The Business Rusch: Murder Most Foul
Here’s what they don’t tell you when you start out as a writer:
1. You need to learn business.
2. You need to learn copyright because that’s what you sell.
3. You need to learn how to hire people because the wrong people could destroy your life and career.
4. Your traditional publisher doesn’t give a crap about you, unless you become a blockbuster, and even then, they only see you as earning potential.
Instead, they teach you how to be an ahhhhrtist, how to write lasting works, how to produce ahhhhhhrt. Workshops, college courses, other writers all focus on craft because (here’s the big secret) it’s the easiest thing to teach young writers. (Also the most destructive: see these posts)
But this is a business blog, and much as I want to dwell on business, I can’t always.
Because in writing, business is personal—to the writer anyway—and any writer who tells you otherwise has trained herself to be hard as hell, lies, or is totally clueless about both business and personal stuff. You have to learn to separate them in your own head as a writer—you really do. You’re writing from who you are, and then you’re taking bits of yourself to market. Once at the market, those bits of you are a commodity.
Readers understand the glimmers of humanity—they wouldn’t read you otherwise—but they don’t see you. They did, after all, buy a book, a commodity, something that might end up being personal to them for completely different reasons than it does to you. Or the book might mean nothing to them, and get donated to the library sale because they couldn’t finish the damn thing.
Writers with long careers have learned how to separate the business from the writing—most of the time. We can play the intellectual game of “It’s my baby! No, it’s a widget!” with the best of them.
But there are other problems as well. For example, we writers run a small business. Its product is our work. We might produce a book a year or, if we’re prolific, several books a year.
Traditional publishers publish more books than that per imprint per month. Books are, to big publishers, interchangeable widgets because big publishers publish so many of them.
So if a vampire detective series book has a bad cover, the editor at the traditional publisher checks the profit-and-loss statement. If the book got a small advance, well, then, the book is stuck with the bad cover, which will hurt sales, which will probably guarantee that the next two books in the series won’t do as well, if they get published at all. So sad, says the editor. The cowardly editors never break it to their writers; the good editors own up and apologize, and explain that they’re sorry but they can’t do anything to fix it.
The traditional publishing house can eat the loss. Or maybe, it’s not a real loss for them. The vampire detective series book is a September release, and it won’t do well as expected. Everyone can see that before publication, so the publisher will mitigate its losses by (for example) printing fewer copies. But the vampire detective series novel for March (by a different author) has a much better cover; it’ll do very well.
The publishing company can shrug off the September loss in anticipation of the March gain.
The September author can’t. Even if she has the widget/baby dichotomy down, even if she understands that it’s not personal, it’s business, she will not be able to shrug.
After all, it’s her series, her livelihood, her business that got screwed up here, and she’s going to have to recover from it—or not.
Last week, Judith Tarr wrote a lightning-rod post called “The League of Shattered Authors” and got shredded on some writer business boards for catering to whiners. Those writers should disappear, someone said on one list. They’re not up for the new world of publishing. Let them vanish.
Just writing that makes me release a small breath of discomfort. Because, without Dean, I might have joined that league.
I decided to write this very personal post after the reaction to Judy’s post and after my own post last week about the stages writers are going through. I thought I’d let you know how hard it’s been for me, and how I am sometimes in several stages at the same time.
I am a very strong person, one who clearly understands the difference between being a businesswoman and being a creative person. But I’ve gotten stung several times by traditional publishing. Mostly, it’s stupid stuff and it makes me mad. Often, I catch the problem ahead of time, and figure out how to solve the problem given the situation before the problem gets worse.
But I’ve had my heart broken too. Usually the heartbreaks are small enough to set aside. But on one series, they weren’t. My heart got seriously, horribly broken. What’s-the-point-of-writing broken. I’m-going-back-to-my-day-job broken. I-give-up broken. That heartbreak was with the Smokey Dalton series.
I like to say I was naïve about that series. I like to say I was dumb. I blame me, because in the old world of publishing, you couldn’t blame your publishers. The world was what it was, and if you wanted to work in that world, then you had to accept it.
Things have changed.
This week, the newest book, Street Justice, went to the copy editor. We’re preparing for a March, 2014 release. More on that below.
But let’s talk about the series for a moment. The formerly dead series. The series that was, I can tell you now, a victim of murder most foul.
I wrote the very first Smokey Dalton novel after I turned in my resignation from The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. My experiences as editor of that magazine were soul-sucking, something I didn’t say much about at the time because I wanted to continue working in the sf field. The transition between my editorship and the new editor was absolutely brutal. The things said, the things done, the things written at the time belong in a different blog, but let’s simply say that my lawyer was and is still angry that I didn’t go to court to protect my reputation. My argument was that if I still planned to edit professionally, I would have gone to court. But I wanted to write, and I could ignore all that was said and done to my editing reputation by the libel and slander that was going on.
I retreated into writing. I wrote one novel just for me. (And when I sent it to my agent, she made my cry by telling me in great detail how unmarketable the novel was. I should have fired her right there. Live and learn.)
Then I wrote a detective novel. I picked an unusual setting—Memphis in March of 1968, just before Martin Luther King’s assassination. My detective, Smokey Dalton, happened to be black, because I knew he had grown up with Dr. King. Characters come to me first, and I let them dictate.
But aside from the setting, the novel was classic—almost too classic—detective fiction. My loner detective sitting in his office in a dingy part of town gets a visit from a beautiful blonde. There’s a mysterious will. There are family secrets.
When I finished, I thought the novel’s biggest problem was its classic framework.
Nope, my agent told me. The novel’s biggest problem was me. I’m white and Smokey’s black. Apparently, there’s a rule in traditional publishing that white people (white women?) can’t write about black people (black men?) at least from a first person point of view.
But once the agent established that I was not planning to hire a black actor to play me in public (seriously; she said that. Why in hell didn’t I fire her?), she marketed the book to all the big publishers. In the late 1990s, Oprah’s book club dominated the book world, and all of these traditional publishers figured Oprah would love this book because she’s black, and Smokey’s black, not factoring in her actual tastes. The publishers saw major dollar signs.
I had several six-figure offers on the table. Then my lovely agent called and said that one publisher in particular wanted to know if I could tour with the book. My agent was panicked, because I’m a white woman from the Pacific Northwest. She was thinking of lying now. I didn’t understand the problem.
Of course I can tour, I said.
She told them that, and told them I’m white.
The offers vanished. Literally vanished.
It shouldn’t have been news to me that traditional publishing is racist. I saw a major black sf writer lose his temper at his white editor when he saw the cover of his next book. The book had a white woman on the cover, even though there were no white people in the book. He was furious.
I figured it was an sf problem. I was naïve. It’s a traditional publishing problem. I’ve been told to my face that only white people read books (this from a sales rep). I’ve been asked what was wrong with me; why did I have to write about black people? (From a vice-president in a publishing house). I’ve been told…well, you’ll see.
