one book is not a career

Many aspiring novelists think: “if only I can sell a book, I’d have it made!  That’s all I need to do, sell this one book!”  I’m afraid it’s not that easy.  Selling a book is just the first step in your career as a writer.  Look at all the first-time novelists who later vanished from the publishing world.  They discovered a very painful truth: to make a career in this field, you’ll have to do a lot more than just sell one book.

Some years ago, an acquaintance of mine was flying high when his thriller novel was published.  It was a great book, one of those sneaky, snaky plots that just wrap around you and squeeze you tighter and tighter like a boa constrictor.  It got terrific reviews in the U.S., and it hit #1 on the London Times bestseller list.  I think it may also have hit the extended NYT list.  After that book’s success, his agent and his editors were panting for the next book.  They waited and waited for it, because they knew they could now build on his name.

Three years later, I caught up with him and asked him how his writing was going.  “I just can’t get the second book finished,” he confessed.  “Everyone’s waiting for it, but I haven’t been able to deliver.”  By the time he finally did finish it, his editors had lost their enthusiasm.  Even worse, his readers had forgotten about him.  The new book sank, unnoticed.  Since then, his career has pretty much been on life support.

In the meantime, I’d written two more books, and my own sales were starting to climb. 

The lesson here is that to survive in this business takes more than just one sale, and more than luck.  It takes dedication and flexibility and just sheer stubbornness.  Here’s what I’ve learned after 20 years as a writer:

1. Write quickly, and deliver on time.  In the past 20 years, I’ve had 19 books published.  Granted, my first nine books were romance novels, only 300 manuscript pages long, but the point is, I didn’t let a lot of time pass between books.  If you haven’t had a new book out in more than two years, your career is going to suffer.  Readers forget you.  Editors realize they can’t count on you.   And forget about branding; if no one can even remember your name, how are they going to remember your brand?

2. Be prepared to switch genres.  If the books you’re writing aren’t finding an audience, maybe it’s time to write a different kind of book.  In my case, I first moved from romance to thrillers.  I loved writing romance, but I just couldn’t write fast enough to make a living at it.  Writing for Harlequin was fun and satisfying, and I loved the genre, but when each book was only earning out around $12,000, I knew I’d never send my kids to college on my earnings as a writer.  As it turned out, I had a great idea for a medical thriller (HARVEST), which was my debut novel on the New York Times list.

But four books later, I could see that my medical thriller sales were flat, and even starting to decline.  By then I had a crime thriller in mind, one that I couldn’t wait to write.  With THE SURGEON, I launched the Jane Rizzoli series.  And my sales have increased since then.

Will I switch directions yet again someday?  There’s always that chance.  Never say never.

3. Be prepared to switch publishers.  No matter how much you love your editor, there are times when you just have to say goodbye and move on to a new house.  Sometimes publishers lose their fire in the belly and just stop pushing your books as hard as they could.  Or their marketing goes stale.  A new house may greet you with such fresh energy and enthusiasm that they can give your career a real boost. 

4. Write consistently good books.  This may be the hardest thing of all.  And let’s be realistic — no one can write a great book every single time.  Every author is allowed a few dogs here and there, especially when he’s also trying to stick to a schedule of a book a year.  Writing a great first book is easy, because you have all the time and leisure to perfect it.  But try keeping that same level of quality when you’re on book nine or ten.  Readers will forgive you one or two stumbles, but three disappointing reads is about all the chances they’ll give you.

Authors who manage to stay consistently good are publishing goldmines.  There aren’t many who can do this, and the sad fact is, they are underappreciated.  The critics adore the hot first-time writer.  What these critics fail to understand is that it’s the old reliables who are the truly remarkable artists.

5. Don’t keep writing the same book.  I know that there are editors out there who’ll disagree with me.  Many of them will say, “Hey, your last serial killer novel was a huge bestseller!  Keep doing them!”  And maybe your second and third serial killer books will do as well or even better.  But eventually your audience is going to get tired of your act.  Even worse, you’ll get tired of it, and that boredom is going to show through in your writing.  So find something new and fresh to write about with every single novel.  Maybe you have the same series character, but with every new book, give him something startling, something that pushes the boundaries of the genre.  You may find you suddenly pick up a whole new set of readers.

