Authors Are Public Figures

I get that, and I don’t dispute that fact. For the rest of my life, I will forever be associated with the characters I write. Whether it’s fair or not (and that’s another blog post entirely) my character’s values (or lack thereof) will be compared to my values. And that’s okay. I’m a big boy with a steel spine, and I can take whatever the world dishes out about me and Casey. The first one through the brick wall always gets bloody. Always. And I don’t mind leading the charge, because change happens when I tweak people’s expectations, and I push people just beyond where they want to go.

With Casey, it’s still a delicate act, and I’m working out the proper mathematical formula, but I don’t mind giving it a few more rounds (novels). So I’ve sat idly by while everything from my plotting to my character development to my writing was questioned, and sometimes spewed with enough vehemence to make Hannibal Lector blush. But I brush myself off and move on, because readers are entitled to their opinions, and I’m a reader first, writer second. It’ll always be that way, because I started reading (or more accurately had books read to me) before I ever picked up a pen and paper, and I’ve read more books in one year than I’ll probably ever write in my entire life. Again, that’s the way it’s supposed to be.

But where I draw the line is when you start attacking my friends and family. At that point you’ve crossed over from being a reader into being an asshole, and I have a really low tolerance when it comes to assholes. Maybe it’s the introvert in me (who met his share of bullies), or maybe I’m focused on truth, justice, and the American way, but whatever it is, I can no longer sit idly by and let this shenanigan stand.

Here’s the title for the Amazon review: “Just because your friends said they liked the story, doesn’t mean it’s true.” For you grammatically astute folks playing at home, we have a tense shift in the middle of a sentence. Last time I checked, not a good idea, but we’re moving on. This reviewer is an author. Yep, that scared the shit out of me, too. But it gets better, as I dissect this a bit further. Reviews are opinions, and I haven’t found a single person yet that disputes this, not even this reviewer. But what this one simple sentence says is that my friends and family are liars, and they’re not entitled to their own opinion. Yep, even Casey Holden doesn’t have his head that far up his ass.

Losing An Editor

As you can probably imagine, the entire publishing process was a series of firsts for me: tossing all the candy bars and my manuscript aside and believing Casey probably never would find a home, before finding a potential diamond in the massive sifting process otherwise known as querying; having a professional believe in my work almost as much as I do; conducting that first phone conversation which I still remember pieces of, even though it was over four years ago; collaborating on the editing, marketing, cover design, and layout, before the box arrived with my first stack of bright red paperbacks just in time for my first Left Coast Crime Conference; and ultimately having a published novel. Not my greatest and best work, mind you, but I’ve always been a sponge and believed in the art of continuous improvement.

But losing an editor, and in many ways a friend, the one who believed in me and my work when no one else did, the one who decided to take a chance on me when no one else would, and who helped me reinvent myself for my second novel, with additional advice and support and back-and-forth editing sessions…well, that red pill is a bit harder to swallow. Betty Wright and Rainbow Books Inc. had been going strong for 34 years long, until she passed away recently, with plenty of non-fiction books and the occasional cozy mystery.

But you don’t write cozy mysteries, Downs. Exactly. And now I can never ask Ms. Wright why she decided to take a chance on me. But from what I remember about our first phone conversation, she fell in love with my protagonist, telling me I had more talent than Mickey Spillane (the jury’s still out on that one) and saw some spark in my writing amidst the sea of manuscripts that happened to come across her desk. If that were the end of the story, it might make for an amusing antidote. But this is a publishing house run by women, and I have (if you take a gander at my reviews) a rather unlikeable male protagonist with plenty of ego and chauvinism to boot. And my manuscript didn’t just go through Ms. Wright, it went through her daughter, and possibly two others at the publishing house (I was never clear on the exact figure) before it reached her desk. Six months after I sent Rainbow Books Inc. my full manuscript—I still remember thinking that they couldn’t even be bothered to use my own SASE for my rejection letter—I received the envelope, with a one-page letter tucked inside, that every writer hopes against hope to receive, the letter that says you are worthy and good and we want to publish your shit.

How do you like them odds? Yeah, you might just have an easier time winning the lottery.

Betty, you will be missed, my friend.