And if you think this problem no longer exists in this 21st century, look at this article from last week’s Los Angeles Times. Read it now, then think about this: Saladin Ahmed had to have his editor and publisher guarantee that they wouldn’t “whitewash” the cover of the book. The fact that he had to ask, had to insist, is ridiculous. They should have put a good, accurate cover on from the beginning.
I suppose I expect too much. After all, it was only four years ago that the industry had to deal with the controversy over Liar by Justine Larbalestier. The first version of that highly acclaimed book out of Bloomsbury had a white person on the cover when the main character is black. Protest got the cover changed. If you follow this link, you can see both covers–the original and the cover after the protest. Realize that what happened to Larbalestier is unusual only in that the cover got changed. Not that a black character was depicted as white in the first place.
Protests are happening nowadays, and traditional publishing is improving, but Betsy Wolheim of Daw Books is correct in that article when she compares where traditional publishing is on racism to the late 1960s.
The racism I encountered on the Smokey Dalton books was limited to the book companies only, and was breathtakingly vile. I honestly have no idea how Octavia Butler, Steve Barnes, and Walter Mosely survived in traditional publishing in the 1990s or in the earlier part of this century. Even now, I think the racial insensitivity is amazing.
I was in New York just before the debacle with the withdrawn offers on A Dangerous Road, and I had been talking to Kelley Ragland, a relatively new editor at St. Martin’s Press. She had inherited the mess that was Hitler’s Angel and had treated me very well. She had also indicated an interest in any other mystery I would write.
So I told my agent to send the book to Kelley, who promptly bought A Dangerous Road for four-figures—not the six that had been on the table just a few days earlier.
I took the deal, beginning to catch a clue that this book might have no home at all if I didn’t.
Kelley was fantastic. She is an insightful editor, and she really championed these books. She worked hard, negotiating all the problems in-house and in the traditional publishing infrastructure to get the book out in the proper way.
Through her efforts, A Dangerous Road got favorable reviews everywhere. Barnes & Noble chose it as one of the top ten mysteries of the year. The novel was chosen for the New York Public Library’s prestigious Books For The Teenage List. The book was nominated for the Edgar, and won the Herodotus Award for the Best U.S. Historical Mystery.
In fact, thanks to Kelley, the books always went to the top reviewers. She constantly championed the series. But she couldn’t do much, because of the low advances and the way that the sales force continually subverted the novels.
These are the novels that the publisher sent me on book tour for—book tours that had no books, because no one in sales bothered to send them to distributors or bookstores. I got repeatedly invited to book fairs in Chicago because the later books were set there, but couldn’t get a guarantee of books to be sent to those fairs from my so-called publisher.
I talked to the head of the sales force about this (it would have been in 2005 or so) and he told me that the reason they felt Chicago was not the place for me because he said seriously, and I quote, “there are no black people in Chicago.”
I am still stunned by that statement. It was profoundly racist and unbelievably untrue. It also assumed that the only audience for a book about a black detective were black people who, according to that screwed-up industry, did not read. And, I was told by this self-same person that he had tried to get my books in the African American section of the chain bookstores “where the series belonged,” but the chains wouldn’t take the books for that section because I’m white.
I managed to answer that one. I said, “These books are mysteries. They belong in the mystery section, like any other private detective novel.”
He ignored me. Thought I was “confrontational.”
Midway through the series, my agent recommended that I take the books away from St. Martins and go to a different publisher. Even now, I wonder if I should have taken that advice. But I also knew from my mystery friends at the time that a book sale in the middle of a series had become impossible, and I personally talked to some mystery editor friends of mine who said such advice was very 1990s.
Kelley wanted me to write a big book to promote the series, but didn’t like any of my proposals. I didn’t want to write what she and my agent wanted me to write. It was good advice for that time period, but I declined to take the advice.
The final offer I received for books seven and eight from St. Martins was embarrassingly low. The advance is what I call book-killer advances. The company wasn’t taking the books to mass market paperback and they wouldn’t publish them in trade either. Only one hardcover edition, limited to fewer than 5,000 copies. You can’t grow a series that way, and we weren’t.
I asked for some guarantees in the contract to try to improve it, and St. Martins said no. We mutually decided not to work with each other again. My agent (a different one) decided I was too much trouble and essentially kicked me to the curb.
The Smokey Dalton series was, for all intents and purposes, dead.
Yeah, I wrote some short stories, and I figured if I waited long enough, maybe I could write a “break-out” Smokey novel that might revive the series. But I knew that was a long shot.
And I was devastated.
You see, I had always believed that if I wrote a really, really, really good book, one that readers clamored for, one that got all kinds of reviews and awards and fantastic word of mouth, those books would sell better with each volume, and would make my career.
The Smokey Dalton series had good books, readers clamored for it, got fantastic word of mouth, award nominations and more. It got starred reviews on multiple books. Readers demanded copies. Bookstores told me that they had ordered the books and the publisher had not fulfilled the orders (!). Libraries wanted the books. I kept hearing from people all over the country that they wanted to buy the books and couldn’t get them.
For the first time in my career, I had done everything right—and I knew it. I had written the right kind of book, I had gotten better with each volume, I had readers who loved the series and told friends about it—and the books failed.
Not because of me.
Not because of my editor, who was a gem.
Because of my publisher. They refused to go back to print on the later books. They “tried” to send the books out big, but never printed enough copies to fulfill to the bookstores. Let’s not even talk about the covers, which are spectacularly ugly on the books that they wanted to take big.
I watched as this publisher destroyed a series that could have been popular, if the publisher actually acted like it wanted to sell books.
That’s when I gave up. I stopped trying for months. I saw no point in continuing with a writing career because there was no way to succeed in it. Dean was extremely supportive. He kept saying he’d move with me if I decided to go back to school. He’d help with anything I needed. But, he kept asking, if you don’t write, what will you do?
And the answers I had I didn’t like.
At that moment, the local radio station needed a news director. I looked at the job listing, saw the salary, and realized that if I only wrote short stories, I would make more money as a freelancer than I would working 60 hours for someone else.
So I picked myself up, dusted myself off, and started writing again. Short stories. Which did save me.
Eventually, I sold some books, but not mysteries and not Smokey books. And I still felt almost every day that there really was no point.
That’s when the e-book revolution started. And when Dean and I figured out it would succeed.
It’s hard to believe that it was a little over three years ago that we figured out how to make it work. I knew I would write the next Smokey Dalton novel, but I kept putting it off.
Part of that was I needed to figure out how to do a better job distributing the books than St. Martins did. I wanted appropriate covers. I wanted the backlist reissued. I didn’t want to do the same thing as St. Martins and fail to support the next book in the series.
Eventually, WMG Publishing put out the backlist with some good covers. We talked about doing the print books when I finished the next novel.
As WMG grew, I realized that I finally had the ability to send the next Smokey Dalton book out at the level I wanted it to go—to all those reviewers, yes, but to the bookstores that had clamored for the book years ago. We have a game plan.
Then, last week, Allyson Longueira, WMG’s publisher and spectacular book designer, showed me the covers for the trade paperback books. She tweaked the old e-book covers and improved them. Then she added the proper back cover copy and all those great reviews the series had garnered.