6. Remember that publishing is international.  Don’t neglect your foreign markets.  If your publisher isn’t doing a good job selling your foreign rights, then try to retain those rights on your next contract and have your agent sell them.  I have been astonished by how much my foreign sales have grown in the past five years.  Even if your American sales are lackluster, you may sell enough books in Germany to earn a tidy living.  There are a number of American authors who get no respect in the U.S. and are adored overseas.  There’s no rule that says you have to earn your living in dollars.  Euros pay the bills, too!

 

“I’d never read one of her books”

In today’s New York Times, there’s an article about new words that were coined in 2006.  One word was “Sanctimommies”: mothers who think they’re better mothers than everyone else.  They like to criticize other women as inferior parents who commit such sins as — horrors! — letting their kids eat Cheerios.

I’m often reminded of such sanctimonious snobs when I cruise through reader websites.  More than once, I’ve seen someone write: “I’ve never read one of his/her books, and I never will.”  Their basis for this decision?  They’d “heard” that those books were trash.  Most recently I’ve seen it in reference to a certain bestselling female crime writer whose early books set the standard for forensic thrillers.  But I’ve also heard it said about Stephen King.

Now, let me tell you a story about Stephen King’s books.  Some years ago, in honor of “Banned Books Week,” a nearby library invited authors to read aloud from their favorite banned book.  I chose King’s first novel, CARRIE, which has been repeatedly banned from school libraries across the country.  The audience was mostly literary folks, people who pride themselves on their reading taste.  I read the famous shower scene, a piece that pulses with raw energy and passion.

The audience was absolutely riveted.  “That scene was from a Stephen King novel?” someone asked in disbelief.

It turned out that many of the listeners had never read King.  They thought he was beneath them.  They had heard that his books were mere horror novels.  They had heard that they weren’t worth reading.  So they never even gave him a try. 

I think about all the movies and books I would have missed had I relied entirely on someone else’s opinion.  Some years ago, I was told by friends to skip seeing The Mummy remake starring Brendan Fraser because it was mere schlock.  But I’m a nut about Egypt, so I went to see it anyway.

It is now one of my favorite all-time films.  I own the DVD and I’ve probably watched it about half a dozen times.  But I never would have known how much I’d love it had I not seen it for myself.

People who say they’ll never read King or Grisham or Cornwell aren’t making a decision based on anything other than hearsay.  Someone else has told them how to think, so they’re obeying like dumb sheep.  They aren’t well-informed; they’re lazy.  Or, as Tabitha King once told me, “they’re basing their decisions on a pretty powerful force: ignorance.”  And some of these people will blithely malign an author they’ve never read, because they think it makes them look smart and literary and intelligent.

I call these people “Igno-ranters.”  And they seem to be rampant on reader sites.

Next time you hear people say proudly, “I’ve never read one of his/her books and I never will,”  challenge them.  Ask them if they always let other people think for them.  Ask them what other sheep-like characteristics they have.  Because they aren’t independent thinkers.  

No matter how smart they think they are. 

 

Maybe insecurity is a good thing

Last night I had the privilege of dining with one of the greatest recording artists of our time.  I’m not exaggerating; this man wrote what many of us would say is the iconic song of my generation.  He is still recording, still writing songs, and still performing gigs around the world.  Over dinner, we got to talking about creativity.  He was interested in how I write books; I was interested in how he approaches the writing of a new song.

“I don’t approach anything,” he said.  “I just do it.  And I don’t know how I do it.”

Then he confided in me that, even after decades as a music icon, he still can’t explain how he does it.  “I start off writing a new song with the feeling that I don’t know what the hell I’m doing.  Or how I did it the last time.”  As he describes it, he doesn’t have a plan.  In fact he’s never had a plan, for his career, or for his next creation.  Everything, he says, just “happens”.  He starts out wanting to try something new, something he’s never done before.  His drive is entirely creative.  His success grew out of that creative drive — not from his sitting down and masterfully plotting out a map to financial success.

So then he asked me, “How did you get so successful?  How do you sit down and write a book?”

“I do it exactly the way you do,” I said.  Every time I sit down to write a book, I feel as if I’m doing it for the first time in my life.  And I have no idea what the hell I’m doing.  And as for my career, I never had a plan either. I just wrote what I wanted to write.  And success somehow found me, I told him.

It was an amazing revelation, to discover that an artist I’ve admired all these years — someone working in an entirely different medium, music — would feel the same insecurities I feel.  That even after the dozens of hit songs he’s recorded, he still questions his ability to write the next song.  What a sense of relief, and mutual recognition, to find out that I’m not the only one who feels like I don’t know what I’m doing.

And yet we manage to keep doing it.  Book after book, or song after song.

