We’re All in This Together, Anecdotes from the Front Lines

From Writers in the Storm:

I’m going to take a break from technical advice about structure or the gaming world and how the Boss Fight relates to fiction, and talk about meeting other writers and what you can get out of that. I’ll throw in some Rules of Encounter and Warnings, Scary Moments, and maybe elicit a smile or even a chuckle. 

For once I know exactly where the idea for this essay came from. I have two thirty-something friends with whom I share movies and books and from whom I learn much. Driving back from a show I said something about Frank Herbert and one of them said, “Wait, stop. You’ve met Frank Herbert?”

Well, yes, as a matter of fact I have and I’d like to take a few minutes of your time to talk about that encounter because I believe it has meaning, a meaning that perhaps will help you in your writing efforts. 

Big-Time Authors

As writers we spend our time at the keyboard, or thinking about what we will say once we return to the keyboard, or studying ways to improve what we produce at the — well, you know where I mean. There can be an underlying, hidden assumption that somehow the big-time authors are different, that they have some secret, that they are not like us. It ain’t so. 

All of us, from The NY Times list down to the newly-published writer share attributes.

We are all in this together. Meeting your writer heroes will help you to understand just how true that is, how strong that bond is, 

A few of my own True Life Adventures will illustrate this point and I’ll add some Rules as well as Words of Warning. 

Writing is not easy. For all of those times when the characters leap off the page and entertain you with their stories there are a lot more — at least if you are like me — times when it’s pulling teeth or worse. One of those True Life Adventures stars was Harlan Ellison and I’ll let him explain what it’s like.

True Life Adventures 

You may say, “But I’ve never met any important writers or agents and don’t have a clue how to.” Part of those meetings is luck, part is persistence. Here’s how I did it, and with each example there’s a Takeaway, something to remember. 

Harlan Ellison

Ellison taught a UCLA class called Ten Tuesdays Down the Rabbit Hole and it was an epic event. Through a friend I was offered a chance to be a Teaching Assistant. I was working full time and taking two classes — six units — but I said yes anyway. I helped a little bit with various things and as a result got to meet Harlan and actually come to know him. I’ll never forget him saying, “Writing is easy. You just cut off part of yourself and put it on the page.”

Takeaway: Say yes. Seize every opportunity, grab it by the ears and figure out how you’ll get it all done later. 

Frank Herbert        

Frank Herbert lectured at Golden West college. After the lecture was over I hung around to say thanks and to tell him how much I loved Dune. I expected that he would be surrounded by a crowd of admirers but that was not the case and to my amazement I found myself sitting and chatting with a man whose work I admired. I got to tell him how I had read Dune when it was serialized in AnalogScience Fiction, and he asked about my work!

           Takeaway: hang around after a class/talk. If nothing else, say thank you.

Paul Bishop

At one convention in San Diego you could sign up and submit a chapter in advance for review by one of the writers at the conference. I did and my reviewer was Paul Bishop, author of Tequila Mockingbird as well as other excellent thrillers, and career LAPD police officer. At one point in the review, I had something wrong in my description of a revolver. Bishop reached down into his boot top, extracted a small weapon, and showed me the right way. Yes, it’s true. I’ve had a reviewer pull a gun on me. 

Takeaway: If you attend a convention and have an opportunity to get your work reviewed, take it!

. . . .

Donald Maas

At a convention in Alaska I must have looked like a writer because this guy in the airport wanted to know if I’d share a cab to the hotel. It was the agent Donald Maas and I did not pitch my work In the taxi. We talked pc issues and since my contract work lately had centered around just that I was able to answer some of his questions. Later I was able to use this as the lead when I pitched my work, “We met at . . .”  Ultimately his agency chose not to represent me but I had a chance. 

     Takeaway: take notes, keep a journal. When you submit work, lead with “We met at Bouchercon, and you said . . .” This is not an original thought on my part. It has turned up in my reading several places. One source went so far as to suggest that you say, “We met at and you suggested I send in  . . .” even if you had not, in fact met them, because at a convention with thousands of people they’ll never remember.

My take on this is not to do it. One, they might remember they’d never met you. (Back to Donald Maas — this is a bright guy. He’d remember if he had not, in fact met you like you claimed. Can you spell, “Kiss of Death?”.) In addition to possibly backfiring it’s dishonest. 

Link to the rest at Writers in the Storm

The OP brought back the period in PG’s life when he attended a lot of conventions, sometimes as a speaker and later as a booth jockey.

While he had a lot of fun at conventions for lawyers where he was a speaker and made a lot of friends in the process, he’s glad he’s not doing it any more. The principal reason is large airports and making connections through large airports and missing connections in large airports.

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