The covers are spectacular. They’re not whitewashed. They’re appropriate and breathtaking. The cover for the upcoming book, Street Justice, is as good or maybe better than I could ever have hoped for.
And with the review quotes in their proper placement on the cover, and a new design feature on some of the books, listing the awards and honors for each volume and, in one case, for the entire series, took my breath away—for a variety of reasons.
The first is this: I would buy these books knowing nothing about the author. I would snatch them up in a heartbeat.
The second: These are the covers the books should have had in the first place.
Last week, I wrote about the emotional journey that writers take through this new world of publishing. I mentioned that sometimes, a writer can be in multiple places on that list at the same time.
When I looked at those covers, I felt a mix of emotions. Fury—complete and utter fury—at the way the books had been treated in the past. Relief that I hadn’t seen those covers before I wrote Street Justice, because I might not have written it, too worried that I couldn’t live up to what I had done years ago. Joy that the books are finally getting their due.
And incredible happiness that the series will continue. I will write more of these books because I know that no one is actively trying to kill them. They will all be in print at the same time for the very first time and they will have publisher support. (And before you ask, Street Justice will appear in March.)
Writing Street Justice turned out to be a lot easier than I expected. When you have a book in your head—blocked because of external things, not because of any writing thing—the writing goes quickly. I was happy with it, which surprised me. I always slowed down in the past. I thought it was because these novels are so close to noir, but really, I think now it’s because I knew I was tossing them into a pit when I finished with them.
That’s not happening any more.
The sense of freedom is so overwhelming I can barely convey it. I can write more Smokey Dalton. I can write the spinoff novels I had planned. They will go out into a world of readers who really don’t care what color my skin is or if Oprah is interested in buying the book. The novels will live and die on their own, which is how it should be. They will have, for lack of a better term, a natural life.
I always hesitate to write blog posts like this one because of my training, both personal and professional. Because traditional publishing was a monolith for so very long, writing something like this, truthful as it is, would have gotten me blacklisted from the very industry that I wanted to work in.
Fifteen years ago, had I said anything like this outside of a private setting, I would have been branded a troublemaker, impossible to work with, and someone to be avoided. Because of some of the things said about me in science fiction, I am still dismissed by much of the field as a “hack” or a “terrible writer” or someone who somehow gets work despite the lack of quality in my fiction. That all comes from the F&SF period in my career, and the whisper campaign started by some folks to destroy my career. It would have worked if I hadn’t genre-hopped and written tie-ins.
I learned how to reinvent myself, because that’s how you survive in a closed system. Fortunately, I wasn’t an actress, with my name attached to my face. I was a writer, who could use pen names.
The changes in this new world of publishing have freed me and others like me. We don’t have to get blacklisted for speaking the truth. We don’t have to worry about offending the wrong person and never working again. We can write what we want and actually make money at it, because readers want good fiction, and don’t care who said what to whom at the last gigantic publisher’s party.
Still, I had trained myself to be silent for so long that writing about my own career in this way—particularly how much it hurt to have a beloved series destroyed—feels like tattling. Or whining. Or like I’m volunteering to have my career destroyed. Old habits die hard.
This week, I published my blog on the stages, Judy published hers on the devastation left by the last ten years of traditional publishing, and we both got attacked for talking about emotions (and those poor writers who are still stuck in this mess got called “victims” because they got hurt).
I also received a large audio book payment for the entire Smokey Dalton series. The audio books would not exist without the reissues and the new book, all made possible by the changes in publishing.
For the last three years, A Dangerous Road has been under option in Hollywood. The company that holds the option is actively marketing a fantastic screenplay based on the book, and is finally getting some traction. But two years ago, the man I’ve been working with expressed surprise to me: I had no idea, he said, how frightened the American movie industry is of black protagonists.
I knew it. I didn’t tell him when he optioned the book, hoping he wouldn’t run into it. Besides, his company is based in Europe, and we decided if the project couldn’t be made here, it would be made there. He keeps renewing the option as he puts a team together. For the first time ever, he’s getting meetings at the big studios because of the success of films like 42. There’s hope.
That’s what amazes me. Had traditional publishing remained the only game in town, I would be staring at a dilemma. If A Dangerous Road does become a film (or a TV series), then I would have had to try to convince some publisher all over again to take a risk with a series of books written by a white woman about a black man.
Now, the books are out, other subsidiary rights publishers/managers are finding it, and the entire series is moving forward again.
I’m amazed, and I’m grateful.
The new world of publishing saved me from becoming one of those jaded, bitter writers who sit in bars and drink away their broken dreams.
It would have been so easy to join them.
I am so lucky that the publishing world changed, and I was able to move with it. That’s why I write the business blog, hoping that other writers realize there are opportunities now that didn’t exist five, ten, or twenty years ago.
There’s hope, and beyond it, joy. That love of writing? The thing that got us all started in the first place?
It’s back for me, and not so long ago, I thought it was gone forever.
“The Business Rusch: Murder Most Foul” copyright © 2013 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch.
“[I]t’s not personal, it’s business[.]”
from The Godfather:
[I]t’s just business and he’s taking it personal.
Sonny, it’s all personal.
Excellent quote ! Right on target.
From the bottom of my heart.
Not that I was paying a whole lot of attention, but as far as I can tell Race-Fail 2009 LA Times version and what I thought it was exist in two entirely different universes.
In fact, seems to me, that race-fail was all about “those other people are racists”, which is exactly what is going on when a publisher (or movie maker) doesn’t want to put black characters on a cover or in a movie. It’s about “those other people being racists” and believing that “those other people” won’t buy a book or watch a movie when in reality “those other people” just don’t care one way or the other if the protagonist is black or if the star of the movie is black. And then race-fail was all about trying to force “those other people” to admit that they were racists and, if possible, shame them into confessing to it. But “those other people” weren’t the ones insisting that stories with black protagonists or by black authors wouldn’t sell.
Why is it so necessary to believe in the perfidy of “those other people?” Particularly when it means killing a book series like Smoky Dalton that is doing well?
“Why is it so necessary to believe in the perfidy of “those other people?”
It’s projection, and denial. Racists and sexists always accuse others of racism and sexism, because they cannot conceive of a reality where a person is NOT racist or sexist. Thus everyone else must be, even if the racist or sexist tries to tell himself that he is not. No, it’s everyone else who has the problem, and it is the racist/sexist’s duty to point out this fact, while patting himself on the back for being so enlightened.
Meanwhile, in the real world, the rest of us really don’t care what skin tone a person has, or whether the person is an innie or an outie (except to notice the undeniable truth that innie-equipped people are far nicer to look at. But that might be my built-in bias speaking 😛 ).
It’s unbelievable. I’m actually teary eyed right now. As soon as I saw your new covers I just lost it. I am very happy for you. It’s hard to read with tears in your eyes but I read every word.
