Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Full Circle (ish)

by Holly West

Last month, I attended Left Coast Crime in Monterey, California--my first conference as a published author.

Truthfully, I didn't give this much thought prior to arriving. I've been attending mystery conferences since 2009, when I went to Bouchercon in Indianapolis. I've moderated panels at subsequent Bouchercons and elsewhere, and overall, I never felt like being unpublished held me back. I'd made enough friends in the crime fiction world (and continue to do so) that it didn't seem to matter whether I was published or not.

I learned, however, that being published changed, ever so slightly, the way I was treated (for lack of a better phrase) at this conference. For the first time, I was on a panel as a panelist and not a moderator. People who'd read my book introduced themselves and told me how much they'd liked it. I was able to participate in the New Authors Breakfast, along with many other fellow first timers I have great respect for (special shout out to Terry Shames, Terri Nolan, and Matt Coyle).

And for the first time, I got to sit at the signing table.

I didn't expect this last one to be of any great significance because Mistress of Fortune is an eBook. What was I going to sign? Nevertheless, several attendees asked me to sign their conference programs, and darned if it didn't make me feel pretty good.

But there was another unexpected reason why sitting at that signing table meant something special to me.

Back in 2009, when I attended that first Bouchercon in Indianapolis, I met one of my favorite authors (and certainly one of the reasons I write crime fiction in the first place), Sue Grafton. A friend, Ali Karim, introduced us at the PWA Shamus Awards and she graciously spent about fifteen minutes talking with me about my project, writing in general, and her own writing process. I've met Sue a few times since then and she always pretends to remember me, which I greatly appreciate.

Holly West & Sue Grafton (or as I like to call her, my BFF)

After my Left Coast Crime panel, I dutifully went downstairs with the other authors to sit at the signing tables. The first thing I saw when I got there was that Sue Grafton, who'd had a panel during the same time I did, was at one end of the table and I was at the other end. We were "bookends," if you will. This moment was not lost on me. In all the fantasies I'd ever had about being a published author, this had not been one of them--it had never even occurred to me. I was thrilled.

I waited until Sue's long line of fans had dissipated and took the opportunity to tell her just what it meant to me. My first conference as a published author and here I was sitting at the signing table with my idol. Always a gracious one, she gave me a big hug and congratulated me.

I spend a lot of time complaining about how hard writing is but let me tell you--there are a lot of great moments along the path to publishing. This was one of mine.

Now it's your turn. Tell me about one of the great moments you've had as a writer. Big or small, they all help to keep us going in this journey that sometimes feels like a fool's errand.


Steve Weddle said...

I was at a festival recently and managed to bump into one of the volunteers/organizers.
I wasn't wearing my AUTHOR ID, as it's generally not in my best interest for people to know who I am.
I said I was enjoying the festival.
She said that was nice.
I said the panels were great. Many books added to my TBR pile, which happens to be true.
She asked which panels I'd gotten to and I said something like, "After my panel this morning, I got to" such and such, then listed the cool ones I'd been to, naming the cool authors and how they should have them back every year.
She said, "OH, your panel?"
I said I was on such and such panel and it was great because I'd met so and so.
She goes, "Oh, you're an author" and her tone changed, asking if I needed anything, was everything fine, and so forth.
It was really weird how she wasn't interested in me as reader but was interested in me as author.
It wasn't because it was her "job" as volunteer, either. It was instinctive. Weird.

Dana King said...

I've had great moments at conferences, but without a doubt the best was the launch for GRIND JOINT last November, at Mystery Lovers Bookshop, near Pittsburgh. (Oakmont, for those in the area.) We launched there because the book takes place in within ten miles of the store. The Beloved Spouse and I drove up the night before, and were surprised by The Sole Heir and her mother, who had said they were tied up with a previous commitment and couldn't make it. TSH also presented me with a Cross pen for signing, personalized with my name, and the book's title.

