Toasting Marshmallows with Robert Ludlum’s Ghost

When I was a brand-new writer, the publishing world was overwhelming and intimidating. What was a query? How do you pitch? What’s a three-act structure? Why does no one use prologues anymore? And what’s the difference between awhile and a while?

I learned, as most authors do, the hard way. I self-published a book before it was ready because I didn’t know better. I wrote a book with a 20,000-word prologue. I used adverbs. I made one of my protagonists a writer. I thought people would just buy a book without any marketing effort on my part.

Over time, and through the loving tutelage of such fine organizations as the PNWA and ITW, I learned. I matured as a writer (maybe as a person?), and started learning the ropes.

Those ropes, as it turns out, are even more intimidating the more you learn them. It’s not until you’ve busted your butt trying to rustle up sales that you realize how remarkable it really is to earn that “New York Times bestselling author” distinction after your name. It’s not until you’ve done a book signing for an empty room that you understand how amazing it is when authors like Neil Gaiman pack entire theaters with eager audiences who want to hear him speak.

Over time, I’ve met some incredible authors. Generous, kind, helpful souls like Jon Land, Robert Dugoni, and Ted Kosmatka, who all blurbed my last book, Bai Tide. Or Anne Rice, who was kind enough to pose for a picture with me and answer my question at a Q&A she did in New York in 2013. Or Jeff Ayers, who’s a book reviewer, board member for the PNWA, and author in his own right.

And then there was the time RL Stine told me I grew up okay despite devouring all of his books in my youth.

I have too many writing heroes to name, and they’re all on my list for different reasons. Some of them are there because their books taught me something valuable about what writing could be. Some of them are there because they’re admirable people who help and serve and contribute. And still other are there because they’re all of those things and more.

Gayle Lynds is one of the all of the above heroines. She’s a legend in the thriller writing community, and one of the foremost espionage authors of all time. She’s also, lucky for me, a kind person who makes time to help nobodies like me.

When she agreed to read my book to possibly consider providing a blurb for it, I sent it off to her with my heart in my throat. I was so nervous, I held onto the package for so long that the mail clerk asked me if I was okay.

I told her I was and surrendered it to her, but how could I be okay? What if it wasn’t ready? What if Gayle hated it? What if she burned it and then toasted marshmallows over it while complaining to Robert Ludlum’s ghost about how schlocky these new authors are?

A month later, not only did Gayle email me back with an incredible blurb, she had the grace to thank me for sending it to her! Can you believe such a thing? I couldn’t. I read her email five times just to make sure I wasn’t hallucinating.

So take it from me, kids. Dreams come true if you work for them and get really, really lucky. Here it is, folks. This is what Gayle had to say about Take the Bai Road, which is coming out in July 2017.

I Got (a) Shot

Me when I need another knee injection.

Any week that starts with a big effing needle getting jammed into your knee is bound to be a weird one.

On the one hand, I’m lucky because I’ve been able to get my health insurance company to pay for the medication that comes with the big effing needle. For some reason, health insurance companies have all decided that patients with osteoarthritis in their knees can just deal with it because said companies are tired of paying for SynVisc injection for all of us gimpy freeloaders.

Every time I need a shot (which is roughly every six months), I have to go through round after round of appeals until a third-party reviewer takes a look at my file, tells my health insurance company that they’re being a bunch of tools, and makes them cover my shots. We go through this twice a year, which means I’ve gotten to be really good friends with the lady who handles my appeals.

So yes, I’m fortunate that I don’t have to pay $1,500 twice a year for the privilege of getting the medication I need to make sure my knee doesn’t grind itself to dust.

On the other hand, it’s never fun to get these shots. They hurt, and the needle has to stay in my knee for a long time (probably only fifteen seconds or so, but it always feels like a full minute at least), so it’s all just terribly discomfiting. Afterward, my knee gets all puffy and sore and achy and stays that way for three to four days. Fun stuff, right?

To add to the merriment, there was a staffing change at my orthopedic surgeon’s office. You see, I’ve had the same guy doing my knee injections for years at this point. He knows my shtick and has gotten pretty good at making small talk with me during the shot to distract me from what’s happening.

I’m not normally what I would consider a chill person. I talk fast, I work fast, I rarely stop moving. When I’m nervous, though? It’s like someone’s opened the tap on my brain and I can’t stop talking. It’s like a free association word flood, and it can be a lot to handle.

This poor new guy, I don’t think he was prepared for it. He handled it okay, though, so maybe next time he’ll be prepared and bring his earplugs.

Here’s hoping the rest of this week is a little less stressful. I’m frustrated to be gimpy and sore again. It’s like after recovering from the microfractures surgery in 2015, my brain figures I’ve paid my physical disability dues so the rest of my life should be smooth sailing. Every time I’m stuck on the couch with my feet up while stuff all around me needs doing, I get antsy and vaguely irritated. Haven’t I done this enough already?