I’m so glad you told your story. I’ve always called myself a writer but was afraid to fail, succeed, just plain scared that no one would give me a chance to get my stories out there. We both know that there are a handful of African-American Authors at the big publishing houses and we can only imagine what they have to go through. I’m glad that the Indie Authors have a chance to really write what they want and tap an audience out there that are looking for something different. Something real. I’m sorry I have never heard of the Smokey Dalton series, but I am definitely going to look for it now. It doesn’t matter what color the author is or the character in the book. The story is what matters. It always matter.
Reblogged your article here, with a few comments.
Curious if you find it ironic that St. Martin’s, the publisher who killed your series, is the same publisher who paid a 7-figure advance to self-publishing star Amanda Hocking to come over to them?
Wow. Just wow. And thank you to those who added comments.
I probably found you through the Passive Voice as well. When I found your blog, I felt I’ve moved UP a tier in terms of the kind of information–realistic information about the book industry–I was being offered.
It’s unfortunate you had to pass through that veil of fire which was your life at that time.
But I’m glad it’s brought you here. I thank you.
And I wonder, per other commenters remarks: Racism? Or sexism? I gotta side on the side of the females writing MALE roles and submitting them to, predominantly male publishers. Just a thought. And just MY take.
Those who dominate want to mainTAIN that status. *sigh*
And it’s one more real nail in the coffin, in my view, of the ‘use’ of a trad publisher.
Good for you.
Oh, man, it hurts just to read this post. No wonder some people get uncomfortable…stories like these raise the specter of failure. Sometimes it’s easier to “blame the victim” than to accept that your career could shatter too, just the same way, no matter how pleasant, strong, and businesslike you are, or how wonderfully you write.
Thank you so much for sharing this, Kris. It makes me feel grateful that we live in a time where we can write free and not have to accept such hostility and racism as just a fact of the writing life.
I am so sorry you had to go through this experience, but it also is exhilarating to know your career did not end, you kept going, you are here. I can’t wait to read these books!
That race in stories question is something I’ve been trying to understand for a long time, and still don’t. I write fantasy and science fiction. I’ve seen complaints that all the protagonists, and often all the characters in fantasy and science fiction are white, and that especially the future tends to look very American. On the other hand I’ve also seen complaints about white authors who write characters who are people of color, or create fictional civilizations which are not based on the white Western ones but have at least some elements based on ones from other parts of the world as taking advantage of cultures which are not theirs, or writing something they can’t possibly understand, or reducing complex other cultures to mere Hollywood type exoticism and so on.
Sounds rather damned if you do and damned if you don’t, if you ask me, at least for white writers.
Okay, a bit more: I’m about as white as it’s possible to be, I hadn’t even seen people who looked different from myself anywhere but movies and television until I got to my mid-teens, so that ‘can’t possibly understand’ part probably is pretty true for me. But I am also somewhat bored of the almost all white population of most fantasy and science fiction stories, and I’d love to see more not-white protagonists and other characters, as well as not based only on European history and legends fantasy worlds. But yes, I’m also somewhat scared of writing them myself because of my background.
Kiti, write the story you want to read. Treat each character with respect, regardless of his or her race, religion, native culture, whatever.
“Respect” doesn’t mean “portray as saints,” it just means write them as individuals, who, regardless of constraints they may encounter because of their background, take positive action and make difficult choices in pursuit of their goals.
If you do it right, you probably will offend someone who insists white writers should toe a ___-studies department line of how an “authentic” person of that demographic would act. But as one of the old movie moguls said, “Don’t pay any attention to the critics. Don’t even ignore them.”
Trying to do that, but I get nervous from time to time.
“that ‘can’t possibly understand’ part”
…is BS. One PERSON can always understand another PERSON, if they only try to.
Wow! What a great post, Kris! Sadly, I can identify. I won a contest for my children’s story about a Kikuyu girl in Africa who wanted to save the hippos. A publisher was all hot to buy it, then posed the deadly question: “You ARE African-American, aren’t you?” When I replied honestly that I was not, her offer instantly disappeared. I still intend to publish that book one day when I can team with an appropriate artist.
From my own publishing history, I know that publishers can make any book a bestseller or a disaster. It’s still a challenge to become known, but at least the readers have more power to make their own decisions now.
The funny/sad thing there is that there are those who would say that an African American has no right to write an African story either. There’s no guarantee that such an author has some mystical mental pipeline to the Motherland. (I’ve experienced skepticism in trying to write about my dad’s Caribbean culture because I was born outside it.) Appropriation, while not inherently terrible, must – like any volatile thing – be handled with care.
Research, respect, and attention to valid critique — that’s the best and most important thing any of us can do.
“No black people in Chicago?” Wow, I need my glasses checked because I’ve been there four times and some of the inhabitants certainly looked African-American to me.
I invite that guy to make the acquaintance of one Mr. Leroy Brown, who as everyone knows was the baddest dude in the whole damn town. Between his large American automobiles, his pistol, his razor, and other such accoutrements, he could easily take on even ludicrously oversized primates.
But seriously (and now that I’ve given you all an earworm)…
James Patterson probably didn’t get much crap about Alex Cross b/c he was already a best seller. And writing about someone the same gender, if not race. And, frankly, b/c he’s a guy and publishing is at least as sexist as it is racist.
Kris, I love the Smokey Dalton books so much that it saddens me to think publishers’ stupidity almost killed them, that we might have lost your voice as a writer, and that this sort of thing could happen at all. So having read this, I’m sad about the past and hopeful for the future.
This article, and the wonderful comments, have given me courage to go ahead with a project I was considering shelving because “I can’t write about that.” And of course I’m never going back to the world of trad publishing, which was crap even when I was in it, and is now deeper crap than ever.
Thanks for telling us this story.
Kris, thanks for sharing the story of Smokey. Having watched the series get ignored and destroyed by a publisher with blinders on (“no black people in Chicago”?!? Really??) I am delighted to know that you have found the joy in writing these books again. They really are great book, deserving of the devotion you have given them, and I, for one, am very happy to see them coming back with proper covers, and getting the respect from the publisher that they so richly deserve.
As for writing about the emotional journey that these books took, it’s both courageous and touching. Many of us share those battles; it’s an immense relief to know that someone like you, someone who appears to be strong and gutsy and successful, has moments (hell, months!) of that same soul-sucking doubt and fear. I know what a private person you are, and the courage it took to share this story with us.
I’ve never been traditionally published in book form. But I have come to know the feeling of ‘throwing the book into the pit’ with self-publishing. Someone would have to teach me a course in quitting, because that’s just not who I am.
What else could I do with my life? I’ve spent 29 years getting this far…
As my mother says, (and yes, I do still listen to my mother,) “Don’t quit five minutes before you succeed.”
She taught courses helping women get into non-traditional occupations long before TV commercials showing the occasional female carpenter, hydro line-person, doctor, lawyer, engineer, were fashionable.
The world will become a different place. I have a female pen name and a gay male pen name. What other people think really doesn’t matter. If I succeed, I will be considered brilliant. If not, I will be considered a fool!
So be it.
A professional writer can write anything.
Thank you so much for this post. I do not find it “whiny” at all but actually quite straight-forward and honest about the writing industry and how difficult and heartbreaking it often is to navigate.
