Sunday, March 14, 2010

Anthony Bidulka on The Hidden Perks of Being a Crime Writer

Today I am very pleased to again welcome my good friend and fabulous crime writer Anthony Bidulka to Type M. Tony writes the Russell Quant series set in his home town of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, and all sorts of other wonderful and exotic places around the world.

In the past ten years or so, since becoming a full time writer, I’ve been lucky enough to be a guest of many book clubs. First, let me tell you, each one is quite different from the next. After a couple of unexpected – but nonetheless intriguing – situations, I learned to query the person who extended the invitation about what exactly were the club’s expectations of me. If all they want is to sit around, drink wine, eat dessert and shoot the breeze with an author (discussion of my book - or any book - is not a given) – I’m all for that, I just want to know to come hungry. If they want a reading from something new and unpublished, that’s great too – but I don’t normally travel around with my latest scribblings in my back pocket and I can’t “just remember it”. But all that is besides my point today. I bring up book clubs because one of my recent visits distinguished itself when a club member asked a question I’d never really been asked before: What do you consider the perks of your profession?

After a short hesitation, I threw out a few pat answers to fill the silence; all the while my brain was doing loop-de-loops as I carefully considered the unusual question. The first thing I realized was that I hadn’t thought about this in a while. I’m pretty good about remembering to celebrate successes. And I do wake up every morning knowing that I love what I do. But had I really been appreciating what a good thing I’ve got here? Instead I’d been focusing on meeting deadlines, finalizing galleys, considering how to reinvent promotional touring when so many of the bookstores I visit are disappearing, evaluating my true feelings about e-Readers, having perfectly good night’s rests disturbed by my mind chewing over concepts for a new book, worrying about when I was going to have the time to prepare for a meeting with my tax accountant. Plus dealing with the seventeen-thousand-and-three other details of living a busy life.

It was high time I (re)identified the perks of my profession, line them up, and give them their due.

As I did so, an interesting thing I discovered about these perks, is that almost all of them came as a surprise to me. I didn’t know they were perks until they happened to me. No one took me aside ten years ago and said: “Okay, now that you’re a writer, here’s all the cool stuff you get.”

So, in no particular order, here are my:

Top Ten Hidden Perks of Being a Crime Writer

1. People want to sit next to me at a dinner party

Immediately prior to beginning life as a full time writer, I had a decade long career as a corporate auditor with a major Audit and Accounting firm. See! You’re yawning already!

I consider myself a decent conversationalist. But the routine was always the same: I’d get seated at a dinner party. Eventually the “What do you do?” question would come up. I’d say: “I’m a Chartered Accountant”. Eyes began to glaze over. Every time. Not so anymore. Being a published crime writer is actually a pretty cool job. And there aren’t too many of us around; particularly in Canada. People want to know about what we do.

And for extra fun, you can always answer the “What do you do?” question with something like: “I commit murder for profit.” What fun.

2. Immortalizing proclamations of love and appreciation

For me, one of the best parts of coming to the end of writing a book, is that it means I get to write the Acknowledgement and Dedication sections. I love doing this. I get to think about all the special people who’ve been part of my writing process, part of my life, during the past months while I worked on the book, and say thank you in a very public way. I find that very satisfying.

3. Asking unusual questions is part of the job

Prefacing any conversation with “I’m writing a book, and I was wondering if you could tell me about…” is a very powerful tool. Not only do I get to meet and chat with interesting people, but I can probably get away with asking some questions (in the line of duty) that others can’t. As a rule, people are very generous with sharing what they know. Even dirty little secrets. Which are the best kind!

4. Doing bad things

Without concern for legal repercussions, crime writers can do bad things to evil people whenever they want. Although I (honestly) haven’t consciously done this myself, I know of colleagues who take this a step further. One writer I know of in particular, quite regularly bases his bad guy characters on people he does not like. Then, over the course of 250 pages or so, he painstakingly unravels their lives, then throws them in jail or kills them! Who needs therapy?