Next morning, the first people I saw at the store were Charlie Stella and his lovely wife Ann Marie, who drove all night from New Jersey to be there for me. My editor, Rick Ollerman, came in from New Hampshire with his family. My ex's aunt and uncle from Philadelphia came in, as well as two good friends from the DC area who chose to drive to Pittsburgh instead of waiting for the inevitable Washington opportunity. More locally, an uncle of mine I don't often get to see, as well as my former mother- and father-in-law, plus a neighbor of my parents', who brought along her visiting cousin from Canada.
Afterward, TSH gave me a cake she'd had made at a local bakery, with the book's title and a hand-crafted iced decoration of the key feature from the book's cover, after which everyone retired to a local restaurant for lunch.

If I never sell another book, that one morning made me a successful author.

Kristi said...

I've had a few small great moments that have made me smile from ear to ear. One of the coolest things is that right now my book is in the hands of three of my all-time favorite authors. Just knowing they have that book - whether they decide to give it a blurb or not -- blows my mind. If they actually blurb the book, I will -- for sure -- lose it. So, that is the first mind-blowing thing I'm discovering about having a soon to be published book. Thanks for sharing your journey. And that picture with Sue Grafton -- so cool. You could not be any cuter! Love it!

Holly West said...

Steve, that does strike me as a weird moment, especially since I consider myself a reader first and author second. I wonder, did you feel resentful in any way?

And Dana, what a great story. I didn't have a launch party for Mistress of Fortune because I just felt so overwhelmed by the whole experience. Your story makes me wish that I did.

Holly West said...

Kristi, I so hope they decide to blurb your book! Looking forward to reading it myself.

Joelle Charbonneau said...

I am always shocked and slightly off balance when a reader at a conference - especially Bouchercon since it is so big and there are so many amazing authors - tells me they've read my work. I should probably get over that, but it still stuns me. Funny, but Sue Grafton was unintentionally part of my best conference author moment. She was signing last year at Bouchercon and because she is so popular, people start lining up very early. I was chatting near the line and spotted someone sitting on the ground reading The Testing. It was the first time I'd ever seen someone I didn't know reading my book in public. Yeah - I took a picture. I'm lame!

I will say that I have found that I am treated differently as an author now that I've published a dark, YA than I was when I was a funny mystery author. Maybe it is the perception that one must be harder to write? Or maybe it is just that more people read dark these days? But I do notice that there has been a chance on that front. I guess it goes to show that the writing experience always continues to change:)

Holly West said...

Joelle, I don't think that's lame at all. We need to savor these moments, even if it means being geeky about it. :-)

As for the change in your treatment since you've published dark YA, I think two things might be at play. 1) The Testing Trilogy was a higher profile deal. Maybe it didn't change you fundamentally as a person or author, but it might change people's (particularly in the "industry") perception of you or introduce you to a large portion of readers that hadn't read you before. 2) The subject matter is so vastly different that it's not surprising that you'd be treated differently. The core audience is vastly different too. Anyway, regardless of what you choose to write, your work ethic has clearly not changed, and I always use it it for inspiration. :-)

Matt Coyle said...

A great moment was when someone asked T. Jefferson Parker at a Mysterious Galaxy signing (that I missed because I was camping) who he was reading then and he said me. A mutual friend had given him my book a few weeks before. It was an extremely generous thing to do for a debut author. It says a lot about Jeff, who everyone knows is a great guy, but is also an example of how giving and willing to help the entire mystery writer communtiy is.

Holly West said...


I think I would probably pee my pants if Sue Grafton ever said she was reading my book.

TMI? Sorry.

Matt Coyle said...

Well, I did pee my pants but wasn't going to post it on a blog. That's the difference between you and me...

Dale T. Phillips said...

Holly, back in 2009 when you brought Sue Grafton over to sit at our table at the bar at Crime Bake, that was a high point. That was pre-publication for both of us, but Sue was gracious and charming, and we all had a blast. Last year at Bouchercon, when you, Pete Morin and I posed for our post-publication photo, it was a nice bookend to that- a few years later, and we're all in the club.
Now that I'm giving paid author panel talks for the Sisters in Crime, it's heady stuff, and I get really energized meeting fans at my book signings.
But nothing beats getting that box of books of the latest publication, and realizing it's happened once again!