I want more posts like this, about what writing is and does to our hearts. It is not about complaining or negativity. It is a lesson in life whether this is about our personal or business life.
I left writing for ten years because I could bear it no longer. I felt I never fit in anywhere I tried, there was no niche for me, I was always the outsider writing the wrong characters or the wrong stories.
I must confess that in the times (the nineties) I did see you at conventions or photographed for Locus or selling or editing that you had lived a “charmed” life and I came to reading you blog only a few months ago with that notion…that it’s easy for you to write about all this stuff so “positively” because you’ve had a charmed writing career. I know better, of course. There is no writer in existence who doesn’t have a locked arsenal of horror stories to tell about professional and personal betrayals in the industry…if they are being honest.
That’s why I think this current post you wrote is so important. What I see is that despite the strife you kept writing. Those two words: KEPT WRITING. You did not fix all your problems overnight. You are not immune, by virtue of your name, to bad treatment. And so I read you now in a newer light with more understanding that perhaps I had not felt before when I discovered your blog earlier this year. Hey, I never knew until today you had problems with F&Sf. (I did read that magazine back in the days you edited it and I liked it the best during that era…go figure.)
I, too, had a wonderful workshop from Algis Budrys at Writers of the Future (I’m in Vol. 7) that taught valuable lessons. I’m glad you mentioned him re: critiquing.
Anyway, posts like these should not be shirked. The most important thing about writing is “heart.” And writing about characters from all walks of life as “human” and not some caricature of race, gender, sexuality or other label is what it’s about. Heart. Unfortunately the business end of things often forgets about that.
I’m so glad that Smokey Dalton will continue. We need him, no matter what some may say.
Thank you for having the courage to be so open about this. What you ran into is shocking. We humans have so far to go yet.
I love how you talk about the “widget/baby dichotomy.” It is a hard thing to balance: writing from the heart, and then being able to separate enough from it to widgetize it properly.
Once again, you gave me a reason to look forward to Thursday morning. In lieu of applause, I just bought a copy “A Dangerous Road” for my kindle.
Great post, Kris. I’ve been wondering what happened to Judith.
All of us have faced setbacks in our careers, and all of us have been stabbed in the back at one time or another. We don’t talk about it, of course, because we don’t want to be considered whiners.
I love that you’re being open about this. Best wishes for a good fortune and a great future!
Thanks for sharing, Kris. You know my story, so you know I’ve had my heart broken a couple of times. I won’t get into that here. Bad publishers, bad timing, etc. I don’t think my heart is broken any longer. (Maybe I’m in denial?) But reality is I’m not making a living as a writer. I’ve never made a living as a writer despite 30 years of being a professional writer. I’ve moved and grooved with the changes in publishing. I’ve worked hard, and I’m a good writer. I was thrilled to be on the cutting edge of the indie revolution. I published Church of the Old Mermaids *way* back when it was still considered career suicide to “self publish.” (2008?) But I’m not making a living, and I don’t know that I’ve got the energy for the constant uphill battle any more. I’m exhausted. It is exhausting to work really hard and not be compensated for your work–for whatever reason. That’s the nature of our business, I know, and I know it sounds pathetic to say I’m tired, but right now that’s reality! Right now I wish I was talented in something else besides writing so that I could make a decent living! This too shall pass, perhaps. I keep thinking of Frank Lloyd Wright. He had his most successful years after sixty. I don’t want to wait until then, but still…Perhaps it’s not too late to go to become an architect. 😀 Hmmm, I guess I do still sound heartbroken.
I almost disappeared. I published my first novel six years ago and was too devastated by “failed success” (60,000 copies sold and still the publisher didn’t want the sequel) to continue writing. Sounds like classic whining, but keep in mind that it was an uphill battle to write fiction as it was, when I was already juggling a demanding day job, an animal rescue, raising a family and being a single working mom. It was easy to let my dreams slide into oblivion because it only meant not struggling so damned hard to make time to write. Now that self publishing is an option, I’m rebooting my fiction career online until publishers learn more respect and business sense (if they ever do).
I’m sorry you ever had to go through that mess, Kris. You’re too damned good a person and a writer for anyone to treat you like that. And thank you for teaching the rest of us so much, so we, too, can pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and keep on keeping on.
It is amazing how well we are all trained to cede control of our lives and livelihoods.
And, please turn the cover pictures into links to the books!
Ahh, the ’90s.. I remember them well, but not fondly. Jane Smiley’s A Thousand Acres made Pulitzer and then if you were a female writer the only theme they’d consider was incest or molestation. Legal thrillers and Clancy-esque thrillers sold and YA was just another word for teen romance. For some reason I never even considered writing sci-fi because I thought it was — well a guys thing. It wasn’t until much later that I discovered Nancy Kress and I think I stood with her book burning a hole in my hand and my head just sort of went ‘wow!’. I really didn’t know women wrote sci-fi. Perhaps the fact that you didn’t have these blinders on saved you. You could see a larger scope than I did then. I just felt closed in at the time and gave up writing until recently.
Ok, so I’m a little whiny — Deal. But life is good and the choices now are seriously mind-boggling. I always consider the ’90s the dark ages for publishing. I look forward to reading your Smokey Dalton series.
Wonderful, if terribly painful, post. I’ve got those books on the Must Buy list.
The attacks on me btw have all been at third hand. Nobody has ventured them to my face. I hear about them, and am waiting for something to show up in the blog comments, but so far, it’s all positive.
Makes me wonder what I’m doing wrong. Or right? Am I scary?
Also, contemplating post about predators and prey behavior. From animal training to publisher-wrangling to dealing with life.
Authors aren’t prey any more. And more of them need to really, deeply, productively understand that.
Sending hugs. You are so entirely brave.
Good grief, seriously? One of my main characters in a novel I’m working on right now is black. I had no idea this is such a big freaking deal. Except, for me, it isn’t. Thank God I won’t have to put up with any of this crap and I’m sorry to hear that you did.
Kris, you’ve touched on an issue that is a big part of why I rejoice at the indie revolution. I’m black, I write sci-fantasy and mystery, and my characters are black. Except when they’re Asian or mid-eastern. My main WIP is sort of like the feminine version of old jokes I heard as a kid, where a black guy, a white guy, and a Chinese guy go somewhere and merry mishaps ensue. Except in my WIP they’re women and the mishaps include mythical creatures. I was tired of fantasy books set in knock-offs of medieval Britain, and I figured I would have to write what I wanted to see (I agree with Ray Bradbury on that). I would not be nearly so excited to finish my WIP if I thought I would have to fight against the traditional publishing industry.
When the Larbalestier scandal hit, it depressed me, because I thought I would have to fight against that crap. It is not my way to give in to road blocks, but I was stumped about how I would go around that one, especially when I learned that all writers have to fight for cover control, it’s not a given that we have it.