Soon, I tell myself. This is the worst you’ll feel for awhile, and you’ll be even better tomorrow. And until then? Well, there are worse things to be than stuck on the couch for a few days.

Behold!

A cover this awesome doesn’t need an intro. It just speaks for itself.

I worked with Beth Morrell to come up with a cover that would convey the danger and intrigue of this story. I love the menace of the North Korean star coming up over the Pyongyang skyline in the background, and the sullen red color.

The new cover design should be uploaded soon and available for purchase soon. I’ll post everywhere when it’s ready. Until then, I’ll just admire it here.

Going High(ish)

It’s been an interesting few days. My kids are finally over the flu (hooray!), Facebook was full of posts from my friends who participated in the women’s marches over the weekend, a new president was inaugurated, and I’ve had a few unkind things said both about and to me.

I submitted the link to my last post to an online forum in support of Donald Trump (r/thedonald, for those who Reddit). It was my small effort to show that collaboration and cooperation can be achieved even among people with differing political ideals. The response has been mixed.

On the one hand, the post has more upvotes than downvotes, so that’s cool. The comments that have been left for it, however, are breathtaking. To wit:

So here’s the thing about this. I could fire back and come up with all kinds of witty responses to these. I’d be within my rights to. I’m not going to, though, and here’s why:

I’m an author. To be more specific, I’m a published author. I promise you, worse things have been said about my appearance and writing than this (I’ll let you guess which ones hurt more). If you can’t grow a thick skin while working in publishing, you won’t make it very long.

It’s clear I’m not going to change these particular peoples’ minds, but that’s okay. What ultimately matters is how you conduct yourself and how you treat the people around you. That’s the best testament to the value of your ideals. I’m not going to cheapen myself by trying to hurt someone else, and I would encourage anyone reading this who has dealt with trolls to react the same way.

In the wise words of Michelle Obama, and really this quote will stick with me until the day I die, “When they go low, we go high.”

I wish there wasn’t a need in some people to lash out at strangers. I wish there was more discussion, more respect, more willingness to collaborate, but maybe I’m living in the wrong country for that these days?

For now, though, I’m here and I’m working toward peace. For my own small part, I will keep my hands clean when other people sling mud at me. I’ll do my best to encourage the people who need it, and I’ll be happy to help where I can.

If we’re being super honest, though, Wes and I did have a lot of fun this weekend coming up with other reasons why that commenter probably shouldn’t date anyone, many of which were hilarious but that I’ll keep to myself thankyouverymuch.

So I’m not perfect. Oops. I regret nothing.

 

 

An Open Letter to President Trump

Dear President Trump,

I do not envy the tasks before you. You’ve inherited a country that’s divided on almost every issue, constituents who are spoiling for a fight, and a media machine that seems determined to thwart every move you make.

Regardless of how anyone feels about you or your plans, that is undeniably a tough row to hoe.

Much of the blame for the state the country is in can be placed at the feet of the media. You can’t vilify both candidates for over a year and then expect everyone to feel safe when one of them eventually wins. That said, the fault likely lies with us, too, for believing much of it.

I’m not going to tell you how to do your job. You won a highly contentious election, so you obviously have some idea of what you’re doing. All I’m asking you to do is simple: Unite us as a people.

Sounds simple, but it isn’t, because what I’m asking you to do is give us something to believe in. To be an example of a good man, to represent our country well, and to serve the people of the United States. It’s going to be extremely difficult, and a ton of work, but, to be honest? I’m rooting for you. Really I am.

I didn’t vote for you, but you are now my president and, as such, I genuinely wish you the best of luck. Bipartisanship has done little but ensure that half the country is miserable for four-to-eight years. Average citizens have lost faith and trust in the people we elected to serve us, and our politicians can’t seem to agree on anything because there’s now too much pride at stake to ever concede on anything.

I believe the official term for it is “special interests,” but what it boils down to is that people are more concerned about their personal priorities than they are about considerations of the greater good.

So what I’m asking you to do, begging, really, is to be a peacemaker. Many of the people you are now responsible for are terrified. Reassure them. They don’t understand your choices. Please explain them, patiently.

A country where no one can agree on anything is like a game of tug-o-war. Everyone is working as hard as they can to make sure no one goes anywhere. Find a way to convince people it’s safe to work with you by being the kind of president we can rally behind, and I have hope you might just be able to turn things around.

And for my part? I promise not to get in your way. I’ll give you a fair shot, because really, what sense is there in hoping you fail?

Congratulations, Mr. President, and welcome to the White House.

Sincerely,

Erika Mitchell, just an average, ordinary citizen