He told me how irritated he was when he watched a new songwriter on TV recently, who said he was performing because he “wanted to share his gift with the world.” 

“What bullshit,” my friend said.  “Share his so-called gift with the world?  This is hard work!  This isn’t a gift!”

At the moment, I’m about halfway through the writing of my next book.  I’ve been having more than a few moments of panic.  I’ve been waking up in the middle of the night, wondering how I did it the last time. 

Now I know that even one of the best songwriters in the world has self-doubts.

I’m in good company.

 

Reviewer gets caught making it up

I bet there are plenty of authors reading this who’ve been stung by a bad review.  And maybe you’ve received a review that made you wonder whether the reviewer even read the same book you wrote.

Well, maybe he didn’t.

Over in Sweden, this reviewer got caught writing a nasty review of a book that was never written.  

In his review of Britt-Marie Mattsson’s thriller “The Power of Fear” :

 Kristian Lundberg claimed the book’s plot was “predictable” and said the characterisations were one-dimensional. 

There was one big whopping problem with his review.

The book didn’t exist. 

Although the book appeared in the publisher’s catalogue as an upcoming release, the author never actually got around to writing the book.  The reviewer simply made up spiteful comments about a book he assumed was actually on the market.

The reviewer’s excuse?  According to the article:

He had got worked up in advance about Britt-Marie Mattsson because “I detest her so very greatly. But let’s hope the book is published so I get the chance to say it for real.”

Doesn’t sound very apologetic does he?

The author’s publisher commented: “We’ve known for a long time that reviewers skim-read books, but now we know what really happens.”

I’d say this isn’t a case of merely skim-reading books.  This is a case of a reviewer who’s a blatant liar.

(with a hat-tip to Susan Gable and NINCLINK for this item)

the small penis rule

I don’t know how many of you are following the story of the feud between author Michael Crichton and Washington political columnist Michael Crowley.  Back in March, Crowley wrote a piece that was highly critical of Crichton and his politics. 

Now Crichton has a new thriller out called NEXT, and as the New York Times notes, there are some rather obvious similarities between Crichton’s real-life arch-nemesis Crowely and an unsavory fictional character in his book:

“On Page 227 Mr. Crichton writes: “Alex Burnet was in the middle of the most difficult trial of her career, a rape case involving the sexual assault of a two-year-old boy in Malibu. The defendant, thirty-year-old Mick Crowley, was a Washington-based political columnist who was visiting his sister-in-law when he experienced an overwhelming urge to have anal sex with her young son, still in diapers.”

Mick Crowley is described as a “wealthy, spoiled Yale graduate” with a small penis that nonetheless “caused significant tears to the toddler’s rectum.”

Mr. Crowley writes that Mr. Crichton’s Mick Crowley not only has a similar name but is also a graduate of Yale and a Washington political journalist.”

The reason I found this whole episode so amusing is that not only did Mr. Crichton portray Crowley as a child-rapist, he also lobbed the worst insult a guy can hurl  at another man. 

He gave him a small penis.

As the NY Times article points out, this particular insult  actually has a bit of history in the literary world.  Call it the “small penis rule.”  According to libel lawyer Leon Friedman, it’s a way to avoid defamation lawsuits. As he explains:  “No male is going to come forward and say, ‘That character with a very small penis — that’s me!’ ” 

Still, it’s clear to Mr. Crowley (and to anyone else who reads that passage in the book) that Crichton was, indeed, talking about him.   

I completely understand Crichton’s impulse to attack a critic by making him a nasty fictional character.  I’ve even done it myself.  One reviewer wrote such a breath-takingly awful review of HARVEST that in a later book, I created a psychopathic teenage character with his name.  There were absolutely no similarities between the reviewer and the character, and I changed the spelling, but it still gave me a little thrill to do it.

But give a character a small penis?   Now, that’s just silly. That’s stooping to the level of little boys in a schoolyard.  And as a woman, I don’t get the obsession men have with their penises.  Or with other men’s penises.  I think I share the same philosophy that other women have on this issue: it’s not the size that matters but what a man does with it.

What this episode tells me is that even a writer as incredibly successful as Michael Crichton feels the sting of criticism, and can’t resist the urge to lash back.  Maybe he came off looking terribly thin-skinned in the process.  But he’s human, and so is every other writer, no matter how successful they are.  

“Series”: What don’t you understand about the word?

When “The Fellowship of the Ring” came out a few years ago, I was enthralled by the film.  But as the lights came up in the movie theater, I began hearing some astonishing whines from some people in the audience:

“What?  THAT’S the end?  What a load of crap!”