It didn’t help that when I wrote some stories for a college class, the teacher–a middle aged hippie who refuses to leave the sixties–-was openly confused about the concept of black characters who live in middle class neighborhoods and work in middle class professions. It was an alien concept to him, and I quickly tired of having to explain that yes, I do exist: like Kevin Smith, I grew up on a street not the streets (this is a dig at him, if you never heard his talk on why he didn’t end up writing a Superman movie). I grew up in a small town, caught tadpoles in the woods, and played cops and robbers like any other kid. And I permanently damaged my eyes reading Nancy Drew by the nightlight, not to mention Edith Hamilton.
I want my characters to appear on the covers of my books, or at least not have a cover that’s actively concealing what they are. As a teenager I discovered Octavia Butler, after that phase of her career–where the characters were replaced with white people on the covers–had passed.
I can’t describe the thrill I felt when I saw a black lady on the cover of a book in the speculative fiction section of the library. Especially since the lady was having exactly the kind of adventure I devoured as a kid, of people surviving in the wilderness or post-apocalyptic settings. I thought, “There must be a catch.”
I circled warily, then dove in, and was surprised, excited, relieved, that there were books like this, and that as a writer I wouldn’t have to explain myself to publishers–wait, your protagonist is what? She can’t be there and do that! That book gave me hope.
Hope that waned a bit when I learned about some of the attitudes in the modern day publishing industry, and battles that I thought Ms. Butler et al had already fought and won.
For you, I’m glad you didn’t give up. I’m glad that you were wise enough to seize on this new opportunity, and that you kept writing your Smokey Dalton books. I admit I never heard of them before this blog, but from what you write here, it’s no wonder. I made a point when I was younger of finding mysteries with black detectives, and there were few to choose from. I absolutely missed Smokey. Shame on your publishers.
I’m writing to say thank you. I grew up in Motown (well, a small town near it), and I grew up hearing stories about singers cheated out of royalties and my parents said over and over that as a writer I better learn to take care of business, so that I don’t end up like those singers.
I subscribed to Writer’s Digest in middle school, and I got my hands on all of their books about publishing and writing. I subscribed to Publisher’s Lunch, I carefully checked which agents sold to which editors and compiled a list, doing my due diligence.
But reading some of the opinions of the people in the industry, like the ones you touched on, made me question whether I wanted to be involved with traditional publishing. I worked on my craft, but in the back of my mind I wondered what my plan B would be if the editors I submitted to were like the dumb hippy teacher. I vowed I would find a way.
When I discovered the Passive Voice, and your blog, the first thing I thought, once I absorbed that the indie revolution existed, was that now I didn’t have to convince anyone that I exist and my characters could do what I had them doing and be who I wrote them to be. I can directly hire cover artists so I wouldn’t have to worry about “whitewashing” or having to bring out my inner velociraptor to fight against weapons-grade stupidity. I didn’t have to second guess whether my stories could see the light of day; the indie revolution means my career is in my hands, exactly where I want it to be.
Thank you, also, for the precious advice you give about the business side of writing. This is an ultimate good deed you do here: You point out the snares and trapdoors, and how to handle them when you see them.
Great comment, Jamie — and not just because I’m from Detroit too.
I want to read your stories, Jamie! Yeah, why does every fantasy story have to be set in mock-up England? 🙂
KKR: For what it’s worth, I thought you were a great editor of F&SF. The science in science fiction does not have to be space exploration. It can be genetics or psychology. I get it.
Jamie, I hope you pop back in on Kris’s website and see this. PLEASE leave a link to your website! I love sci-fantasy. From your description, your stories would be something I want to read, and I have no way of finding you!
What Cherise and Suzan said. 🙂 Why can’t we have more fantasy stories that take place in a pseudo Africa or Asia? Why must everybody cleave unto the Tolkien thing? (And I love Lord of the Rings, don’t get me wrong.)
And I agree with Suzan. I’d love to try out some of your stuff, Jamie. I’ll second Suzan as to your website or your email or something to find your stories.
Good luck, Jamie! And do please come back and leave us a breadcrumb trail so we can find and read your work!
Wow! Thank you everyone! It’s funny you bring up the website, because I put it on my to-do list today. I have the domain name, and the hosting company, I just have to set things up. This is a kick in the pants. The domain will be JamieCecile.com when I finally get it off the ground.
Thanks for your encouragement!
Thanks for coming back and letting us know, Jamie. 🙂 I’m in a rut with my fantasy reading, which is why I’ve been reading mysteries and thrillers lately.
Looking forward to going to your website once it’s up, so I can check out your stuff!
JamieCecile.com is on my list! Looking forward to reading your work, Jamie!
Jamie, if your books are suitable for a teen/YA audience, shoot me an e-mail when you publish! Please!! I’m always looking for more books to add to my website Alien Star Books. (You can reach me through the Contact page.)
Great post, Kris! I loved the Smokey Dalton series, discovering them, unfortunately, just as the last volume was being published, and I kept waiting, and waiting, and waiting… How could this series NOT continue, I wondered?
Then the same thing happened to the Retrieval Artist series (although I got in on those from the first novel’s appearance). I kept waiting, and waiting, and…
Thank the Gods of Modern Technology for the changes in publishing!!!
Thanks for sharing this incredibly personal story, Kris–I can’t believe so many people would still be so ignorant even just a few years ago. I wonder how many great stories were buried by such short-sighted, bean-counting, (let’s call it what it is) bigoted folks through the years. At least many of these unpublished gems are now coming out as indie books–perhaps the greatest development of the entire revolution.
Or I should say the greatest development outside of hundreds (or even thousands) of folks being able to pay the bills by doing what they love…
Thanks again–love the blog!
Wow. Thanks for sharing this, Kris. I was just talking about this very subject with a couple of young (career-wise) writers. I’m off to send them a link.
Unbelievable. Do you happen to know if James Patterson ran into this when he created the Alex Cross character?
Congratulations on continuing your Smokey Dalton series.
You are brave. I had no idea that there was this kind of prejudice in the publishing world.
I have a woman of color indentured servant who is the heroine in my novel The 15th Star. I can’t change her race, she was a real girl/woman who existed. Grace Wisher is one of those unsung heroes that are in our country’s history that many don’t know about, and I wanted to give her a voice.
I guess it’s a good thing I went straight to self publishing for this one. (Actually, I did shop it to acquisition editors at one conference.)
Kris, thank you for telling your story, which needs to be part of a writer’s basic education. A mere three years ago, I would have signed any ridiculous publishing contract to get my mystery series started. I believed in the traditional path, had an agent who had industry pros agree the book was good, etc. And I would have likely had a soul-crushing experience as well. The series would be dead by now, and I would be wondering why I’d bothered.
But I was always learning. I read your blog, and Dean’s and Konrath’s, and many, many others. I talked to writers, who’d had terrible publishing experiences. Locked into contracts, with shrinking returns, and unable to put out anything else under their own name. Books that never got sold or delivered when people begged to buy them. Even best-selling books had been rejected over 50 times, on average. I started doing the math, and figured I’d be dead before I could get anything going– and I’d still have to win the lottery, since over 96% of books don’t sell more than a couple of thousand copies.
