Friday, February 15, 2008

Learner's Permit

On Wednesday night, I was the guest speaker for the February meeting of the Rochester Bibliophile Society, a group of folks who love all things books. Normally I’m asked to speak about my books or about mysteries in general, and I do teach a few writing seminars as well, the focus often (but not always) on the mystery genre. That night, however, I was asked to talk about my experiences as a cog in that massive machine known as The Publishing World. Given my perspective – insignificant, brief, na├»ve - I was surprised at how much I was able to share about the process, and even more surprised that I didn’t have to make any of it up. It’s just another of the things I learned that I didn’t expect to learn when I started writing.

I’ve learned a lot from writing my books. I’m not talking the obvious stuff that I picked up traveling to India and Thailand and Egypt and all points in between. It would be impossible not to have learned tons of things logging all those miles, things about local customs, exotic foods, unusual social taboos, obscure smuggling laws and frightening religious edicts. Anyone who travels a lot knows they are bound to learn more than they expected – that’s why you travel, right? What I’m talking about is the strange knowledge I acquired in the 4 years I have been involved in The Biz.

Here are some random things that I’ve picked up:

  • Arthur Ellis was the nom de travail of Canada's last official hangman
  • If you use a quality silencer on an assault rifle, the sound of the bolt going back and forth is louder than the bullet being fired
  • It is possible to keep a pet pig in a bookstore
  • There are some really excellent self-published authors out there
  • There are some really awful self-published authors out there
  • Just because a book is a best seller doesn’t mean that it’s any good (I sort of suspected this but now it’s confirmed)
  • Customs officials are not impressed when you say you are an author
  • Laura Lippman is an astute baseball fan
  • By a wide margin, authors don’t like their author photo
  • Cats play an inexplicably central role in the mystery genre
  • Mystery aficionados tend to fall left of center in their political/social views
  • Never assume someone is/is not an avid reader
  • It’s easy to shoot a walrus
  • “Fans” at mystery conventions need to be treated as the real stars
  • No author gets tired of signing his/her own name
  • Don't play basketball with S.J. Rozan unless you know how to play
  • Librarians fight over the latest issue of Publishers Weekly
  • The room where they hold the Edgars banquet is surprisingly small
  • You could fit all the employees of Poisoned Pen Press in one minivan
  • Most mystery fans are women
  • You can use a laminated Mystery Writers of America Card to jimmy open a locked briefcase
  • Although I did, very few authors have any say on their cover design
  • Some British tourists come to the US to shoot guns
  • Most authors have day jobs which they hope to quit but never will
  • The Man from Nantucket limerick does not translate easily into Japanese
  • There are people with huge collections of books they never intend to read
  • The guy who wrote Road to Perdition looks like a young Elton John
  • Most people want you to be successful
  • Even though they make little and in fact often lose money in the process, writers can’t stop writing
While I have learned a lot, I have far to go.


Jared said...

A baseball fan living in Baltimore? The poor girl deserves better.

And I'm glad I'm not the only one that did a double-take when I first saw Collins.


Rick Blechta said...

Jared, you are very perceptive -- especially regarding baseball.

The way the Orioles have foundered very much mirrors what's happened to the Toronto Make Believes. It is a sad day.

You up for a game in T.O. this summer?

Todd said...

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Learners Permit