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.

Somebodies Helping Nobodies

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Me and Wes talking to Robert at the signing. For those of you who don’t know me well, this is a quintessential Erika face. I was probably cracking a lame joke. I do that sometimes.

I had the pleasure of attending Robert Dugoni’s book signing last night at Parkplace Books in Kirkland. For those of you who haven’t heard of Robert, here’s what you need to know:

  • He’s smart. You can just tell by the way he speaks and explains things that he’s got a lot going on upstairs.
  • He’s an excellent writer. He read us a passage out of his new book, My Sister’s Grave, and it’s an undeniable fact that he has an ear for dialogue.
  • He’s a kind, interesting person. I met him at the ITW ThrillerFest in July and, when I sent him an email afterward asking him whether he might consider writing a blurb for my new book, Bai Tide, he didn’t hesitate. He was in super crunch mode writing a sequel to My Sister’s Grave and doing promotional stuff, but he made time to read my book and then wrote a glowing blurb of it for me.

When I got to the front of the line to have him sign my copy of his book, he remembered me and told me HE liked MY book. Isn’t that a kick? I mean, that was totally MY line!

Robert’s kindness only reinforces to me the prevailing truth I’ve seen confirmed again and again since the start of my writing journey and that is, authors take care of each other. I’ve yet to meet a snobby author who refused to talk to a nobody like me, and almost all the big authors I’ve met have either offered to help however they can or given me a kind word to keep me going.

I’m sure there are snobby authors out there, but I’m lucky in that I haven’t met any yet. It’s a singular experience to have someone like Jon Land or Robert Dugoni read your work (both of them provided blurbs for my book!), I imagine it’d be similar to having Picasso or Matisse take a look at your painting and tell you you’re onto something.

There’s absolutely no impetus for these successful authors to help nobodies like me. There are SO MANY underling authors who are happy with a small handful of reviews and will almost certainly never amount to household names. It’s not like a strategic alliance thing, wherein they’re guaranteed future success by aligning with the right people at the right time.

No, they do it because they’re kind. Because they want to help. Because they remember what it was like to be the little guy, and they haven’t let themselves forget it.

If you want to thank these wonderful people for being wonderful to me, you can do so by buying their new books! They’re both fantastic, entertaining reads and by buying them you’ll be supporting nice people who do nice things for nobodies like me. You can find My Sister’s Grave at the link above, or Strong Darkness by Jon Land here.

How to Ace a Writer’s Conference

I’ve been a professional writer for three years now (I know, you’re thinking, “Three whole years? Please excuse me while I reign in my overwhelming awe.”). In those three years, I’ve had the pleasure of attending three major writer’s conferences along with countless other writing networking events. While not an expert, I’ve learned enough to volunteer a few suggestions for those of you who are planning to attend conferences of your own in the future.

So here they are: 9 Tips For Acing a Writer’s Conference:

  • Bring a full pack of minty gum with you, and chew a stick every time you eat or drink something. I cannot tell you how many times someone at a conference has leaned in close to tell me something and repelled me with coffee breath. Don’t let this be you! Be remembered for minty freshness, not halitosis!
  • Order business cards and bring them with you. Include the following information on your business cards: Name, genre, email, website, and any and all social media outlets you use. I go home from conferences with stacks of business cards and try to make new online friends with my recent acquaintances only to find I only have an email address to go on. Join Twitter, make writer friends there. Trust me, we’re everywhere on Twitter, and we’re pretty darn friendly!
  • Enjoy the company of fellow writers, but remember that this is still a quasi-professional affair. Even though we writers are a decidedly mixed bag of sartorial selections when it comes to writer’s conferences (I saw a guy in sweatpants at the conference in New York, sitting next to a guy in a nice suit), do put in an effort. At the very least, it’ll make you feel fancier which can only contribute to your seeming like an accomplished writer destined for great things.
  • Bring a notepad and a pen you don’t mind writing tons of notes with. You’ll kick yourself for not bringing writing materials with me because you better believe you’re going to hear something you simply must write down.
  • When you get home, send emails to all your newfound friends and encourage them to keep in touch. Writing is a lot more fun with friends, and what’s the point of going to a conference if you’re not going to keep the magic going once you get home?
  • Don’t approach everyone as a potential provider of something you want. Be polite, engage with other people as human beings, and enjoy!
  • Work on your pitch before you leave your house. If you think you’ll have time to write your pitch once you get there, you’ll find yourself feverishly scrawling notes between sessions, stressing out because your pitch isn’t done yet and you wish it was.
  • Once you have your pitch done, practice it on everyone. Get feedback, tweak it, and keep practicing it until you know it so well that you can say it without having to think about it too much. A little preparation goes a long way toward peace of mind at a writer’s conference.
  • If you go out for drinks after conference events, take aspirin before you go to bed. The number of hungover writers I chatted up at the ThrillerFest conference was higher than you’d think. If you’re going to party, do it smart. You still have to function in the morning.