So I found a small publisher who would do it my way, and launched. Instead of a boulevard of broken dreams, my third series novel just came out, plus I’ve put out 6 story collections by myself, in different genres, and I continue to write and publish short stories. I do public signings (self-scheduled), and people tell me how much they’ve liked something I wrote. The freedom to do what I want is a heady thing, and I feel great about being a writer on my own terms, with the covers I want, and the content approval I desire.
Awhile back, I went on a supposed writer’s help forum because some people were asking questions about my publisher (though some were just mindlessly bashing them while getting their facts wrong). I tried to clear things up by explaining how I’d reached my decision, that writers now had options, and how we should look at them, etc, and each choose their own path. You can guess the result. People who were chained like galley slaves to the Old Path blasted me as the worst kind of heretic, disparaged any evidence I offered, and repeated untruths as if they were gospel. I was told that bigger publishers were always better, would always make you more money, and always lovingly take your book to the best possible place it could be. I tried to offer contrary evidence, and point them to some data that disproved these assertions, but more of them kept piling on in the echo chamber. So I bade them well, and signed off, but wonder how many other authors they doomed to go the heartbreak route.
Thanks for being open and vulnerable, Kris. It is not easy to wear your emotions out on your sleeve while writing, revealing them to others. Thanks for being so honest every week and sharing what the business of writing entails. You have helped me and many others become better informed.
Wow, thanks for sharing this story. Sadly, this kind of thing is still going on. Witness the backlash from Kathryn Stockett’s “The Help”. Even though her book features white women AND black women (and arguably the protagonist is white), I’ve still heard time and time again that people were “uncomfortable” reading it because she was white. Even my own friends, writers themselves, have said the same. Why is there this sentiment that a writer can put herself into anyone else’s shoes, as long as they’re the same color as her? It’s ridiculous.
The book I’m currently writing is told from the viewpoint of a white woman AND a black man, so this makes me nervous.
The controversy about The Help is that a) there have been many black authors who wrote about this sort of dynamic who never got the opportunity to reach a widespread, mainstream audience like Stockett. Stockett, because she is white, gets to write about that topic without being shelved as a writer of topics only interested to African-American audiences.
The other controversy is covered very well in the blog, A Critical Review of The Help.
Reading your post, and the linked one, made me sad to think of those writers who have disappeared, most likely from decisions not under their control.
Maybe they will see how much they are missed by their readers, and think about trying this new publishing method, and possibly make a come-back.
I don’t get the thing that people won’t read about black/ethnic characters, or books by black/ethnic writers. (I don’t care about their gender or sexual orientation, either.)
I didn’t know Octavia Butler or Samuel R. Delany were black for many years. I read their books because they were good, and I enjoyed them. I am a middle-aged, Southern white woman who loves SF and doesn’t care who writes it, as long as it’s good. 🙂
Congrats on getting the Smokey Dalton books up and running again. Your excitement — and love for the books — shines through the post. 🙂
Thanks for this. It’s nice when you write personal posts so I can relate and know I’m not alone.
The one thing self-publishing has taught me is how to be strong. The hardest thing for me to survive emotionally (so far) has been 1 star reviews. I seriously feel like Superwoman now in comparison to the wobbly, jelly like mass of insecurity that I was when I first started self-publishing in 2011. If it weren’t for yours’ and Dean’s blogs I’d be an oozing mess of vacillation, washed away years ago down the proverbial drain pipe of giving up the ghost entirely.
As for blogging about personal circumstances I get so worried -at times- that I delete my blogs!
I know about career destroyers. On a smaller scale in comparison to your experiences, but when your entire writing life could be wrecked by people who just want to bring you down for no reason, it just doesn’t seem like there’s any point in continuing. I was first starting up as an indie author back then, and to have my career possibly obliterated before it even got started was soul destroying. Thank f*** for pen names!
Some day I hope to pay it forward big time to you and Dean. You’ve both helped me to realise that I must push on to grow even stronger in the years to come.
“I had no idea, he said, how frightened the American movie industry is of black protagonists.”
There is a reason why Luther is a BBC show and (even with the massive number of mysteries and police procedurals on tv today) there are no shows with a black protagonist that aren’t about the protagonists race.
I would say the same thing is true of gay characters and most ethnicities.
Love Luthor. Can’t wait for the reboot.
Powerful. Thank you for writing this. Sometimes the most important things we share get the most blowback because it frightens so many.
And, btw, when I was a young writer looking to break into SF, I submitted to you because I *loved* what you were doing with F&SF. Didn’t realize you had so many detractors. Sometimes I can be oblivious. Which is a good thing for a writer 🙂
Thank you for opening your heart to us, Kristine. It’s never easy to speak about such hard times.
Yes, there will be people to throw their contempt at you and say you are whining. Because they don’t know how to deal with emotion or think a non fictional blog only has to be rational.
It has not to. We are not in Vulcan. Emotion is useful when linked with reflection, because we have to learn how to deal with it when confronted with terrible experiences such as yours. Business decisions impact real lives.
Besides, emotion can make you more human and result in empathy, which is good for you.
I should know, because my own blog lacks emotion. I know why it’s too dry : it’s because I don’t want to show any weakness. I put an armor.
But if you project the image of a perfect being, it can soon become boring. As Konrath put it repeatedly, we have to bring information AND entertainment. Food for thought…
Wow, Kris, my reactions are so mixed. I don’t take issue with anything you’ve said; hell, I remember standing in the signing line for DAYS OF RAGE at Bob’s; I recall that you and Dean used the Smokey Dalton covers to illustrate the progression from modest expectations to higher ones (the type of cover, font size, all that). I remember hearing the news about the books’ being optioned, and I was at a workshop shortly after the Smokey series was effectively killed–and I remember how a bunch of us were pretty upset for you even if we/I didn’t know how to approach you about it.
Times have certainly changed. Many of the obstacles–both social and professional–that conspired against Smokey back then don’t exist in quite the same way now. You have power now you didn’t have before, too–and more power to you.
Me, personally: I don’t think you do anyone a disservice by talking about emotions. I find those kind of posts way more interesting, but that’s me. The dry, clinical, analytical stuff is all valuable, sure . . . but writers are first and foremost people who take those bits of themselves you’ve talked about and put them out there for other people to see (and, hopefully, feel something about or for). It’s your humanity–that which you demonstrate and put into books or these blogs–that touches others. As a writer, I learn from and respond more to another writer’s humanity and their feelings and experiences than I ever will from a bunch of numbers.
I don’t know if you’d have become broken and jaded or bitter. Can’t quite see that, even if I understand the impulse. But, in your last post, you talked about hope. When *I’m* down, reading about how someone I respect picked herself back up–and yes, you have the absolutely right partner in Dean–helps me. I’ve always thought you were tough, and you just proved it. Again. You give *me* hope that things will get better; that I’ll muscle through shit, so long as I do my part and just keep at it.
Congratulations on STREET JUSTICE. Glad you didn’t roll over. Really, it’s not your style anyway.
You truly are a survivor, Kris, and an inspiration to all of us who visit here regularly. Glad the passion and joy are back for you!
