gyrating and singing I like to move it, move it! (Okay, that's not one of those situations I want to positively acknowledge to him, but I did laugh later.) My daughter who brings home those kind of report cards that every parent whishes to see just once, but she does it year after year and I'm really proud of her. My husband, who keeps surprising me and makes me smile. When I'm feeling down, After Eights or Nutella, or a marshmello heart will land on my keyboard. He's realistic and doesn't act like I'll be pub'd but jokes that no editor will let my main char's name stay as is. And there's my close friend who helps tirelessly with spell check, trying to get the book into the hands of a friend of ours who is dying while I keep editing! She'd be the one to come get me from the wrong airport in part I think because I'm blind and the one everyone depends on for directions and just once she'd like to see me lost! They really are the best, all of them. And the Rati community, and I'm not just saying this. It's a place to learn and feel like part of a community and I appreciate all the sharing from everybody here.

  15. Allison Brennan

    What an amazing post, Alafair! And very true. We think of writers as being solitary creatures, but without the support of other writers, booksellers, editors, and others who lift us up we would be miserable hermits, and many without careers. There have been so many people who have taken time to mentor and support me, from Patti Berg who when I was unpublished taught me a lot about being a kind and gracious and supportive author because she was such a woman. And Mariah Stewart who, after I sold, emailed me and said if I needed any help or had questions, let her know. And she has more than lived up to that promise! (And she gave me my first quote!) And the gang I met at the first Thrillerfest who I still consider some of my best friends in writing. And my local RWA chapter who have always been thrilled for me, especially past and current president Anna Stewart who (yeah!) just got a full requested from a top agent. (Anna had told me long before I sold that I was going to sell. I think she's psychic.) Lisa Gardner who is one of the sharpest women I've met in this business, who generously gave me a quote last year. Jon Land who fought to get mass market thriller reviews in his paper, James Rollins who has always been an amazingly supportive mega-author for the new authors, and I *just* found out that I have an amazing quote from another incredible author but I don't know if I can spill the beans publicly (though it's killing me not to) but he was mentioned in Alafair's blog, so I know that I'm not alone in being on the receiving end of his generosity of time and wisdom.

    A special shout out to Beth at Elk Grove Borders who used to be the romance expert and shelved me both in romance AND the mystery/thrillers endcap from the beginning. She has amazing insight and loves books and authors.

    And that's not all, and I could go on forever, and I know I probably offended someone I didn't mention, but there are SO MANY people who help in this business. (Like Toni who let me call her at 2 in the morning to talk through a plot problem near the end of my book!)

  16. JD Rhoades

    All of the folks here at Murderati have been incredibly generous to me in time, advice, and emotional support. Except Stephen. (That's a joke, son).

    Jon and Ruth Jordan, of course, get thanks for introducing me to people, setting up events letting me crash on their couch, and introducing me to "Life on Mars". Thanks to Molly Weston for setting up events in NC, driving me around to them, and feeding me all sorts of yummy food along the way. Stacey Cochran has given me a lot of exposure through his public access TV show and by setting up some incredibly successful events. Laura Lippman has always been there with good advice (and blurbs). So has Joe Konrath, who's not only been a great drinking buddy and adviser, he let me hang out at his house then gave me a ride to the airport in Chicago. Margery Flax at MWA rules. Always. The lovely and incredibly talented Laura Bradford has always been there to lend an ear. And of course, there are my Honorable Companions, Tasha Alexander and Kristy Kiernan, a very present help in time of trouble.

    I know I've forgotten somebody….

  17. Susan Shea

    Like Louise, I was new to the tribe a few years ago and had no idea of the amazing comradeship that would materialize when I cleared my throat and said I was writing crime fiction. It just blows me away. I'm still a beginner, with only a debut novel out, but already I know that belonging to the tribe comes with only one set of requirements: be one of us and pass it on. Share what you know, encourage everyone else who's brave enough to begin the journey, be open-hearted and open-minded.

  18. JT Ellison

    I can't even begin to list all the people who have helped me on my path, so I'll start with the very first one I ever met – Del Tinsley. I went to my very first signing, John Connolly at the old Davis Kidd in Nashville, and she was there. Within minutes she started in on me – you don't belong to Sisters in Crime? You're not on DorothyL? You don't have a critique group?

    Del honestly plucked me from absolute obscurity, educated me about the industry, and suddenly I was on my way. Without her generosity (and browbeating,) I'd never be here. So thanks to Del, and to everyone who's blessed me since.

  19. Steven Sloan

    A very touching tribute from a genuine contributor.

    I hope I can someday join in…

    Steven Sloan
    Author of "Deep Nights"

  20. Jen Forbus

    I too have to say Jon and Ruth Jordan. They welcomed me into their Crimespree Family and have given and given and given. I do truly love them as though they were my family. You, Alafair, and David opened doors for me that I wouldn't have had access to. And there are so many authors who have given of their time, their friendship, their support. I feel blessed for every second I've been afforded with each and every one.

  21. toni mcgee causey

    Beautiful post, Alafair.

    And like the others, there are just too many to name and I know I'll forget someone.

    (And A, I had a ball, you know. 2 a.m. is the time when I'm most awake, so it was perfect.)

    That first Thrillerfest though was like one of those rare moments in history. Like the Round Table, I met fabulous authors who were genuine and honest and giving. Knights, one and all.

  22. Laura Bradford

    Love this post! And boy can I holla…

    A big holla goes out to Margery Flax just this week alone when she tracked down a copy of the latest RT for me and gave me some very good news (on my romance writing front).