“There’s no ending!”

Then I got home and went onto Yahoo to post my glowing review of the film, and encountered comments from other moviegoers echoing what I’d heard in the theater.  “He didn’t finish the story?!!”  “This ending sucked!” 

Were these people born stupid?  Or were they just raised that way?  How could they not have understood that “Fellowship of the Ring” was the first installment of a TRILOGY?

I encounter the same sort of obliviousness all the time, from readers who complain that I left loose ends at the end of book X.  Or they ask: how were they supposed to know the history behind Maura’s twisted family?  Readers are mad, mad, mad when I don’t tie up every single niggling question or don’t resolve a dangling romance.  Do they not understand the concept of a series?  Are all the conflicts in their own lives neatly resolved at the end of every day?

And just like in real life, when you start reading a series midway through, you can’t expect to have every event that’s happened in earlier episodes explained to you.  You have to pick up what you can, and go from there.  Or you go back and read the earlier books, to find out the back-story.  That’s what happens when you meet a new love in your real life.  Of course you don’t know everything about him, so you have to ASK.  You learn bits and pieces as you go along.  You don’t mope and whine that you’re in the dark about his earlier life.  You weren’t present at his birth, so you have to play catch-up.

This is one of the dangers of writing a mystery series.  Of course you can’t explain everything that happened in the earlier five books.  You can’t tie up all the loose ends and you can’t resolve all the conflicts at the end of a single book.  Once you make everyone happy, the series is kaput. 

Remember the TV show “Moonlighting”?  Remember the romantic tension between Bruce Willis and Cybill Shepherd? I watched that show faithfully, swooning over every hungry look, every double entendre.  But once those two consummated their lust, the series was over for me.

That’s why the “X-Files” was successful for so long.  Mulder and Scully never did consummate their romance.  I kept watching and waiting for it to happen.

That’s the secret of keeping a mystery series going: the conflicts never really resolve.  A series is like real life.  Your characters encounter problems in their lives.  Sometimes they can solve them within the span of a book.  Sometimes it takes several books.  One of my sub-plots is the romance between Maura Isles and the Catholic priest, Daniel Brophy.  They were introduced back in book #3, THE SINNER.  But only in THE MEPHISTO CLUB (Book #6) does the romance progress to sex.  And when the book’s over, you still don’t know whether they’re headed for happiness or doom.

I’ve gotten so many letters from readers telling me how unhappy they are that the loose ends weren’t tied up.  “You call that an ending?” they complain.

All I can tell them is this: “It’s a series.  It’s like real life.  You have to stay tuned to find out what happens.”

 

Want feedback? Find a critique group

I know some of you reading this blog are aspiring writers who’ve been laboring over your novels for months, maybe years.  How do you know if your story’s any good?  Who’s going to give you an honest opinion? Certainly not your mother, and certainly not your spouse (if he knows what’s good for him.)  Where do you go when agents keep turning you down, when editors send back form letters that say “thanks, but no thanks”?

You find a critique group.

Back when I was a beginning writer, I belonged to just such a group.  In fact I belonged to the same group for seven long years — that’s how valuable it was to me, and how much I trusted those people.  Every critique group is different, but here’s how we structured ours.  It worked so well that I can’t help feeling this is the way EVERY critique group should be.

We limited our group to only four people.  And we had a contract with each other: we met EVERY SINGLE WEEK for two hours.  And every single week, we each promised to bring four brand new pages of a manuscript.  (That’s only 1000 words, folks; everyone should be able to write 1000 words a week.)  There’d be snacks, of course, and sometimes alcohol was involved.  But mostly we were there to share our work.

And to be honest with each other.

We each got a half hour of attention.  First, you’d read aloud your four new pages.  That would take about ten minutes, tops.  The next twenty minutes, the other three people would react to what you’d read.  We had a rule: you start by saying what you liked about the piece.  Then you followed up with your quibbles.  It could be as minor as a badly chosen adverb.  Or it could be something major –you hate the heroine, maybe.  Or you think the mystery is lame.  We tried not to be cruel, but we felt we had to be honest. 

I loved this critique group.  And I loved watching the stories unfold.  Over seven years, we got to know each others’ books in progress.  We followed the characters as if they were real people, and it was real lives we were hearing about.  My very first romance novels debuted in the safety of my critique group, and because of what my partners said, those stories were reshaped and made better.