Very good post! Racism is still out there. I just read an interview done by some YA authors who wanted a biracial person on their covers and they wouldn’t do it.
There has been a small door opened by Cassandra Clare who had an Asian boy on her cover and it hit number 1. Of course her Immortal Instruments series is getting quite a buzz due to the movie being made and there is an Asian character who is bisexual and becomes a boyfriend to one of the other characters. It has been hugely accepted and as a writer who has characters who are bisexual and transgender it gives me a bit of hope.
I also know that no publisher would ever take my story with main characters that are bisexual. That is why I’m so happy with the changes that have taken place. I can go a head and publish these without being told this is not marketable.
It’s a great time to a be a writer.
What an insightful post. There are many things to think about, but I’d like to make two specific comments:
First, on racism in publishing . . . maybe it is also sexism. Isn’t James Patterson white and Alex Cross black?
Second, with respect to the litigation you declined to initiate to protect your reputation to the dismay of your lawyer . . . good decision. If you want a soul-sucking experience, get involved in a lawsuit.
I read this shaking my head almost the entire time. At this point in time, it’s hard to believe the traditional book industry has such a hard time accepting black protags. I don’t understand what the big deal is as to who writes a story – as long as it’s well written!
Taken to an extreme, I suppose women writers can’t write male characters (there goes you, J.K. Rowling, and many others), or adults past the age of 40 or whatever can’t write a story about a couple of 20 year olds.
Again, it’s how it’s written, not the color/gender/age/whatever of whomever is writing it. How astounding that there are no black people in Chicago. (Really?) Or the suggestion you hire a black actor to go around on a book tour. (Really?)
It’s no wonder you’re thankful the ebook revolution happened, after having to deal with such scummy idiots.
More power to you, Kris! 🙂
I lived in Chicago. I’m fascinated to know that I hallucinated my own existence the whole time I lived there. I wish I could have been in the room when the editor said that, just for the amusement value alone.
Anyone who’s ever seen Blues Brothers knows those publishers are the ones hallucinating. Granted, the movie is fiction, but the Chicago blues tradition it builds on is real. And just where did blues music come from?
Wow, Chris. Just–wow. This is incredible, heartbreaking, and inspiring all at the same time. I love your Smokey Dalton books and have been eagerly awaiting the new one. Ironically, one of the things I appreciated most when I read them was how well a contemporary white woman could get inside the head and heart of a black man from the Civil Rights era. To me, that’s a strong example of the power of imagination and good writing.
P.S. My apologize for getting in a hurry and spelling your name wrong!
I’ve seen an interesting loading of the word “victim” in the States. Somehow, “victim” has become a choice of sorts in an “end of journey” way. I’m personally more interested in “survivors”, but the reason I am is that those survivors were victims before having to survive whatever happened to them (business, rape, accidents…). I am not interested in a “survivor” who hasn’t actually survived anything but in, say, people like your character in “Scars”, specially _after_ the story.
Also, the way the media loads race in the States is dumbfounding. I can’t really grasp it (*). Our issues are different, here. Adding insult to injury, I’m mostly “blind” to descriptions. I used to enjoy Zane Grey’s rhythm, for example, but I didn’t realize ‘Take back Plenty’ had a black main until I read about the cover long after. And “black” doesn’t mean the same, here (Spain). We’ve drifted the US way some, but a lot of characters in US black sitcoms wouldn’t be “black”, here. Too pale for it. So I don’t find it strange that your producer is European. Also, “coloured” is not taken particularly well… (“You guys tan, get blue with envy, red with embarrasment and black eyes after a punch… Why the Hell *I* am the coloured one?”, a workmate, almost verbatim, pretty calm guy).
On another subject, I’m interested about something: you’ve written some about the delays in tradpub and the loss of revenue in the long run. How is it that you’ll only publish the new Dalton next Spring? (I understand some more about Retrieval artist in September, I believe, after summer, but damn! thats a hard one!!).
Ah, yes: did you ask the sales head guy if he’d seen any extremely tanned Italians in Chicago? That might be it. Mediterraneans are sneaky this way. Amazing how people switch “assertivenes” and “violence”; which way depending mostly on their side.
(*) I can’t grasp US taboos. Race, sex and real violence discussion (as opposed to “screen” violence). I’m currently having some issues because a distributor is claiming “some” resellers (unnamed) “might” find a cover for an erotic story offensive because, if you watch it full screen, you might actually see nipples behind the body paint. This trips so many alarms in my mind I would need a separate post.
PS There’s a switchblade called the Dalton Smokey…
Thank you for telling your story, Kris. Only after I started reading your blog did I learn Nelscott and Rusch were the same person.
After the craptastic year that was 2001, I lost my business and worked at a bookstore to make ends meet. We had to be knowledgable about the merchandise, right? I read Thin Walls and tried to order the first two Dalton books. All our distribution rep could tell me was that they couldn’t get them from the publisher. I got the same story from the special order desk at the county library. I never could get the last two books. I’m glad you’ve re-released the series, and I’m looking forward to Street Justice.
“Those writers should disappear, someone said on one list. They’re not up for the new world of publishing. Let them vanish.”
This is a sentiment that could have been worded more tactfully, but I had a similar discussion with a friend who’s a hybrid writer. She was upset that several mutual acquaintances had taken very low advances ($0-$500) rather than learn how to self-publish even though she’d offered to assist these people. (In fact, she bent over backwards, but that’s another story.)
Can anyone force a damaged writer to write again? In your case, you had a very understanding S.O. who gave you the time and space to work through your grief. The will to continue though had to ultimately come from you. Dean couldn’t force it on you. I couldn’t as a fan. No one could. It had to come from you.
Should these writers disappear? No. Can anyone force them to adapt? Unfortunately, that answer is also no. We can encourage them, but again, the will to continue writing and forge a new career path has to come from them.
At what point do you stop trying to save people from themselves? I told my friend to take a step back and ask herself what are she was saving someone from–a really bad choice, or simply a different choice than what she would have made. All you can do is put the offer to help out there. It’s up to the other person to take you up on it. If she doesn’t, then that’s her decision and you need to respect it even if you don’t agree with it.
Right now, all we can do as writers is share information. Thank you for doing so here.
Wow. Just wow.
My heart is filled with so much respect for you, for how tough and resourceful you were and are, by how you managed to survive and thrive in the world of publishing before the whole system changed.
My heart is also filled with gratitude. Thank you for sharing and teaching, so that those of us who follow you may tread a less soul-destroying path.
1: Congrats and good luck with the filming!
2: They did, after all, buy a book, a commodity, something that might end up being personal to them for completely different reasons than it does to you.
That is, actually, one of the most awesome things to see in a review — “this book was about X” — where you look at it, and you blink, and you go, “Huh. I guess it is, at that!”
3: More congrats, and more luck-wishing. 🙂
Joy – the joy which comes from control of your output and the absence of submission negativity – is precisely what I find so wonderful about self-publishing too.
And, since I can always use another good detective series, I just grabbed the first tale of Mr Dawson. Lovely cover. 🙂