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To my fellow writers: please don’t be the lone wolf in a tough world. I know that many of us are introverted artists, myself included. We would love nothing more than to have that cabin in the woods or solitary beach house where we could do nothing but write. Then, with no trouble at all, we simply send our wonderful prose to a publisher who is anxiously awaiting our newest submission. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work the way it does in the movies.
One of the greatest discoveries I’ve made as an author is that I do not have to bear the rough road to publishing alone. I don’t have to take the hit of a rejection letter without the support of those who understand what I am going through. There are people who not only encourage me and share their experiences, but who provide the opportunity for me to learn how to be a better writer.
Who are these super heroes of prose you ask? They are your genres writers’ associations. That’s correct. There are organizations that support writers in your particular genre.
In my case, I am a mystery author. When I finally decided to write that first novel, I had no idea where to start. I didn’t know anyone in the publishing business. I didn’t know what was required in order to contact publishers. Did I need an agent? How would I get one of those?
One day, I decided to do an internet search and came across an organization called Sisters in Crime. This organization was the brainchild of Sara Paretsky whom you may know as the author of a popular series which features Private Investigator, V. I. Warshawski. Sara felt women mystery writers weren’t taken seriously, so she thought there should be an organization to support them. Of course, unlike the names implies, members are male as well as female.
When I joined this group in 2008, my first meeting for the local chapter in the Chicago area was their annual writers’ workshop. I learned so much in that one day that it inspired me to keep moving forward and to never give up. At regular chapter meetings, we have special guests and experts in the fields of publicity, law enforcement, private investigation, crime scene clean up, and more.
At this time, I have the honor of being Chicagoland’s Vice President and Program Chair. I am also a member of the Speed City Chapter in Indianapolis, which is my hometown and the site where my Circle City Mystery Series takes place. With the generosity of a grant for the National organization, the combined efforts of these two chapters, and assistance from the Iowa chapter, they were able to participate at the 2015 Printers Row Lit Fest in Chicago. There they spread the word about the Sisters in Crime organization and introduce some of their Midwest authors to readers.
As an active member of the Mystery Writers of America, I have found another excellent organization of which to be a part. They too support members in their efforts to write the best novel possible through workshops, meetings with experts, and the occasional fun and fabulous networking party. The Midwest Chapter was also a great presence at Printers Row Lit Fest this year providing speakers for Lit Fest panels as well as featuring authors in the Mystery Writers of America tent. They conducted fun contests with excellent Edgar Allan Poe prizes and held a flash fiction contest, which was won by a 16-year-old “future Edgar nominee.” The national organization also has writers’ workshops called MWA University, which takes place in various parts of the country. This is a great opportunity for writers—published or not—to hone their skills.
The camaraderie I have found in these two groups is inspiring and irreplaceable. That is the point of my blog today. It is so much easier to bear the disappointments when people who understand what you are going through surround you. It is also more joyous when you can share your successes with them.
I strongly suggest you find your “pack.” Don’t be the lone wolf, because often they “starve.” Being around writers from your genre is so stimulating that it is well worth being a part of it.
If you are a mystery writer, you can find out more about Sisters in Crime at http://www.sistersincrime.org and Mystery Writers of America at https://mysterywriters.org . If you write in another genre, you can find a list of organizations on a website called Writers Relief at http://writersrelief.com/writers-associations-organizations .
You contact me with any questions regarding today’s blog, or find out more about my novels and me through my website at www.memay-mysteries.com. Thank you and Happy Writing!
Michele (M.E.) May attended Indiana University in Kokomo, Indiana, studying Social and Behavioral Sciences. Her interest in the psychology of humans sparked the curiosity to ask why they commit such heinous acts upon one another. Other interests in such areas as criminology and forensics have moved her to put her vast imagination to work writing crime fiction that is as accurate as possible. In doing so, she depicts societal struggles that pit those who understand humanity with those who are lost in a strange and dangerous world of their own making.
In creating the Circle City Mystery Series, she brings to life fictional characters who work diligently to bring justice to victims of crime in the city of Indianapolis. Michele also hopes her readers will witness through her eyes, the wonderful city she calls her hometown. Learn more about Michele at www.memay-mysteries.com.
“Wait! Wait! She did what?” I’m yelling out loud to the absent, well-known author of the book I’m reading. The farther I read in the book, the more annoyed I become. The protagonist’s choices are stupid, her personality annoys me and the plot seems totally far-fetched. So why am I continuing to read?
When I was younger, my rule was that if I began a book, I ought to finish it. As I got busier, and my time more valuable, I modified the rule: I had to read 100 pages before I gave up; then 50. Then I edged down to 35, 25, and 10. Now if a book doesn’t grab me in the first few pages, it’s toast.
-Give me great characters. Make me sympathize with their goals and worry about the obstacles they face. Think Laura Lippman or Michael Connelly.
-Compelling plot. It doesn’t have to be fast, or convoluted, but it should be fresh. Ruth Rendell, Elmore Leonard and Robert Crais are all master plotters.
-Seductive setting. Make me feel like I’m walking around in the setting. I don’t mean only geographical places, but situations that come alive. Take me somewhere I haven’t been, or show me an aspect of a familiar place that I don’t know. I’ve never been to Beijing, but Lisa Brachmann put me there in ROCK, PAPER, TIGER.
-Believable dialog. Dialogue that brings characters to life. Denise Mina’s dialogue is incomparable.
-Rich and evocative language. Maybe even a little philosophical musing thrown in. Think Craig Johnson or Meg Abbott
I may keep reading because a book was highly recommended by a trusted source, or the author is one I have read and enjoyed in the past, even if it doesn’t grab me right away.
But back to the question. Suppose all or most of what usually keeps me reading is missing? What is the writer’s ace in the hole?
-Surprise. In the book I described at the beginning, just as I would decide to put the book down, the author would grab me with an unexpected twist—something someone said, or saw, or did that made me wonder how the author was going to resolve it. She was a master of “the grabber,” slipping it into just the right places. Even after I knew, halfway through the book, exactly what was going on, I kept being lured in, wondering how it would come together in the end.
Whether it’s a thriller, with a life-threatening event every few pages; or a cozy, with subtler hints that things aren’t what they seem; or a PI or police novel, with a protagonist who digs for startling fact, surprise keeps this reader turning pages when all else fails.
Terry Shames lives in Berkeley, California with her husband, two terriers and a cat who barely tolerates the dogs and is on the board of NorCal Sisters in Crime. Her first book, A KILLING AT COTTON HILL (Seventh Street Books) comes out in July, 2013. It is set in small-town Texas and features former Police Chief Samuel Craddock. Visit Terry’s website www.terryshames.com