That’s all the ones I can think of. Fellow writers and conference survivors, anything to add?

THREE. WEEKS.

downloadNot since the long, sleepless days of my last pregnancy have I felt such overwhelming terror at the prospect of three short little weeks. Back then, I was terrified by the prospect of just three short weeks separating me and the reality of having two kids.

Now? I’m thinking three weeks is not nearly enough time for me to finish everything I need to do to prepare for the International Thriller Writers conference in New York City.

Ever since I booked my tickets a couple months ago, I’ve been in a happy state of denial. Mostly so I can get to sleep at night. When I’m too excited about something, I tend to have a terrible time trying to get to sleep. My brain happily whirls through everything I need to do, and all the things that could happen, and before I know it, I’ve whiled away two hours of nighttime silence I could have enjoyed unconscious.

I told myself New York is so far away, there’s no sense getting all worked up about it. I focused on finishing book #3 (Never Say Bai) and beginning revisions on book #2 (Take the Bai Road).

Now, though? New York is next frigging month and I need to get my butt in gear.

The trouble was, I was intimidated. I’ve been dreaming about the day I’ll get to travel to New York to pitch something I feel confident about for years. This is it. My big chance to either sink or swim in the gigantic, competitive world of New York publishing. I’ve worked my fingers practically to the bone whipping my work into shape and I feel ready.

The trouble is, getting ready. Just because my work is ready doesn’t mean I am.

For those not in the know, pitching at a conference, especially a big one like this, takes a lot of preparation. At least, if you want to do it right (and who wouldn’t?). You need to write your pitch. Then you need to delete your whole pitch and rewrite it because you decide all of a sudden that it sucks. You need a logline, an elevator pitch, and some snazzy business cards.

Once you have those in place, you need to do your homework. I’m attending PitchFest, which means I’ll be speed-dating with 40-50 agents and editors, not all of whom are looking for the kind of fiction I write. This means, I need to figure out who will and won’t be inclined to ask for more from me and research them. Figure out which authors they work with, what kind of fiction they tend to like, and common points of interest so that when I meet them we can have a pleasant conversation as opposed to a desperate scramble for a business card.

I feel like I need to clarify here that I will not be stalking these people. I’ll just be studying their websites and author lists with interest.

This is a lot of work, and until this week I was too scared to get started. There comes a point, though, where you simply have no choice but to kick your own ass. So that’s what I did.

Ready. Set. Go.

New Yorkers Can Wipe Their Own Noses

TF-site-small-banner11Shhh. Listen.

Wait for it.

Do you hear that?

That rapid pitter-pattering, like a pair of shoes tap, tap, tapping against the floor?

Those are my feet. In my shoes. Tapping against the floor, because I’m excited. For the second year in a row, I have the unparalleled privilege of attending the International Thriller Writers Conference in New York City.

For six glorious days, I’ll be traipsing all over the greatest city in the world, free as a bird, learning and networking and having the best frigging time of my life. And the best part? I’ll not be doing any mothering while I’m there. I swear by all the fish in the sea, you New Yorkers can wipe your own darn noses while I’m there. I’ll have no part in it!

The ITW conference is going to be amazing this year. Day one takes place at…

:::DRUMROLL:::

FBI Headquarters!

That’s right. I’m spending the first day of the conference at an all-day FBI seminar held at FBI Headquarters in New York City.

Seriously, someone pinch me. I might pass out before I ever even get there.

Obviously, I’m going to miss my family. Every time I have leave them, even if it’s just for a couple days, I get all choked up and can’t even talk properly. They’re as much a part of me as my fingernails.

And yet, once a year, I get to go be by myself, soaking in the minutiae of the craft of writing, and it is so worth the pang of missing my kids and husband.

My hotel is a short subway ride away from the Guggenheim Museum and Central Park, so I’m thinking I’ll check those out on my free day. Stay tuned for pictures (this will happen in early July) and plenty of exclamation marks. There will be exclamation marks in abundance, I think.

Brace yourselves.