Yes, critique groups can also be disasters.  So I have a few rules for those of you who are thinking of forming one.  First, make sure that your partners are working in the same general field that you are.  If you’re writing novels, try to stick with other novelists.  If you’re writing commerical fiction, you might not want to hang out with someone who’s writing experimental literary fiction that uses no commas.  You just won’t understand each other.  Or respect each other. 

Second, make sure that you don’t invite anyone who has a mean streak.  It’s okay to be a critical reader; you just don’t want someone who gets off on making others feel small.  You also don’t want a complete wuss who’s afraid to say anything negative.  That’s not going to help anyone.  So you may have to put members through a trial period first, just to make sure everyone gets along.  In our group, we sometimes had people drop out when they moved away.  We’d audition replacement members, just to see how they fit in.  Once we felt comfortable with them, they stayed.  And stayed.

Did I mention the fact I was with this group for seven years?  Only when I moved to a different state did I finally have to leave my friends.

What does a critique group do for you?  First, it FORCES you to write every week.  Maybe you don’t feel like it, but if you know your group is going to be staring at you on Wednesday, waiting for your new material, by golly, you’ll sit down and write something.  Second, it makes you listen with a critical ear to the work of other writers, and this in itself is educational.  Finally, in the process of discussing each other’s work, you gain insight into what makes good writing. 

And where your own work can be improved.

Now that I’m published, I don’t have time to be in a critique group.  But I think back to those days when I was still an aspiring writer, and I miss those people.  They helped me become the writer I am today.

I should be used to this by now

Over at her blog the other day, Sarah Weinman posted a lovely congratulations for my Nero Award.  I was delighted to see it.  But then one of her blog readers followed up the announcement with the sort of comment that always seems to dog me: 

“There were no other nominations? It seems that this year Nero Award just gave the prize to just (one) nominee. And I think there is no any traits of Nero Wolfe mystery tradition in Gerritsen’s work. Hmm….”

“Hmmm” indeed.  (Forget the fact this person was ignorant of the hard work of the Nero Awards committee. )  The message was clear: That hack Gerritsen must be paying off judges again.  Why else would a prize committee throw an award at her? 

I’m reminded yet again of all the snarky comments made about my Edgar nomination, and how my book VANISH was the “wtf?” nominee.  Even the Macavity nomination for VANISH hasn’t quieted the doubters.  

It’s an interesting contrast to the world of romance publishing.  Romance readers seem to be a far more inclusive bunch.  No matter what the sub-genre – historical, paranormal, thrillers, fantasy, or futuristic —  romance readers welcome any and all variations on the love story.  Which may explain why romance is where you find some of the most innovative trends in fiction, and readers who embrace them all.  When THE SURGEON won the Rita award in 2002, for best romantic suspense, all I heard were sincere congratulations. 

So are mystery readers just a particularly cranky bunch?  How does one get into their “approved” club?  How does one escape “wtf?!” status?  Does anyone ever tell Pelecanos or Connelly that they don’t belong?

 

You can’t please all readers all the time

Over at JA Konrath’s blog today, Joe talks about keeping your readers happy by giving them what they expect.  After writing two books that featured serial killers, he says:

 “But in DIRTY MARTINI, I have no serial killers, and now I’m concerned my readership is going to say, ‘We expected serial killers—where are the serial killers?’

“As writers, I believe we owe our readers something. We have to walk a line between giving them more of what they liked, and giving them something new.”

Unfortunately, no matter which line we walk, some reader somewhere is going to whine and complain about our latest book.  And boy, have I been at the receiving end of those complaints.

After writing three medical thrillers (HARVEST, LIFE SUPPORT, and BLOODSTREAM) I wanted to try something completely different.  I had a story I couldn’t wait to write, about a subject I’ve long been fascinated by: space travel.  GRAVITY was still a medical thriller, but it happened to be set aboard the space station, and there was no villain involved.  No evil guy, no dastardly conspiracy.  I loved that book. 

But the readers?  They complained, oh how they complained.  “This isn’t like your other books!  We didn’t expect this!  Why did you do this to us?”  I had not met their expectations, and they were pissed.

So next I wrote THE SURGEON.  Not a medical thriller, but a crime thriller, with a serial killer.  Fresh complaints came in.  “This isn’t a medical thriller!  This is just a serial killer novel!”

I followed it up with THE APPRENTICE, featuring another serial killer.  Now the complaint was: “She wrote the same damn book again!”