    A holla goes out to Tasha Alexander and Andrew Grant who encouraged me to take a chance last summer…one that paid off, career wise, less than a week later.

    A holla goes to JD Rhoades for being the most selfless writer I know. He traveled an hour or more to attend a signing I did (his support was needed more than he realized) AND he's always checking in…being a friend.

    And last but not least, a holla goes out to the writers who read a blog I wrote 3 years ago and came out in support of my first ever walk for M.S. Many of these people I've never even met. Yet they supported me because of our connection in this business.

  23. Marie-Reine

    I feel supported by any community that let's me, in any small way, be a part of it. If I say something and someone responds, not by patting me on the head but just by commenting on my comment, I feel like a human being again. This is almost impossible face to face. Mostly people see WHEELCHAIR or SERVICE DOG. When I venture out, that is what most people relate to, yet it isn't me.

    I see a very clear difference in the way people want to interact with me pre- and post-chair. My – absolutely beautiful and wonderful service dog – gives them another focus. The service dog professionals make a big deal out of how this is a good thing, but what they won't say is that it's also another way to lose your self and creativity to your disability. Disability now plays a huge part in my writing– inevitable, because it is part of my new world, but it is not me.

    My pre-chair friends don't have this problem relating to me, and I don't have this problem here. So thanks to all of you, to my old friends who still see me, and to new friends who make the effort to see beyond wheels! I love you.

  24. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    Beautiful post, Alafair. And a tribute to David as well. I am so thankful for the support and the friendship and the general kindness of the people I've met in the mystery-thriller universe. Everyone who has given me a blurb…I know what it takes to sit and read yet another manuscript. Incredible.

  25. ZoΓ« Sharp

    Hi Alafair

    Wonderful post. Brought a lump to my throat. David was truly one of the best – someone who stood out even among a community of great people.

    There are too many people I'm grateful to – I couldn't begin to put a list together without a lot more notice. But just to add a few to the names mentioned so far, Ali Karim and Mike Stotter from Shots magazine, Ayo Onatade and Lizzie Hayes from Mystery Women, and Myles Allfrey and Adrian Muller, organisers of LCC and CrimeFest in Bristol. All the indie mystery booksellers who work so tirelessly to handsell our books.

    I'm sure there are lots more, but my brain is fried… ;-]

  26. Alafair

    I'm really enjoying the comments and knew others would have shout outs. Needless to say, I wish the same generosity permeated the other (academic) part of my professional life, but usually not so much.

  27. Rachel Walsh

    Such a lovely post, Alafair.

    My shout out must go to my four fellow writers and dear friends, Kristen Callihan, Claire Gregory, Jennifer Hendren and Susan Montgomery.

    When it comes to writing and life in general, we are one another's cheer squad, shoulders to cry on, brains to pick and extra sets of eyes to cast over a manuscript … and yet apart from Claire and myself, none of us have ever met in the flesh. We all first met online, via Compuserve's Books and Writers Community, but the "virtualness" of our friendship doesn't make it any less real and important to us all. We have a group blog, our emails fly across the globe on a daily basis (Claire and I are in Australia, the other gals, America), and I really don't know what I'd do without them.

    So thanks for everything, ladies; you're beyond precious to me.

  28. Margery Flax

    Like Beth, I have always been grateful to be included in the community – I have always been and always will be a fan first. But if I am going to thank specific people, then I have to start with Laura Lippman, Jan Burke and Jerrilyn Farmer who had a crazy idea that I should work at MWA. But truly, the most important people are all the authors of all the books that I have read during my lifetime – my life would be so empty without them.

  29. KDJames

    Very nice post, Alafair. I can't quite get over how different you look in every picture I see of you. I clicked the link to the author pics but it didn't work for me. Then again, I just joined FB yesterday and am still trying to figure out how to navigate over there without breaking anything.

    It wasn't all that long ago, maybe five years, when I decided not only that I couldn't write worth a damn but that it would be best for all concerned if I just didn't. I can't even begin to list all the people I've encountered since then, online and in person, who have said nice things or offered their support and generally had faith in me and encouraged me to keep writing. The list of people who have been generous teachers, of craft but also the business of publishing, is probably even longer and includes every single one of you over here. But as long as that list is today, I know without a doubt that it will be even longer by the time I get published. That certainty fills me with warmth and gratitude and a very deep appreciation for both writers and readers of books. I can only hope that someday I'll have earned the privilege of being included on someone else's very long list.

    Again, my condolences for your loss.

  30. Bruce DeSilva

    Funny, but I just commented on the same thing in a story for the Strand Magazine about it's annual Critics Award. The generosity of the crime writing community — a fellowship, really – is astounding. The encouragement and support I've received as a first-time novelist ("Rogue Island: hits the shelves Oct. 12) has been wonderful. So from me, a shout out to Dennis Lehane, Michael Connelly, Harlan Coben, Thomas H. Cook, Sean Chercover, Ace Atkins, Jon Land, Otto Penzler, Paul Levine, Lawrence Block, Ken Bruen, Tim Dorsey, Marcus Sakey, Bill Loehfelm, Declan Hughes, Joseph Finder, Bryan Gruley, James W. Hall, Sara Gran, Peter Blauner, and, who else, ALAFAIR BURKE!

  31. Alafair Burke

    Bruce, As I said, generosity is only part of it. You've got to earn those blurbs, and, man, did you!

    Margery, I think we should all be thankful to those who steered you to MWA. I can't imagine the organization without you.

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