5. Making mom proud

What mother wouldn’t like being taken into a bookstore’s cafĂ© for a bit of lunch, and being seated under a massive black & white photo of her son? I get to do that whenever we’re in the McNally Robinson bookstore in my home town of Saskatoon. I’m not quite sure how I feel about having an embarrassingly huge picture of my mug hanging out in plain sight (just calling out for a few well-placed scribblings with a magic marker), but it gives my mom bragging rights with her friends, and that’s a pretty cool thing.

6. If it’s Tuesday, it must be Baltimore

I travel a lot in my personal life. Although my mother believes I’ve probably been everywhere there is to go, I know the truth. I worry I’ll run out of time to get everywhere on my list. Plus return to the places I really love. And so, I likely would never have visited Ann Arbor, Michigan. Or Indianapolis, Indiana. Or Madison, Wisconsin. Or Sacramento, California. The first time I ever visited these places, or even places like Ottawa, San Francisco, Washington, DC or Atlanta, Georgia was on book business. Most definitely, one of the great perks of this career is having a reason to go places I might never have gone otherwise. And, there is something pretty darn neat about going to a strange city and having people you’ve never met before come out to meet you at a book signing or reading.

7. Readers are awesome people

Probably the most unexpected perk, and the one I most cherish, is that every single day I boot up the computer and there are all these great messages from readers. Some are funny, some are heartfelt, some are messages of support, some are just to say hello or to tell me they’ve read one of my books and enjoyed it. What a gift. What a kindness. It still floors me that people take the time to write these notes.

8. Joining a new community

I remember attending my first writer’s conference after my first book was published. I had no idea what to expect. At the end of the first day, I sat on the bed in my hotel room, called home and said: I’m with people like me.
It was a thrilling experience to find a new community of people who did what I did, had the same dreams and worries, hopes and concerns. It’s a community I still value today.
With this family of writers I tour, participate in panels, attend conferences, laugh and cry, celebrate successes, or sometimes just sit around in a bar somewhere and talk about stuff.

9. Unlearning

Have you ever had the experience of knowing you know something, then being proved wrong? So far, thanks to my readers, I’ve learned that bougainvillea do not give off a scent, between knitting and crocheting–with only one can you hear the sound of clicking needles, and my grammar skills stink. But hey, that’s what editors are for.

10. Being surprised

Over the course of my career so far, I never anticipated the wonderful surprises along the way. Like when two readers used their summer vacation to visit Russell Quant’s home city and Saskatchewan for the first time. Receiving a box full of University of Michigan paraphernalia from a reader and his mother (including a jersey with ‘Bidulka’ inscribed across the back) after a visit to Ann Arbor. The thoughtful and sobering letter from the reader who was making his way through the Quant books while recovering from a devastating illness. Being asked to judge a performing talent contest (my credentials to do so are still a little murky to me). Awesome.

What are the perks of my profession, you ask? Well, they are plentiful, and wonderful, and they make my life a better place to live. And for that, I am very grateful.

Please visit Anthony (and Russell Quant) at It's one of the best author web pages around.


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ajcap said...

Let me be the first #7 to thank you for "The Hidden Perks". Very inspiring and funny, to boot. That looks strange typed out.

I'm a Canadian aspiring author and I'd like to know if there are any writers' conferences you would recommend?

Vicki Delany said...

Ajcap - Bloody Words is the Canadian mystery conference. It is being held this year in Toronto, last weekend in May. Next year in Victoria in June. Also, Wolfe Island Scene of the Crime Festival in Kingston, Ont in August. It is not a "writer's conference" per se (authors are by invitation) but a great festival for mystery lovers. BW and Scene both have a short story contest, and BW offers Manuscript evaluations. Hope to see you there

ajcap said...

Thanks, Vicki! A very timely post as my writing group was discussing which conference to attend. And since my sister lives in Kingston, and has friends on Wolfe Island, and loves a good mystery as much as I do, that would be fun for us as well.
Cheers, AJ

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