Then came THE SINNER, about the cover-up of a corporate disaster in India.  No serial killer in this one.  So guess what the complaint was?  “Where’s the serial killer?  I wanted another serial killer novel!”

With THE MEPHISTO CLUB, I tried to do something different yet again.  I wanted to bring archaeology and Biblical history into the story, subjects that I’ve been fascinated with since my years as an anthropology major in college.  I wanted to skirt the line between the real and the metaphysical.  

Naturally the complaints came in.  “You stepped over the line!” “This one was too weird, too different!”

What’s the lesson here?  It’s this:  readers can be a cruel, nitpicky, bunch.  They will punish you with one-star Amazon reviews no matter what you write.  Write two similar books, and they’ll complain you’re uncreative.  Write a wildly creative book, and they’ll complain you stepped over the line.  They’ll complain if there’s a romance subplot.  They’ll complain if there isn’t a romance subplot.  MEPHISTO CLUB was called “nothing but a Harlequin romance” by one reader.  Another reader complained that it was graphically gory and upsetting.  Yet another reader called it a blasphemous attack on Christianity.

They were all talking about the same book.

So my advice to Joe (and every other writer) is this: just say to hell with it.  Don’t obsess over trying to meet readers’ expectations, because someone’s going to complain no matter what you write.  So you might as well write the book you want to write, the book that will fulfill YOUR expectations.  Because you’re probably the toughest critic of your own work, anyway.

And to all those nitpicky readers, the ones who think they’re so much smarter than the writer they’re complaining about, here’s a revolutionary idea: go write your own damn book.

VANISH wins the Nero Award!

                       nero award

 I have a new man in my life.  And here he is.

On Saturday night, I attended the annual Black Orchid Banquet at the Cafe Soleil in New York City, hosted by the Wolfe Pack (otherwise known as the Nero Wolfe fan club).  These are my kind of people.  They eat, they drink, they party, they sing bad songs, and they love mystery novels — specifically, Rex Stout’s mystery novels starring the immortal Nero Wolfe. 

I’ve never met a more convivial bunch.

And I don’t say that just because they happened to honor my novel VANISH with the 2006 Nero Award.  I say this because these are the kind of people I could hang out with year after year, if only they lived closer to me.  Their idea of a good time is to drink a lot, talk mysteries, and enjoy meals from The Cookbook, based on the spectacular repasts described in the Nero Wolfe mystery novels, by Rex Stout.  For those of you who aren’t familiar with him, Nero is what I would be if I was a guy. Well, a VERY overweight guy.  He loves his food.  He loves his beer.  He grows orchids.  He stays at home and pretty much sits in a chair all day.

Yep, that’s me.                    

               with stephannie russo  with Stephannie Russo

Around 80 people turned out to dine at the private party.  And the evening could only be described, in Nero’s immortal words of high praise, as “most satisfactory.”  This was not your usual mystery awards night, primarily because the attendees weren’t mystery writers at all, nor even people in the publishing world.  These were readers from all walks of life, from a former captain in Military Intelligence, to a former pediatrician (who once treated primates in the Bronx Zoo), and everyone in between.  What unites them is a fondness (one might call it an obsession) for the character of Nero Wolfe – gourmand, private detective and orchid aficionado.   

                      lawrence block  Lawrence Block

 The highlight of the evening was the hang-loose and hilarious keynote speech of Lawrence Block.  It just so happens that I’ve been a fan of Block’s since the mid-80’s, when I was a wannabe writer, and an avid reader of Writers Digest.  Block was a columnist and one of the best writing teachers I’ve ever come across.  In fact, to this day, whenever aspiring writers ask if I recommend a particular book about novel writing, the first title on my list is Block’s TELLING LIES FOR FUN AND PROFIT.  If you only buy one book about writing, that’s the one you should have. 

So now I’m home, and this gorgeous statue is sitting on my bookcase.  I certainly didn’t expect to win it.  In fact, I was completely taken by surprise when, a few weeks ago, I got the phone call about the award.

As a writer, I spend most of my year sitting alone at home fussing with a story that always seems like a certain disaster.  I suffer through months of sleepless nights, thinking that I’ll never be able to turn this mess into a book.  I thought VANISH would be my worst novel ever.  I turned it in with the apologetic murmur, “I’m sorry.  It’s the best I could do.”  So it’s always a surprise when people actually like the result — and then invite me to a marvelous banquet and hand me a gorgeous statue.

It doesn’t make writing the next book any easier.  But it sure does remind me that I managed to pull off the feat once before.  And that maybe I can do it again.